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Grand Canyon-El Tovar and Southwest tour

We are doing a 10 day Southwest tour via car from LAS to PHX and hitting several national parks along the way. I was lucky to get a room at El Tovar but I have been reading so many unflattering reviews that I have booked a backup room at Grand Hotel. Would like to know if anyone has traveled to this area during Covid or the months of June through now that can offer insight into what it’s like at either hotel and GC? Also open to feedback from Zion, Bryce Canyon, Page and Sedona as well. Thanks in advance.

Posted by
1239 posts

I remember reading somewhere awhile back that the east entrance to Grand Canyon NP was closed (it goes through an Indian reservation). If your plans are to enter/exit the NP using this exit, you may want to double check what the current situation is.

Posted by
1192 posts

We drove from Cedar City to Bryce over Cedar Breaks which is a very high pass. It was spectacular in late September-early October with bright yellow aspens. We enjoyed the bright red fascinating hudus in Bryce. We then stayed in Kanab overnight and drove to the North Rim. It be may not be open this year. They have a very nice lodge with dining room with a view of the Canyon where we had lunch. They did have cabins that were reserved; but they said that they sometimes have no shows which make them available. We then drove through the Painted Desert to Flagstaff where we stayed in a vintage motel on Route 66. We were going to Tucson to stay with a friend so we didn't linger too much and kept on driving.

Posted by
1325 posts

We stayed at the El Tovar and had no issues. It’s a nice lodge. Our room was nice, a bit small, with a partial view of the Canyon. What was said in the reviews that concerns you?
We were on I 40 last weekend near the Grand Canyon and the EAST entrance is closed.

Posted by
11 posts

Comments about El Tovar were expected in regards to age and amenities but most agree you are staying there because of location. They were about poor attitude, lack of help, food and drink accessibility, etc. With the current times, it could all be relative to COVID but it is vacation after all, we are paying double the rate than alternative hotels and we want enjoyment not drama. Thanks for the comments so far and for the tip on the GC east entrance.

Posted by
1325 posts

We’ve eaten at all of the eateries along the rim and I don’t remember having what I would call a great meal. I imagine it’s not any better now. We didn’t have any issues with staff not being helpful.
Yes, it’s not a cheap place to stay and is bit old for sure. The Bright Angel Lodge is close. I’ve not stayed there but ate dinner there. It’s old too.
We take a cooler, or buy a cheap styrofoam one, and carry our own drinks for our use in-room and to have water on hand. I don’t remember if I had wine with dinner or not or if alcohol was even served. If I had wine, I’m sure I didn’t like it.
Williams and Seligman, AZ are worth a brief stop for a browse. Google them.
I’m mad at hubby because he refused to go to the GC last weekend. We were in Williams to meet my cousin whom I’ve not seen in 50 years. Williams is about an hour from the south rim.
I’ve been to the GC 5 times and I still want to go back. Twice apparently was enough for him.

Posted by
10344 posts

The Bryce Lodge cabins are probably a hundred feet from the top of the cliff face; and they're nice.
So are the cabins/cottages at Zion, the ones near the Lodge building; and they're nicely upscale for cabins.
Above is based on past visits, no visits made since pandemic started.

Posted by
3558 posts

Does this "traveled to this area during Covid or the months of June through now" mean you're planning to go in 2021?

Posted by
12601 posts

Hi mlt3 -

Regarding the East Entrance being closed, I'd mentioned it on this thread...which I see you've commented on today.
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/beyond-europe/sedona-az-surrounding-area-in-october

But your trip isn't until June 2021 so a LOT could change between now and then. You'll need to keep an eye on the park website and Navaho Nation news (use the links I'd provided) so see how things progress over the next 8 months.

So you say you have 10 days from LAS (Las Vegas) to Phoenix and then "home". Could you elaborate a little more on this? Is Las Vegas home, and are you planning on spending any time in Phoenix? Or are you flying into Las Vegas and out of Phoenix, with a oneway car dropoff?

You have Zion, Bryce, Page, Sedona and Grand Canyon (and maybe Phoenix?) on the agenda but don't say what you plan to do at any of them? Wish I could say that we loved Page but it wasn't a high point for us on our Southwest trips. It's OK but there isn't much to do outside of Upper or Lower Antelope (currently closed; tours mandatory) and a look at Horseshoe Bend. And it can be brutally hot. If you've never been in a slot canyon, you might enjoy Antelope but the tour's "conga line" just wasn't a pleasant experience compared to the slots we've done on our own.

