I recently returned from an amazing trip out west. I called this the "30-60 trip." I turned 30 years old this year, and my mom turned 60. I suggested to her last year that we should go on a cool trip together to celebrate our big birthdays. I told her to think about where she wanted to go, and I thought she would pick some type of beach or tropical place, but she said "how about the Grand Canyon." So, the planning began.
I've been to Colorado once to visit friends, but otherwise have no experience in that half of the country. Looking at a map of National Parks, there are SO many parks out towards California, Utah, Arizona...it was easy to get carried away and think that we were going to make it to 5 or 6 parks. Once I started actually looking up the drive between the parks, I realized it was too ambitious (unless we went for 2+ weeks). After alot of googling, and consulting with my friends Anne and Steve (who just visited several National Parks in this same area), I decided that we would visit the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce.
I went back and forth during the planning of the trip to wanting to have a bunch of hikes planned and our days well thought out, and wanting to wing it. I ended up booking all of our hotels in advance, so that determined how many days we would stay in each area. We flew into Las Vegas then rented a car and drove around to all the parks, spending at least 2 full days at each park. In addition to looking at the official websites for each park, I found this website/blog called Dirt In My Shoes that was really helpful. The woman who writes it was a park ranger and has been to many National Parks. She gives lots of tips and advice about how to navigate specific parks and has good descriptions of a lot of hikes and viewpoints. She also sells detailed itineraries for each park - I didn't pay for anything, but I found her free information to be really helpful.
I'm going to write separate blog posts about each park, but here's my quick take on them:
They are all magnificent.
Really, I loved all 3. They aren't super far apart from each other but the geography at each is very different. A few quick things about each park:
Grand Canyon: Great place for a family trip - rim trail is very easy to walk on so would be great for kids, or older people. Also have options to do more strenuous hikes into the canyon. Signage is good, it's very easy to get around. Shuttle system can take you to most of the major viewpoints if you don't want to/can't walk between them. Not really any place close to the park to stay, unless you stay at a lodge inside the park. We ended up staying in Williams, AZ - about an hour away from the South Rim entrance.
Zion: Best shuttle system and best town associated with the park. Free shuttle system runs through the town of Springdale, Utah, and through the park. Shuttles go both ways so at every stop you can get a bus going either direction. Springdale has a lot of smaller (not chain) restaurants, shops, and hotels. It's beautiful walking through the park, but you need to work harder here (compared to the other two parks) to get to awesome views.
Bryce: Most beautiful (if I HAD to choose one). It's easy to see awesome views along the rim, which is pretty easy to walk on. The way the sunlight hits the hoodoos gives the appearance of new scenery every few steps, which is really breathtaking. If you want a different view and to work a bit harder, you can hike down into the canyon and walk through the hoodoos (much easier hike than going all the way into the Grand Canyon). The town right outside the park was my least favorite town we visited. One family/company owns every hotel, restaurant, shop, everything in this little town, and it's very gimmicky/touristy. However, there is a shuttle in the town that takes you into the park for free. Compared to the other 2 parks, Bryce had the least convenient shuttle and the least helpful signage (but it was still pretty good).
More detailed posts about each park to come soon!