Arizona is a huge state. And to be honest, the list of adventures below barely scratches the surface. That said, in a recent trip to Arizona my Dad and I found that hitting our dream destinations in a short amount of time was not only easier than we first believed, but a trip we’ll never forget.
Day 1 Overview:
9am: Depart for the Grand Canyon
1pm: Arrive at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center @ the South Rim
1:30-3pm: Hike to Yavapai Point (shuttle required)
3:30-6pm: Hike Grandview Trail
7-9:30pm: Drive to Page, AZ.
After flying into PHX at 11pm on Day 0, a gradual entry into the day was required. No alarm clock was set. After all, the next two mornings were going to involve pre-sunrise alarms, so getting a semi-decent amount of sleep for Day 1 was a necessity. Overall, Day 1 isn’t too intensive but requires a fair amount of driving. The biggest and most important agenda item for the day is the Grand Canyon. Embarking on the journey, my Dad and I set off around 9am. The drive to the South Rim of the Canyon from Phoenix taking about 3 ½ hours.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center around 1pm. After a quick jaunt to one of the heavily trafficked yet amazing viewpoints at Yavapai Point, we got back in the car and set our sights on the Grandview Trailhead. While hiking the entire trail to Miners Spring junction or Horseshoe Mesa was an intriguing option (each around 6 miles round trip), our timing didn’t allow us to complete either. As a result we took a hike to the Coconino Saddle (2.2 miles round trip) before settling into the somewhat hidden Sunset Nook. I’d suggest setting up shop here at least 30-45 minutes before sunset. The serenity and stillness of the lookout point along with the amazing colors reflected both on the canyon and in the sky are simply incredible. It gets dark extremely quickly after sunset, so remember to bring a headlamp for the approx. 5-10 minute walk back up to the car. We reached our car 30 minutes after sunset and were on our way to Page, Arizona, a solid 2 1/4 hours away.
A couple things to note:
- Bring a stool or camping chair for the sunset nook.
- Snacks and/or Beverage to take in the serene beauty at sunset isn’t a bad idea either.
- Temperatures dip swiftly in the canyon so bring one more layer than you think you’ll need for sunset.
- There are lots of affordable hotels/motels in Page, Arizona but if you’re on a budget or would prefer to camp, Page Lake Powell Campground is a great option inside the city.
Horseshoe Bend >> Antelope Canyon >> Monument Valley
Day 2 Overview:
6:30am: Sunrise @ Horseshoe Bend
2pm: Arrive at Monument Valley
2:30 – 5pm: Explore Monument Valley
6:40pm: Sunset against the Mitten Buttes
A whopper of a day and quite honestly one of my favorite series of adventures of all time. The push to get to Page, AZ the night prior was worth the late evening as it gave us some more time to sleep in the morning and a shorter trip to Horseshoe Bend. From Page to the Horseshoe Bend trailhead was less than 5 minutes. Arriving approx. 30 minutes prior to sunrise made for a slightly difficult pitch black hike to the bend, but the quiet serenity of the 3/4 mile hike was an experience itself. After selecting the ideal spot for sunrise and setting up our tripods, we had the place to ourselves right up until the sunrise occurred. Because the sun rises in the opposite direction of the lookout point, sunrises aren’t as much of a draw at Horseshoe Bend but I’d argue the light and photo opportunities are just as spectacular. There wasn’t much of a rush for our next leg of the trip – Antelope Canyon – so we took our time soaking up the beauty of Horseshoe Bend before heading back to the car. In total, we spent 90 minutes here.
