DAY 1 – Getting Started
When exploring Zion, most people stay in Springdale which is the jumping off point for exploring the Canyon. From April through October, access into Zion Canyon is by shuttle bus only. The bus will take you to 1 of 9 stops on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, depending on which hike you’ll be conquering for the day.
- Depart for Zion National Park
- Upon arrival, check into Majestic View Lodge or Heller House with Lezlie, the fab Airbnb host. Note that most lodging options are modest around the region. While there are more options on the outskirts of Zion, I enjoyed both places due to their close proximity to the park, spacious room and comfy bed. The shuttle also stops directly in front of the lodge. Score!
- Hike Emerald Pools Trail (1.2 – 3 miles depending on lower or upper pool trail) or another short hike from this list of hikes at Zion Nation Park.
- Dinner at Bit & Spur. We arrived late for dinner, and this was one of the only options available. Very tasty! Other options include Blondie’s Diner and Zion Canyon Brew Pub.
- Early morning hike to Angels Landing! This famous 5 mile round-trip hike is strenuous but worth the sweat. It has everything you’d want in a hike – a challenge, a workout, switchbacks, support chains and an unbelievable view to make it all worthwhile. We boarded the shuttle around 9am and finished the hike around 1pm. Some hikers do it slower, some do it faster. We like to take pictures 🙂
- Lunch at the Grotto Picnic Area or stop at Zion Park Gift & Deli where they’ll make you to-go sandwiches to eat while hiking.
- Hike the bottom of The Narrows. This is the most popular hike at Zion. Hiking from the bottom up is the easiest way to explore The Narrows, and you can do it on your own terms. Note that you do not necessarily need the waders that are sold at the park entrance unless you want to be uber comfortable. The water is cold, but you’ll get used to it, and it’ll feel exceptionally good on your tired feet after Angel’s Landing. Bring water shoes! Hiking The Narrows from the top down is another story, requiring 16 grueling miles of exploration, of which I’ll be doing upon my return!
- Afternoon R&R
- Sunset at The Watchman. This was an interesting hike since you’ll need to time it perfectly as you don’t want to be hiking back to town in the dark. Of course you can bring a flashlight, but allow for 30 minutes of evening light to make it back down.
- Dinner at King’s Landing. Time to treat yourself to the best cuisine in the National Park.
- Leave Zion for Page, Arizona. This was an aggressive move, but we only had 5 days allotted for this trip, and I wasn’t leaving without seeing Antelope Canyon in Page! The drive takes an hour and 45 minutes, and the only downfall here was not being able to view the gorgeous scenery during daylight.
- Check into Rose Walk Inn B&B. Seeing as how this was a last minute trip and it was high season in the area, all hotels were booked up. I love a good B&B because they’re super cozy and feel just like home. It’s like Airbnb but with a concierge (owners of the home) and a hot breakfast! Never have I ever had better pancakes in my life than at Rose Walk Inn. Never. Ever. Ever. I dream about those things on a weekly basis.
- Upper Antelope Canyon Tour with Antelope Slot Canyon at 10:30am. The best advice I can give is to partake in the photo tour since the scenic tour can only be compared to a zoo. My objective for this tour was to capture amazing photographs, and with the photography tour, your guide will hold the crowds for you to take photos and have a few moments to really enjoy the canyon. Don’t expect to go at your own pace here. It’s rushed. In comparison to the lower canyon (which I didn’t get the chance to see due to time constraints), I believe it’s much more crowded and more expensive. It’s probably also good to note that the famous light beams only appear April – September. If you enjoy photography, don’t worry as the photos are still stunning. I should also mention that to partake in the photo tour, you must have a DSLR camera and a tripod. If you aren’t a photographer, I might suggest lower Antelope Canyon just so you aren’t with a crazy scenic tour.
- Lunch at Big John’s Texas BBQ. Being a southern girl, I know good BBQ when I taste it, and good BBQ lives at Big John’s.
- Wahweap Overlook at Lake Powell is definitely worth pulling over for, but it’ll take a total of five minutes to capture it. You can spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the lake via paddle board or boating.
- Sunset at Horseshoe Bend is beautiful, but don’t be alarmed when you’re packed in there with 500 tourists trying to capture the same thing. I’ve never seen so much photographer hostility in my life! The lady on one side of me was telling a Japanese man that his tripod was in her shot, and he couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. The woman on the other side of me was making passive aggressive remarks about my tripod leg in her shot while whispering to her husband that the woman on the other side of me was SO rude to run off the Japanese man. UGH I CAN’T HANDLE THE TRIPOD DRAMA! Phew. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Look closely and you’ll see what I mean about tripod legs… 😉
- Dinner at Bonkers. It’s Italian and it’s called Bonkers. Enough said.
- Early morning drive to the Grand Canyon. We put the car in drive around 4am and we arrived to the Grand Canyon lookout point around 6:15am.
- Watch sunrise at Grand Canyon Yaki Point. It’s very important to note that you can only take a shuttle from the Visitor’s Center to access Yaki Point…or you can walk/run. Once we finally made it inside the park that morning, the sun was already coming up. We still had 20 miles until Yaki Point, and I’d never driven so fast in my life. We only had once chance see sunrise here, and missing this epic experience was out of the question. Suddenly, we arrived at a barricade only a few miles from the lookout point where only shuttle buses were allowed to pass. The sun was rising by the second and time was ticking away. I could either drive a few miles down the road to catch the next shuttle that left in 30 minutes or park in the lot across from the barricade and run. I parked, grabbed for my camera and ran down the road in flip flops as fast as my legs could carry me. A workout directly before a Grand Canyon photo shoot made for a great morning.
- Eat breakfast at El Tovar Lodge. This is exactly what you need after an early morning photo shoot. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, hot chocolate. You name it, this place has it. The experience couldn’t have ended on a better note when a man came up to our table towards the end of our meal and said, “It’s so wonderful to see two young women out here exploring this great world. I’ve paid for your breakfast. Have a great time.” I’ve never been so taken aback in my life. A random stranger buying breakfast for two women he has never met before in his life!? You, sir, are a treasure. Thank you for the scrumptious pancakes and making my heart sing. There are good people left in this world.
- Helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon with Papillon Helicopters. I believe our ride was something around 40 minutes for $199. Worth it for these views. I promise! Plus you’ll have enough aerial shots to last a lifetime!
- Drive to Sedona for more hikes. If you haven’t noticed yet, this was a true road trip. We spent a lot of time in our rented DodgeWhateverItWas, but great exploration takes great determination and many, many miles. This two hour drive was a breeze.
- Hike Devil’s Bridge. This 4 mile roundtrip hike was the perfect ending hike on our road trip. It wasn’t extremely strenuous (by this time, the blisters on my feet were out of control) and provided a jaw-dropping view at the lookout point.
- Check into L’Auberge de Sedona. Do not, I repeat do NOT, miss lunch or dinner on Oak Creek while here. It’s a fairytale book setting.
- Depart Sedona for Phoenix Airport. All trips must come to an end, but this one was one for the books!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.