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Zion National Park/Grand Canyon Adventure!

This is a long overdue post, but I am finally writing about Labor Day Weekend 2017! My boyfriend (Rohit) and I have been wanting to take a nature/hiking trip for a long time, so this year we finally bit the bullet and decided to go to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Here are the logistics:

  • We flew into Las Vegas in the evening and stayed there overnight.
  • Day 1 – Got our rental from Enterprise (it was a minivan!)
  • Day 1 – Drove to Washington, UT (approx. 2 hours) and stayed at a hotel 45mins from the park.
  • Day 3 – Drove to Tusayan, AZ for the Grand Canyon (approx. 4.5 hours) and stayed at a hotel 15mins from the park.
  • Day 4 – Drove from Tusayan to Flagstaff for the flight back home (approx. 1.5 hours)

Day 1

Excited to start the trip!

We had a later start to the day because of the drive from Vegas to Washington, UT, but we got into the park around 2:30-3 and were still able to see and do quite a bit. We made our first stop at the visitor center in Zion and got the general rundown of all the trails and bus schedule. I was very impressed with how organized Zion was because I honestly expected to have to figure everything out ourselves. There is a bus that took us to the visitor center right into the park, and from there we took a bus that stopped at all the major trails. For the amount of time we had, we decided to do Emerald Pools (2-4 hours.) This hike was great for getting views of the surrounding cliffs. Emerald Pools consists of 3 pools – Lower, Middle and Upper. All 3 are spread out and once you reach them, they make for a great resting/photo spot.

Cliffs at Zion National Park
One of the stops at Emerald Pools

We also had time to watch the sunset on this day. We attempted driving up to the official viewing spot (Kolob Canyons) but the parking lot and surrounding areas were completely full so we decided to just drive a little way down and park somewhere with a view. We didn’t really have a full view of the sun, but it was a beautiful spot to just relax and appreciate the surroundings.

For dinner, the guide at the visitor’s center recommended Oscar’s Café (Mexican food) so we headed there right after the sunset. We were starving so we ordered chips and salsa, and an entrée each. If you go here…split an entrée. Seriously, the portions were HUGE. The food was really good though and I highly recommend this cute little spot.

Day 2

The Narrows

This day was dedicated to the infamous Narrows trail. Early that morning we went over to Zion Outfitters to rent out equipment. The rental included a pair of waterproof shoes (Adidas Hydro Lace Canyoneering Boots), Neoprene socks, and a wooden walking stick. If you know you are going to be doing this hike, I would suggest that you get the shoe rental the day before and just let them know you will be doing the hike the next day. There is no additional charge for doing so, and you will be able to start your hike without worrying about potential lines. Since 95% of this hike is completely in water, I cannot emphasize enough how important it was to rent the appropriate shoes for this. I would also recommend wearing shorts or water proof/quick drying pants since your legs will be wet the whole time.

I really did not know what to expect for the Narrows. Rohit read online where someone described it as “walking on submerged, slippery bowling balls.” So….that was not very comforting to someone like me who doesn’t have the greatest balance. A guide who was stationed at the very beginning of the trail was telling us that at some parts the water was going to be waist deep. I definitely panicked a little because I had my phone, camera, snacks, chargers, etc. on me and did not want my backpack to get wet. It ended up being fine because Rohit brought a ton of plastic Ziploc bags for this very occasion. The water level did fluctuate from calf-height to waist deep but as long as you keep your backpack higher on your back and you are being extra careful in the deeper areas…there is no immediate risk of you ruining your electronics. There were people that brought an insane amount of expensive camera equipment and they didn’t look worried.

The Narrows is definitely an all-day hike, so prepare to be out there for at least 5-6 hours. Bring snacks or sandwiches to eat whenever you come across the small patches of land and remember to drink plenty of water. You may be tempted to skimp out on water because you are literally hiking through it, but you can still get dehydrated.

This was hands down my favorite hike. Yes, you have to be careful and watch your balance at all times (footing is key!) but the views were unbeatable. It felt like we were in a commercial for REI or in a nature documentary. I remember thinking about the first people who may have discovered this area and how they must have felt to come across such a beautiful trail.

After coming back from the Narrows, we returned our shoes, socks, and walking sticks and decided to eat at the Zion Brewery (located right across Zion Outfitters.) We rewarded ourselves by getting a beer flight and sandwiches. The IPA-Sriracha Glazed Chicken Sandwich, and its vegetarian counterpart (IPA-Sriracha Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich) were to die for. It came with chimichurri fries which were perfection.

Since we ended the day late inside the park, we did have to wait awhile for the shuttle back to the visitor center on this day. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider heading back right when it starts to get dark.

