If you’re someone who’s looking for next-level adventure, unparalleled photography and a lot of fun, look no further than this 10 day action packed trip that I just completed a week ago as a bachelor party for my good friend Hilton.
Table of Contents
This Utah and Arizona guide is broken into 5 main parts that’ll be instrumental in helping planning your own trip through this beautiful part of the country.
Planning The Trip
Utah is such an overlooked state in the US. As with most people, even I went “huh?” when I got my first consulting gig out there. It wasn’t until afterwards when I realized what a jewel of a place this really was. Not only does it have world-class mountains but it also has the third most national parks with its Mighty 5. Back in 2011 I had the opportunity to do Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park – both incredible marvels. For this trip, I wanted to plan something epic for the party that would have photography elements with best in the world hiking and camping with a little macho guy stuff on the side.
I totally made the right call as you’ll see.
The planning legwork itself didn’t take too long. Most of the work was really figuring out the hotels as I didn’t realize we picked dates that coincided around Memorial Day long weekend. It was then a matter of spending a lot of time on Priceline and bidding for rooms which was quite painful. The specific route I ended up planning was just a matter of a balance between the activities we wanted to do, the amount of time we had and minimizing driving times. At first I wanted to do it all (Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley too) but with 10 days it wasn’t feasible.
What I Packed
A lot of the excitement for the trip happened way before we even boarded the plane. Maybe it’s a guy thing but just thinking about the type of gear I wanted to bring for a technical hike such as The Narrows, the camping we were going to be doing and all the pro-level shooting we’d be doing got me pretty excited. Since we talked about sharing one large piece of luggage as a check-in and fitting everything else in our hiking backpacks, my main focus was on being ultra light (UL) and being minimalist.
I’ve split my gear into 4 photos which I’ll do a little explaining on.
(From left to right)
- Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2-Person Tent – Picked this up uber cheap off of Kijiji and what an awesome buy this was. It’s a cosy 2-man tent but it weighs an incredible 2lbs 5oz. Also picked up a footprint to go along with this off of eBay.
- Thermarest Compressible Pillow – Picked this up from Amazon awhile back. I really debated about bringing this because as you can tell it’s not particularly compact. I knew I wasn’t going to bring this to the Narrows and thought about getting one of those inflatable pillows but hesitated on spending more money. I figured i’d bring the pillow for the one night camping we’d be doing in Page, Arizona. It’s the most comfortable camping pillow ever. Not even exaggerating.
- Aquapac Waterproof Phone Case – Picked this up at MEC a long time ago. I’ve owned a lot of waterproof cases in my day and this one has worked the best. I planned on using this to waterproof my phone during the hike through The Narrows.
- Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad (Regular Size) – Picked this up from CampSaver on one of my trips to the US. It’s not the cheapest but is the lightest, smallest and most comfortable in the Thermarest sleeping pad line. My buddies had Thermarest ProLite sleeping pad and this was leaps and bounds more comfortable. The only drawback is that you do have to inflate it yourself. Nothing but great things to say about this sleeping pad.
- Miscellaneous carabiners – You can never have enough right? I actually bought a legit mountain climbing carabiner this time around from MEC in hopes of using it with my harness I bought from there for the Angel’s Landing hike but honestly couldn’t use it which you’ll find out about later.
- Adventure Medical Kits UltraLight & Watertight .7 Kit – Bought this kit for my Asia 2012 trip but barely used much of it so I’ve been continuing to use it for trips like this. The ziplock water-sealing part actually broke off during this trip but the bandages and meds I had inside came into good use. On top of what comes with the kit, I also stock it up with some other meds like Reactine, Imodium, Tylenol and a bunch of waterproof bandaids.
- Sleeping bag liner – Got this as a gift and wanted to try it out. The idea behind this is that you can line your sleeping bag with this so you don’t get it dirty on the inside and also gives you an extra layer of warmth. Out of everything this was perhaps not worth the weight and size.
- Buff Headwear – My review of Buff Headwear stands. It’s the most versatile piece of gear you can bring on the trip. Great for covering your head as a hat, around your neck for warmth, around your wrist to wipe sweat off etc.
- GSI Outdoors Haluite Minimalist – Picked this up from Amazon for my canoe portaging trip last year. It’s a great one-man do-everything set. I also put inside my super portable burner.
- Light My Fire Titanium Spork – Picked this up at CampSaver. Wanted to go UL for this trip so figured why the heck not. The crappy thing about this is that it doesn’t fit inside my GSI Minimalist.
- Smartwool Men’s Hiking Medium Crew Sock – Purchased a pair from Backcountry. I knew i’d be going sock-less for most of the trip but for those cold nights and for our fancy dinner to Gordon Ramsay’s, I wanted to cover up my open sandals. These socks were also great for hiking with my sandals since it prevented sand from getting in and made for softer, more cushioned walking.
