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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Help me plan a National Park excursion! Advice welcome

   
Author Topic: Help me plan a National Park excursion! Advice welcome
Lyrhawn
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I'm starting to put down ideas for a National Park road trip next year. This past May I drove across South Dakota and stayed in the Badlands and Black Hills for a week. It was amazing. I've never had a vacation quite like it, and it was also one of the cheapest vacations I've ever taken. So I've decided I want to repeat the experience next spring by staying mostly away from cities and hitting National Parks.

I'm hoping to have 7-10 days to travel. I live in Lincoln, Nebraska and plan to drive the whole time. Just looking at a map is daunting, there are dozens of parks all relatively close together but still hours apart.

I've had my heart set on Mesa Verde National Park for a little while now to see the cliff dwellings, and I know there are a few other parks sort of nearby as well. On the other hand, since I was a kid I've wanted to see Glacier National Park. This one takes on heightened importance since the park as it exists now literally won't be around forever. The glaciers are receding rapidly.

Broadly, I'm thinking about stopping a night in Rocky Mountain National Park, then going south to Mesa Verde, and then over to the Grand Canyon. I know that covers a lot of ground, but my friends and I are young and tend to jampack our vacations rather than take a leisurely route.

On the other hand, I'm thinking about going north, staying a day or two in Grand Tetons/Yellowstone and then heading to the Canadian border to spend a few nights in Glacier National Park, then maybe driving across Montana and back through South Dakota to get back to Nebraska.

My friends and I mostly like to hike, though I'd love to try whitewater kayaking this time around. I wanted to do it in South Dakota but we didn't have the time. We also tend to like tiny cities with antique stores.

If anyone has been to any of these parks and has any suggestions, I'm all ears. I've seen enough pictures and looked over enough hiking trails to go either way at this point, though I must admit, my heart draws me north. Part of what's so disappointing about going south is everything I wouldn't have time for. No time for Moab and Arches/Canyonlands, no time to go further west to Sequoia and Yosemite, no time to stop in Bryce Canyon. I feel like that's a three week trip I'd like to take some day, and it'll always be there waiting for me.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

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Hobbes
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I've been to all of the parks you mentioned in the post (outside of the South Dakota ones). Other than Glacier which I've only been to once and a long time ago, and Mesa Verde, which has change meaningfully (a lot less access to the dwellings) I know them all pretty well. I guess Grand Canyon I've only been to once but I certainly did all the things you'd be able to do on such a short trip. I have lots of suggestions, especially for RMNP and the Teton's/Yellowstone area which I know very well. But you'll have to get a little more specific about a few things.

1) What parks will you go to? If you want advice on that one then
1b) What is it you want to see or experience?

2) How long do you anticipate spending at any one location? How long does it take you to drive the various points (driving time, based both on road speed and number and length of stops, varies way too much from person to person for anyone to guess it)

3) How long is the longest day hike you want to do (or backpacking trip if you want to schedule that in)

4) What time of year are you planning on going?

5) Besides hiking and driving, what activities interest you on the trip?

6) Any general goals you want to accopmlish.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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I have some of this figured out. I wanted some general advice on all of the parks I mentioned since I'm not really sure if I should take the southern or northern route, but:

1. I'm leaning very heavily toward RMNP/GrandTetons/Yellowstone and Glacier.

1b. I'm not entirely sure yet. For sure I want to see a glacier at GNP. I want to hike a mountain and get a good view of the Rockies at some point. Anything involving being out in nature and getting some really good scenery in. I'm not sure if I can get much more specific than that.

2. I'm planning on a day at RMNP, two days between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, and two days at Glacier. Roughly five days total not counting travel time, but I could shift some of those days around if one place had something in particular I wanted to see more. It takes roughly 8 hours to get from place to place. Lincoln to RMNP is 8, it's 9 from RMNP to Grand Tetons and 8 from Yellowstone to Glacier. That's Google Maps' time.

3. I don't think we're up for a back country backpacking trip, they'll have to be day hikes. I think we'd be willing to do an all day hike. We hiked up Harney Peak in South Dakota, which was I think a 5-6 hour hike up a mountain. I think that's right around our wheelhouse, though I'd toy with something longer if it meant seeing something special.

