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Bryce, Then Zion in late April

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I'll be visiting Bryce, then Zion in late April. I'll have two and a half days and three nights before my Ragnar Trail Zion starts on 4/25.

What tips do you have for day hikes (with guide, as I don't like hiking solo), places to stay and eat (good quality but reasonably-priced), and how to divide the time between both parks?

Also, is there one hotel that works for both parks?

Thanks!

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    I'll save the hiking discussion for a separate response. How much of a hike do you want? Given that you'll be in the Ragnar Trail Relay, I assume you can handle tough hikes, but do you need to save some energy for your runs?

    General wisdom suggests separate hotels for the two parks. It's well worth seeing sunrise and sunset at Bryce, and I can't recommend driving long distances at night in this darkest of areas (even more so because you may encounter some snow or ice at Bryce).

    I'd stay at Bryce one night, and two nights at Zion. At a minimum: (1) at Bryce, allow for viewing sunset the day of arrival, and sunrise the next day; (2) At Zion, allow for one full day of hiking. That adds up to about one and one-half days, or slightly more. For the remaining day, I'd decide based on the weather. It's fun to hike at Bryce, but at its altitude the trails into the canyon might still be icy. In any case, Zion has tons of interesting trails.

    At Zion, expect highs in the mid to upper 70's, and lows in the mid to upper 40's. However, cold is still a possibility. When I was there May 1-3, 2010, it was windy, below freezing, and the higher elevations had snow showers and a small amount of accumulating snow. Higher elevation trails may still have snow, although I vaguely recall reading that this winter has been pretty dry; keep your fingers crossed.

    Zion is one of the few parks where I prefer to stay outside of the park. The town of Springdale is located on the southwestern border of the park. It is very convenient, has dozens of hotels, and a number of pretty good restaurants. If budget allows, Desert Pearl is my favorite among the few I've been to, and is generally considered to be one of the top spots (cost = about $180/night). Flanigan's Inn should be a little less expensive ($140/night?), but is still nice. I liked the Best Western before it was renovated -- when it was cheap -- but it's now not so cheap. My impression is that, if you just want a clean place to sleep, you can select some of the more modest places; I'm looking at Quality Inn & Suites Montclair for my next trip.

    For dining, Oscar's is an informal inexpensive place, with good hamburgers and such for dinner; it's also open for breakfast and lunch. For something fancier (relatively speaking, considering that you're next to a national park), Bit and Spur offers Mexican standards, plus a few specialties, such as mushroom stuffed poblano peppers. Both restaurants offer outdoor seating, if the weather cooperates.

    At Bryce, try to get a room in the park's lodge. If unavailable, there are a couple of hotels immediately outside the park entrance. I don't remember anything about the food, except that it was unmemorable ;-)

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    I did a similar trip last year, first week in May, solo. In Zion park these are the hikes I did.

    1. Angels Landing trail up to Scouts Lookout, then on to West Rim. I never made it all the way out to Angels Landing. The first few miles up to Scout's Lookout are all vertical switchbacks. The trail is paved, and there will be lots of other people out. This is a trail you can do solo, but you won't be alone. From Scouts Landing onward to West Rim - this was much more desolate. I passed only a handful of people all day. It's not a hard trail, and one you can do solo, but not if you don't like to hike alone

    2. Narrows from the bottom up. The water levels had dropped enough by the end of my stay so this was open. When levels are higher the NPS doesn't allow hikers in the narrows. I did this solo, 1st one on the river in the morning and didn't see anybody for several hours. A bit freaky. If you went mid morning you'd not be alone.

    3. Overlook trail - a several mile trail straight up switchbacks on the east side. Not too many hikers, but never really alone. I'd say I passed someone either same or opposite direction about every 15-20min. This is listed as a strenuous trail (as are the other 2), but I didn't have any issues basically sprinting up then jogging down - great vistas, and a trail you could also do alone without a guide. I didn't start up the trail until about 2pm (i'd ridden a long mtb bike ride in the am outside the park), so by that time nobody else was going up.

    So I think you could do any of those trails solo. Either 1 or 3 would be a great tune up for the Ragnar. From the Ragnar site it looks like the race is outside the park on the east side.

    Another trail you could do would be the East Rim trail. You'd need to get a ride to the East rim trail head, then it's a nice (& long) hike back down to the valley. If I'd had another day I'd have hitchhiked a ride to the trailhead and done this solo.

    On my hike to the west rim I was passed by a group who was doing the trans-Zion (East to West rim) trail in one day. They were booking along quickly - traveling light.

    At Bryce, these are the hikes I did, again all solo.

    1. Queens Garden/Navajo loop. Very busy with people, popular trial. No issues going solo

    2. Peekaboo loop (I tagged this onto #1 in the same afternoon). Not busy at all. I passed hikers going the other way about ever 30min. It may feel a bit eerie going solo, but there is enough traffic that if you had an issue someone would come by.

    3. Fairyland Loop - this is Bryce back country, and a great full (2/3) day hike. Very isolated. I think I saw 4-5 other people the entire day. Again, one you can do solo, but not if you don't like hiking alone.

    So at Bryce, I actually think you'd be fine going solo with 1+2 in the same hike. I think the total hiking time was about 3-4hrs for them combined but I don't recall exactly (I'd have to look it up on my garmin site). The trails are "easy" as in non-technical. Lots of ups and downs, but a great pre Ragnar training hike. I tend to do a mix of hiking/trail jog on these trails. Pick up the pace a bit but never a full trail run pace.

    For lodging. At Zion I stayed at Cable Mtn lodge, just outside the park. Loved jumping in the pool & hot tub after a long day outside.

    At Bryce I stayed in Park at Bryce Lodge. Comfortable room, very close to the trails & rim views. I'd do the same again at both parks. Lots of options outside Zion in Springdale. Most here on fodors recommend staying in-park at Zion. lgott and I seem to be in the minority. Having a pool and hot tub was a nice bonus for me, and you don't get that at Zion lodge.

    Be prepared for winter weather at Bryce. It's at 8000' elevation and there was snow 1st week in May last year when I was there. A lot of hikers in shorts and t-shirts were not well prepared for the cold & snow, but it didn't cause me any troubles.

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    You will have no problem hiking solo on any of the major hikes in these parks. There will be LOTS of people. You can't get lost and there is plenty of help around if you need it. I have hiked lots by myself as a single female. Never had a problem.

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    PS. Definitely stay in Springdale. Cable Mtn Lodge is very nice but maybe a bit pricey?? And it is right there at the entrance to the park. You can't beat that!

    Stay at Ruby's Inn when you go to Bryce--pool, hot tub, fridge, microwave. None of the food is great but there are several places to eat so at leas it is something different each night!!

    And just bring lots of layers---it could be hot, it could be cold. You just don't know.

    One thing for your race--lots of runners are prepared for the heat but not the sand. It gets in your shoes and totally chews up your feet. So you are actually better off with heavier duty running shoes vs. the really ventilated ones where the sand just seeps through the more porous material. And make sure you have good thick socks--and extra ones to change into for each leg of your Ragnar.

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    Bryce has one of the darkest night skies in North America, so viewing the stars will be incredible. Check if the Rangers are offering a "star gazing" while you are there. They set up several telescopes for viewing various night sky sites ...

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