The first bucket list I posted really just skimmed the surface. Basically I wrote about my burning desire to go to Malta, the Canary Islands, and the Republic of Georgia with several other honorable mentions. For the full post, you can go here. Since then, I’ve come up with a more extensive bucket list with specific experiences listed instead of just listing places. I did want to keep it reasonable, though, since I fully plan on actually doing these things eventually!
These are in no particular order, either (that would be nearly-impossible for me to rank them).
Hike in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia
Enjoy the parades and music at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria carnival
Visit the Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta)
Climb Mount Fuji
Explore Croatia’s national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Tour the Postojna Cave system and Škocjan Caves in Slovenia
Visit the South Island in New Zealand and see if I like it better than the North Island
Road trip around the Isle of Skye
Hike up the trail to Machu Picchu peak
Trek through levadas and look for the Madeiran long-toed pigeon
Admire the Magellanic penguins in Chilean Patagonia
Watch a sunset at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California
Sample Uruguayan wine at a bodega
Visit all of the Provencal markets I possibly can in France
Take Harry Potter tours in England
Climb up Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum in Montenegro
Enjoy a Guinness in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland
Play with rescue puppies at Potcake Place in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands
I think that about covers it for me- lots of hiking, mountains with stunning views, good food and drink, beautiful water, and puppies! If you know me, you know this list sums up what I love most in the world (besides running of course, which I can do almost anywhere).
Now to see about actually making some of these places a reality for me!
Other than a couple of random shots here and there, I’ve never really posted many photos of where I run. I feel fortunate to live in an area full of running/walking/biking trails that are along areas with trees for some shade but are close enough that I don’t have to drive to get to the trails. Honestly, there’s something for everyone with the diversity of trails in my “neck of the woods,” and I thought I’d share some of them with you all. I know Paula from Neveradullbling and Slowrunnergirl often have photos of their running routes, so the inspiration for this post comes from those ladies. Check out their blogs sometime if you don’t already!
Without further ado, I’ll show some of the places where I get to run and some of what I see along the way. I hope you enjoy!
There’s more of course but you get the gist of it. I have some lovely greenways to run along and feel fortunate to live in an area with miles and miles of greenways to run, bike, and walk on. I could literally choose a different route for every one of my long runs for months, only I would have to drive a short distance to some of them.
I think the thing I like best about my running routes is the trees. We have a nice variety of different trees around here so the scenery changes along with the seasons. In the next few weeks or so the trees will be lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red, mixed in with the evergreens. Hmmm, maybe I should have waited to have taken these photos. Well, I still think the green leaves are still beautiful!
What’s your favorite thing about your running routes?
In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.
To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.
Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner. This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.
I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.
Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.
The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece. She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.
Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well. Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that. Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger. See more information here National Parks Service.
If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.
There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.
Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public. Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission. A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough. We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.
There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.
Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway! I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it. There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.
Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.
How many of you readers have been to Charleston? Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?
Despite spending several vacations in Charleston, South Carolina over the years, I had never been on a boat tour here, that is until now. My family and I recently chose to go on a 2-hour boat tour with a certified naturalist, which pretty much just means she could talk about all things related to plants and animals in the area. The boat left the Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside Street and took us to the uninhabited barrier island, Morris Island.
Along the way to Morris Island, we stopped to check a crab trap that the tour company, Sandlapper Water Tours, had previously left. The bad news is the trap didn’t have a single blue crab in it so there was nothing to add to the touch tank. The good news is since there were no crabs, that meant more time for us to explore on Morris Island.
We also saw some dolphins on the boat tour, both around the harbor shortly after leaving, and out by Morris Island when we were leaving. Apparently there are pods of dolphins that live in the waters here year-round. Our guide also told us there are many (I think she said five but I kind of didn’t want to hear this part) different kinds of sharks in the Charleston area. I prefer to not think about that little tidbit of information, so moving on.
