Hello everyone! My girlfriend is coming down to visit me in Houston for about 6 weeks starting mid-January. It will be her first time in the U.S. and I am looking for some not-so-expensive ideas for a trip we can take for about 7-10 days towards the end of January or early February. She would prefer not to visit somewhere too touristy and she loves nature. She really wants to see the Grand Canyon at some point but my concern is that I'm not very certain of the weather conditions during that time and I'm not very accustomed to driving in the snow (although that's not a deterant). I was looking into national parks like Zion, Byrce Canyon, Grand Teton, Glacier, or Rocky Mountain because I think she would really like those places (I've never been to these places myself though) but again, my concern is the weather conditions during the end of January through early February. Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thank you experienced travelers :)
For that time of the year, I would suggest you take a long road trip starting either @ Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. You can cover all the five national parks in Utah, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon in Page and then finally Grand Canyon. There will be a lot of snow in Grand Canyon during that time of the year. If Las Vegas is your airport, spend a day in Death Valley and few hours in Valley of Fire State Park. Alternatively, you can visit Yellowstone on a snowmobile starting from Mammoth area. It's a winter wonderland. Fly to Bozeman or Billings for this and then drive down to Gardiner, MT.
I've only been to the southwest once during that time of year. We didn't have any trouble with snow in early February, but that may have been a fluke so your mileage may vary. But here's what we did and had a great trip. It was cold, but roads were fine and we were able to bundle up and see everything. Lots of elevation change, so layer your clothing.
Got rental car in Albuquerque NM: Petroglyph National Monument
drove north to Santa Fe , then to Bandalier National Monument - one of our favorite stops
on north through Taos where we started seeing snow, but not on roads, then Pagosa Springs to Durango, Colorado for skiing.
Got hurt skiing, so bailed out and left to head southwest on roadtrip.
Stopped at Mesa Verde (great), through 4 Corners then down to Grand Canyon south rim.
Cold and windy on rim, but no snow. Hiking down into the canyon was great. The further you walk, the warmer it gets. If it's sunny it's great. It was probably 40ish on rim, and was close to 70ish a mile or so down the trails. We got walk up accommodations at Grand Hotel with no reservations, hotel was basically empty.
Drove down through Flagstaff (snow there but roads fine), then to back to ABQ on I-40 with stops at Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, and El Mapais (loved El Mapais volcano flows). I have pictures and stories about this trip: they're scattered around, but several of them are on pages 10-11 today.
Another option would be to do the Vegas/Valley of Fire/Hoover Dam/Grand Canyon then around north via Hwy 89 to Zion NP and Bryce Canyon and loop back to Vegas on I-15. We did that in early March and everything was driveable. That time of year you might be able to get reservations at Zion and Bryce Canyon Lodges. Highly recommend staying in the park lodges if you can get in. No snow at Zion, but Bryce is higher elevation.
Good bit of snow at Bryce, but roads were fine, and the hoodoos are extra gorgeous in the snow. We were able to do several hikes into the hoodoos around the lodge. A little snow on the trails, but now much. They keep the main ones mostly clear.
Worked out great for us, but like I said, it was only those 2 trips and we might have been unusually lucky on weather. A little cold and heavy coats were worth being there without any crowds.
Never been to Grand Teton or Glacier, but I would think that Rocky Mountain would have more snow during that time of year than down around the Zion area.
Good luck on your plans! Ed
Wow this is amazing information! Thank you both for putting in the time and effort to detail out possible trips! I really appreciate it! I will keep you posted on what we decide and of course, will post pictures of the journey! Thank you all again!
You're very welcome. A quick note: if renting a vehicle, try to get all wheel drive just in case. Also know the rules about snow chains as they are sometimes required in certain higher elevation areas and some rental companies prohibit their use which puts you into a catch-22 situation that I luckily have not encountered, but read and worried about. If memory serves me, there were places we had to have them (there were places roadside that rented them), but we didn't have to use them. Someone else would probably have much better info on this subject than I.
The roads in Glacier will likely be closed. I'm pretty sure you can run into snow their in July. I'm sure there are some winter companies willing to take you in on snowmobiles and such, but I'd stay South and not risk having to turn around because of snow.
I'd offer some suggestions, but the things mentioned sound better than anything I can come up with. Have a blast!
It is definitely a great idea to take weather into consideration. We were out in Rocky Mountain NP, Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone in July/August and there was still snow on the high peaks at that point and it was in the 30s in night. A lot of things are shut down in the parks during that time of year. There are plenty of cool parks between Texas and Florida, so maybe head that way. Otherwise, I would follow the Facebook pages of the parks you are considering that might have weather issues for up to date information.
I second El Malpais! My family lives in southern NM, and anything south of Albuquerque and Santa Fe tends to be underappreciated. If you are coming west from Texas, I would also suggest Carlsbad Caverns in the southeast part of the state.