Western National Parks
Replies: 14 - Last Post: Jul 26, 2012 11:48 AM Last Post By: VinnyD
Jul 24, 2012 4:31 PM
Western National ParksI have five weeks (33-35 nights) from late August until early October, and I'm looking to spend most of it camping in Western USA national parks. I have my own car. I have traveled some around the West Coast before, and have seen Yosemite, Redwoods, and Sequoia. I plan to return to Yosemite (my favorite place on Earth) and spend most of the rest of the time in Utah parks (Zion is the highest priority).
My primary interests are hiking/backpacking, photography, and journaling in serene locations.
My current itinerary is:
-Take car, leave Oakland
-10 days in Yosemite, including backpacks into nearby Ansel Adams Wilderness
OR- 5 days in Yosemite, 5 days in Kings Canyon/Inyo Forest.
-2 days visiting family in Las Vegas
-5 days in Zion National Park
-3 days in Bryce Canyon
-3 days in Grand Staircase/Escalante
-2 days in Capitol Reef
-6 days in Greater Moab (town, Arches, and Canyonlands)
-2 days to drive back
I'm also considering brief stops at Dixie, Escalante, and even a side trip to Rocky Mtn. National Park, if I have the extra driving in me
Based on my interests of hiking, photography, and journaling, are there any places I haven't included that I must go?
Do these amounts of time per park sound good? too long, too short?
Jul 24, 2012 5:15 PM
Jul 24, 2012 8:06 PM
2My $0.02, having been to all of these places, and done many backpacking trips throughout the areas you are going:
if you're looking to backpack in the Sierras, I'd get outside of Yosemite. The backcountry of the eastern side of Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs and adjacent wilderness areas is unquestionably the most spectacular in the Sierra, outshining the backcountry of Yosemite. I had heard this, and in my experience thus far it has turned out to be true. Another place you should consider is Mineral King on the western slope of the southern Sierra - remote, relatively quiet, with more spectacular backcountry.
5 days in Zion is a lot unless you are a serious canyoneer. Oh, you'll have stuff to do, but you've got a lot of other terrain to cover. Maybe 4 days. Don't miss the Narrows, and try to get a permit for The Subway.
3 days in Bryce is too much. Bryce is a small park, and you can see all the best parts in a day and half, tops.
3 days in Grand Staircase is not enough for someone with your interests and time. I'd give it somewhere between a week, and the rest of your life.
Moab area might be quite hot still. Just be aware, plan accordingly. I'd probably spend only 3 or 4 days actually right around Moab, then relocate down to the Needles District of Canyonlands for a few days.
Forget about Rocky Mountain National Park. If you want hike in the Colorado Rockies, go no farther than southwestern Colorado. The Weminuche, Uncompahgre and other nearby wilderness areas offer more spectacular mountains and are closer to Utah. If you want to do this, you should probably do it first after the Sierra, and save the desert parks for a bit later in the season.
Grand Canyon North Rim would be the other thing that would be worthwhile to make time for. HOWEVER, seeing as you're fairly serious hiker, I'd probably plan a separate Grand Canyon trip at a better time for doing extended hikes below the rim (October through May is best, real canyon hikers know to go in the dead of winter).
Jul 25, 2012 4:20 AM
Jul 25, 2012 7:50 AM
4Re: Under the Rim Trail
It can be done in two long days, or three more leisurely ones. I did most of it, as an overnight trip. Far and away the best parts were the sections that you can easily do as a day-hike, in and around the main amphitheater. The rest of it is scenic and pleasant, but if someone hikes the Fairyland Trail and some version of the standard Navajo/Queens Garden/Wall Street loop, they've absolutely seen the best parts of the park. That's about a day and half.
I'd contrast that with Escalante/Grand Staircase, which has comparatively little to offer the casual visitor besides spectacular views from Hwy 12, but rewards a backcountry traveller with a lifetime of misadventures in some of the most interesting hiking terrain you'll ever find.
