Of all the national parks out there, Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited national park, just behind Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s really no wonder, as it’s one of America’s most distinguishable landmarks and filled not only with natural beauty and wonder, but rich history. This year, 2019, is the park’s 100th birthday, so it’s a great time to visit and celebrate its majesty.
Why Visit Grand Canyon National Park?
The Grand Canyon is truly a sight you have to see to believe. It’s a mile deep, 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. No photos or videos can do it justice and its sheer size is astonishing. It’s a bucket list destination and in my opinion, something everyone should see in their lifetime. Its name says it all, it’s truly “grand” and a jaw-dropping masterpiece that will leave you speechless.
Things to Do
No matter how much time you have inside the park, there are tons of ways to enjoy the views or find a thrill. You truly choose your own adventure inside the Grand Canyon! Here are the most popular activities to do.
Enjoy the Different Vantage Points
The Grand Canyon is divided into different areas and “rims”: Each one offers a distinct and unique point of view from the edge. The South Rim is the Grand Canyon’s most popular area since it’s home to Grand Canyon Village, the park’s headquarters.
It’s also open year round, closest to Flagstaff and Williams, and offers the most services and amenities, making it the most crowded part of the park. The North Rim is quite the opposite and offers more of a remote and relaxing experience in the park. While it’s closed in the winter months due to heavy snow, from mid-May to October you can enjoy solitude while still having a few conveniences, such as a campground, general store, and other facilities.
The west side of the Grand Canyon is the Hualapai Reservation. The Hualapai tribe, or “People of the Tall Pines,” consists of 2,300 people today. The reservation is about 250 miles (about a five-hour drive) from the South Rim but can’t be missed, as it is home to the park’s famous Skywalk.
This modern marvel is 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor and boasts a glass-bottom! The reservation is outside of the park, however, so you’ll pay a separate entrance fee. While services are limited, there are tours you can take to learn about the interesting Hualapai culture and history.
There are many ways to explore the North and South Rims and other areas of the Grand Canyon. Go beyond the walkways and enjoy viewpoints from a bike tour, a mule ride, or a jeep ride!
You can also drive yourself along Desert View Drive. The 25-mile road will offer you several scenic points along the way, including views of the Colorado River at Moran, Lipan and Desert View Points. At Desert View, you can then climb to the top of stone Watchtower and on a clear day, enjoy a panoramic view extending 100 miles.
Hiking in Grand Canyon National Park is not your typical walk in the park. Many visitors choose to stay along the Rim Trail, which stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest. The trail is approximately thirteen miles and mostly paved. But if you’re feeling up to it, you can venture down into the canyon a and see it in a whole new perspective from its floors.
Bright Angel Trail
This is the park’s most popular hike because while it’s a two-day trip and 19 miles long, it’s one of the most comfortable and safe hiking trails. It guides hikers through the peaceful lush greens of Garden Creek before what’s called “Devil’s Corkscrew”, a challenging set of switchbacks along the Inner Gorge.
Hikers are rewarded, though, when they reach the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge. The bridge is see through and provides a quick route to the end of the trail. For hikers wanting to only enjoy the Bright Angel Trail for one day rather than two, rangers suggest stopping at Indian Garden or Plateau Point.
South Kaibab Trail
This trail is shorter than Bright Angel trail and much better suited for a day hike while still offering fantastic canyon views. It’s 14 miles round trip but day hikers can turn around at Cedar Ridge, a narrow section that is the start of a steep descent to Skeleton Point for a view of the Colorado River.
If you choose to continue on down towards the entrance to the Inner Gorge, you’ll reach the 400 foot Kaibab Suspension Bridge and end at Phantom Ranch.
North Kaibab Trail
This hike is a strenuous 14-mile round trip journey from rim to river. Unless you chose to turn around at the Supai Tunnel, this full trek requires two-days. The trail offers a variety of unique geological features. First, it descends into Roaring Springs Canyon and through the Supai Tunnel.
The trail then leads into the canyon’s Supai Group layer of sandstone, limestone, and shale. After crossing over the Redwall Bridge and past Roaring Springs and Ribbon Falls, hikers will reach the Inner Gorge. Before ending at Phantom Ranch, they’ll stand in awe of the thousand-foot black and grey ancient colored walls of the Vishnu Schist, or “basement rocks”.
