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Chicago, IL, US

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Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, & Horseshoe Bend - 3 Day Itinerary

Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, & Horseshoe Bend - 3 Day Itinerary

Back in June, I went on a three day camping trip with one of my best friend, Kelsey. We were able to hit 3 different locations and 4 states in just 3 days. And here is how we did it (warning: this is a pretty long and dense post, didn't want to leave out any details!):

We planned this trip really last minute because I was just coming back from Hawaii and Kelsey was finishing finals. Our flights were actually booked way in advance because this was the only weekend we both had free and we also had airline points for free flights. Hitting all the destinations was a dreams but no way did we think it was possible in just three days. But knowing us two, we were extremely efficient planning and everything pretty much went as planned. I knew it was going to be fun, but it was one of the funnest trips I've been on! It exceeded all expectations so I definitely would recommend doing it if you have a free weekend! Below is an outline of our trip:

SJ/LA --> Vegas --> Utah --> Arizona --> Vegas --> SJ/LA

Day 1

  1. Land in Vegas: We landed really early Thursday morning (around 6/7am) since we knew we had to drive, set up our campsite, and get in a hike.
  2. Picked up Car Rental: We booked with Enterprise but their office is a shuttle away from the airport so it took us a bit of time to get there. We booked it beforehand and they waived the fee for having multiple drivers listed on the car. 
  3. Drive to Zion National Park: The drive is about 3 hours from Vegas. It was an easy drive without much traffic!

Zion National Park

Tips

  • Entrance Fee: A pass will be valid for 7 days so you can go in and out as you like. We have a National Park Annual pass ($80/year) so we didn't have to worry about it. 
    • Private Vehicle: $30
      • Admits private, non-commercial vehicle (15 passenger capacity or less) and all occupants to Zion National Park including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas.
    • Motorcycle: $25
      • Admits one individual on a private, non-commercial motorcycle to Zion Park including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas. Any passengers pay the per person fee not to exceed the private vehicle fee of $25.
    • Per Person: $15
      • Admits one individual with no car to Zion Park including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas. Typically used for bicyclists, hikers and pedestrians. Youth 15 and under are admitted free.
  • Camping vs Airbnb/Hotels: There are a lot of housing options from camping ("Glamping") to hotels and Airbnb.
    • Camping
    • Not into sleeping outside? No probs! There are a ton of options such as hotels and airbnbs nearby the park that you can look into. I don't have any info on this since this wasn't what I did but we drove passed a bunch on our way to the main entrance. It's of course more expensive than camping but you get what you pay for.
  • Camping Rentals:
    • Since we were both flying, we couldn't bring any camping gears so the best option was to rent. We rented from Zion Adventure Company. They are right by the entrance so it was convenient for us to get all of our stuff before we got to our campsite.
      • Rented: Sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tent, stove, water shoes for the Narrows, waterproof camera bag
      • Bought: fuel cannister, lighter
  • General Tips:
    • There is a shuttle service that will take you around the park and you will use this to get to the start of different hikes.
    • Food and other necessities are readily available right outside of the park. It's its own little town with restaurants, grocery stores, etc. 

Angel's Landing

  • Distance: 5 miles round trip
  • Duration:  3-5 hrs 
  • Entrance: The Grotto (bus stop) --> Start at The Grotto Trailhead towards the West Rim Trail
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous (mostly at the top)
  • Elevation: 1,500ft
  • Best time: Either early morning to catch the sunrise or starting at 4pm to avoid the heat and watch the setsun on your way down (keep track of the bus schedule!)
  • This is one of the most popular hikes at Zion because of it's breathtaking 360 view at the top of the entire canyon! It's a MUST! 
  • There isn't a lot of shade so wear a hat, apply sunblock, and lots of water.
  • The final part of the hike is scary but exhilarating! You will have to scale along the side of the mountain, holding on to chain links, and whatever you do DON'T LOOK DOWN. Haha jk but if you are afraid of heights, this might either knock that fear out of you or you'll never forgive forsure. There are some exposed paths of the hike that have drops on both side and you have nothing but the chain to keep you safe. 
  • Not to scare you, but 6 people have died from falling off this trail... so be very careful!
  • Pack a snack because it will be extremely rewarding at the top and you'll want to stay there for awhile to take in all the beauty. 

