Monday, April 25, 2022

Arizona - Utah trip


The below Itinerary does not include Zion and Bryce National parks in Utah, as we have been to these already. So this includes the other three national parks in the Utah Mighty 5, and a few sites in Arizona. 

But the Utah Mighty 5 loop is a 1 week in itself, so you can easily replace the Arizona portions with Bryce and Zion and complete those if you want to do all 5 national parks in Utah 

Dates : April 16-23 

Day 1 : 

  • Morning flight from SFO to Las Vegas. 
  • Drive to Grand Canyon for Sunset (4 hrs from LV) and a little hike around the rim trail.  
  • Stay in Grand Canyon (Red Feather Lodge- basic hotel)

Day 2 : 

  • Drive to Page, Arizona (2 hrs from Grand Canyon).
  • Visit Antelope Canyon and Horse Shoe bend. 
  • Stay in Page, Arizona ( Holiday Inn)

Day 3: 

  • Drive to Monument Valley from Page ( 2 hrs). 
  • Explore the wild cat trail
  • valley drive
  •  Forrest Gump point. 
  • Also pics at the Utah sign :). 
  • Drive to Moab (2.5 hrs). Stay in La Quinta, Moab

Day 4 : 

  • Corona and Bow Tie Arch trail (3 miles)
  • Arches National Park - Delicate Arch Trail (3.4 miles)
  • Windows

Day 5 : 

  • Arches National Park - lookouts, Windows, Balance rock, Devil's garden trail to Double O Arch
  • Dead Horse point state park for sunset + star gazing in Arches

Day 6 : 

  • Explore Canyonlands National Park - Messa Arch, Rim Trail, Upheival Dome trail and drive to Red Sands Hotel in Capital Reef. 

Day 7: 

  • Explore Capitol Reef - Hickman's bridge trail (2 miles), petroglyphs, Gifford House, Grand Wash trail till Narrows(3 miles).
  • Drive to Cedar city. 
  • Stay in Best Western Cedar City

Day 8 :

  • Drive to Vegas, explore snow canyon state park- Jenny's canyon (on the way)
  • pit stop at the Venetian and flight back to SFO

A few things to consider 

  • Download the Utah and Arizona offline maps in Google Maps. We have had long stretches with absolutely no coverage, and this was so important. 
  • Arches National Park has timed entry. Do check their website and book the timed entry slot early and go in that time slot itself. Get the QR code from the site and keep it handy. Usually some slots open up 6 pm the prev day too, so please check the site at 6 pm or post that for next day tickets 
  • Antelope Canyon require prior booking and the walk ins are first come first serve and there is no guarantee. I booked via trip advisor, and they charged me $170 for the tour / head where as of you go directly with the tour company and book, it was only $120. I completely felt ripped off by trip advisor on this. The only thing was a guarantee on the date and time which we got with this. 
  • There are other canyons - canyon X, secret canyon, lower antelope canyon etc, which are far lesser in cost and could potentially give you similar experience. 
  • Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol reef  has no restaurants or food options inside the park. So please carry lunch with you when you go explore these places. Monument Valley has some ice creams in their gift store.
  • Antelope Canyon has strict guidelines on mask, and they did not allow us to take any photos with the mask removed. This might change based on covid rules.
  • You do need some time to do hikes and explore the national parks. So I would suggest keeping 2 days for Arches.
  • Get the hikes you want to do downloaded in all trails. Especially capital reef, did not have well marked trails in many areas. 
  • Try to catch the sunrise or sunset. I would prefer sun rise at horse shoe bend than sunset. 
  • Hiking boots, and sun glasses are essential. 
  • Weather in the Capitol reef area is very unpredictable, so please carry your jackets with you. 

