Originally when I was planning this vacation I went back and forth about whether or not I would make it a blog post. Ultimately I decided against it. It was just that all my photos would be low quality (camera phone), there have been a million blog posts already written on these places and I just didn’t feel anyone would be that interested in what I had to say.
But, of course, I couldn’t resist blowing up my (personal) Instagram with so many great photo ops! I mean, my day to day life gives me little reason to post to my account. But when vacation comes it’s a free for all when it comes to my feed! (I firmly believe that when one is on vacation and has interesting photos to share they should just go for it. All unspoken Instagram rules go out the window. My road trip mates disagreed with me and I was heavily teased for my high amount of posts. But I don’t care! I had pretty pictures and I wanted everyone to see them!!! Ok, stepping off my soapbox now.) Surprisingly, a friend commented on one of my posts that they would like a travel blog post about my trip. And then someone else chimed in that they would read it as well. So here I am sharing my trip with you. Or, at the very least my two friends. I hope you enjoy.
- Brainstorming Begins
Our road trip began in my hometown of Portland. We knew we wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but were unsure about the other parts of the trip. (Jon and I are fortunate enough to have awesome friends that we don’t get tired of even when cooped up in a car together for hours on end.) The 4 of us began our planning a few months prior to leaving. With the Grand Canyon as our main destination we started to add additional places to visit along the way. We knew that Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park were close by and they got added to the docket. Antelope Canyon got thrown in the mix since it’s also right there. And finally, we wanted to drive a loop, so down through Utah and back up through California seemed like the most logical way to go. Since we would be going back through California we decided to add Palm Springs to the trip for a little bit of well deserved r&r. So there you have it: Portland to Bryce to Zion to Antelope to Grand Canyon to Palm Springs to Home.
*A Note About Car Rental In Portland: We rented an SUV for our trip as we both have little cars and were worried all our gear wouldn’t fit in one of them. I kept finding that a specific Enterprise in Milwaukie was about $100 cheaper than any in Portland. When I called to inquire why, I was told that since it was technically outside of Portland city limits there were no taxes charged. I will always be renting my car rentals outside of Portland from now on!*
- First Stop: Salt Lake City (overnight)
Portland to Bryce Canyon with no stops is 15 hours. That’s a long time in a car. So, we collectively decided to break that first leg of travel up with an overnight stop. Salt Lake City seemed like the perfect place. It’s about a 12 hour drive with stops included. At 6 am we said goodbye to Portland and hit Salt Lake around 7 pm. (there is a one hour time difference) Since our need was just for a place to crash that night we booked one of the cheapest places we could find on Airbnb. Aaaaand, let me just say, you get what you pay for. Not the fanciest (or cleanest) places I’ve stayed. However, we were only there for one night and the bedding was clean. So I can’t complain too much. It’s just that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
- Second Stop: Bryce Canyon (day trip)
Bryce Canyon is a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake. We left early in the morning, and after hitting up a Starbucks and a breakfast place in Nephi, UT we finally found ourselves in Bryce Canyon. Words cannot describe the unique beauty that is found in that canyon. I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of awe. Also, I learned what a hoodoo is.
We intended to hike the Navajo, Queen’s Garden and Peekaboo trails, all three loops that connected to each other. However, when we got to the Sunset Point Lookout (where the Navajo loop begins) we found that the Wall Street portion of the Navajo loop was closed due to falling rocks. So we hiked down the beginning of the Navajo loop and connected to the Peekaboo trail. The Peekaboo trail gains and loses elevation quite a bit and so I would say it’s moderate rating is accurate. I had to take many breaks to rest my legs, drink water and catch my breath. By the time the loop was done we could either check out the Queen’s Garden trail or hike back up to the top via the Navajo switchback entrance. Both ways would be a drastic incline and we all agreed we just wanted to end the hike as quickly as possible. So, we skipped Queen’s Garden and headed back up the Navajo trail to our starting point at Sunset Point Lookout. All in all the hike took us about 4 hours. (that includes a snack break and many, many small breaks for me, the most inexperienced hiker in the bunch)
Things To Keep In Mind When Hiking Bryce Canyon:
- It’s very sunny. Be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and perhaps wear a hat. I did neither and ended up with a pretty bad burn. Learn from me.
