So there you are in your first slot canyon. Whorled walls of stone twist up to a narrow sliver of sky. Except for a burble of sandstone-red water, there’s a total hush. Just ahead, a young woman has stopped, head bowed. You don’t want to interrupt so you sidle past quietly. And you can’t help but notice that she’s praying…to her iPad. Specifically, to the guidebook she downloaded to figure out what she’s seeing. For too many visitors, that’s how national parks work—plenty of awe, and an awful lot of head scratching. So we asked Eric Kessler and Heather Harding, longtime guides for Classic Journeys, about their tips, advice, and secrets to get more out of Bryce, Grand Canyon and Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park

“Ask questions until you’re hoarse.”

“Curiosity pays,” promises Eric. How tall were Puebloans? Are those layers of stone slanting up or down? How do trees survive flash floods? Is the Grand Canyon still getting deeper? A well-trained guide has (or will get you) the answers. You understand what you’re seeing, as you see it. Think of it as having “Aha” moments instead of just “Oohs and ahhs.”

“See what the parks can’t show you.”

For preservation reasons, many archeological sites are off-limits to park visitors. So Heather has gained permission to visit a site on private property where guests can search for Native American pottery shards. They can’t be taken, but you get a firsthand sense of the human history. The guides have also located petroglyphs that we can examine in up-close/no-touch visits—an experience that park visitors just can’t get.

“Hang out with the neighbors.”

Colorful erosion you expect, but the folks who live in this region are pretty vivid too. To get the real feel, Eric and Heather introduce guests to the couple that maintains the home of Maynard Dixon, one of the region’s leading artists. They cook lunch when they know you’re coming. And when he’s not too busy with his mules or building trailers for sheepherders, a local cowboy musician tunes up his guitar for the evening.

“Stay comfortable.”

Too many canyons and too much sun too fast can take the fun out of any park. Eric and Heather are all about timing walks carefully, advising you if today’s a day for shorts or a jacket, and staying hydrated (a real peril for visitors who hop out of the car and go for a walk). And don’t skimp on accommodations. Eric’s a big fan of The Desert Pearl resort in Zion National Park right on the Virgin River. “You just feel yourself relax into this wonderful place,” he sighs.

For more information on Classic Journeys Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon walking tours, call 800-200-3887 or visit