This is a trip report on a short, maybe too short trip to Bryce Canyon, Zion and Death Valley National Parks. My wife and I had less than a week but we still were able to see at least the highlights at all three locations. This would not have been possible without the help of Destination Experts as we have incorporated almost every advice given to us. Thank you all very much. Your help is priceless.
After taking a late flight from Boston to Los Angeles we arrived at LAX around 10:40pm, got our luggage, picked-up a rental car (Toyota Corolla) and drove to a Best Western at San Bernardino to get out of LA and a little bit closer to Bryce Canyon. Got up at 7:00am and drove to Bryce City with one stop at Las Vegas to get gas and have lunch. Arrived to Bryce City around 5:00pm, checked into Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel (very nice property, good breakfast, and friendly staff) and then drove to the Canyon. Stopped at Sunrise, Bryce, Inspiration, and Sunset Points (in that sequence). At the end of the day the views were spectacular from everywhere but Sunrise. There were clouds that night which was good for sunset photography. Soon after it got cold and dark so we drove back to the city, had dinner, and went to bed.
The next morning we got up at 6:30am, had breakfast and drove to the Sunrise Point. Once the sun started to come out it became clear why this is the best spot to watch sunrise. Then it was time for some hiking inside the Amphitheater. We decided to do a combo of Navajo Loop + Queens Garden. But instead of a recommended clockwise direction from Sunrise to Sunset we decided to drive to Sunset and start with Navajo Loop. We were rewarded by having the trail for ourselves for the first hour if not longer. Only when we got to the Queens Garden did we start seeing other people.
The Bryce Canyon definitely deserves at least two nights and one full day but even with a limited time we had a great visit. We left hotel exactly at 12:00pm, drove to the Red Canyon, explored it for an hour or so and then drove towards the Zion National Park. I now understand why experts urged me not to drive at night from Bryce to Zion. At one 2-mile stretch of Rt. 9 just before the eastern entrance to the park we saw six deer lying along the road – all killed by cars.
At the east entrance we made a stop at the checkerboard mesa viewing area, and then proceeded with the hike along the Canyon Overlook trail which took about an hour. Before getting to our hotel in Springdale we stopped at Zion Adventures and picked up our gear – dry pants package for $40/day - for the Narrows hike next morning (again, it was an excellent advice that saved us a lot of time). Checked into Best Western Zion Park Inn (good property, great complimentary breakfast) and enjoyed fantastic sunset with a glass of wine from the balcony overlooking the Watchman. Got up at 7:30am, had breakfast, put on the hiking gear and drove to the park. When planning your time in the park add the travel on the shuttle bus. It took us almost 35 minutes to get to the Temple of Sinavawa. From there it was one mile along the Riverside Walk, and then seven hours of hiking the Narrows in the water. The views were spectacular. We couldn’t ask for more. We were unable to get to the Orderville Canyon as there is a huge boulder blocking it right at the entrance and you can’t climb it without getting wet which we didn’t want to do as the water was 47F that day. So instead we just hiked the Narrows to the point which is half way between Hiccup and Big Springs and then turned back. This was one of the most beautiful hikes we’ve ever done and well worth the effort. There was not much time left that day so after the hike we took the shuttle back to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, returned hiking gear, and drove back to our hotel to pick up my Nikon SLR camera as I didn’t dare to take it with me for the Narrows hike. It was a good idea and our tiny Canon PowerShot S95 did a very good job and was safe in a Ziploc bag in my pocket. Now it was time to drive back to the Canyon Junction for some sunset photography. Instead of fighting with everybody for a good spot on the main bridge I followed advice given to me the night before at the hotel and did all the photography from the first two bridges of the Pa’rus trail. No competition and the views are as good if not better.