- It’s dusty. Incredibly dusty. By the time you make it up to the top your shoes will no longer be the color they were when you started, your legs will be covered in dust and basically you’ll feel grimy. Bring wipes to clean yourself off and flip-flops to change into.
- Bring lots and lots of water. It got very hot in the canyon. Hot + hiking = dehydration! Stay safe and drink loads of water.
- Make sure your camera has a full battery. In my case my phone was my camera so I had to make sure my phone had a full battery. I turned it onto airplane mode to save battery and I had plenty of juice to take a million billion pictures. (and even a couple videos)
- Third Stop: Kanab, UT. (overnight)
Kanab Utah sits conveniently close to both Bryce Canyon and Zion Park. We found this place on Airbnb. I can’t say enough good things about this rental! Everything was new, clean and well stocked. And you can’t beat the price! I would 100% recommend it to others and definitely go back myself.
We spent 2 nights in Kanab. Both nights we ended up eating out since we were so tired. Both restaurants solicited mixed reviews from our group. The Iron Horse and Escobar’s Mexican Restaurant. Food was decent at both in my opinion. The Iron Horse’s ordering system leaves much to be desired and Escobar’s Mexican was more American/Mexican rather than authentic.
Kanab is small and there seems to be only 2 grocery stores. (If you’re a local, please correct me!) This fact may seem insignificant, but our plan was to get groceries Sunday night and make dinner and lunches for the following day. A plan that was thwarted by the 2 grocery stores that close early on Sundays. Be sure to check store times and plan accordingly when you visit.
- Fourth Stop: Zion National Park (day trip)
Before visiting Zion I did research but still felt I didn’t really know what to expect. As opposed to Bryce which has a very distinct look, Zion varies greatly. We entered Zion through the east entrance. I would highly recommend you do the same. The east entrance is surrounded by beautiful rocky terrain that makes you want to take a million photos. But what you don’t realize at this point is you ain’t seen nothing yet. Soon enough you will likely find yourself stuck in traffic waiting to be allowed through a one mile long tunnel. Worth the wait, when you finally emerge from the tunnel the views of Zion are unreal and truly take your breath away.
Your car zigzags down the windy road to the bottom of the canyon and soon you find yourself driving to the south entrance. (cars are not permitted inside the main part of Zion and you are forced to use a shuttle. It is unclear if this is a constant rule or just when the park is especially busy.) We parked on the street (free!) just outside of the park and walked into the park and boarded a shuttle. We had 2 main destinations: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
The shuttle system in Zion is great! The shuttles run every 5 to 10 minutes so you are never waiting long. It takes no more than 40 minutes to ride the shuttle from one end of Zion to the other. We were to our first stop quickly and liked that we didn’t have to deal with finding a parking space.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while than you know I have arthritis. Sadly my joints were working against me on this day and a hike up to Angel’s Landing seemed impossible. So, husband and I split from our friends as they continued to the summit of Angel’s Landing and we hiked to The Emerald Pools.
I can honestly say that The Emerald Pools were the only disappointing part of our entire trip. And, can say, worth skipping.
Behold, The Emerald Pools:
More like the brown puddles. (I kept making that joke all day. Still makes me giggle)
Our amazing friends made their way to the top and back from Angel’s Landing and the 4 of us headed to The Narrows together. If you do one thing in Zion, do the Narrows. It will blow you away. Although crowded it was still enjoyable.
- Plan out your visit. The park is huge and there are many trails and hikes. Planning will help you make the most out of your visit.
- Sunscreen and water!
- Outside of the South Entrance is a general store (to stock up on food in case the grocery store was closed the night before. :))
- Also outside the South Entrance (within walking distance) is the Zion Adventure Company. We walked right passed it and didn’t give it a second glance. Mistake! As we made our way to the Narrows we started to realize more and more people had the same boots and walking sticks. Available to rent is gear that will make hiking The Narrows much easier.
