Our trip to the Grand Canyon was one for the books. Not only was it one of our favorite National Parks on our cross-country journey, but by far one of the most epic travel experiences to date.
We spent four nights at Mather Campground in the South Rim, which is the more accessible side of the park. The North Rim is harder to get to depending on which direction you are coming from and closes for winter, so it wasn’t an option this time around. We’ll definitely be adding this to our bucket list for our next trip to the big hole in the ground.
After lots of research, this is the itinerary we came up with for getting the most out of our stay.
1. Set up camp at Mather Campground
We were surprised to find that Mather Campground was one of only two options for camping within the National Park at the South Rim. We chose a spot on the Pine Loop, which is one of the quietest loops on the grounds as they do not allow generators. We set up our tent (home away from home) and settled in for the next four nights.
2. Visit General Store for firewood and snacks for tomorrow’s sunset
Unlike many other National Parks, there are plenty of markets, restaurants and private lodges within the gates. Just around the corner from Mather Campground is the General Store, which has a great selection of groceries, souvenirs, craft beer and (expensive) firewood. While it’s definitely cheaper to stock up on food and wood outside the park, it’s was nice knowing we could run around the corner in case we forgot something. We grabbed a block of cheese, a baguette and a fancy beer for day two’s sunset.
1. Make breakfast at the campsite
We were so excited to get up and going to finally see the canyon, but a big breakfast is a necessity before journeying below the rim. If you’re short on time, the General Store has a section for hikers on the go. Be sure to pack lots of salty snacks and extra water.
2. South Kaibab Trail to Ooh AhhPoint
The South Rim has two main trails that descend all the way to the Colorado River — South Kaibab and Bright Angel. We hiked to the Ooh Ahh Point on the South Kaibab Trail, which is just about a mile below the canyon rim. This was a great warm up hike to adjust to the elevation changes and test our endurance going back up. Hint - it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, so if you’re feeling up to it head a little further down into the canyon.
3. Make an early dinner at camp
Since we opted for a shorter hike on Day 2, this left plenty of time to head back to camp for an early dinner before the sunset.
4. Head to the Rim Trail to watch the sunset
Going to the Grand Canyon and not seeing the sunset is like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. It’s a must! We gathered our cheese, baguette, fancy beer and lots of layers and headed to the South Rim Trail at Mather Point. We walked along the trail until we found the perfect secluded spot to watch the sun sink below the canyon. Pure magic.
1. Explore the history of the park and rest up for tomorrow's hike
Day 3 was all about exploring the history and geology of the canyon. If there was one place to view the canyon to take in its diverse formations, it is the Geology Museum at Yavapai point. We learned about the mighty power of the Colorado River and the different types of rock all with a sweeping 180 degree view. Also, admission is free!
Other sites to see on the South Rim are the Hopi House, Kolb Studio, Grand Canyon Railway and Desert View Watchtower.
1. Bright Angel Trail to Three Mile Resthouse
Now we’re rested and ready for the big hike! On day four we adventured three miles down into the Grand Canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. The views along this path were much more dramatic than the first mile of South Kaibab. If you only have time for one, I would definitely recommend Bright Angel. This path is 17.7 miles to the Colorado River, but it is not recommended that anyone complete the full trail in one day. There are several mile markers along the trail, and we decided three miles in (six miles round trip) was perfect for us.
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We’re three weeks into our cross-country adventure and have traversed 3,000 miles up the Pacific Coast, across Canada to Banff National Park and down to Glacier National Park. Of all the cities that we have explored, Seattle has been one of my very favorites. This conclusion might be influenced by all of the goodies that we splurged on in Pike Place market (I admit that I’m easily swayed by food), but I am convinced that Seattle is one of the best destinations for a summertime vacation.
Beyond the perfect summer weather and the abundance of water surrounding the city, there are so many areas and neighborhoods to explore in the Emerald City to suit a variety of tastes. Some days we splurged ($15 coffee at the original Starbucks Reserve and satisfying an insatiable desire for fried seafood at Pike’s Place), but we were also able to find plenty of free and cheap things to do in Seattle.
1. Fremont Troll and walk to the waterfront
,After settling into our home sweet home for the weekend (aka the KOA in Seattle - a story for another time), we headed straight to the Fremont neighborhood to check out the infamous bridge troll. Fun fact: the troll was designed as part of a program to rehab the area beneath the bridge, which had become a place where you wouldn’t want to find yourself after dark. Today, both locals and visitors can be found under the bridge climbing the troll, taking selfies and catching views of the Bay in the distance.
After visiting the Fremont Troll, we walked straight down under the Aurora bridge all the way to the waterfront for spectacular views (also nearby is Fremont Brewing Company if you're feeling thirsty).
2. Gas Works Park
After taking in the views of the bay under the Aurora Bridge, we headed to Gas Works Park (we had a car, but this would have been an easy walk along the water). Gas Works was easily one of my favorite experiences on our trip so far - what used to be Seattle Gas Light Company is now a playground of old gas works equipment. Though you’re not supposed to climb, the big kid in me couldn’t help myself.
