One Day at the Grand Canyon and Sedona

grand-canyon-trip_0031.jpg

If you tuned in to my first blog post from this trip, you’ll know that we were completely swept off of our feet by Zion National Park. I hope that I can convey how beautiful the Grand Canyon is in this post while explaining why we have very different feelings about the GC vs. Zion.

I want to just share that I think we would have felt totally differently had we done this trip backwards. It was cheaper to fly into Vegas and home from Phoenix (plus the flight schedules fit our needs better) which is why we did this the way that we did. However, our recommendation would be to do this trip backwards. Go to the Grand Canyon FIRST.

Simply put (and a sentiment borrowed from a friend), by visiting Zion first, we think we peaked too early.

While the Grand Canyon’s vast horizons and sheer drop offs were absolutely incredible, visually, they weren’t impressive after spending two days at Zion. This might sound really, really harsh but these are our honest feelings.

The little bit of hiking that we did at the Grand Canyon was very different than at Zion and I was very thrilled to make sure we did go below the rim, even just a little bit. We chose to hike South Kaibab Trail rather than the busier Bright Angel Trail. I think if we were the type to hike rim-to-rim or rim-to-river, I’d feel TOTALLY differently!

The Grand Canyon is definitely, obviously, without-a-doubt more of a tourist spot than the other National Parks that we have been to. There are families who will come to camp or stay in cabins for a week at a time, there are large groups and school trips, there are are just generally a lot more people and since it’s a much more popular and accessible park, it attracts a different crowd than Zion. So, it can be unfair to compare the two but we found the Grand Canyon village to be more like an outdated, sort of dirty, busy amusement park.

Oh gosh please don’t judge me… but… we called it the Walmart of National Parks.

Oof. I realize how unflattering that sounds but I also would hate to lie in these posts.

For our one night here, we booked a room at El Tovar, the historic, original hotel that sits right on the rim and opened in 1905. It was well maintained, cute, quiet at night and definitely nicer than the hotels we usually choose. It was a little bit of a treat for our trip.

I am very glad that we experienced this magnificent wonder of nature but we don’t have any plans to ever go back. I think one of the best things to come out of this trip was Kyle suggesting that we make seeing all of the U.S. National Parks one of our travel goals! I’m already scheming to see which ones we can swing during a weekend trip this summer or fall.

I call this short compilation… “the reason people are falling off of cliffs and dying at the Grand Canyon”. In that third photo from the left, I was behind a fence… a very deliberately placed fence. The falling deaths at the Grand Canyon have been all over the news and I kept thinking “how… HOW is this happening so much?” and then we spent a day exploring the Grand Canyon and it made so much sense. We repeatedly watched unsupervised kids walking on top of waist high walls that were meant to be barriers, people going around fences to look down or get a better picture, people being reckless and climbing up or down to unsteady rocks to get the best shot for the ‘gram and just generally people not watching their very small children who would wander towards the edge.

Yes. We did get close(r) to the edges in some areas. However, I’ll say we were very careful to do it in areas where if you fell, there was a gentle slope and you’d maybe stumble a few feet. And a large portion of the photos of me in this post where I LOOK close to the edge, are sort of an optical allusion - I was NOT! They recommend you stay at least 6’ back from the edge at all times in areas where there is not a chest-high fence.

So, if you’re seeing the news about the falling deaths at the Grand Canyon and also wondering “HOW?”, let me be the person to tell you… it’s because people are THOUGHTLESS. It only takes one slip of your foot, one loose rock or one dizzy spell to send you hundreds or even thousands of feet down to your death.

grand-canyon-trip_0042.jpg

Our flight left Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International at around 3 PM local time so we woke up early, checked out and left El Tovar before sunrise and got on the road to Sedona. On the way down, we got some amazing views of Humphrey’s Peak (San Francisco Peak) in Flagstaff covered in snow and glowing in the first rays of the morning sun. The photos of it however, weren’t totally blog worthy. I took them through a dirty car windshield with my cell phone. Don’t judge!

grand-canyon-trip_0061.jpg

We ended up having more time in Sedona than I had planned so we could have taken a full two(ish) hours to explore Red Rock State Park but we ended up driving to a collection of scenic vistas instead - at this point it was just all about the photos!

We stopped at Airport Vista, Courthouse Vista and a few other fairly obvious car-pull-off spots along our way plus some cute downtown shopping areas.

We heard a lot of wonderful things about Sedona but we did choose just to pass through for a variety of reasons. I wish that I had carved out a bit more time in Phoenix before we needed to head to the airport to photograph saguaros because it was on my “must shoot” list for this trip but it didn’t happen.