Grand Canyon South Rim: I'm not a fan of El Tovar as I don't personally think the price is worth it. You're unlikely to have any real view of the canyon, and the rooms - unless you go to the highest-priced ones - are really small. We weren't jazzed about the restaurant either. Again, expensive, no view and brusque service. We love Bright Angel for its architecture: Mary Colter, the mother of "National Park Rustic" (read up on her!) designed the lodge/cabins to harmonize with the landscape, as she did with the other structure she designed for the park. You can't get any closer to the rim than one of the rim cabins, and even the other cabins are darn close. They are on the cozy side too but for a more economical price point.

https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/photosmultimedia/colter_ba_photos.htm
https://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/bright-angel-lodge-cabins/

But whatever you do, I'd stay IN the park versus a hotel in Tusayan, which is where the Grand is at. You're going to get a much richer park experience by being there when the day-trippers leave and can experience the evening's peace. You might also take in a ranger's after-dark program, if what's on the schedule appeals. Can't land a room at Bright Angel? Then keep the El Tovar reservation. Note that none of the hotels in Grand Canyon Village have reserved parking. Dinner? The Maswik food Court did us just fine!

https://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/dine/maswik-cafeteria/

Zion: the lodge is great but has gotten too pricey for us since last we stayed there. That park is also currently requiring advance, timed shuttle tickets (you are not allowed to drive Zion Canyon yourself) and they've been selling out within minutes of becoming available. Will be interesting to see if they keep that system next summer?

https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm

We stayed in Springdale last time and really liked Quality Inn at Zion Park: walked to the Visitor Center from there. Bit and Spur, and Zion Pizza and Noodle have both been places we've enjoyed for dinner. For a view and a brew?? Grab a seat on the patio at Zion Canyon Brew Pub.

Bryce: take a look at Bryce Canyon Lodge:
https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/lodging.htm

Posted by
4777 posts

Our experiences were similar to Kathy's some years back. We had a rim cabin at Bright Angel Lodge and liked the location a lot. We're also fans of Zion Lodge. The motels in Springdale are cheaper and more comfortable but require use of the shuttle. In general, staying inside any of these parks saves time and gives you more of a "nature" experience, especially early and late in the day, than staying outside. The tradeoff is higher prices and fewer amenities.

I agree about Page -- just a town on the way between better places. It offers a good view of Lake Powell, which you may like or deplore depending on how you feel about flooding so much canyonland.

If your routing allows it, you might consider the north rim of the Grand Canyon -- quieter and more remote. I haven't stayed there but I expect the lodge is like others in national parks. You haven't indicated when your trip will be, but the north rim is closed in winter.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you and apologies for my lack of clarity. Our trip begins next weekend! We leave the 3rd and rerun the 12th. I have been peeled to hotel reviews but not many exist since COVID began. I wanted to stay in the at the North Rim lodge but they are booked and I have called a few times to check on vacancy, I had to accept it and put a plan together. So, now we go to the South Rim. We got lucky to find a hotel in the park and I am going to see if Angel Lodge has any rooms so thanks for that tip!

We are staying at Majestic Views for Zion, Bryce Canyon lodge, only going to Page because it’s a pass through and I want to see horseshoe bend at sunset. Antelope Canyon is closed :(

I have never been to any of these parks and we are excited to explore these wonders! We were hoping that Italy would open back up by now but since that didn’t happen, we figure it’s time to explore areas in our own country that we have not yet seen. Thanks so much to all of you. I am referring all of the links and special thanks Kathy did that very healthy post that is full of great info!! I will be using every word in this thread.

Posted by
1163 posts

Also, hotel or cabin availability changes regularly due to a good cancellation policy. So it’s ok to keep checking back online for a room in one of the other South Rim GC places. As others mentioned, right now the East entrance is closed, as are all Antelope Canyon tours and I think the water activities in Page because of Covid, so I wouldn’t go to Page.

For Zion, you will need to purchase a shuttle pass ahead of time: $1/person. They go on sale about 2 weeks ahead - check their website. You can’t drive your personal car into the park, although you can drive through on Highway 9. Zion is just as busy as always (or more so), I have read.

The Trip Advisor forums have a lot of useful information.

Posted by
12601 posts

Ah, OK, sorry. It was your mention of June that threw me off.

