Hey everyone! Long time, no talk! So if you follow me on insta, you know I wanted to share this past road-trip that Alec and I took through NorAZ (I have no idea if this is a real term or if I just made it up, but I dig it) and some of Utah for a few reasons.
1) it’s actually much less daunting than it sounds with the right travel plans
2) there are a couple things I wish I had known about some of the destinations beforehand that I didn’t really get from any of the blogs I read even after we spent hours sifting through Pinterest trying to plan our itinerary
3) there are a few stops that we made spontaneously that I had no idea existed and that haven’t really hit the mainstream of travel on social media from what I’ve seen, but were some of my favorite spots!
I will point out that we did not include the Grand Canyon in our trip because we already camped and explored there back in 2015. So if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must DUH, and definitely add a day or so on the front or back end of your trip to be able to include it either before Monument Valley or after Zion!! I also will add that there are probably a lot of different ways to "do" this road-trip, much like any other travel destination. However, Alec & I went into it as lovers of all things outdoors and active and planned it to be as such.
So without further ado, here’s our full 4-Day itinerary with some tips about each spot, where we stayed, ate, etc!
Destination 1: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Travel Time: 5.5 hours give or take from the Phoenix Metro Area
Leave home by: 7 AM on Thursday (if in Phx)
So Alec and I overslept after driving to Tucson and back the night before (lol) and left about a half hour later than we planned, which turned out fine, but I recommend leaving around 7 am or so just so you have time to stop for gas, bathroom breaks, and lunch and still get to Monument Valley with plenty of time to explore.
We stopped for lunch in Kayenta, which is about 45 min outside of the park and the last town with food and gas, at a fun little place called Amigo Cafe. We each got bomb AF Navajo Tacos (vegetarian style for me + regular for Al!) which are basically just Indian fry bread with beans, lettuce, tomato and such on them. SO GOOD and also huge. Highly recommend as an authentic AZ reward for being almost done with your road trip for the day!
Where we stayed: The View Campground
1. Keep in mind you will need to pay to get into the park. It depends on how many people you have in your vehicle but for 2 of us it was just $20 and the pass lasts for 2 days I believe so you can go in and out if you want.
2. Check-in is at 3 pm AZ time (because you’re right on the border of Utah your phone may jump ahead some so keep that in mind!). If you leave around 7 am, even with your stops you should have at least an hour to check out the hotel, or start the Valley Drive to take in the view first thing if you have time. However, if you are going to camp, I highly recommend being in the reservation office, right at or before 3 pm to make sure you get your pick of the campsites. Alec and I got #30 which has the best view minus one little couple’s tent just off to the side in front of ours at #27. Try to get #27 if you can! If not #30 was wonderful too. But p.s. there are no doggos allowed at the campground and I’m pretty sure that goes for the cabins and hotel too :( and they’re very strict! We saw a couple actually get kicked out even after setting up their tent because they had a dog.
3. I will say that I ADORED this campground and would stay there again and again considering how affordable it is ($19 ish/night for 2 people!) and it’s literally on this little hillside with what I say are the best views in the whole damn Valley. But the sites don’t allow campfires and are somewhat close together if you don’t get one of the ones I recommended, so Alec strongly feels that he would rather pay extra to stay in one of The View cabins next time. But if you’re equipped with warm clothing for night, a way to heat your food such as a little gas stove if you plan to cook, and you have camping chairs and a good attitude about maybe meeting some new foreign people (our neighbors sounded v French), I still say try the camping :)
Sights to See:
1. After checking in and setting up camp to fully claim our spot, we headed out of the park about 20 min north on Highway 163 to the Mexican Hat & Forrest Gump Point for a fun photo opp. This is the spot in the movie where Forrest is running down the road with all the people following behind him when he decides he’s tired and turns around to go home lol I’m not entirely sure if we ever found the exact right spot for our photos but there are like 5 different turn offs for safe viewing and photos of the buttes from this side! So fun!!
2. The Valley Drive is a loop around the whole valley where you can see all the different buttes. They all have fun names and you should get a map when you check in showing you which is which. The whole drive can take an hour or two depending on how many times you stop to get out. Alec and I did the whole loop after packing up camp around 8 am on Friday morning and then left for the next destination after finishing! My favorite moment on the drive was seeing a wild horse and I was stoked to be able to snap the pic below!
3. Wake up for sunrise and the most glorious view of the Mittens that you’ll ever have! It’s a must! We were even able to watch the beginning of it from the cozy comfort of our tent. Pure. Magic.