We landed at Morris Island and were given 45 minutes to explore the island, either on our own, or with the naturalist. My family and I decided to explore on our own. We found a blue crab, the molted shell of a crab, a partial sand dollar, a partial conch shell, and many clam and oyster shells and other shells in general. We were told there are poisonous snakes in the central part of the island so we just stuck to the sandy perimeter.
There were several areas where there were huge trees that had been uprooted and they looked so cool against the beach back-drop. The views from Morris Island are also pretty impressive. From Morris Island, you can see Ravenel Bridge and Charleston harbor off in the distance, not surprising since it’s only about a 20 minute boat ride away. It feels miles away, though because the island is uninhabited so you can wander off by yourself and it seems like you’re the only person on the beach. There is a lighthouse off the coast of Morris Island that you can see from Folly Beach, a very popular beach in the Charleston area.
I really liked this boat tour and other than the total eclipse , it was definitely a highlight of our time in Charleston. The captain was great and the naturalist, who did most of the talking, was informative and explained a ton along the way about the flora and fauna in the area. If you’re ever in Charleston, book a tour with Sandlapper Tours and you’re sure to have a good time (they didn’t sponsor this post, I just really enjoyed the tour)!
Other than our self-guided walking tour of Santiago, the only other thing we wanted to do during our short stay in the city was to go up Costanera Tower in Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America. However, because the fog was so bad that day the women at the desk selling tickets advised us not to go up because we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains, we decided to save our money and skip it.
We said adiós to Santiago and set off in our rental car for Viña del Mar. For the 2 1/2 hour drive we opted to skip the toll roads, and boy what an adventure that was! The roads were some of the most curvy, winding mountainous roads I’ve seen since driving around in Greece but they were all paved and in good condition. There was almost nothing in sight for miles and miles other than beautiful countryside. We also almost ran out of gas too but with fumes left in the tank we made it to a gas station in the nick of time.
I had reserved a condo through Airbnb and the place was even better than I expected. For much less than we would have paid for a comparable condo overlooking the beach back in the United States, we had four bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, washer and dryer, swimming pool, huge balcony spanning the length of the condo, all in a safe, gated community. Check out the view from our balcony:
When I was planning our vacation I was trying to decide whether we should stay in Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. I read that Valparaíso has more charm than its neighbor but Viña del Mar is safer and more of a beach getaway. After seeing Valparaíso I could see what people mean. Valparaíso has more of an edge to it that some people prefer, while Viña del Mar is full of high rises and shopping centers. That being said, the view from our condo was stunning whether it was day or night (see above photo and last photo) and I felt completely safe at all times.
Before leaving our hotel in Santiago, we had been warned not to leave a single thing in our rental car while in Valparaiso or thieves would break the window to steal it. We took this to heart and didn’t leave anything in the car when we parked in Valparaíso. However, we walked and drove all over Viña del Mar, even after it was dark and never once did we feel like we were in an unsafe area.
One thing I do feel the need to mention is the huge amount of stray dogs in Chile. As an animal-lover, it’s heart-breaking. This sad-looking little dog followed us steadfastly one evening for a couple of miles, hoping to join our pack. We called her “Chile.” She ultimately left us just before we entered the gate to go up the funicular to our apartment.
Of course one of the first things we wanted to do when we arrived in Viña del Mar was go to the beach. Although it was a bit chilly for lying on the sand in a bathing suit and the water was far too cold to swim in, it was perfect weather for walking along the beach, which we did on multiple occasions. There are a few restaurants along the beach but since it was off-season it was pretty quiet when we were there. We also took advantage of the workout equipment along the beach to have the best workout at the most scenic “gym” I’ve ever been to!
Of course a must-do while in Valparaíso is to take a tour of the famous poet and Chilean diplomat Pablo Neruda’s former house, “La Sebastiana.” Neruda had three houses, one in Santiago, one in Isla Negra, and this one in Valparaíso. It seemed to me that La Sebastiana had the most character of the three houses, so we chose this one to tour. This was definitely one of the most unique homes I’ve ever been in, from the design to the furnishings and choice of decor. The bar area with the unique knick knacks and bathroom with the clear glass door by the bar particularly come to mind. It’s definitely a place you have to experience in-person to fully appreciate.
