There is nothing better than the anticipation of a stellar bucket list vacation! Every year, Andres and I plan a big trip to a new destination, a new adventure, a new majestic landscape. This year, we set our sights on Arizona. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in Colorado on our family ranch, but this was my first time going out west as the outdoor adventurer and (somewhat) fully fledged adult that I am today. This was also my first time ever visiting Arizona. There’s so much more to this magical state than sand, cacti and tumbleweeds, and I was so excited to explore new lands with my man and our newlywedded friends, Kalee and Marc!
We began our trip in Page, AZ and spent the next 4 days discovering all that this little town has to offer before Kalee and Marc set out on their honeymoon in Sedona/Scottsdale and Andres and I began our hike to Havasu Falls. Now, you may be wondering where in the world is Page, AZ? Located in northern Arizona, this small town sits right above Lake Powell, borders Utah and is just a short drive from both Zion and Bryce National Parks. Page’s diverse setting includes desert, canyons, water, and mountains, creating the ultimate playground for photographers and adventurers alike. This corner of the globe has some of the most stunning geological formations and breathtaking scenery in the world.
Now, there really isn’t much to the actual town of Page. It is a very small town filled with restaurants and hotels that are usually filled to the brim with tourists wanting to check out the canyons. Despite being small, it is not to be underestimated. It’s filled with adventurous things to do. For starters, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell are all within 10 minutes!
How to Get There?
Our AZ adventure kicked off with a 4 hour flight from Orlando (MCO) to Phoenix (PHX) followed by a 4.5 hour drive from Phoenix to Page. While there is an airport in Page itself, you will ultimately save money by flying into Phoenix or Las Vegas (LAS). If you choose to fly into Vegas, it’s about a 5 hour drive to Page. The drive from Pheonix to Page trumps the drive to Vegas in terms of scenery. Our rental car rate was much cheaper if we picked up and returned it at the same location, so that was even more reason for us to fly into Phoenix.
Where to Stay?
When it comes to booking a place to stay in Page, my best advice is to not wait too long to make your reservations. Even Page’s nicer Airbnb options aren’t that spectacular. Most of the accommodations on Airbnb are quaint condos or townhomes. Because we booked a little later than we originally intended, a lot of places were reserved by the time we got around to it. Hotels in Page are just as costly, especially during peak season, so we decided to stick with Airbnb. The ones we missed out on weren’t necessarily any nicer, but they were cheaper, which is equally frustrating. The condo we rented wasn’t anything great. Luckily, we didn’t spend a lot of time there, but for $215 per night, we were hoping for something a bit nicer with an A/C capable of cooling the bedrooms below 75 degrees.
What to Do?
- Visit Horseshoe Bend
On our first full day in Page, we woke up at 3:30AM in order to make it to Horseshoe Bend before sunrise. After doing a bit of research, I learned that the best times to photograph the bend are at dawn and mid-afternoon. Luckily, the time difference was working heavily in our favor, so waking up at 3:30 wasn’t so bad. The sun comes up around 5:10AM this time of year, and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to take photos in that dreamy dawn light.
We arrived to an almost empty parking lot around 4:30AM and hiked about 15 minutes to the rim of the canyon. The closer we came, the more humbled I felt by the nature that surrounded me. This place will leave you breathless. 1,000 feet below me, the Colorado River peacefully flowed around the bend. The winds howled across the desert. Pink and purple skies illuminated the shimmering minerals that compose the canyon walls.
On our third day in Page, we returned to hike the short path to Horsehoe Bend only this time it was around 3:00PM. The sun was a bit lower than I’d hoped and cast a shadow on the river. In hindsight, I think noon would’ve been the best time to go in the afternoon, because the river would be fully lit up by the sun. I definitely preferred the photos I took at dawn, but the scenery is breathtaking no matter what time you go. I looked down to see canoes floating along the river and tents set up along the bend. They looked like little specs from where I was standing. The scenery of this magical state is so widely different than what I’m used to having lived most of my life in Florida. Every time I stopped to take in this vast, deep canyon and mountainous red rocks, I felt so humbled by nature’s raw, unbridled power. The sheer scale of my surroundings was a reminder that we are all just another grain of sand in this beautiful life.
