Vegas and National Parks Itinerary Help
April 1, 2013 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice, suggestions, critiques, reviews of our July Las Vegas to Utah National Parks itinerary.

All comments are welcome including alternative recommendations. We are two families of 4 adults and 4 children ranging in age from 8 to 14. We'll probably have 2 rental cars. We like outdoor activities but probably won't be camping or hiking strenuously (or more than a few hours). We are not planning to spend much time in Vegas just a pass-through to see the sights and hit some restaurants and maybe a show if there is a deal, a few relaxing days with a nice pool is our goal in or near Vegas.

Day 1 - Arrive evening, stay in/near Vegas 4 nights
Day 5 - Drive to Zion (3 hours), afternoon in Zion, drive to Grand Canyon (2 hours), spend 1 night
Day 6 - Drive by Antelope Canyon, to Monument Valley (2 hours) for afternoon, drive to Moab (2.5 hours), spend 4 nights near Canyonlands
Day 10 - Drive to Bryce (4.5 hours), stay 2 nights
Day 12 - Drive to Vegas (4 hours), stay 1 night
Day 13 - Red Rock, Vegas, depart afternoon

Thoughts? Too much? Too little? We are ambitious. Suggestions on where to stay? Locations with rentals through VRBO or other where we could save on 1 rental for both families and with a kitchen are good. Anything we shouldn't miss? Capital Reef, rafting, Anasazi ruins, Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge?
posted by RoadScholar to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Valley of Fire is worth a trip!
posted by bensherman at 12:05 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Why Zion first? What about Vegas-Grand Canyon-Antelope/Monument-Moab-Bryce-Zion?

(Last fall, our route was Vegas-Zion-Bryce-Moab, with the Bryce-Moab leg via Route 12, which is an astonishingly beautiful drive; we stopped at Kodachrome State Park and drove through Capitol Reef.)

Also, one thing to keep in mind, depending on where you and yours are coming from: Do not underestimate the combined effects of altitude and temperature.
posted by rtha at 12:11 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Four nights in Vegas sounds like a lot to me, especially since you are passing back through near the end of the trip. At least one of those days, drive out to Hoover Dam. It's pretty impressive.
posted by something something at 12:13 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 4 days in Vegas seems like a heck of a lot to me unless you have a lot of family friendly ideas. There is some beautiful biking just west of the city at Red Rocks.

I'd split up my time more at the various parks. Ie. a couple days at Zion, a couple at Grand Canyon, etc instead of having 4 in Vegas and 4 in Moab. There is a hotel maybe 15 miles north of Moab - I think it is called Red Rocks Canyon Lodge which has great large rooms w kitchenettes and reasonable rates. It is adjacent to Arches but you still have to travel for 25 minutes or so to get to the Arches entrance. Don't forget Canyonlands and lots of other stuff when you are in Moab.
posted by fieldtrip at 12:16 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Sorry. Meant hiking west of Las Vegas at Red Rocks. They have a nice visitor center with good interpretive displays outside too
posted by fieldtrip at 12:18 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: I did a similar trip last April. One of the highlights of my life.

I went to Zion, GC (south Rim), Bryce and Antelope Canyon. Also hit Valley of Fire SP on the way back to Vegas.

I would personally spend more than an afternoon in Zion. The GC is amazing but if you're not hiking all you do is look. It's overwhelming but it looks like every picture you've ever seen of the GC. Zion, on the other hand, is very accessible and since you're down in it you really get a better experience. I would spend a night in Springdale, UT so you're not rushing. You won't want to leave Zion.

Bryce was neat too but, again, if you're not hiking much all you do is drive from one vista to another.

Out of the three (Zion, GC, Bryce) I really felt like I got the most out of Zion.

Antelope Canyon was amazing. Book your tour and let the guide show you the best ways to take pictures if you're not much of a photographer.

