Southern Utah Trip Advice
July 19, 2008 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice about how to allocate time for a one week trip through Southern Utah's national parks and monuments.

My girlfriend and I have one week off the third week of August. I've done some hiking and camping before and gotten hooked; she's never done either. I've convinced her to take a trip with me to Southern Utah to try hiking but I've been unsuccessful in convincing her of the merits of camping. Oh well, at least the hotels are reasonably priced.

Our rough itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: Fly into Las Vegas, drive to Zion National Park, arrive very late afternoon/early evening.
Day 2: Hike in Zion.
Day 3: Hike in Zion.
Day 4: Drive to Cedar Breaks, spend a couple of hours there, drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Day 5: Hike in Bryce Canyon.
Day 6: Hike in Bryce Canyon (try to get a spot in the Moonlight Hike).
Day 7: Make the long drive back to Vegas to recuperate, eat at a nice restaurant, see a late show.
Day 8: Fly out of Vegas.

As for specific hikes, I'd like to do Angel's Landing (if my girlfriend is up for it) and the Narrows in Zion. We have no specific hikes planned out for Bryce. We're not really looking for advice about specific hikes in these two parks, but if you want to share any info, we're glad to have it.

Instead, my questions are:

1) Should we spend one or two days in Bryce Canyon?

I've heard horror stories about the crowds in late August and some people seem to think the park is worth only about a day's visit. That said, I've heard good things about the moonlight hike and we'd need to be there on the second day to do that.

2) If we should spend only one day in Bryce Canyon, what should we do with the extra day? Grand Staircase? Capitol Reef? Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon (neither of us have seen it)? Something else?

My only concern with fitting in something extra is whether the additional driving time would be worth it.

3) Are these national parks accessible at night if you're not camping?

This will be my (and her) first trip to a national park and I'd like to be able to gaze a bit at the night sky.


That's it. Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by saslett to Travel & Transportation around Utah (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Kind of planning a trip into that area myself at the moment and I found this site which is very helpful on what to do where. I must admit I was disappointed with the Grand Canyon when I was there last year. Unless you really like your helicopter rides or are into serious hiking and want to hike down into the canyon (two days to get all the way down and back up) I think more beauty may be found elsewhere.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:41 AM on July 19, 2008

Just a few miles east of Bryce Canyon is Kodachrome Basin State Park. It's worth hiking around in for a few hours, and as the name might suggest, it's a great place for photography.

If you do decide to drive up to Capitol Reef, you should know that State Route 12 from Escalante to Boulder is one of the most scenic roads I've ever driven and has many interesting places to stop along the way Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of them and it's worth the hike.
posted by baho at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2008

Best answer: (1) You could spend two. Some trails are closer in, shorter, and more dramatic; others go farther out, are less dramatic, but less crowded, and good for taking it slow and looking at plants, landscape, etc., if you have naturalist/ecologist/geologist tendencies. (I haven't been there in years, and don't know current conditions.)

(2) North Rim, if only because the others need a lot more time. You can drive, gawk, and go. Or if you want to do more walking, you could see bits of Capitol Reef. I wouldn't do GS as a day trip.

(3) Generally yes.
posted by coffeefilter at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2008

Bryce Canyon is amazing and beautiful, and in my opinion, much prettier than the Grand Canyon. However. The Grand Canyon is truly impressive, and if you've never seen it and you're that close, you really ought to.

Bryce Canyon is a nice place to hike, but even a dayhike of a couple of hours will give you plenty of pretty photo opportunities. And I think Bryce Canyon is more... homogeneous? than the other places you're going, so I'd recommend driving along the rim and maybe doing a short hike at Bryce, then going elsewhere for the bulk of your time. So I think one day at Bryce Canyon and then a day at the North Rim is a good idea, better than two days at Bryce, if your goal is to see as much pretty as possible. (The North Rim doesn't have anywhere near the crowds that the South Rim does.)

At the first national park or national monument you come to, buy the annual national parks pass instead of paying the individual park's admission fee. I know they just raised the price on it last year, but I think you'll still save money on parks admission even at the higher price. (And if you don't, it'll give you a good reason to continue going to national parks for the next year! You will not regret it.)
posted by adiabat at 1:16 PM on July 19, 2008

Sounds like a great trip. August in Southern Utah is pretty freaking hot, in my opinion, but, if you're coming from Phoenix or something it won't seem that bad. In Zion, you'll probably want to do the Angel's Landing hike in the early morning to miss the crowds and avoid the heat. It's a great hike and last time I did it, it only took a few hours. The Narrows is a great place to spend a hot day. The whole hike is in the water and mostly in the shade. If you day hike it you'll have to start at the Temple of Sinwava (sp?) and back track at the end of the day. Bring dry warm clothes just in case you have to spend the night in the backcountry or you just need to warm up. It will get cold in there at night. You'll also probably be psyched if you have some treking poles for balance on the slick rocks.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty sweet and usually a lot less crowded than the South Rim.

I've never had a problem getting into a park at night. Sometimes you can actually skirt the entrance fee that way.
posted by trbrts at 2:26 PM on July 19, 2008

Zion>Grand Canyon>Bryce (Which is much more interesting in the winter, IMO)

Although there will definitely be more people at the Grand Canyon.

I say one day in Bryce and then Grand Canyon.

(Considering Grand Canyon will take you closer to Las Vegas= shorter last leg of travel)
posted by bradly at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2008

I absolutely loved Zion and wish I'd spent more time there - but didn't go to Bryce, so I can't compare. Angel's Landing was a terrific trail. My travelling companion hiked the Narrows while I did Angel's, and he came back underwhelmed and feeling like the real experience wasn't quite up to the drama and legend of it. Wet boots on a hot day and lots of crowds. Meanwhile, the Angel's hike was outstanding, beautiful, stunning, challenging, and not at all crowded. So do make sure you don't skip Angel's Landing even if you choose to do both.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was terrific. The crowds are nothing at all like what you encounter at the South Rim. It's quite peaceful. There's a neat little park village at the entrace with a pub, restaurant, and some other facilities. A number of short trails provide dramatic overlooks, and some dip down a short way into the canyon, but obviously hiking the canyon is not a quick daytrip experience. However there is an excellent, long rim trail that runs through the lodgepole pine forest and hugs the Canyon - it is fairly quick and flat, though I remember it as being 8-10 miles long, so a solid hike. You can get absolutely wonderful views of the canyon from a nice, high, cool elevation and avoid all crowds by spending just a few hours on the road. REcommended first GC experience.

By the way, don't get suckered in by the name "Jacob Lake," which you might pass enroute from Zion/Brice to Grand Canyon. There's no "lake," just a small, pathetic muddy tarn which was apparently once the only year-round source of water in this godforsaken land. One of my funniest travel stories involves a friend and I assuming it was an actual lake and heading off in search of it with suits and towels. Embarrassment ensued.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on July 19, 2008

Fly into St George Ut. rent a car thirty minutes from Zion, drop off the car in Vegas.That stretch of I15 is boring and hot as hell, no need to drive it twice.
posted by hortense at 8:10 PM on July 19, 2008

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