Because it’s only a 1.5 mile roundtrip walk to Horseshoe Bend, there are heavy crowds, especially during the summer months. I found the best time to visit was early morning because there were much less tourists. Keep this in mind, but don’t let a crowd spoil your experience. It’s truly incredibly to think how Mother Earth created this breathtaking scenery. Ultimately, anyone who appreciates the wonder of nature will get immense pleasure standing before Horseshoe Bend.
To photograph Horseshoe Bend, a wide angle lens will really come in handy. For me, it was the only way to get the complete shape in the frame. Because Horseshoe Bend is located outside of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, there are no fees to park or hike here. Park at the big lot at the trailhead, right off Highway 89.
- Tour Lower Antelope Canyon
This area of Arizona is known for its beautiful slot canyons both on land and water. A slot canyon is a narrow canyon that has been formed by water and wind over the course of millions of years. Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope are far from the only slot canyons in this region, however they are the most famous. All of these slot canyons are located on either Navajo land or private land that the Navajo tour operators have been given access to. It can be a little confusing to figure out which companies have access to which canyons. There isn’t one company that has access to both Upper and Lower Antelope.
For example, Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours and Ken’s Tours are the only guide companies available at Lower Antelope. We chose to go with Dixie Ellis’ and I strongly recommend them. Our group had only about 10 people, including our party of 4. We were taken down in alternating turns with the other guide company to avoid overcrowding. Truth be told, you are still packed in this canyon like sardines, but the guides do an excellent job of managing the crowds.
We walked for about 10 minutes through fine sand and approached a line of people waiting to get into the canyon. We waited about 15 minutes before entering. I couldn’t wait to climb down and see in person what I’ve been envying on Instagram for months. We followed our guide down a steep metal staircase and the light suddenly shifted to hues of deep red. It’s surrealistic colors and shapes must be seen to be believed. No photograph will even do justice to the beauty of these canyons.
When we first entered the canyon, there were a bunch of people in one area and it felt pretty crammed. Our guide, Balencia, helped us adjust our camera phones to achieve the best pictures possible. As the tour goes on, we became more spread out and had get plenty of photo opportunities. Balencia explained how these canyons are the product of soft sandstone and flash flooding. The guide that was with the tour behind us named Erin offered to take photos for us as well, both of the scenery and of ourselves. She is studying nutrition at Southern Utah University and works as a guide during the summer. Erin and Balencia were super cool and we were really glad to have met them.
In comparison to Upper Antelope, the lower canyon is longer, so there is more to see and photograph along the way. However, Lower Antelope requires a little more physical exertion, because you will navigate through the windy cave by climbing up and down ladders. Lower Antelope is also said to be less crowded, though this was not this case in our experience. I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the canyon, I barely even noticed the abundance of people inside it with us.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, I strongly suggest booking your tour ahead of time. There are many tours throughout the day, but they book up fast with both companies! The light beams that Upper Antelope is famously known for do not really occur in Lower Antelope. The canyon’s opening is extremely narrow and provides little opportunity for the sun to shine all the way to the canyon floor. While midday is the most popular time to visit the upper canyon, the best to visit Lower Antelope Canyon is early in the morning between 7AM to 8AM. The indirect morning light offers the most ideal opportunity for great photos.
Monsoon season spans from June to August. Due to concerns of flash flooding, if there is ever a question of rain in the forecast, all tour are usually cancelled. If you have a professional camera, then look into the special photography tours of the canyon. The price for the tour is $48 per person.
- Swim at the Chains of Lake Powell
After being surrounded by tourists at Antelope Canyon, we were longing to escape the crowds and relax in nature. The cool waters of Lake Powell were calling out our name as the blazing sun beat down on us. The walls of the lake are extremely high, and we couldn’t figure out how to reach the shoreline. We stopped into a local kayak shop where a kind local told us about a place called “The Chains.” This is an area of the lake where locals go swimming without paying a fee.
