July 11, 2019
Arizona is one of my favorite places! The whole state is basically a desert, but there are so many diverse landscapes. My husband and I have been several times, and even after all we’ve done there’s still so much we want to explore.
On one of our previous trips we spent time at the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff, and stayed at a resort in Carefree, just north of Phoenix. On this past trip we split our time between Page and Scottsdale and also took a day trip to Utah (which I’ll touch on a little, but it really deserves its own post.)
If you’re planning a trip to Arizona, check out some of the amazing places I recommend!
ANTELOPE CANYON – Page, AZ
One of my favorite things about this trip and something I had been wanting to do for quite a while was touring Antelope Canyon; it’s a beautiful slot canyon located on Navajo land, and it’s only about 15 minutes east of Page. We had made reservations two years ago, but weren’t able to go due to flash flooding, so I was pretty excited we made it this time! Reservations fill up quickly, so book a spot as soon as you can. The canyon is split into two separate canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. We chose to do Upper Antelope Canyon – it’s about 100 yards long and it’s easy to walk through. It takes quite a while to go through because of how many visitors there are, and the tour guides stop to make sure you get a lot of photos. I think our total time in the canyon was just over an hour. I’ve heard Lower Antelope Canyon is just as beautiful, but there are some ladders you have to climb up and down to get there so be aware of that when choosing which one to book. Since the canyons are on Navajo land, it’s not somewhere you can visit on your own, as you’re required to have a Navajo guide.
The best times to go are the 10:15 am or 12:30 pm tours – there are beautiful light beams that shine into the canyon around both of these times. We booked the 10:15 tour and got beautiful photos! There were even more light beams starting to show as we were on our way out, which almost made me wish we had booked the 12:30 spot. When making a reservation, keep in mind that these are the most popular times so they fill up faster. Visiting the Canyons costs $60-$80 per person for the sightseeing tours, and more for the photography tours; the photography tours are several hours long and require you to have a DSLR and a tripod. For a normal family vacation however, the sightseeing tour will be perfect!
You can book through the links below. We went with the first tour group listed and our guide was great – he had a lot of photo tips and also took some photos for us.
If you prefer to visit Lower Antelope Canyon, you can book from either of the two sites below.
The only downside to visiting Antelope Canyon is that it is extremely busy with crowds of people. If you have your heart set on seeing the most famous canyons and don’t mind the crowds, I would definitely suggest going to Antelope, but if you’re hoping to avoid the crowds and want more time to explore, one of the similar alternative canyons might be better.
Waterholes Secret Canyon is one option (about $70/person). You can read about booking and the experience here.
Another great option is Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon. This trip is more expensive than Antelope ($100/person), but it also includes an off-roading adventure. Some parts of Antelope Canyon are very dark and create beautiful, dramatic shadows – from what I’ve seen of Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon it looks a lot lighter inside; you can see the sky most of the way.
You can book Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon here.
HORSESHOE BEND – Page, AZ
If you’re looking for something to do at the last minute and don’t have time to make reservations, Horseshoe Bend (not the slot canyon) is another place that offers incredible views. Even if it’s not a last minute decision, I still suggest putting it on your list!
Horseshoe Bend is an overlook on the Colorado River, and it costs $10/vehicle to get in. I could just sit and stare at it for hours. Definitely take water when you go! We made the mistake of not taking any water with us the first time we went because the walk (a 1.5 mile out-and-back trail) looks very short and easy from the parking lot. We felt like we were dying on our way back because the walk is quite steep!
The parking lot here only holds 300 cars, and if it’s full you have to come back later. While it may seem like a good idea to just park on the side of Highway 89, that’s one way to land yourself with a hefty fine. On this last trip, we arrived about an hour before sunset and it was the perfect time – there was a beautiful sunset the night we were there and it sets right behind the bend. It was somewhat crowded, but we were still able to find a spot to sit by ourselves. On previous trips, we’ve also been around midday but the lighting was a bit flat and not as pretty. I’ve heard the lighting is amazing at sunrise as well, so I guess I’ll be planning another trip here soon…
KAYAKING/PADDLE BOARDING LAKE POWELL – Page, AZ
One of the highlights of our time in Arizona was paddle boarding on Lake Powell. You actually go through a portion of Antelope Canyon, but it isn’t the same spot as the tours – so I would suggest doing both. I brought my own inflatable paddle board, and we also rented a kayak from Lake Powell Paddle Boards (and it was only $35 for the day!). At the rental shop, they strap the kayaks onto your car for you with extra padding, and show you how to take them off and load them back on… So even if you’re using a rental car (like we were) you’ll be good to go!
You do have to pay a fee ($30 – cash only) to get into the lake which is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and your pass is good for a week. If you want to eat at the Rainbow Room (which has great views) or any other areas of the lake, your entrance fee will cover it. We got lucky and the teller only charged us $2 when we told her we’d only be there one day.
