Padilla Vacation Out West
Part I: Grand Canyon
This summer, our family of three took a vacation out West. We had an incredible trip, and, after documenting it on Facebook and Instagram, I had many people reach out about our itinerary and recommendations. Although this post is unusual compared to what I normally write about, hopefully most of you will find it interesting, helpful, or, at the least, enjoyable (I have posted as many photos as possible!).
Where: Grand Canyon; Page, Arizona; and Zion National Park
When: July 28-Aug. 4
Why: Did you know that fourth graders in the U.S. can get themselves and their families into national parks for free? The fourth grade pass is valid through August before starting fifth grade. You can Google it, search on the national parks website, or go here. Since Philip had just finished fourth grade, we took advantage of this pass and visited three national parks, saving us a little more than $300 on this trip.
Planning: I used a template shared with me by a friend to plan our trip. We had quite a few credit card points that paid for most of our hotel stays. You can download or view the document here. We stayed pretty close to this itinerary but made a few changes along the way.
Las Vegas: There were few flight options from Birmingham, Alabama, to Las Vegas, so we took the late afternoon flight, arriving very late in the evening. We stayed at the Hampton Inn by the airport, and we highly recommend it if staying just for the night. The hotel was undergoing renovations, and the accommodations were excellent. No airplane noise that we heard, and it was located in close proximity to a grocery store, Walmart, and food options.
We rented a car at the airport and basically drove a big circle in a week: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon to Page to Zion to Las Vegas.
The next morning, we went to the grocery story and bought snacks, lots of water bottles, foam ice chest, and lunch items. I also brought with me on the trip several collapsable ice “chests,” including a backpack that is insulated (highly recommend!). We used this backpack every day packed with our water bottles. I bought it at Home Goods. Having a picnic lunch almost every day on the trip helped save us money.
Leaving Las Vegas going toward the Grand Canyon, there is an overlook of a lake. I wished we had stopped for the view as it seemed pretty popular. Originally we had planned to go to Flagstaff before making our way to the Grand Canyon. However, we left too late in the day to make this happen. (We were wiped out by our late night flight!). By the way, every drive was enjoyable. The scenery is amazing.
Turning off the interstate to go directly to Tusayan, we stopped at a gas station that had old cars and memorabilia of the old Route 66.
Grand Canyon: We stayed outside the Grand Canyon South Rim in Tusayan at the Premier Best Western. We had planned this trip too late and couldn’t find room inside the Grand Canyon Village. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely recommend staying at a hotel inside the village. We chose the Premier Best Western because it looked like the most family-friendly hotel. It was OK but definitely not the cleanest or best accommodations. The hotel had two pools (one inside and one outside) and a bowling alley and game room (both were run-down). The town itself was a tourist trap, and most of the food was overpriced and not very good (do not eat at a steakhouse!). However, if you did stay in the town, we’d recommend the pizza from We Cook Pizza and Pasta or coffee from the Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory.
The temperature was amazing while we were there. However, the temperature was cool (think 60s and 70s) because it was monsoon season. This meant that it rained almost every afternoon/evening. Since we only had a week, we basically had 1.5-2 days at each location, which was simply not long enough! Our schedule for the trip, for the most part, was exploring in the morning through lunch (until 1-2), back to the hotel in the afternoon for a rest/pool time, and then back out again in the late afternoon/early evening.
Because we arrived so late the first day to Tusayan and because it was storming, we did not go into the national park until the following day. The next day, we arrived in the morning and walked around the South Rim, taking the trolley/bus into Grand Canyon Village, and walking Bright Angel Trailhead for only about 30 minutes roundtrip (you want to be careful and not try to do this whole trailhead down and back in a day). We ate a picnic lunch looking out at the scenic views outside El Tovar hotel. On this day at the park, we saw many elk and a California condor!
The rain and lightening (beware the lightening!) started moving in around 2 p.m., so we headed back to our hotel. We watched a movie, napped, played games in the arcade, until dinner. I totally recommend not going on a vacation in order to pack in sightseeing all day. It leaves everyone exhausted. We came back home feeling relaxed and rested because we built in rest time.
The next day, we checked out of our hotel in order to make our way to Page. But our sightseeing this day involved taking the south rim road to the east and stopping at every Grand Canyon overlook. I mean every single one. We had a blast! Each site gave us a new angle of the canyon. We also saw elk on our drive, and we finished the south rim with lunch and ice cream at the Desert View Watchtower. There was our favorite stop on the drive.
Since this is a long post, I’ll stop here. I will share about Page and Zion shortly with the hope that, if you haven’t been, you’ll make a trip as soon as you can!