The great Southwest adventure

20 June 2016

I may have mentioned before that John and I have a three-year vacation rotation for our big trip of the year. It goes: Michigan (2013 trip here), domestic (2014 trip, to California, here), and international (2015 trip, to France, here). (Why Michigan? John’s family has a cabin there, so though we don’t make it every year, we try to go regularly!)


According to our rotation we were slated to go to Michigan this year, but we wanted to go with John’s siblings and parents and couldn’t find a date that worked for everyone. So, we’re postponing until 2017. We’re actually going to do both Michigan AND our domestic trip next year, so it will be a big one! On tap for our domestic travels? THE SOUTHWEST!


We are headed to a corner of the country neither of us have ever visited, and we are excited!! Truly, the photos kind of make the southwest look like another planet. And in some ways, it seems just as foreign. We know very little about the area, and there are so many possible things to see and do!


Even though we’ve got a long lead on our trip, we want to get a jump on planning, because many of the sites require permits and/or guides. But like I said, we’re not at all familiar with this area, so here’s where I’d love your help:

— If you’re familiar with Arizona and Utah, what time of year do you think is best to visit? We’re considering the week around Memorial Day, but I’m worried it might be too hot.
— Any must-dos? So far we have the Grand Canyon, Zion (the Narrows!), Antelope Canyon, and Bryce Canyon on the tentative list.
— Any blog posts or Instagram accounts I should check out for inspiration?


Already so excited!! I’d love to hear your advice and recommendations!

All photos via the Department of Interior’s fantastic Instagram account

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June 20, 2016 11:30 am

We did a Phoenix to Sedona to Grand Canyon trek over one week for our mini-moon in August 2013. I used a very simple itinerary from Frommer’s to plan our trip.

My two cents:
–avoid the summer if you’re not a fan of intense heat (however, I think summer may be the cheapest time to go haha)
–camp at Grand Canyon. It’s really cool BUT requires a lot of preparation. So, if you guys are up for that, go for it. (I’ve heard that babies do well in campers/RVs, too.)

Grand Canyon inspires awe. It was my first visit, and my husband’s second. And we’re planning to go back at least 10 more times.

June 20, 2016 12:04 pm

Sedona is very cool if you can make it there!

June 20, 2016 2:59 pm

Oh girl. This is my favorite part of the country!! I would be happy to help you with any questions or planning advice you might need! Also, for inspiration you’re welcome to follow my instagram @abbihearne :) My husband and I are photographers and we go to Southeast Utah about 4-5 times a year, and we’re actually moving in to a camper in September and plan on spending a lot of 2017 in Utah :)

For weather/temps, I would suggest going in March/April, or September/October. We just went to Moab, Utah a few weeks ago and it was a little hot during the day but not horrible! If you can, try to go before kiddos are out of school, that will make the national parks way less crowded!

Moab, Utah is my favorite place and I highly suggest going there!! I have quite a few blog posts from Moab on my website if you want more photo inspiration. In Moab, there are two national parks within 20 minutes of each other (Arches and Canyonlands) and so many other sights to see in the area. I also suggest Monument Valley Navajo Park which is very close to the Grand Canyon. Pretty much all of Utah is just amazing and I’d love to give more suggestions if you’re interested!

If my husband and I are out there when you guys come we should talk about a family photo session :) I’m so excited for you! You’re going to LOVE it.

June 20, 2016 9:35 pm

I just got back from a week in Arizona! We spent the majority of our trip at the Grand Canyon (hiked it from rim to rim) but also went to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Sedona. I wish we could have spent another week out there because there is so much to see and do!
Antelope Canyon was gorgeous. We went with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Canyon tour and loved it. Horseshoe Bend is super close to that and an easy walk/hike to see.
We did a Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona, which everyone recommended. Honestly it was our least favorite part of the trip but maybe we had a bad guide. I would have rather spent that time hiking.
As for the Grand Canyon…it’s lovely!! I recommend looking into staying at the North Rim Lodge if you want to avoid the crowds and have a more secluded visit. There is a gorgeous canyon-front restaurant with a porch to sip wine on and watch the sunset.
If you go to the South Rim, there is SO much to do. I recommend taking a day to hike down to Indian Gardens if you have the time and stamina. It’s about a ten mile round trip and the uphill is definitely difficult and in direct sunlight, so be prepared with a lot of water. Once you hike down, you can spend time sitting in the creek at Indian Gardens and eating there. If you have more energy before you hike back up, take the three mile round trip to plateau point. We did that hike at sunset which was gorgeous (we camped at Indian Gardens overnight) but if you’re hiking out the same day, you’d have to do it in the afternoon. I’d imagine you’d be in direct sunlight the whole time which might not be ideal, but still possibly worth it. The plateau overlooks the colorado river and you feel like you’re right in the center of the canyon. Just start your hike back up from Indian Garden a few hours before sunset so you have plenty of time to reach the top in daylight. There are also a few rest stops between the top and Indian Garden that some people use as a turnaround point. But in my opinion, it’s not quite worth it. The views there aren’t that much better than from the top. So I would only do that if you want to hike into the canyon but are short on time and don’t have a whole day to spend at Indian Garden.
Also, we went in June and the high at the very bottom of the canyon was 120, while at the top it was about 90. It was hot, but let me tell you…dry heat is amazing and not nearly as miserable as the humid summers we have here. It is totally doable as long as you drink A LOT of water and take breaks in the shade.
Good luck narrowing down everything you want to do!

