Northern Arizona Family Trip

A scene straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Years ago, my husband flew from our home in Calgary to Phoenix to buy a used car (don’t ask) and on the drive home he made an overnight stop in a town called Page, Arizona. He chose the town randomly, but while he was eating his free hotel breakfast, he noticed that the place was overrun by German tourists. Figuring that Page had more to offer than he expected (hence all of the tourists), he made a mental note to return one day to check out the scene in northern Arizona. During an epic road trip from Calgary to Palm Springs this spring, that’s exactly what our family did.

Page sits just south of the Utah/Arizona border, so it’s quite away from the southern Arizona destinations that people are familiar with like Phoenix or Scottsdale. There’s not a whole lot in the town itself, but it makes for a great home base to stay in while you drive out to a number of national parks and other destinations in Arizona and Utah. This part of the world looks like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon and is worth checking out, especially if your family enjoys hiking. Here are some highlights that we hit in the northern Arizona/southern Utah area:

Bryce Canyon National Park Arizona

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Located in southwestern Utah, this National Park is built around Bryce Canyon, a vast field of natural hoodoos. We didn’t have time to hike through the canyon, but just gazing upon the red rock formations was enough to make the drive off the highway worthwhile.

Antelope Slot Canyon

The view from inside the Antelope Slot Canyon.

Antelope Canyon

Just minutes away from the town of Page (you can take tours that drive you out right from the town centre), Antelope is a “slot canyon”: basically a crack in the ground that can be accessed by a series of man-made stair cases and ladders. We visited the Lower Antelope, via a tour operated by the local Navajo Nation. The walk is easy and the views of the light beaming through the eroded sandstone is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Glen Canyon Dam Page Arizona

The view from the top of the Glen Canyon Dam.

Glen Canyon Dam

The town of Page was formed to house workers constructing the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, which was completed in 1966 and formed Lake Powell, which is used as a recreation lake in the summer months. You can take tours of the dam, which are educational, but probably not recommended for smaller children or anyone afraid of heights. If you’re not up for the tour, stop by the interpretive centre to catch a view of this feat of engineering.

Monument Valley Arizona

Iconic Monument Valley

Monument Valley

This is a longer drive from Page, but is worth every second. Monument Valley is a collection of iconic rock formations that you’ll likely recognize from classic Western movies. To access it, you can drive a 17-mile loop (on a very bumpy and slow-going road). There is no hiking allowed on this loop, but you can pull over and get out to take photos. Pack a lunch and make a day of it — this is the real Wild West.

The Grand Canyon

Photos don’t do the vastness of the Grand Canyon justice.

The Grand Canyon

Does anything scream “Classic Family Vacation Stop” more loudly than the Grand Canyon? The Grand Canyon’s fame is warranted — it is simply beautiful. We drove along the east side, southbound to the Grand Canyon Visitors Centre. From there, we took a shuttle and hiked about ¾ of a mile into the canyon. The trails are steep and it was hard work for child-sized legs to get back up (and as their mother, I just about had a nervous breakdown as they meandered around the narrow, rail-less paths) but hiking even just a little bit into the canyon (hiking all the way down is an overnight endeavor and not for small children) was an undeniable thrill. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of great look-out spots to experience the grandeur of this natural wonder.

Route 66 Williams Arizona

A slice of Route 66 in Williams, Arizona.

Route 66

Get your kicks on Route 66! The iconic Route 66 weaves through Arizona and if you find yourself on the path of the famed highway, be sure to stop and check it out! The road itself is narrow and not nearly as efficient as the Interstates, but going off the beaten path is what makes life interesting. As we headed to California we drove from Kingman to Oatman (both in Arizona) and it was a truly spectacular, hilly, desert drive (also, Oatman is a ghost town overrun by burros, which is worth seeing in itself). After the Grand Canyon we overnighted in Williams, Arizona, which sits right on Route 66 and is filled with kitschy restaurants and businesses that date back to the glory days of Route 66.

Of course, there is much more to see and do in this part of the world, and you’re bound to stumble upon hidden gems if you find yourself wandering around the area. But as someone who has always chosen vacation destinations around the edges of the U.S. (New York, California, Florida) it was nice to discover some of the beauty that sits in the middle of this geographically and culturally diverse country.