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US southwest - LF recommendations for hotel, sights, what to book in advance

I'm creating a 2 week itinerary for the US southwest for summer 2018 with a family that includes 2 teenagers. Usually I plan last minute trips but this time I hope to plan it early and get reservations at good hotels. I'm looking for recommendations for hotels, sights to see, routes, anything that you have enjoyed. This is what I have to start with but am continuing to explore options. Start and finish in Albuquerque NM; Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Hubbell Trading Post, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley Navajo Indian Reserve, South Rim of Grand Canyon, Zion National park, Bryce Canyn, Moab, Arches National Park, Colorado: Cortez for Mesa Verde, Cliff Palace, Durango, Pueblo Bonito Ruins and Chaco Culture National Park, Santa Fe and possibly Taos. I have some hotel suggestions for this itinerary but have booked nothing yet.

Posted by
1000 posts

Have you mapped this out? This looks like an awful lot for two weeks. I put in a rough outline in Google maps and came up with 27 hours of driving, and that's with several destinations left out.

Posted by
42 posts

It's doable! Actually it is a trip my friend did with his family. He loved it and recommended it to me. Thanks for looking into this though. I appreciate the comment.

Posted by
725 posts

Staying at the South Rim, Bryce and Zion would be nice, but if you plan to stay in park hotels, you need to get your reservations ASAP. These places fill up.

This is lovely country. You could do Mesa Verde from Durango. I spent 2 weeks in Durango and it was a very pleasant town. Chaco is very isolated and the road may be inaccessible if there is rain. You will have to be flexible on this, but if you can't go, there are plenty of other things to do.

I think you are wise to plan this trip in advance.

Posted by
3665 posts

It is a terribly lot of stuff to see. You're going to do mostly one nighters and single day drive thrus.

Is LF lodging and food?

Posted by
42 posts

Okay - I had a feeling planning this trip in advance is wise. We did Italy last year last minute and for Rome in particular I wished I had not waited. I'll check into the parks asap.

Yes, there will be a lot of one or two nighters but we like to keep moving and see as much as we can when we travel. This type of vacation works well for our family.

Posted by
42 posts

HI Tom..LF is Looking For, but lodging and food would work too!

Posted by
13106 posts

I too think that is way too much for two weeks, unless you are thinking of a "drive by and move on" look at some of these places.

For CrystalmPalace at Mesa Verde, if you want to actually tour the cliff dwelling rather than view it from afar, you must take a ranger-guided tour. Tickets must be purchased in person, up to two days in advance, and they do sell out. This means you need at least a whole day there, staying nearby and arriving very early to get first crack at the tickets. We stayed in the park at the Far View Lodge and loved it.

Here is the guide with full info:

https://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/upload/visitorguide_summerfall17.pdf

I will add that some years back we drove past the road into Mesa Verde on our way to or from Durango. we thought of stopping but a dedicated radio station reported that parking in the park was full and entry was restricted to those with tour or lodging reservations. This was at mid-day, in August.

For the Grand Canyon and nearby parks I can make some lodging suggestions as we are frequent visitors.

For Grand Canyon South Rim, book something inside the park, especially if you only allow one night there. Book at www.grandcanyonlodges.com for the lodges right on the Rim.. Or try www.visitgrandcanyon.com for Yavapai Lodge, which has family rooms (queen bed plus bunks).

At Zion, it is fine to stay near the park entrance in Springdale. We love Desert Pearl ( nice swimming pool) or the Best Western. You must then use the shuttle to get into the park. Or you stay inside the park at Zion Lodge. They have rooms, nice suites, and cabins. You can drive your car to the lodge but not beyond.

A great hike for summer at Zion is the Zion Narrows hike in the river. Your teens will love it---and so will you.

For Bryce, we much prefer the lodge inside the park over Ruby's. The Bryce Canyon Lodge has rooms within short walking distance from the rim, and a decent dining room. We found Ruby's so overrun with tour buses that there was a 1- hour wait to get into the dining room for dinner ( no reservations).

Moab has your standard offering of chain motels, all priced higher than they should be. We booked at one of the Best Westerns ( I would have to check on the name) and lucked into an upgrade to a huge suite because I am a member of their program. That room would easily have slept six people, with four beds in two areas. I noticed at check-in that people without reservations were turned away---Moab is a very popular place.

Posted by
42 posts

Wow, traylaparks...that does make me think twice. Seems to be the case with so many places in our world now. Where do you think you will go instead? I have Iceland on my list but that too falls into the same category.

Posted by
42 posts

Thanks so much Lola. I'll check into your suggestions.

Posted by
3304 posts

You have what looks like 17 places not including beginning/ending in Albuquerque in just 2 weeks.

Petrified Forest

Painted Desert

Hubbell Trading Post

Canyon de Chelly

Monument Valley

Navajo Indian Reserve (not sure what you mean as the Navajo reservation is huge)

Grand Canyon

Zion Nat'l Park

Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park

Arches Nat'l Park

Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Durango, CO

Pueblo Bonito

Chaco Culture Nat'l Historical Park

Santa Fe

Taos (maybe according to you)

Even if you were beamed to each of these places, you would merely be checking off these sites on a bucket list as opposed to really visiting. With 2 teens who could be sick of being chained to a car, you are kidding yourself with this itinerary.

