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Zion/Bryce or Arches/Canyonlands?

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Hi all,

First time to the Southwest region, and am flying into Phoenix in mid August for a 7 day (mostly Utah) vacation. We are flying into Phoenix due to the cheap airfare we were able to get :) I plan on staying in Sedona for a day, then traveling north to Utah. I know my time is limited, and I won't get to see all of the national parks that I want to see without being extremely rushed. If you had to choose, which parks would you focus on as a first time visit, Arches/Canyonlands or Zion/Bryce? I guess I kinda what somewhere not as touristy, and just the best overall desert/canyon/Utah experience if that makes sense! I want to actually experience the landscape, not sit in the car the WHOLE time, with some reasonable hikes in there. I've been reading all the forums, but just can't decide.

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    Are you sure you really want the full-on desert experience in mid-August? You're going anyway, so just know what you're getting into. The average highs in Arches, Canyonlands and Zion are upper 90s. Bryce is cooler.

    One problem is Zion/Bryce will be more crowded than Arches/Canyonlands. I also don't think Zion/Bryce have quite the wide-open feel that you would get in the Moab area, so that may not fit with your desire to the get the best overall desert/canyon/Utah experience.

    Are you including the Grand Canyon as well? I would think you would at least stop at the South Rim for a few hours if you've never been in the area.

    Sedona is quite touristy. Grand Canyon South Rim is very crowded in summer. Zion is very busy as well.

    Aproximate average number of visitors in August over the last 3 years for each park, from the NPS website:

    Grand Canyon: 600,000+
    Zion: 350,000
    Bryce: 200,000+
    Arches: 140,000
    Canyonlands: 60,000

    You might be best off headed to Moab in spite of the heat just to escape the hordes of tourists. Hike early or late, save your driving for mid-day when you can sit in the comfort of your car.

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    Tough choice as I've been to Arches once, Zion twice and Bryce Canyon three times. This wasn't preference but just the way it worked out.

    A word of caution about Sedona. The actual town is little other than t-shirt stores, art galleries and restaurants that close at 9PM.

    However, it's the surrounding red rocks that provide the amazing views.

    To get the most bang for a limited amount of time I would go to Boynton Canyon Vista (a very shortened first prt of the Boynton Canyon hike) in Sedona west, the area around Bell Rock or maybe either hike or take a Oink Jeep to broken Arrow.

    Then in the evening go to Crescent Moon Picnic Area and find a spot where you can see Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek in the foreground. The watch as the sun goes down behind you and Cathedral Rock turn bright orange.

    Non-touristy and those parks are contradictory. The idea is for people to visit them.

    Zion is not in the desert. Bryce I guess is but it doesn't really look like it because it's not level. A very unique light orange.

    Arches is in the desert.

    Each of these parks is absolutely different.

    Zion will be hottest and Bryce coolest due to elevation.

    I've never found any of the parks too crowded. In general if you go a hundred yards from the car the number of people drops drastically.

    If you spend a day in Sedona and don't mind driving a lot (and you will), and decide to skip anything that is not one of those parks (somewhat of a mistake), you can spend some time in each of the Arches, Bryce and Zion.

    If you think you'll be able to get back to this part of the country in the not-to-distant future than flip a coin.

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    Since you are flying into Phoenix - I would say the obligatory 4? hour trip to the Grand Canyon - south rim anyway - is a no brainer. At least stay there a night before continuing on.

    From there - many varied opinions about the two main choices you are laying out.

    I loved Zion/Bryce but also really liked Arches - and the drive through the Canyonlands/Capital Reef is amazing.

    Either one would be great - and also read the other blogs/trip reports/pics in here - by Myer, Spirobulldog (sp), Neiderlander (sp) - and others - even including moi. :) http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/sw-scenic-whirl-zionbrycecapitol-reefmvgcsedona.cfm

    Honestly - I don't think you can go wrong either way.

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    I'll rank things Iv'e seen in Utah by my favorites.
    I've been to most of them twice, Bryce just once.

