Zion, Bryce and Antelope Canyon in a Weekend!
This 3-day weekend had it all - three states, a whole lotta hiking, a stunning road trip and a heck of a lot of fun.
To continue our mission to see as many US/Canada national parks as possible during our tie living in the northern hemisphere - we spent four days over Easter in Utah, Arizona (and Nevada to fly in to Las Vegas).
Here is what we got up to!
Day 1 & 2: Zion National Park
After flying in late the night before to Las Vegas and picking up our hire car, we were up at the crack of dawn to start our drive towards Zion NP. Around 3 hours drive north of LV into southern Utah, Zion NP is one of the my frequently visited national parks in the USA, and we now completely understand why.
Tips with Zion NP:
1. You cannot drive your car throughout the entire park without a special permit between March and November. You can enter the park, pay your $30 per car entry free and park somewhere in the southern end of the park. From there you catch the free shuttle buses that run frequently (you will never wait for more than 15 minutes) throughout the park with several stops at different points of interest or the heads of different hiking trails. Grab a park map from the visitor centre at the south entrance to plan your stops.
2. There is food available within the park at the Zion Park Lodge cafe.
3. Make sure you plan/pack for the day - hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and snacks. The Utah weather conditions can be brutal particularly in the summer months so make sure you are organised for your day of hiking/exploring.
Here is what we did during our time in Zion...
1. Observation Point Trail
One of the most popular trails (but much less busy than the famous Angel's Landing trail) - Observation point is a must do. A 8 mile return trip, moderately difficult hike with a 640m elevation gain and some areas with steep cliff drop offs on one side. Angel's Landing was a no go for me due to my big fear of heights and I had read that this trail was even more beautiful and not to be missed - a sentiment I completely agree with. This hike is truly spectacular - you wind through the canyon on the way up with incredible vistas of the canyon and those orange-red rocks until you reach the top. At the top a breathtaking view up the entire canyon looking down over the peak of Angel's landing below you awaits. We spent a lot of time up here, eating lunch and enjoying the view before heading back down. The trail itself is beautiful and extremely enjoyable and that view at the end is like the cherry on top!
2. Hike the Narrows
Now this was a cool and very unique experience! The Narrows trail in Zion is a 16mile trail (you can just walk as far as you like/have time to do and then turn back) up the Virgin river. As you walk up the river you are engulfed by the 2000 foot high canyon walls that loom over you on each side of the river. This hike is a truly marvellous experience and of all things we did in Zion it was our favourite. Obviously you will need to get in the water to do this hike. However don't worry - Zion outfitters, whose shop sits at the south entrance to Zion, have you covered. You can go and hire all the gear you need for around 45USD per person (Waterproof pants, boots, neoprene socks and a walking pole) and then hop on the shuttle bus to start the trail. The first ~1mile of the trail is a trail path alongside the river and then you will see the point where you enter the water at the end. Seriously consider setting aside 3-4 hours to hike the narrows when you visit Zion! Make sure you hike at least 2 hours in to get to the famous "Wall Street" - the narrowest part of the canyon where the 2000 foot high walls of orange-red sandstone are a mere 20-30 feet apart! Spectacular!
Remember to be safe out there - water levels can change without warning and the area is at risk of flash flooding. Talk to park staff and check forecasts before engaging in this hike.
3. Other trails
There are several other shorter but still beautiful trails that we checked out whilst in Zion including:
Lower and upper Emerald Pools trail
4. Drive the Mt Carmel Highway
As you leave Zion NP to head towards Bryce in your car - you will drive the Mt. Carmel highway route to leave the east exit of the park. This jaw dropping albeit brief drive is not to be missed - steep switchbacks with breathtaking views of the canyon to be had all the way up!
We left Zion (though we didn't want to) in the early afternoon of Day 2 and headed towards our next destination - Page, Arizona!
Horseshoe Bend for Sunset
This place is instantly recognisable and i'm sure everyone has seen a photo on google or insta of this famous tourist spot. A tight "horseshoe" shaped bend in the Colorado river is view from the top of the canyon with a hair-raising 1000 foot drop below. Be very careful as there are no fences to protect you from falling and crowds can often be busy with everyone wanting to get a pic. However there are many view points along the area to view the bend so keeping walking along until you find a nice quiet place to soak in this spectacular spot!
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
We then finished our night with AMAZING BBQ at Big John's Texas BBQ - a very popular place with great atmosphere. Sit outside at bench tables - order some ribs and brisket and listen to some live country music by the house band! This place is great!
Day 3: Page, Arizona - Antelope Canyon
Another very popular tourist destination, particularly for photographers. We have had visiting these famous slot canyons in Navajo territory for a very long time and they were truly worth the wait. The first thing to know is you cannot just visit Antelope canyon - you must go with a tour. There is Upper and Lower antelope canyon. Upper is particularly sought after by photographers due to the possibility of seeing light beams shining into the canyon in the middle of the day creating a special pic opportunity. Because we couldn't decide - we saw both!
We went with Dixie Ellis' tours for Lower antelope canyon and Chief Tsotie's for Upper canyon.
When comparing the two - to be honest they are both mind blowingly spectacular. Be prepared that they are busy/crowded - ALWAYS - which makes photo opportunities challenging but possible with some patience. For the real enthusiasts you can book a photography tour, giving you extra time to capture this spectacular place.
Upper antelope is narrower and entered from ground level. Lower is descended into by a steep staircase and requires climbing some stairs to progress through the canyon and exit.
The experience is stunning in both and I promise you will not be disappointed with either. I personally enjoyed the lower canyon more as it is slightly wider so felt a little less crowded and we felt less rushed by our tour guide but at the end of the day they are both incredible!
Also whilst in Page, check out the Colorado river dam and Lake Powell
We completed Day 3 by driving to Bryce Canyon NP - a 2.5 hour drive through southern Utah. Crank up the road trip tunes guys!
Day 4: Bryce Canyon
Home of the "hoodoos" - Bryce canyon is well worth a visit. Get your butt out of bed before sunrise and head in to the park to greet the day from Sunrise point. Then take a 2 hour hike down into the canyon following the Queens garden path and Navajo loop trails which will bring you out at Sunset point for another stunning vista of the canyon, then walk back along the rim trail to your car. Make sure before you leave you have an hour or so to hop in the car and drive north to rainbow point at the north park of the park and take in all the pull in stops along the way for more breathtaking views of this stunning and unique canyon!
Then it was back to LV to catch our flight home
If you are heading back from Bryce to LV - stop off in a little town called Panguitch just north-west of Bryce and stop at Henrie's Drive-Inn for a feed. Grab a famous "chubby cheese" burger and a mouth watering shake thats so thick you need a spoon to eat it! Sooooo good - and totally well deserved after all the calories you have burned hiking this weekend!
Obviously - what we covered this weekend is just a small portion of what Utah and Arizona have to offer - we will be back!