4. May. Probably mid-May.

5. I'd absolutely love to go white water kayaking, or even just river kayaking in a canyon. Usually when we kayak it's down lazy Michigan rivers in the middle of fairly well-populated forests. I'd like something different. We really like tourist trap stuff. Weird or unusual things are also a favorite. We also like small town antique shops, but generally aren't big fans of shopping, thank God. When we went to South Dakota we went to a bunch of off the map stuff like abandoned mines and old ghost towns that were pretty cool.

6. To see as much as humanly possible in the time allotted.

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Hobbes
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Well I think with RMNP, Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier you've choosen wisely. I can't give advice about the last one, but the other three I know very well.

May is going to be a problem, just so you know. Coming that early means, aside from the ongoing weather problems (mainly cold) there's going to be a lot of snow on the ground and a lot of stuff will be closed. Trail Ridge Road, the driving based highlight of RMNP doesn't normally open until mid or late May (and there's never any promises). I went on a skiing, snow-cave based trip in mid March through Yellowstone: there was 5' of snow on the ground at that point. And even if all the snow melts it's going to be very muddy.

Not that you can't have a great time anyway, I'm just warning you that going so early will limit a lot of what you can do.

With so little time at each place you have to make a choice: try to see everything possible (as per your 6) or try to get out and experience a few, small areas of the park (as per 1.b). You don't have to choose the same for each park but you'll have to make that choice. Three days spread out between RMNP, Yellowstone and the Tetons is enough to drive through most of the better known parts of the parks and take a few, 0.5-1 mile strolls at scenic stops but that will be about it. The other option is to decide you wont be able to see the whole park anyway so you'll just pick a hike to go on that will get you out there. Take a think and get back to us. [Smile]

quote:
I think we'd be willing to do an all day hike. We hiked up Harney Peak in South Dakota, which was I think a 5-6 hour hike up a mountain. I think that's right around our wheelhouse, though I'd toy with something longer if it meant seeing something special.

I'd be happy to reccomend hikes to you, and hiking these areas is something I'm very conversant in, but you'll have to translate that statement into distance and elevation. 5-8 miles? 10-15 miles? 20+ miles? A few hundred feet per mile? 1000ft+ per mile at the steep end? On trail or off? With only a few days I think there would be a lot of good hikes around 10 miles with just moderate elevation you could do.

I should also note that with Yellowstone you're going to make another choice. The park everyone knows and visits is the park with all the active, thermal features. It's accesiable exciting, and only about 5% of the actual park. The other park (or other part) is the wildest part of the 48, and once you get out in it, almost devoid of human life and full of wildlife including grizzlies. If you want to see that part of Yellowstone, you'll need some time and some determination: if you're only there for a day or so then I would reccommend seeing the thermals (especially if you do in go in May, since a lot of the rivers will be uncrossable and the trails will be snowed in or just mud) but something to think on.

I'm not a kayaker, but there are a zillion little buisness out there that specialize in this stuff. Pick on (presumably via the Internet), call them up, and let them take care of all the details. I would say of the four, Tetons is the best time to fit it in if you really want to. I'm not sure what Kayaking in May is like though, or even if it's possible so something to look into.

As for tourist traps, there are tons of gift shops in these places, but the appeal out there is being in nature, being in the wild, so there's not much at the actual sites (though I'm sure you'll go by plenty on the drive). Estes Park has some stuff in it if you're interested: that's located right at the main entrance to RMNP.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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Hm, I might need to rethink the plan based on the timeline then. I like the idea of going with snow on the ground because I think it'd be beautiful...but I don't want to hike 10 miles in the snow up a mountain. I was hoping the weather would be similar to how it was last May in South Dakota, but I guess it's a totally different climate.

The weather might force me south, with plans to go north some other time in the summer. Or depending on how my schedule works out this summer, I might hang around here a little longer and go in June. Would that make things more accessible?

