This is a 10 day itinerary of Utah and Arizona between Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Lower Antelope Canyon and Las Vegas.
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’s a photographer’s dream.
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Where are the best deals for hotels?
- Probably no surprise here but unless you’re using your points through hard work with travel hacking credit cards, Booking is going to be your best platform because they have the biggest inventory and have easy cancellations. After that, I’d look at Airbnb for longer stays especially with the free credit you can get.
Table of Contents
This photography trip to 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.
Here's what we're covering:
- Planning The Trip
- Packing List for Utah and Arizona
- 10 Day Utah and Arizona Itinerary
- 10 Day Utah and Arizona Itinerary Breakdown
- Property Reviews
- Watch how our trip unfolded
- What you need to know planning a trip to Utah and Arizona
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.
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.
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 (when that was still a thing) 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.
Packing List for Utah and Arizona
A lot of the excitement for the trip happened way before we even boarded the plane.
This type of trip presented a lot of interesting packing challenges because we needed to be equipped for a technical hike in The Narrows, camping, photography, and nicer nights in Las Vegas.
What’s worth nothing is that as a group of 4, we decided to share one large piece of luggage as a check-in and fitting everything else in our own hiking backpacks.
Here’s a breakdown of everything I brought and relevant explanations of each.
- Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL Tent – I was lucky enough to pick one up used but this is a really amazing light-weight tent. I also picked up a footprint to go along with this.
- Thermarest Compressible Pillow – 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 but instead more for the camping we’d be doing. It’s the most comfortable camping pillow you’ll ever own.
- Aquapac Waterproof Phone Case – Picked this up at MEC in Canada 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 – I packed this mountain climbing carabiner from MEC thinking that there’d be a way to hook in on theAngel’s Landing hike but that wasn’t the case when we got there.
- 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.
- Sleeping bag liner – 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 – This is great camping set that pairs perfectly with this super portable burner.
- Light My Fire Titanium Spork
- Smartwool Men’s Hiking Medium Crew Sock – 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 – For $30, I was expecting a really cheap sleeping bag but it turned out to be an awesome super light and compact sleeping bag.
- 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.
- Dryfit shirts – 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. They’re quick to dry (key for hand washing your clothes) and keeps you cool.
- Mesh stuff sacks – Super important to keep clothes organized in a backpack or suitcase.
- Smartwool socks
- Travel towel – I thought I’d get much better mileage out of this but Zion Ponderosa came with towels and for the camping nights, I simply didn’t shower.
- ExOfficio Give-N-Go 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. For a trip like this, all you need is 4.
- Toiletry bag with toiletry things
- Hand sanitizer
- Roll of toilet paper
- Stuff sack – A useful sack for miscellaneous items.
- Rollei carbon fiber tripod – Essential considering the sunrise and canyon photography we were looking to do. I don’t use this anymore as I’ve upgraded to the Peak Design Travel Tripod in Carbon Fiber.
- 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 and 2) since my SLR was weighing on my right side the entire time, my right waist was taking a big beating from the imbalance.
- Filter pouch – A convenient organizer for filters such as the ND-8, circular polarizer and UV filters.
- 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.
- f-stop gear Loka backpack – Make sure to read my full review but for this trip specifically I was impressed that I could fit everything I needed for The Narrows. The only drawback to this bag is that you can’t put the bulky camping gear inside. The sleeping bag has to be on the outside with the use of the f-stop Gatekeeper Straps. It’s an ideal bag for at most a 1-2 night camping trip but not any longer.
- 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. While convenient, by the end of The Narrows, the velcro strap that holds the bulb in place was getting seriously uncomfortable.
- Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner – While we didn’t end up needing it on this trip because there weren’t any accidents, waterproofing is still very important for The Narrows and this is a way to make sure that everything in your backpack stays dry if you fall into the water.
- Jeans – Wore this on the day of flying and packed it really because we needed nicer clothes for our nights in Las Vegas.
- Convertible cargo pants – Not the sexiest, I know but they’re great for having the flexibility of zipping off the legs to become shorts or to stay as long pants when it got colder. They are also relatively quick to dry.
- Patagonia H2NO waterproof shell jacket – This jacket packs down pretty small when rolled up and offers full waterproof protection.
- Exofficio GiveNGo boxer briefs
- KEEN Men’s Newport H2 Sandal – Make sure to read my full review here.
10 Day Utah and Arizona Itinerary
The below is a day-by-day breakdown of how we spent our 10 days in this photography-centric trip to Utah and Arizona.
Day 1 – Arrival in Las Vegas
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 SpringHill Suites Las Vegas Convention Center until past 1AM so we slept in.
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Day 2 – Welcome to Zion National Park
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.
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 our 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.
For more about Zion Ponderosa and other accommodation recommendations, make sure to read the best places to stay in Zion National Park.
Day 3 – Emerald Pools and Skeet Shooting
For our 3rd day, we had a bunch of errands to run including the picking up of permits and our rental gear. For The Narrows, we booked rented everything from Zion Adventure Company.
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.
I have to admit, skeet shooting is way more fun than the shooting range!
Day 4 – Start of The Narrows
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 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 4:40PM we made it to our campsite #9.
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 isn’t very hard since the water is quite shallow and there weren’t any parts of it where I felt like 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 – Finishing The Narrows
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. Even though I was exhausted, sleep didn’t come easy the night before.
Despite all of that, we started off the day at 6AM and after prepping breakfast and breaking everything down, we hit the waters at 8AM. 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.
The entrance to Goose Creek was a bit hidden because it was completely dry at the time and masked around a small bend. We ended up spending 20 minutes here. We were able to drop our packs and explore the creek but ultimately turned around when the boulders were getting too challenging to navigate.
