I just got back from a 7 ½ day trip (April 1 to 8) with 3 people. My aunt said that this trip was the best thing to happen to her in her life besides marrying my uncle (so you can imagine how much we enjoyed our trip).
To keep things cleaner, I’m going to list my itinerary in the post directly below this one while I discuss my thoughts and lessons learned here.
1. Was the schedule too tight? - There is so much to see in this area I could easily spend a month here and not be bored. So, if I had the time I would make the trip at the very least 10 days (so I can do more things and slow the pace a tiny bit) or break the sights into separate trips. But my aunt only had 7 ½ days. She’s from Asia and this will probably be the only time she’s here. Because of this, I would not have cut anything out of the schedule to take it “slower”. She pointed out to me how much variety we had in our trip. That we went from snow in Bryce to desert in death valley. That we saw amazing things of nature in the national parks and man made in LV. My mom and aunt actually said they loved the “slower pace” we had because, surprisingly to me, the tours that come out of Asia actually go much faster (where its mostly hop off the bus and quickly take a photo before getting on the bus again and rushing off to the next destination - that and shopping).
We were a little tired only because I insisted on seeing the sunrise/sunset at each national park (except DV where we saw only the sunset and at Bryce where we arrived after sunset so only saw sunrise) and the stars at Bryce. I do not regret this decision at all-being a bit tired was worth what we saw- but I could have lived without the sunrise view at Zion if I wanted to sleep some more.
2. Glad we had two drivers. It makes a huge difference and worth the little money spent.
3. If I could have, I would have flown into Flagstaff and flown out at LV. This would have given me almost one more day and the drive from LV to GC isn’t all that exciting.
4. Glad we spent the night in a lodge within the national park at GC as it is quite a ways to the next town. The Best Western Grand is just minutes from Bryce while the lodge within the park itself is way more expensive so am glad we stayed there too. Part of me would have liked to stay at the Zion lodge as it is a bit more convenient if you want to see the sunrise (if not, no big deal cause shuttle service is excellent at Zion/Springdale) but maybe my pocketbook is thankful I didn’t.
5. I would recommend making reservations in advance between April 1-8 (spring break). I actually didn’t except for the GC (which you absolutely have to make reservations in advance) and was fine but others told me Springdale might have been booked up. You can cancel within 24 hrs without any fees at most hotels in Springdale and near Bryce (don‘t know about within the parks themselves). At GC lodges, you can cancel anytime within 48 hrs with no fees. Also at GC lodges, you can book for more than one night and then only lose your deposit (about one night cost) if you cancel in less than 48 hrs. I had originally booked 2 nights and then at the end of the 1st night at the GC, I decided I didn’t want to stay another night. Since the deposit was only worth the 1st night, it wasn’t any problem canceling the 2nd night at the last minute since the deposit (which paid for the 1st night) was all they were charging me. So, point is, I would recommend booking more nights at GC if you aren’t sure how long you want to stay there - you won’t lose any money so long as you stay one night. FYI, check with the hotels before you listen to me on this - things may change.
6. It turned out my fear of heights and rafting prevented me from seeing/doing a lot of things. In some ways though, that’s a good thing cause we wouldn’t have had time to do a hike into the GC itself. We still would have had time to do the Canyon Overlook trail at Zion and could have still done Angel’s Landing if we sacrificed some of our smaller walks (which really weren’t all that impressive to me). Disappointed the Narrows at Zion wasn’t open but really, we had to go in April so we shouldn’t be surprised. The Subway at Zion looks spectacular but well, chickens can only see so much at Zion.
7. The mule ride into Bryce canyon wasn’t opened due to the snow there (glad too cause I would have frozen my butt off). Can see Bryce in less than half a day during the snowy season if in a rush (we saw it in about 2 1/2 hrs total discluding the stars).
8. I think driving is really the way to see this area. You can’t see the east rim at the GC and the east side entrance into Zion without a car as the shuttles don‘t go there (if I’m wrong, please correct me). Those parts to me are actually the most gorgeous parts of the parks by far. Plus, practically the whole drive from GC to Bryce was gorgeous.
9. I myself would have liked to go camping in Death Valley and Zion (but my traveling companions weren’t interested and Bryce was too cold). Camping costs $16 per tent site (only $8 if you have a senior pass) with a restaurant nearby in every park so you don’t even have to cook. And there’s nothing like sleeping under the stars in my mind, especially where the stars are so bright.
10. We only drove down to inspiration point at Bryce to see the stars cause we were afraid of getting lost. If I had to do it again, I’d drive all the way down to Rainbow Point as it is darker there and really, it’s just straight down the road and not that difficult to find (and some GPSs will actually have it as a destination). Still, my aunt and mom had never seen so many stars before and were shocked that the stars extended all the way to the ground. I myself thought the stars were beautiful too but was disappointed we couldn’t see the Milky Way (what can I say, I was spoiled in Africa where the stars and milk way were much clearer). In case anyone is interested, the ranger at Death Valley told me that the milk way is visible in April (I assume in Bryce too) but is bigger and brighter in the late summer (at least in DV). Still, the stars are still gorgeous this time of year regardless of which point you see them at or what time of year you see them so long as the clouds aren’t covering them.
11. Most in our group didn’t like to gamble, shop, swim, drink, or do thrill rides. So, we had enough time to see everything we wanted to in LV. We did spend about 3 hrs gambling and shopping too even though its not our favorite things to do. LV is beautiful so I’m glad I visited there. Would have liked to see more shows, but oh well, I wouldn’t sacrifice any of the national parks to see another show.
12. In April, very important to see Antelope Canyon at around 11:30 to 12 pm in my mind. We saw it at 3:30 pm and it wasn’t the same though still beautiful. It’s actually possible to see it during that time with my itinerary but you would have to rush the morning at GC and opted not to do that (plus we got lost).
13. Would add horseshoe Bend and the wave to the schedule if I could have. We got lost going to horseshe bend otherwise we could have see it too. The wave, you would definitely have to stay another night. You also need a permit to see that so should plan well in advance if you want to see the wave.
14. Having a cooler for picnic lunches worked fantastic due to our limited time schedule. Great for snacks too while driving.