Weekend Road Trip: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon & Zion

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I’ve been a lot of places, but exploring what the world has to offer near my hometown is something I’ve slacked on. So when a free weekend came up, we decided to head out on a road trip to experience some natural beauties that can be found only a few hours away.

If you’ve been following the blog and read how Sarah and I met, then I’m happy to report that awkward car rides are no longer an issue. We were 4 hours into the drive before I even realized I had the radio turned off because of our nonstop chatting. Another 2 hours later, and we arrived at our first destination.

The Grand Canyon

We stayed in Valle at the Grand Canyon Inn and Motel, mostly because it was the only option left when I booked. If there’s more of a choice, though, I’d recommend to stay either in Williams, located an hour away from the Grand Canyon, or Tusayan, being right outside Grand Canyon Village with shuttles into the park available. There wasn’t much aside from the hotel in Valle, and we had to drive a good half hour to Tusayan to reach an area with more than one restaurant option at night.

Before leaving for this trip, everyone kept telling me how we needed to take a shuttle or train into the park because cars weren’t allowed inside, but I was able to drive right in and park my car along the street inside the park. Entrance is $30 per vehicle, but if you plan on visiting multiple National Parks throughout the year, it’d be more beneficial to purchase an “America the Beautiful” pass for $80 to cover entrance to all parks.

We didn’t really have a plan for once we got here. We had looked up hikes during the long drive the night before and found that most of the trails are intended for overnight camping and require a permit. We found our best two options for day hikes were either doing half of Bright Angel Trail or South Rim Trail. We started our day early, so we did part of  Bright Angel down into the canyon, but since it was going to reach close to 100 °F that day, and hiking back uphill in the heat sounded miserable, we didn’t go very far down. Such a grand few, nonetheless.

We continued onto Rim Trail, where I continued with my obnoxious “grand” puns. Since it’s an easy path, I was expecting it to be heavily populated, but for the majority of the time, it was only us. We even spotted a few deer along our way, and ventured off the path a couple times to admire the amazing grand views into the canyon.

With the heat continuing to rise, we finished up our time at the Grand Canyon with a late breakfast in the village, where we spontaneously decided to head to Sedona for the rest of the afternoon.

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Sedona

I had no idea what to expect in Sedona, but after a quick Google search, we saw a hike that ended with a swimming area. So we grabbed some bikinis from our hotel and headed out. It’s about a 2-hour drive between the Grand Canyon and Sedona and such a beautiful view along the way. We ended up going to Slide Rock State Park, which is apparently quite popular since we had to wait for cars to leave before we were even allowed in the parking lot. As far as it being a hike? Not so much. A short path that’s easily accessible, which resulted in large crowds. The rocks are slippery (Duh. That’s why it’s called sliding rock.), so be careful while walking along the side of the water, and try to go in as far down as possible since the crowds will become smaller. I’m sure for kids, this is a great place to have fun sliding down the natural formed waterslides or jumping from above into the freezing cold water, but for two 25-year-olds, it felt like a public swimming pool. Obviously, still had to take a picture, though.

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We headed towards what I imagine to be Sedona’s downtown area for some lunch. I had never wished harder that I wasn’t lactose intolerant because, boy, did walking around with an ice cream sound so amazing in the heat. I settled for a cookie, and we peeked in all the cute little shops along the street before heading back to our hotel in Valle.

Antelope Canyon

The next day we got up early and headed to Antelope Canyon, another 3 hours away. I was probably most excited for this stop on our road trip because, hellloooooo, amazing Instagram picture.

Since the slot canyon is on an Indian reservation, a tour guide is needed to enter. There are two different canyons you can visit, either the Upper or Lower. Upper Antelope Canyon is the easier of the two, and there are a few different tour guide companies to choose from that will bus you over to the canyon. It’s recommended to visit around noon to capture the best lighting while inside.

We decided on visiting Lower Antelope Canyon for our trip. It’s the narrower of the two and involves descending and climbing a few flights of stairs/ladders as well, so it’s typically less crowded. There are two different tour groups that you can book a spot with. They are owned by brother and sister, so there are no big differences between the two when choosing. We did not book ahead, but if you choose to, the company we used is Dixie Ellis. The 9:30 am tour was full, so we bought tickets – $33 – for the next tour at 11:30 am. (Note: Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time, but the reservation totally does. Confusing! Use the time in Page, AZ, as a guide since this is where the main office is and the time the tour companies will go off of.)

Horseshoe Bend: With two hours to spare, we drove down the road about 15 minutes to Horseshoe Bend. It’s only a mile in and out, so it’s the perfect place to pass the time until your Antelope Canyon tour.

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When we got back for our tour, we met Kyle, our guide. He was awesome, and I joked that I’d give him a shoutout on my blog, so Hi, Kyle! On the short walk down to the opening, your guide will tell you all about the canyon and answer any questions you might have — like “who actually lives in those little towns you drove through?” Surprise, he and his family do. There might be a long wait before you actually get to enter the canyon depending on which group number you are (we waited 1.5 hours), but the good news is that some canopy-type shade covers have recently been installed above the stairs to help shield from the burning sun, and other guides will come by with free water periodically. (Tip: Kyle told me if you book a kayak and Antelope Canyon tour package, you get to skip all the waiting.)

Once inside the canyon, I took almost 300 pictures! And by almost, I mean exactly 299. The guides will help you set your phone or camera to the proper settings to capture the best photos (The “chrome” filter works best for any iPhones). We had read that lighting was best in the morning for the Lower Canyon, but the amount of pictures I took confirms that the lighting will be fine at any time of day.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get through the canyon, but is, maybe, only a mile long. Again, this wasn’t much of a hike. More of a slow-paced tour since your guide will stop to point out all the best photo spots, take photos for everyone in the group, and share some interesting facts about the canyon. Don’t forget to tip your guide once your tour has ended!

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And here’s the other 298… just kidding!

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Zion National Park

After leaving Antelope Canyon, we made our way to St. George, UT, where we stayed at the Quality Inn South Bluff for the next two nights. St. George is about an hour away from Zion, so we started our day extra early to try and avoid any long lines for the shuttle into the park. We were able to find parking on the street directly outside of the main gate into Zion and walked down to the shuttle. Even though parking is “free,” there is a still a $30 vehicle fee that needs to be paid before walking into the park and hopping on the shuttle.

We chose to hike through the Narrows during our visit to Zion, a trail through the Virgin River between a giant slot canyon. The full trail is 16 miles and requires a permit, but for a day hike, can be easily accessed by taking the shuttle to Stop Number 9 and following the Riverside Walk until you reach the water. (Tip: There will be many “River Access” signs soon after entering the trail, but continue past these for about a mile for the trail start.)

I highly recommend renting a walking stick for this hike, especially if you’re clumsy like I am. I didn’t think I was going to need it, but that stick saved me from an unexpected swim many times. One can be rented for $8 in the store right before entering the park, along with a pair of waterproof boots/socks. We opted to hike in our regular sneakers, but I did pack an extra pair of socks to change into after we were done.

The majority of the hike is spent in the water, but there are a few areas that open up and can be hiked next to the river. Since the trail is so long, you can go however far or little you want on the hike. We went in about 2 miles before turning around and returning to the shuttle.

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With the evening free, and not much to do in Utah — like nothing to do. Chili’s was listed on Yelp’s top nightlife list for St. George. Ha! — we decided to head to Vegas, but too bad I can’t blog about that because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Am I right?

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