If you’re heading north on Highway 89 just east of the Glen Canyon Dam, there is a dirt road to the left of the Hanging Gardens trail. Follow this road until you reach a parking lot. The trail itself isn’t marked, but it’s easy enough to navigate on your own. A sea of sloping sandstone leads to the water’s edge. As we scrambled down the rocks, we were giddy with excitement. It felt so refreshing to be in a local spot instead of the tourist mob we’d dealt with that morning. It made the experience that much more meaningful.
We jumped in the cold water and felt rejuvenated in the burning midday heat. I spent some time exploring the surrounding layered rocks. The dam stood in the background. Jet-skiers and boats were zooming past, and the bright blue lake shimmered between the two walls of red rocks. We’d found heaven in Page, Arizona. The lake is over 200 feet deep in this area, so it’s become a local fishing spot as well. We enjoyed some quiet time soaking up the Arizona sunshine before we headed back to the car. We loved hanging at The Chains so much that we went back the following day. It was a great way to mentally prepare ourselves for the dense crowds at Antelope Canyon.
- Tour Upper Antelope Canyon
Even if you didn’t know it at the time, chances are you’ve seen a photo of Upper Antelope Canyon and it’s iconic light beams. There are five tour operators at Antelope Canyon, most offering tours at similar prices. Unlike Lower Antelope Canyon, Upper is about 100 yards long and flat pretty much the whole way without any ladders or stairs.
On our second day in Page, we visited Upper Antelope Canyon. Depending on the tour company you choose, you can either drive directly to the Tribal Park Entrance on Highway 98, or take a tour from downtown Page. We booked our tour with Antelope Canyon Tours, which left from town. When I saw the modified truck with two padded benches in the back that we were all getting into, I realized half of the fun would be the ride to get there. The drive from Page to the canyon itself was about 15 minutes.
Upper Antelope is most known for it’s cool sunbeams and pouring sand. Our visit was too late for most of the sunbeam activity, which occurs between 11AM and 1PM in the spring and summer months. Whether you’re there for the light beams or not, the canyon is truly magical. My eyes were mesmerized by the fantastic shapes created by swirling water and wind. The light pours into the top of the canyon and illuminates the sandstone beneath it with a deep red glow.
The tour itself lasted for about an hour. Our guide, Rodney, slowly led us through the canyon while describing certain formations as animals or people. He explained to us how the interior continues to change due to constant wind and the occasional flash flood. We stopped many times along the walk to take photos of the landscape. Similar to our Lower Canyon tour, Rodney very attentively took photos of each group at different stops along the way. Toward the end of our tour, he also shared a song with us that he had written. We reached the end of the canyon and emerged into the light for a quick break before returning inside to make the quick walk back to the front entrance. Photos are strongly discouraged on the walk back. However, Rodney let me film with my GoPro because it wouldn’t hold up the crowd. The tour groups do not allow food, drinks, backpacks, selfie sticks or GoPros. Neither the Upper or Lower canyon guides gave me a hard time about my GoPro, because I detached it from the handle. As long as you’re not waving in front of your peers as they’re trying to take photos, I think you can get away with bringing it. Small drawstring backpacks are permitted if you don’t put a lot in it. A water bottle and camera is really all you need. The cost for the tour with Antelope Canyon Tours is $45 per person. The photography tours, which require you to bring a tripod ad DSL camera, cost $109 per person.
- Go Boating on Lake Powell
Boating is one of the most popular ways to take in all the fun that Lake Powell has to offer. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline and 96 canyons, there are an infinate number of coves and sandy beaches to explore. Even during the summer, it’s still possible to find a quiet, secluded spot to relax. Lake Powell offers ample outdoor activities for all ages. How you choose to spend your time at Lake Powell greatly depends on your budget. Originally, we’d planned to rent two tandem kayaks and paddle to a few of the closer canyons. After doing a little research on our second day in Page, we discovered that boat rentals were more reasonable than we thought and decided to just go for it! Andres and I have zero boating experience. Luckily, Marc and Kalee go boating often at home, so we were in good hands. We rented a boat and a truck to tow it from B&T Marine, and off we went.
