Top 5 Tuesday: Road Trip Edition

Posted by Eric Helms in Arizona, Flagstaff, Scottsdale, Sedona, Top 5, Travel Tips

Go west they said.  Explore the arid expanses from the comfort of your car.  Pile in the family, load up the luggage, and don’t forget the kid’s toys, the extra toys, and the backup toys.

A summer road trip is really a metaphorical microcosm of your marriage.  Surrounded by a steely cage, trapped by rolled up windows and locked doors, you forge blindly ahead into the unknown.  You talk about the day’s grand plans, great…now only 10 hours of time left to kill.  Your wife says something, but you don’t quite hear it.  You ask her to say it again, but she’s drowned out by the drum of the engine and static of the radio. She sarcastically mutters under her breath.  You get annoyed, and when she repeats it again, you realize all she said in the first place was “Hey, look at that big tree”.  And that’s what you’re arguing about, a big tree.  Obviously, the wrong turns and bad food have started to take their toll.  But then, to your horror, the iPad battery has gone dry, and the once quelled natives in the backseat have grown restless.  You’ll try anything to stop the revolt; candy, toys, false promises, and more candy.  Heck, the only thing left at this point to give them is human sacrifice.  The breaking point is coming, you can feel it…

Is that the scene playing inside your head when you think of taking a road trip? Well if it is, that’s a shame because road trips can be full of life long memories for the whole family.  But, like anything good, there is a secret behind it; make the trip about the journey, not the destinations.  Don’t put yourself on a deadline, but instead give yourself the flexibility to stop a those stupid roadside attractions.  So in celebration of the great American road trip, I’ve put together a stunning five-stop tour of the southwest.


So here it is, the road trip to end all road trips.  This itinerary takes you to the “Big 5” National Parks in the southwest; Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.  And because I’m such a generous mood, I even included a bonus stop at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  Coming in at over 19 whopping hours of total drive time and 1,100 miles, this road trip is the one little road trips want to be when they grow up.

This schedule is roundtrip, originating out of Flagstaff, AZ.  Luckily for you, Tripbound has a great resort in this high country get away; The Wyndham Flagstaff.  Staying in Flagstaff is convenient because it is the closest sizable city to the Grand Canyon.  However, if you don’t mind adding a little drive time, check out the other amazing Tripbound resorts in Scottsdale or Sedona.

Leg No. 1: Flagstaff to Grand Canyon (South Rim) NP

1hr 6 min (73.5 mi)

Some people like to save the best for last.  Good for them.  I’d rather jump right in the deep end, and that’s exactly what you’re doing by going to see the crown jewel of the national park system first.  It’s hard to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who’s never been there.  Remember the first time you saw a movie on DVD.  Ok, now take that and multiply it by a 100.  Here, you are instantly greeted by majestical sweeping views upon entering the Grand Canyon Village.  You will find a multitude of panoramic viewing opportunities throughout the park.  Grand Canyon Village is the hub for the southern rim, and from here you can book tours, grab a bite to eat, and find a bed for you and your unruly hoard.  You can even rent a mule, I’m not sure why you would, but you could.

Leg No. 2: Grand Canyon to Arches National Park

5 hr 35 min (334 mi)

The trip to Arches NP is the longest stretch of the entire road trip.  So make sure you’ve asked your kids 27 times if they need to go to the bathroom first, just so they can beg you to stop five minutes into the trip.  With over 2,000 natural stone arches located throughout the park, the naming committee really went out on a limb by calling this place Arches National Park.  But in their defense, this is actually the largest concentration of natural arches in the world.  Mother Nature has left behind a veritable playground of insane red rock formations for the park visitor to explore.  Their creative juices were flowing at full speed once again when they named “Delicate Arch” and “Balanced Rock” as well.  Arches NP is decidedly more remote than the Grand Canyon, and accommodations are limited to reservable campsites.

Leg No. 3: Arches NP to Canyonlands NP

30 min (26.2 mi)

At exactly 26.2 miles from Arches, this drive is the perfect length for someone in your group to tell you a boring story about a marathon race. But your fake nods and teary eyed boredom will be rewarded with some of the most pristine acres in the country. The mighty waters of the Colorado and Green rivers have combined with the forces of gravity to sculpt the mystical rock formations and expansive canyons the park is so famous for. Canyonlands NP Preserves is really made up of four separate and diverse districts; the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the Rivers. This park is rustic to say the very least, so you’d be better served by camping in Arches. On top of sparse accommodations, the park is quite spread out, making a visit to all four districts nearly impossible with a day stop. The Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, and offers some of the most intense views in the park.  Many people choose the 34 mile scenic drive of the mesa tops, but after being trapped in the car for you won’t. Instead stretch out those jello road legs on a hike into the White Rim. Truly epic sunrises can be seen at Mesa Arch, and equally amazing sunsets are visible from the Grand View Point.

Leg No. 4:  Canyonlands NP to Bryce Canyon NP

4 hr 29 min (282 mi)

Back in the car! I wasn’t joking when I said this was would be intense. Slap happy, road trippin’ delirium has likely overtaken most of your family by now.  Those who are still of a sound mind, will be awestruck with the rugged mix of forest and desert scenery. The rest of you can try and find junior’s milk cup in the car before it turns sour. Bryce Canyon may be my personal favorite on this list. There’s something otherworldly about the jagged spires and odd shaped stone pillars they call the “Hoodoos”.  Everything comes together at the Bryce Amphitheater, where countless hoodoos stand at an almost cosmic attention.  The park is also home to a rock formation known as “Thor’s Hammer”. Lie to your boy and tell him it’s the same one from the comics, at least it will keep him quiet for a while. Lodging and food options make Bryce Canyon NP feel like a desert oasis. I mean you have flush toilets, so anything after that is gravy.

Leg No. 5:  Bryce Canyon NP to Zion NP

1 hr 20 min (72.3 mi)

Can you smell it? You must be getting close now. No, not to the end of the trip, but I think someone found the curdled milk cup rolling around under the backseat. Cottage cheese anyone? Time for some more fresh air, yes. Then you can’t do much better than Zion NP. The majority of park’s attractions are set along the narrow canyon carved out by the West Fork Virgin River.

Massive sandstone cliffs frame the park, the most famed of these being the “Court of the Patriarchs”. Trails weave up through the woods to reveal some of the most unique views you’ve ever laid eyes on. Certainly, Zion NP offers scenery on a grand scale, but the serenity found here is one of a kind as well. In the park you will find the Zion Lodge and multiple campgrounds to take in all of this beauty.

Leg No. 6:  Zion NP to Grand Canyon NP (North Rim)

2 hr 20 min (110 mi)

Stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and ditch those fanny pack wearing park goers. All the beauty of the Grand Canyon is here, but without the crowds. In fact only 10% of the nearly 5 million Grand Canyon yearly visitors make it over to the other side.  Set nearly 1,000 feet higher, the North Rim offers stunning views of the canyon, and a perspective of the South Rim that is well worth navigating to the remote location. The trek across is deceptively long, as well. Only 10 miles from the South Rim, the drive to get here is a meandering 220 miles. Also, the season on the North Rim is considerably shorter; open only from May 15 to October 15. Despite all of this, the views from the Grand Canyon Lodge make the trip well worth writing home about.

The Home Stretch: Flagstaff, AZ

4 hr 1 min (207 mi)

The worst part of a great vacation is always the end. So this is where I must leave you. Fill up your gas tank once again, replenish those dipping electrolyte levels with some Gatorade, and most importantly…enjoy the journey!

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