Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page > Help with plan for National Parks Southwest trip

Help with plan for National Parks Southwest trip


Oct 28th, 2009, 03:54 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 15
Help with plan for National Parks Southwest trip

This is my 1st time posting, but I have been reading and enjoying the wisdon here for a while.

My wife and I are planning a trip at the end of May 2010 to the Parks.

After scouring the postings here I have made a tenative plan but need some additional help. We are planning to rent a car when we arrive in Las Vegas and here is the plan.

Fly into Las Vegas 2nts

Zion National Parks 3nts hotel in Springdale

Bryce Canyon 2nts Bryce Canyon City

Capitol Reef Nat Pk 1 nt Torrey

Moab 3 nts

Monument Valley 1 nt

Grand Canyon 2 nts

Flagstaff area 2 nts

Fly out of Phoenix

Does this sound like a doable schedule with time to really see things in the areas we are visiting? Is the time of year okay for these places? Will the snow be gone and weather decent. I am not a cold weather person and would prefer resonable temps...50's to 80's.

We would like to see the north and south rim of the Grand Canyon. What would be the best way to approach it? Should we make a detour to the north rim between Zion and Bryce? Should we plan a night at both north and south rim?

I have heard that staying in the parks are best, but right now there are no rooms available for our dates.

None of the plans are concrete and no reservations have been made as of yet. We plan to use ff miles and they are available as of now, but I don't want to wait too long for fear they will be gone.

Any help will be appreciated.


Byllb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 28th, 2009, 04:44 PM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 5,161
Staying in the parks is best IMO and if they say they are full, keep calling as they get cancellations all the time and they don't always show up on the web site. You might make a refundable reservation at a hotel/motel and cancel it if one opens up in a park. Temperatures should be war in May, but Bryce and the north rim will be cooler than the others because of their elevations. There was snow on the ground one April in Bryce when we were there, but the daytime temperature was not too cold.

If you don't overnight in the park at the north rim, the drive into it is quite long and you might have to go up to Kayenta, UT to find lodging.

You might consider doing your loop in the opposite direction - starting in Phoenix and ending in Vegas to look for dates that might work better. Also check for the difference in price for the rental car and drop off charge.
emalloy is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 28th, 2009, 05:01 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,072
Along emalloy's line of thought: you may want to compare the price of a rental car picking up and returning in Las Vegas. There's only a few hour difference between driving to Phoenix and driving to Las Vegas at the end of the trip, and it might save you quite a bit to just drive back to Vegas and fly out from there.

That would also give you a bit of flexibility now on lodging dates, as you could do the same loop in reverse starting with the Grand Canyon south rim and ending with Zion.

You don't say the exact dates but try to avoid the more popular parks on Memorial Day weekend. Zion and the Grand Canyon will be pretty busy.

However you do it, the North Rim will be out of the way. I'd try to stay overnight there if possible. Perhaps skip a night in Flagstaff in favor of a night at the North Rim.

It would also help to know what you're interested in: if you like to do easy hikes vs. more difficult hikes, photography, history, etc. If you just like to look over the edge, 2 nights at Bryce might be one too many but if you like to hike and do a horseback ride, it would be about right. Same goes for the other places.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 10:55 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,764
I was in Bryce and Zion the last few days of May and start of June 2 years ago. It snowed a bit the early morning of my second day in Bryce but was all gone by 10AM. Zion was sunny and hot as it's 4,000 ft lower.

There's nothing like being inpark.

Zion, Bryce and GC lodging are all run by Xanterra. Tour companies book many rooms in the hope they'll fill there tours. Then, as time goes on (mostly the last month or so) they begin to release some.

I would call (don't bother with the web site) Xanterra every day or even twice a day for cancellations. Eventually you'll get you dates. As a backup you should book out of park until you get your dates. Ruby's at bryce, etc.

I don't know what you details are like but I would do the following.

Make sure you get up early in Bryce and get over to Bryce point for sunrise. Spectacular!!!

Between Bryce/Zion/North Rim on the way to the South Rim you have to pass Page, AZ. There are 3 sight definitely worth stopping for:
From north to South you pass a sign ("Scenic road") on the west side of the road just after crossing the bridge. That's "the best dam view". Park you car and walk down the stone steps to a viewing stand directly facing the dam. All free.