Beyond the adult playground of machinery, Gas Works Park offers one of the best views of Seattle’s skyline. This is the perfect place to get your shot of the iconic Space Needle, have a picnic, and watch the sun sink over the best coast.
Fun fact: Heath Ledger fans, you’re in for a treat! Gas Works was the setting of the paintball scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. (My high school years consisted of regularly eating Heath Bar cake while watching Heath Ledger movies. Alex, Rachel and Kate - you know who you are.)
3. Happy Hour at Duke's on Lake Union
Anything involving happy hour, two for one, specials or discounts - you’re speaking my language. Duke’s Seafood and Chowder is a chain in the Seattle area and offers a late night happy hour (the best kind)! At the Lake Union location (just south of Gas Works Park), you can sit outside on the boardwalk and catch views of the boats on the marina and the Space Needle lighting up the night sky. And did I mention they have happy hour?
4. Olympic Sculpture Park
Part of the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park is an outdoor stretch of some of the most unique sculptures you’ve ever seen. And like everything else, the park is located on the waterfront at the northern end of the Seattle seawall. The park is FREE and open to the public every day of the year.
The last few weeks have been rather eventful - a tour of the south beginning in Nashville, a few days in New Orleans and topping it all off in our favorite city Austin, Texas. This was just a small taste of what our life will be like for the next four months. Rambling around our beautiful country, figuring out what it’s like to be with each other 24/7, and navigating life on the road (on a budget, that is).
If you haven’t caught wind of our latest announcement, Brent and I will be taking some time off to travel across the United States and Canada for the next several months. Though this trip was a bit of a last hoorah before cracking down on planning and moving out of our apartment, we figured out how to enjoy the best of each city while not breaking the bank - of course with a few splurges in between.
1. Live music on the Frenchman Hotel rooftop
It’s no secret that Frenchmen Street is a better alternative to Bourbon (think the mature sibling who has their shit slightly more together, but still kicks back with a frozen daiquiri on the weekend). We accidentally stumbled through Bourbon Street on our first night in New Orleans on our way back from dinner, and that was plenty to tide me over for the week.
We were recommended many places on Frenchmen, such as Spotted Cat and Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie’s (both worth the trip), but it wasn’t until we were about to jump in an Uber home that we found our favorite stop of the night.
The Frenchmen Hotel is a hidden gem on Frenchmen Street, with live music on their rooftop every night of the week. Waking through the narrow corridors, passing by the courtyard swimming pool and finding our way to the rooftop - it felt like we had found a hidden escape from the bustling Frenchmen Street. We were surprised to find that we were only among a few others who also managed to discover this gem, and enjoyed the rest of the evening with what felt like a private concert from Evan Oberla & The Tasty Sapiens, one of the best bands we came across in New Orleans.
2. Frenchman Street Art Market
While you’re on Frenchmen Street, be sure to stop at the outdoor Frenchmen Art Market. Whether you’re looking for a unique souvenir or just to take a stroll under the twinkle lights, the market will provide a refreshing alternative to the shops you will find in the French Quarter. We had so much fun talking to the vendors and getting to know the local artisan scene. We left with three prints from TYPFY Art that immediately caught our eye, the perfect souvenir from New Orleans that we can hang in our next home.
3. Bike ride to Sculpture Garden
There are many ways to get around New Orleans including the famous street cars, but our favorite was biking. If you’re staying in a hotel, check to see if they have complimentary bike rentals. Otherwise you can use Blue Bikes, the New Orleans bike share system. The stations are located all over the city, which makes it very convenient for picking up and dropping off bikes wherever you are headed.
We started the day in powdered sugar heaven at Cafe du Monde (it just happened to be #nationaldonutday), walked around Jackson Square and then continued to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for lunch. I was skeptical, but it was absolutely worth the hour wait in the unforgiving heat of a New Orleans summer day.
After lunch, we biked to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The garden is open 7 days a week with FREE admission. Wander through the five acres of pines, magnolias and live oaks in City Park scattered with over 60 sculptures by renowned artists from around the world.
Tip: Catch some much needed AC in the NOMA cafe and snap a few photos with the colorful walls outside of the museum store.
4. 25 cent martinis at Commander's Palace and walking tour of the Garden District
Commander’s Palace has been featured on every respected food travel show for decades, and given that Brent is a Food Network junkie, it was a must try on our New Orleans itinerary. The kicker? 25 cent martinis at lunch. Yes, you read that correctly. The only catch is that you must order an entree from the lunch menu, and they’ll cut you off at three martinis (because that’s all you need).
Take the St. Charles streetcar, where you’ll pass through the historic homes of the Garden District. After lunch, ask the host for their self guided walking tour map, which highlights the historic homes and landmarks in the neighborhood. We made an afternoon of it and checked out all of the stops on their map, including the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and the Benjamin Button House, before we hopped back on the streetcar.