Travel

Vegas Is A Cheap Jumping-Off Point To National Parks

Even if you aren't tempted by Sin City's allure, Las Vegas can be a relatively cheap and easy place to start a trip to other parks in the Southwest.

The Grand Canyon, the granddaddy of them all, was the second-most visited national park last year, and it's no wonder why. A mile deep and sometimes 15 miles wide, with rock layers of all colors going back 2 million years, it overwhelms with its immensity.

Don't think about hiking all the way down to the Colorado River unless you're an experienced backpacker — it's a steep, hot 8-mile hike. For that matter, don't think you can just look over the rim and see straight down to the river.

Although you can get a sightseeing — or flightseeing — trip from Vegas, it really takes more than just a few hours to absorb the canyon's size. Sunrise and sunset are particularly memorable.

The popular South Rim is 278 miles east of Las Vegas via Highway 93 (over Hoover Dam) and I-40.

The North Rim, the cooler, more secluded side, is 275 miles from Vegas and accessed via I-15 through Utah. With an elevation of 8,000 feet, it's higher and only open from mid-May to mid-October.

The average temperature on the South Rim is 60 in April, rising to the 80s in summer, and about 20 degrees higher at river level.

Admission : $25 per car for seven days. Info: www.nps.gov/grca

Zion National Park, with its high plateaus and a maze of deep canyons, is No. 7 on the list of most visited parks. It's about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas via I-15.

Zion offers hiking as well as bird watching (including peregrine falcons and California condors) and biking.

From April 1 to Oct. 31, the Zion Canyon Scenic drive is accessible only by free shuttle buses.

Spring can bring both sunny and stormy days, leading to wildflowers peaking in May. The average high in April is 73, rising to 100 by July.

Admission: $25 per vehicle for seven days. Info: www.nps.gov/zion

Bryce Canyon National Park, with its colorful spires and horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters, is about 270 miles northeast of Vegas, farther off I-15.

It's a great place to hike, study geology or go stargazing.

March is the snowiest month (a boon for skiers and snowshoers), and spring and fall are variable. At 8,000 feet in elevation, Bryce hits only 56 degrees in April on average, and 83 in July.

Admission: $25 per vehicle for seven days. Info: www.nps.gov/brca

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