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Hobbes
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June is still pretty early. Late June maybe. If you just want to drive around and walk ~5 miles max June is fine. Anything more intense will probably either be snow or mud covered. Two years ago I couldn't get to the places I wanted to until late August. But that was a really heavy snow year and I went to some pretty remote places. Still if you actually want to climb a mountain I'd say mid July at the earliest and even then, best case scenario, the bugs are still an issue. Mid-August to mid-Sept is really best in my mind, but that's to do things you're probably not interested in.

Spring in Southern Utah is ideal. If you're stuck with going in May I highly endorse a Southern Utah / Northern Arizona (and Southwestern Colorado) trip. Canyonlands, Arches, Capital Reef, Esclante, Bryce, Zions, Grand Canyon... Some wonderful trips there too. A little easier to get off the beaten path in the ones that aren't National Parks (Escalante is my absolute favorite) but more than enough for 10 days of stuff no matter what you fancy.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Hobbes
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Just as a little plug: here is my photo page. If you look on the right side of it, down a little bit you'll see the "Tags" section. I've given many of the parks we're talking about their own tag, so you can see what's there. Or at least the kinds of things I'm interested in that are there.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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I'm leaning in that direction now. I don't think an August or even late July trip is really going to be feasible. Part of that depends on whether or not I finish my thesis work by May or if I have to push it to August. May is a safer bet.

In that case, I need to decide which parks to actually see in the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona area.

Off the top of my head, RMNP is a must, and I have to pass through it anyways so why not. Arches, Canyonlands and Capital Reef are all sort of in the same area, with Mesa Verde right below it, and then Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon to the west of there. But there's no way I can do all that in ten days. I'd need 2-3 weeks. And I absolutely cannot decide between them all.

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C3PO the Dragon Slayer
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Broadly, I'm thinking about stopping a night in Rocky Mountain National Park, then going south to Mesa Verde, and then over to the Grand Canyon.

Ah, what nostalgia that sentence invokes!

I have so many fond memories of all of those places. My family would vacation in Colorado every other summer. We've hit all three of those locations on different excursions.

Rocky Mountain National Park has great hiking. I remember wearing myself out climbing the rocks on Lake Haiyaha, going astray about halfway up the mountain to the snow line, and bringing a snowball back down.

I didn't see as much of the Grand Canyon as I might have liked, since it was an extremely hot day (Arizona during a heat wave? Ugh!), but even what little I saw was mesmerizing. No photograph does it justice.

Mesa Verde is not the grandiose natural spectacle those other two are, but it is definitely fascinating to see how a civilization flourished in a most unique environment, and the cliff dwellings are fun to explore.

If you can make room for a visit to Pike's Peak, I highly recommend that as well. I know it's a bit out of the way between Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde, but I can unequivocally state that it was there that I saw the most beautiful landscape in my life. The view atop that mountain is the very scene that inspired America the Beautiful, which turns out to be a very literal description of the landscape as seen from the summit.

Of course, doing that takes you off the road to Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon. [Frown] I'd personally rate my experience with Pike's Peak above that of the Grand Canyon, but that's mostly because the weather was unbearable when I visited the latter and simply perfect when I visited the former.

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Lyrhawn
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What time of year did you visit?

I'm actually leaning towards taking Mesa Verde off my list for this trip and putting more emphasis on staying in Moab for a couple days to see Arches and Canyonlands. I'm also being pressed to make a stop in Zion.

Pike's Peake might be something I could do on the way back to Nebraska. Plus we could stop in Colorado Springs, home of the Stargate Program!

[ November 03, 2012, 09:58 PM: Message edited by: Lyrhawn ]

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The Rabbit
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If you want to make your trip in May/June, I'd strongly recommend going south to Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon rather than north to Yellowstone and Glacier. May is still winter in the Yellowstone high country. The Going to the Sun Road in Glacier won't be open until July, sometimes not until late July.
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The Rabbit
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May is the perfect time to do the desert southwest. It's late enough that the snow should be mostly gone at higher elevations and still early enough that you won't die from the heat in Moab. Be prepared for weather extremes. In May, the high elevation areas in Mesa Verde and The Grand Canyon will still have snow and you can get freezing temperatures at night. But the lower elevations along the Colorado and Green Rivers can be sweltering hot during the day. My husband and I canoed through Canyonlands in mid-June for our honeymoon and the temperatures hit 120°F during the day.