Posted by
2236 posts

Some of the places on your list tend to fill up quickly, so planning well ahead is the smart way to go. The Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Moab in particular require booking well in advance to insure that you find something reasonably close to the attractions themselves. TripAdvisor has pretty good descriptions and ratings for those places - from self catering apartments to traditional hotels and motels. The pull down menus in its "things to do" section also has good listings of some lesser known attractions that might be of interest.
In Monument Valley we particularly enjoyed Goulding's, which has been there for years - since before John Ford discovered the area and filmed several of his old John Wayne westerns there. Still has a lot of memorabilia about those days - fascinating place - and the rooms are quite nice too. There are some great tours that take in some of the back country that are really enjoyable, and which include a visit to some remote cliff ruins. Be prepared to get dirty though - when we returned from our own tour we looked like we'd just returned from the outback. Great fun though - something your kids might like.
As was mentioned, Mesa Verde isn't far from Durango although, having said that, the little town of Cortez is pleasant and has some of the best Mexican food you'll find anywhere. It'll be cheaper than Durango too, so you might consider staying in Cortez and visiting Durango rather than the other way around.
You may already know this, but summer in the southwest can be brutal - would strongly suggest getting a very early start (ie crack of dawn) to get your hikes in before the heat of the day sets in.
Since this looks like a National Parks pilgrimage I suggest stopping by Black Canyon of the Gunnison during your wanderings - it's terrific.

Posted by
2236 posts

Getting an early start every day will not only beat the heat but it will also get you out well ahead of the tourist crush.

Posted by
5262 posts

It is a lot of driving but mostly fast and very scenic. A few random thoughts:

You might consider the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim. It's less visited and closer to your route between Monument Valley and Zion. It's a long drive south from Jacob Lake to the North Rim, and back north. And, because the North Rim is higher and faces south, you might see less of the cliffs and towers within the canyon, and not in as good light. On the other hand, it will be cooler in summer. Check out the miles involved and consider how much crowding you can handle.

In general, I'd recommend staying in the national park lodges when possible. Not as fancy as some nearby motels but perfectly comfortable, and located in the middle of a lot of beauty instead of car-infested gateway towns. You'll find these at Grand Canyon (many choices on the South Rim, just one on the North), Zion, Bryce (where Ruby's Inn is a good second choice), and Mesa Verde. Other good hotels would include La Posada in Winslow, AZ, Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle near Canyon de Chelly, and the River Terrace Motel in Green River, Utah (on the river, across the road from the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, telling the story of the first expeditions through the Grand Canyon).

North from Bryce Canyon, consider taking route 12, the Boulder Mountain Highway, through Escalante and Boulder. It will be slower but is one of North America's most scenic drives over "Hell's Backbone." The Boulder Mountain Lodge in Boulder is a very nice place. Route 12 will put you in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the less known but more scenic interesting in Utah. Then through Hanksville and up to I-70 east.

Feel free to PM me if you have more specific questions. We've taken many road trips through that part of the country.

Posted by
5625 posts

Realizing that you've mentioned lots of sights and places already, and maybe these are already part of what you're considering (or maybe ruled out), but a few things to see and do, while you're in the area, are:

In New Mexico, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (where the first Atom Bomb was developed), and nearby Bandelier National Monument

There’s also the Four Corners Monument, the only point in the USA where four state boundaries meet. – a geographical result of having states with straight boundary lines. You can straddle the spot with one limb in Colorado, another in Utah, another in Arizona, and the other in New Mexico, if so inclined.

In Colorado, adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, there are also cliff dwellings, pictographs, and artifacts at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, accessible only by arranged tour, guided by a member of the Ute Nation. We would’ve done this, too, if we’d had more time during our Mesa Verde trip.

There’s also the historic narrow-gauge steam train that makes a thrilling, extremely scenic trip from Durango to the mining town of Silverton, then back the same day (or you can do the trip in reverse). The train runs in the winter, too, but doesn’t make it all the way to Silverton . . . too much snow!

Posted by
2399 posts

Carol - Cyn said everything I was going to say, and more!

We'll probably go to the Pacific Northwest and visit family.

Posted by
3308 posts

To elaborate on the comment above about Chaco Canyon: There is a long stretch of unpaved road (20 miles?) that you have to negotiate in order to get there. A friend went there on a tour, and their van broke an axle on that road. All I could think as we bumped along was that I was glad I was driving a rental and not my own car. We tried the other road on departure, and it was much the same. I think that given your limited time, Chaco would be a prime candidate for elimination.

Posted by
14930 posts

I'll start by saying that my favorite place in the world is Zion Nat'l Park. The only day I was there that I didn't enjoy very much was over a Thanksgiving weekend when it was so crowded I was almost sorry I stopped (en route from Colorado to California). Which makes me wonder how great the most popular national parks would be during the summer with the crowds. One suggestion is that you avoid the most popular parts of the parks. It's been a while, so I may be a little fuzzy with details, but here goes. Grand Canyon - the South Rim is more or less divided into the East Rim and the West Rim. The West Rim is highly developed - most of the hotels, the big tourist info center, etc. etc. are in the West Rim, but the views from the East Rim are just as beautiful and less crowded. The main part of Zion, with the well-developed hiking trails and all the tourist facilities is really crowded, but if you drive out (through the amazing tunnel) to the east side there's a lot to see and enjoy with fewer people.