Stop by the Hoover Dam on your way out. You don't even need to go to the dam itself; you can walk across the bridge and get some cool views.
posted by bondcliff at 12:21 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Vegas gets old quick, so I agree with the others to cut down the 4 nights, and I'd also suggest splitting it more evenly between the beginning and end. Perhaps 2 nights at the beginning and 2 nights at the end, or 3/2 if you really want to spend 5 nights there.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:22 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: I would spend more time in Bryce and Zion and less in Vegas.

Be mindful of the day of the week. I did a similar trip, visiting all of the UT parks from east to west, and happened to arrive at Zion on a Sunday. It's still beautiful when it's crowded, but it's not the same. If you're going to Moab, I'd also check out Arches if you've not been there. However, my personal favorite of all of the UT parks is Capitol Reef, so I have to throw in a plug for that as well. I regret not spending several more days there. It is the hidden gem of the UT National Parks, in my opinion.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:29 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Did this trip last year as well :-)

A couple thoughts and notes:
Horseshoe Bend near Page/Antelope Canyon is a 15 minute hike for an amazing view, not to be missed!

Taking Route 89A (instead of 89) from Zion/GC to Page will take you through Vermillion Cliffs and the beginnings of the Grand Canyon, take just a bit longer but quite worthwhile.

Sunrise Arch in Canyonlands provides amazing views, especially at, um, sunrise...

Yes to Route 12 from Arches/Canyonlands to Bryce...amazing how they built that road right along the ridge of a mountain...

Zion is one of the most accessible of these parks, the shuttle takes you up and the canyon, if you're not a heavy duty hiker you can still experience the place in depth, so maybe consider a bit more time there...

Yes, the Hoover Dam bypass bridge is a work of art and an amazing achievement in itself, worth a look...

Have an awesome time, and prepare to like Utah a lot more than you every thought you would :-)
posted by Holidayalltheway at 1:04 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: I know a place to stay in Moab!

My friends own a house available through Airbnb; there are two bedrooms with a queen-size bed each and one bedroom with two sets of bunk beds; so each couple of adults gets a room and all the kids get one room. The house is five minutes' drive from the entrance to Arches, 15 minutes' drive to part of Canyonlands, and about 15 minutes north of Hole N'' The Wall, which would be a good quick trip for corny kitsch. It's just outside town, the views around where you are are gorgeous, and there's a hot tub on the patio. It looks like they even have some availability mid-July.

(I admit to some bias - I helped them break it in on New Year's Eve.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and if you're not crazy into hiking, Arches and Canyonlands are BOTH good for that - there are a few "hikes" in both parks that are more just "15 minute walks on paths to socko-awesome views". Just bring a LOT of water with you in July. And Arches is super-close to part of the Canyonlands park, so staying put in Moab for a few days will give you plenty to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:06 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Seconding (nthing) Arches. It's one of my favorite places on earth.

Also, you might want to consider getting a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. It's a great deal at $80: each pass can have two "owners" and will allow in to participating parks 1 driver + 3 adult passengers + unlimited kids under 15 y.o.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: If you're only gonna spend the afternoon in Zion, don't bother. In the middle of the summer you park at the main lot and take the tram to see the sights other than the main-road sights. By ten in the middle of the summer, you'll be hard-pressed to find a parking spot. Best way to experience most of these parks is to get up at least two hours before sunrise, eat a few bars, watch sunrise from somewhere cool, see a few more spots while it's not too hot, and go to ground for midday. I've been to all these places during July/August over the past 20 years; the heat and altitude will fry a flatlander's brain. I have done trips that could be considered merely skimming the surface or "view-bagging", and have spent a week in a 20 mile radius.