The website is here for La Sebastiana. Entrance fees are 7,000 Chilean pesos per person or about $10.50 US with discounts for Chilean students and Chilean adults over 60. The self-guided tour takes roughly an hour, includes an audio guide for each floor and is available in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.
We also visited Palacio Rioja, a beautiful historic home in Viña del Mar built in 1907 where you can take a self-guided tour for free. Palacio Rioja has been declared a National Monument and later a Museum of Decorative Arts. Guided tours can be arranged (although not in English) and more information can be found here. I highly recommend visiting here if you’re ever in the area.
On subsequent days in Viña del Mar we walked along the beach, walked to nearby restaurants and shops and relaxed thoroughly. The sunsets here were spectacular and many evenings we would find ourselves just gazing out the window at the fading sun and lights from the cars and stores below. This is a place I could definitely see myself returning to. The people here are friendly, traffic isn’t bad, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants and other things to do in the area.
Alas, our time in Viña del Mar was coming to a close, and we packed up and headed off to the next part of our adventure in Chile- to a more remote section called Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region. This would prove to be the most challenging portion of our vacation yet but we had no idea of that at the time!
I recently ran a half marathon in Morristown, New Jersey and decided to check out the area for a few days before the race. Although I have been to New Jersey a few other times, I had never been to this particular part of the state. Morristown is about an hour to hour and a half from New York City, depending on traffic and it’s a very beautiful area full of huge houses, farmland, and trees and flowers everywhere.
We had a rental car that we picked up at Newark Airport, so we could explore the city easily. When we first arrived, we were looking for a restaurant for lunch but had wandered into a residential area and saw enormous homes with huge lawns that must have cost millions of dollars. There were rolling hills and beautiful gardens everywhere, which seemed fitting given the state nickname is “The Garden State.”
On our first day we pretty much just walked around and took in the sights and got our bearings. The following day we went to the Ellis Island Museum and Statue of Liberty, my first time to either. Between the drive to Liberty Station and back, taking the ferry, and touring the museum and statue, that was pretty much a full day for us. We returned to our hotel, Best Western Plus, which was great. They have large rooms with small kitchens, wine tastings Monday through Wednesday, a Caribbean-themed restaurant, and a good central location. We really enjoyed the made-to-order omelette station for breakfast in the mornings.
We decided to check out Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morris Township for something a little different. The 1920s farm sits on over 200 acres and includes the Gothic revival style home built in 1854, although it has been a working farm since 1760. Previous owners include Jonathan Ogden, followed by the grandson of Paul Revere, General Joseph Warren Revere, and later the Foster family. There are docents walking around the grounds dressed in period clothing and performing tasks similar to what would have been done when it was still a working farm.
There are pigs, cows, sheep, horses, chickens, and turkeys, some of which may have babies there if you’re lucky like we were. My daughter and husband took part in weighing the piglets using a scale that would have been used by the Foster family. I don’t know how many of you have ever been around piglets but they are really loud when they squeal! There are also cow milking demonstations and you can help grind the corn and feed the chickens, churn butter, and collect eggs. This farm is great if you have young to tween age children because of all of the hands-on experiences.
If you want to go inside the Willows, the Foster family home, you have to pay extra and take an hour-long tour. You can go inside the small cottage near the Willows, however, for no extra fee. There is a lovely flower garden in front of the cottage as well. Finally, there is a transportation exhibit full of antique automobiles.
You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4-16, $2 for children 2 and 3. Children 2 and under are free. This is a fun way to spend some time with your family and let your kids see what farm life was like in the early 1900’s.
My half marathon was the following day so that took up the morning. We went to Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe for lunch and had some paninis followed by some dessert. My daughter got this adorable cupcake which was almost too cute to eat.
Finally we drove back to the airport to begin our next adventure- our first time to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile.
How many of you are like me and think New Jersey gets a bad rap? The parts I’ve been to have been very nice. Sure, there are bad sections, but every state has some bad sections.
