For my second vacation of intern year (update since last post: I am now an Emergency Medicine intern aka 1st year resident!), five of my friends and I planned a trip to Utah/Arizona to discover the National Parks and other beautiful nature that the western side of our country has to offer. The planning took few dinner meetings and a LOT of group chat conversations. I’m happy to say I’m really happy with how our trip turned out even though some things did not go as planned. The trip took place in late March and we crossed several states (Nevada, Utah, Arizona) and couple time zones as well. The weather varied from freezing cold and snowing to mid-70s in Vegas so bringing layers definitely helped. If you’re interested in our 6-day itinerary, keep reading!
We took an 8:30am flight from JFK to Las Vegas and laded at 11:26am local time. We picked up our rental SUV (big enough for 6 of us + luggage and good for snowy roads we knew we might run into!) We had a quick bite at Bruxie (fried chicken & waffle place- very good!) and headed off to our first AirBnB in Utah. We chose a place in Alton, Utah which is halfway between Zion and Bryce canyon. We booked two nights here with plans to explore both Zion National Park as well as Bryce Canyon.
It was about 3.5 hr drive to the AirBnB from Las Vegas. We stopped by Costco midway to pick up some snacks (granola bars, bottles of water, fruit leather, etc). We also made a quick stop at a Wal-Mart to get some sandwich and some taco dinner ingredients.
The AirBnB was beautiful and very picturesque. It is situated atop a pretty big hill (120 acres of private land surrounds the house) so having that 4WD really helped with getting up there, especially with muddy/snowy conditions. We had planned on checking out the Full Moon Hike at Bryce Canyon (offered two consecutive nights each month during full moon. You need to enter the lottery at 4pm to be able to do the hike— they will also check that you have proper hiking shoes) but it started snowing pretty badly as we were arriving at our AirBnB so we decided not to go ahead which was a bummer because the pictures look so beautiful!
We woke up to at least a foot of snow on the ground! Since the house is situated atop a hill as mentioned before, we decided to have a snow day in and not try to venture out for safety’s sake (we had horseback riding in Bryce Canyon planned but it got cancelled due to snow). Even though I was a little bummed about being stuck inside, it really helped that the house was so beautiful and large— it even had a real fireplace and a grand piano! We spent the day watching movies, playing the piano, making a snowman on the deck, flying our drone around the property, doing yoga, and making dinner with friends. It was actually perfect. (Although I will say that given the beautiful cabin and its relatively isolated location, I did think being stuck there during a snowstorm was the perfect scenario for a horror movie…!)
We packed up to leave our AirBnB and headed to Zion National Park. This park really blew me away. We only had couple hours here which was unfortunate because there are SO MANY hiking trails you can do with various levels of difficulty (check them out here). We ended up doing the Lower Emerald Pool Trail (easy) but The Narrows and Angel’s Landing trails are definitely on my list for next time I visit!
We left Zion National Park around 2pm and started our road trip to Moab (about 4 hours). Our goal was to get to catch the sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park. With some driving break in between, our timing was perfect. Dead Horse Point is SO beautiful! It was not crowded at all which really surprised me because the view really is unbelievable. We had so much fun taking pictures here and messing around before heading to downtown Moab. Downtown Moab is really cute with lots of restaurants and shops to check out. After dinner, we headed to our AirBnB. This AirBnB had a washer/dryer so we did our mid-trip laundry here and basically passed out.
We had an early start to check out the Delicate Arch (the iconic arch in Utah license plates). We got to the entrance of the park around 7:30am-8am. I really enjoyed the (relatively) early hike because it wasn’t too crowded and the park entrance fee was waived (not sure if this is an official thing). After a short hike up you can see the arch in all its glory. After the hike, we had brunch at Jailhouse Cafe (everything was delicious-especially the ginger pancakes!) then headed to our Hell’s Revenge ATV adventure. This was WILD. I feel like we should have had helmets because the terrain was so rough and steep at times. It was so incredibly scary and FUN!
After our crazy ATV fun, we grabbed a snack at the Food Truck Park in downtown Moab (delicious quesadillas!) and started our long drive to Page, AZ. On the way, we stopped at a good viewpoint for Monument Valley (didn’t actually hike there— literally stopped on the side of the road to take some pictures/drone shots). We arrived at our hotel and immediately went to bed.
We slept in a little because we were tired from all the driving. By this point in our trip we were super grateful for the complementary hotel breakfast (eating out every meal gets expensive!) We headed to Horseshoe Bend around 10am. It was <10 minute from hotel— everything we wanted to see were really close together in Page, AZ so we appreciated the short drives. The parking facility at Horseshoe Bend is currently undergoing expansion so we had to drive about 5 minutes away to a separate parking lot and had to pay $5/pp for a shuttle bus to the location. In hindsight it would have made sense for one person to drop everyone else off and take the shuttle over but we stuck together like a team. Horseshoe bend was SUPER crowded and it really made me nervous that so many young kids/people in general were right at the edge of the cliff. Even with the crowds, you can still easily get a TON of great pictures without anybody in the background because of the way the viewpoint is structured.
For the afternoon, we visited the famous Antelope Canyon (we toured the lower part) . This is on reservation grounds so you are required to go with a tour company to explore the area. This tour just blew me away. Our guide was great and gave us so many great iPhone/Smart phone photo tips and tricks to really highlight the beautiful Antelope Canyon. The pictures don’t do it justice. This place is so so SO beautiful. It really was one of my favorite parts of the this entire trip.
After the unbelievable tour of the Antelope Canyon, we ate at Big John’s Texas BBQ which was very good. We also wanted to try Into the Grand for some Navajo tacos as recommended to us by our tour guide but it was closed— next time!
After the BBQ, we had a pretty quiet night in. We had some group bonding time with drinks and watched The Case Against Adnan Syed on HBO together before heading to bed.
The LAST day of our trip! Since our flight was at 11pm, we still had the whole day for exploring. We had originally planned on visiting Grand Canyon but last minute decided against it due to time and driving (it would have added about 3 hours to our drive). We headed straight to Las Vegas instead (4 hr drive from from Page, AZ). We stuffed ourselves at the Buffet at Wynn. Pro-tip, we entered before 3:30pm to get the brunch price but while we were there food got swapped to dinner menu so we got to try both! After a little gambling and shopping, we decided to all watch a movie (we watched Us) before heading to the Airport and catching our redeye flight back to NYC.
Overall, it took a lot of planning and driving but it was SO totally worth it. I really enjoyed spending quality time with my friends. We listened to the entire season 1 of Serial (half of us had never listened to it) which was a great way to pass time during our long car rides.
Here’s a brief summary of the trip in table form (it’s the nerd in me):
If I could plan it all over again, I would definitely give myself couple more days to explore Grand Canyon (we originally had planned on doing a bike tour) and other attractions in the area. I feel like in Zion National Park could be a trip on its own if you enjoy hiking and being out in the nature. There are also kayak tours available near Antelope Canyon which I think could be really fun. As mentioned before, if you’re traveling during colder months I definitely recommend a 4WD car and lots of layers. I recommend Uniqlo Down Jackets (packable and warm) and HEATTECH. For hiking shoes, I opted for a light weight sneaker-style hiking shoes from Salomon which were just fine for all the light hikes we were doing.
It’s been over a week since I got back but I still think about this trip and smile. This trip really gave me a glimpse of how beautiful this country is and I can’t wait to explore more of it for future vacations.