Day 2

  1. Packed up our campsite early, around 6am, loaded our car, and headed to the shuttle for another hike before we made our way to the next destination 
  2. Hike the Narrows in Zion
  3. Drive to Antelope Canyon: about a 2 hour drive east of Zion
  4. Drive to Horseshoe Bend: about 15 minutes away from Antelope
  5. Drive to Grand Canyon: about 1.5 - 2 hour drive from Horseshoe

Zion National Park

The Narrows

  • This is an extremely unique and fun hike because you get to hike through water, which could go as high as your chest
  • Direction/Trails: there are many different paths you can take to hike through the Narrows from a few hours to overnight
    • Bottoms-Up (Day-Hike // Most Popular): Hike in and out from the Temple of Sinawava via the Riverside Walk to Wall Street and back. You can basically just go as far in as you want and then turn around. We opted for this because of our limited time and packed schedule.
      • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - Depending upon river volume and desired round-trip mileage.
      • Duration: 1 – 6 hrs round trip
    • Top-Down (Day-Hike // Backpacking): Hike the entirety of the canyon (17 miles) in one day or camp along the trail overnight from Chamberlain’s Ranch. Shuttle and permit required.
      • Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
      • Duration: 7 – 12 hours of hiking, one-way
  • When to go:
    • Early Morning
      • Since we had to drive to our next destination we went very early, the earliest bus shuttle available
      • Pro: avoid the rush/crowd, we basically had the entire place to ourselves so we were able to take a ton of pictures and not worry about running into people. If you want to get good pictures (aka with no one in the background or just you), this is the best time to go! You can go as slow/fast as you please.
      • Con: You have to wake up a lot earlier! Also the water is FREEZING! Even during the summer, the water was freezing and there was hardly any sunlight. We were shivering the entire hike!
    • Mid-Day
      • Pro: you don't have to wake up as early and it's much warmer. The sun is shining and the water is a lot warmer compared to a few hours earlier. This would be a good time for kids and older people!
      • Con: crowddssssss/peopleee (ugh)! For me when I'm out in nature, I like being more isolated so I can enjoy everything. During mid-day, starting from 9am, people enter the Narrows in the masses. As opposite to the pros for early morning, you won't be able to get any photos without others in it and you will have to slow down your pace for those in front of you. 
  • Tips
    • We rented canyoning shoes from ZAC (listed above) to keep our feet dry. We definitely recommend it! The water is freezing so it saved our feet. We didn't rent the pants because it was summer so the worker recommended against it but depending on what time you go, they could come in handy.
    • Water can get as high as you chest or even higher depending on season, so bring along a waterproof pouch to store all of your electronics because they will get wet and damaged.
    • Get a free hiking stick when you rent your shoes! It will come in handy on the slippery rocks and help you navigate through the river. 

Antelope Canyon

  • You can only access the canyon via guided tours. They run every 20 minutes and cost about $15-20 a person
    • You can either book in advance or pay at the entrance, which was what we did.
  • Duration: 1 hr
  • There isn't any strenuous hiking involved, just walking through the canyon and seeing how beautiful it is!
  • The canyon walls were created by water, sand, and wind! It's a unique type of sand that hardens when it encounters water. As wind and water rush through the sand, grooves are created along the canyon walls.
  • You can hit both canyons since the tours are only about 1 hr each

Lower Canyon

  • V-shaped (narrow bottom, wide top) 
  • You'll have squeeze through tight spaces and climb steep-ladders
  • MUCH less crowded because Upper is the more popular tour however, the crowds can get overwhelming so many are opting to the lower canyon, which is what I did.
  • Go during the morning to get the best lighting!
  • Ben's Tour: http://lowerantelope.com/

Upper Canyon

  • A-shaped (wide bottom, narrow top)
  • More popular choice because of its famous light beams produced mid-day and more tours are offered
  • Best time to go is in around noon to get the most sun
  • We did do the upper canyons so I don't have any other information besides what it is

Horseshoe Bend

  • This next destination is only about a 15 minute drive so we stopped by on our way to Grand Canyon 
  • You've probably have seen a million pictures of this via the internet, friends, etc. so might as well check out what all the hype is about. Right?
  • There's free parking at the entrance and it's about a 0.75 mile hike/walk to the opening 
  • There isn't much to do besides look over the edge and take pictures (hench the cover photo to this blog)
  • Duration: 45 mins - 1 hr
  • Best time: would be at sunset so you can watch the sky change colors and see how light reflection affects the water at the bottom (we didn't get a chance to do this but that's what I have heard!)

