Given we were in the vicinity, we popped by the Grand Canyon. We first visited 16 years ago, and have been a few times since, and it hasn’t changed much. It’s still stunning and there are still way too many people. But I would still recommend going, and applying my standard advice of ‘go early and go further’, ie hit the trails by 7am and head out on a long hike and that way you will see very few people*
I had a lovely morning running the 16 mile loop trail from the South Kaibab trailhead to the Bright Angel campground on the Colorado river, and then back up to the rim on the bright Angel trail (1500m down and then back up). The Rangers recommend against trying to do it in one day (including posting graphic signs on the trail of people barfing to try to dissuade you) but if you are fit it is an easy day hike or a great run. You don’t see as many people as you would expect, though you start to hit crowds in the last 2-3 miles uphill. One day I am keen to try the rim to rim to rim where you add an extra 28 miles to my itinerary by visiting the north rim also – but given it is a 12-14 hour mission, I am looking for company so let me know if anyone is keen
We also had a lovely stroll along the rim from the village to hermits rest – given most people take the shuttle buses everywhere, you will have the path to yourself, especially at 8 am. The canyon views are stunning!
Heading out to the canyonlands national park, we also stopped over at Monument Valley, which is worth the $20 entrance fee (which goes to the Navajo nation :-)) to drive around the valley, especially at sunset. It is a few hours drive from the Grand Canyon and another few hours from there to Canyonlands
– we stayed at the budget maswik lodge at the Grand canyon. I’ve stayed at the El Tovar and the Bright Angel lodge before and neither is worth the premium
– at Monument Valley we stayed in a tipi at the Tipi village, run by the delightful Bob – highly recommended
*Side note – where are the people?
While I think the US national parks are overcrowded with 4wds and Rvs, there are surprisingly few people in what is described here as the ‘backcountry’ (what we would call the bush in NZ). Maybe it is because they don’t like walking much, but as a percentage of population you will see way fewer people on most long trails here than you would see on comparable trails in Europe or NZ. If you like hiking, definitely come to the US, just make sure you do the longer tougher trails and you will likely have them mostly to yourself