Last fall we got to see two National Parks, and Sedona (which could be an NP, its so incredible) in one week. This post will look at our weeklong roadtrip to see some of the most iconic sights in America.
Why Fall? Going to the Southwest in the Fall is a great option. The weather is generally much cooler, but the days are still long. We went at the end of October. We had beautiful days, and cool mornings and evenings. I highly recommend going to these parks this time of year!
We left from San Diego, and headed straight to Sedona, Arizona (8hrs). The drive was pretty diverse, from desert and rock landscapes to massive cacti. When we pulled into Sedona it was truly stunning. The red rocks at sunset are the things photographers dream of. We stayed in a funky Worldmark time share that my inlaws let us use.
There are many blogs out there on Sedona’s hikes so I won’t dive too deeply into options. We only had two days in Sedona so we squeezed in a hike each day. The first one we did was Devil’s Bridge Trail — it was an easy 4.2 mile hike. At the end you will have the option to walk out over the bridge and get a cool photo. I would be a little nervous if I had really small kids, but mine were fine. You will definitely want to find a friend to take your photo. This shouldn’t be a problem though because this trail is pretty crowded. In fact, my biggest tip would be to do this hike either very early or evening.
The second hike we did was Soldier’s Pass. It was a longer hike around 6.5 miles. The tough part with this hike was finding parking. There are a number of hikes in the area with really limited parking lots. Parking on the street is illegal. So, I would suggest having some different options available, if a spot is full, you will have another hiking option to try. Again, going early is always advisable.
The town of Sedona is beautiful and there are lots of good food options. We ate out three meals and really enjoyed all three. Pisa Lisa Pizza was great. We sat outside and enjoyed the view of the Red Rocks. It was kid friendly, and the pizza’s were very good. Elote Cafe is famous in Sedona, for a reason. The high end Mexican restaurant does not take reservations, so you have to wait in line. They have a pretty good system and an area to wait and enjoy popcorn and a margarita, but its still a long wait. Note it took us TWO hours to get in and eat. Our kids were fabulously patient, but note that you might not want to wait it out if you have small children. If we go back, I will definitely try and be one of the first people in line, OR wait until much later for a later seating. Still, the food was INCREDIBLE. Finally, if you are in the mood for a post-hike sandwich Sedona Memories Bakery and Cafe had fantastic and HUGE sandwiches. Highly recommend.
GRAND CANYON, NATIONAL PARK (SOUTH RIM)
The Grand Canyon has been on my must-see list for a long time. I feel like its one of those places that really everyone should see at some point in their life because photos do not do it justice. The massiveness, the colors, its just too stunning for words. Going to the Grand Canyon is October was amazing. There were no crowds, and the weather was cold in the morning but warmed up by the afternoon. I loved this park so much and I’m so glad that we were able to take our kids.
We were there for two days and did two hikes. A few things to note about the Grand Canyon. 1) There are two “Rims” North and South. The South Rim is open year round, and is more crowded. The North Rim is open seasonally. We stayed in the South Rim because closures on the North Rim were possible. 2) There are hotel options inside the park but they book quickly and are very expensive. Still if you have the budget it would be really fun to stay in one of the historical hotels. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express outside the park and it worked out great for us because it came with a big breakfast. Still, if you have to drive in and out of the park each day it will be expensive (around 30$ a day). UNLESS, you have a 4th grader. 3) Every Kid Outdoors– We signed my son up for Every Kid Outdoors, a national program that let’s 4th graders and their families into National Parks for free the whole 4th grade year. (I linked to the website) Score! 4) Bus/Shuttle – Once you get inside the park, there’s a free bus/shuttle system that you can take to all the lookout points. If you have small kids, this is a good option for seeing the park without hiking. 5) Biking IS allowed in the park, there are some areas all along the rim trail that you can ride that have views. We didn’t have our bikes with us this time, but it would definitely be fun next time.
Day 1 – We visited the Park Ranger Station and they gave the kids workbooks to use during our stay (great activity for kids!). You can also find out about other ranger presentations while you are there. After that, we parked and walked to the Bright Angel Lodge and then set off on the Rim Trail that goes along the whole south rim. Its flat, so its very easy. BUT, there are some serious drop offs without railings. If you have small children, be advised! The great thing about the Rim Trail is that the bus stops all along the trail so whenever you get tired you can simply jump on and have it take you right back to the Village. We stayed until evening and set ourselves up with some wine, beer for happy hour at sunset looking out over the canyon. Words can’t express how much I loved watching the sun set over the canyon. Next time I want to see the sunrise too!
Day 2 – We got up early to hike! There are two main places to descend into the Canyon from the South Rim. We started at the South Kaibab Trailhead. This trail is an out and back, so you can make it as hard or easy as you want (from 1.5 – 17 miles). We decided to go to Skeleton Point — about 6 miles roundtrip. Obviously the way down is easy, but its all uphill on the way back. The early morning was COLD, but it quickly warmed up. The views were incredible. The only downside is that its heavily used by mules for tours — there’s poop all over the trail which is gross and smells. About halfway down there is a spot with outhouse bathrooms. There isn’t a place to refill water however, so make sure you have enough. My kids (7 and 9) handled this hike with ease, but they are really good hikers, so just know your kids’ limits. Quite a while ago I wrote a post on Tips for Hiking with Kids — click the link for ideas!
ZION NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
Of the three places we went on our roadtrip, Zion is where I could have spent a few more days, and where I would like to go back and have more time. Driving into Zion is incredible. There is a reason its one of the most popular national parks (4th most visited) despite being one of the smallest. Going in October was perfect; the weather was great *60’s and 70’s, and the crowds lower. But because it was a weekend there was still a full park. I imagine that in the summer its a zoo. Zion is a fantastic place for going with small kids because there are lots of really easy trail options. For more adventurous families, you can do the famous “Narrows” river hike (renting gear is easy and available), or tempt your fate on the Angels Landing trail.
You can’t stay inside the actual park, unless you camp. You will need to walk through the station each day to get into the park, which is expensive! Our trusty 4th grader pass came to the rescue again. It saved us about 90$ at Zion! Woohoo!
Our first day we did an easy walk along the river toward the Narrows. The second day we woke up fairly early and started the hike up toward Angels Landing on the West Rim trail. However, we didn’t feel comfortable taking our kids up to the top of Angels Landing because it was so crowded and dangerous (you essentially have to hang onto a rope). Plus, it was kind of weird, all these people (women) were dressed up in full makeup, I assume to get selfies at the top. My daughter kept asking me, “Why does she have so much makeup on for a hike??” Hm, its a strange social media world we live in now, no? Anyway, instead of going up to Angels Landing you can continue on the West Rim trail that will take you up further and provide some amazing views of the valley. It was a pretty tough hike, but our kids loved the views and the fall colors of the trees changing was so beautiful.
The Zion Shuttle runs all day and stops all along the valley. Next time I definitely want to have a bike, it would be a perfect place for an easy family ride. Zion is so beautiful, I can’t wait to get back! If you have any other tips, tricks or recommendations for these locations, please comment below!