One extra day for the most special park in the South West?
April 10, 2008 2:48 PM   Subscribe

For an upcoming Las Vegas trip in May, I have an extra day in my Southwest tour- Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley- which of those places would it be most worthwhile to spend the most time?

I have planned a 7 day trip, with my flight arriving in Las Vegas. Las Vegas will only be 2 out of those 7 days. I have allotted one day each for

Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon
Death Valley

I am quite sure two days for Las Vegas (or 2.5 if you could the half of a day on my arrival) is more than enough. I have one day free- at which of the four parks would an extra day be well spent? What could we do?

From what I see online, Zion and Bryce look the most amazing, but perhaps I won't have to spend as much time in those two places than I would at Grand Canyon... seeing as how they're not as vast and Grand(?) as the Grand Canyon? Death Valley seems do-able in just one day, but again I am not sure.

OR, if we spend a day at Red Rock Canyon, would that be a little redundant and have a similar feel after we go to the places above?

Typically, we're just walking and hiking sorta people and don't do group tours (we're cheap). But perhaps we could spend a bit more for a something different like one of those organized Mule ride trips?

Also, any recommendations on cheap places to stay overnight during the drives from Zion --> Bryce, Bryce --> Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon --> Death Valley (near Las Vegas, but not Las Vegas itself). We don't have any camping equipment and aren't really interested in investing in that sort of thing (esp since we live in a tiny apartment), so unfortunately that's not an option.
posted by Jimmie to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I found Zion the most amazing thing on my big Western ramble, but I didn't make it to Bryce. One of my good friends said that Zion was amazing but Bryce was more amazing, so if you give that any weight at all, I guess Bryce.

The Grand Canyon would keep you busy longer, for sure. It's also more crowded and intensive - but if you've never seen it, I think it's kind of high up there on the list. There's nothing to stop you from spending a single day there, though - I always have had good luck going up to rangers in visitor centers and saying "I have one day and I like ______. What should I do?" (Where ____ is: hiking, horseback riding, less-traveled environments, backcountry, the top 10 sights, whatever)

Zion has more to it than you might think. There are a number of good, long trails and an exotic landscape. The Narrows hike is awesome, worth a day on its own, and the Angels Landing trail is amazing and high in the air. Other trails wander along the Virgin River.
posted by Miko at 3:00 PM on April 10, 2008


Grand Canyon, if you plan on going down into it, is not a light day trip. I've heard good things about the helicopter tours, because then you can be sure to get there and get back quickly.

I'd also suggest scrapping one of the vegas days in favor of something else. The place gets pretty grating after about 36 hours.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:06 PM on April 10, 2008


Death Valley is pretty hot in May. Zion is small and do-able in a day, although it's very car oriented. Bryce is spectacular. Grand Canyon is pretty awesome but is better from the north Rim (imho) and is also out of your way from the sounds of it.

So that wasn't helpful at all, was it?
posted by fshgrl at 3:16 PM on April 10, 2008


All have their secrets that would take longer, but each can be "seen" in a day. (that's a full day, not showing up at 4pm.) Bryce, Zion, Grand are all really different.
Bryce = bowl of pale rock with "stalagmites" reaching to the sky.
Zion = narrow "slot" canyon, but on a larger scale. There are tour buses you can take to get around/learn stuff. You can hike/wade/swim the Virgin River which runs bewteen the walls - make sure to do that!
Grand = um, Grand?
Death Valley bored me, but maybe I missed something.

Grand Canyon is the one that would easily take an extra day, because:
1) s'big. Tourist development is on the South Rim. 6 hours to drive around to the North rim for a different view.
2) South rim -> down the Bright Angel Trail halfway into the canyon, then back up = 1 day.
South rim ->all the way to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon = 1/2 day, then sleeping there, then (start at or pre dawn due to heat) climbing back up from the bottom to the South rim = 1 day, = 1.5 to 2 days total [times given for 30 year old flabby-but-not-overweight smoker with good knees]

If you go all the way down: It gets hotter as you go lower- like a LOT hotter. Go DOWN the South Kaibab trail (faster, easier on the knees, few people on it), but go UP the Bright Angel trail (made for ascent, lots of people and some shade, different scenery). There is no water on the SK trail, so carry and drink a gallon as you walk down. There is water going up the BA trail every few miles, so stop and drink lots of water rather than carry much uphill. Camping permits can be hard to get for the spaces at the bottom of the canyon (sold out far in advance, but the office usually has a few cancellations to give out first-come each morning). You won't need a tent or really much more than a pad and maybe a blanket or jacket to sleep at the bottom for most of the year - and what are they going to do, make you climb out if you don't have a permit?
posted by bartleby at 3:43 PM on April 10, 2008


I'd vote for more time on one or two spots than trying to fit in all four, but the travel is part of the adventure too. If you're in Vegas already, definitely do a day (or even a half day with some short walking loops) at Red Rocks. It's fantastic and very accessible -- spent a week climbing there a couple of years ago. Really beautiful.

