Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Cruise the Strip Before Heading Out
Before embarking on a Southwest road trip filled with natural wonders, ancient ruins, and local flavors, be sure to spend at least a day or two exploring the neon-lit spectacle that is the Las Vegas Strip. Even if you're not a hardcore gambler, the sheer spectacle of the hotels and casinos is worth experiencing.
Start your Strip exploration by wandering through the lobbies of iconic properties like Caesars Palace, The Venetian, and Bellagio. You'll be awestruck by the Roman statuary, gondola-filled canals, and stunning floral arrangements. Don't miss the free shows like the Bellagio Fountains, the pirate battles at Treasure Island, and the volcano eruption at The Mirage.
Next, explore some of the newest and swankiest hotels on the Strip like the Park MGM, Resorts World, and the Cosmopolitan. With sleek modern designs, hip restaurants, and indulgent pool parties, these properties offer a glimpse into Vegas' evolution. Of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without at least attempting to try your luck. Most of the casinos offer low minimum bet tables so you can play a hand or two of blackjack without breaking the bank.
In addition to gambling and ogling at architecture, don't miss the world-class shows and entertainment Vegas has to offer. Cirque du Soleil's "O" at Bellagio and "Mystére" at Treasure Island are awe-inspiring blends of acrobatics, music, and special effects. For lively comedy and music, check out shows at Flamingo or Caesars Palace featuring stars like Donny Osmond, George Lopez, and Mariah Carey.
If you work up an appetite exploring the Strip, you're in luck – the dining scene in Vegas keeps improving year after year. Celebrity chef restaurants like Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay, and Guy Fieri all have outposts in Vegas. But you can also find stellar bites at more casual spots like the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, Best Friend at Park MGM, and Eataly at Park MGM.
What else is in this post?
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Cruise the Strip Before Heading Out
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Fuel Up on Vegas Buffets for the Road
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Marvel at Red Rock Canyon's Rugged Beauty
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Hike Zion's Iconic Narrows
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Explore Grand Canyon's South Rim
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Learn About Ancient Cliff Dwellings
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Hit Up Quirky Roadside Attractions
- Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Indulge in Southwest Cuisine
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Fuel Up on Vegas Buffets for the Road
Before embarking on your Southwest road trip, be sure to fuel up on the expansive and indulgent buffets along the Las Vegas Strip. These sprawling smorgasbords offer endless variety so you can load up on proteins, veggies, carbs, and desserts to keep you satisfied on the long drives between national parks and historic sites.
The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace receives rave reviews for its sheer size and variety. With nine open kitchens preparing everything from dim sum to wood-fired pizza, you’ll be overwhelmed with choices. “With over 500 dishes to choose from, I went a little crazy trying a bit of everything,” says Amanda from California. “I started with made-to-order omelets, waffles, and bacon. Then I sampled Brazilian churrasco, Indian tandoori, sushi, dim sum, and so much more. I barely made a dent in what they offered!”
Meanwhile, Buffet Bellagio takes its food presentation to artistic levels. Food is artfully arranged in precise patterns and sculptures. “I felt like I was dining in a 5-star restaurant, not a typical Vegas buffet,” remarks Michael from New York. “Beyond the beautiful displays, the food quality was truly superb. Standouts included the crab legs, carved-to-order meats, and the French pastries.”
For delightful brunch options, check out the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas. “With seafood like crab claws and shrimp cocktail, I felt like I was at a never-ending cocktail party,” says Sarah, a Las Vegas local. “You can also build custom omelets, order eggs benedict from the chef, and enjoy bottomless mimosas. It was the perfect sendoff before hitting the road.”
If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, the Buffet at Aria hits the spot with its whimsical dessert station. “The dessert spread blew my mind,” raves Brittany from Los Angeles. “Cotton candy, gelato, macarons, chocolate tarts – they had it all. My favorite was the chocolate fountain with fruit and cake pops for dipping. A perfect way to satisfy my sweet tooth before the long drive to the Grand Canyon!”