I drove to Chaco Canyon. I don't recommend it with an itinerary as full as yours is. It's just too long a drive on difficult terrain. There are other interest sights in the area that are a lot easier to get to. Maybe El Morro and/or Aztec. Don't miss Petroglyph on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

I'd skip Taos. It's a long way to go unless you are an O'Keefe fan. I must admit I was underwhelmed by Monument Valley . . . a long way for not enough. Allow more time for Arches - beautiful, great hikes, I suspect it gets fewer visitors than more "accessible" parks (i.e., closer to bigger cities) like Grand Canyon and Zion/Bryce.

Posted by
21087 posts

If you're planning to rent a car, be aware that the policy document you sign will almost certainly prohibit driving on unpaved roads, even if you rent a 4WD vehicle. If you ignore that rule and have a problem, you're likely to find that any insurance coverage you have is voided.

Many years ago I followed a tip from a magazine and took the high road to Taos. I loved it.

I'm with those who think you're planning too many destinations. They are all wonderful, but you don't have to see every park on the same trip.

Be sure you carry water in your vehicle at all times. And lots and lots of sunscreen.

Posted by
3665 posts

be aware that the policy document you sign will almost certainly prohibit driving on unpaved roads, even if you rent a 4WD vehicle

This isn't always true, the language for Sixt is "unmaintained" which is a different thing. National Park maps will distinguish maintained from unmaintained roads. Gravel roads are almost always maintained. It's earth roads that are either maintained (bladed) or unmaintained.

Posted by
7 posts

I can't speak for a lot of the SW, but I often spend at least a long weekend in New Mexico in the fall. It's one of my favorite spots and well worth the visit.

In Santa Fe: if you want to splurge (or just visit for an afternoon/evening) and depending on how your teenagers may feel about it: Ten Thousand Waves is incredible (Japanese-style spa/hotel/restaurant). Maria's is delicious authentic New Mexican food and I would eat there for every meal if I could (added bonus of having 1000s of different types of margaritas). Meow Wolf is a CRAZY interactive art exhibit/giant indoor installation that would be amazing for teenagers. You could easily spend hours there. Just wandering around the neighborhoods around central Santa Fe is lovely, too--Canyon Road is very much the "art" street with a lot of the higher-end art galleries and cafes, but just following an acequia can lead to great unknown treasures. There is also a lot of hiking in the area. My favorites for quick day hikes have been wandering around the area up by the Santa Fe ski basin and behind St. John's College since they tend to be less packed in the summer. (Edited to Add: Cowgirl BBQ has DELICIOUS bbq, and food in general. Great atmosphere. The New Baking Company--formerly Santa Fe Baking Company--is one of the best brunch spots. Get the breakfast burritos "christmas style." Also, check out the calendar, but the Jean Cocteau Cinema--owned by George RR Martin--is super fun!)

I personally love Taos, but I don't know that there is a ton to do up there when the ski-bums are away for the summer (though, as someone mentioned, the High Road is INCREDIBLE). Taos Pueblo, though, is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site. Call to make sure it is open to visitors before you head up, though, since it is a private community that is only open to the public at certain times.

Bandelier National Monument between ABQ and Santa Fe is well worth the visit. You can climb into the old cliff dwellings and there is tons of history to that area.

The Very Large Array (giant satellite dishes that you'd recognize if you've seen the Jodi Foster movie "Contact") is also worth a visit if it's on your route.

Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O'Keefe lived for a time and a lot of other artists have drawn inspiration is also wonderful if you enjoy the outdoors. Lots of trails and spectacular landscape/views. Worth road tripping through even if you don't stop at the actual ranch, though I have been eager to take some of their longer horseback rides.

I wish I could speak more to hotel suggestions, but we've often just stayed in Airbnbs and the occasional spa/hotel resort when we're down there. But I hope you have a great time! It's a spectacular part of the US.

Posted by
7 posts

Ack! Correct. Bandelier more NW of Santa Fe--I've just always stopped there on the way from ABQ to Santa Fe, so I tend to forget it's much closer than "between" would otherwise suggest.

But make sure you search for directions to "BandElier." Searching for "Bandolier" might take to you an antique gun shop instead. ;)

Posted by
13524 posts

We've done a lot of trips to the National Parks and Monuments in the S.W. and I really don't know how you're going to do all of this in two weeks. Maybe I should say that I don't know how you're going to do it and have any time to enjoy the parks/towns/cities themselves?

What you haven't explained is what you want to DO in the parks? Just take a couple of pictures and move on or do some hiking/exploring?

Monument Valley is a drive on the (bumpy, dusty) scenic road: very little else you can do there on your own.