Restaurants / Food options 

  • Grand Canyon : Food Club : American food ( normal diner food)
  • Grand Canyon - Market - the Deli place there had some good avacado flat breads and salads 
  • Page Arizona - La Tapeteria - very good Mexican food 
  • Moab - Desert Bistro - upscale - amazing amazing food! The best dinner we had
  • Moab - Singham Thai - good Thai food 
  • Moab - Moab food truck - various options - decent food. Pizza, coffee and gelatos we got there were yummy 
  • Capital Reef - Red Rock Cafe - inside red sands hotel - only tacos - decent food 
  • Cedar city : Mandarin - good Chinese food 

Apart from these, we did get to-go from Subway, Burger King or managed with snacks we got for the road 

Day 1 : Flight and drive to Grand Canyon

Today we had an early start from home, around 5:30 am. We reached SFO airport around 6:30, parked the car at long term parking and reached our gate. We were catching the flight to Las Vegas. We met up with Indro at the gate. Took some cursory start of the trip pics and boarded our flight at 9 am. There was some delay in the flight - around 45 mins. We reached Las Vegas around 11 am. We took the shuttle to rental place, and stood in a long queue to finally get our minivan around 12:30 pm.

All set for the trip

Started the drive

From here, we decided to ditch an elaborate lunch and grab some snacks from the near by grocery store and subway protein bowls. We had lunch quickly in the car, and started our drive to Grand Canyon around 2:30 pm or so. It took us a good 4.5 hrs to reach Grand Canyon with two breaks in between. 

The kids were fed during one of the breaks. 

I fiddled with the right kinda music for the road trip, generally chatted and took a quick power nap too. 

We reached Grand Canyon, drove to our first point : Mathers view. A short hike from the parking lot took us to our first view of the Grand Canyon! This is my first time seeing the canyon, inspite of being in the US for so many years.  We also were there at the right time - during sunset, and the golden sun rays made the canyon shine in different shades! It was so huge and extended for miles! No wonder it’s called ‘The Grand Canyon’. 

There are so many things you can do here, like hiking down Grand Canyon or checking out some of the other hikes around the area. But since it was late, we decided to just do the rim trail. 

Grand Canyon

We took a lot of pics, and also walked along the rim trail to a couple of other view points for better views. 

The kids got tired from the long journey and walk, and hence sree and kids went back to car and me and Indro walked the extra .5 miles to Yavappai point. We returned back and our first discussion on which restaurant to go to. We were all so hungry! We picked the Food Club.

A famished lot, digged into the reasonably good food, that they brought. 

We checked into our hotel(red feather), and had to climb up with our suitcases a flight of stairs resulting in us ready to crash! 

The room was very basic. We showered, and was on our devices for an hour or so, and decided to call it a day 

Day 2 : Antelope Canyon and Horse Shoe Bend 

After a good night sleep, we woke up around 7:30, and checked out from the hotel at 9:00 am. Our first stop was at the gift shop to buy our usual souvenir magnet, and got some small trinkets for Tara and Pranav. We next stopped at the Grand Canyon market place, inside Grand Canyon village. We got some nice avacado flatbreads, and sandwiches from the Deli there. 

We started our drive to Page Arizona. We stopped at couple of spots on the way to capture some more pics of the Grand Canyon. 

We reached Antelope canyon - upper antelope canyon tours around 12:30 pm. We gave the kids a quick lunch of PB&J and waited at the pickup point.

I was a bit taken aback with the actual cost of the tour and how much trip advisor cost was. Anyways, nothing can be changed now. But surely frustrating. 

They were right on time, and we and our friend Indro, and few other folks were in the same group. Our guide was JR. This tour company was very strict about not removing the masks for any pics. We were taken in a small truck, along off terrain roads to reach Antelope canyon. 

The weather was super good! We were amazed at how beautiful the canyon was from the moment we entered it. The water eroding and collecting sand and rock and this canyon created with flash floods etc, is amazing. We took so many pics and loved the play of lights. Our guide was super helpful and told us many spots to take good pics and he also took many pics of us. By the end of the tour, our guide and us  were super chatty! He really knew the right spots to take pics. The tour was about an hour and the canyon was around 0.25 miles long.

After the tour, we were dropped at our pick up point. We drove down to our hotel, Holiday Inn, checked in and had our already bought lunch. 

Upper Antelope Canyon

See the angel wings?

Indro came over, and we all discussed and researched on what we should do today and tomorrow.

Around 5, we left to explore horse shoe bend. We did a pit stop at Safeway to have a coffee at Starbucks, but they were closed.