- Patagonia Capilene Base Layer – Great zip up that I use for trips like these as my long sleeve option. Keeps me super warm when I need to be since I knew that temperatures would be dropping significantly in the desert.
- Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap – Got this on sale from MEC online a few years ago. Really love this one as it’s great as a hat but has the added bonus of being able to fold the rim in half and pocket it flat anywhere you want including your pockets.
- Suisse Sport Ultra-Compactable Sleeping Bag – Bought this from Amazon for last year’s canoe trip and at first I thought this was something I would regret buying because it was just so damn cheap. For $30 I was expecting cheap China stuff but this has truly surprised me as an awesome super light and compact sleeping bag I’ll be able to use on any upcoming trips.
- Swim trunks – There was a pool at the Zion Ponderosa so i figured we could use it there or even wear it as my shorts for The Narrows hike.
- Dressier short sleeve shirt – This was no where close to a fancy clothes kind of trip but we still needed one for that Gordon Ramsay steakhouse we were going to be eating at.
- Bunch of dri-fit shirts – Dri-fit is key for action intense trips like this. We knew it was going to be hot, could potentially get wet from The Narrows hike and were just naturally going to sweat from the packs were were carrying and all the hiking. Dri-fit was a no brainer to being able to cool down quickly and dry. Having clothes that could quickly dry overnight after hand-washing was also key.
- Mesh stuff sacks – I kept all my clothes rolled up into these two stuff sacks.
- Same Smartwool socks – Somehow snuck back into this shot.
- Quick dry towel – Picked this up from MEC for my Asia 2012 trip. The thought behind this was that there might be nights where we’d want to shower but wouldn’t have any complimentary towels. I thought I’d get much better mileage out of this towel but Zion Ponderosa came with towels and there were a few nights we simply didn’t shower (The Narrows and the Wahweap camp site that didn’t even have showers).
- ExOfficio Men’s GiveNGo Boxer Briefs – I’ve reviewed these in the past and swear by these. I didn’t even bother bringing any other underwear on this trip. Amazing breathability, comfort and lightweight. Ever single time I hand washed these at night, they were perfectly dry in the morning. What more can you ask for! I packed 3 + 1 (for the day of travelling) but honestly would’ve been fine with 2 or 3 total.
- PJs – Wanted something lightweight so I went with the wife-beater and shorts.
- Sunscreen – Duh.
- Toiletry bag with toiletry stuff.
- Hand sanitizer
- Roll of toilet paper – I wasn’t sure how pooping would work in The Narrows but during our trip we found out that they actually give out poop bags for overnight hikers and inside these bags they come with toilet paper. Our greatest victory was not using these poop bags at all however.
- Vitamins – I always bring vitamins on my trips as I find it helps keep sickness at bay.
- Stuff sack – My miscellaneous things stuff sack for things like the toiletries and liquids.
- Rollei carbon fiber tripod – Essential considering the sunrise and canyon shooting we were looking to do. This brand isn’t particularly well known. I bought it in Hong Kong and have only seen the brand sold there.
- f-stop gear Navin – I’m so glad I bought this in Hong Kong because I’m not sure how I would’ve been able to have quick access to my DSLR while on hikes. I used the Molle connectors to hook into the right-side waist strap. The trade-off of the Navin was that 1) it was not water proof so I was taking considerably risk using it during The Narrows hike, particularly on day 2 and 2) Because my SLR was weighing on my right side the entire time, my right waist was taking a big beating from the imbalance.
- Filter pouch – Brought my trusty ND8, Cir-Pol and UV filters which should be standard arsenal for any photographer
- Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket – Before buying this I didn’t have a great way of keeping all of my CF cards together but with this I can keep it all organized. Inside you’ll find 32GB (in camera), 16GB, 8GB x 4 and a 4GB compact flash cards.
- f-stop gear Loka backpack – I was super stoked to use this backpack for this trip. In fact this trip was the main reason why I bought the bag at all since I wanted a mountain backpack with camera specific functions. The shallow medium ICU was great to keep all of my camera gear organized. The backpack itself was also incredibly functional with a hydration bladder compartment and holes for the tubes, top zippered pouch area for stuff, front zippered pouch for more stuff and the main compartment inside for some of my camping gear. The only drawback to this bag was that I just couldn’t put that much camping gear inside. The sleeping bag had to be on the outside with the use of the f-stop Gatekeeper Straps. It’s the ideal bag for at most a 1-2 night camping trip but nothing more.
- Geigerrig Hydration Engine – I basically stripped the bladder engine out of one of my Geigerrig bags and retrofitted it into the f-stop Loka bag. I had no difficulties at all. One thing I’ll point out though is that the strap that holds the bulb in place on the shoulder strap was getting pretty uncomfortable in the end since it was digging into my shoulders so I eventually had to take it out. Check out my video on Geigerrig to see what the hype is all about.
- Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner – Waterproofing was always a big concern for us because we had no idea how high the water levels would be for The Narrows so we had to make the appropriate preparations. For me and the Loka, I wanted something lightweight that could wrap around my ICU. While in NYC and the EMS store there, I found this pack liner in the 70 litre size. This worked out perfectly because I was able to wrap my entire bag in this pack liner, the material was so thin that it didn’t even look waterproof and I was also able to roll parts of the pack liner down if I wanted access to my ICU from the back (in the photo you can see the green pack liner rolled to the bottom.
- Jeans – Wore this on the day of flying and packed it really because we needed nicer clothes for our Gordon Ramsay night.
- Eddie Bauer convertible cargo pants – Picked this up at an Eddie Bauer outlet store in Buffalo and was what I wore almost the entirety of the trip. They’re not the most stylish but it was great having the flexibility of zipping off the legs to become shorts or to stay as long pants when it got colder. They were also relatively quick to dry.
- Patagonia H2NO waterproof shell jacket – I’ve been using this jacket for awhile for any outdoor activities and love it. It packs down pretty small when rolled up and offers full waterproof protection and decent enough warmth over top a t-shirt when it cools down at night.
- My day of use Exofficio GiveNGo boxer briefs.
- KEEN Men’s Newport H2 Sandal – People still don’t believe me when I say these are the best outdoor camping shoes but I still swear by them. My review on them can be found here but for this trip, they were great for its breathability and ability to handle any terrain. I didn’t have to ford any rivers with these since we had the canyoneering shoes we rented but these would have been able to handle that. The only annoying part about these shoes for this particular trip was that there was so much sand in Utah and Arizona. Our campsite for The Narrows was sandy and pretty much everywhere in Page, Arizona had sand so it made for difficult walking when sand filled up inside along with other small rocks. I guess that would be the one downfall for a shoe like this. This of course was mitigated when I wore my Smartwool socks with these.
The Trip – Day By Day
Day 1 – Friday May 16, 2014
Our first day was mostly a transit day from Toronto to Las Vegas with a connection in Los Angeles. We flight out of Toronto was about 30 minutes delayed but most of that was made up in the air. The annoying thing about transferring in Los Angeles is that with Air Canada you land in Terminal 2 while United is all the way across the parking lot in Terminal 7. We knew that the shuttle would take forever to get around the loop so we decided to hike through the two parking lots to get over which was much faster. We didn’t get settled into our hotel room until past 1AM so we slept in.
Day 2 – Saturday May 17, 2014
After a half a days drive which started from Nevada, through Arizona and then into Utah, we finally make it to Zion National Park (ZNP). Going through all my photos from here, they really don’t do justice to the immense size of the park and the mountains that surround you from all sides. We were so mesmerized as we were driving through the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The drive up was simply jaw dropping. At the park entrance, we asked where we’d be able to get a good view of the sunset and the ranger told us to check out “something something” after the tunnel. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into but did our best to interpret what he was saying. After the tunnel, we saw signs for the Canyon Overlook Trail and that’s the story of our first hike at ZNP. There wasn’t much a sunset to see with the overcast sky but it was quite the sight. We enjoyed it a bit too much that by the time we had to head back, it was pitch black. Staying way past my planned time at the park, we didn’t get to the Zion Ponderosa until past 9PM. Luckily the front desk taped an envelope with my name at the door with the keys. The restaurant was closed as well by that time so we had no choice but to cook our own camping food.
Day 3 – Sunday May 18, 2014
For our 3rd day, we had a bunch of errands to run including the picking up of permits and our rental gear. Since The Narrows hike was the next day, we didn’t want to do anything too hardcore so after finishing our errands we did a relatively easy hike in the Emerald Pools Trail. To close out the day we tried our hand at skeet shooting which was surprisingly incredibly fun, though that’s not to say it was easy by any stretch. After 20 rounds, I only managed to clip one disc. Skeet shooting is way more fun than the shooting range!
Day 4 – Monday May 19, 2014
Day 1 of the Top-Down Narrows hike started off very easy and paved but once we dropped into the canyon, we quickly had to adapt to getting our feet wet. At this time of the year, you shouldn’t expect to be in any water levels higher than your knees for the first day. We quickly fell behind as we saw a bunch of other hikers pass us early on because we took too many photo stops along the way. Soon, we felt like we were at the end of the pack and we picked up the pace midway through the Upper Narrows, chasing one of our next waypoints – 12 Foot Falls. Maybe it was psychological but this stretch was particularly frustrating because every corner we turned we expected to make it there, only to find out it wasn’t. We eventually made it to 12 Foot Falls and promptly had lunch on a big flat rock on the other side. From there it was another 4 hours down, passing by numerous sign posts for camp sites which actually made things easier because we had a better indication of progress. We had originally planned on doing some side canyon exploring but with close to 9 hours of hiking on tap and my feet killing, we skipped Deep Creek and Kolob Creek in favor of just moving forward. By around 4:40PM we made it to our campsite. And after setting up, cooking dinner and cleaning up, we were in bed by 8:15PM while the sun was still out. Crazy day. Exhausted.
