Valley of the Fire, Grand Canyon, & Sedona Trip
We just got back from the most amazing anniversary trip to Valley of the Fire, Nevada, Grand Canyon (South Rim) and Sedona, Arizona.
My husband and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary (and 18 years together!) in the summer. We never got to do a formal honeymoon trip and decided to go big for our anniversary now that our daughter is older.
Originally, we wanted to do Yellowstone, but the prices were steep and the accommodations for the price just weren't doing it for us (I'm *not* a camper) so we started looking at other options.
I used Pinterest and Blogs and recommendations from friends and family to put together our itinerary and we truly had the BEST time. There are slight tweaks we would have made (I'll note those below), but otherwise, we thought our experience could help others when planning a vacation to this area of the country. It is so worth a trip!!!
**We did a lot of hiking on this trip and if you plan do any hiking at all (at home or on vacation), download the ALLTRAILS app. This was SO SO SO helpful!**
Additionally, my hubby had got me Oboz hiking boots in preparation for this trip for Christmas, thank goodness! I actually hurt my ankle almost 2 weeks before leaving and was still limping pretty good, but the ankle support on the boots was enough for me to be able to do all the hiking on the trip with minimal pain (PRAISE!) ... and you'll have to read on to find out what happened to my ankle in Sedona!
Valley of the Fire
Overview: about 1 hour from Vegas (45-55 miles); a day trip or 1 overnight trip
We flew into Vegas from the East Coast and got in pretty early (around 9am Vegas time), so we had the whole day!
We grabbed our bags and rental car (which unfortunately did take about 2 hours) and then headed out to grab some lunch. We aren't really Vegas people, and didn't really plan on going into town to worry about parking, etc so we went to Lazy Dog Restaurant, which was actually one of my favorite meals - the food was delicious!
We did end up driving around to look at the casinos and stopped at Whole Foods to load up on some water and snacks before heading to North Shore Inn at Lake Mead, the closest place to stay near Valley of the Fire.
This is a VERY REMOTE area. The Inn was clean and fine for one night.
The only food is a Mexican restaurant, La Fonda, across the street from the Inn, a coffee shop called Kuppa Joe Coffee, and a McDonalds. I had read reviews that the Mexican food was okay... I hate to say anything negative as it's a small little place, but my meal was inedible. I wish we would have grabbed something from Whole Foods and just ate our hotel room or did a picnic at the park.
We did, however, get coffee, a sandwich and smoothie lunch at Kuppa Joe the next morning and it was fantastic. Great decor and friendly staff. If it is open, go there!!
Valley of the Fire was about a 10-15 minute drive to the entrance and then further depending on where you are headed. It had an area of donations, but the entrance hut was no open the two times we passed through.
The first night, we went to Elephant Rock at sunset and did a quick, short hike. This is right near the road, so you could see the Rock while driving and head somewhere else for a better hike.
The next morning, we waited for coffee (didn't open until 7 because it was Saturday) and went to Mouse Tank Road.
The drive to Mouse Tank was really unique and I suggest stopping in the welcome center to get more information (we didn't do that).
We did a short hike to see the petroglyphs - these were really cool. Takes you back in time imagining what it would have been like to find yourself stuck in a desert to survive and the stories they recorded. We also got to see some sheepgoat eating.
Next, we went to another loop hike which had some rock scrambles (the way we did it, we went down) and a cool hike through a canyon.
All the hikes here were easy compared to what we did later in the trip, but awesome to see the red rock up close in such a remote location. Since we went during off season (June), it got hot really quickly - plan accordingly!!
If you aren't into Vegas or have time for a day trip, Valley of the Fire is a worthwhile venture!
Grand Canyon (South Rim)
Overview: 5 hour drive from Valley of the Fire (have go around Lake Mead and Grand Canyon) We did 1 night, but looking back, 2 nights would have been better to see even more, especially after driving in late afternoon. We are planning another visit, for sure. We hiked the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge.
The first 1.5-2 hours of the drive from Valley of the Fire are panoramic views of the desert - GORGEOUS!! Really unique (remember we are from Pittsburgh!). Then there was about a 2 hour stretch of highway - was not a fan of the truck and Arizona drivers - and then the last hour or so was forest like driving to the Grand Canyon - didn't expect this either!! **Have a music playlist ready!** We didn't get Sirius (not sure it would have worked) and radio stations rarely lasted more than 30 seconds.
It was $35 to enter the park (which I made the mistake of only bringing out National Park Passport book and NOT the actual pass - they don't care if you have a receipt, you have to pay lol).
We stayed in the Park at the Yavapai Lodge. The room was great and very clean and new. We really enjoyed being right there and able to walk to the Lodge hub for dinner and breakfast, though the food here was just okay (yet seemed to have the highest ratings around). It also got really crowded - you order, get a number, and they bring to your table. Try to get there before popular times.