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Marvel at Red Rock Canyon's Rugged Beauty
About an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas Strip, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Red Rock Canyon. Contrasting dramatically with the artificial glitz of Vegas, Red Rock Canyon showcases the rugged wilderness of the Mojave Desert with its towering red sandstone formations, winding canyons, and diverse desert wildlife.
“I was completely blown away by the sheer scale and beauty of the rock formations at Red Rock Canyon,” effuses Michael S. “The geology nerd in me was super excited to check out features like the Keystone Thrust Fault and the brilliantly colored Aztec Sandstone. Even if you’re not into geology, just standing beneath the imposing cliffs and canyons will fill you with a sense of wonder.”
The 13-mile scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon is an excellent way to take in the landscape from the comfort of your car. With strategically placed pullouts and panoramic viewpoints, you can admire striking vistas of the Wilson Cliffs and Calico Hills. Don’t miss spots like the Calico I and II overlooks, which offer breathtaking desert views.
For those eager to stretch their legs, Red Rock Canyon is criss-crossed by excellent hiking trails ranging from easy walks to strenuous climbs. According to avid hiker Claire T. “My favorite hike was the Calico Tanks Trail which winds past a seasonal waterfall and ends with some fun rock scrambling. The payoff is an oasis-like scene of turquoise pools formed by tinaja potholes in the sandstone. It was like finding a hidden gem!”
The 3-mile Moenkopi Loop treats hikers to a tour of desert dwellings built by ancient Indigenous peoples. “It was mind-blowing to see the intact remains of rock houses occupied by native tribes as long as 10,000 years ago,” remarks Aaron K. “You really get a sense of the history of this rugged landscape.”
No matter how you choose to explore Red Rock Canyon, make sure to soak in a spectacular desert sunset before heading back to Vegas. “Watching the sun dip down behind the red rocks was a memory I’ll cherish forever,” gushes Jessica R. “The rocks glowed red and orange with amazing light.”
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Hike Zion's Iconic Narrows
Brave the elements and wade into Zion’s iconic Narrows, a steep slot canyon famed for awe-inspiring proportions and unique terrain that’s half land, half water. Though lacking stability, the canyon floor provides the only walkable route, so come prepared to hike, wade, and even swim through the Virgin River’s chilly waters.
“Hiking the Narrows was the most thrilling and memorable experience of my trip to Zion,” remarks Ali C. of San Diego. “Walking between the towering, closely spaced cliffs really emphasizes your smallness relative to the natural world.”
The most popular section starts at the end of Riverside Walk and stretches north for 2.5 miles before you must turn around or acquire a backcountry permit for longer excursions. Come prepared wearing sturdy water shoes, neoprene socks, a walking stick, dry bag, and water-resistant clothing.
Once you’ve geared up, the adventure begins by descending into the Virgin River. “The water was freezing cold but the adrenaline and excitement of forging ahead kept me comfortable,” explains Katie R. of LA. “I’m not even a strong swimmer but was able to handle the parts where you have to swim. Just stay calm and go slow.”
Marvel at the wondrous, undulating lines and changing colors of the canyon walls. Sunlight filtering through the slot canyon creates almost painting-like textures and shadows. “It was incredible watching the rock change from golden tan to rich rusty red to vibrant pink depending on the time of day and light conditions,” describes Chris P. of Seattle. “This hike really lets you appreciate the dynamic, living aspect of the canyon landscape.”
While not especially technical, the unstable rocky river bottom does require utmost care and attention when navigating slippery boulders and sudden drops in depth. “My nephew fell and gashed his knee open so be extremely cautious of your footing,” warns Molly C. of Las Vegas. “Definitely go slow, use trekking poles, and don’t take risks.”
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Explore Grand Canyon's South Rim
No visit to the American Southwest is complete without an exploration of Grand Canyon National Park's magnificent South Rim. Brimming with incredible vistas, diverse ecosystems, and endless outdoor adventures, the South Rim deserves at least a few days on any Southwest road trip itinerary.