Technically, the first day through the narrows for this part isn’t very hard since the water is quite shallow and there wasn’t really any parts of it where I felt I was in danger of slipping or falling. All the rounded rocks were surprisingly solid in their place and the incredible grip of those canyoneering shoes made you feel invincible. Most of this hike, you’re navigating through the river and finding higher ground paths to hike through to avoid the water and crossing the river to the other side when you don’t have any other choice.
Day 5 – Tuesday May 20, 2014
We thought Day 1 was pretty amazing but Day 2 was even more epic.
Waking up however was not epic at all. My middle toes on both feet were still very tender, my shoulders ached and my legs were sore. And even though I was exhausted, sleep didn’t come easy the night before. 9 hours of sleep did not feel like 9 hours. Despite all of that, we started off the day at 6AM and after prepping breakfast and breaking everything down, we hit the waters at 8ish AM. Since we didn’t get to the previous day, we figured we’d try explore at least one side canyon on this trip – Goose Creek. After we turned two corners past campsite 10 we realized that we must’ve missed the canyon entrance. As a result we had to double back upstream, past campsite 10. We eventually found it and spent only 20 minutes in there. The entrance to Goose Creek was quite hidden because it was completely dry and masked around a small bend. Despite such a short period of time, it was actually pretty fun because it was the one chance the entire hike we were able to drop our packs and explore without all that weight. Eventually, we had to turn back because there was some intense rock climbing that was required.
The natural beauty of Day 2 can be seen from most of the photos. The dramatic narrow passageways you see when you research The Narrows can be found all throughout Wall Street Corridor – the most jaw dropping of the whole hike. The whole way through you feel like a tiny ant amongst sentinels. The only challenge is that once you enter into this area, you’ll encounter a lot of tourists so to get a clean shot will take a bit of patience. The hike itself on Day 2 is also technically a bit more challenging as you’ll pretty much be in water 80-90% of the time. Day 1, I was able to avoid almost all deep water parts but Day 2 made that impossible. Water hit close to waist level 2 times on this day which was both exhilarating and nerve-racking for me since I had all my camera gear with me. I’m happy to say I never fell into the water during the entire trip but there were definitely a few times when it was really close. I had to make a conscious call on whether I wanted to leave my camera out, hanging in my f-stop Navin or pack it inside my backpack within the waterproof liner.
Naturally photo-taking took way longer than we had anticipated and blew by most of our “time budget” because I knew that we had to finish the hike by 3PM in order for us to shuttle back to the visitor center (40 minutes) + shuttle outside the park to the Zion Adventure Company (10 minutes) and then back to the visitor center to await our shuttle pickup at 4:30PM. With that, on our way down we had to abort the Orderville Canyon exploration and we gunned it straight back to the Temple of Sinawava without even taking any lunch.
Once I was in range of reception, I called the Ponderosa and let them know about our situation. They were kind enough to pick us up from Zion Adventure Company vs the visitor center and would dispatch a driver to us right away. After we returned our gear, we just plopped down at some tables outside the shop and ate our crushed sandwich buns and pieces of sliced ham – championship lunch right there.
Our biggest achievement however must’ve been that none of us used the provided poo bags. Because The Narrows is a leave-no-trace trail, you’re not allowed to do your business anywhere. So instead they give you these bags which you can poop into. None of us fell particularly compelled to use them and so we mustered all of our strength to prevent any #2’s on this 2 day journey. For our victory photo, you’ll notice not only just us feeling a sense of relief being out of those canyoneering shoes but also that all of those poo bags we were given were completely empty.
We wanted to get back to the Ponderosa early because we were hoping to do some mini-golfing and hit the pool. Back at the Ponderosa, we checked in, got Cowbow Cabin #2, all showered, then had dinner. By then the sun was almost down but we thought we’d be able to squeeze an 18-round mini-golf game in. Half of the game was in the sun, the other half under headlamp light. Sadly we never got to use the hot tub as my shoulders and legs sorely needed it.
Day 6 – Wednesday May 21, 2014
I thought The Narrows was going to be tough but nothing could prepare me for the spine tingling vertigo I’d be getting from Angel’s Landing. It’s another one of those hikes that is considered a “must-do”. See the photos below to see how I fare.
