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Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan recently returned from a 2,500+ mile road trip through some of the top National Parks in the US. I’ll let her tell you about it!
Meghan: Thank you Daraius! My husband and I love adventure, and with a new(ish!) baby in tow, we decided it would be a great idea to take a road trip to fantastic National Parks like Yosemite, Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. Especially because our daughter is still light enough to carry in a backpack. 😉
Zion National Park
The neat thing about Zion is cars are NOT allowed in the park between April and October, so you have to take a shuttle to your destination. While this means planning your day takes more thought, it’s definitely great for preserving the park and the environment!
1. Zion Lodging
There’s only one hotel inside the park, the Zion Lodge. As you might expect, the lodge books up fairly early, especially in the busy months. In fact, a majority of dates April 2017 through June 2017 are already sold out!
Night here cost ~$230+.
If you’re looking for more affordable options, check out downtown Springdale, Utah, just outside the park entrance.
There are nearly 20 different hotels, including chain hotels like a Holiday Inn Express (IHG), SpringHill Suites (Marriott), Quality Inn & Suites (Choice), Hampton Inn & Suites (Hilton) and a La Quinta Inn & Suites. Plus a few Airbnb options too!
Depending on the season, you’ll pay anywhere from ~$150 to ~$300+ for rooms at these hotels. So using points could certainly save you a lot of money!
We stayed at the Best Western Plus Zion West, that’s a ~25 minute drive to the park entrance, because my husband had Best Western points to spare.
2. Zion Hiking
Angels Landing Trail
Angels Landing is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and also one of the most difficult!
It’s ~5 miles round-trip, and you’re basically climbing uphill the entire time. So it’s smart to take extra snacks and plenty of water.
At the end of the trail, you’ll have the option to climb the narrow trail to the top of Angels Landing. If you’re afraid of heights, I definitely would NOT recommend this. There are chains for you to hold on to, but with so many people, it can be hard to maneuver at times!
But if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can hike further up the canyon and through the Virgin River for ~5 miles. Although you should only do this when the river isn’t running too swiftly. And you’ll need to be aware of any flash flood danger.
For the extreme adventurers, you can hike the entire length of The Narrows. But this requires a permit, and some folks even spend a night in the canyon.
3. Zion Dining
Inside the park you can find snacks at the visitors center, plus there’s a restaurant and snack bar at the Zion Lodge. The burgers and fries we had at the snack bar after hiking Angels Landing hit the spot. 😉
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is one of the lesser visited National Parks, likely because it’s a bit more remote than most, but I’d recommend it to everyone!
It’s known for having the largest collection of hoodoos (rock pillars formed by erosion) in the world. Some reaching over 150 feet tall!
1. Bryce Canyon Lodging
There are a number of decent hotel options around Bryce Canyon, ranging in price from ~$50 per night to over $250 per night, depending on the time of year and room type.
There are some chain hotels like Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.
If you want to stay inside the park, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is your only option, unless you’re camping. This hotel books up months in advance, so you’ll need to plan accordingly!
2. Bryce Canyon Hiking
Link: Bryce Canyon Day Hikes
The Rim Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park because it’s easily accessible and offers outstanding views of Bryce Canyon from the top.
It’s ~11 miles round-trip, but you don’t have to hike the entire distance to make it worth it. There are several viewpoints along the way!
Queens Garden Trail
If you’re looking for the easiest way down into the canyon from the rim, the Queens Garden Trail is it.
Along this ~2 mile round-trip trail, you’ll be able to checkout the hoodoo (rock formation) that looks like Queen Victoria!
And if you’re looking for a longer adventure, you can connect different shorter trails to explore more of the park.
3. Bryce Canyon Dining
The restaurant inside The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is your only option for a formal meal inside the park. But there’s also a pizzeria & coffee shop at the lodge, if you’re looking for a quick bite.
We brought our own sandwiches, but did end up grabbing a few sweets at the lodge’s general store. My husband swears gummy bears give him super strength. 😉
You Can Do It Too!
1. Camping, Hotels, & Airbnb Stays
If you decide to camp during your vacation, be sure to bring enough cash. Because you can NOT pay with a credit card at a lot of camp sites, unless you’re booking your site in advance.
Just remember, it can be hard to find chain hotels inside most parks. So you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth staying outside the park and driving in each morning.
Or you could even find a great Airbnb nearby!
I like spending as much time exploring as I can during a vacation, so I’d prefer to pay cash for a hotel inside the park to save time, and save my points for another trip.
One of the biggest expenses on a road trip is gas. So use a credit card that earns miles, points, or cash back at gas stations.
I used my Chase Ink Plus (no longer available), that earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards on gas. But you could also use a card like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, that earns 2 AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US gas stations. Or the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express that earns 3% cash back at US gas stations.
Check out this post about how to decide which is the best card to save on gasoline.
3. Flights & Rental Cars
Depending on where you live and which parks you plan to visit, you might need to fly closer to your destination and rent a car.
Using the Southwest Companion Pass can save you LOTS of money on airfare, because you can fly nearly 2-for-1 on domestic paid and award tickets.
Pay with a credit card that earns bonus miles and points on airlines. Or a card that earns a bonus on travel, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
And if you need to rent a car, read this series on cheap car rentals, for tips & tricks on saving money on rental cars.
4. More Ways to Save Money
All of the National Parks charge a vehicle entrance fee, so depending on how many parks you plan to visit, it could be worth buying an Annual Pass that costs $80.
I did the math, and if you plan on visiting 2+ parks over the year, an annual pass is likely worth it. Because the major parks, like Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Park, charge $30 for a week-long permit. And the pass grants you access to other National Park Service monuments, like Devils Postpile, that can easily cost $10+ per visit.
Tip: This Wikipedia page lists the areas in the US National Park System. So it’s a good resource for planning your trip.
Plus, if you need to buy gear for your trip, you can go through shopping portals that earn cash back, miles, or points at certain retailers. I like using sites like CashbackMonitor.com that show you what bonuses various portals are offering.
And don’t forget to check out this post on how to plan a terrific road trip!
In the next and final part of the series, I’ll share tips for family travel & camping with a baby. Stay tuned!