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Rafting down the Colorado River, our guide asked the group if we’d ever heard of Page, the northern Arizona town we had just left from, before arriving in it. Everyone in the boat shook his or her head no.

It’s almost impossible to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park without passing through Page, which is almost exactly halfway between the two on Highway 89. Given that Page appears to have more hotels than the two parks put together, people seem to be stopping and staying awhile.

So what exactly are they doing in and around this town of 7,000? A lot actually.

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Raft the Colorado River—gently

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We came to Page because we had read on the Grand Canyon website that local company Colorado River Discovery offers half-day and one-day rafting trips down the Colorado River. If you don’t have the time to do a full-week of rafting (or didn’t book in time) or aren’t ready to brave the rapids in the Canyon proper, this is an opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to be down on the River with canyon walls above. These trips end at the landing where the trips into the Canyon begin and traverse part of the River that John Wesley Powell travelled on his famous attempt to navigate the Colorado.

The motorized rafts leave from just below the Lake Powell electrical damn, which regulates the level of the River somewhat. You’ll never have rapids on this stretch and real adventurers might find it a bit tame. But for families or adults looking for an easy break from days of hiking, it’s a chance to raft, swim in summer, see Native American petroglyphs on the Canyon walls and take great photos.

Your rafting fee includes a sizable lunch and cold lemonade. Bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat and water bottle you can refill on the rafts. Layers are a good idea, too. Several kids on our raft wore swim bottoms and rash guards so they were ready to get wet when the boat pulled over for a break.

Explore a slot canyon

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Slot canyons are formed when wind and floods wear through sandstone until narrow and winding passageways form. The canyons are often open at the top, allowing light to filter in. The smoothed rocks have distinct waves of color and interesting curves and shapes. They’re unique, tailor made for photographing and worth checking out.

There are a few slot canyons around Page. Some take some scrambling to get to. One of the most accessible is Antelope Slot Canyon, which sits on Navajo land and can only be visited with one of several Navajo tour companies in town. We toured Antelope in the late afternoon, but I read that the light for photographs is best in the morning, which is when they book special photography tours. The companies stagger their groups so no two are heading into the Canyon at the same time. But over spring break there was a steady stream of people gong through.  The tour companies drive you out to the Canyon in rugged trucks with bench seats in the back (it’s windy) and a guide leads you through the cave. Some guides talk more about the geology and history of the place, Ours, with Antelope Canyon Tours, spent a lot of time helping people take cool photographs of the formations. As is often the case with tour guides, who you get is luck of the draw.

Catch the Wave

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If you want to see some of this worn sandstone, but the idea of a narrow slot canyon makes you uneasy, try visiting the Wave, an open-air sandstone formation about ten miles outside of Page in the Coyote Buttes area of Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area. You need a Bureau of Land Management permit to visit the area and getting one is tricky, but if you can manage it, you’ll see some very unique scenery.

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Visit Horseshoe Bend

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On your way to or from the Grand Canyon you’ll pass a parking lot full of cars and tour buses just outside of town. Pull in alongside them and walk the flat, sunny mile to the cliffs overlooking Horseshoe Bend (if you went rafting you rode around this bend). There’s not much to do other than take a few photographs, but it’s quite scenic and worth the 30-minutes or so you’ll spend there. 

Enjoy Glen Canyon
Glen Canyon
is a protected area that spills across southern Utah and into northern Arizona. It includes Lake Powell, the Escalante River, Grand Escalante Staircase and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments and much more. You can rent a house boat, swim or go motor boating on the lake and canoe, kayak, hike and camp in other parts of the park. 

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Lake Powell is manmade and looks like the giant flooded canyon that it is. It’s unique, scenic and worth checking out. If you want to explore this giant park in depth, and particularly if you want to make your way to the impressive national monuments, give yourself three or four days in the area.

The park is managed in part by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, so information about its various sites can be a bit patchwork. The local tourism agencies are sometimes the best places to start. 

Stay
Almost no hotel in Page costs more than $150 nightly and many charge less than $100. The hotels closer to the national parks cost twice as much or more, which makes Page an appealing base for day trips to the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce, each a bit more than two hours away.

For a unique experience book a room at the Lake Powell Resort in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s a modern hotel with a nice pool and outdoor fire rings lit up in the evening, plus an upscale restaurant, casual bar and a new lakeside café.  

In town, you’ll find your pick of chain hotels, many at the budget end of the spectrum. The Holiday Inn Express has the freshly painted feel of a hotel that is either new or recently refurbished. The pool and hot tub are simple but well-kept, the front desk staff is friendly and there are free cookies and ice tea in the afternoon and a reasonably good breakfast buffet.

The Best Western Plus at Lake Powell and Courtyard by Marriott Lake Powell are also good bets.

Try something different
If you are looking for an evening activity, consider Into the Grand, which offers a Navajo dinner and two hours of live Native American music and dancing. We were too tired after all our outdoor activities to give it a go, but we were tempted.

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Tagged: Arizona, Family time

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