Destination 2: Horseshoe Bend + Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ
Travel Time: 2 hours from Monument Valley
Leave By: this really depends on when your tour is of Antelope Canyon on Friday
Some people don’t realize that much like Havasupai Falls, Antelope Canyon is a very spiritual place for the Navajo Tribe and is completely owned by them. The only way to visit is by booking a tour through one of the 5 Navajo tour companies in Page. We booked ours through Antelope Canyon Tours and did the Upper Canyon sight-seeing tour at 3:30 pm which is one of the last tours of the day. Because of this, we had plenty of time to have our slow morning in Monument Valley with the Valley Drive, stopped for some fast food lunch, and saw Horseshoe Bend with plenty of time to spare before our tour.
Where We Stayed: La Quinta (if you choose to book a hotel I definitely recommend this one! Good complimentary breakfast, comfy beds, and really nice for an affordable hotel)
Antelope Canyon Tips:
1. When you are booking, keep in mind that the best Antelope Canyon tour time when you can see the magical beams of light that make the canyons so famous is right at noon. However these especially book out so far in advance, as do many of the other tour slots. We booked in early Feb for our April 27th tour and the time we got was literally the last two spots for several weeks out! It was still very beautiful at 3:30 and supposedly less crowded than the earlier times. Even though it was still so hard to navigate around people and especially to get your own photos without other people in them which you wouldn’t know by all the cute selfie pics you see on Insta!
2. This isn’t really a tip, just something to be aware of. Something else I didn’t expect and was actually sorta disappointed by was that the tour felt like it was almost all about getting that perfect photo for social media. I did love our cute Navajo tour guide, Cindy, and she was very knowledgeable. She actually was the one that snapped the fun photo of me and Alec that I posted on insta! But basically at each key spot within the canyon, the tour guide will tell you a lil bit about the images that the Navajo have found within the rock, then help literally everyone snap pictures of the rock formations and with their groups on their phones. Perhaps this was just the tour company we chose and maybe I’m super nerdy for feeling this way, but I had never imagined that this would be such a big focus of the tour. While I’m grateful for the photos, it just kinda made me a little sad! If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear them via the comments or on Instagram!
3. Also, remember to bring a cash tip for your tour guide! Alec and I were so wiped by the time we got to our tour that we completely forgot this and felt really terrible.
Horseshoe Bend Tips: 1. Wear comfy walking shoes and clothes that you don’t care about sweating in and getting kinda dusty (this goes for antelope canyon too). Even though we went in April it was really hot in the afternoon and there is a bit of an uphill hike both on the way to the bend and back to the parking lot.
2. While Alec and I went around noon because of our Antelope tour time and dinner plans, I have also been at sunset which is wonderful to see and less hot if it works with your schedule. There will obviously just be more people! I recommend if you do go at sunset, stay an extra hour or so after formal sundown time. Everyone starts to hike out literally right after sundown so by lingering not only will you get to enjoy the views and get photos at the good lookout spots without so many people, there’s still plenty of light that’ll prolong your time there if you’re having fun. Just be safe about it as it gets dark! They are starting to build a lookout rail for safety, but coming from a total dweeb who is terrified of heights, there are cracks in some spots you may not expect and the rock is very smooth and sorta slippery at points. Because it is very undeveloped at this point in time, it is dark AF as nature tends to be at night lol so really make sure to keep your phone fully charged for a flashlight if you choose to stay late!
Dinner: After you’re done with your last stop of the day, grab dinner at El Tapatio, which was conveniently right across the street from our Antelope Canyon Tours location. I know I know- I also basically recommended tacos for lunch in Monument Valley but YOU GUYS this place had amazing giant margs and some of the best Mexi food I’ve had in a long time and you’re still in AZ for goodness sakes. EMBRACE IT. Alec got the Pollo Asado plate with the Rosario Marg and I got the vegetarian Burrito Relleno with the Pink Lady Marg. It had a Mike’s Hard Lemonade in it and I literally had people asking me what I was drinking, it was that epic. Wish I had a pic to show ya!
After this, we went back to the hotel for some beer and movies to get a shower and a good night's sleep in an actual bed!
Destination 3 + some stops along the way!: Zion National Park + Toadstool Hoodoos + Coral Sand Dunes State Park
Travel Time: Total 1.75 - 2 Hours
Leave By: 8 am or EARLIER on Saturday
If you want to stop and fully explore the extra stops on your way to Zion, I recommend leaving Page maybe around 5-6 am. We felt we didn’t have enough daylight in Zion, especially because we planned to camp outside of the park that night and needed to leave with enough time to be able to set up our campsite. By the time we got to Zion at noon, it also was very crowded and finding a parking spot was an issue that really stressed Alec out lol
Where we stayed: Water Canyon Cliffside Campground, Hildale, Utah (reserved via Hipcamp.com)
Tips: 1. Google maps should take you straight to the East Ranger Station entrance from Page or the other Kanab stops if you do them. But double check that it does because this is the most beautiful scenic drive through the park on the way to the Visitor’s Center where you need to go to park and grab a shuttle to all the hikes. You even go through this long tunnel that has cut outs in it to see the cliffs and just ahhh!! It’s incredible! Alec and I couldn’t stop saying wow the whole time! I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.