We got some more snacks and food for kids and left to horse shoe bend

Horse shoe bend lookout point was about a 20 minute walk from the car parking. 

This was an easy stroll during the golden hour and we reached the lookout point. There was already a crowd there for sunset. There was very less spots from where we could take a good pic without the crowds around. 

We explored the area, waited for sunset and took more pics. I do believe sun rise is a better experience than sunset from this particular lookout point, but you can walk around the area to get a different angle if needed. 

Horse shoe bend trail

Horse shoe bend at sunset.

We went for dinner at El Tapitan (recommended by JR) and had some yummy Mexican food there. 

We were full to the brim by the end of it and we came back to the hotel and called it a day after some browsing and TV time for kids. 

Day 3 : Monument valley 

Today, we had to checkout from Page, Arizona and start to Monument valley. 

We figured out the address for the same, and drove there. We got a packed lunch from Burger King. 

We reached Monument Valley around 12:30 pm, which is 1:30 pm Utah time. 

In search of the visitor center, we found this awesome majestic view of the entire Monument valley! It was so amazing! 

We took many pics there. The red rocks, the light brown road through it, it was just amazing! 

I went into visitor center and figured out the wild cat trail head and also the valley drive starting point. 

We again prepped for the hike, and started on the wild cat trail. It was hot, but we enjoyed walking to see the buttes closer. Pranav was a sport and Tara tagged along too! Sree and Indro also followed. 

We walked for about a mile into the trail and turned back. 

We started on our valley drive, soon after this and went around the entire drive of 13 miles or so to see all the structures in monument valley! Different shapes emerged and the red sand and brown structures gave a very different feel to this whole place. 

Monument Valley!

We returned, and started on our drive to Moab with two stops - one at the Utah sign and the second one at Forrest Gump point. After these quick photo stops, we drove down to Moab. 

We reached Moab around 8:40 and directly went into to Desert Bistro for dinner. 

This place was amazing! It was more like fine dining, every item we ordered was perfect. The appetizers and the fresh bread that they gave with the herb flavored butter, oil - was out of the world. The entrees were ordered were also so great! After this yummy dinner, we checked into La Quinta, and Indro checked into a hotel opposite to ours. 

the lobby mentioned we need to have a reservation into arches national park before we can visit it. This was a bummer. We immediately looked up for a reservation and found one for 2 pm and booked it.

We then found out that our toilet was clogged and it was a hassle. By the time we slept it was late. I again researched a lot on the hikes we were planning for tomorrow with the links Indro had sent over. I slept at 1 am. 

Day 4 : Arches National Park.

Today was one of our hardest days. So we started off with lot of enthusiasm to do the Corona arch. We picked up Indro and started for this hike around 10:00 am. The kids were also pumped up a bit because someone mentioned secretly to us that if we look closely, at one point we can see dinasaur bones! We climbed up a few meters with anticipation and to our bad luck, sree twisted his ankle and was in immense pain. He tried to see if he can walk the trail after some rest, but he was in pain and I helped him down back to the car. 

He said he will rest in the car and the rest of us, continued on the hike. Tara was inconsolable as she was unable to do this hike with Sree. It was also very hard on me emotionally too to convince her and make her walk with Indro providing a lot of support. 

We kept walking up, and following the green markings on the rocks. At a certain point it became a bit steep and Indro said he will wait down and Tara also decided to wait with him. The next part of the hike was climbing up a steep rock with the help of a rope. I managed a few steps up with Pranav and then asked the person behind me to help me get him to the top. And we got introduced to this family, who was very sweet and we tagged along with them the rest of the way. Next up was the ladder, and Pappu climbed that too. And then walked all the way to Bow tie and Corona arch! It was beautiful! I loved going under the arch and taking some pics from there. 

Bowtie Arch

The Corona Arch

I knew Indro and Tara were waiting, and hence did not take too much of a rest and came down with Pappu. Coming down the rope also, an Asian person helped Pappu down, and then I went back to Indro and Tara. Tara was making rock stacks, while she waited. Then we all walked back. Tara was feeling fine afterwards and we reached the car, around 12:30 pm. Sree was still in pain. So I drove, and we saw the petroglyphs on one of the walls as we drove down the road. Later, we stopped at market place in Moab and got sree supplies to provide ankle support and additionally got some snacks and water etc. 

