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Transport between SW National Parks ~ 3 weeks trip


Dec 20th, 2013, 04:44 AM
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Transport between SW National Parks ~ 3 weeks trip

hi there!
I'm planning for a trip to some national parks of the SW USA and was wondering if it is easy to make the transport connections between them by public transport.
The plan is to stay about 2-3 weeks there, walk around in the wild, camp, enjoy nature, take nice photos ( but no extreme sports).
Also we would stay a few days more, at a couple of cities in the area - maybe basing at Phoenix and Las Vegas is fine and also practical for flights in/out.
Which partks to vist, would also depend to an extend, on feasibility of moving between them.
Some parks we'd love to visit, are in the area roughly from Grand Canyon AZ to Arches UT and some radius around these.
Yellostone is one more excellent idea too, but seems more far away.
probably we 'll be 2 persons, so renting a car could be ok at some parts, but maybe not for the entire time, for reasons of keeping the costs lower...
so, if you have some tips - recomendations, for making an interesting, practical and low budget itinerary, please do send your suggestions!!
many thanks to all, happy travels!
nikosk is offline  
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Dec 20th, 2013, 04:49 AM
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You will need to rent a car. If you rent and return to the same location the cost will be lower. It is very easy to make a trip low budget, especially if you camp, but you will need a rental car.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 05:11 AM
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Totally agree with starts. Fly into Vegas, rent a car, pick up some tenting equipment (if you aren't bringing it with you), a cooler, supplies at a discount store and visit Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, and Grand Canyon in a loop so you can return the car without drop off fees.

You can sometimes find inexpensive flights into Vegas and car rentals tend to be less expensive there too. This will be much less expensive, and take much less time in transit than trying to use public transportation.

The time of the trip will make a difference as summer will be too hot and winter too cold for most people to want to camp.

Yellowstone is wonderful, but quite far from the others, and there is plenty to see in the other parks to take 2 or 3 weeks.
emalloy is online now  
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Dec 20th, 2013, 06:03 AM
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Of all the places we have rented cars, the best rates were in Vegas. Check around on various travel sites for deals. I think the lowest we paid was $9 a day, but that was a few years ago.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 08:40 AM
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I agree with above that you need a car.

Is there a good reason you've involved both Phoenix and Vegas?

While I'm not a fan of Vegas that's probably a better choice.

Actually, given where you want to go Salt Lake would be my choice. I like the drive from there better than the other two places. Just my preference.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 09:09 AM
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If you are used to camping, you can get inexpensive equipment (tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooking essentials, lantern) in any Target, K-Mart or large sporting goods store. Donate the equipment to Goodwill at the end of your trip.

A car is essential to visit the various national parks.

To whet your appetite:


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Dec 20th, 2013, 11:12 AM
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Many many thanks guys for the very helpful and insight tips!
As you say, renting a car can serve well for an effcient itinerary, especially if it can cost as low as jayne got...
Yellostone probably should be left out, for a seperate trip...
Regarding weather, I was thinking to avoid the colder part of the year, but maybe should avoid also the hotter!
So, things are becoming clearer now...
If I carry camping equipment, would you bet that it is generally possible to find camping space without booking? ? (in organized camps,I guess)
Or is it necessary at places to use accomodation in hotels?
nikosk is offline  
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Dec 20th, 2013, 11:24 AM
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There are lots of camping opportunities in the area, some are first come gets the site others really need reservations. For the National Parks you would probably want to reserve a space. There is also a lot of BLM and National Forest land that has places without facilities that you can camp at little or no cost. Get permits at any of the BLM offices.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 01:02 PM
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The last time I toured the Southwest on a camping trip, we had no reservations. However, we made sure that we arrived at a national park campground before noon, and in the case of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, we camped at the eastern end of the park where no reservations are taken--first come, first served.

Many National Forest campgrounds take reservations, and in my experience those by lakes or streams tend to be fully booked.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 05:18 PM
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You don;t say WHEN you will be coming.

Summers are incredibly hot in many places an din the winter months you can get deep cold and snow. Both major issues if you are camping.

