TOUR DE GRAND CANYON: ULTIMATE SOUTHWEST PLANNING GUIDE

 

Before moving west to LA, I had never really experienced mountains. From driving through winding hills or carving around canyons lining the oceans and red rock cliffs, let me give you some advice – put your camera down, put on some soulful or upbeat music and soak it in.

After driving from LA to AZ this weekend, I can tell you it’s an absolutely unbelievable sight that no camera can ever capture. The sheer magnitude of size, breathtaking scale of colors and vast open sky is incomparable to anything I have ever seen in my entire life and I am SO bummed that I didn’t venture to the southwest sooner.

In today’s blog post I’m going to share how we conquered the southwest in a mere 48 hours (give or take) ~ including where we stayed, where we ate and what we saw.

First things first – before you get too deep in planning a Grand Canyon trip – look at a map, because while things may not look far apart or easy to go from one end to another I assure you that is NOT the case and I’m SO grateful we didn’t wing it. I’ll get into mapping it out later on in this post.

OUR ITINERARY

DEPARTURE
We left LA at 4AM on a Saturday, and while the freeways still had some traffic (because it never ends), it was minimal and heavenly.

We mapped it out so that we would leave LA and go straight to Horseshoe Bend, because Horseshoe Bend is considered “East Rim” of the Grand Canyon, right next to Marble Canyon and Antelope Valley near Page, AZ.

The drive from LA to Page was absolutely incredible and this is the part I wish I could drive through every single day. We had the windows down, sunroof open and blasting old music from No Doubt and Brooks & Dunn to Fergie and Ciara. I’ve never had a more free and blissful moment. The mountain air is SO CRISP Y’ALL!!!!

ARRIVAL

8Hr 38Min later, we arrived to Page, AZ and I have never been happier to get out, stretch, stand, move, bend, breathe, and not be sitting. Horseshoe Bend & Grand Canyon have been on my bucket list for a really long time so you can imagine I was EXTREMELY excited.

Depending which direction you are coming from, I STRONGLY encourage you to make outlook pitstops along the way.

Anyone coming from LA or Las Vegas ~ Make sure you stop at the Lake Powell outlook, and good luck trying to resist the urge to go make friends with the people on their boats in the water below. PS: the water is literally bright indigo blue and be forewarned my photos do ZERO justice to what it actually looks like – editing or raw doesn’t matter – can’t represent.

GRAND CANYON + HORSESHOE BEND: PLANNING TRAVEL GUIDE
Did you know the Grand Canyon was formed at the bottom of the ocean? Going back about 2 billion years ago, the uppermost and youngest layer (still 270 million years old) of the Grand Canyon, Kaibab Limestone – AKA sea floor rocks, now reaches elevation up to 9,000 FT as a result of plate tectonics which created the plateau that the Colorado River runs through today. This is also why geologists and archaeologists are able to find sea fossils in striations of rock layers and deposits. [1]

You determine the age of each color you see in the canyons by referring to the rock layers – AKA stratigraphic columns – from Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale, Tapeats Sandstone (not visible), and Vishnu Group (not visible & deepest oldest layer). [1]

Fun Fact: Each step down into the canyon rewinds 60,000 years back in time. The canyon itself is one mile deep, eighteen miles wide, 160 miles long, and covers 1.2 million acres in northern Arizona. [2]

I did as much research as I could in two weeks on how to do the Grand Canyon in two days and I’ve gotta say I’m pretty happy with how we did it. Even though I wish I would have had more time to explore other canyons, we definitely made the most of the time we had.

If you don’t have a lot of time don’t fret, you can certainly get your fill in just a few hours. Be sure to pack sunscreen and a sweatshirt if you go in fall, temperatures drop FAST due to elevation.

When you’re planning for the Grand Canyon – there are four rims to consider:

If you are driving, purchase your entrance pass ahead of time HERE to skip the lines.

1) South Rim – this is the most popular, most crowded and most photographed rim of the GC. If you’re staying in Flagstaff it’s about an 1H 30M drive to the Visitor Center parking lot. Of course you can imagine parking fills up quickly so plan to leave early to park in the visitor lots, but don’t worry there are additional lots ABCD as well as free shuttle buses!

You can book South Rim lodging HERE if you want to stay nearby and don’t forget to bring a MAP.

We went to the park at 3PM to have a few hours before sunset to see a few of the stops. We narrowed it down to the Red Line starting at Bright Angel Trailhead which goes up to Hermit’s Rest and we stopped at Powell Point, Hopi Point and then watched the sun set at Mohave Point. If you can stay through sun set I HIGHLYYY recommend it; I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life.

2) North Rim – this is the less crowded version of the South Rim and also reportedly more colorful since the sun and wind hits this area differently, it’s eroded differently and has different striations.