We were finally done Angel’s Landing by about 2PM. What took us so long was the fact that I chickened out at the beginning when Hilton and Andrew went up first. Only when they were making their way down from the summit did I decide to head up with Calvin. I think we could’ve had the whole thing done by 12:30PM if we all went straight up.
Famished from the hike, we grabbed a super quick lunch at Cafe Soleil just outside of the park before taking the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway back to the Ponderosa to make our ATV reservations.
I don’t have any photos of the ATV excursion but I assure you it was 100% FUN. This was my first time on an ATV and at first, I found it a bit hard to control but after awhile I got the hang of it. What made the 1.5 hour trip even better was that it wasn’t just about trail blazing in an ATV, our guide also took us to a few viewpoints in the ranch that were quite unique including Jolly’s Gulch and atop a tall hill that overlooked the entire National Park and had views that reached as far as Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.
After cleaning off all the sand that caked on our faces after ATV riding, we gunned it over to Page, Arizona where we grabbed some BBQ in town and then set up camp at the oh-so-terrible Wahweap campsite.
Day 7 – Thursday May 22, 2014
With an off day finally, we roam around the little city of Page. The original plan actually wasn’t to visit Horseshoe Bend but accidentally, we had a bit of extra time in the afternoon. I thought we could just show up for the Upper Antelope Canyon but that wasn’t happening because you do need to book via a tour. With nothing much else to do, we decided it would be a good idea to scope out Horseshoe Bend for our planned sunrise shoot the next day. My research had totally failed me because I then realized that all those shots I had seen of Horseshoe Bend were of sunset and not sunrise! We made the best of it without our tripods though and I was luckily able to snap a decent shot.
Day 8 – Friday May 23, 2014
It’s a photographer’s dream to be in a place like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. All of us had serious photogasm as our fingers were literally glued to the shutter button. There was almost no wrong way to shoot both locations. With Horseshoe Bend, there were only at most 10 photographers there that morning for sunrise. Even at 5AM, morning light had already come out. Compared to the sunset the day before, this was a much more calm shoot with way less people and more space to pick and choose where you wanted to compose which I liked. Now switch over to Lower Antelope Canyon via Ken’s Tours and this was a totally different matter. We arrived at 8:15AM, picked up our photographer’s pass which allowed us 2 hours in the canyon. Already there were a bunch of normal guided groups ahead of us and more behind. This made shooting very challenging and stressful because there was always people pressuring you to shoot faster or let other people ahead. It was go-go-go once you hit the canyon floor and from there it was a rush to get to the hole in rock which the sun shines a direct beam of light through to create that famous sunbeam shot. We eventually made it there on time but sadly the sun wasn’t fully out in the open to shine through the hole. Regardless, it was still an amazing shoot experience. Despite lacking sleep, adrenaline was on overdrive.
On top of all this, we had serious weather issues all day but somehow luck was on our side. Despite it raining in the city as we left our hotel, it was completely dry at Horseshoe Bend. Afterwards, back in Page, the rain started pouring again until around 8AM. When we left for the second time around, we really weren’t sure if Antelope Canyon was going to be a go but when we got there, again, it looked like it was dry there as well. At the exact same time as when we were down there for 2 hours, the sun magically came out of the clouds to give us a good amount of light to really make the sandstone glow a fiery orange and red. Just as we left the canyon, it was looking a lot more overcast. I guess someone was looking out for us huh.
Beyond this, we basically drove back to Vegas and wrapped the trip up there. I decided at that point to retire the camera for the trip as I had been to Vegas a bunch of times before and that it was time to just leave it in the hotel and go out and have fun.
