Zion, Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
If you search on Instagram or Pinterest, you will no doubt see photos of all three of the locations listed within this post. But did you know that you could visit all three places within one weekend, without taking any PTO?? I know, it sounds like crazy talk, but it is certainly doable. For this trip, I went with some old friends and my boyfriend. Even though my boyfriend claims to hate hiking, he always loves it when we get to the top :)
So to start out, we flew into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Flights from San Diego (and many other larger cities) to Vegas isn't too bad as long as it's not a busy weekend. We actually flew in on Thursday to spend some time at the Hoover Dam and enjoy Vegas. So, if you can afford to take an extra day on Thursday, follow below, otherwise, skip straight to Friday like my friends did!
EVENING - Fly into Vegas, pick up your rental car and check into your hotel. I have a Costco membership, so I always check out the Costco travel site for cheaper deals for car rentals. Our car rental pickup at the Las Vegas Airport for four days (dropping off in Phoenix) was $50. Sometimes it's cheaper, sometimes you're better off booking directly, but it doesn't hurt to check. Check out some Vegas sights or clubs if you're into that. We stayed at the SLS Las Vegas for only about $30! We usually stay at the Palazzo, which has huge suites, but SLS did not disappoint. The rooms are not suites, but they are still large and have a lot of mirrors, which is great for getting ready!
10:00 AM - Wake up after a night in Vegas, hopefully you won some money or had a great time out! Grab some breakfast at your hotel, or somewhere close by. Pick up some waters and snacks for your day!
11:00 AM - Head to Lake Mead Marina at 490 Horsepower Cove Rd. Boulder City, NV 89005. It's only about a 45 minute drive from the strip. Rent a boat of any size, a kayak, or a paddleboard. They have pontoon boats you can rent for only $50 an hour. We rented a speedboat at around $90 an hour. From here, they will give you a map to explore Lake Mead. There are so many little coves that you can park your boat at and explore! When we were there, we were basically the only ones on the entire lake. We drove up right to the limit of where we could park our boat to see the backside of the Hoover Dam.
It was really cool being able to drive our boat so close to the Hoover Dam. While from this side, it looked way smaller than I had envisioned, there weren't any crowds and I was able to look up some info about it on my phone on my own. If you want to see the Hoover Dam on the other side, the drive is not that much further and you could find some tours to take you there if you want more information.
3:00 PM - Head back to the hotel to rest and clean up. If you have some energy, explore more of the Strip, or enjoy some of the fine dining they have available! Make sure you rest early, because the next day is a busy one. We took this time to catch up with some friends who live locally in Vegas.
9:00 PM - If you were unable to take Thursday off, this is when you would fly into Vegas (like my friends did). Because it was Friday night, the SLS went up in price so we got a cheaper place off the strip with a Groupon deal.
6:00 AM - Yup - it's early for vacation, so grab some coffee and hit the road straight to Zion National Park. Be aware that there is a 1 hour + time difference from Vegas, so although it is a 3 hour drive to Zion, this adds on to your drive. The drive at this time of day was free of traffic, and was not difficult to navigate.
NOTE: I did all my hiking research on Joe's Guide to Zion National Park. This site gave me all the information I needed to pick the ones we wanted to do, info on the shuttle buses, and more. I would definitely check it out before heading to Zion to make your own choices on which hikes and views to venture to.
10:00 AM - Arrive in Zion, and park at your hotel, but let them know you are a little early. We stayed at the Quality Inn at Zion Park, which was a great place to stay - very central and extremely friendly staff. They had free breakfast in the mornings and restaurants were within walking distance from the hotel. There are plenty of hotels within the Zion region, but do not expect any of them to be too inexpensive because of the location. If they don't have parking available, try the Zion Lodge. From there, take the shuttle to Weeping Rock. This is a short 20 minute hike/walk up to a nice area. It is called Weeping Rock because of the small drops of water that fall from the top. It is about a 10-15 minute easy walk up to the top. Because it is so short, I suggest adding it in.
11:00 AM - After taking in the views of Zion and snapping a bunch of pictures, continue on your way to either Riverside Walk Hike (2 miles RT), Observation Point (8 miles RT), or Hidden Canyon (3 miles RT). If you choose to do the Riverside Walk Hike, you will have to take the Zion shuttle to Temple of Sinawava. My friends and I decided to do Observation Point and Hidden Canyon.
The hike to Observation Point was not easy, but not excruciatingly hard either. It opens up to some beautiful views, but at 4 miles one way, it does take quite some time. We hiked at a pretty quick pace but it still took a few hours for us. There are some spots of shade, but it is mostly in the sun, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Once you get to the top, the views are outstanding, and you will be thankful that you took the time to take the trek up to see the beauty of Zion.
