So the pandemic has you looking at destinations you never really gave a second thought, eh? Lol.
I am the type to ooh & aah at photos of U.S. National Parks when I see them online. But with my travel wish list being longer than the Bible, most U.S. destinations are low priority to me.
Particularly when you factor in the costs to visit them… as a non-camper (more on that later), I could easily spend the same $ on a trip to Yellowstone as I would a trip abroad. So, I didn’t really expect to visit any National Parks this soon.
But then came the Rona! When I went on this trip we were in Month 6 of quarantine, in the middle of summer no less… I hadn’t traveled in over a year (gasp!) and even my bones could feel something was off. It was time to make a move.
I hit up two of my besties / downest travel chicks. And we were off!
This trip took a little planning due to the many restrictions in place due to COVID-19, but nothing too heavy. I would 100% recommend a trip like this one for anyone looking to change up their scenery.
Read on for our itinerary, lodging info, packing list, and tips for a 5 day/4 night trip to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.
Day 1: LA to Utah
We left Los Angeles around 8am to start our drive to Utah. Google Maps estimated that we’d have a 6 hour drive, cutting through Vegas at just past the halfway point. We packed empty coolers and made a plan to stop for groceries in Vegas instead of LA, since it was closer to our destination. (Sadly, the ice cream we bought still melted 😦 we were driving through the desert after all.)
Tip: Stop at this Vons not far from the freeway (1131 E Tropicana Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119).
Another ~2.5 hour drive through beautiful desert landscapes led us to our Airbnb in Hurricane, Utah. Hurricane is about 45 minutes outside of Zion National Park — which sounds far, but isn’t. Most of the Park’s immediate surroundings are either empty, or contain only smaller residential homes and lodges/motels. You’d have to drive to a city like Hurricane to be in a town (and even then, “town” is relative).
We LOVED our Airbnb. It was super roomy with a full-sized bedroom and bathroom for each of us, plus another room we never used that had 2 bunkbeds. The kitchen was beautiful and spacious, and the patio views were breath-taking. The night stars were incredible!! We only wished the spa had a cool setting, since a hot tub isn’t really functional in the desert heat. But it cooled down enough in the evenings for us to get some use out of it.
I’d definitely recommend you book Casa Del Canto if you make this journey! It was just right.
We spent the evening lounging, enjoying a good meal, and getting ready for our early morning hike — the infamous Zion Narrows!
Day 2: The Narrows, Zion National Park
Hiking the Narrows was our main draw for this trip. Having seen photos, it always looked like one of those otherworldly scenes in nature that completely blows your mind.
Having now done it, it is exactly as anticipated—but better. Wow! This hike is not one to miss.
Zion itself was also visually delicious…if you never made it to the Narrows, it wouldn’t be a trip wasted. But you should if you can!
How to hike the Narrows, during COVID-19:
You’ll definitely want to plan your visit as far in advance as possible. You can no longer ride the park shuttle without a ticket, and they’re not letting cars in during COVID-19.
Thus, your options are:
1. Get a shuttle ticket in advance. You’ll be able to park at the Visitor’s Center, then hop onto the shuttle to your chosen trail stop.
2. Walk or bike in. Plenty of folks were going that route, but just know the trailhead for The Narrows is 7+ miles down the road! (Don’t forget about that walk back…)
The Narrows is an out-and-back hike, which means you decide for yourself when you’re done and have to walk back the way you came. The hike goes about 5 miles up the river, but very few people go that far down. We went about 3 miles into the Narrows ourselves, turning back not too long after the well-known fork in the river.
Packing list for the Narrows hike:
- Walking stick
- Water bottle
- Neoprene socks (the water is COLD honey!! You will thank me.)
- Jacket for cold mornings
- Waterproof backpack
- Waterproof phone pouch
- Tevas / Sandals that water and pebbles can flow through easily
- Sunglasses (ideally ones you’d be ok losing…like I did…)
Didn’t need it:
- Boot rental (though if you don’t have your own shoes, it’s cheaper than buying. You can rent a whole “dry gear” package at a number of companies, like Zion Outfitters.)
- Note that one of my friends made it without all this stuff and was fine. Not the happiest…but fine. But I wouldn’t have wanted anything less than what I brought.
Day 3: Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon National Park
Ok, I have to admit I can’t actually speak to the Angel’s Landing hike experience. We went to bed with a plan to leave the house at 6 to catch our 7am shuttle … but when I woke up at 5, that was just not the vibe I was on.
So, here are some pics from my two troopers 💪🏾 … I enjoyed my mimosas and more appropriate 9am wake-up time. 🙂
They were back midday, and we relaxed for a bit before heading out to Bryce Canyon. We’d planned to go on Day 4, but a passerby at Angel’s Landing recommended we go at sunset. THANK YOU to whoever passed that tip along — we were treated to gorgeous views and it was the best call ever.