2. Wear sturdy athletic/hiking shoes and clothes. Maybe even bring an extra pair in your backpack or wear water shoes if you choose some of the hikes at Zion involving water, such as the Narrows like we did! My Nikes ended up being fine and dried out quickly, but Alec’s hiking boots held in a bunch of water and gave him blisters in the journey back to the shuttle and to our car!
3. Plan out which hike(s) you want to do in Zion before you even begin the trip. This really will determine what time you need to leave Page and also may even lead you to add more time to your trip on Sunday to be able to explore the park more! Alec and I loved The Narrows which is a hike entirely through the Virgin River after the River Walk trail with sheer cliff walls towering above you on either side. I’ve never done anything like it! Bring a couple beers (sorry most my tips involve alcy hehe) and some snacks with you in your backpacks and rest on a dry rock to take some time to look around and UP. It was recommended to us by one of the park guides and he was right— one of my favorite moments of the whole entire road trip,
Next time we go, Alec and I for sure want to do the Subway and MAYBE the Angel’s landing hikes, if I can work up the courage haha so if you’re a thrill junkie and in good hiking shape, I’m sure you’ll want to try it. Either way, you should definitely do at least one hike/walk depending on what you’re into!
4. If you’re able to book far enough in advance to get a campsite or cabin or want to splurge a little on lodging with Under Canvas, you probably should do that to also maximize time in Zion. We really enjoyed the location and views of our campsite and would def recommend as an alternative, but really only chose to book it due to everything in the park being booked up already and not wanting to spend too much more of our travel fund (going to Costa Rica in August, hollaaaa). It is about an hour outside of Zion if you leave the park from the south entrance and is located in the cliffs up above the small FLDS (polygamist Mormon) community of Hildale. Super interesting lil town! :O
Other Sights to See:
1. If you choose to stop at the Toadstool Hoodoos in Grand Escalante National Monument (which you should because this is one of the monuments that President Trump has chosen to reduce by nearly 50% and that could be vulnerable to oil drilling, mining, etc. in the future), the hike to the hoodoos from the pull off is a quick 1.5 miles round trip and you can do it in less than an hour. Here is a pic of the hoodoos if you’re unsure what they are but they remind me of Mars or some other red planet and I just think they’re so rad!!
2. Coral Sand Dunes State Park is exactly what it sounds like— bright coral orange sand dunes! It’s about 24 miles round trip out of the way after Kanab so if you’re going to skip one of these for time’s sake, I say skip this one. But it was still a really fun stop that I recommend since I had no idea it existed and Al and I loved walking barefoot in the warm, super soft sand for a little bit!
Destination 4: Home!
So the journey home to the Phoenix area from Hildale if you camp there is about 6 hours! Not too bad for being in Utah, eh!
Tips: Make sure to grab breakfast in Hildale or make it at camp because there is literally NOTHING on the way home, not even a MickyD’s, until Flagstaff.
Also, random discovery we made on this journey home...Subway’s breakfast sandwiches are actually surprisingly really good for a cheap road trip breakfast alternative to egg McMuffins. Just thought I'd throw that tidbit out there for ya so take it or leave it!!!!
Sights to See:
1. You will drive through Marble Canyon on your way home. Stop here to check out the views from Navajo Bridge and learn a lil bit about Lee’s Ferry at the visitor’s center!
2. You could also stop at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument which we didn’t get to since we were in a hurry to get home, but they looked V cool from the road and this is also where the insta-famous Wave is located. I believe you could also maybeeee work this into your trip from Page to Zion if you have the time but don’t take my word for it. I’ve read it’s about a 5 mile hike and also requires an extremely competitive permit to do!
3. Stop at Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff for some lunch and some pie, or take one of their pies to go. No, actually, FOR SURE TAKE A PIE TO GO. Alec and I grab one of the Peach with crumble topping without fail every time we go to Flag or Sedona. It is glorious. It is heavenly. It is the perfect way to end your vacay!!! You’ll be so glad you did!!
Anyway, I know that was really long— much like all my other blogs, who am I kidding lol BUT I hope you enjoyed it and that it helps you plan a NorAZ + Utah Road Trip of your own!! It is such a bucket list thing that I am not only so happy to check off, but I’m already mentally planning Part II!! Yay for exploring, yay for travel, yay for the good ol' US of A & it's beautiful parks!!! I would love to hear what some of your fave parks are that you've been to. Call me, beep me, leave me a comment here or insta with your tips!
XOXO beautiful earthlings,