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  1. Default advice on road trip via Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands & Monument Valley

    Dear USA road trip aficionados,

    I'm new to this forum and in urgent need of advice regarding visiting the above places. I am aiming to drive east from Las Vegas in mid-late April, taking in all these natural wonders en route, before making my way further east and I was wondering what people's advice is regarding the length of time required to tour these great places, or at least take in some of the highlights.

    I was also hoping someone might have done a similar or identical itinerary and be able to give tips on an optimum route. I've read up a fair bit and appreciate to take in the full scope of some of these national parks often requires a circuitous route such as the Zion Loop, but wondered if there was a clever way to join the dots as it were, in more of a straight line (rather than doubling back all the time, as from what I can gather there is some serious mileage involved).

    From what I can see, looking at one or two basic maps I have at my disposal (I live in the UK), my journey east should follow a path of Zion to Bryce to Arches to Canyonlands (I've also read Dead Horse Point Park is worth a little detour) to Monument Valley.

    I have about a week to 10 days at my disposal, from departing Vegas to my arrival in Dallas. After Monument Valley I hope to pay a brief visit to Roswell but other than that I'll be heading straight to Dallas, so the timeframe I have is largely for visiting all these amazing-sounding national parks.

    Is it easy to drive through these national parks? Which ones would you advise are better for taking a tour (and leaving the car in the car park)? Does anyone have any top tips on hotels/motels to stay at along the way? Should I be booking ahead?

    Is there anywhere I can go online to find a good route planner, as it's a trip I'm taking alone and I won't have the luxury of a navigator in the passenger seat or sat-nav. Any other tips on driving across all this terrain?

    All tips and advice, truly appreciated.

    Hope to here from you soon.

    All the best,
    Rob
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 03-11-2008 at 02:51 PM. Reason: added some white space to make it easier to read

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default Ah, memories

    Hi Rob,

    I did nearly this exact route on my Spring 2007 Utah trip (although after all the parks we looped around Salt Lake City back to California.) You can find the same leg in Day 2 through 7 of this field report post. I also have pictures on my Flickr account of the trip (which starts at Zion and proceeds to go through all the Utah parks).

    Our hotel of choice was Best Western, with decent places and prices throughout. You'll probably want to book ahead at Ruby's Inn (Bryce) if you want to get a place to stay. Right there is also Bryce Canyon Inn (with cabins) that we stayed at and enjoyed. I would also book ahead for 2 nights in Moab, since that is a popular tourist town and hosts entry to Canyonlands and Arches. Book ahead anywhere if it's on a weekend.

    With 7-10 days, you can probably get away with a dedicated day trip to each park...

    Zion - You'll have to pay the park fee for the road (Hwy 9) that leads through Zion. You also have to take the free shuttle if you intend on going up into the scenic part of the park via "the loop." There's a pseudo-visitor center at the base but you're not guaranteed to get a parking spot when it's busy. Some people park on the outside of the park borders and shuttle in, although we were lucky and found a spot. A complete shuttle tour up and down will probably be about 4-6 hours, depending on which points you want to stop at. (There's about 8 points where you can leave the shuttle, with pick-ups every 15 minutes.)

    Bryce - You can pass by this without paying (via Hwy 12) but obviously you won't see anything. Turn onto Hwy 63, pay at the entrance, and go all the way to the end and work your way back all along the different points they offer. (Or you can do the opposite and stop at each point until you reach the end, and then drive back.) I believe the entire road is around 16 miles. This should take you about 3-4 hours. If you have more time there are other things to do near Ruby's Inn. We did a horseback ride to the Northern Rim which was great.

    Capitol Reef - I know this one is not on your itinerary, but you're heading in that direction so you might as well take a look see. At the time I was too ticked off about a speeding ticket to enjoy this park. (Watch those small towns with ridiculously low speed limits) Basically it's the same formula as Bryce. There's a road off Hwy 24 called Capitol Reef Road (by the Visitor Center) that you head south as far as you want and work your way back. Although this park has a fee, it's based on the honor system. Drop your payment in a deposit box and keep going. Some dirt roads, flood control roads you have to pass, and plenty of rock. Again, 3-4 hours for this.