- Fifth Stop: Lower Antelope Canyon (day trip)
After Zion we headed back to our airbnb in Kanab. The next day we drove to the Grand Canyon. But we made a detour to see Lower Antelope Canyon on the way.
Antelope Canyon is on the Navajo reservation just outside of Page, Arizona. Friends had told us how amazing it was and I was sooooo looking forward to it! I read a few blog posts (like this one) and stocked people’s Instagram pictures and just couldn’t wait to see this place!
What NO ONE prepared me for was how crowded Antelope Canyon would be. The high amount of tourists was unexpected. And, in a narrow, cramped canyon it was claustrophobic at times. Our tour guide was nice but seemed a bit frustrated with the large group she was given. (there are supposed to be only 15 people per group but we had 19 plus somehow gained 2 more during the tour) The tour is supposed to only take about an hour from start to finish but because of the high amount of people it took almost 2 and a half hours to complete.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again. I absolutely would! But just be prepared to wait in line and battle large crowds. One cool thing about the canyon is that you literally cannot take a bad picture inside it! Every shot looks amazing!
Things To Keep In Mind When Visiting Lower Antelope Canyon:
- Visitors must be guided by a Navajo authorized guide through the canyon. There are no self guided tours. Only 2 tour companies are currently running the tours. We chose Ken’s Tours since it was the only one with a website.
- You may read that the company only takes cash- that is not true. We were able to pay with a card.
- Parking is expensive. $8 per person (not per car!). And this part of payment is CASH ONLY.
- Be prepare to wait. You will wait for your group to be called and then you’ll walk a ways and wait some more.
- The only bathrooms available are port-a-potties.
- We arrived around 11 am and found it to be very busy. Our thoughts were that arriving first thing in the morning would have cut down on the crowds.
- You are encouraged to make a reservation before arriving. However, the tour company allows people to buy tickets in the reservation line. (no doubt causing it to be even more crowded) So, if you don’t have a reservation and see a line to a ticket counter that says “Confirmed Reservations Only” that’s not really true. This is the same line to purchase tickets without a reservation.
- Your tour guide will help you with your camera phone’s settings so you can get the best pictures.
- Sixth Stop: Grand Canyon (0vernight)
Ahhh the Grand Canyon!!! How it all began. I visited the Grand Canyon years ago with my parents and always wanted to go back. When I met Jon and found out he had never been I knew I wanted to go with him someday.
I always tell people that haven’t seen the Grand Canyon that there is no amount of talking it up that could ruin it. And it’s true. Someone could go on and on about how amazing the Grand Canyon is until you want to punch them in the face and it still wouldn’t disappoint.
Since our friends that we were traveling with are the adventurous outdoorsy type (*note their angel’s landing hike from earlier) we ended up camping at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights. The campsites were conveniently located within the park and had flush toilets (a big plus for me!). There are two different campgrounds on the south rim. The ones we stayed at were the Mather campgrounds. I would definitely recommend these. They are close to the Village and to the main grocery store.
Our first night at the canyon we made hot dogs and ate potato chips while playing games on the picnic table. Jon lost horribly at the game we were playing. It was perfect. The next morning our friends had a huge hike ahead of them and they left an hour before dawn to get to the rim by shuttle. While they hiked the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point (12 miles round trip) Jon and I slept in and made our way to the Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast. It was glorious. We then took our time and walked the 2 mile paved trail that hugs the rim. The views are just amazing.
Our friends hiked to Plateau Point and back, in what has to be record time and were back by noon. The four of us went back to the campsite and tried to avoid the small passing storm that came through. That evening we headed to the El Tovar Hotel for drinks on their outdoor patio that faces the canyon and watched the sunset.