I had debated whether or not to go to a festival relatively close to where I live for several years. Last year the festival celebrated its 37th year the weekend of July 4th. It is a festival where the proceeds are used to protect the water, land, and wildlife of a river basin in North Carolina. So far so good, right?
Last year’s festival included over 65 performers on 4 stages, as well as food trucks, a craft show featuring 85 local artists, environmental educational booths, and paddling demos in the river. Even better, right? Then you see tickets are $18 ($23 at the gate) for a single day pass or $30 ($35 at the gate) for a two day pass. Teen tickets are $11 in advance or at the gate. Children 12 and under are free. For a family with one or older children, that could really add up. My question each year was is it really worth the price of admission?
Although I had seen the festival advertised many years ago, I had never gone because of the great debate about price of the admission tickets. This debate came to an end last summer when my family and I finally went. We did not pay for our tickets, however. We were actually volunteers at a booth with a group that is part of an educational program about the river for children. Volunteers for the festival are graciously offered free admission for the entire day on the day they volunteer. Our shift was from noon to 2:30 so we went a bit early to walk around before our shift, and after our shift we walked around to the areas we hadn’t seen yet.
As volunteers at the booth by the river, we got to scoop small fish, guppies, salamanders, and whatever else we could find in the river and put in tanks for others to see. There were displays about local animals in the area and skulls of indigenous animals were available for viewing and touching. It was really a lot of fun and the 2 and a half hours flew by.
One of the musical groups that we listened to there was Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. We really enjoyed their performance and if by chance you see the band in your area, I encourage you to check them out, or check out some of their music online. There were many other performers and activities at the festival including dancers, woodworking demonstrations, beekeeping demos and information, puppet parade, kids’ activities, and even a huge sand sculpture by an artist who sculpted a skink last year.
So to go back to my original question, is the price of admission worth it? In my case, considering you can spend an entire day (or two days) here and you get entertainment all day included and the proceeds are to help support the conservation of this beautiful area, I’d say absolutely. Obviously in general, festival ticket prices vary widely depending on the venue, length of festival, what’s included, etc. and everyone’s budget is different. But I’d encourage you to sign up as a volunteer for a festival you’ve been on the fence about going to and see for yourself. You have nothing to lose if you don’t like it and you’ll be glad you didn’t shell out any money for admission if it’s not a good one. If you do enjoy it, however, you will have helped out the folks at the festival, gotten free or reduced admission, and experienced a festival on top of it all.
We enjoyed the experience so much, we’re going back again this year as volunteers and we’ll hang out and enjoy the rest of the festival afterwards. In our case, the price of admission is a couple of hours of our time helping to educate families about the environment including local animals and playing in the river. To me, that’s a win-win for everyone.
When planning a family vacation to Utah and the Grand Canyon in late winter, I wanted a place or two to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Page, Arizona came up as an option. To drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours (depending on weather and how busy the roads are), which isn’t awful, but to drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona is about 2 hours, 40 minutes. That sounded like a better idea to me, considering we would already have a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to the airport in Las Vegas. Plus, I discovered “The Wave” and fell down that rabbit hole which turned out to be a bit complicated. Alas, hiking in the Wave was not to be (that deserves a post all to itself).
Stop 1: Page, Arizona- Antelope Canyon
The biggest reason you may want to add a stop-over in Page is to visit Antelope Canyon. You can take an Antelope Canyon Boat Tour that takes you along Lake Powell, or you can take a guided walking tour. We opted for the walking tour with Ken’s Tours and it exceeded my expectations. Not only was the tour just our family, so we got our own private tour, we also got photography lessons along the way. The tips our guide showed us were invaluable and worth even more than what we paid for the tour itself. Not only did he physically show us how to adjust our cameras for different settings along the tour, he also took photos of us on our cameras. He also gave us advice and tips for future times. I am definitely a novice photographer so any and all tips were greatly appreciated.
