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God Bless You America! So many awe-inspiring, super-natural national parks, monuments, recreation areas, historic parks and natural preserves… particularly across the Southwest. Here’s our guide to those worth delving into, and how to pick between them when you’re short on time.

​​ZION NATIONAL PARK VS BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, UTAH

Even if you have to choose between Zion and Bryce due to lack of time or resources, you can still expect to have your socks knocked off – both are beautiful ​beyond belief, equally unique, and despite being just 90 minutes and 83.8 miles apart, they offer drastic differences in the terrain and scenery you’ll encounter.

If time is an issue, then the first thing you’ll want to consider is where you’ll be arriving from. Heading in from Salt Lake City? Then Bryce is your best bet. Or if you’re coming in from Las Vegas, then Zion would save you a considerable amount of travel time.

Zion sets itself apart in size (it’s much bigger than Bryce), stature, and environment too. It’s like the set of a movie that’s so grand you know it’s fake, but you don’t care because it’s delicious to look at. And with lots of famous slot canyons, and extremely diverse elevations and rock formations (the must-sees being Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace, Main Canyon and East Side), it’s just begging for exploration, especially when you do have more time. It’s also perfect for keen hikers who want to really get under the skin of it all, though it is worth noting that the trails here can be extremely challenging.

If Zion sounds more up your street, but time really is of the essence, then one of our two favourite hikes (depending on your level of experience) will give you a good flavour of everything this park has to offer.

​The Narrows is one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes which takes you along (and into) the Virgin River – so expect to get wet! Take the hike from the bottom up – it’s the best route for first-time river hikers and is easy-to-moderate during the summer months.

And then there’s Angels Landing – one of the world’s most unforgettable, bucket-list-worthy short-adventure hikes – but this one’s not for the faint-hearted. Running along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides, it culminates on a lofty perch with magnificent panoramic views of Zion Canyon’s 270-million-year-old rock layers. Anyone in an average physical condition can make this heavenward trek, but it can be mentally challenging with its steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs.

In comparison to Zion, Bryce meanwhile is much smaller, more unusual, and its more immediate WOW factor makes it great if you’re particularly short on time.

It’s a fabulous place to lose yourself in nature’s fantastical artistry, where breathtaking vistas and curious sorbet-coloured, sandcastle-like spires and hoodoos provide endless treats for the eyes – especially the epic Amphitheatre and Thor’s Hammer.

The high elevation extends awesome opportunities for stargazing, the high altitude means cooler temperatures here than at other Utah parks, and the hiking is much easier too.

If you fancy something a bit different, the mule trip down into the canyon is well worth experiencing. And if time does allow, sunrise here is definitely an experience that’s not to be missed.​​

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK VS ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, UTAH

On opposite sides of US 191, about 10 miles apart, Arches and Canyonlands represent dramatically different visions of what a national park can be. Any true desert lover should see both. Less-active travellers may prefer Arches’ ease of access. And ardent explorers will fall head over heels for Canyonlands.

We love them both equally, but if you only have one full day in this part of the US, then we say spend it in Arches. The scenic drive in is just amazing, and there are lots of really great moderate hikes.

Our particular favourite is Devil’s Garden Loop – a wonderful 7.2-mile hike that includes the Primitive Trail, where, if you include all the spur trails, you’ll be treated to the world’s highest concentration of arches. 

Another nice thing about this park is that it’s only five miles from Moab, so on the day you arrive (as long as it’s not dark) or on the day you leave, you can go in and do a quick hike like Double Arch, the Windows or Park Avenue.

Delicate Arch is a definite must-do – a three-mile round-trip that takes you steadily uphill, past the Wolfe Ranch cabin and a wall of Ute Indian petroglyphs, to the trail’s namesake – and one of the world’s most famous geologic features. 

Less developed (and therefore more work to explore), Canyonlands however is a dream come true for hardcore hikers.