The next 2 are best when the sun is high. Down Rte 89 just below Rt98 there's a sign on the right side (set) for Horseshoe Bend. Go into the free parking lot and it's a 3/4 mile relatively flat, unshaded, hot walk to another amazing view of the Colorado making a horseshoe turn 1,000 below you. Take care as there's not fence, screen or barrier here.

On the way down Rte 89 from the best dam view you take a left turn (east) on Rte 98. Go a couple of miles toward the power station and you'll see a sign on the right right for Antelope Canyon. They charge about $6. to park the car and about $20. for the "guide"/truck ride to the Canyon. It's a pretty small canyon and flat walking inside. With the sun bouncing off the walls another amazing sight.

On the way from Bryce you can detour a couple of hours. Just east of Bryce is Canonville. You can stop in the visitors center and get instructions on how to get to Willis Creek. The ride is on a moderately hilly dirt road. However, once you park the car and start walking, you're immediately a true slot canyon. A very easy walk with some very small waterfalls as well. Do not go if there's a threat of rain.

Between Bryce and Torrey you have Escalente and the small town of Boulder. Several miles before (west) of Boulder is Lower Calf Creek Falls. It's a 2.5 mile hike on pretty flat terrain but with little shade until you get to the Falls. Another spectacular sight. The Falls fall 126 ft.

You've got 3 nights for Moab but I'm not sure how many days. I would try to do the following:
Hike to Delicate Arch to get there about an hour before sunset.
Book a place on the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike.
See Balanced Rock right beside the road.
Go to the Windows section and walk thru the Windows, go over to turret Arch and walk thru it and then Double Arch and walk inside. They're all right near each other.
Then there are a bunch of other things there.
For part of a day go to Canyonlands NP to see Mesa Arch and a few viewpoints. Then stop in Dead Horse Pt State Park and stop at the viewpoint. We stopped at the viewpoint and then noticed further along there's a built observation deck that gives you a better view of the turn in the river.

You can see my trip photos at:

Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 11:29 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,229
Hi Blyyd,

My main comments are

1. you should add one more day to Moab. I would take that day from Flagstaff if you go with the Phoenix plan.

2. End of May will already be in the 90's in Moab and could even be up to 100 in Zion. Early May is better for these two, but how it affects your plans depends on whether or not you are hikers.
Dayle is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 11:34 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
I agree, stay "in park" at the historic lodges if possible. If not, at least have a meal there. Are you doing North or South rim of Grand Canyon? You might want to do a small plane flight from Moab over Canyonlands. It looks really amazing from the air and you will see a lot.

If you are adventurous try canyoneering in Moab or Zion. It's a really kicked up version of hiking.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 12:35 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 15
Thanks so much for all of your replies. I never thought about the memorial day problem, but have now bumped our dates a week earlier to avoid being in Zion over Memorial Day. It also allowed me to snag a cabin at Bright Angel. Still no luck with Zion or Bryce, but I did make a reservation at Desert Pearl just outside Zion, and at the Best Western just outside Bryce. I will keep trying for the parks, but these alternatives seem to be acceptable if needed.

I planned the trip starting in Las Vegas because car rentals are much less from there, even with a drop charge.

Our friends have suggested we stay in Sedona instead of Flagstaff. Any comments or hotel suggestions?

We are looking at the View Lodge at Monument Valley. Anyone stayed there?

I'm sure I will be back with lots of other questions, but in the meantime, thanks so much everyone for your help.
Byllb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 02:48 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,764
I was in Sedona 2 years ago and stayed at the Best Western Inn of Sedona.

At that time it had been newly redone and had the look and feel of a new place. It very close the the "Y" and while it's very near the highway, you drive up a hill and away from the road. The main level is actually the 3rd level. If you stay there ask for rooms on that level but directly across the main office.

If you look for my trip report I list the range of room numbers. These rooms have a front door that opens to the parking lot and a back door that open on a patio with tables facing the Red Rocks. Chimney Rock.

If you do stay in Sedona make sure you go to the Crescent Moon picnic area about an hour before sunset. When you go in ask where Oak Creek is and a view of Cathedral Rock. Absolutely beautiful reflection of Cathedral Rock in the Creek as the Rock turns orange.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 03:06 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 1,690
If you can, add Lake Powell en route to North Rim or vice versa and if you are going to Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly in Chinle is also a good stop. A night each away from Bryce and Zion to stop by these would be worth it if you can manage to put it in your route. I agree staying in the park is best but in Zion, I actually liked staying in town better - better restaurants. Springdale is pretty much juxtaposed to the park. The Desert Pearl is a great place but for a less expensive alternative, right across the street at The Canyon Ranch Motel is quite nice (ask for the newly renovated rooms), the proprietors Mark and his wife were really the best hotel proprietors we've ever met.

