From Las Vegas – Zion National Park – Bryce Canyon – Grand Staircase Escalante – Glen Canyon – Moki Dugway – Monument Valley – Grand Canyon – Route 66 – Hoover Dam – Las Vegas
This loop we have done both in a car and on Harleys. Both trips done in May. The loop described here was done on Harleys via Halls Crossing. With car we went from Hanksville to Moab and Arches National Park, Mesa Verde and then Monument Valley, extending the trip with 2 days. Arches and Mesa Verde are featured on another roadtrip on our blog in the High Desert Adventure. The loop itself is an epic journey through some of the most spectacular national parks, roads that are clipped from all the best roadmovies you have ever seen, you expect cowboys on horses to appear around every bend, and if you love the empty open road, this is the roadtrip for you.
I will not waste much time on Las Vegas, we really don’t like that place. If you like to party 24/7 it’s the place you want to be. It’s a place that never sleeps, eternal music, gambling and partying like there is no tomorrow. Las Vegas you either love or hate, there is nothing in between we feel. We have stayed at Flamingo, one of the original hotels of the Strip that still has that old Vegas feel. And for some luxury Wynn is not a bad choice. For us, Vegas was just a passing city we had to spend some time in, not something we would do again after 2 times there. It’s ok to fly into Vegas and use a day or two to get rid of the worst jetlag before setting off.
Day 1: Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon
We of course rented Harleys from Eaglerider and rode out of Las Vegas towards Utah on Interstate 15 northeast. Get off the Interstate at the town of Hurricane and then onto Highway 9 and into Zion National Park, fantastic drive through stunning scenery. If you have the time for a hike, there is plenty of it, but as it often is when riding bikes, hiking is not such an easy option. The road through the park is spectacular!
On to Mt Carmel Junction and then north on Highway 89 until you reach the junction for Highway 12 which goes towards Bryce Canyon, accommodation in Bryce at the entrance to the National Park, there are several hotels/motels here.
Bryce Canyon itself has a very nice road going all the way into the park, with a plethora of stops along the road to take pictures and just look at those amazing rock formations. It’s unlike anything we have ever seen, those coloured spiky rocks jutting out from the ground are something else entirely. We went into the park on our first trip there, and we were supposed to do so on the morning of our bike ride, but mother nature had other plans (it was El Nino year) and we got a big surprise in the morning.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon to Halls Crossing
“Look guys, it’s snowing!”
Not something you would like to hear during breakfast, when you are riding on Harleys, or even in a car for that matter. At breakfast the snow started falling like big pieces of fluff, and a stampede ensued. Since there was dense fog in the park (no visibility) and snow rapidly making the road white, we decided to pack up with great rush, and get on our bikes before we snowed in. After some miles, the snow subdued, and we thought we were home safe. We continued west on Highway 12 via Escalante via Boulder to Torrey, a truly magnificent piece of road. Please visit this site and read up on dirt track roads, treks and sights along the way.
What we did not realize was that we had to cross the Boulder Mountain on the way, and here the elevation is 9600 feet (almost 3000 meters) above sea level! So needless to say, it started snowing again. It got whiter and whiter, people in the cars coming the other way could not believe their eyes when 7 Harleys came riding into the snow. It got to the point where we could not stop, and we dared not turn around, so we continued. At the peak the snow in the road was about a foot (33 cm) and we all ended up like snowmen on Harleys. Our shins covered in ice, faces white with frost, but WE ARE THE VIKINGS! All survived the ordeal, but some of the group regretted not wearing their wooly long johns and thermal sweaters. In Torrey we raided the local petrol station for all the cold weather gear they had, blankets and extra gloves please! At Castlerock Coffee by the crossroads at Torrey we got hot chocolate and espresso, and Hank the cowboy came in the door and our day was made. Cowboys are real!
In Torrey you do a right turn onto highway 24 and drive through Capitol Reef National Park, lots of cool stops with treks and petroglyphs along the road and on via Caineville to Hanksville (remember to fill your gas tanks here!). Here you go right again down Highway 95 and 276 towards Bullfrog and Halls Crossing. We spent the night at Defiance House Lodge – the only motel/lodge there.
You can also continue the 95 straight on if you don’t want to spend the night at Halls Crossing (I’m guessing you would stay the night at Hanksville), it’s also worth noting that the ferry has periods of not running due to low water levels in the lake. Check this in advance, and also book hotel in advance if you’re staying. Check ferry here.
