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View Poll Results: Which place is best for an overnight stay and a hike? (Other places we'll likely drive through)
Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah) 5 45.45%
Zion National Park (Utah) 4 36.36%
Grand Canyon National Park: South rim (requires huge detour) 2 18.18%
Grand Canyon National Park: North Rim 4 36.36%
Monument Valley National Monument (Utah-Arizona) 2 18.18%
Death Valley National Park 1 9.09%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 11. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 01-21-2014, 11:48 PM
 
Location: Oregon, Pacific Northwest
68 posts, read 289,410 times
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We're planning a big trip down to Colorado for some business-related work, and on our way back, we hope to visit some of the national parks/monuments in Colorado, Arizona, California, and Utah.

While at Durango (SW Colorado, base of the mountains), we're planning on visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP and the Rockies (maybe Rocky Mountain NP?) for some hiking. On our way home from Durango, we want to visit some parks, by driving through some, and camping out at others. Problem is, we can't spend three weeks before getting back to Portland, so we need to narrow down the choices:

Here are some that I'm interested in, that would be on our way home. The thing is, going one place can mean we can't go to another, since it would be out of our way. The following we're not sure on:
-Arches National Park
-Bryce Canyon National Park
-Zion National Park
-Grand Canyon National Park (north side)
-Grand Canyon National Park (south end)
-Monument Valley National Mon.
-Death Valley National Park


We'll have about a week to see some of these places, and camp out at different locations each for one night or two, depending if we want to hike or not. The only way that we can hike, is if we stay for at least two nights/one full day.


For California, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona:
We're looking for scenic driving, preferably on highways instead of interstate freeways; hiking opportunities while camping, interesting/different areas, less crowded places, and photographing opportunities. Most important is: scenery, nice campgrounds in the trees for shade (rustic campgrounds are fine with us), and awe-inspiring scenes.

For Colorado:
I also want to know about Colorado's mountains. Is Rocky Mtn National Park an absolute must in the state? Or is there somewhere closer to Durango that we can hike at. I am fine with less traveled gravel roads, highways, or crowded hikes. Crowds never seem to bother me too much... I'm too busy paying attention to the scenery. Also, can we get to the Maroon Bells easily, within a few hours or so? They look like an awe-inspiring sight from the lake.

For Nevada and California:
We'll be passing through Yosemite NP for sure. But we want to know if it is worth it to detour down through Death Valley, should we cut across southern Nevada through Las Vegas (likely no stop here), or should we take a lonely highway through central Nevada, like the Extraterrestrial Highway or the "Loneliest Highway in America?"

Basic route plan: Going through Death Valley
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Old 01-22-2014, 01:43 AM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
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I could go on for a while about CO, but I'll keep it short. Durango is right next to one of the prettiest mountain ranges in the Rockies, the San Juans. Also, Durango is right near Mesa Verde NP, so you'll definitely want to stop there, being so close. Rocky Mtn. NP is dramatic and beautiful, but reflective of a lot of the mountain scenery in the state. I would check it out, but if you don't have a ton of time to spend in the state, you could easily spend time within a few hours of Durango and see the area, and the awesome towns of Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton. Some of the most legendary 4wd trails in the country are nearby, as well.

Maroon Bells are amazing, but 5-6 hours from Durango. If you go up that way, make sure to also visit Glenwood Canyon. The quick, simple hike to the turquoise Hanging Lake is a must and the canyon is unbelievable (caveat: I live in Glenwood Canyon, so I'm biased. But I moved here because it's amazing). To get to the Glenwood Canyon/Roaring Fork Valley area, I would briefly stop by Black Canyon, then head up either 133 to Paonia and Redstone or 65 over Grand Mesa. Both routes are a little more scenic than over to Grand Junction and down, which the map suggests.

BTW, My favorite NP in the US is Great Sand Dunes, about 3 hours east of Durango. Personally I'd rather visit the Sand Dunes than Rocky Mountain NP. Absolute solitude, and highest sand dunes in N. America surrounded on three sides by jagged peaks. You can play on them, snowboard down, whatever. Very unique experience.

Anyway, there are many, many options. What season are you planning on visiting? And how much time do you plan on spending in CO? Time of year definitely makes a difference at high elevation!
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:18 AM
 
Location: Oregon, Pacific Northwest
68 posts, read 289,410 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bartonizer View Post
I could go on for a while about CO, but I'll keep it short.
Thanks for the help! I'm fine with long descriptions, I'd love to learn more about Colorado! It's such an amazing state!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bartonizer View Post
Anyway, there are many, many options. What season are you planning on visiting? And how much time do you plan on spending in CO? Time of year definitely makes a difference at high elevation!
Well, I'll probably be in Durango for a week, most likely during the summer. That's when we do our big trips anyway. I have a huge passion for mountains, so I'd prioritize seeing the mountains first, second priority is desert rock formations, canyons, etc. The Sand Dunes sound cool, I might have to check it out! While in Colorado, we might have two days to sightsee/hike. It really depends on how long my business conference will last. All this is still in the planning stages, and we expect to go on this trip in about 1-3 years. So I'm working hard to plan ahead in order to make sure we get to see the best of the best in the Southwest and Colorado!
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Old 01-22-2014, 03:10 AM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
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Summer's a good time to visit; I just wanted to make sure that you weren't visiting in May or early June, which can easily still have snow or mud at higher elevations.

