While traveling so many other countries last year, I’d begun to realize how much more of America I needed to travel. I really hadn’t traveled my own country much at all – aside from way too many trips to Vegas. So when my cousin Olivia suggested we go on a roadtrip to the Grand Canyon this summer, I headed straight to the laptop to start planning. With our crazy packed summer schedules, we could really only fit in a short trip, but we wanted to see as much as possible. What started out as a “trip to the Grand Canyon” quickly turned into a whirlwind tour of the Grand Canyon South Rim, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. And believe-it-or-not, we didn’t even feel like we really skimped out on anything. Here’s how our spontaneous little trip played out:
Day 1: Grand Canyon South Rim
Day 2: Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lone Rock Beach (Lake Powell)
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park & Zion National Park
Day 4: Zion National Park
Day 1 we left San Diego early, switched off driving, and made it up to Grand Canyon’s South Rim by 3pm. We spent a few hours hiking, and of course taking as many photos as we possibly could.
While we would’ve loved to camp down in the canyon, we hadn’t had time to obtain a backcountry permit or the necessary resources to make that possible. But in the five hours we spent hiking various trails, we felt like we got a pretty good feel for the place. If you want to hike down into the canyon for a bit, I’d recommend the Bright Angel trail, and you can just turn around whenever you want.
From there, we drove east along the rim to the Grandview Point trailhead, which I’d read on a forum that people sometimes get away with sleeping in cars. (Since our trip was spontaneous, all the campsites were booked up, and even the first-come first-serve sites fill up by 9-10am during busy summer season). Turned out, Grandview Point was just what it sounded like, and we enjoyed an awfully “grand view” of a beautiful sunset over the canyon.
After the sun disappeared, all of the tourists started to leave. This was unfortunate for them, as the post-sunset sky turned even more brilliant, the clouds lit up in neon pink, and millions of stars begun to dot the night sky as it grew darker. Completely in awe of our first night, Olivia and I headed back to the car to set up and fell asleep to the sounds of nature.
Pretty surprisingly, we weren’t awoken by any rangers knocking on our window telling us to leave. We woke up at 5am the next morning to a stunningly beautiful sunrise over the canyon and were shocked we were the only ones there to enjoy it. We’d initially penciled in some of the morning at the Grand Canyon, but we felt we’d seen enough the day before, so we headed over to Horseshoe Bend early instead.
Horseshoe Bend was about a 2-hour drive from where we were on South Rim, plus about a ¾ mile hike each way. Horseshoe Bend is a definite must-see. Between the sharp bend of the Colorado River, steep cliffs dropping down into the canyon, and the deep green contrasting with orange rock, everything about the place was simply incredible.
From there we drove just 20 minutes to our next but equally incredible location: Antelope Canyon. You have to see Antelope Canyon with a guided tour, so we did Lower Antelope Canyon for just $20 each with Ken’s Tours. Antelope Canyon is another one of those things that’s just hard to believe actually exists. You walk through this massive canyon underground that was all created by water, and the light bounces off the walls creating various shades of red and orange. Our guide told us to put the “Chrome” filter on our iPhones to bring out the colors. Photos still don’t do the place justice, but they do come closer with that filter on.
After a hot desert morning, we were so ready for a swim. Luckily we were just a thirty-minute drive from Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Park. A man we’d just met at Antelope Canyon had recommended we camp at Lone Rock Beach, so we headed there, and boy are we glad we met him! We drove down onto white sand and jumped straight into the refreshing blue lake, which had a massive (and I mean unbelievably massive) rock sticking out of the middle. It was nice to have half a day to recuperate and do nothing at all. At dusk, we set up our tent on the sand just feet from the waters edge, ate some dinner while watching a beautiful sunset, and passed out early.
The next morning we woke up naturally at 4:45 and opened our tent to see the view. Now THIS is what I want to wake up to every morning!
We watched the sunrise, went for a little 5am swim in the lake, and headed out to Bryce Canyon National Park. We got to Bryce pretty early that day and started with a hike down into the canyon. It’s unbelievable how many tourists just stop at the viewpoints and don’t even hike down. We only saw one other guy on our hike that was at least an hour. We loved getting out of the crowds and into nature, and of course we got some great photo ops as well.
After our hike, we continued driving to the end of the park (it’s one road that goes up and back) stopping at various points along the way. My two favorite views were Agua Canyon and the Natural Bridge. (Next I need to get over to Arches National Park).
From Bryce, we headed over to spend the second half of our day at Zion National Park and made it our goal to do as many hikes as possible before sunset. We first hiked to the Emerald Pools, which weren’t actually as amazing as they sound, but offered a great view along the hike to the third pool.
Next we went to the Weeping Rock, an easy half-mile hike up to a rock that “weeps” as water continuously trickles down. Again, not my favorite hike, but the view from the end was pretty awesome.
That being said, there was no comparison to the view of our final hike that day: the world famous Angel’s Landing. This steep hike literally zigzags up a cliff and across a ridge, even with chains in places to help you climb up. It gets its name from a group of explorers who saw it and said it was so high that “only an angel could land on it.”
We got back to our car at the visitor center a little after sunset, ate dinner, and waited for the campsite guard to leave so we could drive in and park for the night. The next morning we woke up at 5:30am to move the car back to the visitor center before the campsite guard came back for the day. We’d initially said we’d catch the first shuttle at 6am and head off to the Narrows, but we were so exhausted we ended up falling back asleep in the parking lot for another 3 hours!
By the time we were up and caught the shuttle to the last stop for Narrows, it was nearly 10am, but that was alright, as we had no set plans. We started off to the Narrows, and boy was it crowded. (We became thankful we’d glad we’d done Angel’s Landing at dusk, when we’d been the only ones still going up). But the Narrows hike was crowded for a reason. The aqua blue water flowing through such a steep and narrow canyon is such an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon that you just have to see to believe.
Olivia and I kept wading through the water stumbling over rocks until we were completely out of the crowd and saw barely any other people at all. We’d gone four miles fighting the current upstream when we finally decided to turn around. Hiking the Narrows is a pretty indescribable experience, so I’ll let the photos try to speak for themselves.
An idea to stop in Vegas for the night was quickly tossed out, as the past four days of full-on activity had left us craving a real bed and a day off from hiking. We booked it back to San Diego, ending a jam-packed but unforgettably epic adventure.
Shout out to Olivia for suggesting the trip! Everyone else, I have to satisfy my travel itch somehow and may be focused more on the US now that I’ll be living here for awhile, so stay tuned for more. Oh, and if anyone’s wondering how I’m still affording my adventures after just returning from 15 months of travel… here’s how:
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