The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of them than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts, but Island in the Sky offers a variety of well-maintained trails including some family-friendly hikes and the famous Mesa Arch.​

MONUMENT VALLEY, ARIZONA VS VALLEY OF THE GODS, UTAH

Almost everyone travelling through the American West will try to include Monument Valley in their itinerary. And with good reason. It’s an iconic symbol of the region, and the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation, home to towering sandstone rock formations sculpted over time and soaring 400 to 1000 feet above the valley floor. It truly is one of the natural wonders of the world.

Most sightseers explore the famous 17-mile scenic loop in private vehicles (although it’s actually more like 11 miles, and generally takes about two hours, giving you a rough idea of the road conditions and volume of visitors). Or you can take a half- or full-day jeep tour to explore the area’s backroads and sacred lands with the help of a local guide. Either way, do be prepared for the crowds, which may dull the shine of the adventure aspect a little.

But that’s where our hidden gem comes in. What many visitors to Monument Valley don’t know is that just 40 miles northeast of here lies another geographical masterpiece – the Valley of the Gods – a somewhat smaller scale version of Monument Valley with a similar topography (isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever) – but much, much less traffic, thereby adding solitude to its many virtues.

And nothing beats driving through nature’s wonders without the disturbance of other tourists (though because of its isolated nature and dirt road, we’d definitely recommend a high clearance vehicle here, and without any facilities, gas stations, stores or services, make sure you’re fully-equipped for the day before you head in).

Like its larger, more celebrated neighbour, you’ll explore the Valley of the Gods and all its intriguingly-named monoliths (Setting Hen, Rooster and Seven Sailors Buttes, De Gaulle and His Troops, and Lady in the Bathtub) on the scenic 17- mile unpaved loop (considered by those in the know as one of the best in Southern Utah).

It’s one of the most underrated trails too: and unlike Monument Valley – which is a Navajo Tribal Park, and not a US National Park – there are no tribal restrictions or permits required, no established hiking trails, and best of all, no entrance fee – so it’s a great place to escape the crowds, roam free, and see the finer things that Canyon Country has to offer.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK VS SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS, CALIFORNIA

 

Ask anyone who’s been to both Yosemite and Sequoia to choose between the two, and nine out of 10 people will undoubtedly tell you to pick the 1100-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site of Yosemite. After all, it’s the most revisited of all America’s National Parks, with a treasure trove of natural wonders that – even though you’ve seen them many times before in pictures or on the big screen – you’ll still gasp out loud when you see them in person. Plus there are thousands of waterfalls – from soaring spectacles with a half-mile of cascading water, to tiny streams of white that drop only a few feet; and the overall feeling of being enveloped within a towering temple of nature.

In fact, stand in Yosemite Valley, turn 360 degrees, and in just 60 seconds you’ll see more natural wonders here than you would in a whole day pretty much anywhere else in the world. From black bears, mule deer and chipmunks; white-flowering dogwood trees and the Merced River; to countless waterfalls (including the mighty Yosemite, Bridalveil and Sentinel Falls), the impressive rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome, and more adventure and activities than you can imagine, you’ll find it all here.

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But Sequoia has its own menu of magic too. Closer to LA than Yosemite, the impressive collection of sequoias in Giant Forest, along The Generals Highway, and in Grant Grove are as big as buildings, and the park is generally less crowded than Yosemite (particularly come July and August – the hottest and most-crowded months, and when the famous waterfalls are not at peak flow).

It’s also one of California’s most enchanting national parks, with some of the Sierra’s most majestic mountains and gargantuan fauna (including Mount Whitney – the continental US’s tallest peak; and the General Sherman Tree – the world’s largest tree by volume and one of the world’s oldest at the grand old age of over 2300 years). And it’s where you’ll find the secret underground world of the Crystal Cave – a hidden gem of ornate marble, polished by subterranean streams and decorated with curtains of icicle-like stalactites and mounds of stalagmites. Don’t miss a climb up Moro Rock for knock-your-socks-off views of the western half of Sequoia National Park and the Great Western Divide either; and remember, your admission to Sequoia gets you into the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park too.