    #1 Arches NP-plus canyoneering with Desert Highlights there
    #2 Zion-specifically Angels Landing and The Narrows hikes
    #3 Goblin Valley/Little Wildhorse Canyon
    #4 Bryce-If you don't want to hike much, you can see a lot here without the hikes. Horse riding is nice here too.
    #5 Canyonlands-I really like Horseshoe Canyon section
    Canyonlands is huge and I really need to see a lot more of it to be fair. I did do a fly over of it in a small plane and that was really good way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Seeing The Chocolate Drops from above is really cool.
    #6 Sipapu Bridge at Natural Bridges NM. Its an awesome span when you stand under it.
    #7 Capitol Reef-This place is really uncrowded. There is some nice arches/bridges and nice hikes. Gifford Pie House there is cool. The Orchards there are really nice.
    #8 Deadhorse Point-Very Dramatic overlook
    #9 Moki Dugway/Goosenecks of the San Juan
    #10 Timpanogos Cave(near salt lake)
    #11 Devils Garden in Escalante
    #12 Calf Creek Falls in Escalante

    Bryce, Zion, and Capitol Reef are all nice because they have trees. The Green contrasts nicely with the red rocks. I think Capitol Reef has the best deepest color of the rocks.
    Canyonlands and Arches has more of a desert feel to them.

    Be sure and take one night out to see the night sky at one of these places. Spend an hour or two in the dark to let your eyes get adjusted. Most of the places have "night sky" events with a ranger. I like to see Goblin Valley late in the evening and then watch the stars. Bryce is also nice late, because you get the big shadows. Bryce has an outstanding night sky program.

    Now there wouldn't be much difference in my top 7 picks. You can't go wrong with any of them.

    I have not been to the Page area. I want to hike The Wave at some point. Since Monument Valley is somewhat on the AZ/UT border I should also mention it.

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    One more thing. I really applaud you for not wanting to rush through things. Most people try to see each park in one rushed day and if you really want to get a feel for them, the more time you spend there, the more you will like them.

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    Last post, I promise.

    Do your driving Mid-day if you can. Hike early to avoid the heat.

    The Narrows and Slot Canyons can be done in the day as they are cool and provide shade. Something like Angels Landing or Delicate Arch in Arches is zero shade for the most part.

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    While seven days may sound like a lot, when you start putting in all the miles between where you are starting and where you want to go for sure you can't see it all.

    Either way I think you should include Grand Canyon and Page as well.

    If you go to Zion/Bryce you can spend 3 days at Zion, 1 at Bryce, 1 at Sedona, 1 at Page.

    If you go to Moab you could spend 1 day in Sedona, 1 in Page, 1/2 day at Monument Valley, 1 day for Arches, 1 day for Canyonlands/Dead Horse Point and 1 day for something else in Moab like rafting, or jeeping, or biking, or some of the other sights like hwy 128 with Fisher Towers... etc. If you go this route you could do a kind of loop that would include both hwy 191 with Edge of the Cedars, and Bluff historic fort as well as hwy 95 with Natural bridges and Moki Dugway and Goosenecks.

    Zion is my favorite park. I would always pick it. It is fairly easy and quick to see if you don't hike. If you can hike then getting off onto any of the trails will usually cut down on the number of people. But to tell you the truth I have never been bothered by crowds at Zion. Maybe I am just good at ignoring them. I've been there at all times of the year, and it is always the canyon that attracts my attention, not the people sharing it with me. I can spend a week there and not do everything. But three days will give you a good start.

    Many people are blown away by the hoodoos and colors of Bryce. This is a small park and very easily seen in a day. Though two days will give you plenty of time to watch the colors change on the hoodoos, take in a ranger talk, take either a full moon walk or look at the stars with the telescopes they have set up.

    Moab is more adventure oriented. When I go to Moab in the summer it is usually to take a river trip. The Colorado is a great river to run and I've loved every one of the times I've been on the river. Canyoneering, jeeping, biking lots of options here. Arches blows me away every time I go, it is rock and not much else than rock, but oh what you'll see of the rock there. It is amazing. Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point State park are mostly about views unless you can get a jeep trip or bike ride down the mesas.

    You will enjoy which ever one you do, so I'm with Myer, if neither really pulls at you just flip a coin.

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