Your drive times are pushing it. Are you planning to just see the sun rise on the North rim then high-tailing it for Page? Unless you book your room on the rim and your tour in Antelope in advance, there's no way. Spend a day on the North Rim, see sunrise and sunset (and sleep in the afternoon) and then drive up to Page. First thing in the morning in Page, do the hike out to Horseshoe Bend (start pre-dawn).
After Antelope Canyon, you can make Monument Valley for "the afternoon" but don't plan to leave before sunset. One, it's disrespectful to grab-and-go in MV (on the Rez, administered by the Navajo); two, the drive is slow going; three, it's fuckin' beautiful man, relax. After MV, head up to Natural Bridges and enjoy the darkest skies in the Lower 48, or stay at the Mexican Hat Inn in, you guessed it, Mexican Hat, and drive up Moab way in the morning. Sunrise on the Cockscomb is wonderful.

Arches and Canyonlands have some sweet pullouts and short hikes. Don't forget to do the drive up UT 128 and the drive (near canyonlands) up to Dead Horse Point.

The drive from Canyonlands back to Bryce - actually more like from Capitol Reef to Bryce - is worth allotting a day for.Don't just drive up to I70 and and 89 and drop in through Panguitch. Utah 12 is the stuff of legends. All the sights your kids'll tell their grandkids about.

Bryce-> vegas in 4 hours is pushing it. Go up top to Brian Head and enjoy the cool that comes with altitude.

I'd trim the Vegas time at the outset; maybe some of the Moab time, and leave more for the smaller bits I mentioned. Take note, too that on the weekends, the big parks (arches, the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands; all of Bryce and Zion) will be very busy on weekends. Always carry a couple gallons of water in your car (two 2.5 gal jugs from the supermarket in each car) and refill a nalgene regularly. Park early early early, take naps in the afternoon (even in the heat, the shade ain't bad if you keep hydrated), stay after sunset incase you get some alpenglow. Give all the kids cheap cameras on leashes. If they don't like the idea of napping, remind them that you're getting up early, and that your crazy friend Chris on the internet said they should. Stay hydrated; make a game with the kids to self report how clear their pee is.
posted by notsnot at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've made three trips to Zion so I'm biased but you'll want to spend more time there. There are some beautiful spots that you can get to with a bit of walking like the Emerald Pools and the start of the Narrows. Do some research on what the Narrows is like and if it sounds like something your group could handle you definitely should experience it.

Also keep in mind that there is a time change between Vegas and Utah so that will effect your schedules.
posted by mmascolino at 1:31 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Too short on Zion. Of Bryce and Zion, Bryce should be the short one.

4 nights in Vegas is a long time unless you're planning on a poker tourney, a cirque du soliel lover, or have other reasons for loving Vegas. Suggestion: 2 nights Death Valley, 2 nights Vegas instead. (2.5 hour drive)
posted by dzot at 1:36 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to what's been mentioned above, especially in regards to Zion (and the Narrows), you might consider a side trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument if you'd like a respite from the July heat (and don't mind high altitudes).
posted by jeffch at 1:44 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: The house is five minutes' drive from the entrance to Arches, 15 minutes' drive to part of Canyonlands

I doubt that. The drive from Moab to the nearest Canyonlands entrance is a good hour.

Arches is way more family friendly than Canyonlands. It's much closer to Moab, has many more amenities, and much of it is easy-ish to access by car. Many of the arches, in fact, can be seen from the road. Delicate Arch, the iconic one on the UT license plates, cannot be seen from the road. The hike itself isn't bad at all, but it does include a couple miles along a grade of salt flat that I could see being an issue for kids, depending on their age. Plus in July it will be hot, hot, hot. However, if you think they're up to it, you really don't want to miss it. The Windows are very close to the road. Broken arch is close to the road. Balancing Rock is right next to the road. Devil's Playground, at the end of the park, is amazing, but probably too strenuous and long for small kids. Though there are cool rock structures you can play in/under down at that end and near Broken Arch they might like. Like being in a red rock castle.

Canyonlands is another beast. It's out there. Most of canyonlands has no bathrooms, water, nothing. The hikes are generally longer and without as much "destination" as Arches. In July, it's also going to be hot as hell. So with kids, just keep that in mind. It's absolutely beautiful, but not as family friendly. Plus driving at least two hours a day to go in and out is a lot, so 4 days might be a bit much (assuming you're staying in Moab).