Zion: You will be staying some distance from the entrance to Zion Canyon, and you MUST get your shuttle tickets if you want to see the canyon! I don't know what the schedule is for release, only that people are finding themselves high and dry because they didn't know that they had to do that and all the tickets were sold out for their dates. I believe some tickets release every day for the next day but that they are snapped up in minutes. Anyway, reference the NPS site I'd linked above for info. There are ebike rentals, and private shuttles too (that come with a price) if you can't land tickets through the park.

I've no idea if any of the restaurants I'd listed are open right now but I'll cross fingers that some of them are, and for SURE the East Entrance into the South Rim is closed so you'll have to go in through the south. If you are seeing Horseshoe Bend at sunset, where are you staying that evening? Not a great part of the country to be traveling after dark due to lots of wildlife out and about... Personally? I'd rethink Page; not the best time for that one.

Posted by
12601 posts

One more thing....
The South Rim shuttles are operating on a limited basis, running from the village to Hermit Rest (no cars allowed on Hermit Road) and the Kaibab Rim route eastbound between the Visitor Center and South Kaibab Trailhead. The shuttles from Tusayan are NOT running (might be another reason not to stay there although parking in the park might be lighter than normal), nor are they operating within the village itself so bring those well broken-in walking shoes or boots!

I highly recommend doing as much of the 13 miles of rim trail as possible on foot versus shuttle, especially to the west of the village towards Hermit Rest. The trail section east of the village is nice too, though. :O)

https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/RimTrailMap.pdf

Exploring Desert View road can be done with your own vehicle but will involve backtracking. You might drive all the way to the last currently open overlook (Navajo Point) and work your way back.

https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm

And here are the services which are open and operating:
https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-national-park-public-health-update.htm

Posted by
4777 posts

I think Page is pretty inevitable on the OP's route between Bryce/Zion and the South Rim. The alternative goes back through Las Vegas. Both are scenic, but the one via Page would be more so, I think, without backtracking.

There are no straight-line drives in that country. You have to go one way or another around a canyon big enough to be seen from outer space!

Posted by
1239 posts

Note, going to the Grand Canyon South Rim from Page (Bryce) will involve a long detour if the east entrance is closed. You will have to go all the way south to Flagstaff and then back north to the GC. You might be better off going to the North Rim skipping Sedona and flying in and out of LAS.

Posted by
12601 posts

The issue the OP presented with Page was wanting to be there at sunset but as a drive-through. Where do they drive after dark? If it's the South Rim, it'll be a long drive if the East Entrance is closed, and not a particularly recommended one even if that entrance was open due to missing the fantastic daylight scenery, and risking encountering wildlife on the road.

The OP tried to book the North Rim but couldn't do it. From an earlier post:

I wanted to stay in the at the North Rim lodge but they are booked
and I have called a few times to check on vacancy, I had to accept it
and put a plan together.

Posted by
6755 posts

Definitely include Zion, Bruce and Sedona. Bryce is our favorite of the National Parks in that part of the US.

Posted by
1829 posts

If you are interested in the history of Grand Canyon I suggest you look into the Kolb brothers and the Kolb Studio. The Kolbs predate the national park designation since the arrived in 1901/1902. The Cline Library at Northern Arizona University has a lot of information
including the photographic negatives of the daily mule rides and other photographic material regarding the history of Grand Canyon.
Visit El Tovar if just for a coffee because if its historical significance. About Page. It was a planned community when the dam was built. As a catalog librarian at NAU I cataloged the original plan for the town. We lived in Flagstaff for six years and have been to Grand Canyon National Park twenty-one times and I have hiked to Phantom Ranch three times, taking the whole family once. There are some interesting places to visit around Flagstaff besides Sedona such as the cinder hills at Wupatki.

Posted by
12601 posts

Monte, I 100% agree on doing some reading up on the Kolb brothers! Unfortunately, their studio on the South Rim is currently closed but one can visit their graves in peaceful Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery, near the Shrine of Ages and Market Plaza. It's a wonderful piece of park history as it's the resting place of range riders, trail builders and guides, blacksmiths, CCC workers, park rangers, scientists, senators, park superintendents, artists, teachers, Harvey Girls, miners, husbands, wives and their children: lots of stories to tell. It also sadly sees few visitors so give it a ramble. Earliest burials date to 1919; formally designated as a cemetery in 1924.