Chaco is great but very remote - we've done it twice - and will involve 13 miles of dirt road that may be impassible if it's raining (or been raining) heavily. It also promises to be very hot. It's a favorite of mine but will take a day as you'll want to see more of the Great Houses than just Pueblo Bonito. The best view of that one is from the Pueblo Alto trail along the edge top of North Mesa that overlooks the ruin. There's no accommodations/food/gas at this park so bring everything you need for the day with you.

Zion: this is a very, VERY busy park, and you can't drive into most of Zion Canyon on your own: you have to take shuttles in and around to reduce the congestion. Stay in Springdale, where you can leave you car and take shuttles from town. Make reservations far in advance! The advised route to this one is via Hwy 9 (Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway) heading west from Mt. Carmel Junction: highly advise, and don't do it backwards as you'll miss the breathtaking descent into the canyon. Best hike is the "bottom up" hike in the Virgin River into the Narrows IF water levels/flow/weather forecast are favorable. Rent boots, poles and waterproof gear bags here:

http://www.zionadventures.com/zion-narrows/

Grand Canyon South Rim: There is a lot to see and do in this park, and I HIGHLY advise more than one day in case that one day throws you lousy weather: seen that happen. It would be a shame to have THAT VIEW obscured by rain, fog and/or low-lying clouds. We wouldn't think of staying anywhere but IN the park, and I'd book anything but (very expensive) El Tovar. Bright Angel is our lodge of choice but may not be able to handle 4 to a room. I might look at Maswik, which is sort of next door to B.A, is not far from the rim, and has a very large, very nice cafeteria. You can drive the overlooks on the east side of the park yourself but those on Hermit Road - on the west side -are accessible only by shuttle or on foot along the Rim Trail.
Too much to even begin to cover on this one!

Moab: our favorite little town in the S.W., and base for Arches, Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point State Park (also advised) and any number of terrific area hikes, like Fisher Towers. It will be very hot in the summer months, and Arches will be VERY busy. This one deserves a minimum of two full days, and I've give it more with active teenagers. You might enjoy a 1/2 or full-day river-raft trip?

https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/trips/rafting/

We rent apartments when we stay here, and can recommend this local rental company:

http://www.moabutahlodging.com/

Bryce Canyon: explore the overlooks, and the classic hike is the Queen's Garden-Navajo Trail loop. Parking can be a pain during the summer season so it can be easier to park and take the shuttles. Ruby's Inn (on the shuttle route) is a favorite with families as it offers a lot of amenities.

https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/shuttle.htm

Mesa Verde: it's a long, slow drive to the top of the mesas where the cliff dwellings are. Reservations for visiting those you're allowed to do only with tours fill quickly so make them at the Visitor Center - at the entrance to the park - immediately upon arrival. We opted to stay at Far View Lodge last time to take advantage of unusually dark skies.

https://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/meve_vc.htm

(out of room: see part 2)

Posted by
367 posts

One thing you also need to take into consideration is that many places will be hot. You might want to review the historical weather data for the time you are planning on going. It can be very difficult to sightsee when it is very hot. You may want to think about building in activities where you are not out in the mid-day heat.

Posted by
3665 posts

Albuquerque is an odd choice since no flights from Canada arrive here. If you do cut NM (recommend you cut something) start instead in Phoenix or Vegas.

Posted by
638 posts

Don't really have anything to add, well maybe one thing but you sent me down memory lane. This is the part of the country where I grew up, specifically Gallup NM and Durango CO (before it became trendy)! Depending on the time of year the Inter Tribal Indian Ceremony in Gallup might be of interest. Here is a link to this years event. http://theceremonial.com/

Posted by
13524 posts

Santa Fe: our favorite small U.S. city and a mecca for food, history and art. We usually rent apartments here, and can recommend the PREMIUM (not standard) condos at Fort Marcy Suites. Had a really nice week-long stay there last spring. I would avoid most of the hotels along Cerrillos Road because its so busy. Lots of great places to eat.

https://www.allseasonsresortlodging.com/santa-fe/fort-marcy-hotel-suites/accommodations

Random comments:
I'd skip Taos and probably Chaco, even though I love it. I'd even skip Monument Valley in favor of some other things.

North from Bryce Canyon, consider taking route 12, the Boulder
Mountain Highway, through Escalante and Boulder. It will be slower but
is one of North America's most scenic drives over "Hell's Backbone."
The Boulder Mountain Lodge in Boulder is a very nice place. Route 12
will put you in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of
the less known but more scenic interesting in Utah. Then through
Hanksville and up to I-70 east.

YES!! YES!!! This is a TERRIFIC drive, and Capitol Reef National Park - one of Utah's "Magnificent 5" parks - is well worth doing. Stay in Torrey: we like Austin's Chuck Wagon Motel, and it has a pool, coin laundry and small general store.

http://www.austinschuckwagonmotel.com

I've purposely left out some things in or near Albuquerque as you simply don't have time.

Buy an "America The Beautiful" annual park pass for $80: it will cover ALL of you in one car for all the parks, monuments, historical sites, etc. in the NPS system for a year. You will more than break even on it during this trip. You can buy it at the first park you visit.

https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm

Make your reservations early!!! I can't stress this enough. You will be vacationing during peak season, and accommodations at or near the most popular parks start filling very early.