    (I know your end point is Dallas, but I might want to suggest an alternative route to what you were thinking. You might want to take Hwy 95 south through Glen Canyon, which is purely scenic and an excellent drive. Then you can reach Monument Valley, then head back up to Canyonlands and Arches, then head east through the Rockies (more scenic) until you reach I-25 and start your trek southeast to Texas. That's if you have time, of course. If not, then make your way to Moab via Hwy 24/I-70/Hwy 191 and ignore this entire paragraph. :)

    Canyonlands - There's three areas (districts) to this park. One is inaccessable to vehicles. The other two have entrances, although I've only done one of them. Island in the Sky district is probably what you'll want to look at. Mostly spectacular views for miles and miles with a lot of carved canyons and buttes. This won't take all day, as the points are all walking distance from your car. You can do all this in about 3-4 hours. If you have some extra time, there's a few 1-mile hikes you can do if you like.

    Arches - This will be a good 6-8 hour excursion. Once again. Go to the top and work your way back to the different areas. You'll have to do a fair bit of hiking to see some of the good arches.

    Monument Valley - Hope your car rental allows travel on dirt roads. It's very dusty to do the loop around all the different natural structures. This will take about 4-5 hours. They offer tours but the prices are high so it's not something I would do. Most people take their vehicle and do the loop themselves. You'll find Indian merchants selling their goods in remote areas while you make your rounds.

    Since you're sorta close to it, you might want to go down to Hwy 160 and head east to the Four Corners Monument, where you can stand in four U.S. states at once. (I'm a nerd about things like that.) After that just continue east and then take Hwy 491 south into New Mexico and start making your way, through Roswell, and over to your destination.

    OK I've foamed at the mouth enough here. Feel free to ask more questions.

  3. Default enormously helpful :)

    Kinless, you're an absolute legend for taking the time to reply to my post and supply so much useful information. Thank you so much.
    I'm actually buying a 2nd hand car - a Ford Mustang - and keeping my fingers crossed the engine doesn't fall out somewhere remote :) I'm eventually going to end up on the east coast (flying home from Boston), so I'm keeping my fingers crossed already that I have no major mechanical nightmares - though I do have AA membership here in the UK, and have been told by AAA that this membership is good for roadside cover with them while driving in the US.
    I've got a Lonely Planet guide to USA, a US road map I've bought, and the Internet, and slowly but surely things are coming together - more so after reading your brilliant post :)
    I've been reading about some other amazing-sounding places today which makes me wonder whether I should expand my trip even more. For example, the Valley Of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon. Also Joshua Tree NP, Mojave NP and Death Valley NP... but I'm probably getting carried away, they're all in different directions, and I don't want to stretch myself too much.
    Glen Canyon sounds wonderful. I've just spotted it on my road map and see where you're coming from on those directions and The Four Corners Monument sounds like a fun location – I have a few pics in my own travelling archive of me stood on the Tropic of Capricorn etc so get the appeal :)
    Heading east through the Rockies sounds tempting – have you done this? Will roads be ok to drive in mid-April? I also see how that would require me to miss out on the Glen Canyon drive.
    Great advice about weekends and those sly speed traps - things I hadn't factored in but will now - and all the specifics regarding Zion, Bryce etc are really useful to know. I was initially thinking of departing Vegas for Zion on a Sunday, but will now probably delay until Monday in hope the crowd has dispersed. Looks like the Valley Of Fire State Park could be a nice detour on the way. Am I right in thinking Zion is about a 3-hour drive from Vegas?
    Weighing it up I think I'll go Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley, then to Four Corners Monument, and then onto Roswell - any idea how long that might take to drive? Looks a long way on my map. Anywhere en route you might also be able to recommend?
    And thanks for the hotel suggestions - great advice.
    Thanks again for taking the time to post
    All the best,
    Rob

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default So much to do, so little time

    Greetings again,

    I have never been to Valley of Fire or Red Rock Canyon, so I can't vouch for them, but by all means if you have the time, go check it out.

    Yeah, you could try and fit in the nearby California desert parks, but as you said I think that would be squeezing a little too much. Death Valley is definitely grandiose, and I just went to Joshua Tree a few weeks ago for the first time to do some rock climbing. I love the desert so I'm into those things. Never been to the Mojave area, but that's not really a National Park anyway hehe. You'll probably do better to save those for a dedicated California trip in the future. (We have 8 National Parks alone in this state.)