The most dramatic part of the hike is when you reach Wall Street Corridor – the most jaw dropping area of the entire hike. The only challenge is that once you enter into this area, you’ll encounter a lot of tourists. This means that getting a clean shot will be difficult.
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. On Day 1, I was able to avoid almost all deep water parts but on Day 2, it was unavoidable. Water hit close to waist level 2 times on this day which was both exhilarating and nerve-racking since I had all of my camera gear with me.
Naturally, photo-taking took way longer than we had anticipated and blew by most of our “time budget”. The plan was 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. Out of time, we cancelled our plan to see Orderville Canyon and rushed back to the Temple of Sinawava.
Once I was in range of reception, I called the Zion 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 rental gear, we just plopped down at some tables outside the shop and ate our crushed sandwich buns and pieces of sliced ham – a championship lunch right there.
Our biggest achievement however must’ve been that none of us used the provided poop 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. 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.
Back at the Zion 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 – Angel’s Landing
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.
From the base, we got a good work out doing the gradual switchbacks. Once at the neck, that’s when the real adventure begins.
Once we got to the part where you need to grab onto the chains and there’s a point where the path narrows to a drop off on the left and right, that’s when the vertigo really hit me hard.
When things flattened out and you can see far out into the valley and a good chunk of Zion National Park, you really start appreciating the sweeping view and impressiveness of nature.
We took our sweet time here and didn’t finish the whole trail until 2PM.
The ATV excursion was 100% fun. What made the 1.5 hour trip amazing 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 Wahweap campsite.
Day 7 – Horseshoe Bend
With an intense couple of days, it was a welcome change to have a low-key day to give us an opportunity to explore the city of Page.
In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to visit The Glen Canyon Dam. This was an impressive tour where we had a chance to see the inner workings of the dam.
For sunset, we made the ad-hoc decision to head to Horseshoe Bend to scope out the area for our planned sunrise. What we didn’t expect though was just how incredible the colors were from here so this ended up being a sunset shoot.
If you’re headed here, I highly recommend that you learn how to shoot HDR with your DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Day 8 – Antelope Canyon
It’s a photographer’s dream to be in a place like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. There’s something magical about this landscape that you just can’t find anywhere else.
With Horseshoe Bend, there were only 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.
Switching 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 we 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.
After we wrapped up at Lower Antelope Canyon, we hit the road again and made the 4 hour and 45 minute drive to Las Vegas.
Day 9 & 10 – Viva Las Vegas
Once we got to Las Vegas and stayed at the reasonably priced Hilton Tropicana, I decide to retire the camera for the trip.
Vegas is Vegas so I don’t need to get into all the details of what we did there but spend the last 2 days enjoying Sin City.
10 Day Utah and Arizona Itinerary Breakdown
|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|
Here are a couple of honest notes about each of the properties we stayed at in Utah and Arizona.
Overall, I was very impressed with the ranch resort. They offer a ton of different activities and services and the individual cabins are extremely well-kept, comfortable, and clean.
- Cowboy Cabins – Even though the Cowboy Cabins are their cheapest rooms, I absolutely loved the set up. It has windows, bunk beds, linens, dresser, lights, ceiling fan, heaters, clothes hooks, fresh towels (bath, hand and face), and even plastic cups. It’s essentially a hotel except it’s your very own cabin.
- Bathrooms – The communal bathroom wasn’t as big of an issue as I thought it’d be. It’s a large building with tons of space, stalls, and showers.
- Tons of activities – We didn’t have time to do everything but as you saw, we got to take advantage of skeet shooting, and the ATVs.
- Activity vouchers – We purchased vouchers in addition to our stay with the intention of converting them to activities and shuttle rides. Zion Ponderosa sells them in bundles. We purchased 40 vouchers for $440 USD. This comes with a free mini golf session per package of 10.
- How to use vouchers –
- Narrows Shuttle – 10 vouchers for 3 people and additional voucher for every extra person (11 for the 4 of us)
- Skeet Shooting – 3 vouchers per person for 20 rounds (12)
- ATV Tours – 3 vouchers for each person per hour (12) – 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.
- Breakfast – As part of your stay, there’s free continental breakfast which is a huge bonus.
- Dining – Overall, we felt that the food by the restaurant to be below average and closer to a high school cafeteria. If you’re here for the night, you can either eat in Springdale before heading over, you cook your own food or use the resort’s restaurant in a pinch.
- Books up fast – Book really early to make sure you can secure a cabin because they well out fast.
Tropicana by DoubleTree
Currently a DoubleTree by Hilton, this is an aging hotel that has a prime location on the southern part of the Las Vegas strip near MGM and New York, New York.
It certainly doesn’t have the flash of the newer hotels on the strip but for a property that’s under Hilton with Hilton Honors benefits and cheap rates, it’s a good deal.
- Parking – The hotel offers free parking.
- Cookies – Yes, as a DoubleTree, they do have their famous cookies!
- Hilton Honors benefits – 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.
- Casino – While they do have a casino floor, it’s quite small so don’t have big expectations here.
Watch how our trip unfolded
I planned this trip as a bachelor party for a good friend of mine and so that gives you a bit of background on why I put together the following video. This gives you a real look at what our trip was like from the eyes of a GoPro.
What you need to know planning a trip to Utah and Arizona
- 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.
- 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, 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.
- Should you bring your 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.
- Is 2 or 1 day enough? – 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 hiking 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.
I hope you found this itinerary helpful for your own trip to Utah and Arizona. If you have any questions, make sure to drop a comment below!
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