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As 2018 rushes toward the new year, organizations take pause to honor their own for jobs well done. Across many spectrums, we hear winners announced and praised for being ” The Best” or “The Favorite” or “The Most PopuIar.” Sports, entertainment, travel and industry all participate in this annual recognition and trophy presentation. Just as one of many examples, the first The Points Guy Awards were held on Dec. 4 on The Intrepid in New York City to honor the best in the travel and credit cards.
Choosing the Best Travel Destination in the United States
I was somewhat reluctant to cross into “and the winner is…” territory. But, I have taken a deep breath and decided to join the celebration by presenting my No. 1 travel recommendation in the United States from 2018. I know that individual tastes and preferences vary considerably, and such choices are totally subjective and there are many locales that others will passionately consider to be a better pick. I gave this great thought before my fingers started bouncing on and off this keyboard.
My criteria was basic, but not simple. The to-be-anointed destination had to be first of all reasonably accessible, not only in ease of travel but also within most budgetary constraints. The top pick had to be consistently and dependably awesome with the expectation that it will be in championship form as close to 365 days a year as is possible. It had to be both unique and special. It needed to be inspiring, beautiful and memorably remarkable. It had to have some serious kind of “wow” factor. Another requirement was that the recommended choice had to be a specific site and not a general geographic area of travel.
Due to these constraints, many fantastic venues were eliminated from consideration. For example, “The Wave,” a super coveted travel goal, was ruled out because of its highly controlled and restricted access. Only 20 visitors a day are allowed and they are chosen by two lottery systems, one online and one a walk-up. Another famous spot that could not make the criteria is “The Subway” in Zion National Park. It was ruled out due to the difficulty by the average tourist of making the somewhat challenging hike required.
Also, not in contention would be suggestions like the fall colors of New Hampshire or visiting Hawaii. Both are spectacular and are surely award-winning material, but both are broad and not singular locations.
The United States is fortunate to have its cupboards of natural beauty and wonders so bountifully blessed and full. There are no losers in this contest. There are winners from the craggy coast of the Northeast to the mighty redwoods and sequoias of the West and the glorious sunsets of the Southwest.
The choice for my own best US travel destination in 2018 is strictly the opinion of this humble author and not the type of award that requires the vote tabulation consultation of the likes of PwC (formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers).
With due deference and with utmost respect to all the other possibilities, Grandpa Points’ No. 1 Travel Destination Recommendation for the United States is … (insert drum roll here) … Antelope Canyon.
What Makes Antelope Canyon the Best
Antelope Canyon is located just outside Page, Arizona, and consists of two slot canyons that, once experienced, will imprint memories that will never be forgotten or confused with similar experiences. This is because, for most visitors, there will be no similar experience.
Slot canyons are narrow passageways created by the flow of water over and through sandstone and limestone surfaces. They are characteristically much deeper than they are wide and usually seem to be created through the force of flash floods rather than a consistent stream.
The walls of these canyons can appear to be in sweet rhythmical harmony or in alarming arrhythmical chaos. There is constant flow and movement They swirl, they dip, they rise, they fall, they curl, they jut and then they recede.
They are smooth yet angular, they reflect and absorb. They are bright and muted sculpted works of art. They look as though a master painter came through and added texture and highlights with an expensive brush and then a sculptor followed to etch with a magical spatula. They are truly other worldly. And this wonderment surrounds you, engulfs you and extends up to 75 feet above you as you traverse through and among these treasures.
The light from above cascades down, illuminating the walls with rich and elegant mesmerizing colors and gradients. The warm earthy tones spill into each other like a turning, tumbling kaleidoscope. At times, the walls resemble a raging and leaping wildfire. The light bouncing and reflecting intensely enhances each and every inch of this dramatic natural creation. The images presented and seen are the ones that a photographer’s dreams are made of.
One of the true indicators of Antelope Canyon’s special wonder is indeed the frequency that photographic captures from the site are seen prominently, largely and beautifully displayed on the walls of the most famous outdoor photographer’s galleries.
While there are obviously similarities between the two canyons at Antelope Canyon, there are also significant differences. The two are separated by about 8 miles and are considered separate entities from each other. Each is managed and run by a different company with a separate fee is required for each. The two slot canyons are both on Navajo tribal land and experienced guides from the Navajo Nation accompany and guide each group.
The Upper Canyon is often referred to as ” The Crack,” as it is a slit in a hillside that you enter from ground level.
The Upper tour meets in the town of Page and visitors are transported in vehicles to the site. The ride to the canyon can be, by itself, entertaining and somewhat thrilling — think covered wagon races. The Upper Canyon is easier to negotiate and navigate as it is essentially a flat walk in and out. The Upper is home to the famous “light beams” and for that reason, plus its ease of mobility, makes it the more popular of the two. The Upper tour is about a quarter-mile journey from front to back and you retrace your steps on your return to the vehicles.
The Lower Canyon is reached by driving your car to the site. It is commonly called “The Corkscrew.” The Lower Canyon is below ground and requires a descent to its winding floor. For this reason, The Lower is the more physically challenging of the two, but boy, is it worth it if you can pull it off. My recommendation is to visit both but, if that is not possible, I personally prefer The Lower.
We first heard of Antelope Canyon about six years ago when doing some basic internet travel research on Arizona. It had never crossed our travel radar before that. While a lot of well-traveled people are still unaware of its existence, it is by no means a total secret.
How to Visit Antelope Canyon
Tours are given all day, every day. Peak season (June, July and August) often requires advance reservations to secure certain time slots and the canyons can get crowded. Families should note that children under a certain age are not allowed on some tours. Thanks to a semi-retired schedule, all of our visits have been in off-season months and, if your calendar allows, we would highly suggest such timing. Also, the first tour each day will obviously have no group in front of you and the last tour of the day will have no group behind — just something to think about. There are special photographic tours offered that provide extended time in the canyon, but the photos in this article were all taken on the regular tour.
We use Las Vegas as our gateway portal to Antelope Canyon. There are generally affordable airfares to Vegas and the car rental rates there are consistently some of the lowest in the nation. Personally, we like to use 2,500 Spirit Airlines miles to fly nonstop from Houston to Las Vegas.
The slot canyons are then about five hours (275 miles) east of Las Vegas by car. What makes this destination even juicier, although it can certainly stand on its own merits, is its proximity to the Grand Canyon (130 miles), Zion National Park (115 miles), Bryce National Park (150 miles) and Horseshoe Bend (3 miles). So, with a little planning and an extra few days, you can build quite an itinerary for exploring the American West with Las Vegas and its offerings as bookends.
Page, Arizona, has many hotel chains offering accommodations and low-cost fast food restaurants are abundant. There is a Walmart and all services and needs are locally available, so this does not have to be a pricy trip. A few points-friendly area hotels include:
- Courtyard by Marriott Lake Powell (35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night — consider using a Marriott 35k certificate)
- Comfort Inn and Suites Page at Lake Powell (starting at 12,000 Choice points per night)
- Hyatt Place Page Lake Powell (15,000 World of Hyatt points per night — or a Hyatt Category 1–4 award)
- Best Western View of Lake Powell or Best Western Plus Lake Powell (currently 10k points per night, but normally 20k to 36k points per night)
Antelope Canyon is my choice for the top travel destination in the United States. I would love to hear about your favorite place.
Enjoy the great outdoors and as always, safe travels!
Featured photo of Antelope Canyon by Csondy / Getty Images
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