    I also have not travelled over the Rockies via I-70 yet, so I don't know how scenic it would be. Someone else here will have to vouch for that. I've always used Hwy 160 to cross over. I'm not sure how the weather would be for late April in that area. I assume there will be melting snow on the ground, but unless there's a freak late snowstorm, you should be pretty good for going in that direction. Just make sure you stay on top of the weather reports. However, from Moab to Denver is 350 miles (6 hours), plus the time to drive south from there on I-25. That may not be something you want to do this time around, depending on your schedule.

    Yes, Las Vegas to Zion is a solid 3 hour drive, and going on a Monday will be loads better than a Sunday. For general overnighting, our stopping points were St. George (Zion), Bryce Canyon Inn (Bryce, duh), Torrey (Capitol Reef), and Moab x 2 (Arches, Canyonlands). You should probably do both Monument Valley and Four Corners in one day and then lodge in Farmington, NM. That whole package should total 7 days, giving you some extra time to discover the rest of NM (Roswell, etc.) and so on.

    Just remember, I tend to be a speed-run traveller, so the pace I have described might fare a little fast for you. (Some of the other roadtrip advisors think I'm crazy sometimes haha) I like to zip to one area, get the jist and move on to the next. You won't have time for full explorations, but if you're there to briefly take it in for a few hours and get some simple pics, it should work out well for you.

    That's all I have for tonight. Peace out.

    ~j

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,318

    Default

    Kinless, you're an absolute legend for taking the time to reply to my post and supply so much useful information. Thank you so much.
    I agree. Kinless, that was a great post.

    I'm actually buying a 2nd hand car - a Ford Mustang - and keeping my fingers crossed the engine doesn't fall out somewhere remote :) I'm eventually going to end up on the east coast (flying home from Boston), so I'm keeping my fingers crossed already that I have no major mechanical nightmares - though I do have AA membership here in the UK, and have been told by AAA that this membership is good for roadside cover with them while driving in the US.
    Do you have everything set up to buy the car? How are you handling registration and insurance issues? These can be difficult to arrange for an international visitor. This discussion might have some hints to help you with this issue.

    I've been reading about some other amazing-sounding places today which makes me wonder whether I should expand my trip even more. For example, the Valley Of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon. Also Joshua Tree NP, Mojave NP and Death Valley NP... but I'm probably getting carried away, they're all in different directions, and I don't want to stretch myself too much.
    Since your route is Vegas to Dallas, you should be able to visit any of these parks that are roughly close to your route from one to the other. But I think you're pushing it to go west and squeeze in those parks. Valley of Fire should work in just fine on your way to Zion.

    Glen Canyon sounds wonderful. I've just spotted it on my road map and see where you're coming from on those directions and The Four Corners Monument sounds like a fun location – I have a few pics in my own travelling archive of me stood on the Tropic of Capricorn etc so get the appeal :)
    Then watch for "Continental Divide" signs. I can only remember the specific location of a couple of these, and they're not anywhere near where you're driving, but you will be crossing the continental divide along your route so it's possible there will be signs indicating it.

    Weighing it up I think I'll go Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley, then to Four Corners Monument, and then onto Roswell - any idea how long that might take to drive? Looks a long way on my map. Anywhere en route you might also be able to recommend?
    Are you going to Arches after doing Zion and Bryce? Are you the Grand Canyon? Just curious. I love Arches but I would do the Grand Canyon and skip Arches if I had to make a choice. You could still go over to Monument Valley/Four Corners from there. Since Grand Canyon is also closer, it will leave more time for exploring New Mexico on the way to Dallas.

    From Four Corners, you could head over to 491 and go south to Gallup.

    But I think you would enjoy going NE into Colorado to Cortez, then onto Mesa Verda National Park (with fantastic ancient Native American cliffhouse dwellings) and then heading into Durango. This takes you up into the mountains. Durango is one of my favorite towns. Very cool drive with lots of scenic views. From Durango, you can head south to meet up with I-40. Albuquerque is worth a stop, especially the Old Town area. From there you can head onto Roswell. If you take I-40 east to 285 before turning south to Roswell, don't miss making a stop at that intersection at Clines Corner. A fun remnant of the Route 66 era.

    Another option would be to go south at Albuquerque on I-25, and then take 380 east into Roswell. This takes you through a nice mix of desert, forests, and a bit of a mountainous road. It's a gorgeous drive. Much prettier than 285, imho.

    After Roswell, try to squeeze in time to visit Carlsbad Caverns, about 90 minutes south of Roswell, before going onto Dallas.

    Roswell is a hoot. Immerse yourself in the fun alien stuff. Love their streetlights! :)

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