Next stop was Antelope Canyon. Amazingly enough, this spectacular area is just a 12 minute drive away from Horseshoe Bend. When it came to Antelope Canyon, there are a couple of decisions to be made. 1) Which part of the canyon to explore – Upper or Lower? 2) What company to select for the tour? (note: tours are required at either part of the canyon) 3) Should I select the regular tour or ‘photographers’ tour? Ultimately for each of these questions it’s tough to go wrong. From a little bit of research, I decided to explore the Lower section on a photographer tour and selected Ken’s Tours based on reviews. While the photographer tour was twice as expensive as the regular tour, it was oh, so worth it. The main advantage is double the time within the canyon itself as compared to the regular tour. Additionally, our group of a dozen or so people started on the opposite end of the canyon as the regular tours. This allowed for far less congestion and numerous moments of an empty canyon in front of us. If you read reviews on Antelope Canyon, the most notable criticism are the crowds and overall congestion walking through. While certainly congested at times, the photographer’s tour allowed us peace and quiet in this spectacular canyon and a considerate group when taking and jockeying for position. I’d highly recommended it.
After the tour, we set our sights on Monument Valley. With a 2 hour drive between the two we had plenty of time to digest the surreal beauty of Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon which we had just witnessed. The drive itself has some intriguing, albeit more off the beaten path, areas to explore if you’re interested. Ultimately, we decided against them to ensure we had ample time to explore Monument Valley before sunset. We stayed at The View hotel within Monument Valley. While overpriced, it did allow for outstanding views of the Mitten Buttes directly outside of our window. Camping is allowed in the area, so if you’re on a budget this would be the better option. The Mittens (West & East Mitten Buttes to be specific) are part of the iconic image from Monument Valley. That said, the 17 miles drive through Monument Valley Park has several other spectacular formations as well. We paid a $20 access fee to enter the park. The entire area took us 2-3 hours to explore, but could take longer depending on how deep you explore the park. After our exploration, we set back to the hotel to catch the sunset over the valley. A fitting cap to an eventful and unforgettable day.
A couple things to note:
- Bring a camping chair or stool to Horseshoe Bend.
- Book your Antelope Tour time in advance. This isn’t required, but allows for peace of mind and keeps you on schedule.
- Expect large crowds at Antelope Canyon no matter which time or area of the canyon you select.
- If you’re looking for the famous light beams within Antelope Canyon, make note of when the sun will at its highest point in the sky. This typically gives you your best opportunity.
- If camping, check out ‘The View Campground’. It will give you the best view of the Mitten Buttes.
Monument Valley >> Forest Gump Hill >> PHX
Day 3 Overview:
6:30am: Sunrise over the Mitten Buttes
7:30am: Explore Forest Gump Hill
8:30am: Drive back to PHX
3pm: Arrive into Phoenix
While Day 2 would be tough to top, Day 3 opened up in spectacular fashion with the sunrise piercing directly through the Mitten Buttes. The colors reflecting on the red dirt of the valley and the sunbeams across the buttes are nothing short of amazing. With the vast area of viewing space, we took in dawn and the sunrise in several different viewpoints within and outside of The View hotel. Once we had our fix of the sunrise, we checked out and went for a drive to explore Forest Gump Hill. While clearly not its original name, the area where Forest Gump ended his cross-country hike in the movie now has a sign noting the spot and the event. No matter what you call it, the view of the straight road drifting to the horizon in the foreground and the entirety of Monument Valley in the background is pure America at its finest.
At just under 12 miles from the Mitten Buttes, getting to the general area is fairly straightforward. As you drive from the Monument Valley the exact spot is difficult to decipher until you’re directly on top of it. You’ll either have to do a U-turn or take a left into the Forest Gump sign. This is the best area to get a photograph. We took our time here, soaked up the view, and waited for a moment with no cars coming in either direction to take a photograph in the middle of the road. In total 10-15 minutes was sufficient for our needs.
The key destinations of our trip had come to a close, but our journey was not yet over. With 360 miles of road in front of us and our flights back home awaiting us, my dad and I had another 6 hours of travel to go. While not as epic as the sights we saw, the drive flew by quickly as we reflected on the amazing landscapes from the past 72 hours.
A couple things to note:
- On a clear night, the lack of light pollution in the sky over Monument Valley unveils millions of stars. Depending on the forecast, set an alarm for the middle of the night to ensure you catch this spectacular sight.
- If you can skateboard, bring one with you to Forest Gump hill. It’s a sweet ride and makes for some gnarly photographs as well.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.