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Trip Report Family trip to GC, Page, Bryce & Zion [Long]

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We just returned from a wonderful 10-day vacation to some of the Southwest National Parks. Many thanks for the input received on this forum to help with the itinerary and uncover some gems that I might not have considered. Hopefully this trip report can help others who are also planning this trip. Hopefully you like details and don’t think this is too wordy.

Quick summary for those who don’t want to read 5+ pages of detail: great trip, glad we did all the stops, the duration at each was about right and Zion was our favorite.

We are a family of four (early 40’s couple, 11 y.o. daughter, 8 y.o. son) and we visited the GC south rim, Page, Bryce Canyon and Zion. We flew in/out of Las Vegas and made the counter-clockwise trip. Many others that we met along the way were doing the same or going the opposite direction.

Day 1 – Arrival / Hoover Dam / Kingman, AZ

We caught an early, direct Southwest flight to Vegas that allowed for a full day of sight-seeing if we were up to it. We stopped off at the Hoover Dam and did the Power Plant tour ($40 for 4 of us plus parking). I’m glad we took the tour to get into the inside of the dam and learn a little bit about the water and electricity management of it. Quite an engineering feat!

Given our early flight, we could have made it to the GC but we didn’t know how long the Hoover Dam tour would last or if we’d be up to it. We were getting a little tired so the Kingman stopover was a good choice for us. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and the kids enjoyed a dip in the pool (and we enjoyed the free happy hour adult beverages). We are HI Exp fans as they tend to be affordable, clean, are relatively new and have a free breakfast and Wi-Fi. We also stocked up on water and snacks at the local grocery store (Basha’s I believe). Stromboli’s was disappointing for dinner (as it had been recommended).

Day 2 – Grand Canyon South Rim, Kachina Lodge

A 2.5-hr drive to Tusayan and lunch at a pricey McDonalds and then onto the south rim. We warmed up with the Rim Trail walk from the Visitor’s Center west to El Tovar (and shuttle back to the car). Definite wow factor. I also enjoyed the United Nations feel along the rim with all the different languages overheard. Checked in to lodge (typical NP accommodations) and had dinner at the Bright Angel restaurant (disappointing). Early to bed and early to rise and we tried to unofficially maintain our east coast time to get an early start in the morning.

Day 3 – South Rim

Early morning stroll for coffee (solo) and saw 4 elk right outside the lodge. Nice! I got the others out to see as well. That’s a benefit of staying in the park. We took two early buses over to the South Kaibab Trailhead for a 7 AM ranger-led hike down past Ooh-Ah Point to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles and 1100’, or about 20% the way down). We enjoyed the extra knowledge we got from the ranger and didn’t mind the extra stops or walking with the group. 4.5 million visitors/year and only 1 percent actually go below the rim. It was quite crisp in the morning but warmed up somewhat in the canyon. The hike back up was strenuous. When we got to the top, it started to rain and even had some snow mixed in.

The afternoon was a washout due to rain and cold. We had hoped to walk west along the rim to see that part of the park. Instead, we went to see the IMAX movie at the National Geographic Visitors center. It was okay, but pricey ($47). I would have preferred to hike. We ate at the General Store deli for dinner (not bad for the price).

Day 4 – Travel to Page, “Big Three”, Holiday Inn Express

We checked out early and drove out the east entrance. We saw our friendly lodge elk again (6 this time) and also saw a coyote and some deer along the way. We stopped at all the official overlook spots and enjoyed the different views along the way. I think it was another 2 hours or so to Page once we exited the park.

On the way into town, we stopped at the Horseshoe Bend overlook trail and we were glad we did. That was probably the most amazing view of the entire trip. After lunch, we drove out to the upper Antelope Canyon. It’s about 4 miles or so east on 98. After paying to enter the parking lot ($6/person for the Navajo use fee) we signed up for the next tour (minimal wait). $70 for the four of us. We road a bumpy, open-air (but covered) truck out to the canyon. Amazing site and we really enjoyed it. I didn’t get much from the guide but we were still glad we went. The whole Navajo thing felt a little sleazy, but it’s on their land so I guess they can charge what the market will bear. There were other tours that could be booked from town, but we were winging it. We did not do the lower canyon.

Before checking in to the hotel, we stopped at the “Best Dam View” for a nice look back at the Glen Canyon Dam. Worthwhile. Once again we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. For any Priority Club members, this is a great deal as you can get an award night for only 10,000 pts despite the “vacation” location (it was 25K for Kingman so we paid instead). We were also able to get the biggest suite I’ve ever seen. The kids were disappointed we were only staying 1 day. Did laundry here too. Mexican dinner at Fiesta Americana was good but starting to get tired of eating out.

Day 5 – Colorado River Discovery Trip, travel to Bryce Canyon, BC Lodge

We took the morning rafting trip down the river. We were bused to the Glen Canyon dam (cool 2-mile access tunnel) and then took a leisurely trip 14 miles down the river to Lee’s Ferry. This included going through Horseshoe Bend. It was an interesting perspective especially since we saw the views from above the day before. Note: this is a nice trip, but it isn’t cheap ($316 for our family). We were cool at the beginning and comfortable/warm at the end. I would imagine that the afternoon trip could get quite toasty.

