Visit AZ... the details of our summer vacay to the Grand Canyon State
So today we had a surprise snow day, which was a blessing in disguise, because I woke up feeling so awful that if we didn’t have a snow day, I might have called in sick. It’s funny how it always works out that way for me- I can remember three years in a row receiving a snow day on a day I felt absolutely awful.
A friend of mine posted a meme today that said: “Snow days are God’s way of telling teachers he still loves them”. I think we as teachers love snow days so much more than our students because its a unplanned found day for which we can get some extra things done. So what do you do on your unexpected days off?
I do one of the following:
Organize closets and drawers (I have problems)
Upload my past year’s photos into shutterfly.com for a massive once-a- year order
Sleep in late, stay in my pajamas all day, and binge-watch TV with my husband (we teach in the same district and so therefore we share snow days- a few years ago we had two snow days off in a row and we watched 21 straight episodes of Breaking Bad).
Plan our summer vacation ( which in most cases takes hours worth of planning).
This summer we plan on going west again to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho because we’re still on the whole Tour De United States National Park kick. For my next snow day I plan on finalizing the details of this trip and booking it.
Last summer we visited beautiful Arizona!! Nicknamed the Grand Canyon State- I honestly think it should switch nicknames with Florida “The Sunshine State” because I’ve never seen so much sunshine as I did in Arizona. It was around this time last year that I planned out this trip- and I’ve gotten a ton of questions as to where we stayed, where we ate, and what our itinerary was.
So this post will break down the specifics of our stay including:
Our Itinerary + General/Planning Information+ Hotel Details + Hikes+ Places to Eat + and other things to consider while planning
We ended up spending 10 days out west this time: 7 in Arizona and the last 3 in San Diego. (My husband’s best friend lives in beautiful San Diego, so each time we head out west, we try to spend some time with them since we’re already out there.) Here is a break down of our itinerary. We wanted to see: Sedona, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Flagstaff, all in AZ. With the way I mapped it out, we spent 1.5-2 days in each place and each point of interest was about a 2 hour drive from the next.
I wanted to see the highlights of Arizona- so when I start planning trips like this- I start looking at maps of the state and important sites that I want to see. I normally draw out a “chicken-scratch” map of the state and start starring what I want to see- so I can determine what’s the best itinerary to make the most out of all of our days there. To save you from my odd drawing of AZ, I highlighted the itinerary above on a map of Arizona below.
*Something to Consider*: Day 5 + 6 were spent in Page, AZ and if you notice on this map it is right on the border of Utah. On my previous post entitled “Visit UTAH: The Details of our trip to Zion and Bryce National Parks”, I talked about how that trip can be combined with seeing Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona from this post- since Bryce Canyon is only 2 hours away from Page, AZ. So essentially if combined in the right way you could see: Zion & Bryce in Utah with all points mentioned in this post as well.
General Planning Information
What airport should I fly into?
Phoenix SkyHarbor International Airport was the closest and most reasonably priced to all of our destinations. We flew into PHX and rented a car separate from our bookings through expedia- and booked it through priceline.com, because I found them to be a lot more reasonable than expedia (even with the bundle deals they offered). Phoenix is super hot in the summer- so you might want to pick a car in the lot that doesn’t have black interior (we learned this the hard way on our Utah Trip and had to wait for the car to cool down before getting in to each time).
Day 1-2 Sedona, AZ
After flying in to PHX and renting a car, we drove 2 hours north to Sedona. Our flight arrived late and we had planned on stopping to see Montezuma Castle National Monument on the way to Sedona, however the park had closed at 5pm and we just missed it. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express: 6176 Hwy 179, in Sedona, AZ, which is actually in Oak Creek. If you read my previous post- I like staying at HIEs on these types of trips because they’re always very clean, most of them are brand new, and they offer free breakfast. This wasn’t the nicest of all the HIE’s I’ve ever stayed in- but it was clean and the staff was super nice. The location was super convenient as well- we were just a 2 minute drive to walking trails for the major points of interest within Sedona.