We also got lunch for Sree and kids. 

It was decided by then that Sree should rest his foot for today, and kids were tired from the hike, so we dropped them all at the hotel, and me and Indro rushed to make the reservation we had at Arches. It was between 2 and 3, and we finally got in. We stopped at visitor center, had our lunch in the car, did a restroom break and started to drive down to delicate arch trail. 

We started our walk, and this was marked a hard trail, but it was not that bad. There were no scary portions, and we kept walking up over an elevation. Then we reached the very top and we walked along a ledge and then the delicate arch opened up! It was a site to see! Me and Indro took multiple pics. Through out people were telling us, about the wind and now we know! It was so windy today, and it almost felt like we would fly away. 

After spending some time, we walked back which was pretty easy. 

We finished this hike and we went over to the windows. Here there were 4 short hikes all of it is very much doable. So we did all of those. We got some spectacular pics.

We also saw the double arch. The sunset was awesome too! 

Around 7:15 pm, we drove back, and sree ordered us some food. Indro dropped me at hotel.

I freshened up, and we all had our Togo dinner which was some amazing Thai 

Food from Singha thai cuisine. 

I did the laundry, and I was also too tired from all the hiking, and we called it a night.

Day 5: Arches National Park and Dead Horse point state park

Today, we had got reservation for early morning between 8-9 am. So, we got ready early, had a quick breakfast and picked up Indro and started off to Arches. Main aim today was so that Sree can do some of the shorter hikes and take time to do it. We first stopped at the visitor center, and got our magnets. Along with that, we also got an activity book for Tara and a ‘Bobcat’ - also named later as Bobby the cat for Pranav. This bobcat, was then featured in most of our pics from here on. we stopped at all the viewpoints in Arches and took our time for Sree to enjoy the place. Then took sree to Balance rock, a short hike there for the views. And we stopped at windows so sree and kids can do all the trails there to see the north window, south window, torrit arch, and double arch. 

After this, we stopped at the south view point of delicate arch. And sree walked over here and we decided to do the upper view point. Which was a short hike, but we took more time to climb up some of the steps and then view it from there. It was still tiny, but atleast he could see the delicate arch. 

At windows

After this, we stopped at a few more points and then drove to Devil’s Garden. Me and Indro thought we will try the Double O Arch trail. Sree did not want to stress his legs, and he and kids stayed in the car. 

The initial part of the trail was an easy walk - through some fun sand slides, and moss  covered wall and moving into a path through the red rocks. More views of the red rocks emerged and as we went about a mile into the trail we saw the landscape arch. It was huge and pretty narrow. The landscape arch had huge blocks of stone drop from it in 1991 and hence no one is allowed to go under it. I took some pics of it there and then moved further to explore double o arch. There was a steep incline which I had to climb up, and then at one point, had to climb over more boulders. It almost felt vertical with no support anywhere. I contemplated standing there if there is a way to go up. I was alone, and Indro decided not to do this portion, and even folks who came behind me was skeptical. We explored another route, but that did not work out. We saw a few folks going up another way, but again, my mind played with me, mainly due to the fact that I might be able to climb up, but maybe I may not be able to climb down. Then someone told us that even after this climb, there is a walk through a ledge which has steep drops on either side. Somehow did not feel comfortable and I turned back and joined Indro. We walked back, and then checked out the pine tree arch and tunnel arch on the way, and got back to the car

Landscape Arch

The cool backdrop behind me!

After this, we got out of Arches National Park, and went to have coffee. It lead us to a food truck park in Moab. We had some good coffee, tea, pizza, gelato and Chinese food:). It was so satisfying. 

We left to Dead Horse State Park near Canyonlands. We reached there around 6 pm and went to the visitor center for restrooms. We then drove to the main overlook at the end of the road for the sunset. We had time, so we spent some time here, walked around a bit. I took Tara and Pappu separately around the rim, while Sree sat and rested his foot. 