The tour took us one hour from start to finish, but our tour guide told us in the busy summer months, it often takes an hour just to get from the main building where you check-in to the start of the tour (it took us maybe 10 minutes at the most). This is another reason why visiting during the winter can be the best time of year to visit the area.
There are two types of tours, the general tour, which lasts an hour and costs $25 per person for ages 13 and up, $17 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under are free. The photographer tour lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes and during the summer you need to get a special use permit from from Navajo Parks and Recreation (another reason to visit during the less-busy winter). This tour is only for ages 16 and up and costs $47 per person.
Where to stay and eat in Page, Arizona
We stayed at Comfort Inn & Suites and found it to be comfortable, clean, and the suite I reserved was enormous. There were two rooms, one with a king bed, TV, and patio off it, and the other room had a sofa bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. We swam in the indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub after we took our tour of Antelope Canyon. The location was convenient to restaurants and shops in Page. We ate lunch at Mandarin Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant that we found to have a surprisingly delicious and affordable buffet. We had dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ, and while my husband liked his brisket, I didn’t care for mine, but our daughter said her pulled pork sandwich was good. I guess overall that’s a pretty good rating.
Our tour guide from Antelope Canyon told us about a place where the rich and famous stay when visiting the area, and I looked it up; it does look pretty amazing. It’s Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, and the room rates when I checked were around $2000-$3000 per night before taxes and fees. Our guide told us actor Hugh Jackman once stayed there and took a tour with their group of the canyon.
Stop 2: Glen Canyon Dam
Just outside Page, Arizona is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes the Glen Canyon Dam. The recreation area encompasses hundreds of miles from Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry in northern Arizona to southern Utah, including Lake Powell. There are trails for hiking, boat tours, and tours of the dam. Dam tours are 45 minutes long and cost $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-16, and free for children 6 and under. Adults 62 and older and members of the military are $4. Tour times vary by season, so check the website for details.
Stop 3: Cameron, Arizona
Another option for a place to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon is Cameron, Arizona. Cameron is smaller than Page but is an unexpectedly unique little place to stop for lunch or dinner. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post and had Navajo tacos for lunch. Not only were the tacos delicious, it was interesting just looking at all of the handmade blankets and other artwork on the walls and around the dining room. There were also shelves upon shelves of pottery, dreamcatchers, clothing, and many other souvenirs in the gift shop. Touristy? Yes, but still interesting.
In addition to the gift shop and restaurant, Cameron Trading Post also has an art gallery, convenience store, and garden. You can also spend the night at the motel here. Although the single and double rooms look pretty simple, the luxury suites look a bit nicer and the prices seem reasonable. If you have an RV, there’s also an RV park here for $35/night.
Cameron is a great place to stop to fill up with gas, have lunch, and stretch your legs for a bit before you finish up the drive to the Grand Canyon. A word of warning, there are long stretches along the drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon where there is nothing but Navajo- or other government-owned land on either side of the highway with no businesses or gas stations for miles upon miles. Make sure you fill up the car with gas before you leave Bryce. You definitely wouldn’t want to run out of gas on this road. Cameron Trading Post is about 57 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so you’re in the home stretch at this point!
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is so heavily visited, the National Park Service even has a web page about crowding at the South Rim and how to avoid it. There are tips on how to make the most of your visit and avoid crowds. My family and I visited during late winter, and found this is one way to at least lessen the crowds; however, visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter is not all rosy. There are some advantages and disadvantages to coming to the park in the winter.
First, a few statistics about the Grand Canyon NP. The gorge is 1 mile deep and 277 miles long, with the Colorado River running through it. The North Rim is separated from the South Rim by the 10 mile wide canyon in between. The entire park is 1,217,403.32 acres but surprisingly this is only the 11th biggest US national park by size. There are six national parks in Alaska alone that are bigger than Grand Canyon National Park.
In 2016 almost 6 million people visited the park, with the vast majority of visitors during the summer months and the least visitors during December, January, and February. We chose to visit in early March and found it was definitely not as crowded as during the summer. It also wasn’t as busy during the week as it was on the weekend, not surprisingly.