Utah and Arizona Itinerary Summary
|Date||Friday May 16, 2014||Saturday May 17, 2014||Sunday May 18, 2014||Monday May 19, 2014||Tuesday May 20, 2014||Wednesday May 21, 2014||Thursday May 22, 2014||Friday May 23, 2014||Saturday May 24, 2014||Saturday May 25, 2014|
|Breakfast||Free continental breakfast at the Ponderosa||Cook our own oatmeal||Oatmeal at camp||Free continental breakfast at the Ponderosa||Cook Mountain House camp food||McDonalds and free continental breakfast at Travelodge||Tropicana free breakfast||Tropicana free breakfast|
|Morning||Sleep-in|| - Pick up vouchers at the Ponderosa|
- Book Skeet Shooting
- Check out Checkerboard Mesa
|-6:30AM shuttle ride from Ponderosa to Chamberlain Ranch (The Narrows trailhead)|| - Leave camp by 8AM|
- Hiked forward but had to double back to find Goose Creek
- Hiked all the way down through Big Springs and Wall Street Corridor
| - Park at the Visitor Center|
- Shuttle to The Grotto
- Angels Landing trailhead at 9AM
| - Leave campsite at 11AM|
- Drive around the Wahweap Marina area for photos of Lake Powell
| - 4AM wakeup|
- Horseshoe Bend by 5AM
- Shoot until 6:30AM
- Breakfast at McDonalds and then back to Travelodge for more food
- Head back out at 8AM to Lower Antelope Canyon
- Ken's Tours w/Photography Pass
|Watch Champions League at Crown & Anchor|| - UA1195 LAS -> LAX (9:43AM - 11:00AM)|
- UA8326 LAX -> YYZ (1:35PM - 9:28PM)
|Lunch||Brunch at Black Bear Diner||Ham, cheese and crackers at the top of the Emerald Pools||Ham, cheese and crackers again after passing 12 Foot Falls||Eat our ham sandwiches at Zion Adventure Co. while waiting for pickup||Late lunch at Cafe Soleil||McDonalds||McDonalds||Crown & Anchor|
|Afternoon|| - Trip to REI to buy camping fuel|
- Drive up to St. George
- Walmart supply run
- State Liquor store in St. George
- Arrive in Springdale, Utah
| - Pick up our rental gear from Zion Adventure Co.|
- Shuttle into ZNP
- Pick up The Narrows hiking permit
- Hike Emerald Pools trail
- Shuttle back to the car
- Quickly grab additional groceries nearby
- Rush back to the Ponderosa
|Reach Campsite #9 at 4:40PM|| - Decide against exploring Orderville Canyon due to time|
- Reach Temple of Sinawava at 3:10PM
- Shuttle back to the Visitor Center and then to Zion Adventure Co. to return gear
- 4:30PM shuttle pickup
| - Decide to do the final stretch of Angels Landing at 12:30PM and finish at 2PM|
- 1.5 hour ATV excursion at 4:45PM at Zion Ponderosa
| - Glen Canyon Dam Tour|
- Check into the Travelodge
- Horseshoe Bend for sunset
| - Drive back to Las Vegas|
- REI to return fuel canisters
- Check into the Tropicana
| - Go-Karting|
- Premium Outlets
|Dinner||In-N-Out||Cook our own Mac & Cheese at the cabin||Blue Belly Grill inside Zion Ponderosa||Cook Alfredo Primavera at campsite||Blue Belly Grill inside Zion Ponderosa||Big John's Texas BBQ||Bonkers Restaurant||Monta Ramen||Gordon Ramsay Steak|
|Evening|| - UA 8385 YYZ -> LAX (6:10PM - 8:37PM)|
- UA 1128 LAX -> LAS (10:21PM - 11:35PM)
- Pick up car rental
| - Explore main entrance area of Zion National Park (ZNP)|
- Pay park entrance
- Take a lot of photos along switchbacks of Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
- Hike Canyon Overlook Trail
| - 20 round skeet shooting at the Ponderosa|
- Pack for The Narrows
|Sleep by 8:15PM|| - Round of mini-golf|
- Pack for Angel's Landing
| - Drive to Page, Arizona|
- Set up camp after dinner in the dark
| - Prep camera gear for sunrise shoot|
- Sleep at 11PM
|Walk the strip||Walk the strip|
|Stay||SpringHill Suites Las Vegas Convention Center||Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort||Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort||Camp site #9||Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort||Wahweap Campsite||Travelodge Page||Tropicana||Tropicana|
- Incredible property that’s just outside the east entrance to ZNP with huge acres of land.
- Even though the Cowbow Cabins are their cheapest rooms, I absolutely loved the set up. It had windows, bunk beds, linens, dresser, lights, ceiling fan, heaters, clothes hooks, fresh towels (bath, hand and face) and even plastic cups. Basically a hotel except it’s your very own cabin. I was expecting way worse.
- I know it’s a bit weird to use a communal bathroom building but the showers are individual rooms which is great because there’s never an issue with shower line ups. The communal bathroom is huge too so there’s a ton of space and stalls.
- Clean. The biggest thing that makes this place so comfortable is just how clean it is. The bathrooms are cleaned daily in the morning so they’re always sparkling. For one of our stays, we were there 2 nights and even then housekeeping came in to tidy up the room and change our towels. I’m telling you – hotel level service!
- There’s so much to do here as well. Highlights include the skeet shooting, ATVing and canyoneering.
- Activity Vouchers
- Alright so this was a bit confusing at first but basically Zion Ponderosa also sells and bundles in vouchers when you book your room that can be redeemed for things like activities at the ranch or shuttle rides.
- When I booked the hotel, there was a promo going on where if you booked a room and bought 10 or more activity vouchers you get 40% off the weekday rate and 30% off the weekend rate.
- Activity vouchers cost $110 for 10. I ended up buying 40 vouchers.