First night we settled in and drove into downtown Sedona, which was only a few minutes away. We ate at 89 Agave Cantina. Shad and I both had a drink and tacos. The food was very good- but it was a bit pricey (we later learned most places in Sedona are).
What did you do in Sedona?
On day 2 or our full day in Sedona, we headed out early and saw the following:
Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Chapel of the Holy Cross, and Snoopy Rock. You’ll need to buy a Red Rock Parking Pass for $5 (available by machine in any of the parking lots to the trailheads) which is good for all areas you stop off at or hike.
Here is a map compliments of Red Rock TV16:
Tuesday night we ate at Corner Table Restaurant and Bar and it was delicious. I had some sort of churro/ice cream dessert- and although I’m supposed to be gluten-free, it was well worth the consequences.
Day 3-4: The Grand Canyon/ South Rim
On day 3 after breakfast, we checked out and headed for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was a 2 hour drive from Sedona and we had an 11am bike rental appointment at Bright Angel Bicycles near the Grand Canyon Visitor center. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most popular rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is over 200 miles away, but can be seen from the South Rim. So when you’re in the Grand Canyon for the most part you’re in the amphitheater looking down into the Canyon- however there are many trails to hike down into the canyon as well. Our itinerary was a mix of both.
Cost to get into the park:
You’ll need to purchase the Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit - $35 which admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers or you can buy a National Park pass for $80. This covers all National Parks in the United States and a number of historical sites like the Statue of Liberty and Presidential Libraries for an entire year. Your national park pass also covers you and anyone you are with- so one person can buy the pass and all those with them can enter the park. You can even share the pass with one other person, and they can use it without you- as long as they sign the back of it. We bought the pass and not only used it for the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, but also for later trips in the summer when we went back to Bryce and Zion with my parents. . Note: if you have a 4th grader in your home- the National Park pass is free for them and covers your entire family as well. If you are 62 and over it’s also free, and I believe members of the military either get a discounted or a free pass.
The Plan: “Above the Rim” Day 1 in the Grand Canyon:
Check in to El Tovar Hotel, take in views of the McKee Amphitheater, pick up 5-hour (half day bike rental) at Bright Angel’s Bicycles: 10 mile bike ride to Hermit’s Rest while checking out the following view points along the way:
Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, and Hermit’s Rest.
Renting a bicycle was the best way to see most of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim because you can ride the Rim for 10 miles. Don’t think you’re up for it? We chose to bike down to Hermit’s Rest because it’s essentially a 10 mile bike ride but mostly down-hill. The only “uphill” part of our bike tour was between the Village Route Transfer and the Trailhead Overlook- so if you don’t want to bike uphill at all- you can ride the bus with your bike to the Trailhead Overlook. Then at Hermit’s Rest we hopped aboard the Grand Canyon shuttle, and hooked our bikes on to the outside front of the bus- and the bus took us the 7-miles uphill to the Village Route Transfer spot. There is food available for purchase and a place to fill up your water bottles at Hermit’s Rest.
Our bike rentals were $30 a bike for 5 hours- and that was more than enough time. Reserve in advance! You can also pay to have Bright Angel’s Bicycles pick you up and trailer your bike by van- but the Grand Canyon Park shuttles can trailer your bikes as well- and it’s free with entrance into the park.
Not interested in biking? Then you can ride the Grand Canyon Shuttle to each lookout point instead.
Day 2: Hike Below the Rim- Bright Angel’s Trail:
Just steps away from where we stayed was the Bright Angel Trail- which descends 3 to 6 miles round trip (depending on how far you want to go ) below the rim of the Canyon. We started out early on this trail because it was close to 100 degrees when we were there. As this trail descends down into the Canyon- you have to remember that you will need all your energy to climb back up more so than walking down. Therefore we stopped where most people did: at the 1.5 mile resthouse. There’s bathrooms there and a place to fill up your water. This hike took about 2.5 hours round trip.
After hiking, we took the car to see the other side of the South Rim and we visited the following lookouts: Mather Point, South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point.