There is so much beautiful country and so much variety in the desert southwest that it's hard to go wrong. If you've never been there before, I understand the allure of trying to hit as many of the major parks as you can squeeze in, but to I'd recommend going to fewer places and spending more time hiking and exploring each one rather than driving between them.

The Grand Canyon would be at the top of my list right now but that's largely because it's been too long since I visited and not because its better than the other parks. To really experience the Grand Canyon, you need to hike to the bottom. To camp at the bottom you need to put in for reservations 4 months in advance and its still a gamble. If you can't get reservations to camp at the bottom, the hike can be done in one really brutal day starting from the South Rim and going down the Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel Trail (or visa versa). Be sure to carry lots of water (a gallon is recommended). If you've got 4 days, I highly recommend doing the Rim to Rim to Rim hike. If hiking to the bottom seems too ambitious, you can get a lot of the same experience by hiking from the North Rim to Cottonwood creek. I prefer the North Rim over the South. It's both prettier and less crowded but harder to get to.

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Lyrhawn
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I'm waffling between trying to do as much as possible and maybe just hitting two parks and staying longer.

The problem is that I'm likely not going to be this far west again for quite awhile. Most of the schools I'm applying to for phd programs are on the other side of the Mississippi and I don't imagine I'll get over here again for years, so I want to see as much as I can while I can.

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Hobbes
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You'll have to decide for yourself, but for myself, I would pick one or two parks and explore. To see everything you'll spend almost all your time in the car and almost no time in the park itself, and then you'll only get to see what every tourist sees. But maybe those things are less important to you than getting to see all the variations across parks.

As I said, Esclante is my favorite, but there's just tons of great areas in Souther Utah. I love the slot canyons and the chance to walk down through a river at the bottom of all sorts of interesting canyons and gulleys for 10s of miles. Canyonlands has three distinct areas, each very different from each other and all very beautiful. Arches is a bit of a tourist trap these days, but the arches themsleves haven't gotten any less spectacular. Bryce and Zions are so crowded I haven't had the stomach to go in a long time, but I doubt they've lost their natural wonder either, even if they do get a bit crowded. Capital Reef has some nice places to experience the Utah desert and feel a bit removed... there's just so many great places.

Grand Canyon I've only been to once. For your timescale I would think you have two options: drive through, maybe stay the night and long enough to see either sunset or sunrise (or both) at the main overlook and then take off. Or option two: do the hike down and back and really get in there. It doesn't sound like you have time for the more extended tour to the North rim, or other locations along the South but if you do... When I went we did the day hike down and back. It's certainly doable, especially in the Spring before the temperatures get too crazy, but only if you are already a hiker. A lot of people think they are and end up getting stuck at the bottom, unable to get out. It's about 18 miles round-trip and I believe a little over, 5000' elevation. Maybe 5,500'? If you haven't done something of that magnitude before I would advice not making a canyon your first try. Better a mountain where you can turn around and go downhill when you give up.

That said, the Grand Canyon is gorgeous from above, but the sense of scale and majesty doesn't make it into your mind until you've hiked down and up. If you want half-way, you can do that to, even do a loop since there's a plateau a little over half-way down you can walk along to short-cut the full loop.

As for weather, that time of year you'll have to be prepared for some cold, but it's not too bad. I went to Southern Utah every single Spring (we're talking April now) for over 10 years, and it was really pretty moderate. Be prepared for temeprature drops for sure, but honestly I spent most days in a t-shirt, sweating and trying to walk in the shade.

Hobbes [Smile]

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T:man
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I don't know much beyond the Badlands and Yellowstone, but I really suggest picking only a few parks and just exploring.

I spend a week in the Badlands, and a week in Yellowstone every summer and free in the Badlands.)

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Lyrhawn
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Hey again everyone.

