- I recently took a six day trip out to the southwest. Here’s how I did it: Frontier had a Round Trip $55 dollar flight, and I did not bring luggage. Just a carry on bag. Frontier has cheap flights, we all know that. Are they comfortable? That’s debatable. They do not recline, so you have been warned if you book Frontier flights for low prices!
- I flew to McCarran Airport and rented a car from Budget. Buy the Loss Damage Waiver. Travel insurance on a rental car is a non-negotiable, for me. Too many things can go wrong, and you don’t want to be paying for it at the end of your vacation.
It was only really important to me to visit Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and drive the Scenic Byway 12 linking Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. I planned this trip because I needed to redo some photos for the “Grand Circle” series I was working on from last time. See the Grand Circle post.
Day 1: Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. They are very close together, only a two hour drive on a very scenic highway, so if you want to see Zion in the morning and Bryce Canyon in the evening, it is extremely doable. I stayed in La Verkin in an Airbnb for less than $20 per night. You can too! It might take a bit of searching on their site, but it is worth it to find a quality Airbnb you like. Or, rent a hotel. In the off season (October to March roughly), there is still snow on the ground, so be aware that trails might be icy or muddy, and in the higher elevations, you will see snow, so travel prepared.
Day 2: Dixie National Forest
There really were no good hiking trails near Panguitch that were accessible from my sedan (if you have a Jeep or something similar, you could probably access the snowy/icy roads to the much better sunny trailheads in Red Canyon), so I went for a seven mile hike down to Navajo Lake on a snowed out road. It was secluded, pretty, and the views were nice, so while I would not recommend it if you want a better “hike,” it was worth it, as it was extremely snow-covered nearly everywhere.
I stayed at Bryce Canyon Motel, in Panguitch, as it has easy road access to Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon, and is a short drive to Brian Head Ski Resort in the summer (the roads might not be plowed in the winter), which was clean, low-cost, and very comfortable for what it is, a one-bedroom place to yourself, which you can find on Airbnb. In the off-season, there’s very few people around, so you don’t have to book well in advance to get a room in Panguitch.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon, and Mossy Creek.
Mossy Creek is a trailhead area a short ten minute drive down the Scenic Byway 12 from Bryce Canyon. It has a beautiful hiking trail to a cave or a waterfall, your choice, depending on the path, and runs through orange hoodoos and scrubby pines. Well worth it, no matter what season. An easy hiking trail with plenty of natural southwest rock and nature to view as you wind through the canyon by a riverbed.
Escalante’s Petrified Forest is along the way, and I hiked a very muddy 1 mile loop up the side of the mountain, and saw a couple petrified trees. Not really worth it in the muddy conditions, if you care about mud, but I enjoyed the views and the hike wound up the side, so it was a little bit of a challenge and the views were spectacular in some places. Better in spring, summer, or fall. Winter is a challenge with the ice and snow.
I drove the Scenic Byway 12 in the afternoon, to see the views in daylight, and saw Bryce Canyon again by sunset.
Try to see Bryce Canyon at both sunrise and sunset. It is well worth it. You can still hike the trails down into the canyon, in winter, but they are somewhat steep and icy in some parts. I did not do this. I stayed on the edge, where the trail is between lookout points.
Day 4: Skiing at Brian Head Resort
On the way from Panguitch to Brian Head Resort, which offers mountain biking in the summer and skiing in the winter, I stopped in Dixie National Forest to hike at Red Hollow. There is a trail called Red Hollow that runs up the valley into a mountainous overlook, Thors’s Lookout, that is in total 1.7 miles. Red Hollow is .7 out, and is an out and back trail through red rock.
Skiing at Brian Head Resort is an extremely good experience, especially if you’re getting back into it. Skis cost $32 for a half day rental, and a half day pass for an adult is about $50. The trails are easy to moderate on one side, and harder on the other side of the mountain. Plenty to choose from and a long ride down no matter which one you decide to ski down.
I drove back to Las Vegas in the evening, which was about a three hour drive, and arrived by nightfall, to see the strip lit up with lights, which was a nice sight. However, if you settle into the peace of a small town like I did, coming from the seclusion of small mountain towns into the rush of a big city with a lot of fast traffic was jarring, in the mildest sense.
Day 4: Red Rocks Canyon and Death Valley National Park
Since this was a hiking trip, I did not spend much time at all in Las Vegas.
Red Rocks Canyon has some nice sport climbs that are multi-pitch, in case you want to climb out there, and some classic hiking trails. I did the Calico Tank trail which was about 2 miles out and back, with some moderate trails that scrambled up the cliffs above a wash at the final section, leading up to a nice view of the mountain range around in the distance. Well worth it if you’re only there to hike one or two trails. Pine Box Canyon is also a classic, though I did not do it.
Death Valley National Park: It is as huge as you might imagine, and there is too much to do than can be captured in a drive through one day. However, I went to Dante’s Inferno to see the view, and hiked a mile around the top of the mountain on a trail leading over the top of the mountain. I also went to see the view at Zabriskie Point, where you can look out at the badlands for miles and miles.
Death Valley is beautiful, but really requires a separate trip alone to see it well.
Day 5: Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rocks, and Lake Mead
I did not feel like paying the entrance fee ($10) to Valley of Fire, since I’d already spent a lot of time in red rock canyons this trip, so I stayed in the outskirts and found my way up the cliffs to the side of the mountain on my own. I also went back to Red Rocks and did part of the Calico Tanks trail, but this time I mostly went to take in the view and spend time there.
It was a little bit of a drive, about 30 minutes, to Lake Mead from central Las Vegas, but when I arrived, it was nearly 5pm, so the sun was setting when I was down by the lake. This made for some spectacular views, and since photography was what I was doing, I got the photos I wanted.
On the last night, I spent some time walking along the strip, to see the hotels for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Admission’s free.
Day 6: Frontier flight back to wherever
There really was not much time to do anything, so this concludes the trip. A good six day trip (seven, if you make it longer), in the southwest, that tours the last leg of the Grand Circle and goes through several national parks.
As always, all opinions are my own.
Photos will come later, in a photography book! Thanks for your support. Happy, safe travels.