“You cannot improve on it,” President Theodore Roosevelt said of what is now Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, describing it as “a wonder of nature.” Our family of five took a spring break trip to this awe-inspiring place, continuing our journey north to Southern Utah. Here are some things we learned along the way.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK We flew into Phoenix and enjoyed the scenic drive through cactus country, stopping at the breathtaking Oak Creek Canyon and quaint town of Sedona. We got our kicks on Route 66 filling up at a diner in Williams, an old mining town. When we entered Grand Canyon National Park, we were blown away by the spectacular view at Mather Point. Walking along the snowy South Rim path, we ended our day at the educational Geology Museum at Yavapai Point, the best place to view the sunset, according to the park ranger. There are many wonderful places to stay within the park, such as the Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik Lodge and the iconic El Tovar Hotel. These accommodations must be booked well in advance. If you are not a pre-planner or are looking for less expensive options, there are plenty of hotels in the town of Tusayan, outside the park entrance. Visiting the Grand Canyon is best in April Through June. We went in March and all the hiking trails were closed due to snow. June gets very crowded once school is out, and July and August are scorching hot. However, if you are just interested in sight-seeing, March is a great month to beat the crowds. Pack a parka and gloves, though. Here’s one more GCNP tip: the south entrance is most popular and can get backed up for hours (this is why people splurge and book accommodations within the park). We drove the spectacular Desert View Drive on day two and exited the park through the east entrance. It Was the road less traveled. And it spits you out near the magnificent Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.
ZION NATIONAL PARK Zion National Park in Southern Utah has it all: mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons and natural arches. It is hard to describe the experience of entering the park and driving through it for the first time – wondrous, breathtaking, jaw-dropping – words don’t do it justice. The switchbacks and man-made tunnels blasted through the mountains are mind-blowing. Angels Landing is the famous hike that everyone talks about. It is quite dangerous and requires a permit. Forus, the hike up to Scout Lookout and the West Rim Trail Was strenuous and breathtaking enough. No need to risk life and limb. The Narrows, where the thousand-foot-high walls of Zion Canyon are separated by only 20 to 30 feet, is another famously dangerous Zion hike. On a dry summer day, it might be a fun hike. But the Narrows Are susceptible to flash flooding because much of the surrounding area is bare rock that does not absorb water. During a flash flood the water level rises almost instantly. We witnessed this phenomenon on the Emerald Pools Trail hike. Thinking this would be an easy hike for a rainy day, we encountered a monsoon waterfall that just the day before was not a waterfall at all. The Narrows is closed in winter, but we hiked to the Temple of Sinawava where it begins to get a glimpse of this iconic place. The Zion Lodge is the only place to stay within the park and well worth it for the night star gazing and an easy shuttle to every hike. However, if you are not a pre-planner, there are plenty of accommodations in nearby Springdale and Kanab. We spent a day in Kanab And hiked the Sand Caves, Belly of the Dragon and my personal favorite – Peekaboo Canyon. This slot canyon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. An Easy hike if you can get to it – it is off the beaten path and requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK Bryce Canyon is known for its hoodoos, legendary rock formations dramatically sculpted by erosion. Sadly, due to a heavy March snowfall, all the hiking trails were closed the day we made the drive. It was beautifully picturesque but my advice is to wait until May to experience Bryce Canyon.