After leaving Moab, we continued south to check a few more national parks (and one city) off our list!
Bryce Canyon National Park
I didn’t know much about Bryce before we showed up and I was blown away by this park! We got there around 2pm and had no problem finding a campsite which definitely started our visit off on the right foot. After setting up and settling in, we set off for a hike in Byrce Amphitheater, the main area of the park. Known for it’s unique “hoodoo” rock formations, Bryce is a tremendously beautiful park. We did a loop around and couldn’t stop looking up at the structures towering above us.
Zion National Park
We woke up early for sunrise at Bryce and, after snapping a few photos, we quickly beelined it to Zion so we could try and get a campsite. Zion is popular and only has three campgrounds, so we were a bit nervous about setting up home base in the park. When we arrived around 8am, we had to wait nearly 2 hours in line but we were relieved when we were able to get in and set up. Phew!
Unfortunately, we only gave ourselves one day in Zion so we had to choose between several amazing hiking options. We ultimately decided on a hike called “The Narrows,” a walk that largely wanders through the Virgin River in a 2,000 ft deep canyon. Cool water and lots of shade? Sounds perfect on this 100+ degree day!
We rented some stylish waterproof hiking boots and poles from one of the shops just outside of the park and hopped on the Zion park shuttle to get to the trailhead. From there, we wandered about 10 miles roundtrip through the river in what was one of the most beautiful hikes of our entire trip. The hike is popular and the first few miles were rife with other tourists, but by the time we had hiked far enough away we had a few moments where we couldn’t see another person at all.
What trip to the Southwest corner of the USA would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon?
We left Zion early and arrived at the park around 9am where were able to quickly get a spot at Desert View campground, the only campground in the park that takes walk-in reservations. It’s a little off the beaten track – about a 30 minute drive from the main Grand Canyon Village – but that was perfect for us. Just because it was far from the village though didn’t mean it was far from the canyon… a quick 5 minute walk had us right at the rim without any other tourists in sight!
John and I spent some time during the day hiking, which is definitely tough around here. Most hikes lead into the canyon and then back out, so they start downhill and end with a beast of a climb. Also, the day we visited was HOT… like heat index of 115 kind of hot. Needless to say, we were a little skeptical of doing too much hiking and just walked about a mile down into the canyon along the Bright Angel trail and then did the return hike out.
After the hike we had a lovely ride on an air conditioned bus back to where we parked our car in the Grand Canyon Visitor center. We ponied up $2 each to shower (absolutely necessary), and then we hit up the grocery store in the park to get some supplies for dinner before heading back to our campsite, making a few obligatory photo stops along the way.
My friend Hannah, who I’ve known for years from summers in Maine, lives in Flagstaff and came to join us for a night of camping with her bf and adorable border collie! When she arrived later in the afternoon, we did a super short hike from our campsite to the rim and got amazing views of the canyon at sunset.
We spent the night catching up, eating camp food, and playing board games. It was so great to see her and spend time with friends!
We had a very exciting morning when we woke up to this giant elk right in our campsite, only a few feet from the tent. We all stood and watched it for awhile until the park ranger came by and scolded us for being so close. He got close to us, OK??! But seriously… what a way to wake up!
After our campsite visitor wandered off and we had some breakfast, we hiked over to Desert View tower for some final views of the Grand Canyon.
And with that, we all parted ways and John and I said goodbye to our last national park (and night of camping) for the trip. Very bittersweet!
After leaving the Grand Canyon, we made an obligatory Las Vegas stop because… why not? Note: we ended up taking more pictures of the Hoover Dam on the way into town than we did of Las Vegas itself (because I married an engineer).
Our 18 hours in Vegas included dinner out, a comedy show, some gambling, and just a few drinks. We also loved lounging around in our very air conditioned room after a few toasty nights camping in the great outdoors of southern Utah and Arizona. We had a great time even though there is no photo evidence to prove it.
And with that, we carried on north to California for a few days of seeing friends and family before turing around and heading East.