Lunch/checkout and ~3 hours to Bryce Canyon where we checked into the lodge and got settled in to our western cabin. Pretty sparse, but a good location. Dinner at the lodge required a wait. The food was pretty good (better than GC) but the wait staff was not the most ambitious. We didn’t want to hassle with driving into town though.

Lot’s of sitting today (raft, drive, etc.) and this was the only time we got a little grumpy. We hiked it out the next day though . . .

Day 6 – Bryce Canyon

I awoke for sunrise at Sunrise Point which was a short walk from our cabin (I let the others sleep in). Weather was very cool. I’ve not seen too many sunrises. I’m glad I did, but I’m guessing others would get more out of it than I did. There was a slight crowd and it had a touristy, check-the-box feel to it. Bryce seemed to have more of the tour bus crowd.

Big hiking day. We decided on combining Navajo Loop, Peekaboo, and Queen’s Garden. Wall Street (?) was closed due to a slide so we went down the open part of Navajo. Peekaboo was a good hike with a mixture of up and down and different viewpoints of the hoodoos. There were 3 different horse groups that went around clockwise so we opted for the counter-clockwise direction so we weren’t stuck behind them. Not too many others on the trail. We took advantage of the bathroom at the Bryce Point trail intersection and the ladies wished there were more along this figure 8. After seeing Bryce Point on Day 7, I wished we could have hiked down that leg, but with just 1 day dedicated to hiking we didn’t want two trips up the canyon or much backtracking so we had to give up on that. I do recommend the Peekaboo trail. We actually enjoyed that more than the Navajo/Queen’s Garden loop, though I take it we are in the minority there. We had a picnic lunch after Peekaboo and before Queen’s Garden and walking out. Hiking out of the canyon was strenuous.

The adults required a power nap after this hike. After that, we got in the car and drove to Rainbow Point and then stopped at the other viewpoints along that spur/road including the Natural Bridge. Interesting and worthwhile views, but we prefer to hike than to get out of the car and admire the views. After awhile it all looks very similar to me (I’m missing the finer appreciation skill I guess).

We caught the ranger “hike” (talk) between Sunset and Sunrise points. Decent dinner again at the lodge (again too tired to venture elsewhere).

Day 7 – Bryce Canyon Sunrise, Drive to Zion, Zion Hikes, Desert Pearl

I announced that I was going to Bryce Point for the Sunrise and was surprised that the majority (and therefore all) were interested in going. It was very cold and of course early. It was a spectacular site, but was also accompanied by the tour bus crowd. I did prefer this view to Sunrise point though personally I don’t think I have to be there at sunrise to appreciate it. To each, their own.

We got to see some pronghorn antelope and deer on both days, but especially on this early venture.

We took the fast, out-of-the-way detour to Zion (89N, 20W, I-15S, 17S, 9E) due to the construction and it took 2.5 hours. I imagine it would have been much quicker without the construction, but that wasn’t too bad.

It was too early to check in, but we left our car at the Desert Pearl (after lunch) and took the shuttle buses to the Weeping Rock and Riverside walks. That was a good introduction to the park much like the Rim Trail was for the GC south rim. The kids enjoyed the minor interaction with the river. At this point, the Narrows was closed due to high water. It later opened up but we did not attempt it. The water was still very high and I don’t think we were up to that (height and temperature).

We also caught the introductory movie and a nice ranger talk on geology at the museum stop.

We checked into the wonderful Desert Pearl (pool side). The river view merits a premium but it actually puts you farther from the lobby and the pool so I wouldn’t recommend it for families (though I didn’t see the view we were missing). The rooms are large and contain a nearly full kitchen. This allowed us to easily have breakfast in the room and make sandwiches for a picnic lunch. We loved the Desert Pearl. Book early at no obligation as the rate did rise after we booked.

Decent and affordable dinner at the Flying Monkey. Groceries at Sol Foods next door to it. Restaurants were very reasonable in Springdale but the groceries were a little pricey if you wanted familiar brands. Store brands were more reasonable though.

Day 8 – Zion

We got to the shuttle stop by 8 (it takes a little time to eat, lather sunscreen, and fill up the water). On both this day and the next it took about 15 minutes for the shuttle to come. It was a little frustrating when you wanted to get going, but that’s the trade-off for the luxury of the Desert Pearl I guess. It took 35 minutes to get to the Zion Lodge on this day and 50 minutes the next. Of course, it only took a few minutes to go to dinner once we were already down.