As someone who is used to visiting Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and paying around one million dollars for a hot cocoa, I have to say I was impressed with the prices at the restaurants at the Grand Canyon! Nothing was overpriced. (although, do not order the nachos at El Tovar. they don’t melt the cheese. ??? why ??? have these chefs had nachos anywhere else in the world???)
Things To Keep In Mind When Visiting The Grand Canyon:
- Reserve your campsite a few months in advance. There was no vacancy when we arrived.
- There is something for everyone. Prefer to take it easy? Enjoy the views from an easy paved walkway. Prefer to hike? There are plenty to choose from!
- Shuttle service is encouraged but we drove everywhere and had no problem parking.
- According to a park ranger there are no bears, but the ravens are equally as dangerous when it comes to stealing your food! Always use a hard top cooler and make sure all food is put away at night and when the campsite is unattended.
- If hiking, be sure to bring plenty of water as temperatures down below are much higher than up top at the rim.
- My friend who hiked the Bright Angel Trail said that the trail was the most well maintained and safe trail she has ever hiked. Who knows, joints willing, I may hike it the next time I go!
- Do Not Order Nachos from the lounge at El Tovar. They do not melt the cheese and the nachos are cold.
- Seventh Stop: Palm Springs (overnight)
After all that hiking (ok, ok, I didn’t really hike that much! but my friends did!) we needed a little R&R. I had never been to Palm Springs and have desperately wanted to go for years. (I just can’t get enough of the mid century modern feel! And the sun! Both in one? Yes please!) As you can imagine, I was over the moon when the group liked my suggestion.
I researched lodging and went back and forth about whether we would rather do a hotel or an airbnb. Ultimately a hotel just sounded more fun and relaxing. No cleaning up. No cooking. Just lazy pool side service. The Avalon was running a special that was too good to pass up. And it looked like the perfect mix of Old Hollywood glamour and Palm Springs Modern. I can’t say enough good things about this hotel. Service was excellent. Food fantastic. The room clean and luxurious. I would go back in a heartbeat. It was also conveniently located in Downtown Palm Springs and within walking distance to the cheesy downtown strip. There was only one small hiccup while we were there. The power went out while we were eating in their restaurant. Our poor server was stressed, but it lasted for maybe 2 minutes at the most. We all had a good laugh and were glad there were candles at our table.
My only real complaint is that I would have liked to stay longer to explore the town more. I can’t really give you a lot of tips about Palm Springs because we barely left the hotel! But here are a few…
Things To Keep In Mind When Visiting Palm Springs:
- It gets HOT so begin your day early. We were down at the pool for breakfast at 7:30 am.
- The Avalon Hotel has 3 pools. 2 adult pools and one kid friendly pool. The kid friendly pool was empty and we had it all to ourselves! If you’re visiting the hotel when school is in session you may have the same experience!
- I enjoyed reading these two blog posts while planning our trip. Next time I will do more things from both of the lists.
- Birba was as good as the Elsie from A Beautiful Mess said it would be. And the ambiance was lovely.
- Every Thursday evening Palm Springs closes down their main road and opens up a street fair. It was great for people watching.
- Eighth (and final) Stop: San Luis Reservoir (overnight)
Palm Springs to Portland with no stops is almost 17 hours. We knew we were going to have to stop on the way home somewhere. We just didn’t know where. At first, we thought we could go to Big Sur, but after a little research, found it was closed due to fires.
We also bounced around the idea of going to another national park on the way home, (Redwoods or Yosemite) but decided against it as we already had so long to drive. Our last minute research led us to a campground not far off of I-5 about halfway through California. The San Luis Reservoir campgrounds.
We arrived late and left early so I have little to share with you. I will just leave you with this little nugget. September is tarantula mating season. That’s right. As we were informed by our camp host upon arrival, tarantula mating season had just begun and we should make sure our tents were zipped at all times so as to avoid any unwanted intruders.
Needless to say, I will not be returning. Especially not in September.
Things To Keep In Mind When Visiting San Luis Reservoir:
- September is tarantula mating season and WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE?
Well I hope you enjoyed my little guide! Please tell us about when you visited any of these places! We love your comments.