I've only been to Kobold Canyon in Zion, but it's magnificent (especially from a climber's perspective, but YMMV). It's in the middle of nowhere though, so may not be easy to spend the night nearby. The main entrance to Zion might be different.

The Grand Canyon is where I would spend an extra day, especially if you have some light hiking shoes and a willingness/desire to get down into the ancient folds of the earth. Haven't been to Bryce or Death Valley.

Have fun!
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:47 PM on April 10, 2008


If you think you are going to see anything in {DeathValley,Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion} in 5 days you are nuts. You will be driving, nonstop.

Pick a single spot and actually see it. I would suggest death valley, May is perfect time to go. Camp at the campground and hike up to the mines, check out the river, go to darwin falls, chill with Manson's spirit at the ranch, see the slotcanyons, enjoy the heat (it'll probably be ~100 then, but nice and dry heat). Its also pleasantly close to vegas and you dont have to subject yourself to the bullshit police and search business of driving over Hoover dam.

Also, red rocks park outside of vegas is great, and there are some neat slot canyons close by to (towards the dam).
posted by H. Roark at 3:48 PM on April 10, 2008


Putting in a vote for the Grand Canyon. I spent a few days at the Havasupai camping grounds in the canyon and it is stunningly beautiful. We spent the rest of the week canoeing down the Colorado River, which was also amazing if you want to make that a trip. If you start at the Hoover Dam there are natural hot springs all along the river that you can stop at and soak.
posted by easy_being_green at 3:49 PM on April 10, 2008


Zion and Grand Canyon are amazing. I haven't been to Bryce so I can't comment. I have been to Death Valley, and I would say skip it to spend more time in Zion or Grand Canyon. As far a Red Rock goes, it's nice, but there's a reason why it's not a National Park and the others are.
posted by ubiquity at 3:50 PM on April 10, 2008


For somewhere near Vegas to stay, I've stayed at the Nevada Inn in Boulder City a few times. It's nothing spectacular, but you can usually get a room for around $50. The sheets are clean, and we've never had a big problem with anything.
posted by whoda at 3:50 PM on April 10, 2008


We (wife, 2 boys under 10, myself) did Vegas-Zion-GrandCanyon over the last Christmas holidays and, honestly, Red Rock Canyon was the best time we had. Easy going trails and, I dunno, the "wow" just feels a little closer to you. It was perfect for kids, but it sounds like you're a couple. Red Rock also has a few petroglyphs, which are disappointing in terms of size and clarity but, again, you could go right up to them and touch them. I do think you should give Red Rock a 1/2 day in your plan.

Grand Canyon is amazing, must be seen to be believed, everything you've heard it is, etc, ... but I kind of grew a bit tired of it quickly. I'm scared of heights, however, and was much more uncomfortable than I expected to be. If you go to the south rim, the lodging on-site seemed interesting and not too expensive...we didn't actually stay there though.

We only had about 3/4 of a day in Zion and I don't feel we really began to explore it at all, especially the trails. A lot of the little rock and art shops you pass on the way in to the park are fun to stop at too.
posted by danOstuporStar at 3:57 PM on April 10, 2008


If you think you are going to see anything in {DeathValley,Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion} in 5 days you are nuts. You will be driving, nonstop.

Also, yes, that.
posted by danOstuporStar at 3:59 PM on April 10, 2008


I agree with those who have said you may not get as much time at any of the parks as you want if you go to them all. You may be seriously underestimating the drive time.

With that preface, my personal preference is Zion. You can spend an entire day in the Canyon/Narrows area and then another day in the southern and eastern portions of the park. Zion to me seemed like many parks within a park. The scenery in each of the sections is quite different. There are loads of hiking trails ... all excellent. They banned personal vehicles in the park several years ago, so you park near the entrance and are then bussed within.

Bryce is indeed beautiful and unusual; truly a magnificent place to be. But I think you would be hard pressed to spend two full days there. It is a considerably smaller park area than the others you will be visiting, so there just isn't as much ground to cover. Plus most of it is by car, there are fewer hiking opportunities available.

The Grand Canyon is simply too vast to behold in a day, or even two. It is better visited when one has four to five days to devote. With that in mind, keep your viewing to the major spots like the South Rim.

Do you like brown desert? If so, then you might like Death Valley. Otherwise ...
posted by netbros at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2008


very car oriented.

