In early May, I went to Las Vegas for a work trip with some of my co-workers and we decided to go the weekend before the conference to get some good old fashioned exploring in. Thus, our plan for a whirlwind trip to the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park was born. We flew into the Las Vegas McCarran Airport on a Friday night and got in around 9pm. We rented a car and made the three and a half hour drive to the first of our budget accommodations, the Grand Canyon Inn, to spend Friday night.
Grand Canyon, South Rim
We woke up early Saturday morning to get on the road to make it the rest of the way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about half an hour from the Inn. We made a pit stop in Tusayan, a small town right before you enter Grand Canyon National Park, for brunch. We stopped at Plaza Bonita, a cute little Mexican restaurant, but the main road is lined with yummy restaurant options. After brunch, we headed to the entrance station for the South Rim and paid the $25 entrance fee. When we finally arrived at the first viewpoint, I legitimately started tearing up at the sheer beauty and vastness of the Canyon. I’ve always heard stories about the Grand Canyon and had seen it in movies, and there I was finally seeing it in person for the first time.
We started out at Yavapai Point and were able to get our first pictures in before the massive crowds started to accumulate later in the morning. We walked a ways along the Rim Trail before hopping back in the car to drive along Desert View Drive, stopping at scenic points like Navajo Point, Moran Point, Grandview Point and Yaki Point. One of the highlights for me was stopping at the Desert View Watchtower, an old stone tower with observation decks and gorgeous panoramic views of the Canyon. We certainly worked up an appetite taking pictures all morning, so we headed to the Grand Canyon Village for some grub. After Yelping the various options, we decided on the Bright Angel Restaurant. We had some delicious wraps and hit the road again so we could make it to Page, Arizona in good time.
Grand Canyon to Page
It took us about two and a half hours to drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Page, Arizona. Part of the drive took us through Navajo Nation land. The drive was scenic and stretches of the highway were lined with small stalls and shops selling Navajo style jewelry and different types of jerky. We couldn’t help ourselves after spotting buffalo jerky in one of the stalls. We had to buy a pack!
We arrived at our second budget accommodation, the Days Inn and Suites, Saturday evening around sunset and headed straight the hotel’s hot tub. We made the decision to visit Horseshoe Bend the next morning at sunrise, which meant setting our alarms for 4:45 am.
Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise
Although it was difficult to wake up so early in the morning after all of our traveling and exploring the day before, seeing the sunrise over Horseshoe Bend was 100% worth it. The parking lot for the popular tourist destination was a ten-minute drive from our hotel, and you only have to take a short “hike” (read: walk) to get there. There were only a couple of people around as we basked in the early morning beauty.
By the time we left, around 7am, the crowds had grown significantly. We headed back to our hotel for breakfast and to checkout, then hit the road once again for Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon, Lower Canyon Tour
To visit Lower Antelope Canyon, the beautiful and popular red rock photo subject, you have to sign on to a tour that takes you down into its depths. After doing some research on the various tour companies, we landed on Ken’s tours. The tours depart every 20 minutes and each tour gives you around one hour of guided exploration. It cost us $20 per person, with an additional $8 Navajo Park Permit Fee on top of that. It was very much worth every penny. We took the 10am tour and the lighting in the Slot Canyon was insanely pretty.
Our tour guide was very helpful in getting the best photos possible and showing us angles that most people wouldn’t think to take photos at, producing some epic results.
After our tour ended, we decided to grab lunch at Big John’s Texas BBQ. You HAVE to go here if you happen to be in Page. We got the BBQ sampler plate and brisket nachos and I was in heaven. They had a really pleasant outdoor seating area where you settle right by their giant meat smokers. The waiters and waitresses are all incredibly friendly to boot. After lunch, we took a quick peek at Lake Powell, a must-see if you are passing through, and started our travels back west to Las Vegas. Luckily, we realized that could knock one more item off all of our bucket lists by taking the northern route through Utah to get back to Vegas.
Zion National Park
It took us around an hour and 45 minutes to get to Zion National Park and we opted for the scenic drive through the park with various pullouts and scenic viewpoints. We were on a mission to get to Las Vegas before sunset, so we settled on the Canyon Overlook hike as our main adventure within the park. The hike was one mile roundtrip and took us about 45 minutes to complete, including ten minutes to soak in the views of the valley.
After exiting Zion National Park, we embarked on the two hour and 45 minute drive back to Las Vegas in time to get in a dinner and show before bedtime. And THAT, my friends, is how you execute a whirlwind National Park tour through Arizona and Utah.