I agree, Sedona is a better stop than Flagstaff although a quick lunch or dinner in flagstaff is also a nice break from the road.
maria_so is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 04:36 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 890
maria_so --I agree that staying in Springdale is nice; and choosing between Desert Pearl and Canyon Ranch would be a really difficult decision for me. Mark and his wife are so nice, the property is lovely, and the price is right, but I absolutely love the decor of the Desert Pearl rooms and the pool area. I think a poolside room at Desert Pearl would be my first choice, with Canyon Ranch a really close second. (Just thinking about the area makes me want to plan another trip!
travlsolo2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 04:38 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 890
oops, that smiley is a little out of control. I meant to type just the regular one.
travlsolo2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 29th, 2009, 06:17 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Instead of Lodge in Monument Valley consider Valley of the Gods B&B. It is just north or MV. Valley of the Gods, itself, is a mini version of MV. All within a 15 miles of each other is Valley of the Gods, Moki Dugway, Muley Point, and Goosenecks State Park. All of these are very interesting and we enjoyed them about as much as MV.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 1st, 2009, 12:30 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 15
More great ideas to consider. We now have our flights booked on American through ff miles arriving Las Vegas on May 19, leaving Phoenix on June 5th. Our flight out of Phoenix is a 6am so we will most likely stay near Phoenix airport on the 4th. I am considering the Hilton Resort in Sedona. I can use Hilton points there and it seems to get good reviews. It seems to be a few miles outside Sedona, so I don't know if that would be less fun than staying right in downtown. Anyone stayed there or have another suggestion?
I am still searching and tweaking the plans, so any comments would be greatly appreciated.
Byllb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 1st, 2009, 06:20 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
How much hiking or activities do you want to do? Have you seen the GC before?
Day 1 & 2 Vegas
Day 3 Drive to North Rim, spend the night there
Day 4 maybe get a permit to hike "the wave"
Day 4 maybe Lake Powell
Day 5,6 Zion-rent gear and hike The Narrows, Angels Landing is great, but difficult
Day 7 Bryce-hike navajo loop/queens garden, horseback peekaboo
Day 8 Calf Creek Falls/ Utah HWY 12/ Capitol Reef-orchard
Day 9 Goblin Valley, Little Wildhorse Canyon(great slot)
see Deadhorse point on drive to Moab
Day 10, 11, 12 Arches, Canyonlands-consider doing a flyover in a small plane from Moab. If you are adventurous, go canyoneering(best thing I have ever done)

Day 13, 14 Monument Valley/

I personally would cut out Vegas and Flagstaff and add more time to your other stops and perhaps a visit to Mesa Verde/Durango

you could see the South Rim on the way back through. I bet you will have seen it pretty good from the North, and the view from Deadhorse Point is pretty spectacular and similar to the GC.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 1st, 2009, 08:37 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,229
You might check to see when North Rim Grand Canyon opens. They have a shorter season due to higher elevation (snow) than South Rim.
elnap29 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 2nd, 2009, 04:38 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Generally May 15 to Oct 15
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 2nd, 2009, 09:36 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,764
I think the Hilton is right near the "Y". I could be wrong.

Don't expect to much from the actual town of Sedona. A few art galleries, t-shirt store and a couple of restaurants. The big attraction are the red rock views and hikes.

The town is one street to the north of the "Y", the Thalq at the "Y" and a highway with a few restaurants to the west.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 2nd, 2009, 12:21 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 15
Spirobulldog, Thanks for the tips. We are not really hikers, but don't mind a 1-3 miler if not too strenuous. We have never seen the Grand Canyon or been to any of these places before. I have heard that the altitude could affect our ability to do much hiking if we are not acclimated to it. How long does acclimation usually take?
Byllb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 2nd, 2009, 01:14 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
If you are inexperienced, then The Wave probably isn't for you, but it would be great. Most people rate this as one of the top hikes anywhere.

If you haven't been to Vegas, then it you should spend a day or two there. I allow myself to throw away $20 and then I am furious. I just don't like to gamble. Try to catch one of the Cirque Shows, see the mall under Caesers Palace. See the Volcano @ the Mirage, See the Bellagio Fountains. 100's of places to eat in Vegas

In Page/Lake Powell- see the lake and see Rainbow Bridge.
I haven't done Antelope Canyon or Canyon X, but I am sure they are great. This is also the area where The Wave is at.
Most of these ideas would take a full day.