Someone suggested the North Rim of the Grand Canyon versus the South? It has fewer amenities and only one lodge but it's a very good fit with Zion and Bryce. Something to consider...

The lodge at Bryce versus Ruby's: I'll agree that it's much more to our taste if you can swing the price.

Springdale: had a nice stay at Quality Inn At Zion Park last time. We LOVED the lodge in the park but the prices have gotten to be really high.

If you intend on doing some hiking - and I hope you do - I've lots of suggestions once you get a plan down.

Posted by
6872 posts

Take a look at this 11-day sample itinerary from Utah's visitor site to get a feel for distances and how time is allocated. I think you're trying to bite off a lot more than you can chew with your itinerary, partly because of the key factors mentioned: extreme heat in summer, extreme crowds, and also the long duration to get to some of the sites due to the rough or slow roads (Chaco is a great example).

Grand Circle Tour (sample itinerary)
https://utah.com/itinerary/grand-circle-tour

By the way, I highly recommend Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point State Park, not too far from Arches (Moab is the perfect base for these). The upside of those two is they were a lot less crowded (compared to Arches NP) and still stunningly beautiful.

Posted by
1757 posts

My hotel recommendation for Monument Valley is the View Hotel which is the only hotel within the park. We stayed at Gouldings because it was the only place with rooms available. It was abysmal. We had an efficiency apartment away from the main hotel. Wifi was nonexistent at the apartment which was very dark and very dated and there was no heat. The restaurant at Gouldings was disappointing as well. The restaurant at the hotel in the park was very good. Book early to get a room at the View Hotel.

Posted by
42 posts

I just love this forum. Thank you, thank you to all of you who have given me excellent ideas, questions to ponder and places to explore. As I had mentioned in my question I had a itinerary to start with and wanted recommendations so that I could alter it. You have done exactly that and I now have lots to research so that I can come up with the ideal trip for my family's needs. I appreciate you all taking the time to read my question and share your ideas with me.

Posted by
697 posts

Following this post as we are planning to go to the US Southwest next year too, probably also for two weeks. Thanks.

Posted by
6872 posts

I'm almost afraid to throw this out, but if you really are considering going to Iceland as well at some point, then for sure Iceland would be a better pick for the summer relative to the Southwest. It would be much cooler but unfortunately it is a quite expensive country. But Iceland is absolutely out of this world gorgeous. The Southwest is like nowhere else as well, but I just think it would be brutal in the summer time. I'm an avid hiker so I tend to plan around extreme weather. I took a trip to Utah in early May for about 12 days and it was just perfect, not too bad at all as far as crowds went and weather was quite good. If you have a true choice in the peak of summer between the Southwest and Iceland, hands down I would pick Iceland.

Posted by
3665 posts

Following up with Agnes: The Southwest is very up and down. High elevation places like Bryce, Grand Canyon North Rim, Santa Fe and that area, these are 7000'+ and not hot in the summer. Other places like Zion and Arches drop below the 4000' level and can get beastly hot. From a similar July trip I remember the Moab area and Zion being very uncomfortable. Dead Horse Point ( 5000') is just above Moab and we were able to camp there without too much discomfort. As a rough guide 5000' is the comfort cutoff, below that both days and nights are hot.

You're on a highlights trip but there are treasures everywhere that you can have to yourself. http://www.americansouthwest.net/slot_canyons/index.html

Posted by
13106 posts

You have been given excellent suggestions, including some places that are new to us, despite 5 hiking trips to the Southwest canyon country in the past ten years. I have copied and pasted this thread into my planning folder for our next trip, which will include New Mexico for the first time.

I will especially endorse the suggestion by Dick and Kathy to drive Highway 12 through Escalante and Boulder, to Capitol Reef. It is a spectacular drive. This can fit between Bryce and Moab, with an overnight or two in Torrey, or maybe Boulder (there is a lovely lodge there).

A fun thing to do at Capitol Reef, if the timing works out, is to pick fruit from the Pioneer orchards, which have been well maintained since they were planted by the early settlers. Picking is on the honor system---you weigh your harvest and pay into the honor box.

There are some interesting hikes in this park, to arches or viewpoints. We saw a group with a guide that hiked up to the plateau by a popular arch, and then rappeled down. They seemed to be having a great time.

Posted by
1769 posts

If you want to stay in the national parks, get reservations as soon as possible. If you can't get in Bryce, consider the nearby town of Tropic.

Posted by
21087 posts

I mentioned sunscreen before but failed to point out the impact of altitude, the nearly total lack of shade at many of your proposed destinations, and the power of sunlight reflected off of light-colored ground. You can get a very bad sunburn very quickly in such conditions. Wide-brimmed sunhats and clothes that cover your body are highly recommended.

And after a couple of unpleasant experiences, my policy concerning unpaved roads is that I do not take them if there is any other alternative (even one that looks a lot longer) that will get me where I'm going.

There are places in that part of the US where there is no cell-phone service. People who live out in the country often drive around with gallon jugs of water in their cars, just in case.