So - which time frame are you looking at?
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Dec 20th, 2013, 06:55 PM
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Nyt, see 2:12
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Dec 20th, 2013, 07:51 PM
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I agree that you will need a car rental for this trip. It sounds like you are visiting from a foreign country - search around for a company that can get you a good rate including insurance. It seems a lot of people from overseas are able to book a one-way car rental with no drop off fee, so check into that. It might really help your itinerary if you can use 2 different airports.

Weather is important but there isn't any one good time for all the parks. There are significant elevation differences between Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon and Arches (and everything in between), so while it might be hot in one place it will be very comfortable elsewhere. And likewise, some months might be cold/snowy at Bryce but beautiful in Zion. Just for example, the average high in Zion is 15-20 degrees (F) warmer than Bryce, yet they are only 1.5 hours apart by car. That makes it tough to find an ideal time for camping. You may find that you'll have to pick the best month for the majority of the parks and stay in a motel for a few nights at whichever park is the outlier in terms of temperature.

Take a look at these links to find the average temps/weather conditions for Zion, Bryce, Arches and the Grand Canyon (North and South Rim). You may have to scroll down to find the temperature charts...

In general, I would say September or October would be ideal. March/April are also nice but popular for spring break, and there will still be snow in some areas. Keep in mind that the road into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon does not open until May 15th. Visitor services/lodging are only open from May 15th to October 15th at the North Rim...before May 15th the road will probably not be open either. After October 15th, the road stays open until they get a major snowstorm. It is often open until mid-November but no guarantees...

As for camping, bring as much of your own gear as possible within the weight limitations of your airline's baggage. You can buy cheap gear but that all adds up. Absolutely buy a cooler to store food and keep your meal costs down, just don't buy one of those super cheap styrofoam coolers. It will not last for 2-3 weeks and you'll just end up buying several. Really evaluate what you need vs. what you want. You need a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and some sort of headlamp or flashlight for night. You don't 'need' a cooking system unless you know you're going to use it a lot. I've gone camping and just used a really cheap alcohol stove to boil some water and use it to rehydrate pre-packaged meals. Make some sandwiches, buy some meal replacement drinks or bars, etc. That might be cheaper than buying a stove, pots/pans, cooking utensils and whatever else.

My own personal experience is that it's easier and more comfortable to camp when it's slightly cold vs. warm or hot. When it's hot at night, it's hard to sleep and there's nothing you can do to stay cool...the rocks really absorb the heat during the day and slowly release that heat during the night, so it just doesn't cool off very well. Plus, you do not want to open up the windows/doors on the tent and just have the mesh openings wide open for ventilation if it's windy or breezy - because you will end up with sand and dust all over the inside of your tent. In a cooler month, you wouldn't need all that ventilation. And it's always easier to add another layer to stay warm, whereas there's only so much you can take off to stay cool.

Once you figure out a rough itinerary you can start looking at camping options. For the most part, you would want to camp inside the national parks. Personally, I would try to book camping sites ahead of time is possible but if you're going in September or October, you probably won't need to. There might be cheaper (or free) options outside the parks, but part of the whole experience is to be right there in the park after the day crowds have left and before they arrive. There's also the issue of driving back and forth and wasting time by staying outside the parks. In most parks, the fee is only $20 or so per night. There are some places in between where you can use the National Forest or BLM campgrounds, or even at large/dispersed camping for free.

You should plan on 3-5 days in the Moab area (Arches, Canyonlands), 2-3 days at the Grand Canyon if you're going to visit both rims, probably a week to split between Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef. And depending on the time of year, I would also go see the mountains in southwest Colorado for a few days - late September/early October should be perfect to see the fall colors. For that matter, you could just visit the mountains in northern Utah and make a big loop from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Zion/Bryce, then Arches and up to Salt Lake City and the mountains. There are a lot more things to do and see but those 4 parks are kind of the main ones.
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Dec 20th, 2013, 08:18 PM
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REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) rents camping equipment. They are one of our most reputable outdoor equipment stores.

There are stores in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City among many others.

You would probably need to reserve it ahead of time.

Another thought is to rent an RV.
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Dec 21st, 2013, 07:52 AM
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Europcar felt no inclination to return our money once they withdrew it from our Visa, no matter how much evidence we threw at them. I would not use them if I were you.