We were recommended the Bright Angel Trail to the first 1.5 mile point (3 miles RT) or the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (3 miles RT) - details. There was an article about someone unfortunately passing away on the Bright Angel Trail that week, so we decided to go with the South Kaibab Trail.
I honestly just don't even have words for it. Not only is the Canyon breathtaking but being INSIDE the Canyon is one of the coolest experiences I've ever had.
BE PREPARED FOR THIS HIKE... even if you do not go the whole way down. People were showing up with crocs, sandals, 1 half-drank water bottle, their toddlers who need help walking... You are hiking the CANYON! Definitely worth it, just prepare yourself. We took 1 big water bottle with electrolytes mixed in and 3 smaller water bottles... not sure we drink it all, but we had it! I recommend hiking boots (my husband things really shoes could be ok).
We did not start until about 8-8:30am because we again waited for coffee/breakfast (which I definitely needed to eat before that hike) and then you have to ride a shuttle to get to the trailhead. We probably needed to start a bit earlier, as it was getting pretty steamy by the time we finished... depending on the time of year, I'd definitely try to begin earlier and prepare by having food/coffee in the room for breakfast.
The hike down was beautiful, but covered with loose sandy rock in some areas. I was worried about my ankle and just took it slow. The people coming up, however, all looked to be in pretty bad shape, which was intimidating.
Ooh Aah Point was incredible (0.9 miles in), and worth hiking to though a lot of people were there taking photos, so we kept descending to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles), which was 360 views in the canyon. Again, NO WORDS!
There was a bathroom point at Cedar Ridge and then we started the trek up. I was CURSING MYSELF for feeling so out-of-shape. I've never done elevation changes that extreme before but I just kept one foot in front of the other - stopping made it harder for me.
By the time we started ascending from Ooh Ahh Point, I was in a groove and handling it much better, but that first 0.6 mile climb was tough!
Most signs said it would take twice as long to come up as it did to go down, we actually found the opposite. It took us about 60 minutes to get down and 50 minutes to go up.
Later, we found the sign pictured and learned that Cedar Ridge is actually labeled as a DIFFICULT hike and Ooh Aah was a MODERATE hike... totally made sense and I took back all the negative things I was thinking about myself during the climb (LOL).
We then drove around the part a bit to see more of the Grand Canyon Park area (beautiful!) and stopped in the Market for some souvenirs and went over to the Lodge again for lunch before leaving for Sedona.
I look forward to bringing out daughter back when she's older and doing some of the biking trails, too!
Overview: 2 hour drive from Grand Canyon's South Rim, We stayed at a boutique hotel, Casa Sedona Inn, for 4 nights. Our favorite meal was at Mariposa (reservation only) and loved the Devil's Bridge hike via Chuck Wagon.... but there's so much more below!
A few overarching notes on Sedona:
Make reservations for meals for dinner before you go, it is nice to have that option and it is hard to get them if you don't book in advance.
Also, there are not a lot of uber/lyft (at least when we were there) - we did ask our hotel for some Taxi information, but if you do not want to drive, plan this as well!
Finally, if you go during off months (June-August), plan indoor activities for the afternoons when it's really challenging to be outside in the heat!
We came in on 89A which was a WILD, beautiful, scenic drive going into Sedona - I usually do not like being in the car but all of our drives were just stunning!
We pulled up to Casa Sedona Inn and immediately fell in love. It is a gorgeous, well-maintained property with a stunning garden and delicious restaurant (breakfast and lunch). We later discovered it was voted #6 romantic hotels in the country, and that it certainly was!
We got a private tour of the place when we arrived, full with a kitchen, wine cooler, and freshly baked cookies everyday for guests. We were on the first floor but had our own private patio and entrance right to the parking lot, which made it easy for us to go and arrive without disturbing anyone. It was quiet, clean, and beautiful. Exceeded all expectations - 5 STARS. Also felt the price was very fair for all we got! We would not hesitate to stay here again.
Food & Drinks
Dahl & DiLuca Restaurant (Italian) -- Dinner Reservation -- Our favorite cocktails of the entire trip! We ended up eating at the bar because we moved our reservation (Originally we were going to eat at The Hudson - which we couldn't get into then - but we were tired! This was the night we arrived from the GC), but had a lovely time chatting with the bartender and talking about what to do in Sedona. Food was good as well.
Rascal at The Wilde Resort -- Drinks -- We decided to walk to Rascal from D&D for a nightcap cocktail and it was another delicious drink! They make a lot of infused liquors in house and it was a cool vibe inside. We walked the mile home to the Inn.
Casa Sedona Inn Restaurant -- Breakfasts -- We ate at the hotel for breakfast every morning and it was delicious every day! My favorite coffee of the entire trip! You do have to have reservations if you are not a guest.
Creekside American Bistro -- Lunch Reservation -- A little trick to find the parking lot, but really awesome views and cool flavors of the dishes.
Mariposa (Latin Inspired Grill) -- Dinner Reservation -- We both agreed this was our favorite for the views, the elevated service, the experience. We considered this our formal "anniversary dinner" and even got treated to a little dessert at the end.