The cemetery's burial list on Findagrave:
https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/669406/memorial-search?page=1#sr-30323987

Some good reading material on the Kolbs:
http://www.kaibab.org/kaibab.org/kolb/index.html
https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/art-exhibits.htm

Posted by
11 posts

I figured I would report back after our trip. This was our first trip to Utah and the national parks and my planning paid off. 10 days: we flew into LAS arriving at 8 am and headed straight to Zion. All of my reading told me that we needed tickets for the shuttle so I was lucky to purchase 2 the day before we left for the 2-3 timeslot. We checked into our hotel (Majestic Views) then headed to Zion and hopped on the shuttle. Explored all day and then rented ebikes the next day. Both days worked out perfectly, despite it being very busy, and shuttles were full, hiking paths were laced with people. After night number 2, we headed off to Bryce, we were there by noon so we put on our boots and started hiking. We went down the canyon, up the canyon and then further around and up. We made a good imprint on day 1. Next day, caught the sunrise and then drove the scenic route to all of the viewpoints. Bryce is a winner for how well one can navigate and explore the park!

Next, we drove to Page and made a stop at Marble Canyon and the Navajo Bridges, which are worth the stop! We made it to our hotel for check in and then sunset at Horeshoe Bend. The stop was worth it to break up the drive and to see HB.

Onward to the Grand Canyon for two nights, decided to stick with El Tovar and we are so glad that we did. We stayed in the park, got a room on the main floor which was the first room down the hall from the dining room. We figured out how to get our name on “the list” fir dinner and drinks both nights and we explored the canyon and hiked Bright Angel. The room was the smallest I’ve ever seen but I can do anything for 2 nights and everything else made it worth it. Oh and we carried with us a small one cup coffee pot that ended up being the best choice we’ve ever made hahaha.

Last 3 nights were in Sedona for rest and relaxation, but we did a fair amount of hiking so the R and R wasn’t everything I had hoped for but the best thing we did was stay in Oak Creek away from the mess of crowds.

With this itinerary, we did not feel rushed or like we were driving all of the time. We drove 1100 miles in 10 days and it was spread out very well. I read this travel feed for Europe visits so I figure I should share for others that read also. This trip was not the Italy we had hoped for but we did discover some new places in our own backyard. Best to you!

Posted by
12601 posts

Wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to follow up; I'm delighted that you had such a good time!

LOL, I think it was after our first trip to the G.C. that we bought an electric, travel-sized kettle. We now have one for the States and an even smaller one for Europe so we can get some joe into our systems if the room doesn't have a kettle (common in Italy) or long before breakfast rooms/cafes open up (we are very early risers.) Yep, your wee coffee maker was a very good buy. 👍 Bright Angel had added Keurigs to their rooms the last time we were there but I see from recent TA reviews that they were removed as a COVID precaution. Same with other lodges. Guests are definitely NOT happy about THAT, eh?

So Bryce: It sounds like you did the Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop? If so, that's a classic and probably the best hike below the rim, IMHO. Good for you! Isn't that a fantastic park?

Really happy that you managed to get shuttle tickets at Zion. Whew, was sort of worried about that! Yes, reports for some months now have been that the park has been extremely busy so I'm not surprised that you encountered lots of bodies to contend with. Where did you have dinner?

Sooo, your next Utah adventure should be the other 3 of the Mighty 5: Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. I'll cross fingers that it will be AFTER you are finally able make that sadly-missed trip to Italy (us too!) but they're all terrific in their own ways, and especially so for hikers. 😉

Incidentally, our very first morning on our very first trip to the South Rim was 9/11/2001. We were so excited to be there that we'd gotten up very, VERY early and were killing time until the sunrise hour - and for ANYTHING to open up for coffee - by watching the news...

Posted by
11 posts

Oh wow Kathy to 9/11. I know we all remember where we were on that day and I never considered Ithat one might be vacationing. I can only imagine all that came with it. My goodness!

You had me thinking about dinners in Zion, hmmm they were not memorable. Haha. We ate at local places and while good there wasn’t much that stood out other than the view and amazing weather- both of which I will take every time! :)

I suppose in all our stops we lucked out with the crowds, simply due to the state of the world at the time. And hail to the kettle! Rather than be disappointed about that missing, our little carry-on treasure brought us lots of much needed morning joy. Here’s to wishing that 2021 takes us to Italy and anywhere else that might pique our interest. Thank you for your kind words and best wishes to you on your travels.

Posted by
12601 posts

... there wasn’t much that stood out other than the view and amazing
weather- both of which I will take every time! :)

Spoken like a true adventurer: well done! Here's to fair weather and breathtaking vistas! 🥂