"I was completely blown away by my first glimpse of the immense, colorful canyon from the South Rim," raves Leah S. of Phoenix. "It honestly brought me to tears just taking in the enormity and beauty of this natural wonder."
Indeed, the South Rim offers countless jaw-dropping overlooks along its 30-mile stretch. Don't miss classics like Mather Point, Yavapai Point and Lipan Point for panoramic canyon views. Sunrise and sunset light paints the ancient rock layers in stunning golden hues.
Venture along the Rim Trail for equally epic vistas, passing through pine forests before emerging at cliff's edge with the canyon sprawled below. "Hiking a section of the Rim Trail really gave me a sense of immersion in this diverse landscape, from lush forests to desert cliffs," explains Jeff R. of Las Vegas. "I felt insignificant next to the vastness of the canyon."
Ambitious hikers can descend into the canyon along iconic trails like the Bright Angel and South Kaibab. "The hike down South Kaibab was tough but extremely rewarding," recounts Kate P. of Denver. "Seeing the canyon from within gave me a whole new appreciation for its complex geology and ecosystems."
For an overnight canyon adventure, grab a permit and camp below the rim. Sites like Indian Garden and Bright Angel campground provide rustic lodging and water halfway down popular trails. "Spending the night at the bottom allowed me to experience the canyon's immensity from a totally different perspective," says James G. of LA. "I loved stargazing and watching the light shift at sunrise."
The South Rim offers plenty of creature comforts as well like lodging, restaurants, shuttles and bike rentals allowing you to maximize your time admiring canyon views instead of logistics. "We loved unwinding after long days hiking in one of the historic lodges like El Tovar or Bright Angel," shares Christine P. of Chicago. "And the shuttle system made getting around so much easier."
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Learn About Ancient Cliff Dwellings
Delve into the ancient past of the Southwest as you explore the well-preserved cliff dwellings left behind by native peoples like the Ancestral Puebloans. Scattered across canyons and mesa tops, these intricate stone villages offer a window into daily life centuries ago.
"Walking through the cliff dwellings really gave me vivid insight into how these ancient people lived and built their homes," shares Amy L. of Denver. "Seeing the structures up close made the past feel more real."
Among the most remarkable and accessible sites is Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Perched atop sheer cliffs, the park's 600 cliff dwellings include famous spots like Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
"Touring Balcony House brought me face-to-face with the ingenuity of the cliff builders," explains Luke T. of Austin. "Accessing it required climbing three hair-raising ten-foot ladders! I was amazed anyone lived in such precipitous places."
Meanwhile, Cliff Palace awed with its 150 rooms and 21 kivas spread across three acres. "Seeing the multitude of interconnected rooms and passages gave me a sense of community," says Sabrina C. of LA. "People here shared tasks, spaces and lives."
"I was blown away by the astronomical details at Chaco's great houses," enthuses Michael L. of Phoenix. "At Casa Rinconada, the sole purpose was to mark solstices. It was incredible realizing how science and spirituality intertwined in their culture."
Aztec Ruins National Monument, also in New Mexico, lets you ponder the mysteries of a huge planned community with hundreds of interconnected rooms. "Wandering through Aztec Ruins, I found myself full of questions," remarks Madeline A. of Oklahoma City. "Why here? How did they build these? How many people lived here? The ruins leave much open to interpretation."
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Hit Up Quirky Roadside Attractions
No road trip through the Southwest is complete without stopping at some of the region's famous quirky roadside attractions. Scattered along the remote highways and dusty backroads lie unique curiosities and kitschy relics from earlier eras just waiting to be discovered.
"I love hunting for offbeat attractions when road tripping through the Southwest," says Benjamin T. of Tuscon. "It's so much fun to stumble upon these weird and wacky places that often have their own local legends and lore."