Based in large part on the advice I've received here, I've decided to cut our trip back rather drastically on the number of destinations. We're not going to go north to the Yellowstone area.

I'd really like to spend four or five days in RMNP, and I was thinking about making a little jaunt down to Colorado Springs to try to hike Pike's Peak (perhaps hike down, rather than up, given what I've read).

But I'm still worried about what I've read in this thread about the weather. May in South Dakota was beautiful, but I'm starting to realize that May in Colorado is basically still winter? I don't want to go to Colorado for a week and not be able to do anything because everything is socked in with snow and it's freezing cold.

On the other hand, I was liking the idea of going to Utah, it's just so much further away. I think it would mean skipping RMNP entirely to catch up on the drive time to Moab and maybe down to Zion. For a seven day trip (max), that's a lot of time wasted in the car.

So I'd love to hear another round of opinions: Is going to Colorado in late May (possibly early June at the latest) going to be unfeasible for what I've said in here that I want to do? Is it worth it to skip Colorado entirely and spend the extra drive time getting to Utah? I was really hoping to climb a mountain this trip around, but I just don't think going later in the summer will be possible since I'll be back in Michigan after June, and I have no idea when I'll be out here again.

All advice is welcome, as it was before.

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BlackBlade
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Colorado is covered in marijuana now. You'll get sticky trying to climb the mountains.

Come to Utah. [Wink]

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steven
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You live in the middle of nowhere. There are almost no good vacation options that don't involve a plane flight of some kind, or a deep acceptance of the fact that long, boring drives are pretty much unavoidable.
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Lyrhawn
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Hey I'm used to long boring drives. I drive 13 hours to get back home to Michigan (which I'll be doing in a couple days). The drive to Denver is like 9, I'd just like to save myself another 9 to Utah. I actually don't mind long drives, it's not a matter of boredom, it's just a matter of timing. My friends don't have enough vacation time to spend 4 days traveling.

I'd beg to differ though, there are several places worth visiting from here that are within a 9 hour drive. South Dakota was amazing. Kansas City is a fun day trip. Supposedly Missouri has other fun things, though I haven't seen evidence of that.

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Tstorm
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quote:
You live in the middle of nowhere. There are almost no good vacation options that don't involve a plane flight of some kind, or a deep acceptance of the fact that long, boring drives are pretty much unavoidable.
Quite a subjective statement.

I also live in the middle of nowhere, and I can take a good vacation that doesn't involve a plane flight or a long, boring drive. It all depends on what you want for your vacation.

If you're aiming for the premise that a vacation involves getting out of town, then most people will need a long drive or a plane flight for their vacation.

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T:man
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I like long drives...
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Jestak
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I got in on this topic a little late and haven't read all the posts, so maybe this has been covered. I would highly suggest going to Glacier. 2 days isn't enough, but if you do go in may, the main highway will still be closed because of snow, but the lower hikes and lakes would be open. Plus, early (May) there is almost no one there, at least on the east side of the Going To the Sun Road. You will see some "similar" sights in Yellowstone and Rocky Mt, but nothing like the majesty of the Glacier mountian ranges and actual glaciers you will see. I've done the tallest point in Montana and it doesn't compare visually to some of the lower hikes at Glacier. Being from Montana I already value my privacy, but if you want the full effect, go camping at Glacier in May. It's an experience you won't get even in May in Yellowstone. To me that would be too crowded (gotta hit Yellowstone in January).
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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by Tstorm:


If you're aiming for the premise that a vacation involves getting out of town...

That's a given for me. I've lived in this area for most of the last 37 years, and I've seen and done everything there is to offer here, multiple times, as far as vacation-y stuff.

I recognize that people who don't have that kind of tenure in their current location probably have a different take.

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Hobbes
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May is still Winter in Colorado. I don't know how RMNP is handling, but I was just in Yellowstone and they informed me that due to the sequestration they will be opening late (trying to save money on plowing). But even if RMNP isn't open late and plows everything, May will still mean most of the trails are snow and mud. There are several great drives to do in RMNP (by far the best and most popular being trail ridge road) but getting onto even a well maintained trail will be hard.

