A Tale of Two Canyons: One Colossal, One Confined, and Both Awe-InspiringPhotos from Unsplash. Main photo: The Narrows. Travel Features the national parks
“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
I am drawn to canyons. Like the ocean, they make me feel small. Unlike the ocean, they show their age and literally wear their scars on their sleeves. This, of course, makes them who they are. But it also makes them interesting. So I travel to canyons a lot.
On a recent holiday weekend, I hauled my family to two of America’s most popular canyons—Grand Canyon in Arizona and Zion Canyon in Utah. Given the rugged terrain, it’s smart to come prepared for more off-road conditions (I drove a Kia Telluride during our trip).
Transportation aside, these two massive canyons are only separated by a two-hour scenic drive, which makes them great for pairing. Before planning a similar getaway, here’s what you need to know.
The Peaceful North Rim
With 4.5 million annual visitors, the Grand Canyon is America’s fourth busiest National Park. You wouldn’t know it after visiting the quiet North Rim, however, which receives just 10% of the park’s total visitors. Upon arrival, my family took an immediate liking to the towering pine trees, 10 degree cooler weather, and noticeable lack of noise when compared to the South Rim.
Of course, we were still treated to similarly epic views of the canyon. We enjoyed those views along a partial descent into the North Kaibab Trail, at Bright Angel Point during sunrise and sunset, and especially from the back porch of the fantastic Grand Canyon Lodge, where we overnighted in a partial view cabin. We even sang classic rock songs with park rangers after sundown, which was totally unexpected but smile-inducing.
While the canyon was the star of the show, I regret not staying in the lodge for a night or two more. It’s a truly sacred spot to enjoy the largest canyon on Earth.
The Playful “Narrows”
Given its proximity to Las Vegas, Zion is America’s second busiest National Park, welcoming over 5 million visitors into its famously narrow slot canyon every year. You can certainly feel those numbers during non-winter months, when cars are prohibited from entering, and you’re forced to wait in line to park at the entrance, and while riding the complimentary but crowded buses into the canyon.
All those people largely come for two of the greatest day hikes in the entire world: The Narrows, a 10 mile round trip shallow river hike into sometimes 20 feet wide and 2,000 feet tall canyons; and Angel’s Landing, a now permitted-only 5 mile hike to the top that we were unable to secure given its popularity. (I’ve done it before. It really is angelic.)
While The Narrows is off-puttingly busy for the first mile or two, it’s absolutely fantastic 90% of the time. “This makes me want to hike more,” my nine year old son told me. As a father and canyon-lover, that’s all I needed to hear.
For this trip, my family opted to “ hotel camp” instead of roughing it. After staying at two fantastic digs, I’m glad we did. Although it has no TV and falls way short of modern hotel standards, the Grand Canyon Lodge was fantastic. We had a partial canyon view right from our bedroom window. I could have hurled a rock into the canyon, we were so close. More than anything, this extreme proximity maximized our appreciation and access to the canyon at any given moment, which we took full advantage of. It reminded me of Crater Lake Lodge, although I enjoyed this one even more.
While at Zion, our family stayed at the nearby Advenire, a “boutique” Marriott property. Built in 2019, it’s what I’d call “western grandma chic,” which is a genuine compliment. While there we enjoyed the room’s extra seating, hardwood floors, and the fantastic sliders and fingerling potatoes at the lobby restaurant. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better road trip to two of America’s most popular canyons.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.