Posted by
13524 posts

You have been given excellent suggestions, including some places that
are new to us, despite 5 hiking trips to the Southwest canyon country
in the past ten years. I have copied and pasted this thread into my
planning folder for our next trip, which will include New Mexico for
the first time.

Lola, if you're a hiker, we should chat 'cause I have some places to send you. :O)
Just for a start - and without messing up poor Carol's thread - look at the Needles unit of Canyonlands (southern Utah), Bandelier National Monument (mentioned previously) and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, abt 40 miles from Santa Fe. That's just a start. Yep, I LOVE the Southwest!

LOL, the rental companies do not want to know where we've taken some of their vehicles but no damage yet!

Posted by
2258 posts

I did a similar trip last month. It was everything we try to avoid - hot weather, packed itinerary, and a lot of one night stands. We had a blast! So I encourage you to do it, but maybe cut it back just a bit. We only had 10 days so we decided to stay in Arizona. All of our drives were short - 2 to 4 hours - and the roads were great. Many of the places were higher elevation so not as hot as Phoenix which we flew into and out of. The Grand Canyon was in the high 70s and most of tbe other places were low 80s. That's a lot hotter than we like, but manageable. We did less hiking and walking than normal. The early mornings and evenings were delightful, so try to do your walking then where possible.

We went to several places you are thinking about...

Petrified Forest and Painted Desert - these were the only places that were a little disappointing. The Petrified Desert had some neat parts, but most of it was driving through nothing. We saw only a small part of the Painted Desert and it was kind of blah. Maybe the light just wasn't great that afternoon. But they fit nicely into our route and didn't take a ton of time. We stayed at La Posada in Winslow which was a very cool hotel with a good restaurant. Make a reservation; there's nowhere else to eat. Winslow is pretty bleak, although I think it has potential.

Canyon de Chelly - this place is gorgeous and there's hardly anyone here. Don't skip it. Our plan was to drive along the north and south rims and get out occasionally to enjoy the view. However, my son wanted to hike down to the canyon so we ended up not having time for the north rim. There's only one place you can do this - on the south rim - and while its nothing like the Grand Canyon, it requires a bit of effort to climb back up. Luckily we had a lot of shade on the way up (it was close to 5:00) and we had plenty of water with us, because I started to have symptoms of heat stroke. I had to stop a lot to rest but I made it. You never know when the heat will get to you (I did other hikes with no problems), so always take lots of water with you. Despite that, it was a great hike. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Chinle. It's a bit of an oasis in a very grim area. Pretty standard chain hotel with a decent restaurant. There's not much choice in the area.

Monument Valley - we loved this place, probably our favorite stop. You need to take a jeep tour to really see the park. Don't bother reserving in advance - there are tons of jeeps waiting for tourists to arrive. It's really beautiful and fun to see the iconic sights from the movies. Don't skip it! We stayed in a cabin at The View. Great location and all the cabins and rooms have gorgeous views. I would have been equally happy with a room I think. The restaurant was decent.

Grand Canyon - I had been to the north rim a zillion years ago; this time we stayed on the south rim - at the Holiday Inn at Tusayan. It was okay but expensive with a crappy breakfast. I would have much preferred to stay in the park. We spent three nights, but would have been happy with two. We were not about to hike to the rim as it gets hot as you go into the canyon, so we just went to several lookouts and walked around. Honestly, it all starts looking the same after a while. I would recommend seeing it at sunrise or sunset - the colors are fabulous. While there were a lot of people there, the park is huge and can handle a lot of people. It never felt crowded to me.

Lake Powell - This is the only place that was unbearably hot but fortunately our main activity was a boat tour on the lake at 5:00 which was very pleasant. I enjoed this but I would not stay at the Lake Powell Resorts again. It was super expensive for an ordinary room.

To be continued

Posted by
2258 posts

The other place we went that is not on your list is Sedona. Absolutely breathtaking! If you decide to skip NM and fly into Phoenix, this might fit nicely in your itinerary. I would highly recommend staying at the Cozy Cactus. The views are beautiful, breakfast is delicious, and the owners are super friendly. You can hike right from their patio, which is great for hiking at sunrise. (If you are coming from out east, it's no problem getting up early.)

I've been to Zion, Bryce, and Arches, but it was years ago before crowds were a problem. I would suggest there are ways to work around crowds (this normally involves getting out early and staying in the parks where possible), so don't rule them out. They are extraordinarily beautiful and worth some challenges to see.

Coming from the east, I felt like I was visiting another world. Everything was so different and so cool - it very exciting to be there! I was totally fine with moving around to see as much as possible. But be careful not to overdo it. Maybe consider eliminating any outliers to avoid long drives. We had a lot of down time in the evenings which gave us time to recharge.

I hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
1559 posts

I just did a six day tour in that area with one night for each park we visitied. I really believe you will be sorry trying to do all of these parks because you will be driving more than sightseeing. We went to the south rim, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon Caverns, Sedona, Antelope Canyon at Page, and one night in Scottsdale to visit with friends. We spent a lot of time driving!
I like the El Tovar hotel for the south rim. If you can't find a place there, try Williams AZ as it is only 56 miles away.