This trail, while the shorter of them all at only 10 miles, is known for it’s unbelievable and distinct beauty. It’s a bit off the beaten path and accessible outside of the park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Hikers can enjoy a comfortable day hike through Havasu Canyon and soak in the breathtaking views of the turquoise-colored waterfalls known as Havasu Falls. This is considered the heart of the Havasupai Tribal Lands. Hikers can then spend an unforgettable night at the serene and stunning campground or the Havasupai Lodge.
Enjoy a birds-eye view of the canyon by taking an airplane or helicopter ride! You’ll soar above the vastness and have aerial views of the canyon gorges and rock formations, many of which can’t be seen from the ground. While it’s the priciest way to see the park, it’s also the quickest and most efficient!
Depending on your skill level, you can take anywhere from a half-day commercial guided whitewater rafting trip to a 25-day non-commercial self-guided trip. Either way, it’s one of the best and most exciting ways to experience this natural wonder first-hand. You go “straight to the source” since the Colorado River is the creator of the Grand Canyon! If you’re interested in taking a multiple day tours, you can choose from a full-canyon trip or half-canyon trip and both motorized and oar-powered rafting trips are available.
When to Visit
The Grand Canyon area experiences a variety of weather conditions due to its wide span of elevation. The weather can also differ greatly from the North Rim to the South Rim. As with most national parks, the summertime is most popular. Weather is very comfortable and mild, but the crowds can be challenging.
It’s estimated that 5.9 million people visit the park every year, and the majority of these visitors choose the summertime when the entire park is open and accessible.
Winter, while cold with occasionally dangerous snowy conditions, can be one of the most peaceful times to visit. You’ll have far fewer crowds, you’ll still see some wildlife, and blankets of snow covering the canyon is a beautiful sight. Late spring and early fall, however, tend to be the best times to visit.
While temperatures aren’t as warm as the summer, the snow has either melted or has not yet started, and crowds are much less. Storms, however, are more common and can often be unpredictable. No matter what time of year, there are benefits and drawbacks, but nothing will take away the experience of laying eyes on the canyon. Plan accordingly and in advance to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
Where to Stay
Then there’s North Rim Campground, which is seasonal since that side of the park is not open year round. Mather Campground and Trailer Villlage, however, are open year round, but Trailer Village is the only campground with full hook-ups for RVs.
RV parks and campgrounds inside the park book up well in advance, so you may need to consider staying at one of the privately owned RV parks outside of Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon Camper Village is a great option and has lots of amenities including WiFi, which is non-existent inside the park. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, try your luck at the quirky Flintstones Bedrock City Campground & RV Park.
Another great option is to camp inside the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the park. There’s plenty of space and even some free primitive camping areas. While you won’t have the amenities of a campground, you’ll likely be able to find a spot all to yourself to enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest, while being a short drive from the park!
Getting to and Around Grand Canyon National Park
Driving into Great Canyon National Park is its own enjoyable and scenic adventure. To get to the South Rim, you’ll drive from Flagstaff along Highway 180 to Highway 64. Along this route, you’ll enjoy winding your way through the trees of the beautiful Kaibab National Forest. If you enter the park through the North Rim, which is only open seasonally from mid-May or mid-October, you’ll take Highway 67 from Jacob Lake.
To avoid congestion in the park, there are several shuttle and bus services available to tourists. You can park just outside the South Rim in the neighboring town of Tusayan at several Park & Ride lots and catch a free shuttle ride every twenty minutes into the park. You’ll avoid long entrance lines and parking frustrations and can sit back and enjoy the experience. The shuttle runs March through September.
Another option is to ride the Grand Canyon Railway and enjoy a unique experience on a restored vintage locomotive. You can take a round trip ride from Williams to the South Rim and enjoy learning about the history and soaking in the changing views in terrain. Be sure to grab a seat in the observation dome for the most scenic ride!
Tips and Tricks Specific to Grand Canyon National Park
- Beware of wildlife! Another way to ruin your trip is by getting bit by the squirrels that are running all around the park. Surprisingly, this happens often, as tourists are tempted to feed these cute but aggressive creatures. Also, you’ll see about as many elk walking around the campgrounds as squirrels. While these animals seem very accustomed to tourists, they can be dangerous and the rangers recommend staying at least 100 feet away.
- Traffic can be challenging around the park so prepare to utilize shuttles, bring a bike, or plan on walking quite a bit. It will save you the stress of parking and getting stuck on congested roads!
For the latest info on visiting Grand Canyon National Park, visit their website: Grand Canyon National Park.
Have you been to Grand Canyon National Park? What tips can you share? Leave a comment below!