What can we do outside in the American Southwest in March?
February 4, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Spring break in the desert southwest (definitely Death Valley and probably some combination of Bryce/Zion/Grand Canyon and environs, or whatever else we discover is awesome)- what should we do and how should we budget our time?

We are an Alaskan couple who are going to spend a week in early March in the desert Southwest. The plan is to get into Las Vegas early on the first Sunday in March, and depart a week later (in the late afternoon). We avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in visiting Death Valley primarily, but aren't sure how much time to spend there or what the best parts of it are. We will probably stop by other points of outdoorsy interest in Utah or Arizona, but we're having trouble figuring out how where we should go and what we should make a point of seeing.

We have both spent some time ages ago in and around the national parks in southwest Utah (Zion and Bryce) but haven't been there in March and don't know how doable things are for camping and hiking at that time. He has been to the Grand Canyon, and I spent a couple days in Death Valley once but, again, not since forever and not in late winter/early spring. We are game for repeating things we have done before, and would love some help figuring out an itinerary and getting some sense of what we might be getting ourselves into, weatherwise, in any of those locations. We're not scared by snow, just by a LOT of it and/or impassable hiking trails.

We're game for camping, but are also happy to day hike and come back to someplace with a shower, too.... :)

So: what can we expect? What are the best things to do in Death Valley? What other Southwest options are doable in March? Thanks!
posted by charmedimsure to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might, if you can, wait a week or two to get prime wildflower color in Death Valley, if it comes at all. Death Valley proper is campable (temp wise) even in the dead of winter. Also consider Panamint Springs campground, and lodge.

Zion will be awesome. THe high trails will be snow-covered, but at least partially passable. Sheets of snowmelt on the cliffs, most of the waterfalls will be in good shape.

Bryce will be snowbound below the rim. Cleats on your shoes, and you should be golden. It will still be pretty cold (but nothing you can't handle if you're Alaskans). There are a ton of hotels just outside the park.
posted by notsnot at 8:41 AM on February 4, 2011

So, it's like totally out of the way, but if you're still formulating your trip, you should definitely consider Carlsbad Caverns. I've been all over the US (everywhere you've listed included), and it's probably the coolest place I've seen.

You should also check out Arches and Canyonlands if you're going to be in Utah anyway.
posted by phunniemee at 8:49 AM on February 4, 2011

Yosemite is fantastic in March. The waterfalls are in their full glory, and snow still caps the peaks. As avid hikers, I'm sure you'll appreciate the trails. I'm not sure how far out of the way it would be for you, though.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:02 AM on February 4, 2011

Zion and Bryce are both great. You might also check out Red Rocks just outside Las Vegas, especially if you like rock climbing (but the hiking is also very nice).

Check out some arizona highways magazines for ideas. The southwest isn't homogeneous desert by a long shot.
posted by Chris4d at 9:11 AM on February 4, 2011

Once you get some good ideas of what you want to see, you need to look at these on google maps and see just how far away from each other they are. The closest things mentioned so far are 4 hours drive from Las Vegas, with some being 8 to 12 hours, and all of them in sort of opposite directions. Maybe you want to rent a camper and travel around all week, ending up back in Las Vegas?

I still remember as a kid living in Phoenix when my uncle called from NY saying he had a business trip in Denver - did we want to meet him at the airport and spend the day with our cousins? It's a 14-hour drive. People just don't get how big those western states are.
posted by CathyG at 9:11 AM on February 4, 2011

Other things to see in Northern AZ - Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest.
posted by CathyG at 9:12 AM on February 4, 2011

if you are going to the Grand Canyon, try the old alignment of Route 66, from Oatman to Williams. You can catch a train the canyon from Williams.
posted by timsteil at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2011

If you're doing Bryce and Zion, I recommend checking out the Quail Park Lodge in Kanab, UT. They took an old roadside motel and did some great things with it. The area around Kanab is beautiful and we're hoping to do a lot more exploring around there. (If you are thinking of doing the Grand Canyon from Kanab, it's not happening. The north rim is closed until May. The south rim is open year round but it is a long, long drive, and you're better doing that out of Flagstaff or Williams.)

If you end up doing the Route 66 thing in western AZ, which is neat because we have a long uninterruped stretch of the original road away from the interstate, you can also plan a few things out. If you were going to do the Grand Canyon, start in Williams, see the canyon, and then when you leave, head west. Pick up 66 at Seligman and then stop at the Snow Cap Drive-In while there. It's a required stop. Then do Grand Canyon Caverns outside of Peach Springs. After you get into Kingman and head towards Vegas, you can check out Hoover Dam and also the new bypass bridge, which is an awesome engineering feat. If you start out in Vegas, you can do this in reverse.
posted by azpenguin at 10:02 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did the Grand Canyon skywalk on the Hualapi Indian Reservation when I was last in Las Vegas. It's about a 100 mile drive from Las Vegas. The last 20 or so miles are on unpaved gravel and there are few (read, almost none) facilities after you leave the Hoover Dam area. I was told not to do the canyon trip by car but I did it in a Lincoln Towncar and had no problems. Lots of great scenery, wild cattle and mustangs on the drive.
posted by JohnE at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! We do understand the distances involved- the plan is to do Death Valley (2-3 hours out of Vegas if the Internet has it right) for a few days, then drive back as far as St. George, UT (two hours out the other side of Vegas on I-15) where we are obligated to stop and see some of my family anyway. Zion, at least, is not so far from there, and I'm okay with a longish drive on the Death Valley --> St. George day.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:13 PM on February 4, 2011

If you're going to Death Valley make sure you read this article first: 'Death by GPS' in desert
posted by exhilaration at 12:57 PM on February 4, 2011

I camped at Stovepipe Wells, and I've stayed in the motel at Stovepipe Wells. If you camp then you can get a swimming pool pass which includes the use of a good shower. It can be windy.

I felt like Stovepipe Wells was centrally located for what I wanted to do. You should figure what you're interested in and camp there because Death Valley is big. Don't miss Scotty's castle.
posted by notned at 1:31 PM on February 4, 2011

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