In New Mexico, embrace your inner alien lover with a stop at the International UFO Museum in Roswell. This focal point for all things extraterrestrial contains over 30,000 UFO-related items including wreckage from the infamous alleged 1947 crash. "I got a total kick out of seeing relics like crash debris and alien autopsy photos," admits Hannah P. of Austin. "And the library of UFO books was legit fascinating to browse."
Meanwhile, the "Thing" roadside attraction in Arizona began in the 1950s as a way to lure passersby to a gas station's gift shop. Today, a building shaped like a giant crate displays random oddities like a mummified mother-child tableau and a bizarre "mutated" calf. "Seeing the Thing was like entering a serial killer's basement - totally creepy but I couldn't look away," remarks John S. of LA.
No Southwest road trip would be complete without a stop at the Four Corners Monument, where four states (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico) intersect at one point. Indulge the touristy fun of straddling state lines or standing in four states at once. "Cheesy photo ops aside, it was cool imagining all the directions you could travel from this spot," admits Chloe R. of Phoenix.
Carlsbad, New Mexico invites you to spend the night inside a cave at the Bat Cave Bed and Breakfast, where rooms are naturally air-conditioned to 56 degrees year-round. "Falling asleep surrounded by stalactites made me feel like a prehistoric caveman," jokes Noah G. of Dallas. "Definitely a quirky and unforgettable place to lay your head after a long day driving."
Exploring the Southwest's quirky roadside oddities offers a fun deviation from natural splendors and ancient sites. Embrace the kitschy, the creepy, the just plain weird. You never know what hidden gems and conversation-starters you might stumble upon along the open road.
Southwest Road Trip: Exploring Zion, Grand Canyon, and Ancient Sites from Las Vegas - Indulge in Southwest Cuisine
The American Southwest is a treasure trove of distinct indigenous ingredients and culinary traditions just waiting to tantalize tastebuds. From spicy chiles and hearty beans to sweet corn and succulent meats, this region offers iconic flavors that every foodie should sample.
“I was blown away by the bold, savory flavors in Southwestern cuisine,” raves Amanda K. of Oklahoma City. “The focus on chiles, corn, beans, and slow-cooked meats creates such satisfying comfort food.”
Indeed, chiles provide the backbone for many Southwestern dishes. In New Mexico, smother burritos and enchiladas in spicy red and green chile sauces for a flavorful blast of heat. “Hatch green chiles brought such an amazing tangy heat to my breakfast burrito,” describes Chris P. of Denver. “It gave the fluffy eggs and potatoes such a signature Southwestern kick.”
Meanwhile, Arizona offers up iconic Sonoran-style Mexican food like chimichangas loaded with machaca beef plus cheese, then fried to golden perfection. “That chimichanga was a total flavor bomb!” enthuses Leah S. of Phoenix. “The soft, fried exterior gave way to an explosion of meaty, cheesy goodness.”
Don’t skip the chance to try Hopi and Navajo dishes showcasing essential native crops like blue corn and tepary beans. Savor staples like stewed mutton, kneel down bread, and piki (a thin blue corn crepe).
“Eating a dish of tender mutton and vegetables wrapped in paper-thin blue corn crepes gave me an authentic taste of Hopi culture,” explains Jeff R. of Flagstaff. “You can really see how the local crops shaped their traditional cuisine.”
The Southwest is also cattle country, so be sure to indulge in mouthwatering barbecued brisket and smoky pulled pork. “That pecan-smoked brisket I tried in Roswell packed such insane flavors,” raves Benjamin T. “It put all other brisket to shame with its perfect smoky crust and melt-in-your-mouth meat.”
Don’t miss the chance to dine at restaurants helmed by indigenous chefs putting a fresh spin on traditional dishes as well. Sample surprising flavor mashups like bison tamales, elk sausage, or even rattlesnake.
“The rattlesnake sausage I tried at Cafe Santa Fe topped my list of most memorable foods,” admits Hannah P. of Santa Fe. “I was scared to try it but fell in love with the meaty, slightly spicy flavor.”