Tip: If you have a National Parks Annual Pass, ($80) you can use that and get in free!
Once you get on the water the trip is about 6 miles out-and-back, and can be done in about 4 hours. We took our time looking around and swimming, and there is also a portion where you can hike once you get to the end. Be sure to take extra water if you plan to hike! We took a cooler with sandwiches, snacks and drinks to enjoy along the way. There are some places you can stop and cliff jump at, and the water is so beautiful and incredibly clear. There are no trees on the lake to shade you from the sun, so I recommend bringing hats and plenty of sunscreen.
The best time to go is early in the morning so you don’t have to fight the wind and the boats that come out later in the day. We got on the water by about 9:00 a.m. and there were only a few boats so we didn’t have to deal with much wake. As long as you stay closer to the shore, the boat wakes don’t typically bother you too much. Once you turn into the canyon, it’s a no wake zone so there definitely won’t be waves to worry about there.
We only had to return the rental kayak at 6:00 p.m. but were done by around 3:30 pm. If you love water and beautiful scenery, don’t miss out on this!
ZION & BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – Southern Utah
We’ll move on to more Arizona activities shortly, but if you’re staying in Page and have been wanting to see some of the southern Utah National Parks, this would be a perfect time since you’re not too far away. Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park are both close enough (about 2.5 hrs away) to take day trips from Page. They both have some amazing hiking options, but that’s for another post!
THE GRAND CANYON
We actually didn’t spend that much time at the Grand Canyon when we went, and would like to go back sometime to see more. To enter the park, you either need a National Parks pass or can pay $30/vehicle. We visited the South Rim and wandered along the path taking in the views. We saw a lot of deer and other animals near the parking lot… And we honestly probably spent more time watching and taking photos of the animals than we did of the canyon itself.
Near the South Rim Visitor’s Center, you can rent bikes and ride along the rim which I would love to do next time.
When we went we stayed in Flagstaff because it was a bit cheaper (about 1.5 hours away – if you find yourself there you must eat at Oregano’s a small Italian restaurant we stumbled upon.) If you’d like to be closer to the park you can stay at El Tovar which is directly on the rim of the canyon. The hotel includes a fantastic restaurant that overlooks the canyon, so there’s no way you’d be disappointed! There are also several other lodges and cabins within the park, but we haven’t made it to all of them yet.
WATSON LAKE – Prescott, AZ
One of the days that Luke played golf I went to Watson Lake by myself. I had seen it in photos and even though we were 1 hour and 40 minutes away in Scottsdale, I had to make the drive to see it. The lake is located in the granite dells and is just as beautiful as it is in the photos. It’s a small lake and the whole area is a no wake zone, so you don’t have to worry about wakes or anything here, either.
Unfortunately you can’t swim in the lake due to pollution, but it’s perfect for kayaking or paddle boarding. You can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards here and here. Rates vary from $35-$75 depending on what you want and for how long. The entrance fee to the park is $3/vehicle for the day.
Sedona is a smaller city with a lot of cute restaurants, stores, and family activities. Slide Rock State Park is 7 miles north of Sedona and is so much fun in the summer. It’s named after a natural water slide formed by a creek bed. We didn’t go this time because it looked packed and the parking lot was full, but I went in 5th grade and to this day it’s one of my most fun memories! The entrance fee is $20-$30 in the summer depending on what day of the week you go. There are also trails and other parts of the park to explore if you want to escape the crowds.
On this trip, we ended up hiking in Red Rock State Park. We chose a short, easy hike with a view of Cathedral Rock at the top. The park fee is $10 and you can get a map with hiking suggestions at the visitors center.
There were a couple of restaurants we really enjoyed in Sedona – the first was Sound Bites Grill (it has good food and a great view.)
Another was 89Agave Cantina – if you want delicious Mexican food this is the perfect place!
If you’re in to golf there are several courses with amazing backdrops in Sedona. Luke played at Canyon Mesa Country Club – a par 3 course, and already wishes he could go back!
If you stay in Sedona all day, be sure to watch the sunset at the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout (parking is $3). It gets pretty crowded, but the view is worth it.
OTHER SOUTHWEST HIKES/ACTIVITIES
These next hikes and activities are all on my Southwest bucket list – Looking at photos on Instagram seems to make it longer every year! For most of these you have to acquire permits in advance and do quite a bit of panning.
There are some other fun areas further south I’d love to visit, but will touch on them in my Scottsdale post.
That’s my list for Arizona! (and some of Utah) There’s so much to explore you probably can’t get to it all in one trip. I’ve been four times and can’t wait to go back!
I’ll be doing another post soon on Scottsdale, resorts, and places to eat. : )