There's a very popular lazy rafting trip in Moab down the Colorado that runs through the summer. The locals call it "The Daily." It's fun, good for kids.

Moab itself doesn't have tons of stuff outside of restaurants (and the ones that are there are a bit eh). There are some cool local hikes though where you can go see dinosaur prints and petroglyphs that aren't in the national park. Close to Moab, easy, short hikes - good for kids. I'm happy to give you so more details about them if you want to memail me.

Zion and Bryce are incredible. 2 hours seems like way too little time at the Grand Canyon, but alas.

Source: former Moab resident.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:35 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I doubt that. The drive from Moab to the nearest Canyonlands entrance is a good hour.

It did take just under an hour door-to-door to get from the house where I was staying to the visitors center in Island in the Sky. But I remember it being much shorter from the house where I was staying to the turnoff to get to the entrance. I may be confusing things some, and thought we were in the park already when we were just on a road getting there.

But agreed that Arches is more closer and more visitor-friendly and kid-friendly than Canyonlands.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: If you go to Arches, consider taking the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike. You have to register at the visitor center and I think it costs about $15. It was the highlight of our family vacation! It's billed as a moderately strenuous hike, but there were kids as young as 6 and adults as old as 60. Plenty of shade between the tall finger-like rocks. The hike was about 3.5 hours but we had plenty of breaks and everyone kept up.

Also, we decided to skip the Grand Canyon and went to Dead Horse Point (near Arches) instead. I thought Dead Horse Pt was just as amazing as the GC and we saved a day of driving.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 7:49 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Anyone traveling in this area needs to know that hwy 89 south of Page, AZ is closed for the foreseeable future due to a major landslide.
posted by spudsilo at 8:30 PM on April 2, 2013

Best answer: Oh, seconding Dead Horse Point! Another case where the "hikes" were more like just "walks on paths", and it looks like this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on April 3, 2013

Best answer: Be sure to hit both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Most people just do Upper, but Lower was, in some ways, even cooler. I did Lower first, and they gave me a receipt so I didn't have to pay the tribal day fee twice.
posted by QIbHom at 11:52 AM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: Stopping back in to post our trip results for future readers:

Day 1 - arrived Vegas very late
Day 2 - Vegas Strip, relax at pool
Day 3 - Hoover Dam, relax
Day 4 - travel to Zion for 3 nights
Day 7 - travel to Bryce for 2 nights
Day 9 - travel to Moab via scenic route for 3 nights
Day 12 - travel to St George via highway
Day 13 - 2 hours to Vegas Airport

The trip was perfect. We relaxed in Vegas off the strip at hotel with a nice pool. I was concerned about the heat (117 one day) but we got started early and relaxed by the pool in the afternoon and took it easy in the evening. Zion was amazing, the park, places to stay and the restaurants. Bryce was equally amazing but the hotel and restaurant options were less so I was happy we only stayed 2 nights here. The 300 mile to Moab via Capitol Reef and Goblin State Park was awe-inspiring. I'm running out of superlatives. You'd think by this point we'd be bored of seeing big rocks but arriving in Moab to completely different scenery and scenes was more awesome. Arches was lovely. Moab was different than the other places - adventures outside the parks, stayed in a rental condo, ate in after lots of restaurant days. We did make a quick trip over to see Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands - yet more different scenery. We broke up the drive back to Vegas by stopping in St George for a relaxing night before heading back to the airport.

In retrospect we could have somehow made the trip more of a loop or put the 5 hour drive on the front end but really I thought the progression of Zion, Bryce, Moab was perfect. If I hadn't already booked the rental car I would have considered flying out of Denver so we didn't have to loop back. Originally I wanted to come back via different route and see the more southern stops but I'm glad we didn't have more driving and had a bit more relaxing time where we did stay. 2 weeks was perfect.

If you want more details I can share my Yelp account with specific reviews.

Highly, highly recommend this trip.
posted by RoadScholar at 5:57 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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