We did the Scout’s Lookout and Angel’s Landing trail. Though strenuous, it took about an hour to get to the Lookout. I decided to go all the way and my family patiently waited for me. [I had the lunches :-) ]. It took almost an hour to go that last half mile (75 minutes round trip back to the lookout). My daughter was starting to get a little worried I think. I was so glad that I did it. My heart raced a little at first and it is definitely strenuous and a little nerve-wracking. I was rewarded with amazing views and a sense of accomplishment that surpassed any hike that I had ever done. The tough part is that you are actually climbing/ascending while using the chains and worrying about your footing. Highly recommended if you are up to it. I was glad that I only had to worry about me and not my family though.

Given the relative ease of the Scout’s Lookout hike, we decided to attempt another hike after our picnic lunch. Since we were at the Grotto, we hiked the Kayenta Trail to the Middle Emerald Pools. We backtracked slightly to Upper Pools trail and then walked back on the Lower Pools Trail. This route worked out well. The middle pools were underwhelming though we saw tadpoles. The upper pools trail was much harder due to the heat, but the family really enjoyed the Upper Pools. We saw tadpoles and frogs and some of us dipped our toes in the cool water. The waterfall mist was neat too.

We rewarded ourselves with ice cream near the Springdale shuttle stop (Sol Foods?) and a dip in the Desert Pearl pool. Great dinner at the Spotted Dog Café.

Day 9 – Zion

Slightly earlier to the bus stop, but still not to the trail until about 9 as the crowds had picked up (closer to the weekend and the Narrows had opened up). We did the Hidden Canyon trail and were very pleased. This turned out to be the family’s favorite. There are chains and ledges, but they are manageable. You aren’t climbing as much as Angel’s Landing when you are using the chains and the dropoff is only on 1 side. Our 8 y.o. was nervous and careful and I kept a hand on him most of the time but he did fine. We almost didn’t do this hike but I’m so glad we did. Once we got to the canyon we leisurely explored it further. We went slightly past the arch until we came across a big rock slide of sorts that required more scrambling/climbing than we were up for. Note: this was the only time we encountered any mosquitoes during the entire trip. I’m glad I had an OFF wipe. My 11 y.o. daughter really liked this hike and did so well that I wondered if she could have done Angel’s Landing. Oh well, next time!

We listened to a ranger talk on predators and then decided to call it a day. Temps were near 100F and given the Upper Pools trail experience in the heat we decided that mid-day hiking at Zion is not for us. That gave us more pool time though (after ice cream, of course).

Excellent dinner at the Whiptail Grill. Highly recommended.

Day 10 – Zion Overlook, Dinosaur Tracks and Home

This was Saturday so the east tunnel road was open. We got an early start and made it through the tunnel without trouble. The parking lot directly east of the tunnel had 10 spots and only 1 was taken at 8:30. It was full at 9:30 though so get going early. We did the Canyon Overlook trail and enjoyed it. We were glad to be able to fit this in on the weekend.

We splurged for a big brunch at Oscar’s and then headed towards Las Vegas for our 5 pm flight home. Since we had a little time we stopped in St. George for the Dinosaur Discovery museum ($18 for 4). This was a collection of fossilized dinosaur tracks that we enjoyed. It’s small but a neat stop and only 2 miles from I-15.

We put a little over 1000 miles on our rental car for this trip and over 400 pictures to organize too!

Summary

As you can probably tell, Zion was our favorite. Zion provided the best hiking though the other sites were also amazing. We appreciated the restrooms at the trailheads (and Scout’s Lookout). Springdale had by far the best food options which is also important to us (and a bonus on a NP trip). The Desert Pearl was a nice treat at the end of a long trip. We appreciated the size of the room, amenities, and pool. We were glad we did all the stops, but are most likely to return to Zion.

The duration at each stop (2 nights GC, 1 night Page, 2 nights Bryce, 3 nights Zion) was perfect for us. We could have kept busy with another day here or there, but felt that what we did was about right. Given all the must-do’s at each place though, it was harder to work in the ranger talks/hikes that we like to do though. We did a better job of that at Glacier in 2008.

Misc comments:

For anyone who has made it this far . . .

We each had Camelbaks and those were a big help (especially since I didn’t have to carry the water for the kids). We got the kind that also has a small day pack so we could carry snacks/lunch as well. The kids occasionally ran out of water with their smaller packs, so I would think about getting full size ones for them next time.

Of course, when my 8 y.o. son drinks his entire Camelbak on the shuttle out of boredom before hike, it’s a little tedious going to the bathroom 5 times in an hour. At least he’s a boy . . .

I tried out SmartWool socks ($17 socks ?!?) and liked them. Worthwhile purchase.

We did not have enough warm clothes. We brought 1 pair of long pants that could be worn over shorts for layers and a wind-breaker. Another sweatshirt would have been nice for GC and Bryce. That said, it’s tough to pack lightly (air travel) for the temperature extremes you can get at these parks in June.

Though flights and rental cars are inexpensive out of LAS, food is not. I can see why the $11 footlong jingle hasn’t exactly taken off for Subway.

I read this forum over a year ahead of this trip and booked the rooms early to get what I wanted. I’d recommend doing that if you are the planning type.

Time to research Yellowstone for 2011 . . .

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