But they are high end, which implies keeping the equipment. That's not very practical if arriving and departing from the Southwest by plane.
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Dec 21st, 2013, 11:06 AM
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If you are indeed from overseas try carhire3000 (I think they recently changed their name to carrentals.com). They will include all insurance needed.
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Dec 21st, 2013, 03:50 PM
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It took me a long time to finally figure out that 2:12 is actually 1:12 for me. I guess it posts to my computers time or whatever time zone I'm in.

I somewhat agree with WhereAreWe, but I like to go at the very best times of the year for each place. I don't think March/April would be that great for Bryce and Zion (especially for some of the better hikes in both).
I think October would be great. You could start in late April in Moab and then work your way to the other parks.
One big thing about the campsite in Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef(I'm not sure about Bryce and Zion) is that they do not have hookups and the do not have showers. I am pretty sure the Grand Canyon does have showers.

If you went with Yellowstone, there are a lot of other places nearby that would be great too. You could do Glacier or Black Hills. I think the best month for Yellowstone is June and the best time for Glacier is mid-July thru August. You could do Black Hills anytime, really.

Another good option for June is Yosemite. This can be done with a California Coast trip/San Francisco.

As WhereAreWe mentioned each season holds something different for each park. However, I don't think of the Utah parks as that seasonal really-- Other than being hot or cold. There isn't any difference in the animals or waterfall flows. There is nice fall foliage in parts of Utah in the fall for a couple of weeks in October.

There are a lot of great state parks in Utah that do have hookups and do have hot showers. I would consider staying at those(at least a few times, so you could shower). Try Deadhorse Point and Goblin Valley. Frankly, Goblin Valley is one of my very favorite spots in Utah anyway. I am pretty sure that the South rim has showers, but I don't think the North rim of the GC does(I'm not sure though).
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Dec 21st, 2013, 05:29 PM
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My main reason for saying March/April is good is because spring in the desert is beautiful with the flowers blooming, and the weather is pleasant. But yes, my main recommendation would be late September to mid-October for the best combination of weather for each park.

State parks are nice and in Utah, I believe you can enter and pay a (small) separate fee if you also want to use the showers. At least I could do that the last time I visited which was 5 years or so ago.

Bryce has showers by the lodge/general store. I would guess there is somewhere in Moab that has showers, with all those people visiting there has to be someone that has them. Same with Springdale (Zion). Generally speaking I've found that gateway towns usually have multiple public shower options if the park doesn't have showers in the campgrounds.
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Dec 21st, 2013, 07:59 PM
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I did not notice that I had copied the wrong thread. My comments about being high end refers to REI. As it stands, my previous post makes no sense.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 01:06 AM
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Many thanks for the great help!!
And sorry for being a little late to answer, it depends on my peculiar connectivity timeframe here...
It’s a huge wealth of info you sent here!!
Wherearewe and spirobulldog thanks for the extra mile to get into all these details, it was great insight!
These bring up a few complications and for a first time visitor from overseas, it sounds a little difficult, it needs carefull planning and be prepared for alternatives, in order to avoid unpleasant nights!
But anyway, after the first days, it will become easier, especially if I get there outside the peak period.
My time of visit is not set, yet, though I understand it can play a significant role for both good experience and practicalities...
I was thinking to avoid the colder and hotter part of the year, so spring/ autumn is most probable.
Regarding transportation, everything seems to lead to the car rental solution. An insurance add on package is definately necessary. I see on rental websites some great offers occasionally, but they are bare bone, so the real price you have to pay, can double, or so..
I'll check about the bus/shuttle services, too, though they sound complicated and obviously, they cannot do the whole job ...
And no Yellostone at this trip, since it is out of the way….
Thanks again for the superb insight know how from all!!!
I'll keep searching, and also watch this thread for new posts
Happy holidays + new year + travels!
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 04:07 AM
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We recently rented an SUV in Las Vegas for 13 full days for only $550. I am certain you can find a rental car for only a few hundred dollars for 2-3 weeks. There are lots of pretty inexpensive places to stay in southern Utah if you take time to do the research. The most expensive lodging will be in the Nat'l parks but you'll find plenty of great places to camp.

Once you have a better idea of where you want to go, post again and you'll get more specific details on where to stay, camp, eat, and hike. Enjoy the planning!
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