Ask Chris: What Western National Parks should we visit?

by Chris on January 26, 2010

Travel Writer Chris Gray Faust answers questions about different destinations. This post: What parks out West should we visit?

Bryce CanyonI’ve received a couple of travel questions on Facebook and at the AAA Great Vacations Expo that might be helpful for other people planning similar itineraries, so I’m going to repost them here occasionally. Feel free to send me your travel question at If I can’t answer it, I’ll get you in touch with someone who can.

Question: We’re two retirees planning a trip out West. What parks shouldn’t we miss? What are the hotels like out there? Should we go in July or September?

Answer: With the West being such a huge region, I asked this couple to tell me a little more about what they wanted to see. Turns out the Grand Canyon was tops on their list. With that as a “must do,” I encouraged them to head up into southern Utah, where they could visit Zion National Park and – my favorite of the national parks – Bryce Canyon. If they had a little more time, they could dip over to Antelope Slot Canyon near Page or even check out Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona’s northeast corner  (which I did last September – read the report here).

As far as hotels go, they were wondering if there were Sheridans and Marriotts along the route. I cautioned that the hotels in small towns near many national parks tended to be lower on the luxury scale – think Hampton Inns, Holiday Inns and Best Westerns. I recommended that they splurge for a night or two at some of the more interesting (and pricier) lodgings inside the parks –Zion Lodge in Zion National Park;  Bright Angel Lodge or El Tovar at the Grand Canyon – alternating with more affordable chain hotels for the rest of the trip. You do need to book ahead for park lodging (as I found out when we were shut out of the gorgeous View Hotel in Monument Valley).

 Time of year to go? September, no question. The crowds of schoolkids will be gone, and the weather will be little cooler.

Do you have any further advice for this couple? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll make sure to pass it on! 

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Lin January 26, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Best way to see Grand Canyon: book a cabin through the park on the North Rim. But act now if you want a room for the summer. Incredible views, fewer people, nice cabins, affordable rates.


jkiel January 26, 2010 at 7:14 pm

If they’re going to be in the southern Utah/St. George area, Snow Canyon state park (northwest of St. George) has some great and varied geography. Also, don’t miss Kodachrome Basin State Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. If they’re in Cedar City during the summer, there’s a great Shakespeare festival that goes on all summer/fall.


Dave -nibbleanibble January 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

I would definitely recommend Yosemite or Grand Canyon. Experiences you don’t want to miss.


Chris January 27, 2010 at 12:11 am

Thanks, all, for chiming in! I’m going to forward these comments to this couple.


Roger Ellman January 27, 2010 at 3:53 am

El Tovar or the adjacent lodges at the Grand Canyon are absolutely recommended. To be at the canyon rim in the evening and early morning allows you to experience the magic, the very vibration of the canyon’s strata and beauty and magnificence. Tear-inducing wonder!

And Chris, your other recommendations are perfect!


Talita May 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

Grand Canyon is just amazing. It can be even better if you hike all the way down to the river!


Moab Utah August 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

As September approaches, retirees having time to travel, please also acquaint yourselves with the Grand Circle: You get the Grand Canyon and Chris’s favorites in Zion and Bryce National Parks. You also get Canyonlands and Arches National Park which are stunningly amazing too. Try the 4 hour jetboat tour on the Famous Colorado River to see Canyonlands from under the rim, so much more accessible than Grand Canyon. AAA has two 4 Diamond properties in Moab, Utah the bedrooms community for Arches and Canyonlands. Sorrel River Ranch has a spa, is situated on the river bank of the Colorado River. The Sunflower Hill Bed and Breakfast has been awarded for 15 years in a row. Many visitors are surprised at the quality of the Best Western Canyonlands Inn and are equally enrapt with another resort on the Colorado River — Red Cliffs Lodge. For information about Moab weddings, anniversaries, honeymoons is new Moab Travel Council website to enable visitors a new depository of information. Try a sunrise Hot Air Balloon launch.


Chris August 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm

As a disclaimer, this comment was posted by the Moab Travel Council. I’m allowing it because I do love Moab and Arches National Park. I went for a week about a decade ago. It’s a great one to add to your bucket list, especially if you enjoy hiking and mountain biking.


Lisa October 10, 2010 at 12:50 am

Bryce is great; Great Basin National Park in Nevada has bristlecone pine trees but it is remote. I was there about 5 years ago and there was one motel in the area but it’s a neat park. Grand Canyon – check out the North Rim. It is nothing like the South Rim. Texas – Big Bend National Park. You have desert and mountains. There is a lodge in the mountains that is pretty nice otherwise, you will need to stay in Alpine, TX or Terilingua, TX. This is my favorite park by far. It is near the boarder but you do not need to be worried but I wouldn’t do any side trips across the boarder.


Chris October 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Lisa – I’m with you, I wouldn’t recommend side trips across the border at this time. I have yet to get to Big Bend, but my husband went a few years ago in his Jeep trip across the US and he spoke highly of it. Thanks for adding your comments!


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