Day 3: Halls Crossing to Grand Canyon
Start the day by crossing Lake Powell on the ferry. It’s a nice start to the day. You will continue to ride the 276 until it meets the 95 again, and you need to do a right. After a few miles on the 95 you will get to a crossing, you can continue the 95 towards Blanding or you can take a right turn on the 261 for a real ADVENTURE! It’s the road to Mexican Hat, and it will yield a gift like you’ve never seen before. You will drive a bit on gravel here, on switchbacks galore down a steep mountain side, so if you’re not up for a bit of gravel driving, continue to Blanding. If you take a right you will encounter the Moki Dugway.
If you have the nerve, it’s worth it, the views from the top towards Monument Valley and Mexican Hat are unparalleled, and just breathtaking. Continue down the switchbacks towards Mexican Hat and do a right on the 163. In Mexican Hat you will cross the San Juan River, and on the riverbank under a cliff there is good food to be had at San Juan Inn.
When you continue on the 163 you will soon have Monument Valley buttes on your horizon. You will know it when you see it, maybe this is one of the most spectacular bits of road anywhere. You will know when you get to THAT point, the point where Forest Gump gave up jogging across USA. There will be hundreds of people (well at least 20-30 people) in the road taking pictures. Stop just after you have rounded the crest, there are plenty of parking opportunities on the shoulder of the road. Just look out for local cars, they tend to speed through just to intimidate the tourists. Photo ops galore here. Continue straight (not many more options) until you get to Oljato Monument Valley, the small settlement, then you do a left towards Monument Valley Tribal Park and The View hotel and campgrounds. This is not an American national park, it’s run by the Navajo tribe, so here your national parks pass wont work. Expect to pay USD 10 per person for entering.
On this particular roadtrip we did not stay in Monument Valley, but if you feel like an extra day or two here, we have stayed on another roadtrip in the excellent cabins of The View Hotel. If you’re just passing, you can take your car into and among the buttes. No motorbikes. But you still get great views from around the hotel and the visitor centre towards those famous buttes. It’s a spectacular place, if you have the time, spend a night, and book a morning tour with a local Navajo guide into the park. To see the sun set, and then seeing the sun rise over the valley, is a once in a lifetime moment.
On this trip we kept on riding towards Grand Canyon. It’s a few hours extra drive to the Grand Canyon at 160 via Tuba City and Cameron until you reach Highway 64 which goes to the west entrance of the Grand Canyon. When you enter Grand Canyon National Park there will be plenty of stops along the rim drive on the way to the village itself. Stop as much as you feel like, every stop will be spectacular.
If you are going to spend the night in Grand Canyon village overlooking the valley you must be extremely early in booking a room, it will be full a year in advance. Check here for availability, we were so lucky that we got rooms at Kachina Lodge.
If you have time, do some trekking, if not, see the sun set over the valley. And get up early to see the sun rise above the valley rim. I’m using the word spectacular a lot, but there is no other way to describe it!
Day 4: Grand Canyon to Kingman
From Grand Canyon south on 180 to Williams (old Route 66 town and worth a visit). Then you need a short distance on the I 40 freeway westwards past Ash Fork, then via Seligman where one of the finest and longest preserved sections of Route 66 starts. Stop at Hackberry Farms on the road and drive to Kingman, there are plenty of hotels and other accommodation. You could continue from Kingman to Oatman in the afternoon, depending on when you arrive in Kingman. If you don’t have the time, do this the next day.
Go here for further description of this part of Route 66:
Day 5: Kingman to Las Vegas
If you want to visit Oatman up in the mountains continue on old Route 66. If you do this, I would just recommend to ride back to Kingman again and then take the 93 north towards Las Vegas and The Hoover Dam. If you’re a film buff, you need to see Hoover Dam. You know what I mean, and if you’re not a film buff, it’s still a cool place to visit. Just know that there is a new bridge, so make sure to divert onto the old road leading over the dam itself.
After Hoover Dam it’s more or less a straight run to Las Vegas on the 93, but remember to do a left on the Interstate 215 towards the airport, then you do a right onto the Strip itself, and you will have that epic last few miles going past the Welcome To Las Vegas sign, and getting to cruise the Strip like they do in the movies.