To be honest, if I had known how choppy the waters of Lake Powell are year-round, I’m not sure if I still would’ve gone. Our little bayliner felt like it was catching some serious air from the wake of other boats passing by. Kalee and I were sure that our big boat day was going to be the most relaxing one of the trip, and we were laughably wrong. I spent the entire two hours to Rainbow Bridge holding onto to my cushion for dear life. Despite the serious concern that one of us was going to get launched off the boat (kidding…kind of), the beauty of Lake Powell can only be experienced on a boat. Choppy water is just par for the course and the breathtaking scenery made it all worthwhile. Red sandstone cliffs dominate the landscape. Deep blue water bleeds into a sandy shoreline. Lake Powell is one of the most scenic waters in the world.
Due to the size of Lake Powell you will need to make sure you have plenty of fuel for your planned explorations. Their are a few floating gas stations along the lake that also sell ice, drinks and snacks. Another important thing to know before boating on Lake Powell is that boat rental businesses in the area will rent a boat to basically anyone even if they have zero boating experience. With that being said, whoever is driving the boat has the added pressure of navigating busy waters filled with inexperienced boaters (thanks, Marc).
- Visit Rainbow Bridge
The best part about renting a boat on Lake Powell is that it gave us the opportunity to visit Rainbow Bridge! It’s too long of a paddle and the boat tours to Rainbow Bridge are ridiculously overpriced. The thought of renting a boat seemed equally over budget, so we just assumed it wasn’t in the cards for this trip. Luckily, we were wrong!
The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is one of the world’s largest known natural stone arches. Its height is listed at 245 feet, making it also one of the tallest natural arches in the world. Rainbow Bridge is sacred to many Native American tribes of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Towering red rocks reaching towards the sky are contrasted by blue-green water. The landscape of this sacred place is like no other. Visiting Rainbow Bridge will surely be one of the highlights of anyone’s trip to the area. It certainly was one of mine.
You can reach Rainbow Bridge either by taking a boat or hiking around Navajo Mountain on either of two long trails. The northern route is 28 miles roundtrip. It has the advantage of being less steep, though harder to get to. The southern trail is shorter at 26 miles roundtrip but much steeper. Although we chose to boat this time, Andres and I have added the hike to Rainbow Bridge to our adventure bucket list. If you leave from either the Wahweap Marina or Stateline Marina, the boat ride is about 2 hours each way. Along your 50 mile trip to the bridge, you’ll pass by Antelope Island and through Padre Bay.
The distance from the dock to Rainbow Bridge depends on the level of Lake Powell. When we were there, it was about a 3 mile hike round trip to access the viewing area. There is also a trail that you can take to the other side of the bridge to take in a different perspective. The National Park Service asks visitors to respect the spiritual nature of the bridge by not walking under it.
Where to Eat?
Page may not be known for its 5-star restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a good bite to eat.
- State 48 Tavern
We ate at State 48 on our first night in Page. After an early flight and nearly a 5 hour drive, we weren’t in the mood to drive much further than 5 minutes from our Airbnb. State 48 was nearby. They served tasty cocktails and the food was decent. Nothing to write home about necessarily, but it hit the spot after a long day of travel.
- El Tapatio
We’d read good review about this place online, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. The friendly staff worked hard to get our orders in, but it did take a bit longer than expected. They don’t take reservations, and it gets crowded around peak times and weekends. The food was very good and the prices were reasonable. Overall, it was my favorite meal of the trip.
A very low percentage of visitors to Page are Americans. This statistic shocks me. The United States has so many rare and beautiful treasures, and the scenery that surrounds Page is certainly one of them. Not only is there a lot to do in Page itself, the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley are all within a 2 to 3 hour drive of the town. The beauty in this part of the country is pure magic! I hope more people discover what a gem Page is.