The Grand Canyon has long been on my travel bucket list – I don’t think anyone looking into tourist spots in the US can escape mentions of it. This May long weekend, I finally got to understand why that is.
This was a week-long trip that started and ended in Vegas, and hit a satisfying coverage of a Grand Canyon visit (for me, at least): Grand Canyon South Rim, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Zion National Park.
Day 1 – Vegas to Grand Canyon
I took a Thursday flight from Chicago to Las Vegas (McCarran airport) and got there mid-afternoon. I normally take solo trips but for this one, I was going with a few friends. My friends took earlier flights, however, and so we agreed to meet at the car rental office. The “office” was a building where all car rental companies seemed to be holding office, and the concept of having so many of them in one place was new and fascinating to me (it felt like a shopping mall for car rental companies). A free shuttle bus from the airport takes you there (it’s a short ride – just a few minutes away).
Before the long trip to Grand Canyon, we dropped by a restaurant for a hearty dinner, then drove our way to Flagstaff for a good 4+ hours (passionate karaoke singing made it seem less). Flagstaff is a town about an hour and a half to the South Rim and we chose to spend the night there because there were still available and more affordable accommodations in the area. We got there a little over midnight and so we really just needed a place to sleep for the night.
Day 2 – Grand Canyon South Rim
We took our time at breakfast and checked out at around 10AM to head to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. There is free parking there but it took us several minutes to find a spot (you have to come earlier if you want to have a prime parking spot).
A short walk from the parking lot, you will have your first view of the canyon, and already, you’ll understand why it’s always at the top of must-see places in the US. The vastness of it and the wonder of how nature made it, blew me away . It’s magnificent, and beautiful, and just makes you feel how wonderful life is.
The area is just your first stop – there are free shuttle buses with slightly varying routes (e.g., blue, red) that take you around the South Rim. You can hop on one after you’ve explored the viewing points near the visitor center, then hop off designated stops you would want to spend more time on. These stops are normally viewing points, an entrance to a hiking trail, or an area where there are cafes (and restrooms!). You will be treated to scenic views all through the route.
We got lucky with the stops we hopped off of because we were able to soak in more beautiful views – see my fave shots in the gallery below. We did not cover all stops because we knew we had another road trip to make and we wanted to do it while the sun was still up.
We left the visitor center and headed to Page, another town about two and a half hours away from the South Rim, where our next target tourist spots were. We rented an AirBnB in downtown Page, which was very close (about 10 minutes) to where we wanted to go the following day.
Day 3 – Antelope & Horseshoe Bend
We headed out the next morning at also around 10AM and realized that we had time to explore the area because our tickets for Lower Antelope Canyon was not until 3PM. (Note: you have to get tickets in advance as these apparently sell out. There is also an Upper Antelope Canyon tour but one of us has been there, so we took the lower canyon tour).
It was a pleasant surprise that there were other scenic places to see in Page, particularly Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, that includes amazing views of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. A short drive from there is a viewing point that provides a 360 degree view of the area.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the meet-up point for our Lower Antelope Canyon tour. The entrance to the canyon was a short walk from there. A tour guide was assigned to us. They were very strict on two things: wearing the face mask at all times while inside the canyon (even while taking photos but except when you’re drinking water), and no videos allowed. The canyon is as amazing as it is in photos – what a masterpiece of nature. (Tip: ask the guide, if they don’t volunteer to tell you, about the preferred setting in your camera so the photo quality is optimized.)
A few minutes from the canyon is another stunner – Horseshoe Bend. We parked at the designated area, then took a short walk to the spot. There was an element of thrill on this one as people can go as close to the edge of the cliff as they can to take photos – I tried but my nerves failed me.
Day 4 – Zion National Park
This day was a trip back to Vegas but instead of retracing our route to Page, we went the other way around (Utah side) so we can drop by Zion National Park (and I believe we effectively circle the Grand Canyon). We made so many stops to take photos, which speaks to how fascinated we were with the park’s topography. We had lunch at the park center then hopped on a shuttle bus that took us to key spots.
We ended the day back in Vegas with an all-you-can-eat Gen Korean BBQ which was a fitting dinner for famished tourists.
Day 5 – Cirque du Soleil
We intended to go outlet shopping during the day but unfortunately for me, there were some work that needed to be done and so I missed this. My friends went, and we just met up early evening to watch a Cirque du Soleil show. The show (Mystere) was spectacular and worth every penny – it’s amazing how far (flexible, or high) human abilities can go. I am convinced that it’s a must-see when in Vegas.
We capped the night with a buffet dinner at Bacchanal (the grandest buffet I’ve ever experienced in my life) and giving away our hard-earned money to the casino at a nearby hotel.
Day 6 – Just Vegas
This was a day that could have been spent just exploring the strip or playing at the casinos. I still had some work during the day and so I was only able to leave the hotel early evening. My friends already flew back to Chicago and so the evening was all up to me. I was staying some distance from the center of the strip and so I took the Monorail (which I wanted to try) to get there. I just mainly walked around (as a first timer in Vegas, everything was fascinating to me) and enjoyed a very satisfying dinner at Trevi (I’d go back for that pasta and bellini).
Day 7 – Trip Home
This was a day of sleeping in and playing the rest of my budgeted casino money away (I confirmed on this trip that casino gambling does not really spark joy for me, I really just played for the experience). It was an uneventful (thankfully) flight back to Chicago.
The trip itself, overall, is one of my faves:
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