If you're set on May, I strongly recommend Southern Utah. Zion's a lot farther than Moab, and you could save some time by sticking around a little farther North. Arches and Canyonlands are both by Moab and could make great trips. Heck, I went on a week long, hiking/camping trip there in January so by May... Arches has a lot of amazing scenery, and just about all of it is within a mile or so of a road. It's also crowded but that may or may not be an issue. Canyonlands has tons of spectacular scenery. In the North you have Island in the Sky, which is full of amazing views that are about a quarter mile walk away. If you want to do more hiking, you have to jump up to more elevation and distance (there's not a lot of in-between hikes there) but there's plenty of places. Down to the South there's the Needles district. This is a wonderful area to do some exploring. You hike through all sort of beautiful canyons, and up and over rock walls. This has a lot of great hikes and you can plan short or long ones and get wonderful views.

To the West is the Maze. I don't know this area well at all, and it's mainly used a remote, 4x4 area, but if you have a 4x4 and that's your thing, the Maze is great.

Canyonlands is crowded too (though not as bad as Arches). There are lots of little areas around there to visit as well if you want to get away from the crowds. The (real-life) events of 127 Hours happened just to the West of Canyonlands for example. Or a bit farther on (now you're adding a few hours drive) there's Esclante and Capital Reef and the like.

Climbing a mountain (beyond say, driving to the top of Mount Evans) is unlikely in May. I can't predict the weather but I would not rest your vacation plans on being able to navigate around freely in the Colorado Rockies that early.

Hobbes [Smile]

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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by Hobbes:
May is still Winter in Colorado.

That just sounds lovely.

not.

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The Rabbit
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I concur with Hobbes. May is too early to visit the Rockies. May isn't exactly 'winter' in the Rockies, but there will still be deep snow. It could easily be brilliantly sunny, but with out snowshoes you'll be sinking into your crotch in snow.

Moab is only a few hours further drive and May will be prime season Arches and Canyonlands. You could easily drive through RMNP on your way to Moab. If you don't have any reservations, you can always change the plans if spring happens to come early this year in the mountains. If you really have your hearts set on RMNP, go as late as possible. The only problem with that is that Arches and Canyonlands will be better in early May. By the end of May, it can be very hot and the area is an absolute zoo over memorial day.

[ March 11, 2013, 05:17 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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Lyrhawn
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I'll need to talk it over with my group, but given the challenges of timing and weather, I think I'm now leaning towards a drive through RMNP, as best we can, and continuing on to Moab for the bulk of the trip. I think we're planning to travel before Memorial Day. That didn't totally work out for us last time we traveled, we found a lot of places in South Dakota weren't open before Memorial Day since it was before the prime vacation season, but we also didn't encounter a lot of crowds. Trade-off, I guess.

Our only other option, I suppose, is to push the trip back by a few months and try for one of the other parks later in the summer.

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Lyrhawn
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Based in large part on the advice I've read here, and after a lot of discussions and handwringing, we've finally planned our trip!

Four days and nights in Moab, and a bonus day in Grand Junction to try to get down to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I ended up squeezing our lodging budget an extra day, so we decided to spend it in Colorado.

I think we'll have time for a day in Arches and a day in Canyonlands, and then a day for either rafting or a side trip down to Mesa Verde. We're also going during a New Moon, so I expect to see some spectacular night time skies. I've never seen the milky way before *fingers crossed.* I've heard stargazing in Natural Bridges is supposed to be tops in the state, so we might make a trip down there.

We're all a little sad we won't be able to spend time in the Rockies, but there's always next year. I don't think we'll be able to make it down to Zion either, but its definitely on my list for future travels.

We're hoping to make up for no Rockies by finding a mountain to climb somewhere near Moab or SW Colorado, if anyone has any suggestions.

Thanks to everyone, especially Hobbes and Rabbit.

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Hobbes
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Happy to help, Lyrhawn: sounds like a fun trip and I hope you and yours enjoy!

