Traveler: Kat Calvitti
When: October 2017
Places Visited: Sedona, Page, Grand Canyon (South Rim)
Overall Experience: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This was the perfect trip for exploring the beauty that surrounds us and connecting with people in a humble way. I planned a weeklong trip to AZ around the Grand Canyon Half Marathon, which was held just outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) in Tusayan, AZ. I was long overdue for a solo “katcation” (with the exception of a friend meeting me for the race) and AZ was the purrrfect place to get my groove back. I drove nearly 800 miles and hiked about 70 miles over the course of the week!
Getting Around: I rented a car for the week for about $270. I highly recommend renting a car if you plan to explore the state. There is so much to see and do so having your own vehicle provides you with a lot more flexibility. Expect long, beautiful drives with limited cell phone service to get to your destinations!
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I highly recommend purchasing an annual park pass if you plan to visit a few national park/year. The cost of the annual pass is $80, which covers the entrance, standard amenity fees and daily use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). There can be long car lines to enter certain parks and some parks offer a second line to allow annual park pass holders expedited entry.
- If you’re hiking alone, like I was for the majority of the trip, be sure to let someone know which trail you’ll be on and your anticipated finish time just in case anything goes wrong. Some of the trails are desolate and as I mentioned previously, cell phone service can be limited. Prior to every hike I text someone the trail name and my estimated finish time, then notified them when I got back to my car.
- Change the Date and Time settings on your phone to Phoenix, USA if you plan on driving long distances. Although most of AZ does not participate in daylight savings, the Navajo Nation does and therefore the time on your phone will change while driving through reservations if it’s set to automatically update. I was so confused until someone told me this tip!
- Drink a lot of water and be sure to bring water with you on the trails!
- Check the weather before you go—it can be extremely cold in the morning/night and hot during the day. I recommend packing a lot of layers.
Sedona: The drive from PHX to Sedona was an easy two hours. I stayed at the Hampton Inn ($170/night), which had free parking and was within a 15 minute drive of the sites that I wanted to see/trails I wanted to hike. I only stayed in Sedona for one night so I had a lot of activities to pack in! There is an uptown area with shops/restaurants that are very popular, but I was too busy hiking to explore the shopping scene.
I arrived in Sedona around 2pm and only had a few hours of daylight left so I hiked the Boynton Canyon trail, located in the Coconino National Forest, based on a recommendation from the hotel staff. This trail is about five miles round-trip and is lightly trafficked. It’s a very peaceful out and back trail that offers great views of the Red Rocks and is one of the many areas in Sedona that claims to contain vortexes (I didn’t feel any vortex energy). I also hiked the Vista trail which is only about .5 miles and located near the Boynton Canyon trailhead—it’s a short climb that provides spectacular views.
I decided to hike Devil’s Bridge first thing the next morning since that was on my must-hike list. If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can park at the Dry Creek Road trailhead which provides a few trail options to get to Devil’s Bridge. The fastest route to the bridge is to walk along the unpaved road; however, I highly recommend taking the Chuckwagon Trail. I only passed one other person on the trail (just over 2 miles one-way) so I really felt like I was one with nature! Once I got to the Devil’s Bridge trail head it was about another mile to get to the bridge. Once near the bridge, the climb up was a bit like climbing stairs—it’s not very difficult, you just have to watch your footing. There’s a great landing at the top to take a snack break at and watch folks walk across the bridge for photos! The bridge is much wider than it appears, so don’t be nervous strolling across it!
Afterwards I went to Cathedral Rock to check out the spires. This is a very populated, moderate difficulty level hike; however, it is only about 1.5 miles. I think it’s considered a moderate trail since it’s more of a rock climb than a trail/path. The “trail” is marked with white paint on the rocks, but there were a few times that going off the marked trail seemed like the safer/easier option. Although the climb to the top can be a bit difficult, the views are absolutely worth it!
I met a lovely couple at the top (and hiked back down with them) who recommended checking out Slide Rock State Park if time permitted. Slide Rock was a minor detour on my way to Page and I’m glad I made the stop! Oak Creek is open for swimming/wading and offers a “water slide” formed by the red rocks. The water was freezing so I didn’t go in, but there were plenty of folks enjoying the slide and plunging into the clear water!
If you have time, be sure to check out Chapel of the Holy Cross, this church is built into the red rocks!
Page: Page is a small city, but it has so many great spots nearby to explore! The drive from Slide Rock to Page was about 2.5 hours and absolutely gorgeous! The views of the forest are incredible as you wind up the switchbacks of Oak Creek Canyon on Route 89A—I regret not stopping at the Oak Creek Vista Overlook on the way (I honestly thought there would be another overlook to stop at). By the time I got to Page, I was exhausted from hours of hiking so I was eager to shower, grab dinner and go to bed! I stayed at the Quality Inn (about $130/night) and I definitely DO NOT recommend this hotel. The hotel hallways looked like they were straight out of a horror movie yet there were no vacancies (there were a couple tour buses in the parking lot).