I liked the Goulding( our room was great and the food was fine) at Monument Valley. We stayed in a one bedroom suite that had a private bedroom and a nice bed in the living area and one bathroom. We had another couple with us and it worked out well. The wifi was perfect too! Great views from that place. Williams is an old Route 66 town with good restaurants and ok motels.
We did a canyon tour of Canyon de Shelley and stayed at the lodge inside the park. There is a Holiday Inn ( I think that is the name of the hotel) just down the street. The town has nothing to offer at all.
For Zion, Springdale offers many nice places to stay and eat.
I've bee to all the other parks you've mentioned and would not try and do them all in two weeks. Just my opinion.

Posted by
13106 posts

Kathy---I would love to hear your hiking suggestions, especially for New Mexico. You could add them here where others can benefit as well, or send me a PM if you prefer. Thanks!

Lola

Posted by
42 posts

With the tragic event in Las Vegas I am rethinking this trip. What are your thoughts on safety in National Parks these days?

Posted by
13524 posts

Carol, we feel TOTALLY safe at the National Parks, monuments, forests, etc. Honestly, we've NEVER worried about safety other than breaking an ankle, skull or neck while scrambling canyons. NPS rangers have a much higher risk of encountering problem individuals than any tourist ever will because they have to police rules some of those individuals don't like, such as staying out of off-limits areas.

We were on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on 9/11 and for several days after, and felt like we were in the safest place in the country at that point. Las Vegas is avoided whenever possible on our S.W. trips, not because of safety but simply because we intensely dislike the place. Will use the airport there but only if there's no better alternative for price or the route we'll be taking.

I wouldn't waste a minute worrying about the parks.

Posted by
6872 posts

I think it does no good to try to extrapolate what happened in Vegas to totally different settings. I would step back from planning until your emotions have a chance to sort themselves out, and you can think clearly and objectively. Your trip (as it sounds now) is essentially a road trip with relatively little time spent in each location, so "safety" in your case is really centered on vehicular safety, staying healthy in hot temperatures (hydration, avoiding sunburn and fatigue, dressing light, etc), and avoiding bodily injury (meaning things like twisted ankles, sprains, etc) if you are doing some heavy duty hiking. Those are the only things I would personally give any concerns to. If, for whatever reason, you still feel doubtful about the southwest (or the US in general), then definitely look into Iceland. It's a very easy, friendly, and beautiful place.

Posted by
1353 posts

You've gotten a lot of great info and advice so far. The only thing I have to add is that in my experience all of the national parks in the west get busier each year. If you don't HAVE to go in summer then try and go in spring or fall. Also be prepared for extremely HOT weather if you go mid summer and be sure and have camel back backpacks or some other way to carry a LOT of water on your hikes! I haven't been to all of your planned destinations, but have been to many of them. My husband and I actually prefer Bryce canyon to the Grand Canyon. It is much more interesting and unique. It's also a little higher in elevation than most of Utah's other parks so won't be as hot (hopefully).

Posted by
13524 posts

Heat is definitely going to be a factor at some of the parks on your list during the summer. Referencing an earlier question, you still haven't said what you intend to DO at the parks? Spring or fall would be better times to go - and can still be plenty warm - but I'm guessing you have to work around the school year for your teens.

Posted by
87 posts

In Moab UT I recommend a hotel called the Inca Inn. Simple accommodation, they have a pool, breakfast is included, and they are very inexpensive. It isn't a large hotel, so book in advance. The price is hard to beat!
Arches is a wonderful park with lots of short hikes, but will be VERY hot in the summer. Take lots of water, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, wear shorts. That actually goes for most of your destinations. If you have to drop some of your stops, make sure you keep Mesa Verde and Arches. They are both wonderful! If you end up visiting Zions National Park, I recommend the Emerald Pools hike, and a restaurant outside the park entrance a few miles down the road called Blondies. Terrific burgers, ya know, American food.
I might also suggest getting a national parks pass. Depending on the admission price of the parks you choose, it might be cheaper to buy and annual pass if you visit many of them.
The Grand Canyon is wonderful, but it is far away from everything. Make sure you have your car filled up with gas!
Depending on how you do your trip, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon may be more in your path. It is less crowded and less hot, but just as beautiful.

Posted by
87 posts

And might I add, the national parks are incredibly safe, the people you meet are wonderful, absolutely don't cancel this trip!!!

Posted by
13524 posts

Someone mentioned staying in Tropic if the lodge at Bryce is full or too pricey, or Ruby's not to your liking? We've had a very comfortable stay in a roomy, individual cabin here:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g57154-d273744-Reviews-Bryce_Canyon_Country_Cabins-Tropic_Utah.html

A pretty cramped shower was the only negative but not a big enough issue that we wouldn't stay again. Tropic is right on the Hwy. 12 scenic drive to Capitol Reef we've been recommending. There's great view of the Aquarius Plateau from backyard behind the cabins (you'll be driving up and over the plateau on your way to Capitol Reef). The town is tiny with a few places to eat, a small market, gas station and not much else but fine for a night if spending just a day at the park and moving on.

Kodachrome Basin State Park is just down the road (off 12 heading towards Capitol Reef)) and offers some nice day hiking.