I have not been to Black Canyon so I can't give advice there. I will mention one thing in the area though: Rattlesnake Canyon. It's just a few miles West of Colorado National Monument: it has the densest concentration of arches in the United States outside of Arches National Park itself. Only instead of the roughly one million annual visitors Arches gets, Rattlesnake gets probably around 1,000.

How much hiking are you looking to do? What's the longest you would want to go for on one day hike? Canyonlands as accessed from Moab is essentially two, very different parks. On the North side there's Island in the Sky. This section has wonderful vista and all sorts of turn-outs and ~0.5 miles walks to the edge of a large mesa (the island) from which you can see great views of Green River and the Colorado. If you want to go for a long walk there, 14 miles is probably your minimum and you have to drop off of the Island and then come back up. There's no in between, it's either a bunch of short little trips out of the car or some significant day hikes.

To the South is the Needles district. Other than one hike to an overlook of the Colorado, it's basically all hikes through and between the narrow canyons. Some great views and fun exploring (as much as hiking on good trails can count as exploring), this area allows for hikes of all lengths. So if you're looking for a place with a good day hike or two I recommend Needles (and if you tell me how far you want to go, I could even recommend some specific hikes). If you're looking for a more relaxed, from-the-car kind of expedition then Island in the Sky is the the ticket.

I can't tell if you plan to stay in Moab itself, and drive out from there every day, or you just mean you'll be in the Moab area. Arches is pretty close to Moab so driving there isn't a big deal. But both districts in Canyonlands would take a meaningful amount of time to drive to so if you can car camp I'd say that's preferable. Though if you're just driving through Island in the Sky it probably doesn't matter that much. However, if you're goal is any kind of star gazing: camp at least one night. Walk a few hundred yards away from the campground and look up: there's not a lot of feelings in this life that compare to seeing the stars this way.

The only mountains near Moab are the La Sals. I've never climbed any of them: honestly they don't seem terribly exciting mountains to climb. If you head down to Mesa Verde you could drive home through Southern Colorado and pass by quite a few wonderful mountain ranges. The Maroon Bells for example are on a route you could take back through the Rockies. However, all these mountains will have the same problem that's keeping you from going to Rocky Mountain National Park, so I can't really recommend anything to you.

They may plow Mt. Evans that early, I don't know. You wouldn't be climbing anything, but if they do plow it you can drive to the top of a 14er and get a pretty good view. [Dont Know] Other than that, I don't think any mountain worth climbing will be climbable.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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Our lodging situation is a little weird because we're on a fixed budget and Moab is already pretty solidly booked. But we're staying the first night in Grand Junction, then a night in Moab itself, then a night south of Moab in Monticello, then two more nights in Grand Junction.

As for hike lengths, we're used to being out and about all day every day, so, maybe from 9am until sundown. I've read that you can't really plan to do Needles and Islands in the Sky on the same day, you really have to pick one and stick to it because it takes so long to get between them because of the terrain.

I'd like to do one hike that takes us into a canyon. Like the stuff you see in 127 Hours the movie. It's already been recommended to me that we do the Fiery Furnace Ranger-led hike in Arches, which I'm amenable too. I think for Canyonlands we might want to do a mix of scenic driving and middle range hikes, like, 3-4 miles roundtrip. I guess it depends on what we see though. If something is particularly cool or scenic, I'm willing to go longer. We did a lot of hiking in the Badlands and honestly I think the scenic drive was almost more exciting because there just wasn't much to see after the first mile of hiking. But actually hiking IN a canyon would be a change of pace, and potentially interesting, so I'd be willing to go on a longer hike for that. Would it be possible to hike in the morning in the Needles, break for lunch then do a short scenic drive in Islands? I suppose we could mix and match too since we'll be closer to Needles when we stay in Monticello.

I've ruled out camping, though I know it can make for an amazing experience. We're going to drive out to Natural Bridges one night and spend an hour or two there to let our eyes really adjust and enjoy the view. I know it's not the same, but it's worth not hauling our camping gear around for 3,000 miles to only be used for one night.

I also need to pick either Arches or Canyonlands to do a half day in. We want to go white water kayaking (which I've never done before but looks fun) one morning, so we need to sacrifice half a day of hiking.

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