Day 3

 

Outskirts of Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon – South Rim

This was the beginning of the Grand Canyon portion of our trip. We started early and drove down to the South Rim. There is a $15 park entry fee that we paid in order to get into the park. They give you a receipt and it is important that you don’t lose it because you need that to use the shuttles when you first go into the park. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel which is located in Tusayan. It was very close to the park and there was a shuttle stop right across the street from the hotel.

Elk!

Our first stop was the visitor’s center, where they provided us with a map and trail suggestions based on what we wanted to do/see. We started off doing the orange route which consisted of – Yaki Point, Mather Point, and Yavapai Point. Then we went onto the red route – Pima Point, Hermits Rest, and Hopi Point. We did a bit of Hermits Rest trail before it started to get dark, but if you have more time I would suggest doing this trail because it had a great view of the canyon. To view the sunset, we took the shuttle back to Yaki Point and watched the sun go down over the canyon.

Day 4

We had decided in the very beginning of this trip that we really wanted to try and watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Something we both wanted to check off our lists. But as the days went on, we were getting doubtful that we could wake up that early just because of how exhausted we were at the end of each day. However, Rohit mustered up the strength on our last day and woke me up at 4am to make it to the sunrise. A park ranger recommended that we watch the sunrise at Mather Point, so we took the shuttle there and found a nice spot to sit and wait until the sun rose. Watching the sunrise in Grand Canyon is something I think everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. I got total Lion King vibes as we watched the first sliver of sun come up across the canyons. I got the whole thing on time-lapse on my phone and it was comical how many times Rohit and I watched that video afterwards.

Sunrise at Mather Point

Next, one of the rangers had suggested that the Bright Angel trail was one of the best trails to do going down into the canyon so we headed there. On this particular trail they do a mule tour that gets booked up about a year in advance. We saw them prepping the mules before we headed down ourselves. It seemed like a cool way to go all the way down, so that is something I may check out in the future. But for the time being, we were on foot. I think for trail enthusiasts, this is definitely one of the best trails to do in South Rim. I, however, was pretty exhausted at this point and while we were going down, all I could think of was “OMG…we have to hike back UP this thing at some point.” The view was nice from the trail, but since we were going downwards, we really only got one view vs. if we were to be hiking across the canyon. Around the time we decided (I insisted) that we turn around, we saw two deer just casually eating on a steep part of the cliff. You never know when you are going to see wildlife I guess! Going upwards was hell, but only for me. Rohit was just cruising along without a care in the world while I felt like my legs were going to give out. I used my little portable fan that I brought along, which actually ended up helping a lot.

Bright Angel Trail
Deer!

Once we got to the top, it was time to get food. We went to the Harvey House Café which was located inside the Bright Angel lodge. The food was surprisingly really good here and just what we needed after a strenuous hike. Afterwards, we walked around a bit but realized that we had seen pretty much everything we wanted to see and decided to head over to Flagstaff for the airport a little earlier than we had planned.

I get teased a lot about being from Midland, it’s just something I’ve grown accustomed to. But if people saw the Flagstaff airport, they would probably reconsider talking smack about Midland. It was the smallest airport I have ever seen. I don’t know where the most popular place to fly out of is when you visit the Grand Canyon, but I figured since Flagstaff is close by, the airport would be able to accommodate all the thousands of people who come visit. I was wrong. This airport literally had one gate, and since they only have a couple flights a day, there is no one even manning the front desk/restaurant/car rental at all times…employees just show up closer to when a flight leaves.

Overall, this was an amazing trip and I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity (but I would train for it.) It was nice to just appreciate our natural surroundings and be able to spend quality time with Rohit, even though he probably enjoyed watching me struggle. If anyone has been wanting to take a cool hiking or nature-centric trip…this is definitely one to consider.

And last but not least, here are some packing essentials:

  • Hydration pack, found here. This is a total lifesaver when it comes to hiking trips where you constantly need to be hydrating yourself. I never thought I would own one of these, but here we are.
  • Facial sunscreen. Find my favorite sunscreen and review here.
  • Body sunscreen. We bought the spray kind at a nearby Wal-Mart.
  • Portable phone battery, found here.
  • Ziploc bags for when you need to waterproof your electronics.
  • Sneakers you either don’t care about or proper hiking shoes.
  • Extra pair of socks that you can keep in your backpack just in case yours ever get wet.
  • Lip balm with SPF, my favorite is this one.
  • Snacks like Clif bars and trail mix.
  • Selfie stick or camera tripod.
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitizer (if you are a germaphobe like me)
  • Sunglasses or hat
  • Portable fan, found here. You can make fun of me all you want for this, but I loved this thing and it saved me from getting gross face/head sweat.

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