What are some advantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Good)
Obviously, the main advantage is crowds are less. However, there was a big surge of visitors on Saturday that we didn’t see on the days before that. So, even during the winter, it’s still best to come during the week if at all possible.
Along with the trails and roads not being as crowded, restaurants also aren’t as crowded during the winter months.
It’s also nice to see the Grand Canyon when it’s snow-covered, and see the park in a way many people don’t get to experience.
Because it’s cooler during the winter, it’s more conducive to hiking if you plan on going on some long hikes down into the canyon. The temperature rises 5.5 degrees for every 1000 feet you lose in elevation, so the floor of the Grand Canyon is often as hot as 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July. If you plan on going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim, the average daily high in July is 116 degrees. July and August are also when monsoon rains occur here. In contrast, high temperatures during the winter are usually in the 30’s and 40’s.
What are some disadvantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Bad)
If you have your heart set on going the North Rim, it is closed during the winter months, so your only option is the South Rim.
It can get quite windy during the winter months and a cold wind on top of a high around 35 degrees can make for a chilly hike.
During the winter, most of the trails often have at least some areas where they are slick with ice and/or snow. Even on the popular Rim Trail, the majority of the trail had slick spots and we had to watch our footing.
Any other disadvantages? (The Ugly)
Mules are on Kaibab Trail during the winter and in fact year-round. During the winter the top of the trail is snowy and icy, and further down the trail where it is warmer, there are areas where it can be extremely muddy. This combined with piles and piles of mule poop leads to one smelly, messy trail. I’m not sure which was worse, the ice and trying to not fall at the top of the trail, or the mud and mule poop later on the trail. My daughter was actually cheering when we came upon ice again after going through the thick, heavy mud for a while. At least the ice wasn’t trying to pull her shoes off her feet like the mud was! We did, thankfully, reach parts of the trail further down that were neither ice- nor mud-covered, and that was awesome!
Trails at the South Rim
There are five day hikes at the South Rim, with four being steep or very steep and only the Rim Trail is flat and easy. We spent most of our time on the Rim Trail and South Kaibab Trail but I’ll discuss them all briefly here.
The Rim Trail runs along the South Rim of the canyon, as you might guess by the name and is undoubtedly one of the more popular trails because of its accessibility. You can hop on a shuttle and take it to the next stop and hike as little or much as you want, before getting on the next shuttle. The Rim Trail runs from the village area to Hermit’s Rest for 13 miles and is mostly paved and flat. There are 13 shuttle stops from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest Trailhead. Shuttles run March 1 to November 30.
Bright Angel Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins near Bright Angel Lodge and is 12 miles long roundtrip. Park rangers recommend you turn around after going 3 miles at 3 Mile Resthouse and during the summer not going past 4.5 miles one-way at Indian Garden. There are mules on this trail.
South Kaibab Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins south of Yaki Point (a shuttle stop) on Yaki Point Road. There are great views along the trail, including one with the funny-named “Ooh-Aah Point” at 0.9 miles into the hike. By this point, you’ve lost 600 feet in elevation, from the start at 7260 feet. Cedar Ridge, at 1.5 miles one-way is where park rangers recommend people who are not used to hiking or have gotten a late start to turn around and are adamant that summer hikers not go beyond this point. You don’t get your first real view of the river until Skeleton Point, 3 miles into the hike, at an elevation of 5200 feet. This is your recommended turn-around point for a day hike, presuming you’ve gotten an early start, are used to hiking, and it’s not summer. Again, there are mules on this trail.
Hermit Trail is steep, strenuous, rocky, and unmaintained trail that begins near Hermits Rest shuttle stop and during the spring, summer, and fall is only accessible by shuttle bus (no private vehicles). This is definitely a trail for experienced hikers. You have two options on this trail for day hikes, either go to Santa Maria Spring, 2.5 miles one way or go to Dripping Springs, 3.5 miles one way. The advantage to this trail is there are no mules.
