Zion Nat'l Park and other hot photo spots within a day's drive from Las Vegas?
August 5, 2008 10:00 AM   Subscribe

How can I get the most out of a day visit to Zion Nat'l Park - or any parks within a ~2 hour's drive from Las Vegas?

I'll be arriving Saturday morning for a convention in Vegas next week. That gives me a good chunk of Saturday and all day Sunday to do whatever I want. I recently bought a fancy-schmancy HD camcorder and am itching to get some good footage.

On a previous trip I had visited Zion Nat'l park and chose to do a very strenuous all-day hike on one trail to a destination I ultimately didn't reach (outlook point or whatever it is that's up on top of the cliff). I loved the park and want to go back as I know I probably missed a good chunk of it.

I'm leaning towards Zion because I know I can get there and back in a day, it's picturesque and I would like to go back again someday, but if there are other options I should consider I'm open to suggestions.

I plan on bringing my camcorder and a tripod, so I'm looking for good photo spots I can spend a few minutes at, take some nice pictures (either landscape/vista shots or macro photography/plants/wildlife, etc.) and then move on. Short trails are fine, especially if there's nice things along the way. I'm also a bit overweight and out of shape. While I joined a gym two days ago I think it's a little too late to start training for any kind of strenuous "1 mile uphill switchback" trails.

I also realize that parts of the park are closed to personal vehicles while others aren't - I'm open to both. I could spend a few hours in the 'closed section' taking the bus to destinations X, Y and Z then get back in the car and hit up locations A, B and C - assuming there's a place to pull off and park.

And again, if there are other places besides Zion that would be good photo/video locations, I'm open to ideas. I still have Saturday that I could do something closer to town, if there is anything. My plane lands and noon so by the time I'm ready to go anywhere I'll probably just have a few hours before sunset. (I've been to RedRocks twice - I may go again but I doubt it's changed much.)

And on a mostly unrelated note - anyone know how to get discount show tickets in Vegas? I was thinking about checking out Penn & Teller at the Rio, but $75 seems kind of steep.
posted by MarkLark to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
(grabs your arm insistently)

Go to the Valley of Fire State Park. Go there immediately. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Seriously. It's about a 30-60 minute drive out of Vegas and is definitely do-able as a day trip; and it is the most alien-looking landscape I have ever seen. You take the highway out of Vegas, take the exit for the Valley of Fire and drive about 15-20 minutes over the same boring barren blah landscape....go up a hill, go down a hill....go up another hill, crest it, and suddenly it looks like you are on the surface of Mars.

The Valley of Fire is a patch of brilliant red ochre stone, and the site is situated in a spot with some unusual windflow patterns; over the years the stone has been carved into bizarre shapes. It's also a site LOADED with petroglyphs on the rock faces - so you're in this patch of brilliant red stone and all the stones are in weird shapes and covered with bizarre-looking symbols -- it is unreal.

The Valley of Fire has been used as a location shot for a couple of "outer space" films -- all of the "outside on Mars" shots from TOTAL RECALL and STAR TREK: GENERATIONS. A few other films have used it as well.

More info here:

The Wikipedia link

Nevada's state park site.

This has a number of photo links to photos taken in the park.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Narrows was my favorite part of Zion but that's a lot of hiking in water and you may not want to risk your gear in conditions like that. Here is a list of hikes at Zion. My next favorite hike was Angel's Landing which affords awesome vistas when you get to the top but it is a strenuous hike and the very top section can be very scary if you are at all mildly fearful of heights (it really creeped me out but I made it).

As far as easier things to do that have the potential for things for you to shoot video of, I think Weeping Rock and the Emerald Pools show good promise. Interesting water falling down a cliff in several places and the strange green water of the pools. They are also very near each other so it might help your schedule.

Also keep in mind that if you decide on the Narrows, go early. Available daylight ends much earlier than you expect due to the fact that you are hiking in a narrow canyon with walls thousands of feet tall.

A friend who volunteered there also recommended Hidden Canyon and Canyon Overlook (accessible on the other side of the tunnel). Very neat vistas from the end of Canyon Overlook and the tunnel is pretty interseting too when you stop and consider the effort that it must have took to build it.
posted by mmascolino at 10:35 AM on August 5, 2008

I should add that you are driving a long way for a day trip. You might want to take EmpressCallipygos' advice and see something closer.
posted by mmascolino at 10:36 AM on August 5, 2008

If you decide to stay closer, I think Red Rock Canyon (info, other info) is great. Yes, there's a scenic drive looping right through it, but it's, well, scenic, and there's a great variety of trails, both out-and-backs and loops. I was trail running there once and came upon a big group of wild burros--very impressive.
It doesn't feel quite as remote as it once did, but it can actually take longer to get there now because of traffic. Head out early if you can.
The fact that it's relatively close to vegas actually kind of highlights how beautiful it is.
posted by Mngo at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2008

China Date Ranch would be excellent for your Sat afternoon. Seconding Vally Of Fire, alternate route Drive east on Lake Meade Blvd.
posted by hortense at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2008

If you zoom past Zion, you can head up to Bryce Canyon, but that's a heck of a drive to do in a single day.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:16 PM on August 5, 2008

Death Valley to the west.
posted by dzot at 1:54 PM on August 5, 2008

Some really good photo opportunities are to be had at Cedar Breaks National Monument.

On your way back down to Vegas on I-15 you could hit Kolob Canyons, which are technically part of Zion, but not accessible from the rest of the park by road. It's quite scenic, and you can drive your car right up there.

Then there's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, where you're sure to get some good footage. The shortest route from Vegas to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes will take you through Colorado City, which is in itself something to witness.

Good luck, and I'm jealous—it's an incredibly beautiful part of the world.
posted by aparrish at 2:22 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Ibex Dunes and Saratoga Springs are in the very Southeast corner of DVNP
posted by hortense at 3:04 PM on August 5, 2008

I'll second the suggestion for Valley of Fire. It's almost as close as Red Rock and I think it's more interesting.

If you do decide to go up into Utah, I don't think you're going to find anything really more interesting than Zion that's as close (and you're already 3 hours out from Vegas at that point), so I'd just pore over the Zion activity guide and go from there. But there's a couple of other places I could suggest: Snow Canyon State Park, the Lytle Preserve, and the Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.

(Note that part on the last site where it says "the Paria River is subject to periodic and seasonal flooding." Flash floods are pretty common in southern Utah and Nevada and Arizona July through September. Be alert and ask around. :)

On your way back down to Vegas on I-15 you could hit Kolob Canyons, which are technically part of Zion, but not accessible from the rest of the park by road.

It's actually not quite on the way back down -- it's about 20 minutes of driving North from Highway 9 on I-15, so it'll add up to an hour of driving to your trip, but it's a good suggestion. I really like the place.

As far as easier things to do that have the potential for things for you to shoot video of, I think Weeping Rock and the Emerald Pools show good promise.

Nice thing about Weeping Rock is that if you get ambitious, you can keep on going up past in into Hidden Canyon. It doesn't take as long as Angel's Landing but you do get some height exposure and spectacular views.
posted by weston at 5:59 PM on August 5, 2008

nthing valley of fire. amazing!
posted by lalochezia at 9:07 PM on August 11, 2008

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