We just spent a week in Arizona on a whirlwind tour of National parks, street corners, historic landmarks, DIY exploration and boating. Here’s the skinny on where to stay and what to see.
Simply put Arizona was built by the gods! It’s topography consists of such a wide array of vistas it boggles the mind. From arid deserts, spectacular natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon, impressive man made lakes, to chilly pine forests and mountain peaks, Arizona has it all.
We started our trip out with a relaxing stay at The McCormick in Scottsdale, Az. Situated on a small lake and near Camelback Mountain, The McCormick offers a peaceful retreat complete with pool, patio dining and kayaks and canoes that are covered by a modest resort fee of $25 and allow guests to take a peaceful paddle around the lake.
From Scottsdale we stopped in Sedona for a quick hike and Slide Rock State Park for a quick swim. The water at Slide Rock proved to be to cold for swimming or sliding on our jacket weather temp’d day, but the girls had a lot of fun climbing around and exploring the sandstone cliffs around the river.
Once in Flagstaff we stayed at the Little America Hotel. Nestled in the woods, Little America appears to be an older hotel however once inside you find that the hotel has been completely remodeled and offers fresh, modern rooms. The hotel ground’s boast an outdoor heated swimming pool, hot tub, playground and hiking trails great for an active family with younger kids. Note* They change the water first thing in the morning once a week, so if you’re wanting to hop in the hot tub for a quick soak on a snowy morning before heading out for the day, like we did, check ahead and verify that they haven’t changed the water resulting in a chilly hot tub for several hours… like we did.
From Flagstaff we visited Meteor Crater, a privately owned historic landmark meteor crater is one of the best preserved craters left from the impact of a meteor 50,000 years ago. The crater itself, accompanying museum, short film and kid oriented 4D immersion ride are just the right amount of fun and educational information to keep little attention spans engaged before they realize they’re actually learning.
After leaving meteor crater you’re so close to Winslow, Az. you may as well stop in for a quick bite to eat and to snap a picture standing on a corner in Winslow, Az (and now you’re singing ‘Take it easy’ and you’re welcome). We ate at Relic Road Brewery, which is not technically a brewery yet but they do serve locally brewed beers from Arizona and Utah. Try their Relic street tacos, a unique creation of burger patty in soft taco form something I never thought of doing, but can totally get behind as it is a tasty mess free way to reinvent the taco.
After our appetites were sated, we headed toward the Painted desert and Petrified forest National Park. Do yourself a favor if you’re going to hit more National Parks on your trip or within the next year and purchase a season pass for $80. It can be used for both National parks and National recreation areas and in our case quickly paid for itself. Zipping through the park right before sunset renders some truly spectacular colors, but did not lend itself to a lot of exploring so I can’t really recommend it. Leave yourself more time to enjoy these expansive parks.
After another night at the Little America Hotel (we liked it so much we stayed there twice!) and a morning stretch on the playground for the kids and a nature trail jog for the hubby, we headed to the Grand Canyon. I kid you not when we got there my youngest blurted “This is IT!?” and my husband and I shared a look! The Grand Canyon is of course magnificent and the little one warmed to it as hiked along its edge, but FOLKS!!! People are dumb and I couldn’t get over how many people get right up to the edge to take just the right picture or selfie! But the lady who took the cake was the one we witnessed wheeling her wheel chair bound husband down a hill right to the sandy edge of the canyon to take his picture! I MEAN COME ON PEOPLE! Needless to say the canyon edge and my hyper fear of heights, combined with common sense was the perfect storm for some serious anxiety!
Once the majesty of the Grand Canyon had throughly absorbed all our ooh’s and awe’s we headed north to Page, Az to see the much admired and photographed Antelope Canyon. To visit Antelope Canyon you must have a Navajo guide and reservations are typically made 6 months in advance, but since we tend to travel by the seat of our pants and never plan anything even a day ahead, we were able to squeeze in a reservation same day with Ken’s Tours. I only recommend this last minute approach if, like us, your travel itinerary is incredibly flexible and the chance of not seeing the canyon will not make or break your trip. That being said, Antelope Canyon is STUNNING and I highly recommend a tour! Ken’s tours was very well run, offered knowledgeable guides, an air conditioned waiting room/cafe and outdoor latrines.
The tour itself requires traversing a declining slope of sand stone sprinkled with just the right amount of loose sand to make it fun. There is a handrail, but I could easily see this being an issue for the elderly and those with mobility issues. The sloping sandstone leads to a steep set of metal stairs that sometimes function more like a ladder and take you down to the canyon floor. Once in the canyon the going does becomes much easier. The canyon is formed by raging water runoff that shapes and sculpts the sandstone into a natural wonder. It is just as beautiful as you hope it will be!
Page, Az is also home to Horseshoe bend which gets its name from the distinctly horseshoe shaped bend (imaginative I know) in the Colorado River and where you can view idiots once again tempting fate along its sandy edge for that perfect picture. The Glen Canyon dam is also located in Page. The man made wonder that makes Lake Powell possible, Glen Canyon dam is a National site where one can get a tour of the dams inner workings… or at least I assume one can as we did not do it ourselves.
The next day we checked off one of my husbands bucket list items and rented a boat on Lake Powell. We spent the day boating and tubing and tubing and boating. Looking at the sand stone walls towering over you you can see the high water line way above the current water level and it was amazing to learn that the lake is considered only half full due to prolonged droughts and unsustainable water demands. Even half full the lake is incredibly deep and therefore stays incredibly cold. Swimming is refreshing and rejuvenating on hot desert days, but be sure to have dry towels and a change of clothes for warming up.
Boats can be rented from one of the five local Marinas. We rented from the Antelope Point Marina, close to Antelope Canyon, admission into the recreation area is covered by your National Parks Season pass. There are a variety of boats for rental and rates are around $76-100 per hour or $240-375 for a half day and $470-595 for a full day. Pontoon boats are also available check for pricing. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards can also be rented for around $10-45 depending on what you want and how long you want it. Kayaks are a great way to view the lakeside outlet of Antelope Canyon or to access the shoreline (where there is a shoreline). Boats can be beached on the sandy beaches for some swimming and shore exploring, but be forewarned dinging a prop on the out cropping stone will destroy the prop and cost you $ to replace.
Starting to feel a little travel worn and our vacation nearing its end we headed south again to Flagstaff for the night. The following morning we found and explored the Lava Tube caves and Bearizona before heading to Phoenix to fly home the next day.
The Lava tube caves are a nearly 1 mile long, DIY caving adventure marked by the USDA Forest Service and is completely undeveloped. The caves offer a rare chance to explore the rough and self guided way. The entrance to the caves are by far the most treacherous and requires climbing over large and sometimes loose or icy boulders. Once at the foot of the cave things smooth out, but never really qualify as easy going so caution is recommended. The cave stay a chilly 30°-40° year round so dressing warmly with long pants, jacket and even hats and gloves and sturdy shoes is a good idea, especially for children. Bike helmets are also not a bad idea as the ceiling can be head bumpingly low in spots. Multiple flashlights are a must and headlamps are even better to keep your hands free for climbing.
Bearizona is a drive through safari style park with mostly North America fauna such as dall sheep, mule deer, caribou, elk, bison, wolves and of course black bear. After the drive through portion there is a small zoo, restaurant and souvenir shop. Kids will enjoy it, but remember DONT FEED THE ANIMALS! Seriously… don’t be that guy.
It was a whirlwind tour of Arizona and a lot of driving, but Arizona is made up of some amazing vistas and topography so enjoy the journey and take in its diversity and wonder. Designed by the gods to be enjoyed by you!