Featured Hotels

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  • Stone Canyon Inn Tropic Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

    A quick, scenic drive (around 15 minutes) to the park, Stone Canyon Inn’s beautifully-appointed cabins, cottages, treehouses and bungalows offer a ringside seat to some of Bryce Canyon's most spectacular vistas.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Desert Pearl Inn Springdale, near Zion National Park, Utah

    An oasis of sun-hued stucco, reclaimed trestlewood, native stone and gorgeous landscaping, centrally located on Springfield's main street, this is a haven in the western desert for families and romantics.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Village, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

    This iconic Grand Canyon National Park lodge, set quite literally on the South Rim (just 100 feet or so from the canyon’s edge), is not only a National Historic Landmark, but also the Grand Canyon's flagship lodge.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Amangiri Canyon Point, Utah

    Located in US landscape heaven, surrounded by such iconic attractions as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, this 600-acre retreat does the Amanresorts family proud.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa Moab, Utah

    Set amidst Utah's famous red-rock buttes, with easy access to Arches National Park, this unique boutique resort offers the adventure of a lifetime, and luxurious, charming suites that immerse you into the larger-than-life desert atmosphere.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Enchantment Resort & Mii amo Spa Boynton Canyon, Sedona, Arizona

    Come here for the setting alone – on 70 acres of panoramic natural terrain, at the doorway of secluded Boynton Canyon, with inspirational rugged red-rock formations all around – and you won’t be disappointed.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • The Phoenician, A Luxury Collection Resort Scottsdale, Arizona

    You’ll want for nothing at The Phoenician, whether you’re craving a treasure trove of sun-soaked signature activities, shimmering pools, championship golf, award-winning cuisine or sybaritic spa time.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North Scottsdale, Arizona

    Chilling in the desert… bliss! A little further out of Scottsdale and blending seamlessly with the desert, the Four Seasons at Troon North is the perfect spot to totally relax.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Andaz Scottsdale Scottsdale, Arizona

    Check-in to this design and art-lovers’ dream just minutes north of Old Town Scottsdale and Fashion Square over complimentary wine or iced tea, then fall in love with the neighbourhood-style atmosphere and eclectic accommodation.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • The View Hotel Oljato-Monument Valley, Arizona

    Five-star it's not, but being owned by the Navajo Nation, The View is the only hotel set within the boundaries of Monument Valley, so you get a front-row seat to its mind-blowing red-rock monoliths.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite Fish Camp, Yosemite, California

    An upscale all-season family-friendly mountain resort just minutes from Yosemite National Park's south gate. Framed by a noble evergreen forest and a rich range of Sierra Recreation, you’ll find over 100 different activities, tours and adventures.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Rush Creek Lodge Groveland, Yosemite, California

    The area’s first new lodge in over 25 years with a fresh take on the Yosemite experience, chic lodge rooms and suites plus modern hillside villas, and brilliant guided recreation programmes for every age.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Yosemite National Park, California

    Specifically designed to highlight its natural surroundings, The Majestic is an architectural masterpiece, a National Historic Landmark right inside the National Park, and the park's only property with a year-round heated outdoor pool.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Wuksachi Lodge Sequoia National Park, California

    Every national park has its signature hotel, and Sequoia’s is Wuksachi Lodge – a striking stone-and-cedar mountain property in the heart of the park, and one of the closest to many prime attractions.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • The Inn at Death Valley Death Valley National Park, California

    It’s hard to imagine improving on magic. But after an extensive, multi-million dollar renaissance, The Inn remains top of the charts for experiencing Death Valley's stellar stargazing and wondrous desolation.​

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • John Muir Lodge Kings Canyon National Park, California

    More mid-range than upscale, this iconic stone and timber retreat – quiet, comfortable and completely cosy – is still a corker, sitting snugly in Grant Grove Village, minutes from the famed forest of giant sequoias.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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