- Comes with free mini golf per 10 pack.
- I crunched some numbers and this worked out very well for us. This is how we used the vouchers.
- Narrows Shuttle – 10 vouchers for 3 people and additional voucher for every extra person (11)
- Skeet shooting – 3 vouchers per person for 20 rounds (12)
- ATV Tours – 3 vouchers for each person per hour (12) – But since we had 5 vouchers remaining we asked if we could get an extra half hour. The recreation manager was kind enough to allow it. We didn’t know what to do with our remaining 5 vouchers so we figured it didn’t hurt to ask right?
- Free continental breakfast that includes sausage patties, hash browns and waffles. Awesome. Did I mention it’s free?
- The restaurant is a bit average unfortunately. The prices aren’t jacked up like crazy which is good but the quality of food is so-so. On the day we had burgers, it seemed to me that they were giving us McCain fries out of the oven. Unfortunately there aren’t exactly any restaurant choices in the area so if you’re there for the night, you either eat in Springdale before heading over, you cook your own food or you just eat at their restaurant.
- Book early. And by that I mean really early.
- Now a Doubletree Hilton property.
- $109/night via Priceline which is pretty high I thought but it couldn’t be helped because it was Memorial Day long weekend
- Decent location on the strip but obviously not in the hot area where Bellagio is.
- Has free parking
- You can tell they’ve done a bunch of renovations since the takeover but it is in by no means the same class as the big hotels on the strip.
- Room was clean well decorated. Came with a fridge too which was a bonus.
- Everyone gets free cookies as you’d expect from a Doubletree
- Gold/Diamond members have the option for free breakfast for 2. The way it works is that you go to the hotel cafe and each person can pick up to 4 items on the menu. I would recommend picking the breakfast burrito since it is the biggest hot item on the list and then ordering 3 other things you want. Their parfait was very good as well as their pastries (probably sourced from the same supplier as Starbucks?). This was great for us because we would order breakfast for 2 but just split up the items amongst the 4 of us.
- Casino is pathetically small and their table games take up a short walkway from the entrance to the back of the hotel. We did a full loop around the casino floor in about 2 minutes max?
- It’s not a fancy property so come with low expectations but for the price compared to the other hotels along the strip, it can’t be beat. Collect Honors points too which you know I love 😉
Tips & Tricks
- Time of the Year – Be mindful of the time of year you’re going. We didn’t know it was memorial day and noticed that everything was starting to sell out or prices were higher than normal. For example Priceline bidding for hotels in Las Vegas became expensive and even inventory at the Zion Ponderosa were running low. Even a few hotels I contacted in Kanab and Page were already sold out.
- Book Early – There’s something weird going on with the ZNP area because it seemed that everyone was booking early. I was booking for May back in February and was already having a ton of trouble. Don’t wait because I almost had a heart attack when I found out I couldn’t book Zion Ponderosa. Luckily the person holding that reservation let it go later on so that worked out.
- The Wave – Our original plan for our free day in Page, Arizona was to actually visit The Wave that’s part of Coyote Buttes North and more specifically Vermillion Cliffs National Park. This operates under a lottery system. The lottery opens up 4 months in advance and is open for application for the month. The day following the close of the application period is the lottery draw. Honestly it’s a crap system with extremely low odds of getting in. We tried the lottery and got nothing which is why the idea of shooting here was canned.
- Permits – If you’re looking to do the Top Down Narrows hike, you also need to be aware of the permit system. Luckily getting a permit and picking your campsite isn’t as vicious as The Wave lottery. All you have to do is book the permit 3 months in advance and you’re good to go. The government site is pretty good about explaining this so head on over here.
- Flights – If you’re looking to do something similar, Las Vegas is still your best bet in terms of closest airport. I looked around and nowhere else makes sense. Luckily flights to Vegas are usually pretty cheap! Another quick tip is that if you’re changing planes somewhere, make sure you check the terminals. Hopefully you don’t have to do a Terminal 2 to Terminal 7 change like we did.
- Car Rental – Don’t forget to use my awesome car rental coupon codes. I saved a bunch of money this way.
Other Gear to Consider
- Moisturizer – It is so incredibly dry in Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
- Nail clippers – I’m glad I did because the combination of roughing it and dry air made hang-nails my worst nightmare.
- Bandaids – Some of us got cut up in various ways and so I was extremely glad I brought a bunch of extra bandages.
- Headlamp – Who brings flashlights anymore anyways? Headlamps are the way to go if you end up hiking late or need it for an early sunrise.
- Getting your gear – Zion Adventure Company is a reputable company and is much more legit than the rental company right by the visitor center.
- Reserve – Not sure how necessary it is but I figured it was a good idea to reserve our gear before heading over.