It's obviously a great state if you love mountains. Realistically, though, the San Juans are as pretty as anything else, and you would have plenty to explore in the are. A couple easy things to look into:

Colorado Scenic Byways are some of the best mountain roads in the state, and arguably the most scenic is the San Juan Byway, which is a 200+ mile loop that's mostly high mountain except for a relatively small section that takes you through Mesa Verde. Here's a link to the Byways: San Juan Skyway - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and here's a link to the CO Byways page: Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways — CDOT.

The San Juan Scenic Byway takes you to jagged peaks, alpine scenery, numerous passes, and the by way goes by Telluride and Ouray, which are easily some of the prettiest mountain towns in the west. The stretch of 550 (known as Million Dollar Highway) is phenomenal. See pics of the towns below:

Telluride: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...e_ski_hill.jpg
Ouray: http://ourayicepark.com/wp/wp-conten...ray_brauer.jpg

Finally, I would look into either renting a jeep and doing the Alpine Loop (another 4x4 scenic byway) or take the steam train on the famous Durango Silverton Railroad.

The San Juans will absolutely satisfy your mountain cravings. With limited time available, I don't think you'll need to venture too far to get what you're looking for!
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Old 01-23-2014, 11:11 PM
 
Location: Oregon, Pacific Northwest
68 posts, read 289,410 times
Reputation: 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by bartonizer View Post
Summer's a good time to visit; I just wanted to make sure that you weren't visiting in May or early June, which can easily still have snow or mud at higher elevations.

It's obviously a great state if you love mountains. Realistically, though, the San Juans are as pretty as anything else, and you would have plenty to explore in the are. A couple easy things to look into:

Colorado Scenic Byways are some of the best mountain roads in the state, and arguably the most scenic is the San Juan Byway, which is a 200+ mile loop that's mostly high mountain except for a relatively small section that takes you through Mesa Verde. Here's a link to the Byways: San Juan Skyway - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and here's a link to the CO Byways page: Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways — CDOT.

The San Juan Scenic Byway takes you to jagged peaks, alpine scenery, numerous passes, and the by way goes by Telluride and Ouray, which are easily some of the prettiest mountain towns in the west. The stretch of 550 (known as Million Dollar Highway) is phenomenal. See pics of the towns below:

Telluride: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...e_ski_hill.jpg
Ouray: http://ourayicepark.com/wp/wp-conten...ray_brauer.jpg

Finally, I would look into either renting a jeep and doing the Alpine Loop (another 4x4 scenic byway) or take the steam train on the famous Durango Silverton Railroad.

The San Juans will absolutely satisfy your mountain cravings. With limited time available, I don't think you'll need to venture too far to get what you're looking for!
Thank you for the information. It's very helpful! I checked out the links you provided, and I'm sold into doing them, especially the San Juan Byway.

One question though. Will a 4 wheel drive T-100 or Tundra make the Alpine Loop? We're very used to travelling dirt and gravel roads around southern Washington and Mt. Adams. I actually love gravel/dirt roads. I think they kind of look more "natural" with the environment or something.
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Old 01-24-2014, 12:15 AM
 
Location: Bellingham, WA
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I'm not sure, because every time we've been in the area, we've had our car! A lot of 'roads' like that require short-wheelbase, high-clearance vehicles. We've taken my friend's Tacoma on a lot of similar roads, but he's got a big lift on it- and they were still definitely sketchy. If you can't do the loop, though, there should be plenty of other good dirt roads in the area. I know of some really good ones in my area (Elk Mtns, Flat Tops), but I'm not as familiar with the off-road trails in SW CO. Here's a link that may help, but you still might not really know until you get there! Anyway, I'm sure some research would uncover some great alternatives.

Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
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Old 01-24-2014, 11:03 AM
 
Location: Bel Air, California
23,784 posts, read 26,883,425 times
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of your list, I would probably opt for an overnight stay at the Grand Canyon to be able to take advantage of the spectacular sunrise and sunsets moreso than the others listed.

Give a consideration to staying overnight at Great Sand Dunes Nat'l Park for a unique location & experience and once again fantastic sunrise/sunsets, about 3 hours East of Durango.

Maybe the most amazing sunrise location I've seen is at Maroon Bells which is a relatively quick trip up from Aspen and at that time of day would allow you to drive yourselves up.
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Old 01-24-2014, 12:44 PM
 
Location: Austin, Texas, USA
1,309 posts, read 2,623,233 times
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Just did a backpacking trip to Utah last spring and Colorado the previous fall. Bryce Canyon has very limited camping and is much better suited to a drive thru. Very few trails, it's really ideal for driving around and stopping at the many gorgeous overlooks. Zion has tons of different areas and is much better suited for overnight stays. We did 3 nights backpacking and were in a different place in the park each night. Plus, the Narrows!!!

If you will be traveling thru Western CO only, getting to RMNP will be a long trip - there is plenty and more to see without going to the front range. As others have suggested, the San Juans are arguably the most beautiful range in CO and you have Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison right there. If you are able to get up towards Aspen, the Maroon Bells are indeed awe-inspiring. While they themselves are an arduous hike not for beginners, There are other hikes in the surrounding mountains. We hiked over Buckskin pass and camped 3 nights at the alpine Snowmass Lake, fishing and hiking during the days.
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