Having visited the incredible national parks of the American Southwest multiple times with my family, I can attest these are some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.
The red cliffs of Zion, the hoodoos of Bryce, slot canyons near Page, and the vast Grand Canyon create unforgettable memories.
However, these popular parks can get extremely crowded and unbearably hot during the peak summer season.
That's why I recommend an epic fall road trip through the Southwest's national parks instead. Visiting in October and November means fewer crowds, lower prices, and much more comfortable temperatures for hiking and exploring.
That said, a fall Southwest road trip does come with some challenges.
The days are shorter, meaning fewer daylight hours for activities. The weather can be unpredictable, with the potential for winter storms that may impact driving conditions and park accessibility.
It's the type of trip that should be planned with flexibility in case last-minute changes need to be made.
But the rewards of fall in the Southwest are immense: crisp air, autumn foliage, and marvelous parks to yourself.
Follow this guide for the ultimate fall road trip through Utah and Arizona’s most spectacular national parks. I listed the parks and also added a suggested fall itinerary for five days with Las Vegas as your base.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is known for its towering red rock cliffs, narrow sandstone canyons, and the cottonwoods along the Virgin River.
Visiting in November means less crowded trails and campgrounds, along with the fall foliage providing pops of color against the red rocks.
Days are mild enough for hiking popular routes like the Narrows, Angels Landing, and Observation Point.
Be sure to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and stop at Checkerboard Mesa on your way in or out of the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park's unique geological formations make it a must-see. The whimsical hoodoos fill the natural amphitheater, transforming into a landscape dusted with snow in November.
Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and crisp air on Rim Trail overlooks and forested hikes like Peek-a-boo Loop. Or bundle up and descend into the quiet, snow-covered hoodoos on Queens Garden Trail.
Don't miss catching sunrise or sunset at Inspiration Point!
Page, Arizona: Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
Page, Arizona, makes a convenient base for visiting two iconic Southwest landmarks just outside town.
Antelope Canyon's narrow slot canyons beam with light, minus the crowds of summer months. Joining a tour is a must to access Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon.
The views of Horseshoe Bend showcase the green Colorado River winding through the desert 1,000 feet below. Hike the short trail along the rim for sunrise, sunset, or star-filled night skies.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
No trip through the Southwest is complete without experiencing the vastness of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is closed in November, head to the South Rim for fewer crowds, open facilities, and incredible canyon vistas, look for California condors gliding above the rim.
Hike a portion of the Rim Trail for changing perspectives. Descending even a short way down the North Kaibab or Bright Angel Trail gives a taste of the canyon's immensity.
Tips for an Epic Fall Southwest Road Trip
Here are some tips for your road trip, based on my experience traveling in this gorgeous region multiple times - including during the fall.
1. Book Lodging Early
Many hotels and campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Reserve rooms at national park lodges 6-12 months out.
Don't rely on November being "off-season." When we visited Zion National Park on an October weekend, well after Labor Day, we had to settle for very expensive accommodation because our first choices were all fully booked.
Be Prepared For Snow
Be aware of potential weather impacts, especially at higher elevations around Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon.
Believe it or not, we actually encountered snow in Bryce Canyon in early October.
It was beautiful but made for a scary ride with a 2WD minivan. If you can, rent a 4WD vehicle and carry snow chains.
Pack Layers and Warm Gear
Early mornings and nights will be cold. Some days, it can stay cold throughout the day. Bring hats, gloves, and winter coats.
Fill Up on Gas
Stations are spaced far apart in rural areas between parks. Don't let your tank get low when road-tripping in the west.
Download Offline Maps
Cell service is spotty. Having offline maps and navigation helps. If nothing else, get your route down in your head so you can follow the road signs.
Visit Antelope Canyon with a Tour
Book a slot canyon tour in advance, as permits are required. Tour hours may be limited in November, and the best hours get grabbed fast.
Review Hike Lengths and Fitness Levels
Trails like Angels Landing are strenuous. Pick hikes suited for your group. Get hiking poles for those who need them, and good sturdy hiking boots.
Even a popular trail like the Emerald Pools can get slippery at times, especially during cool autumn days.
Carry Plenty of Water
Stay hydrated, especially when hiking in the arid climate. Even on cold days, the air will be dry, and radiation levels can be high if the sun is out.
Watch Sunrise and Sunset
The parks are spectacular during the golden hours. It's worth losing a little sleep!
Be Aware of Time Zone Changes
The drive from Nevada to Arizona passes through the Navajo Nation with different time zones.
Suggested 5-day itinerary
With careful planning, this Southwest road trip allows you to experience some of the most stunning national parks in the United States, all in one epic autumn adventure!
You would need at least five days for this road trip, starting and ending in Las Vegas. Here's a suggested itinerary:
- Drive from Las Vegas to Zion
- Hike Emerald Pools and/or Riverside Walk
- Overnight in Springdale or the park
- Optional: Hike part of Angels Landing or Observation Point or take a couple of hours to explore the Kolob Canyon area
- Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Sunset at Inspiration Point overlook
- Overnight in Bryce Canyon
- Sunrise at Bryce Point
- Hike Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails
- Drive to Page, AZ
- Horseshoe Bend at sunset
- Lower Antelope Canyon tour in the morning
- If you missed Horseshow Bend at sunset, see Antelope Canyon
- Drive to Grand Canyon South Rim
- Sunset at Hopi Point, in the Grand Canyon
- Hike part of Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon
- Drive back to Las Vegas. If you can, stop at Seligman on the way back for a taste of old Route 66
The approximate driving times between each park allow for stopping at viewpoints and breaks along the way:
- Las Vegas to Zion National Park: 2.5 hours
- Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon: 1.5 hours
- Bryce Canyon to Page, AZ: 4 hours
- Page to Grand Canyon South Rim: 4.5 hours
- Grand Canyon to Las Vegas: 4.5 hours
Southwest National Parks Road Trip Recap
The national parks of the American Southwest are true treasures that create lifelong memories.
While visiting them in the peak summer months can be challenging, an autumn road trip provides the perfect opportunity to experience these landscapes in their full glory.
Crisp air, dramatic colors, and fewer crowds await you on a fall journey through Zion, Bryce Canyon, Page, the Grand Canyon, and beyond.
With careful planning using the tips and itinerary in this guide, you're sure to have an epic adventure. Just remember to pack plenty of layers, watch those sunrise and sunset colors, and get ready to be awestruck by the beauty of the Southwest.
As you hike through sculpted canyons, stand at the edge of steep cliffs, and wind through towering rock formations, you’ll understand why this region holds such a special place in the heart of America - and in my family's heart as well.
Have an amazing road trip and enjoy the magic of the national parks this fall! And as always, leave us a comment if you have any suggestions or questions!