I have rafted the GC and have been to the South Rim 3 times. I have not seen the North Rim. I think the views would be similar, but the North Rim is less deserty(more trees and green). The south rim you could take a helicopter flight over. From the North Rim you could do a flight from Page Arizona. It just gives you a great idea of how big and deep the thing is. I would hike down a short distance into the canyon, whichever side you are on. Stay at El Tovar or Bright Angel Cabin on the South. on the north, stay @ Grand Canyon Lodge(the only lodging on the north)

In Zion, I would stay @ Zion Lodge in the park. There are some other good spots to stay at and to eat at in Springdale, which is the little town right at the entrance. I would definately hike The Narrows. You will want to rent shoes for this and maybe even a wetsuit for your lower half, or even a full suit if it is cold. Don't miss this one. One of the top hikes in a National Park. If that isn't enough, Zion also has another great hike. Angels Landing. This one is tough and requires a little mental stamina as well. It is 2.5 miles straight up and part of it you are looking down 2000 feet while on a narrow 3 foot ledge. They do provide a chain for you to hold onto. We did this in 5 hours. Even saw a Condor at the top. Both of these hikes are off the charts-spectacular. There are 2 or 3 other very nice hikes in Zion as well.

In Bryce, Navajo Loop/Queens Garden(I haven't been to Bryce, so I hate to start giving advice to somewhere I haven't even been. I think Myer spent a couple of days here last year and he has some nice photos that he might link here. Again, I would stay in the park Lodge.

The drive between Bryce and Capitol Reef is one of the best in America. Stop @ Calf Creek Falls in Route(allow 1/2 day here).

Two weeks ago I was in Capitol Reef for a weekend. Cap Reef is somewhat like Zion, but is my least favorite area that I have visited in Utah. You should stop and see the Orchard and have a homemade pie and homemade ice cream. They serve this at an Old Mormon House right in the picnic area of the orchard. You are almost guaranteed to be eating with deer. Pick some fruit and eat all you want for free, or purchase some to take with you. Hells Backbone Grill is the place to eat on Hwy 12. Cafe Diablo is the place to eat near Cap Reef.

From there, head up to Goblin Valley and spend an hour or two there. Just 3 or 4 miles from Goblin Valley is Antelope Canyon. A great slot Canyon comparible to Antelope Canyon. This one doesn't require a guide, because it isn't on an Indian Reserve. You will spend 2 or 3 hours there. It is an easy hike with a lot of people on it.

There is a section of Canyonlands, not far from here. This is known as Horseshoe Canyon and it is where The Great Gallery is at. It is the best Pictograph/Petroglyph. Everything else is compared to this panel. Moderate hike through a canyon. This is about 2 miles from where the guy had to amputate his own arm a few years back. He was in a slot canyon, no chance of getting hurt here, there are people on this trail every day. It requires driving a dirt road for about an hour to get to it. The hike takes 4-5 hours.

From there head to Moab, stop at Deadhorse Point on the way. This is similar to Grand Canyon View, but don't miss it.
Arches- Don't miss Delicate Arch, Don't miss Devils Garden Trail. Both of these are a little tough, but certainly doable by most people. Don't miss- Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and The Windows.

Now, the very best thing I have ever done is with www.deserthighlights.com. This is hiking with a little bit of rappelling. This can also be done in Zion and Escalante.
You might consider a flyover @ Moab of Canyonlands, we thought it was great.

From there, consider Natural Bridges National Monument/Moki Dugway, Muley Point, and Gooseneck of the San Juan State Park. This can be done in a day and then spend the night @ Valley of the Gods B&B.

From there you can head towards Mesa Verde or Monument Valley.

If you go to Mesa Verde, I would ride the train in Durango and Zipline. Monument Valley is somewhat like Capitol Reef, certainly is awesome, but on the bottom of my list as far as awesome goes. I loved Mesa Verde. You would want to stay in the park and allow two full days there. You could see 4 corners monument( touristy, but where can you stand in 4 states at once).

Cap Reef

spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 2nd, 2009, 01:15 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Mesa Verde, Natural Bridges, Durango, 4 corners

Arches, Canyoneering
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 11:34 PM.