Posted by
4535 posts

As a part time resident of Santa Fe, I thought I would chime in.

Your first order of business is to figure out how much time at each of the National Parks you want/need. Then map out an itinerary with those as your core elements. Then get reservations booked ASAP.

Yes you do have a lot on the itinerary, but some of these are drive through or short stops. Though a bit hectic, it is doable with excellent planning.

The good news is that people here have lots of ideas and suggestions for your itinerary. The bad news is that people have lots of ideas and suggestions for your itinerary. You'll have to filter those that work with your route and timing.

A few comments/suggestions:

Plan at least two nights at the Grand Canyon. Use the middle day for a few hour hike into the canyon starting at sunrise (DON'T try and hike later in the day). Plan for say, a 1-2 hour hike down and then turn around to get the experience of the canyon. Spend the rest of the time along the rim enjoying the various views and sights.

Although there are fine things to do in Albuquerque, just use it as a base to fly in and out of. It does make for a good circle drive if you plan well, whereas Phoenix or Las Vegas are outliers.

I highly recommend staying at La Posada in Winslow. Makes a good stopping point for the sites nearby and is an excellent hotel/restaurant. Will give you a sense of how railroad travel was that opened the SW to tourists. You must book well in advance.

Try to make your route as much of a circle as you can. Avoid backtracking which may mean cutting a thing or two.

It is very rare for rain to cut off the road to Chaco but it is a possibility, but more likely in later summer during afternoon storms. As has been noted, Chaco is very remote and hard to get to. And it doesn't jive with going to Taos. You'd have to either go to Chaco or Taos.

Once you have a more specific itinerary, come back and some of us can help you refine it and offer more specifics.

Regarding water and heat - pay little attention to the actual daytime temperatures. It will be very hot in the sun no matter and you will dehydrate quickly. Most of these destinations will be at higher altitudes than you are used to, so always have and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Never go on even short hikes without some water with you and drink it regularly. Nights will be cool and pleasant and daytime shade will feel much cooler. Wear sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats (baseball caps are worthless).

Many people get some altitude sickness which can manifest in different ways (from tummy troubles, headaches, to flu-like symptoms). Be prepared to get some various medicines if some of you get symptoms.

I can offer lots of suggestions for places to stay and eat in NM once you get your itinerary set. Some have been suggested, but there are better ones in many cases.

Finally, you will be visiting some Native American lands. Please respect those peoples and their rules. Photos are usually only allowed with permission (often a fee) and never take a photo of a Native person without their permission. Places marked as off-limits or with guides only are enforced. Some pueblos-tribes are more open than others to visitors and most have some feast days when they are closed. If you plan to visit a particular pueblo, check the date in advance to be sure and to get the rules.

Posted by
14930 posts

acraven brought up the point of high altitude and sun - the higher you are, the less the atmosphere filters out the dangerous UV rays. In addition to extra UV protection for your skin, you need UV sunglasses for everyone.

Posted by
5625 posts

Hi Chani - that's why everybody in Colorado looks so "cool," we wear sunglasses practically all the time, year-round!

Posted by
14930 posts

I think Cyn's just bragging that they get so much year-round sunshine.

Posted by
5625 posts

Although some of the past 2 weeks have been cloudy/foggy/rainy . . . and the first freeze of the season, plus snow expected on Monday. Oh well, ski season's just around the corner.

Things should be nice and clear again for the original poster, Carol, if she decides to go ahead with her original plans to visit the Southwest USA!

Posted by
13 posts

It is a terribly lot of stuff to see. You're going to do mostly one nighters and single day drive thrus

Posted by
288 posts

I live in Colorado and we explore the southwest a lot for vacation. Usually a week at a time and pick maybe 2 or 3 of these sites for a full week. The parks have a lot to offer other than the main sites and the main sites can be super crowded in summer. Staying more time in summer gives you a chance to get off the beaten path see cool things and avoid some crowds. Saying that if you want to see all these things maybe do an open jaw into abq and out of Vegas if you finish in zion or Salt Lake if you are going up to Moab. There are looooong drives between these places. Beautiful but long. 2 weeks going as far as you are from abq you will have a long drive back. I have been to all of these places and they all are fantastic and at each place there are many other options depending on your interests. Chaco is my favorite but very isolated and the Navajo Res is beautiful but big and scattered. Bloomfield 40 miles from the turnoff on the above mentioned dirt road is the closest you can get a room. You can camp in the park which is great if you are into that. The night skies of Chaco, especially if you time it with a sky party are awesome. We always camp in the parks as it is cheaper and you get the best real estate and can sometimes save a lot of commute time but many you need to reserve way ahead. I also recommend the north rim in the summer. It is 1000 feet higher so its cooler and way less crowded, but room options are more limited. Moab has tons of things to do in summer but is HOT. You do need to plan your day to be up early like 6 am or 7 to avoid people and heat.

Posted by
42 posts

Thank you for the information everyone. We have decided to put this trip on hold and try to do it at a different time of the year. Summer just seemed too hot and too crowded. I appreciate all the great input and will put it to good use at a later date.