We stayed at the historic El Tovar hotel built in 1905, which is just steps away from the Rim Trail which overlooks the South Rim’s Amphitheater. It was a little pricey- but super convienent- because we didn’t have to drive in to the park each morning. It didn’t include breakfast- so we had to purchase that each morning- but it did have an awesome feel to it inside- and there was a musician playing guitar each night outside the bar in the lobby. Biggest complaint: the parking situation was ridiculous- El Tovar does not reserve any spots for it’s guests, so you’re essentially trying to find a parking space with park visitors in a very small lot.
Where we ate:
We celebrated our wedding anniversary in the Grand Canyon, so one night we sprang for dinner at the El Tovar restaurant. While it’s beautiful and historic- the food was super bland, and I wasn’t impressed.
All other lunches and dinner we ate at the Arizona Room and the Bright Angel Restaurant, which were much better and less expensive than El Tovar. If you’re getting lunch be sure to get it before 11:30, that’s when the Grand Canyon train pulls in with tourists and the lunch spots get packed.
Day 5 + Morning of Day 6: Antelope Canyon+ Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ
Day 5: Antelope Canyon
Do these pictures even look real to you? If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I wouldn’t think this was a real place at all- especially in the United States! My most favorite part of our trip was our scheduled hiking and kayaking tour through Lower Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell. Page, AZ is located 2 hours northeast of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. ** Something to consider: Page, AZ doesn’t abide by daylight savings- so don’t freak out like me and think you’re going to be late for your tour because the GPS might show it’s a 3 hour drive instead**
About Antelope Canyon: Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in the American Southwest. It is on Navajo land east of Page, Arizona and you can only tour these canyons with a Navajo-lead tour group. These slot canyons became super popular a few years back with the emergence of Antelope Canyon as a background for iMac computer screens.
We booked the Lower Antelope Canyon Walking Tour- which takes about an hour, followed by the Kayak Tour at Lake Powell through Dixie Tours- for $175 a person. The prime time to be in the Lower Antelope Walking tour is between 11am-1pm- for the best lighting for pictures (and sometimes these tours charge more for these time periods). You are only allowed to bring in a camera and your phone into the canyon- no backpacks, water bottles, etc. However, they do provide you with a bottle of water once you leave the canyon.
At first I only booked the hiking tour- but we sprung for the kayaking tour as well- and these two tours combined took up most of our day in Page, AZ.
Day 6: Morning- Horseshoe Bend
Sunrises and sunsets at Horseshoe Bend are absolutely spectacular and a must see while you’re in Page, AZ. I read online that sunsets are usually super crowded- so Shad and I decided to see the sunrise instead. I checked what time that would be using the website below- and for the date we were there it was 5:13 am. We woke up super early- grabbed a cup of coffee and took the 5 minute drive down the road to the pull off parking area for Horseshoe Bend. The walk from the parking lot to the edge was about 3/4ths of a mile or 10 minutes- so take that into account if you’re trying to catch the sunrise or sunset. To get there from the Holiday Inn Express: turn left out of the parking lot onto HWY 89. Drive South on Highway 89 to between mileposts 544 & 545. Look for the exit lane and prominent dirt road on the west side of the road which you can drive a short distance on to the parking area. You’ll see signs.
We stayed at the brand new Holiday Inn Express in Page, AZ and it was just a 5 minute drive to Horseshoe Bend in the Morning to see the sun rise.
Day 6 +7 : Flagstaff, AZ
Flagstaff is a fun little town located along the Historic Route 66. It’s about 2 hours from Antelope Canyon- and we decided to hit this on the way back towards Phoenix rather than the way up to the Grand Canyon, so we would only have to drive 2 hours to Phoenix the following day, rather than 4 hours from Antelope Canyon. We spent the day checking out the town, its shops, and breweries. This was sort of a down-time day for us since the rest of our itinerary was planned to a T. Sunday morning we left to head back to Phoenix for our flight to San Diego.
We stayed at the: Holiday Inn Express in Flagstaff, AZ