The next day we were planning to do the Angels Landing hike in Zion then drive to Dante’s View in the Death Valley for sunset. We got up at 6:00am, packed, loaded everything in the car and exactly at 7:00am were waiting for the door to the breakfast area to open. Then the same routine: drove to the Visitor Center (VC) parking lot, parked the car, took the shuttle to the Grotto. On a way to VC just before the booth at the entrance to the park seven deer decided to cross the road right in front of our car. Luckily we were driving less than 20 miles/hr so we were able to stop in time to let them go. It was a bit chilly due to the wind at 8:30 in the morning as we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. But the reward for going so early was that we met no more than 6 people coming down from the Scouts Overlook, and 4-5 more on a way to Angels Landing. We spent at least 15-20 minutes at Angels Landing with just one more person there. It was fantastic. By the time we decided to come down many more people were going up, including two organized groups of at least 15 people. It’s just not the same when there are so many people around. You mostly have to pay attention how to bypass other hikers instead of enjoying the views. So if you can go early it’s well worth it. Plus it got really hot by 12:00pm when we got back. It was almost painful to watch people going from the Grotto to Scouts Overlook wearing sweat shirts and even windbreakers when it was 81F degrees.
That’s all we were able to do in Zion Canyon National Park. The park is simply magnificent. As of today it’s probably the most beautiful national park we’ve ever seen. One could easily spend 4 nights and three full days there and still have something left for the next time. But we were very happy with the Angels Landing and Narrows hikes plus a couple of smaller trails. With so little time we had to plan very carefully. We even switched from the Desert Pearl Inn to Best Western so that we won’t have to waste time looking for a place to have breakfast at 7:00am.
We left Zion at 12:30pm and drove to the Death Valley National Park. Again got gas in Las Vegas and then drove to Dante’s View in DVNP. Our plan was to arrive there before sunset at 6:00pm. We didn’t realize that the last 13 miles from the main road to Dante’s View we’ll have to drive no faster than 30 miles/hr and we almost missed it. We got there at 5:50pm and we glad we did as we wouldn’t have time to drive there again the next day and nobody should miss Dante’s View. The views are stunning. It’s impossible to describe it; one has to see it with its own eyes. We stayed there till 6:30pm when it started to get dark and really cold and windy.
We stayed at Furnace Creek Ranch. The next morning we went to the Visitor Center which is almost the next door from the Ranch, paid the park fee, got the maps and went on to explore the Death Valley. First we drove through the Twenty Mule Team Canyon, then stopped at Zabriskie Point. It was interesting to see a place that for almost 40 years we knew only from the film by Michelangelo Antonioni. After that we drove through all the highlights along the Badwater Road: Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin (did a small walk there. It was still 96F but dry so it was not bad even in the sun), fantastic Artist’s Drive with a stop at Artist’s Palette, and then did a 2.5 mile hike through the Golden Canyon which was very disappointing. After a short stop at our hotel we drove to Sand Dunes to watch the sunset. Although the official time for sunset on October 24th was 6:00pm we were glad we came at 5:30pm as the dunes were in the shadow several minutes after our arrival. It was beautiful and very pleasant to walk in the sand while it was still warm. We stayed there dill dark, then drove to Furnace Creek Inn just to see the fancy place. I wish we had an extra night to have a glass of wine there and watch the sunset from the terrace - should be really nice. We ended the day stargazing at Zabriskie Point. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many stars with our naked eyes.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel and drove to Los Angeles via Lone Pine with a stop at Mosaic Canyon which was beautiful and well worth a short 45-minute hike. Remember to have a lot of water with you when in the Death Valley. It was not very hot when we were there and yet we still easily consumed 12 half liter bottles during the one full day that we were there.
In conclusion. All three parks that we’ve visited were amazing and a must to see. Ideally I would spend more time in each of them. As I mentioned above two nights in Bryce, three nights in Death Valley and four nights in Zion seem like the right amount of time to me in order not to rush. But with a proper planning we were able in just six days see almost all the highlights and we had to drive 1,600 miles to do that. It helped that we were from the East coast and our bodies were still used to the EST. When we had to get up at 6:00am it was already 9:00am in Boston and when we had to go to bed at 10:00pm to get enough rest it was already 1:00am at home. The end of October seemed like a perfect time to visit all three parks. The weather was perfect and yet there were many instances where we had the whole place for ourselves.
Thanks again to everybody who advised us on this trip and we can’t wait for next year. At exactly the same time – the last week of October - we are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon (mule ride reserved for October 27th) and Sedona.