I started off the next morning on the Canyon Adventure Boat Tour, which was a great way to see some sights within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area! Then departed from Wahweap Marina at the Lake Powell Resort and took you on a 2.5 hour journey on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon Dam, Antelope Canyon, Navajo Sandstone, Navajo Canyon and the 50/50 wall.
If you’re interested in water sports, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis and boats at the lake. Be sure to do your research ahead of time as some of the rentals are quite expensive. After a relaxing morning on the water I was ready to put my hiking shoes back on to explore on foot.
The Rim View trail is a 10 mile loop around Page and the trailhead was conveniently located next to my hotel. I had all intentions of hiking a few miles on it, but I couldn’t find the trailhead (side note: a local showed me where the trailhead was later that day… it was literally across the street from my hotel) so I went to the Hanging Gardens. It’s a quick one mile hike on the sandstone that leads to a garden in the middle of the desert—be on the lookout for snakes and other wildlife!
Next I went to Lone Rock Beach, which is located in Utah, but only a 15 minute drive away. The beach is great for day use; however, camping is permitted if you plan to stay overnight. I definitely recommend this campsite!
Horseshoe Bend: After exploring the beach I was ready to see Horseshoe Bend. It’s an easy to moderate (the sand is deep in some areas) 1.5 mile roundtrip hike that offers an amazing view of the Colorado River. Words can’t describe the view and pictures don’t do it justice!
By this point you’re probably wondering what to do when the sun goes down in Page. There are a handful of bars and restaurants to choose from. I recommend State 48 for a local pub atmosphere. The crowd is friendly; however, the bar service wasn’t the best (they were definitely on AZ time). If you’re into karaoke, be sure to check out the Windy Mesa—it’s mostly locals, but there were a few other tourists there!
Antelope Canyon: This has been on my travel list for quite some time and I was excited to see the slot canyon up close and personal! The only way to see the canyon is to book a guided tour since the canyon is on Navajo land. There are a handful of tours available so be sure to do your research for the time/location you’re interested in. Tip: Book in advance, especially if you plan to go during the peak hours (around 11am-2pm) to catch the sun beams. I booked an 8am tour of Upper Antelope Canyon through Antelope Canyon Tours since I had to hit the road later that morning. The Navajo guide provided great information while the tour group walked through taking pictures along the way. Warning: Be prepared for the canyon to be crowded as multiple tour groups begin/end at similar times.
Next stop: Grand Canyon National Park!! The drive from Page to Tusayan was about 2.5 hours that included a drive through the park. Once I got into the park I stopped at nearly every overlook and each view was different than the one before! I’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but seeing it firsthand is breathtaking! The Grand Canyon Half Marathon (GC half) was the following day so I took the day off from hiking to recuperate from all the miles I hiked earlier in the week. I stayed at the Red Feather Lodge because it was reasonably priced and walking distance to the race start/finish.
A little about the race: Vacation Races hosts races at various national parks in the US. I’m still not sure if running this race was my idea or my friend’s idea (who flew in from Seattle); however, I decided to run the GC half as my first vacation race because I’d never been to the Grand Canyon before and there was minimal elevation change according to the course map. The race was held in the Kaibab National Forest, which is located just outside of the Grand Canyon south entrance. It was a very well organized race and the course was amazing even though there were no canyon views!
Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to explore the trails of the Grand Canyon after the run. Elevation changes weren’t in my best interest after running a 13.1 mile trail race so I stuck to the Rim Trail. This was more of a leisurely stroll than a hike because it’s mostly a paved path with spectacular views of the canyon and minimal elevation changes. After about 5.5 miles I stopped at the El Tovar Lounge at the Bright Angel Lodge for a well-deserved beer (or two) and snack before trekking the 5.5 miles back to the car. Total miles run/hiked that day: 25! To celebrate all those miles I went to the Big E Steakhouse & Saloon for excellent food and wine! Tip: There are parking lots located near most trailheads; however, shuttle buses are also an option. Be sure to check out a sunrise or sunset over the canyon while you’re there!
I was hopeful to take a helicopter tour of Havasupai Falls or check out the Sky Walk the next day but, this is where my lack of planning in advance failed me—both were about 3-4 hours away and I had to catch a flight out of Phoenix the next morning. Instead, I decided to hike into the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. This is a steep, dirt trail that enables you to see the canyon from a totally different perspective. I set off on my hike not quite sure how far I would venture due to the miles I logged the previous day. Within the first couple miles, I met another hiker who also ran the GC half and next thing I knew we hiked to Plateau Point (12 miles roundtrip). Tip: Allow yourself extra time to hike back up!
A week in the desert is great for the soul and I can’t recommend visiting Arizona enough! There’s something for everyone and the scenery is remarkable! Big shout out to all the friends (old and new) I met along the way that made my trip so memorable! Until we meet again…!