My wife and I usually take a two week Europe trip and one week trip somewhere else every year.
We are considering a fall visit to Glacier or Zion and Bryce Canyon. I have researched this quite a bit in the past week. Glacier would be best visited in September, as temperatures get lot cooler after that. The area is well appointed with lodging outside the park; on such short notice of course in-park lodging is at best available a day or so here and there. Zion and Bryce have very different temperature profiles. Zion is still in the 90s in September, Bryce cools off sooner than ion Zion as it's at higher altitude, so doing both on the same trip could be tricky. October might be the sweet spot for these two.
The thing I am worried about, Zion is way over-touristed. They even have a video to prepare you for what a disaster it will be with the crowds. They have shuttles from nearby Springdale, but after our Grand Canyon experience I fear the sardine experience. Parking fills up by 9 a.m. during the time we would visit. Decent accommodations within reach of the park are $225 or more per night. Bryce Canyon is much more reasonable on the lodging, but I don't know that I would build a whole trip around that.
So, based upon your experience what is the optimal way to do this? I'll go $200 average for a hotel, but would prefer somewhat less. Would Glacier yield a less less crazily over-touristed experience? Is there any way to go to Zion earlier than December that's not a total disaster with the crowds? I hate to sink $3000 into a trip and have a miserable experience, any advice appreciated. Right now I am leaning toward Glacier, or opting out for a return visit to Kauai or Maui. Package deals for Glacier on Expedia actually look pretty reasonable.
I realize that if you want to have a great visit to U.S. national parks, it's highly advisable to plan a year in advance. We have trouble with that approach, because my work demands make it really hard to plan that far in advance.