The hike to Hidden Canyon is also not an easy hike, as you will maneuver through narrow paths and chains. You won't get the sweeping views of the Zion mountains, but you will get some cool views of canyons.
2:00 PM - After you finish either of these two hikes, rest up with some refreshments and food. Take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge. You can either grab some food here or if you have a premade meal, you can enjoy at the Zion Lodge.
3:00 PM - After you finish your late lunch, head to Emerald Pools for the final hike of the day. We didn't do this because my boyfriend was not down for more hiking. So instead we stopped by the Court of Patriarchs for a few pictures and more amazing views. This is a stop on the Zion shuttle and will take you no time whatsoever. I also wanted to look at the Canyon Overlook Trail - which is supposed to be a 45 minute hike, but everyone was too tired (we probably shouldn't have stayed out late in Vegas the night before..).
7:00 PM - if you embarked on the other hikes - good job! At this point, you should check into your hotel and get some much deserved rest. There are a few restaurants in the area, but they all close fairly early. I can't remember where we chose to eat, so I can't give great recommendations - but trout was popular there if I recall correctly. At this point, our other friend flew into the St. George airport - a tiny tiny airport a few miles away. We went to go get her and went straight to bed afterwards. Too bad she missed out on our hikes and the views we got - but just being in the area provided a great atmosphere! The next morning is another early morning so we went to sleep and rested up for the last day of the trip.
8:00 AM - Wake up and grab food in Springdale, St. George, or wherever you are staying. As I stated earlier, we had free breakfast at the hotel so we definitely took advantage of that! It turns out the day we went to Zion it was free park day, so none of us had to pay to enter - which would have been $15 each. Well, as we were leaving Springdale to head to Page, AZ where Horseshoe Bend is located, we had to pay a fee to leave. There may be other routes to take to Horseshoe Bend, but I'm not sure. The agent who was working in the exit booth was not the most friendly to us, which was a bit unfortunate, but we paid the $30 fee for a vehicle and drove to Page, which is about 2 hours away.
10:00 AM - I put "Horseshoe Bend" into my Google maps for GPS purposes. Following the directions lead us to a different spot the general area of Horseshoe Bend. We followed signs and parked in the parking lot. From the parking lot to Horseshoe Bend is a leisurely 30 minute upward walk (or less). People were walking there in high heels and such, so it is in no way strenuous, but it can definitely get hot. Once we got to Horseshoe Bend, we were amazed. It is truly breathtaking! And there are so many spots to take photos without anyone else in it. We spent almost an hour there just looking at the view and taking pictures.
12:00 PM - Grab a quick lunch at one of the fast food places nearby (there aren't too many choices near Horseshoe Bend) to fuel up before you head to Antelope Canyon - which is only a few minutes away. Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land, so you will need a guide in order to explore the slot canyons. I used Ken's Tours - which was about $20 at the time, but it seems to be $25 now. You must also pay $8 in cash as an entrance fee to the area. People will debate as to whether the Upper Canyon or the Lower Canyon provides better views - but I can't really pick because I only did the lower canyon. If you have time - maybe you can check out both! The lower canyon tour was about one hour with plenty of time to stop and take many, many photos. Our tour guide was extremely friendly and knowledgeable - he offered to take photos for everyone and was patient as we made our way through. Just like Horseshoe Bend, we were amazed at the views. The canyons were created by erosion, water, wind, and other natural elements, making a slot canyon (and making it easy for flash floods to come in). The light hit at different angles, making each picture different - but all beautiful.
3:00 PM - Begin the drive down to Phoenix - which will be the longest drive of the trip. Thankfully today's "hikes" are more strolls and you shouldn't be too wiped out hopefully! It takes about four hours to get to Phoenix. You can always stop by any other spot on the way - such as the Grand Canyon and Sedona - but we opted to just drive straight to Phoenix.
7:00 PM - Arrive in Phoenix and check into your hotel, take a quick shower and head to dinner. There are plenty of great spots to check out. My personal favorite is Postino. The best bruschetta I have ever eaten. However, there are many other great spots in Scottsdale (about 15 minutes from Phoenix, and a great place to find a hotel overnight) - such as The Mission in Old Town and Culinary Dropout. If you have it in you, you can go out afterwards, Scottsdale is close to ASU so there are many bars and places to grab a drink.
Hotels in Phoenix are mostly affordable, but if you want luxury after your days of exploring, you have that option as well. There are many choices. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn near the airport for about $70. We dropped the car off that Monday morning and went straight to work from there.
And there you have it! Fitting in 3 iconic places within one long, exciting, and fun weekend!