June 20, 2016 9:42 pm

My husband and I did a honeymoon road trip from Washington, down to St. George, Utah, over and up to Lake Tahoe and back up to Washington. We went in mid October and the weather was amazing – never too hot. We were unable to do the Narrows because of a flash flood warning (which happens frequently,) but we loved our hike up to Angel’s Landing. That was the first hike we’ve ever done – it’s hard, but doable. My husband even went solo all the way up to the true “Angel’s Landing,” we highly recommend it. Blogger Ashley Ann Campbell of “Under the Sycamore” just spent a ton of time in the southwest and had dedicated many posts to pictures and stories of their adventures. Have fun!

June 20, 2016 10:17 pm

Bryce Canyon in winter was stunning! The Narrows in winter was amazing, we were alone for 99.98% of the hike and it was both awe-inspiring and peaceful. While there are definite drawbacks to winter (almost all of the restaurants are closed; snow closed roads), the quietness of the season more than made up for it. Our trip was 10 days through Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. We didn’t find that we needed more than a day in Bryce, as most of the views are better accessed by car. The Hike through the hoodoos only took half a day in deep snow.

You can’t really go wrong in Utah!

June 21, 2016 10:04 am

A road trip through the Southwest is on my list too! As a fellow North Carolinian the landscape is so different, beautiful and enticing! My family drove through northern Utah to get to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming one year and saw bits and pieces of the red landscape, but didn’t get to the monuments or parks. Utahthebeautiful is a great Instagram to follow for more inspiration. The places you listed are the one’s I have seen pop up the most on travel sites and blogs, but I have also heard that Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (specifically North Coyote Buttes) and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are other good ones, though you need to get a permit for some areas. Have so much fun!

June 22, 2016 7:54 am

My husband and I just did a SW loop in early June! It wasn’t too hot for hiking. If you want to see Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon (South Rim), Vegas it the closest airport. The hardest part is realizing we couldn’t see it all! I would strongly recommend staying at the park lodging. While everything “sells out” 365 days in advance, I was about to find nights by just checking back in every month. We spent two nights at Zion, one at Bryce and 2 at Grand Canyon. We loving hiking and the Narrows was really incredible (be sure to rent the boots!). Enjoy planning!

June 23, 2016 9:39 am

My family did a southwestern US trip a few years ago. We went to the Grand Canyon and stayed on the north rim. I highly recommend that if you’re looking to have a quiet and relaxing experience, with fewer visitors! There are a number of little cabins to stay in right on the canyon’s edge. We went in early August (crazy, I know) but it isn’t the same type of hot that it is here on the east coast.

We flew to Vegas and drove to the canyon from there. It is a long drive, but you get to see so much, including a side trip to the Hoover Dam. We did a lot of hiking but one of the most memorable experiences of that trip was waking up really early to watch the sun rise over the canyon. I’ve never seen anything like it. Happy planning!

June 23, 2016 10:45 am


June 24, 2016 12:33 am

I grew up on the east coast, but spent a lot of time in the southwest growing up – we’d visit my grandparents and then head off to a national park or two. You’re right that it’s like a totally different world!

Like a couple of other commenters, I’d recommend the North Rim at the Grand Canyon. We’d usually only stay one night there, since we weren’t going to do much strenuous hiking as a family with children of varying ages. One day/night was enough to check out the views and do some short hikes. We’d spend more time at Zion – hiking, trail rides, tubing on the river. We loved staying at the Cliffrose right outside the park. It even looks like it’s been renovated quite a bit since the last time I was there! If you can add another stop to your Utah circuit, Lake Powell is pretty impressive (though the water level is currently quite low due to drought). And if you make it into Colorado, the history at Mesa Verde is amazing! I want to return to all the southwestern national parks with my husband, but that’s one I definitely need to get back to – we were evacuated partway through our tour because of a forest fire, and never got to see the rest of the park!

June 24, 2016 12:39 am

I also meant to add, @grandcayonnps, @nationalparkservice, and @zionnps are great Instagrams to follow!

June 28, 2016 9:23 am

Wow! This is going to be such an adventure, guys! Lots of #junetakesahike photo ops, too!

July 1, 2016 4:56 pm

See the Utah Olympic Park and take a ride on the zip line and bobsled run! Super fun and a pretty quick stop! :)

July 6, 2016 11:30 am

My family did a wild, wild west trip last year and we had the BEST time! We are actually insane and planned the trip last minute in AUGUST and some days the temperatures reached 118 degrees! We are from Richmond, VA and it could not be more true that the “dry heat” is so different from the east coast. Even in the heat we had a fabulous time!

Our family dynamic includes my two parents, my husband and me, and then my two college-aged brothers. We flew into Vegas, visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and then settled in Scottsdale, AZ for the majority of our trip. We stayed at the Phoenician resort {} and absolutely loved it. We considered the first half of the trip to be our “adventure” and the second half to be more relaxing. While we were in Scottsdale my brothers hiked Camelback mountain in the mornings and my mom and I laid by the pool. There are tons of local restaurants and shops in Scottsdale and our family really enjoyed visiting so many different places.

Finally, our hands down favorite part of the trip was our visit to Canyon Creek Ranch {}. At the ranch we all rode horses, roped cattle and learned how to shoot pistols. It sounds totally hokie but we laughed so hard we cried. It was such a fun experience and our guide was the best – we didn’t have any kids in our group so that definitely influenced our activities too.

I’m not sure if you’re planning to go so far south in AZ, but I thought I’d share anyway. I know y’all will have the best time!!

July 12, 2016 9:03 am

Ah! For some reason I’m behind on your blog posts and I was so excited to see this! YAY! Ben and I went to Salt Lake City a few years ago on a whim and by far the coolest part of the trip was seeing a part of the country that was new to us. It was so weird seeing the road signs show the mileage to Las Vegas instead of Oklahoma City or Austin. :) I can’t wait for y’all to go here!!