Jul 25, 2012 9:09 AM
5GSENM is huge and has more to see than Capitol Reef, Arches, and Bryce combined. Agree that it deserves a few more days. On the other hand, even a week there is hopeless! You could do a quick 3 day reconnoitering trip and plan to come back next year? If nothing else, check some of the easy-to-reach slot canyons located along Skutumpah, Cottonwood, and Hole-in-the-Rock roads; they are all wildly photogenic. Here are a few possible destinations in the area: http://g.co/maps/7byg3
Zion's fall colors tend to peak around the end of October. (Not that you'll have any trouble finding colors earlier in the month at the higher S. Utah areas.)
Jul 25, 2012 1:10 PM
6Great advice, all.
Re: Grand Staircase-Escalante - what kind of services/accessibility is there here? I like solitude and getting off the beaten path, but I would be solo for the leg of the trip when I would be able to include this. Will there be any marked trails or access to rangers who can give me updates on weather conditions? I have basic orienteering skills, but wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable backpacking/overnight exploring with zero trail and unsure access to water.
Jul 25, 2012 1:25 PM
7Like #2, I'd encourage you to think outside of the Yosemite box.
Yosemite is iconic and beautiful, but its popularity as the place to go in the Sierras can be attributed to its accessibility to vehicles, and thus to tourists with limited time who feel the need to "see" the Sierras in a day or two on the typical SF - Yosemite - Las Vegas - LA loop. Given that you've already seen at least some of the park before--and, more importantly, that you're willing and able to backpack--it'd be far more worth your while to visit some of the spectacular areas of the southern Sierra accessible only to backpackers.
There are hundreds of possible backpacking trips you could take in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the John Muir Wilderness, or the vast backcountry areas of King's Canyon or Sequoia, and to really understand your options you'd need a guide like this one.
Jul 25, 2012 1:38 PM
8The town of Escalante has most anything you'll need, including a very helpful visitor center. The staff has always been knowledgable and up-to-date on conditions when I've dropped in, and the information they have on hand even includes carefully annotated USGS topo maps showing all the well-known routes.
With a handful of unimportant exceptions, there are no formally maintained trails in GSENM. Popular routes usually feature reasonably well-trod paths and are typically welll-marked with cairns where they cross slick-rock. But you won't find trail signs or directional markers anywhere. That said, finding your way in GSENM can be as basic as following the Escalante River down and back up (with side-trip explorations up tributary canyons), all the way up to mind-bending navigational challenges on unmarked expanses of undulating bare stone. Choose routes more focused on the river canyon and selected major tributaries, avoiding lengthy or ambtious cross-country travel, and route-finding shouldn't be a challenge.
Water is less of a concern in GSENM than you might think. While the benches and slickrocks are going to be bone-dry and toasty hot, almost every major canyon is graced with a running stream or springs. If you choose your route sensibly, you shouldn't need to be away from water for more than a few hours at a time, and you should never need to be headed to an uncertain source. There are ambitious routes in GSENM that have real water management issues, but you shouldn't need to mess with anything like that on your initial exploration of the area. The visitor center will be able to provide you with all the current water source information you may need.
Jul 25, 2012 3:06 PM
9If you do cut back on some of the others as recommended, consider Mesa Verde after Moab.
Jul 25, 2012 9:53 PM
10@ FlagStuff and Zashibis
I'm taking your advice and cutting down on Yosemite, and adding a 5 day backpack in the lower Sierras, the Rae Lake loop starting on the Inyo Forest side (I realized I would have had to drive right by it on my way to Zion, so it's also a very convenient location). Do either of you have any experience in the Cedar Grove area of the park, or recommendations for trails on the east side of the Sierras that would provide more breathtaking views/diversity of landscape/enjoyable hiking than this trail?
Jul 26, 2012 12:03 AM
Jul 26, 2012 7:36 AM
12I've not done Rae Lakes, although I have heard great things. Of the places I have been in the eastern Sierra, the South Lake/North Lake loop starting at Bishop Pass and going through Evolution Valley is simply fabulous. The area around Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake, at the base of Banner Peak, is classic also. I guess you can't really go wrong.
Jul 26, 2012 11:14 AM
13@ VinnyD - how many days would you recommend for Mesa Verde?
@ jr3921 - great pics, the Upper Colorado looks great!
Jul 26, 2012 11:48 AM
14Two full days would be fine for Mesa Verde. Even one day would be worth the trip.
Bags feeling light?
Coffee table looking bare?
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