Grandview Trail is similar to Hermit Trail, in that it is also a steep, strenuous, unmaintained dirt trail with tougher conditions than either Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. The trailhead can be reached by vehicle (not shuttle) at Grandview Point, 12 miles east of the village on Desert View Drive. Day hikes are to Coconino Saddle (1.1 miles one way) or Horseshoe Mesa/Toilet Junction (3 miles one way). However, day hikes to Horseshoe Mesa are not recommended during the summer due to strenuous conditions of the trail beyond Coconino Saddle.
Regardless of which trail you choose, do not attempt to hike from the rim down to the river in one day during the summer months. Even during the cooler months it’s not recommended unless you start very early in the day and are an experienced desert hiker.
There are several trails at the North Rim, none of which we did since the North Rim is unaccessible during the winter months. You can read about North Rim trails plus South Rim trails here.
How to Get Here
Most people fly into Las Vegas, Nevada and drive the approximately 270 mile route to the Grand Canyon or fly into Phoenix, Arizona and drive the approximately 232 miles from there. Rental cars abound at both of these international airports. Tours can also be arranged at both places if you feel unsure or uneasy about driving that distance on your own and/or are from another country and are uneasy about driving in the States.
Where to Stay
If you want to maximize your time inside the park (which I highly recommend), there are several options for lodging in the park. At the South Rim, you can stay in the more crowded Historic District and choose from five different lodges, or you can stay in the quieter Market Plaza near the Visitor Center at Yavapai Lodge or Trailer Village RV Park. We chose to stay at Yavapai Lodge and found the motel rooms outdated but quiet. You can read more about the rooms in the park, including what’s available at the North Rim here. All of these places tend to fill several months in advance, especially during the summer months, so make sure you make reservations as far in advance as possible.
Where to Eat
Inside the park, there are several options for meals as well as groceries. Most of the lodges have a restaurant and there are some coffee shops and taverns scattered throughout the South Rim. The Canyon Village Market General Store is a pretty decent-sized grocery store that also has firewood and souvenirs. Prices didn’t seem too terrible here either. You can also get snacks at Hermit’s Rest Snack Bar at the end of Hermit Road. Although closed during the winter, you can eat at the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room or Deli in the Pines at the North Rim. Outside the park, you can find groceries and restaurants 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village in the town of Tusayan.
Other Things to Do
Depending on the weather, how much time you have to spend here, and your interests, there are many options of things to do at Grand Canyon NP. As outlined by the National Park Service, you could take a mule trip and go along the canyon rim or down to the bottom and stay at Phantom Ranch, or take a bicycle tour, go whitewater rafting, or even participate in a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute Learning Adventure.
Admission to the park is valid for seven days and includes both the North and South Rim. A Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit is $30 and admits a single vehicle (non-commercial) and everyone in the vehicle.
A Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass is good for 12 months and costs $60. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and allows free entrance to all national parks and federal recreational lands. The Annual “Every Kid in a Park” 4th Grade Pass is free (!) for US 4th graders who have obtained the paper voucher through the Every Kid in a Park website. Active duty military are eligible for a free annual pass. The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is $10, and the America the Beautiful Access Pass and Volunteer Pass are both free.
My advice is get an America the Beautiful Annual Pass and combine a visit to the Grand Canyon with one to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. That’s what we did, and it made for one spectacular family vacation!
If you want to hike in Coyote Buttes North (where The Wave is located), you need to obtain a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Twenty people are granted access per day; of this number, ten are issued online and ten via walk in lottery the day before. Obviously, permits are extremely difficult to obtain. The BLM estimates the odds for obtaining a permit during April-June and September-November were about 4-5% for 2013. For other months (off-season), the odds vary from 8% (August) -25% (January).
What’s all the fuss about? Well, just look at this place!
You can apply up to four months in advance but you have the entire month to apply. For example, if you want to go the end of February, you can apply October 1. The application fee is $5 per group (non-refundable) and if you win the lottery you will need to pay $7 per person for the permit. You will receive an email from the BLM a month after you apply to let you know if you won the lottery or not.