Indro met up an older couple who is travelling in their camper van, and was helping them with their parking reservation in Arches, where as me

and Sree met another traveler (Greg)  who is travelling in his van and seeing around 20 national parks in the next 4 months. It was nice to talk to him, and learn about his experiences. We saw the sun setting and the golden rays on the canyon below.

We were about to go see the sun actually setting, but we all did not make it, as we were busy chatting! But the experience of meeting a new person and having a conversation with him was well worth it.


We directly went for star gazing in Arches, at the panorama point and could actually see a lot of stars. The place was crowded, and every time a car came in with lights on, we had to get our eyes again readjusted to the darkness.We could not see the milky way, but I am sure when its pitch dark, it will become more visible.

We called it a night, and came back to our hotel.

Day 6: Canyonlands National Park

Today, we had a late start to the day. We woke up late, had to pack everything and check out from the hotel. Sree had to dress his leg again and we brought all the luggages down. We also got subway for lunch as there are not places to eat inside canyon lands.

Picked up Indro, and drove down to Canyonlands. We reached Canyonlands around 11, visited the visitor center, got our magnets and started off to the first point - Grand view. It was more than we expected and was magnificent. We took some pics here, and this was something Sree could also do. Me and Indro walked the rim trail and viewed the canyons from different angles and took many pics. This was a short hike, and we came back in about 45 minutes. Next we went to Messa Arch. This was again a 0.6 mile hike. Sree managed to do this hike slowly, and it was lovely to see the Messa  arch and the view through it. Also spotted the washing lady rock formation.Again we took some pics and started back.Next we stopped at Green River overlook, had our lunch, saw the overlook and started to Upheaval dome.

Canyonlands - Rim Trail

Messa Arch - a great place for sunrise

Washing lady from Messa Arch!

Sree was not doing this hike. So me and Indro went on this one. We reached the first look out, and this was a well paved path. We could see the rock formed inside the canyon, from here. But we decided to go to the second overlook and see if from there too. I had read the second overlook is very beautiful. The trail was ups and downs, but manageable. At one point, towards the last portion of the trail, it was a steep incline, so Indro decided to stay back, and I went up. The 360 view was amazing and well worth the trip.

After this, I started back, and joined Indro a bit further down, and walked back to the car.

the 360 view was worth the climb

Upheival dome

We then started to Torrey, Utah, as our stay was here to see Capitol Reef National Park.

This was a 3 hr drive, and one of the most scenic ones on the trip.

We made some stops for quick coffee, and restroom breaks. Just before we reaching the hotel, Pappu felt nauseated and he threw up in the car. We had to stop and clean him up, and start again. We again stopped when he mentioned he might want to throw up again, but he finally did not have to, so we started off. Reached the red sands hotel in Torrey. I liked the vibe of this hotel. We had dinner  (Tacos) inside the hotel itself. They were yummy! After this, we quickly changed into our swim wear and the kids and us enjoyed the jacuzzi here. The pool was not heated so we spent our time in the hot tub.

Came back to the room, did laundry and researched on what to for tomorrow.

Day 7 :  Capitol Reef

We got up a bit early, got ready and checked out around 8:40 am. The weather was windy and cold and raining. We were surprised by the sudden weather change from hot to rainy and windy in capital reef. 

Our first stop was Gifford House. I saw in a YouTube video that their apple pies etc are really yummy. I am not a pie person but really wanted to check this out. 

So we reached the Gifford house which was located in a very scenic location with the red rocks and the light green leaves all around. 

Eating Pies from Gifford House!

Gifford House 

It started raining so we got a shaded seat, and had our pies. They were yummy! We got the peach, strawberry, cherry and apple pies. 

We loved the entire setting. We took some pics here against the green and the red, and decided to try the Fremont River Trail. We went to the trail head and walked and saw a notice of closure or something. So we turned back, and tried to find another way to the trail head and was unable to. 

After a few more pics at the beautiful location, we went to the visitor center to get our magnets and restroom break. 

We took the scenic road next and enjoyed the scenery on both sides and was excited to see the views from the Capitol gorge parking lot. 

