Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.
My husband and I are planning to travel to Los Angeles for three weeks in October. We are wanting to see Zion and Bryce National Parks. We would love to have information on these parks, accommodation, travel to them and what else to do in the local area, please. We are in the 50-60 age group.
I've discussed this with my contact from Visit Utah who says October is a great time to visit these parks, as they're generally less crowded. If you're visiting two or more parks, it's best to buy an annual pass, which costs US$80 and can be bought in person at any federal recreation site, or online from recreation.gov.
If you're renting a car, the drive from Los Angeles to Zion National Park makes a great itinerary, with plenty to see along the way. Some companies offer bus tours leaving from LA, but exploring independently sounds more appealing to me. If you'd rather do a tour, I'd recommend talking to a travel agent to see what's available during your dates.
When you arrive at Zion National Park, visitors can only drive a personal vehicle into the park if staying at Zion Lodge, or at a time when shuttles aren't running. However, there is a mandatory shuttle system which is free and runs from mid-March to late November — an easy way to get around what you want to see.
Known for its breathtaking vermillion cliffs, there's a wealth of amazing scenery to discover in Zion. The shuttle will help you access the hiking trails, which range from easy to strenuous — just remember to bring plenty of water, as it can get very warm.
Accommodation includes the aforementioned Zion Lodge, which is open year-round. If you'd rather get in touch with the wilderness, there are three campgrounds within the park. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon, while the Lava Point Campground is about a one-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road.
Be aware that camping is very popular and the campgrounds fill up quickly. Only Watchman Campground can be reserved in advance, otherwise you'll want to arrive nice and early.
More lodging is available in nearby Springdale, which also offers a shuttle service to enter the park. There are private campgrounds a short drive outside the park.
Nearby Bryce Canyon National Park boasts stunning sandstone scenery and dark skies that are perfect for star-gazing. Following a visit to Zion, you can enter Bryce from the south.
The park features an 29km scenic drive — great if you're you're unable to walk long distances. There's also a shuttle system available — while it's not mandatory, use is encouraged to minimise vehicle congestion in the park. The service will be running from October 1 to 22. There's no extra fee for the shuttle, as it's included in your park ticket.
Off the road, you can hit the extensive trail system to get up and close and personal with this incredible landscape. And if you happen to be an amateur astronomer, Bryce is a prime destination to set up a telescope. If you don't have the necessary equipment, fear not — the park's "Dark Rangers" offer an entertaining star-gazing programme that includes a 90-minute telescope session. Sign up at the visitor centre.
If you decide to stay in the park for a night or two, one option is Bryce Canyon Lodge, built in 1924-25 from local stone and timber. It's a rustic relic of automobile tourism in America, with rooms and cabins available from April to mid-November.
Otherwise, there's Sunset and North campgrounds, which can be reserved in advance.
Like in Zion, these campgrounds are very popular, so reservations are recommended.
You'll find more accomodation options outside the park's main entrance near the junction of UT 12 and UT 63, as well as in the town of Panguitch, about a half hour northeast of the park.
I hope this information is helpful — and if any other readers have any tips for visiting the area, feel free to send them through.