I didn't find this true of Zion. All the Nat. Parks are car-oriented to some extent, since it seems like about 80% of the visitors never do anything but drive the roads and look at the overlooks. But Zion is not weighted in that direction. I parked once at the campground, then we used the free park bus to get to trailheads, and spent most of our time on trails. I think the "car oriented" perception might come from the fact that it's a long skinny park and the road runs from one end to the other. But there is a lot of great stuff surrounding that road. It was actually one of the most natural-feeling parks I went to, out of most of the biggies.
posted by Miko at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2008


Forgot one thing you asked. I stayed at the Best Western East Zion Thunderbird Motel in Mt. Carmel Junction when I spent 2 1/2 days at Zion in 1999. Very affordable, comfortable, friendly staff.
posted by netbros at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2008


It's been a while, but having done those four I'd say Zion or Bryce. Bryce has the stunning vistas, but I actually wanted to spend more time in Zion. Still very dramatic landscape, but more enveloping, with a feeling of being hidden away from the world.
posted by zoinks at 4:40 PM on April 10, 2008


Zion. It has a path along a river with flowers growing out of the rocks; very intimate, and as zoinks said, very enveloping. Then go to the North rim of the Canyon for the vistas.
posted by wafaa at 5:28 PM on April 10, 2008


I agree with ubiquity. The Grand Canyon and Zion are both easily worth another day. Death Valley not so much, and it's crazy hot in May, as I'm sure you are aware.

If you decide to spend more time on the Grand Canyon, you might want to take a side trip to Walnut Canyon. It won't seem totally awe-inspiring after the Grand Canyon, but it's a really beautiful spot and the hike is easy and fun.
posted by arianell at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2008


Death Valley is one of my favorite places in the world, and I don't think you get any sense of anything other than the vastness in one day. There are incredible geological features - sand dunes, salt flats, dried lake playas, slot canyons, volcanic craters, etc. all in one place, and you really can't do all of it in a weekend, even. The other places are of course gorgeous too, so I'm not sure there's a clear answer to this question, but I see a lot of "eh, Death Valley" answers in this thread and want to suggest that it's a pretty spectacular place. That said, it will be well over 100 degrees during the day in May.
posted by judith at 6:20 PM on April 10, 2008


I've been to all of them and here is my fancy recommendation:

Skip Death Valley, unless it's on your way to Yosemite and Bodie.

Bryce Canyon you can do in a day, easily. Good luck avoiding bus tours.

Go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Zion. Stay at those two places the most.

If you only go to the north rim, Bryce and Zion, you have 13 hours of driving, at least.

If you have camping equipment and really enjoy the outdoors, skip Bryce and Death Valley and head to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and hike to Coyote Gulch. Only 6 more hours of driving round trip!
posted by billtron at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2008


I grew up in the Spring Mountains /Mount Charleston and love them dearly. I can't really be objective about how they compare to the other places, but the "wide range of habitats" thing is really really cool, and it's just a short drive from Las Vegas. You could see the place in depth rather than having to do a whirlwind tour of something big like the Grand Canyon or Death Valley.
posted by rivenwanderer at 8:01 PM on April 10, 2008


Original Poster here: wow this is going to be tough to decide! As for now, it seems like either Grand Canyon or Zion. From looking at pictures online of the Grand Canyon, it just doesn't seem like much... especially when you look at those of Zion.

Yes we are a couple in our early 20s. Our thinking is to spend at least one day per place since it's going to be a circular drive from Las Vegas --> Zion --> Bryce --> Grand Canyon --> Las Vegas. If a place is amazing, we'd go back on a future trip to spend more time.

We've done extensive driving so we're ok with it- from circling all sorts of Hawaiian islands in just a couple of days (Big Island, Maui, Oahu) and also the Pacific Coast highway (Rt 1?) from San Diego up to San Francisco, into Yosemite, and back down again.

The comments about Death Valley are a little discouraging, but we found a side trip to a ghost town (Rhyolite) which could make for a fun little rest stop.
posted by Jimmie at 8:31 PM on April 10, 2008


A good friend of mine who worked briefly at Zion said that you should consider visiting The Wave during your travels between Zion and the Grand Canyon. Be warned that it can be very difficult to get a permit. I however seen his photographs and the place is very surreal...even more so than the hoodoos of Bryce.

When I visited him, we spent two solid, dawn to dusk days hiking in and around Zion Canyon so there would be plenty for you to see. In fact I wish I could have seen more of the Narrows. It is a fantastically strange and interesting place.
posted by mmascolino at 8:50 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


One important thing to note in this decision is that whatever you choose, you will not be disappointed in your experience.
posted by Miko at 9:13 PM on April 10, 2008


Red rock in the morning then head for the China Date Ranch for a date shake also hiking trails, twenty five more miles you are just inside DVNP Saratoga Springs and Ibex dunes. back to Vegas by evening.
posted by hortense at 11:55 PM on April 10, 2008


Zion
posted by itsamonkeytree at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2008


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