Day 3

  1. Drove to Grand Canyon the night before just in time to pick up our camping gear, set up our site, eat dinner, and then sleep
  2. Biked along south rim
  3. Drive to Vegas: about 4 hours from Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Tips

  • Since this was my first time at the Grand Canyon, I made a classic rookie mistake: part of a longer road trip. I didn't give myself much time to fully enjoy the park! There are a ton of things to do in Grand Canyon! I'll definitely be back to for more (esp. Havasupai Falls!!)
  • So if you are staying in Grand Canyon for more than a day, definitely do your research on how to make most of your trip!
  • There are shuttles that can take you from the visitor center to the end of the south rim, so that could be an option if you don't want to bike or hike. You can also drive your car!
  • We went to the more touristy area of the canyon but it was our first time! I definitely want to go into more secluded areas and do some background through Grand Canyon one day!
  • Camping
    • Mather Campgrounds: south rim
      • This campsite fills up quick, especially busy season, so make reservations ahead of time! They don't do walk ins, I don't think... but I could be wrong.
      • It's also another car camping type of lot so you just drive your car right to your assigned lot and set up your tent.
      • Reservation: www.recreation.gov
    • Camping rentals
      • Much like for Zion, we rented our camping gears there and returned it the next day.
      • The website is a bit confusing and doesn't have any information regarding camping rentals so you'll have to call in to make reservations: 877-404-4611
      • They are located in the main general store: http://www.visitgrandcanyon.com/
  • Lodges
    • If you are not comfortable with sleeping outside, there are lodge options nearby! This might hinder your choices of things since I think they only have a few available along the rim of the park

Biking South Rim

  • We only had half a day to explore the Grand Canyon and since there was so much available, we decided on biking since it would allow us to explore the entire south rim in a shorter amount of time. 
  • We rented with Bright Angel Bicycles - half day (5 hours) for $30 + tax
  • Distance: 21 miles round trip
    • You have the option of biking one way and shuttling back
  • Difficulty: easy to strenuous 
    • You will be climbing some inclines going to and from Hermit Rest, so get ready to sweat and work those quads!!
  • The view is breathtaking! We stopped almost everywhere to take pictures and awe at the amazing view. 
  • Biking Info: http://bikegrandcanyon.com/

General Tips

  • Investing in an National Park annual pass: This was also a good investment if you plan on doing multiple parks in one trip and/or wanting to visit other parks throughout the year. As you can see from the price, it's $15/person so if you have a big group, investing in an Annual pass might be worth it. For more info: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm
  • Pack layers: it gets really cold at night (if you're camping) and really hot during the day so plan accordingly!
  • Invest in a hydroflask: it is honestly my baby!! The best feeling is once you get to the end, you can drink nice ice cold water. There is nothing better! I mean, this isn't a requirement at all but you'll thank me if you make the plunge!
  • Beef jerky is the best hiking snack: I never realized it until this trip but beef jerky was hands down the best snack for hiking! We bought some at the Costco and it was a life saver!
  • Time zone change: you will be driving through two different time zones, Pacific and MDT. MDT is an hour ahead so watch your phones to make sure you'll get to certain places on time. We had a lot of scares while going from one destination to the next because of the time change. We thought we wouldn't make it on time to certain things or be really early, etc. So keep track of the time carefully and call ahead to notify them that you'll be late if you do get stuck in a time crunch situation.

Wow, sorry this was a really long post! I didn't want to leave anything out but I hope you have the best time ever!

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My Favorite Shots from NYC

Happy Centennial @NationalParkService!

Happy Centennial @NationalParkService!