Springtime in the Southwest’s National Parks
One of the best-kept secrets about Las Vegas is that it is the ideal gateway to some of the most scenic parks and recreation areas that the Southwest has to offer, and springtime is the ideal time to visit!
With days getting longer, temperatures warming – but not yet TOO warm! – and all the wildflowers and flowering trees and cacti blooming, the spring months (March through May) really are the most magical time in the desert. These are some of my favorite parks to visit, all within just a few hours’ drive from the neon lights of Sin City.
Destination Fabulous also offers several tours of these parks as guided day trips – contact us for more details on how we can help coordinate an excursion for your group!
Death Valley National Park
Located only two and a half hours from Las Vegas, Death Valley is a vast, largely desolate park that expands out over nearly 3.5 million acres of land across the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. This is true wilderness – no cell service, nothing but two-lane roads, extremely limited services (there are only three areas with lodging and gas, and they are all located along CA-190, the central artery of Death Valley). It’s just you and the barren beauty of the Southern California desert.
With it being such a massive park, there is a LOT to explore here, and you could certainly take several days to do it. However, there are certain “must-see” scenic spots all in relative proximity to each other located on the easternmost side of the park, making a “Death Valley Highlights and Low Points” day trip a perfect option for visiting Death Valley from Las Vegas!
Visit the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, an expansive salt flat located 282 feet below sea level that is truly otherworldly. Also check out the Devil’s Golf Course, a large salt pan on the floor of Death Valley full of spiky salt crystals and mineral deposits, terrain so harsh that “only the devil could play golf” on it. Hike up and “ski” down the soft, rolling sand of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, see the rainbow pastels of the hills of Artists Palette along the Artists Drive Scenic Loop, and take in the stunning scenery from high above Badwater Basin at Dantes View, where the salt flat below looks like a vast sparkling lake.
Death Valley will not experience the “super bloom” phenomenon this year, a rare occurrence when an area sees a high proportion of wildflowers bloom simultaneously, giving the appearance of fields and meadows and hills blanketed in brilliant colors. But just because the blooms won’t quite reach “super” status doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all, and the desert wildflowers found in Death Valley even in an average year are still an incredible sight to see!
Grand Canyon West Rim
The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight, and there are several areas around the perimeter of the canyon – the “rim” – for taking in its breathtaking beauty. Located a little over two hours from Las Vegas, the West Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most accessible area of the Grand Canyon to visit and is very popular for tour groups and those who want to see the Grand Canyon but don’t necessarily have a lot of time to spend there.
The West Rim has become an even more exciting place to visit after the recent addition of the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a 10-foot-wide horseshoe-shaped bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the canyon with a glass walkway that looks 4,000 feet straight down to the bottom – it will give even the most steely-nerved visitors butterflies!
For groups looking to experience the West Rim, Destination Fabulous can transport you there via luxury motorcoach, and your excursion will also include lunch at the Sky View Restaurant and some time to explore the authentic Native American village at Eagle Point (the West Rim is located on sovereign Hualapai land).
And while it’s amazing to explore the Grand Canyon by land, it’s even more thrilling to see it from the air! Helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon depart from Las Vegas and include scenic views of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead before heading to the Grand Canyon, where you’ll descend 3,500 feet below the rim to a private landing on Hualapai land for lunch before returning. Contact us for more details!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Located just four hours from Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon in Utah looks like an alien landscape with the spindly hoodoos—dramatic, jagged rock spires anywhere from five to 150 feet tall—jutting into the sky. These unique rock formations make Bryce Canyon a kind of fairyland, and one of the best ways to take it all in is hiking the eight-mile Fairyland Loop, a more strenuous, less crowded trail past well-known formations and towering hoodoos that starts at the top of the rim of the canyon then works its way down to the bottom and back up again with multiple elevation changes along the way.
Because this hike passes through different topographies and elevations of the canyon with their own distinct vegetation, this is a great place to see some spring and summer wildflowers. During the hotter months of July and August, do this hike by the light of the full moon for added magic!
Bryce Canyon also has several scenic stops along what is known as “Bryce Amphitheatre” (the main attraction) and the Southern Scenic Drive, where visitors can stop at multiple jaw-dropping viewpoints just off the road and even do some short hikes to stretch their legs and soak in the scenery.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park in Utah located close to Las Vegas. Just a three-hour drive away, Zion is easy to do as a day trip or as a weekend getaway. This park, more than any of the others mentioned here, gets crazy busy, to the point that there is a mandatory shuttle system implemented through much of the year – meaning passenger vehicles are not permitted on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive March through November. Mini-buses and luxury motor coaches, however, are able to do so with proper advanced reservations made through Zion Lodge.
There are several bucket-list hikes in Zion that attract visitors from all over the world who want the chance to experience these natural wonders for themselves, and several of these bucket-list hikes require permits, including the Narrows, the Subway, and the terrifying (for some) Angel’s Landing. Reservations open months in advance with only a certain number of permits allotted per day, but there are often last-minute drawings and next-day/same-day permits available on a first-come basis.
But if you strike out on the permitted hikes, don’t despair: there are numerous other hikes within Zion that offer incredible views without the permit requirement. Hikes along sections of the West Rim or East Rim (whether in their entirety or just a portion) also boast incredible meadows full of colorful wildflowers in the spring and early summer months.
Monument Valley in Southwestern Utah is a Navajo Tribal Park located right on the Arizona border near the “Four Corners” (where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico all meet). The towering sandstone formations that stand 400’ to 1000’ tall jutting out of the vast desert floor are absolutely otherworldly—you have never seen a sky so vast and blue, a land so wide and open, or rock formations so dramatic and dream-like.
The 17-mile loop, nothing more than a graded dirt road, will take you past most of the major monuments—The Mittens, Three Sisters—but the number of vehicles permitted on the loop at any one time is limited and wait times can be extremely long during peak travel season. To avoid long wait times and see much more of the park than you would be able to otherwise, sign up for one of the guided tours offered by Navajo operators that will take you to other parts of the park and on hikes for all skill levels to natural bridges and ancient Anasazi ruins.