If you are visiting the North Rim, it’s closer to Page, AZ. Coming from the South Rim will cost you about 4H 30M (yes, you read that right – it doesn’t look far, but it’s far bc it’s canyon roads). You can book North Rim lodging HERE if you want to stay nearby and don’t forget to bring a MAP.

3) East Rim – this is where Horseshoe Bend is located, overlooking the Colorado River and a MUST-SEE!! No matter which direction you are coming in from, I cannot recommend enough not to skip the East Rim and make a day of it to include Marble Canyon, Coal Mine Canyon, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon.

However, for Antelope Canyon you HAVE to book a tour / guide in order to go down into the canyon, it’s a requirement – and slots fill up FAST so be sure to book in advance. If you need, you can spend the night in Page, AZ or book East Rim lodging HERE if you want to stay nearby and don’t forget to bring a MAP.

Once you’ve had your fill of pitstops and you make your way to Page, AZ where Horseshoe Bend is located, there is a parking lot (which TripAdvisor will say not to park in bc it will be full, but I promise you it’s HUGE) you can pull into and park for FREEEE. There’s also a truck taking recyclables which I LOVED. (In case you’re new to my blog and haven’t learned yet, I’m an environment and marine life fanatic and will do anything to help preserve Mother Earth).

**Note that the entrance road is labeled as an “unnamed road” but I promise you cannot miss it no matter how little of planning you do – there are signs everywhere and it’s not far off the beaten path.

Once we parked and walked the 0.8 miles down to the actual HB outlook it wasn’t as crowded as I expected, granted we were there right at the start of golden hour on a Saturday, which I thought would mean super crowds but it was about nothing like Hollywood Blvd on a Saturday afternoon – the number of selfie sticks was a bare minimum (thank GOD with all the cliff edges).

4) West Rim – this is where The Grand Canyon Skywalk is located on the Hualapai Tribal Lands, be sure you have tickets ahead of time. You can also easily access the Hoover Dam. People tend to lean towards this rim if they are tight on time, it’s also the closest rim to the Las Vegas area. You can book West Rim lodging HERE if you want to stay nearby and don’t forget to bring a MAP.

STAYING IN FLAGSTAFF

CHECK IN
Once we had our fill of Horseshoe Bend on Day 1, we headed to Flagstaff where we were staying the next two nights. The drive from Horseshoe Bend to Flagstaff is just over 2H, so be sure you leave with enough daylight if night driving isn’t your thing (especially after already being in the car for nearly 9H). Flagstaff is closer to the South Rim, which is why we did the East Rim (Horseshoe Bend) first on our way into AZ.

OUR STAY
We stayed in Flagstaff and it was SO fun! For anyone who hasn’t pulled the trigger on an AirBnB before – JUST DO IT. We had the sweetest hostess, Jan, who was like our AirBnB Mom. There were 16 pillows of different softness/hardness available, blankets, a full kitchen + coffee, a pool table, a poker table, a patio and we had the entire guest suite to ourselves and the whole place smelled like the woods. You can book Jan’s house HERE and tell her California Abby sent you, I promise she’ll treat you like her own child / family.

 

FLAGSTAFF
We didn’t get to explore Flagstaff too much, as our main focus was the Grand Canyon.

Dinner night One – I am still searching for the name of this place (fail) but it was DELICIOUS. We had crispy brussel sprouts, buffalo cauliflower and lobster mac and cheese. They also had a nice drink list w/ wide selection of beers and wine and craft cocktails.

MartAnne’s Cafe did NOT disappoint. Skip your usual omelet order and splurge for the blueberry banana pancakes with cinna-butter – it was HEAVEN, and you’ll need the carbs for your day of hiking. Their coffee was on point as well and from creeping on other people’s food, I also want to note that they are generous with their guacamole.

Pita Jungle was a little underwhelming but still good! We went to a plaza center area near our airbnb and got some mediterranean wraps, I got the veggie one and it kind of fell apart and was a little runny. Their hummus was bland (even the roasted pepper one) so I’d skip it, but their falafel was delicious and HUGE portions, enough to split if you’re not starving.

SHOPPING
Don’t forget to stop along the way at shops and check out the local turquoise! Y’all know I stopped at probably 5-10 “trading posts” and tried on a million rings and even fell in love with a black suede cowboy hat (but didn’t buy it bc I’d truly never wear it).

Looking to book your own Grand Canyon trip? Drop me a message or comment below with any questions or if you need recommendations!

Happy travels

xx

Abby

*SOURCES:

[1] National Park Service (2018, April 27). Grand Canyon ~ Geology. https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/nature/grca-geology.html

[2] Natural Born Hikers (2018, October 2). South Rim to River to South Rim via South Kaibab & Bright Angel Trail Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. http://www.naturalbornhikers.com/Grandcanyon/GrandCanyon.htm

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