Yes, you must. I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you what to do. Screw it, yes I do, you’ll thank me.
I’ve lived in Arizona for 28 years, my Mom was born here, her Mom was born here. In fact my nephew Sebastian and my new niece, Scarlett are 5th generation natives! With all of our years in Arizona you’d think we’d have pretty much seen every inch of this state. Okay, maybe not every inch but at least the site of the most expensive photo ever taken (seriously, check it out here). Or the most iconic photo of the Grand Canyon ever (not exactly in the Canyon proper, but close enough).
Well for my birthday my parents crushed it this year and decided we’d take a trip together and knock a couple sites off of my bucket list! You know what I am so thankful for? I’m 28 years old and there are no two people I’d rather spend time with. And I don’t get sick of them, they’re my favorite people.
In mid October 2017, we set off on our road trip to the northern border of Arizona. The drive is about 4 hours from Phoenix to Page but luckily it can easily be broken up about halfway in Flagstaff, which I highly recommend. We stopped in Flag and had a FABULOUS lunch. Well, at least mom and I thought so, Dad complained the whole time. In fairness, it was a vegan restaurant (as I was on day 15 of being vegan!) and oh my oh my. I would never miss meat if I ate at the Whyld Ass every day. Perhaps I’ll write a review post on that another time, but spoiler alert the food is 5 stars. After lunch we walked around Flagstaff for a couple of hours enjoying the perfect weather.
Time to hit the road and finish the drive to Page, Arizona. The first site that you ABSOLUTELY MUST VISIT is a quick stop on the way to your hotel. Horseshoe Bend is the most spectacular view of the Colorado River that I’ve ever seen. You’ll park in a dirt lot with plenty of porta potties in case you drank too much Starbucks on the drive. Put some sneakers or comfortable walking shoes on to go on a quick, easy 1.25 mile hike. There is a little bit of an uphill to begin the walk, followed by a small downhill.
Once you’ve reached the rock it is time to pay attention. You really should be careful and watch your footing. My parents were too scared to get near the edge of the cliff because it really is a straight drop, if you fall, you die. So don’t fall. And the best way to not fall is to not get close (my parent’s approach). But if you are careful you can get close, just watch your step and don’t take a selfie too close to the edge! We saw someone’s hat on the rocks below, just a frightening reminder of how easy it is to fall.
But if you get close enough, you are met with a magical view of the Colorado River bending around a huge rock face right in front of you, in, you guessed it, the shape of a horseshoe. If you happen to arrive at sunset (which we did) you may be surprised with a spectacular Arizona sunset. For those of you not from Arizona, they truly are something to marvel at. Now, this place will be flooded with tourists, hundreds of them. This makes it a little more challenging to find a good, safe spot to take some pictures. After wandering around and yelling at each other from 30 yards away, each claiming we’d found the best spot we finally took some pictures. My parents wouldn’t get close enough to take a picture together with the full view of the river, so I attempted some selfies (always do what I say, NOT what I do). When you’re done, hike back out the way you came. I’m not sure exactly what got into him but on the way down the small hill my dad ran. He is 61 years old and this is the first time I think I’ve ever seen him run. Literally. The only time I can remember anyways. And he was fast! My mom missed it and I’m not sure she believes that it happened.
After the stop at Horseshoe Bend it was time to check into the hotel, and then head out for dinner. Fair warning, hotel accomodations aren’t 5 stars, but there are some decent options in Page. To go along with the super average hotels are extremely mediocre restaurants. We went down to the marina at the lake and were very underwhelmed by our dinners. No matter, we didn’t expect much. We got back to the hotel, watched a movie (Hidden Figures, so good!) and went to bed.
An early wake up call had us at Starbucks (inside of Safeway) for breakfast and on the road to Zion National Park in Utah. I was so proud of my parents, we knocked out so many hikes! Now, there are some hints I can give you on how to avoid some common traps in Zion. Once you park your car you can do a couple of hikes from the road but the best option is to pay and get on the bus which is a hop on hop off throughout the park. That said, if you don’t get to the bus first thing in the morning the line will be outrageous. So if you are too late then do a hike from the road, wait until just after lunch and the line will have died way down. At this point you may only have a 5-15 minute wait to hop on a bus. Pick up a map and decide how tough of hikes you want, there are short hikes, long hikes, strenuous hikes, easy hikes, hikes that take you to waterfalls, hikes that take you to lakes. There are so many hikes! I’m not going to tell you what specific hikes to do because you really can’t go wrong and each hike gives you a different perspective of the park. So for your first visit, or if you are only there for a day I think the most important thing is to do a few hikes and get some different views and see some wildlife. If you are more adventurous and came prepared, then do the Narrows. You’ll be hiking through water and will get some incredible sights, going through stunning slot canyons. Now, it would be easy to spend a full week in Zion, but we only had a day and it was still well worth the visit. Next time, the Narrows!
We headed back towards Page, stopped for a decent dinner, took our showers and promptly went to bed. The next morning we hit up the prettiest place I have ever seen. Antelope Canyon. It was so special. I’ve wanted to do this for SO LONG. I’m so glad we went, I don’t know why we’d never made the time before! A couple of important notes: Antelope Canyon can only be seen by booking a tour. There are a few companies, we used Ken’s tours and our guide was amazing! I so wish I could remember his name (mom, if you do, please let me know!). He grew up on the reservation, knows so much about the area and the canyon and he knew all of the most amazing angles to take photos. Every 5 minutes or so he would take my phone, tilt it to a bizarre angle, put the perfect filter on and take a breathtaking picture. We ended up tipping him quite a bit of money, he certainly earned it.
There are two parts of the canyon you can tour. The upper canyon and the lower canyon. There are some differences between the canyons and therefore differences of opinion on which is better. But let’s be honest, they are both amazing and you won’t be disappointed either way, you just won’t. So don’t sweat the decision too much.
The upper canyon is known for the beams of light that can shine through to the floor of the canyon if you are there at just the right time. But the upper canyon is much shorter than the lower and so your experience goes by faster. It is also more expensive than the lower canyon. In the lower canyon your tour will last about an hour or so. From the moment you step into the canyon you will be blown away. And each step you take you’ll think it couldn’t possibly get more amazing. But then with every twist and turn it does. Miraculously. It really does get better the entire way, I kid you not. And while you are with a group you can always slow down a bit to make sure you get a picture. Our guide was great at making sure everyone got every picture they wanted and because he did it on our camera we didn’t have to worry about being upsold on $20 photos like at so many tourist traps. I ordinarily get annoyed when I have to use a tour company for something like this but after seeing how perfectly preserved the canyon is I am so glad the tour companies have control. They are keeping the canyon in such great condition so that people will get to come enjoy the area for decades to come.
Arizona is full of so many unbelievable spectacles like these two sites. And of course Utah has their fair share of National Parks that are worth posts all of their own. If you are from Arizona and haven’t been to Horseshoe Bend or Antelope Canyon yet I sure hope you find the time to go. You can easily do both in a day if you don’t want to make a full weekend of it. And if you aren’t from Arizona and are considering a trip these sites are well worth taking a day to see. And so many of Arizona’s beautiful places are nearby! You can go to Sedona, up to the Grand Canyon and over to Page to hit these sites all in one weekend!
Oh Arizona, you have my heart.