SaltRock -- Dinner Reservation -- This had beautiful views (really all of Sedona does!!) but perhaps felt the most "plain" of the nicer restaurants we tried. It is a restaurant in the Amara Resort so you are overlooking the balconies and common area of the guests.
We ate at a couple other lunch places without reservations and they were okay. No shortage of restaurants in the area, just need to plan if you want to try some of the ones mentioned!
Restaurants we would have wanted to try but couldn't get into:
Pink Jeep Tour - Coyote Canyons - this was great! We learned a lot about the area while seeing it from a cool perspective and Tommy our guide was super knowledgeable about the area and restaurants. Start this early! (We did 9 am but maybe even a little earlier would have been better for the heat) This was rated a 5/10 for roughness and I definitely wouldn't have wanted any more than that.
Uptown Massage - Couples Bliss Massage Package - This was wonderful and needed after the Grand Canyon hike! Melissa and Patricia made the experience relaxing, just what we needed! Loved that they gave us a little break in-between our massages and foot reflexology to have some water, tea, and snacks. Details like this matter to me!!
Visited Jerome - this is probably the only thing I would say was a bust. Learning about the town was really cool and seeing/driving up to it was unique, but the actual town just really fell flat for us. It was also super hot...
Hikes (will save that last)
Shopping & Ice Cream in Uptown Sedona (we stayed in West Sedona)
Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village - we stopped here before our lunch at Creekside American Bistro because it was across the street. It was pretty, just not our interests/type of shopping.
Saved for next time:
Chapel of the Holy Cross - my husband wasn't really into making this a priority so we ran out of time!
The Vortexes - this is so something I would love to go to, but on our romantic getaway, didn't make it on the interneray! (Well, Cathedral Rock is technically one and we did go there!)
At this point, we did a lot of hiking, and we took it easy the first couple days, just doing 1-1.5 mile hikes that were close and beautiful, but do not feel they were "different" enough to recommend. The two hikes we loved in Sedona: Devil's Bridge & Cathedral Rock!
I have to mention here, I have no idea what happened but with all of this hiking and walking, but MY ANKLE HEALED. It makes 0 sense to me. I'm not sure if it was the massage, being relaxed on vacation, the "healing power" of Sedona (which some claim) or what... but by the time we went to do the Devil's Bridge hike, I felt good!
We started this hike around 6:15am... in truth, we wish we would have started it even earlier!
This is a 5.7 mile hike, out and back with a 728 ft elevation gain. We parked at Dry Creek Vista Trailhead off of Vultee Road. This was actually very close to our hotel.
I'd definitely not recommend this for young kids or people afraid of heights.
You could make it shorter and go on the ATV road for 1 mile vs the Chuck Wagon Trail for 2.1 miles, but CW was really beautiful and shaded on the way out. We saw the ATV road when we did our jeep tour and it was just a wide, sandstone path in direct sun that you share with cars - not what we were looking for.
The 0.7 miles of Devil's Bridge is an ascent and the very end before the bridge is a rock "scramble" of basically climbing rock stairs (0.2-0.3 miles I'm guessing?)... but WOW is the view worth it!!! We were both speechless.
We got up there pretty early and there was a bit of a wait for pictures, but had a nice woman offer to take some for us. Definitely get pictures if you make it to the top!!
We ran out of time, and had to do the Cathedral Rock hike at sunset on the same day that we did Devil's Bridge at sunrise. Probably not what I would recommend if you can help it!
We got to the parking lot by 5:30pm and there was 1 spot left!! This is what we heard can be challenging with CR as there are only 2 small lots.
This is 1.2 mile out and back with a 741 ft elevation change.
I admit, I was nervous. I absolutely recommend hiking boots for this hike, especially for the way down (which I worried about the whole way hike, but it wasn't so bad with the good grip of hiking boots).
This is really what I would call rock climbing vs hiking? Maybe I'm just not experienced enough, but it was basically 0.7 hikes of "rock scrambling" and walking up/down sandstone.
Really beautiful views at the top, especially with the sun setting, and a cool ledge you can get photos on.
We didn't want to climb down in the dark (omg, seems so dangerous!) so we left around 6:45pm from the top to get back down. The hike took us a little under an hour with pausing at the top to take in the views. A really cool and unique experience!!
Hikes we are saving for next time that we didn't get to do:
Birthing Cave (2 miles)
Bell Rock (1.5 miles)
Airport Mesa (3.2 miles)
Doe Mountain (1.5 miles)
Subway Hike via Boyton Canyon (5.3 miles)
Solider's Pass (4.5 miles)
Sunrise at Sugarloaf Loop Trail (1.9 miles)
And that's that! One of our most favorite vacations ever is in the books with tons of memories and dreams for how to visit again in the future!!!
Leave comments below if you've over gone or what your favorite experiences were... I hope this helps someone plan an awesome trip to the Southwest in the future!
If you want a free printable with a rough outline, enter your information and one will be sent to your email! :)