- Wet weather package – The water was 55F which is about 13C when we were there and we were very comfortable with neoprene socks in canyoneering shoes.
- Crappy neoprene socks – I don’t know if this is too hardcore but those neoprene socks that they rent out are not comfortable at all. If you’re like most of us (and maybe this only applies to Asians), your middle toe will hurt like crazy towards the end because of the way the sock is designed. If I were to do it again, I might look into buying my own comfortable pair of neoprene socks.
- Toenails – Cut your toenails before going on the hike. I regret it so much as my toes were jabbing the ends of the sock the whole way. I swore I lost a nail along the way but luckily they came out intact. Still, better safe than sorry.
- Waterproofing – Waterproofing is always a big question that we had going into this trip. The water levels were considered to be “low” for us so this may be different from you but I honestly didn’t think there was too much cause for concern of being deep in water or tripping and falling. That being said, the chances are certainly there if you don’t watch yourself. Despite coming out safe, I would still do one layer of waterproofing for your backpack. This can be as easy as taking a trash compactor bag (super thick garbage bags) to line your bag and then putting all your stuff inside.
- Camera? – I guess it really depends on your level of risk. Some will only be comfortable bringing a waterproof point and shoot and then there’s someone like me who was willing to keep the camera out and exposed almost the entire trip. In my head, I just told myself that I had to be conscious of every step I made. Sure footedness was key.
- 2 or 1 day? – For those not wanting to do the full top-down Narrows hike, I’d say the Bottom-Up day hike is honestly enough. Everything that makes The Narrows beautiful can be found in the day hike. That said, I loved that the first day was much more calm, serene and lacking hoards of tourists. We were on our own pretty much that whole first day.
- Gloves – Make sure you bring gloves if you’re doing Angel’s Landing. I totally must’ve missed this in my research but there are portions of the hike where the metal chains are very close to the sandstone and so it is extremely easy to scratch up your fingers as you grip your way up.
- Harnesses – Don’t even bother. In my chicken-ness I thought I could rig up some sort of rope harness with carabiner where I would clip into the metal chain. It just wasn’t feasible at all because of the periodic poles that
- Vertigo – If you have vertigo like me, YOU can also do it. I overcame this by just focusing on the metal chains when going up and thinking “hand-over-hand”. I didn’t look over the edge at all.
- Sunset is better than sunrise.
- Vertigo – Be ready for it.
- Location, location, location – Study my panorama photo first. I thought this particular location my tripod is planted on had the best views and felt most safe to shoot from.
- Sand hike – There’s a good 15 minute from the parking lot to the actual spot where you can shoot Horseshoe Bend so account for that time.
- Upper Antelope Canyon – Known for its sunbeams which is prime time during 11AM – 1PM but apparently the tour companies jack up the prices at these times. The only way to enter in is through a tour as well so keep that in mind. I was also told that the length of this part of the canyon is very short. It is shaped narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.
- Lower Antelope Canyon – Everywhere I read, people seemed to enjoy the lower canyon a lot more. The guys that run the tours there are also extremely friendly. You don’t need to reserve in advance either so just drive up and pay when you get there. They don’t jack up the prices during prime hours (8AM-11AM) and also offer a 2 hour photographer’s pass. They’re not quite known for sunbeams as there is only one location for the sunbeam (hole in ceiling place) but has some pretty dramatic twists and turns. It is shaped wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.
- Ken’s Tours – This is the tour company that everyone recommended although now there’s another company operating out of Lower Antelope Canyon
- Photographer’s Pass – Okay so I wasn’t too clear on what this was before but basically you pay $50 to get a 2 hour pass instead of 1. These 2 hours are completely unguided versus the normal pass which is guided. To be able to get the photographer’s pass, you need to have an SLR, camera bag of sorts and a legit looking tripod. When I say legit tripod, anything that stands up to waist height or higher is fine. The shop is run by a bunch of kids so they don’t really know much about professional camera gear. And trust me, if you’re a photographer, you’ll want the full 2 hours down there. We had JUST enough time to shoot everything we wanted to down there.
- Funny story – One of the guys in the group didn’t have a tripod so we went to Walmart to buy a cheapo $15 tripod from Targus. He showed it to the girl for the photographer’s pass which was fine and when we finished there, we just went back to Walmart to return the tripod.
- Sunbeam – 10:15AM ish is when the sunbeam goes through the hole in the ceiling at Lower Antelope Canyon so starting at 8ish AM is a good idea. The hole in the ceiling is midway through the canyon.
- Great Narrows information pages
- Zion Adventure Company Trip Planner – We picked up physical copies of this map from their store and it came in handy during the hike. The other info is also very useful.
- The Wave lottery system info – Super useful to know how it works since the government site is not as detailed. This site also tells you what your odds are depending on what time of the year.