If you missed the online lottery deadline or did not get chosen and are visiting the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona area, you can obtain a walk-in permit for Coyote Buttes North (the Wave) at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. From mid-March to Mid November, walk-in permits can be obtained seven days a week. From mid-November through mid-March, walk-in permits are issued Monday-Friday, except for federal holidays. During this time, permits for Saturday-Monday are drawn on Friday.
Fees for online permits can only be paid by credit card. Fees for permits issued by phone can be paid by credit card or check mailed to the BLM Arizona Strip District Office; checks must be received before a permit application is authorized and a permit number is issued. If you are lucky enough to win a permit through the lottery (or even if you are not chosen), you will be notified via email on the first day of the following month. Walk-in permits must be paid for with cash or checks only.
My personal experience
So I submitted my application for a permit and waited anxiously to hear something. When I put in my application, there were only 6 people from 2 groups including my group of 3 people that had submitted applications, but then again it was early morning and there was still a lot of time left. When I checked about 12 hours later, there were 22 requests submitted for the date I wanted to go, for 57 people (there could have been more submitted after I checked, too). Fortunately, the date I chose was the least popular one of the month. For the most popular date of the month, there were 43 requests for 149 people. This was just day one of the application, which meant there were 29 remaining days to go!
I got an email exactly one month later stating: “Unfortunately the dates and entries you chose did not become available to you in our lottery application process for a Coyote Buttes North permit. It is remotely possible the dates and entries selected for your trip will be forfeited by the winners because of nonpayment or release. If that happens, the dates and entries will become publicly available via the calendar application process.” I didn’t get in. I was disappointed but not surprised given the odds.
This brings me to Plan B if you are unable to obtain a permit to Coyote Buttes North: apply for a permit to Coyote Buttes South. For Coyote Buttes South, on-line permits can be obtained using the calendar option only. Just like for Coyote Buttes North, you can obtain a permit up to four months in advance. If you are planning a trip less than four months in advance, you have two options: you can check the calendar on the permit page to see if any slots are available, or you can try to obtain a walk-in permit the day before you wish to hike.
The downside to Coyote Buttes South is the roads to the trailheads here are more treacherous than the roads to Coyote Buttes North and a 4WD vehicle is required if you’re going to CB South but not necessarily for CB North (depending on the weather). If the roads are wet, that makes them even less safe. Personally, I didn’t feel comfortable with that option- driving to Coyote Buttes South trailheads. However, tours are available and cost around $200 per person, but that was not something I was willing to pay for our family. I’m sure it’s spectacular but I just didn’t want to spend that much money.
So now this brings me to Plan C: arrive the day before from 8:30-9 a.m. at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah and apply for a walk-in permit to Coyote Buttes North for the following day. The lottery for Coyote Buttes North runs at 9 a.m. I did this, and guess what? I didn’t get in. The first name that was drawn was part of a large group, so that automatically took up most of the 10 slots.
Well, this put me at Plan D: take a tour of Antelope Canyon. First, a little background on Antelope Canyon. Located on Navajo land just east of Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that includes two separate sections, “Upper Antelope Canyon” and “Lower Antelope Canyon.” We chose to take a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours and it turned out even better than I expected.
There is a General Tour and Photographers Tour. We chose the General Tour and ended up getting far more for our money than I expected. For $25 per adult and $17 per child plus $8 Navajo Park Permit Fee per person, we got a private tour for just the three of us, plus photography tips from our guide. Our guide, Dezi, told us that he, along with the other guides, are all of Navajo decent and are all trained photographers. The tour and the canyon both definitely exceeded my expectations.
So after all of this, would I do it again? Would I try to get a permit for the Wave or just go to Antelope Canyon? I would definitely try for the Wave again and if I didn’t get in, I’d probably take the Antelope Canyon boat tour and see which one I liked better. Either way, you can’t go wrong. It’s all worth a visit.
Has anyone else been to the Wave (or tried to get a permit) or Antelope Canyon? If so, what was your experience like? Is anyone else ready to go to Coyote Buttes or Antelope Canyon after seeing the photos?