From Hurricane, Bryce Canyon was a 2 hour drive. It starts to get pretty scenic about 1 hour in, and as you get closer to the park you begin to see the tell-tale rock formations that distinguish Bryce Canyon.
Unlike Zion, we didn’t do any major hiking in Bryce Canyon. We visited 3 different viewpoints, and felt more than satisfied with that.
Viewpoint #1: Inspiration Point
Viewpoint #2: Bryce Point
Viewpoint #3: Sunset Point
The only downside of visiting during sunset was the drive back in the dark. Lots of twists and turns! Not exactly relaxing …😅 (My friend was a boss though, whipping those corners in her sports car. You go girl!)
We got home, took in some more stars, then went to sleeeep.
Day 4: Utah to South Rim Grand Canyon, Arizona
We checked out on Day 4, then spent the rest of the day mostly driving. We were headed to our Arizona ~glampsite~ at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The road to Arizona was beautifully scenic. I was surprised by all the different landscapes, since I kinda just think of Arizona as the desert ?? We passed through forests, canyons, and directly over the Colorado River at one point.
We even saw this awesome place, just randomly on the side of the road!
Notably, at least 2 hours of this drive was through Native Land. I couldn’t always make out the signs, but did see a few indicating that it was Navajo Territory.
It was really interesting to take in these sights that many of us never see. Particularly, at this point of the trip I was starving and had an eagle eye for any fast food, grocery store, anything. For the entire 2 hours, there was nothing.
Actually, there was one Burger King toward the end of the territory on the Arizona side…but it, and everything around it, was closed due to the severity of outbreaks amongst the Native population. Native Americans are more severely impacted by COVID-19 than any other population in America.
This BBC article reports exactly what I noticed: “The Navajo Nation spans 71,000 sq km (27,413 sq miles) but has only 13 grocery stores, forcing many residents to drive for hours to towns outside the reservation with better facilities.” It is essentially a massive food desert.
I was inconvenienced by this for a couple of hours…but imagine having to live with so few options for getting basic necessities. I remember remarking that if more Americans knew that these were the conditions on reservations, there’d be a lot more outrage and support for Native issues. It’s completely unacceptable, and I looked my privilege right in the face as we journeyed through their lands to our luxe retreat. Sigh. #Murrica
After essentially a full day of driving, we finally arrived to Under Canvas, Grand Canyon before sunset. And…wow. Yes! This what we needed to shake things up from quarantine.
So, listen. I’m not a camper. I wish I was…the cost of trips like these can easily be halved if you’re willing to stay in a tent and not beneath four walls. But, it just ain’t for me! I could be down for a night at most… but even then, trust that it wasn’t my first choice lol.
BUT THIS! Granted, we only stayed for a night 😂 and felt fine with it. But the experience was so fun and different.
We chose the Suite Tent with a private bathroom, and it was great for the three of us. There was one king bed, and one pull-out queen sofa bed, with a shower and toilet tucked away.
The breezes and view of stars out the window while we slept was 😍 incredible. Not too buggy either! Nothing disturbed me at night 🙂 5 stars.
They also did an amazing job of creating ambience alongside social distancing. Food was available in take-out boxes only, with the tables set up for distancing.
S’mores (!!) were available, with throwaway sticks for the fire so nothing gets reused by anyone but you.
We enjoyed a charcuterie board, fruit and cheese platter, grilled salmon, and a BLTA. The food was legitimately delish! And lotsss of wine, that we brought for ourselves! They were happy to provide a wine opener for us and were just generally warm and helpful. Awesome staff!
Day 5: Grand Canyon National Park; Back to LA
In the morning, we said goodbye to the glampsite and headed out for the Grand Canyon! Under Canvas had free coffee available, which we appreciated.
You can’t go into the Canyon floor without a permit (nor was that on our list of to-do’s anyway), so our visit entailed driving to different viewpoints and occasionally getting adventurous with climbing the nearby rocks.
Honestly, after Zion and the unique landscapes of Bryce, I was underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. Maybe I was just tired 😅. Still beautiful though!
After a few hours in Grand Canyon National Park, we packed it up and headed back to LA. At about 7 hours, this was the longest leg of our journey.
And there it is! COVID-19 led me to take a trip and see beautiful sites I may never have otherwise prioritized, and for that I’m grateful.
Overall, my reviews for each park are as follows:
- Zion National Park: 10/10 recommend
- Bryce Canyon National Park: 10/10 recommend
- Grand Canyon National Park: 8/10 recommend (but worth the detour, on your way back from Utah)
Reach out if you have questions about the itinerary! I hope you go. 😉