Two Days at Zion National Park

plus the Hoover Dam and Horseshoe Bend

zion-national-park-itinerary_0097.jpg

I’m going to try to let the images speak for themselves when it comes to this trip but let me just say… Zion National Park is absolutely indescribable. Southern Utah totally blew our minds and stole our hearts.

For this 3 night trip, we flew into Las Vegas, visited the Hoover Dam, drove through Vegas, headed to southern Utah where we spent a day and a half at Zion National Park, drove to Horseshoe Bend for sunrise, visited the Grand Canyon for one day (and one night), drove south through Sedona and then flew home out of Phoenix. I’ve split this trip into two different blog posts because I just had so many images and I have very, very different takes on the first half vs. the second half of our trip.

I need to give a shoutout to my clients and friends, Bri and Bobby, who shared their Utah/Arizona itinerary with us, gave us insight and feedback and allowed me to ask lots of questions about this trip! Honestly, I should have listened to them MORE. Thanks guys! You were SO RIGHT.

To summarize the highlights of this first half…

  • In-N-Out is a must. My order is a Double Double with just cheese, spread on the side.

  • The Hoover Dam is really cool but sort of expensive between parking, the visitors center and then an actual tour. We opted just to park and walk around on our own and then headed back towards Vegas.

  • We did not spend any time in Las Vegas - we just drove through. In my opinion, doing Vegas would be an entirely separate trip.

  • If you want to not believe your eyeballs… go to southern Utah. It rivaled Iceland with it’s completely unbelievable scenery.

  • Except be prepared for their weird alcohol laws. One person cannot have a pitcher of beer, you can’t drink without ordering food (but you are finally now allowed to order your alcohol first before your food), they have strange restrictions about the the ABV of beverages, there are laws about partitions so you can’t see bartenders making drinks, cocktails or well drinks can only have 1.5 fl oz of liquor and some other bizarre things that harken back to the fact that most of the population of Utah is LDS.

  • Zion is unlike any National Park we have ever been to. Words will completely fail me here so just know that it’s rugged and unrivaled. It was peaceful and rejuvenating. We loved every, single, solitary moment.

  • Zion’s weather is constantly changing. We did not plan to hike The Narrows but they were closed anyway due to flooding. Two of the trails we did plan to hike were closed for major rock slides and I was too worried about my fear of falling/heights to hike Angel’s Landing but maybe we’ll go back one day to do that. Just be prepared for changing conditions and be flexible.

  • Zion is family friendly but the families we saw there were definitely more experienced travelers. There were no strollers, almost everyone with young kids was babywearing or their older kids hiked on their own. There was a great mix of hikers of all levels, climbers, adventure tourists, families and couples. Everyone we came across was respectful and the park was very clean. This comes more into play when I get around to blogging about the Grand Canyon because we found the two to be in stark contrast.

  • We stayed in Springdale, the little town just outside of the park. There are tons of affordable options here but there are also some luxury accommodations as well. We went with cheap-but-clean because we never spend any time in our room anyway!

  • We drove to Horseshoe Bend on our way to the Grand Canyon and left Zion at about 3:45 AM to be able to be at Horseshoe Bend for sunrise. It was amazing and I’m glad we were able to visit when we did. It’s a bit of a hike back to the overlook and it was really cold! It looks like the NPS is adding an actual parking lot, amenities and will be charging admission in the near future.

  • If you’re planning an itinerary similar to ours, we recommend visiting the Grand Canyon first and saving the Utah parks for last. Zion is just THAT unbelievable. After spending 2 days based out of Springdale experiencing a huge chunk of Zion, when we moved on to the rest of our trip, we realized that we peaked too early.

If we did it again, we would…

  • Add another day at Zion to explore the north-west side of the park that you need to drive to (the Kolob Canyons area).

  • Skip spending the night at the Grand Canyon altogether and allot maybe 7-8 hours there max.

  • Add Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

And finally…

  • Don’t miss Zion Pizza and Noodle Co. and The White Sun pizza (garlic infused olive oil, spinach, pineapple, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, cheddar & parmesan cheeses)!!!

  • Make sure you experience Zion after dark. Head out into the park at least 3 hours after sunset and just… look up.

  • Do your research about the town and park shuttle systems, park entrance fees, hiking safety within Zion and the history of the park before you go!

I will be blogging the second half of our trip (the Grand Canyon and Sedona) really soon! Be sure to follow me on Instagram so you’ll know as soon as it’s live!


If you loved this post, you might also enjoy…

4 Days in Southern Iceland

48 Hours in Québec City

3 Days in Tulum