The West – Nationalpark Guide Part 1
The US has a lot of great places to visit but the landscapes of the following destinations cannot be found anywhere else than the western states of the United States. I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit the following Nationalparks more than once, but I could go back tomorrow since they are special and breathtaking. The best way to visit all of them is a road trip, eg. starting from Los Angeles. The best way to start your day in every park is to visit the Visitor Center, get maps and the newest information.
If you are visiting more than one Nationalpark, you might want to by an “America the Beautiful” pass, which is an annual Nationalpark pass. It already includes the fees to all the big Nationalparks. It’s $80 and you can either buy it online or in the first park you’ll enter. This does not include parks like “Antelope Canyon” or “Monument Valley” since they belong to the Navajo Nation and they will charge you “extra”. The following spots are my most favorite ones, but since I can’t possibly name all of them in one post, here are the first five, stay tuned for part 2 J
The Death Valley Nationalpark is located right on the boarder of California and Nevada. If you are driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you should definitely not take the Interstate but make your way through the Nationalpark to get from one city to the other. Death Valley is not only the biggest in the 48 states, but also the hottest, driest and deepest Nationalpark in the US. Very important: it’s written everywhere and you would never believe it, but take ENOUGH water with you and make sure your tank is full. You will drive a lot and it is really hot, even during the winter month.
If you don’t want to stay in the park, you can start your day early in LA and make it to Las Vegas late at night and still be able to spend some time there. You will have the most stunning view over the Canyon from Zabriskie Point. The first time I’ve been there, I was speechless; the landscape is so different from anything I have ever seen before. Especially if you visit during summer month, this is the easiest way to get a view over the Canyon without hiking for longer and burning in the desert sun. If you want something less crowded, you might want to check out my favorite place in Death Valley: Dante’s view. Take Dante’s View Road from Highway 190 and follow the road for about 20 km. Since the road is pretty narrow especially towards the top, this can only be done with a car, not an RV. You can walk down form the parking lot and get the most amazing view over the whole Valley and the lowest point of the US. If you can, stay for the sunset: it’s just magical.
I have been to Death Valley during winter (March) and summer (Mai and August) and it’s breathtaking during both seasons, but of course not as hot during the winter than the summer.
Zion Nationalpark is in south Utah and you will automatically pass it when you are driving to Bryce Canyon coming from Las Vegas. Zion covers a big variety of landscapes: canyons, mountains, desert, rivers and woodlands. The most popular place in Zion are The Narrows: as the name suggests, it’s the narrowest part of the Zion Canyon and allows you to either take the Riverside Walk (paved) or go into the Virgin River and hike through the water. The best time to do that is during the summer month, since the temperature is pretty hot, but the water is still cool. The Narrows are often closed during spring, when the water level is too high. Start your trip into the Virgin River from the Visitor Center by taking the bus to the Temple of Sinawawa. The paved Riverside Walk will start from there and you will be able to enter the Virgin River at the end of it. You can either go to the end at Big Spring and make your way back (about 10 miles), or just turn around at any point.
If you don’t want to get your feet wet but enjoy a view of the Valley (and yes, I do call it paradise, take a look at the photo to see why), you can take the Emerald Pools Trail, which starts at the Zion Lodge and will take you on a 3.5 mile walk/hike. You will have a fantastic view over the Valley and see the emerald green Pools.
Even though all the other places mentioned in the post are awesome as well, the Bryce Canyon is my all time favorite Nationalpark in the US. I can’t decide if I like the Bryce Canyon more during the winter or the summer month, since both have their pros and cons. During the winter it’s rather cold and not all trails are open, but to see the sun reflected from the orange/red Hoodoos (the pillars of rocks) covered in snow is amazing. Bryce offers hikes for every level: you can take easy walks on the rim or take the way down. If you want to go to the backcountry to stay overnight, you need to get a permit in the Visitor Center. My favorite hike is the Tower Bridge or Had Shop hike: you can start at Sunset Point with the Navajo Trail and follow the signs to the other trails.
If possible, stay till sunset, since the sun will set the Hoodoos on fire. There are not many hotels right inside the park, but I can recommend the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, located right at the entrance of the Nationalpark. The breakfast is one of the bests I’ve ever had in a hotel. Especially during the summer, the hotels are often very expensive or already fully booked. You can also get a hotel in Tropic, which is only a short drive from the Park but less expensive.
Even though the Monument Valley is a little far out, you should definitely make the extra mile to get there. The best way to do that is to find a hotel or motel in Kayenta and drive to the entrance of the park from there. The area and the Monument Valley is on the grounds of the Navajo Nation Reservation and you can either take a guided tour or drive your own car around the loop trail to see all the sandstone buttes. Be aware: depending on the season, the road is rough and you should not drive the loop with a lowered car – best to have a four-wheeler. I’ve been there in March and the road was perfectly fine, since not many people where using it; but I’ve also been there during summer and there were more wholes in the road than then anything else.
If you want to get one of these pictures on the road with the Monument Valley in the background you have to drive up Route 163 for about half an hour. If you are lucky, you will catch that moment, when there is no one else on the road.
You might recognize Monument Valley from various films and series: besides many Western movies, newer movies like “Forrest Gump”, “Transformers 4” and “Lone Ranger” where filmed there. One of my favorite series, “Westworld” is also filmed in Monument Valley. The most popular scene of all is the Marlboro advertisement staring John Wayne.
Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Starting point for your Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend adventure is Page in Arizona. The Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon and consists of the “Upper Antelope Canyon” and the “Lower Antelope Canyon”, both on the grounds of the Navajo Nation. You can either book a tour including a drive from page to the Canyon, or you can take your own car there. Both canyons are only accessible if you book a tour. If you are visiting during the busier month, make sure to get there as early as possible, since the tours book out super fast. If you can only visit one of them, I would recommend doing the Lower Antelope Canyon. Don’t forget your camera, cause the sandstone will present itself in various colors, depending on the light falling into the canyon. The tour guides are happy to answer questions about the traditions of their families. One time we even had a tour guide who was playing the panpipe during our stay down there – coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Since this is a walking tour, make sure to take water with you and wear comfortable sport shoes.
Horseshoe Bend is just around the corner from Page and the Antelope Canyon. The first time I’ve been there, we totally underestimated the walk to it. The lady in our hotel told us it’s a short walk – well it’s not and it can get super hot during the summer month, so take water with you. The hike to Horseshoe Bend is uphill and you will walk through sand and the worst part for light-skinned people like me: there is no shade at any time. BUT as soon as you see it, it was well worth the hike. It is a incised meander of the Colorado River formed like a horseshoe. Depending on the season and the time of day the Colorado River presents itself in various colors. If you can, again stay for the sunset.
If you read this far, you not only read all the info but also seen the pictures I took on different trips. The west holds a fascination, I cannot describe; it makes me want to go back every time.
If you have any questions or feedback please comment down below or contact me, I’m always looking forward to hearing other people’s experiences or answer questions.