We drove back to do the Hickman bridge trail. On the way, we checked out the petroglyph panels and went to the trail head. We thought this would be an easy trail for Sree’s leg, but it turned out the trail was a moderate one with many climbs. I managed the kids while Sree and Indro climbed up together. We reached the natural bridges point, and took some pics and Sree said he might not be able to exert more. And Tara wanted to stay back. So both of them walked back to the car, while me, Indro and Pappu walked up further to see the Hickman bridge. The views were amazing on this trail and lot of variations too. We took some pics, and Pappu started getting cranky. We went around the bridge and turned back to proceed to the parking lot. The hike back was mostly downhill and was so much easier and faster. So we covered distance  very quickly and kept Pappu entertained. 

Capitol Gorge

Hickman Bridge

We reached the car, and had some quick snacks, and told me that if I wanted to do another trail, I could do a quick one. So I picked the grand wash trail. My initial goal was Cassidy arch. But I was contemplating the time I might need for it. So decided to do the grand wash where I was pretty sure that I can turn back once I saw the narrows. 

So sree and Indro waited in the parking lot with kids, while I took a solo hike to grand wash. Initially it was hard to find the path. That’s one thing with Capital Reef, the paths are not well marked. 

But I soon found it, and enjoyed the 1 hour hike through the canyon. I walked into the narrows and the steep rocks loomed in front of me. I walked for almost 1.5 miles in, and then decided to turn back in the interest of time. I took some pics of myself by setting the timer etc. 

I completed the trail and was back in the car by 3:35, and we started off to Cedar City. 

We stopped to get some snacks/food for the road and started driving. 

The scenery around was beautiful and it varied every 15 minutes. The rain, the fog etc gave it a dream like feeling. I tried to take many pics from the moving car. 

We also experienced a 5 min hail storm and also found snow covered mountains next and on our sides.

This beautiful drive ended in a restaurant named Mandarin in Cedar city. We dined Chinese today, and food was yummy.

After dinner, we left to our hotel. We checked in, and unloaded everything, when the receptionist mentioned we have to take the car and go to

The other end of the building. We decided we will just walk here and checked into our rooms and called it a day. 

Day 8 : Snow Canyon State park & pit stop at Venetian

Our main agenda for today was to pack everything as we pack for the flight, and then drive down to Las Vegas. We thought we can spend an hour in snow canyon state park, on the way. We checked out from the Best Western, and drove down to snow canyon state park. The state park in itself was beautiful with the red rocks. The ranger in the front told us, that the petroglyph slot canyon is a long hike, and what we could explore is the Jenny canyon. It was just a 0.5 mile hike and the beautiful slot canyon was right in front of us. We explored it and it was also not a lengthy one, so this was quick. Took some pics and then went back to the car. Pappu had a small cut in his hand, and we had to unpack our bags a bit to find a band aid  and put it for him. From here we left to Vegas straight. We reached the Venetian at 1:30 pm. We had a quick lunch from the food court there, and explored the Venetian till around 3:15 pm. The Italian vibe never gets old. 

We started off to the car parking at 3:15, and drove down to the gas station and rental drop off. We cleared all the garbage and took the shuttle to the airport. We had enough time, and we rearranged the stuff in the bags and checked in, and finished security check too. 

Around 5 pm, we were at the gate, an hour and half ahead of our boarding. Since we had time, sree took me to a slot machine to try my luck, only to end up in me losing $10. This will be the end of my gambling in Vegas. 

We sat there and chatted for a while, waiting for our flight to board. Once we boarded, time flew by quickly. I wrote part of this blog, and watched one of the downloaded YouTube videos and rest of the time just looked out of the window. 

The only thing that truly bothered me was my lack of understanding of how refreshments in South west worked which lead to a delay in me getting something to quench my thirst. 

We landed, and picked our baggage and went to long term parking via the air train. 

We were dropping off Indro, so we readjusted the seating to fit all the luggage. We dropped Indro off, said our quick byes and then headed home. 

The kids were fast asleep by the time we reached and me and Sree just crashed right after. 

What a beautiful trip! I am the happiest when I explore a new place!