The Grand Canyon
One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World
If there is a place and an adjective that belong together, they are 'The Grand Canyon' and 'Awesome'. And not in the meaningless 'totally awesome dude' sense. But in the true sense of the word; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence or admiration. I have been fortunate to visit The Canyon many times over the years and still find that first view breathtaking, It's indescribable and no photograph or painting will ever do it justice, you just have to be there. It's a destination that should be on everyone's bucket list.
Visit whenever you can
There is no bad time of year to visit. Every season highlights different aspects. In winter, the cold clear air reveals details hidden by the heat and summer haze. But the haze creates spectacular views with layers and layers receding into the sunrises and sunsets. In spring the flora and fauna around the rim and within the canyon are coming to life. During parts of the year you may see a few of the remaining California Condors circling overhead or catch a glimpse of a mountain lion.
If you have issues with crowds of tourists, packed roadways and overflowing buses, winter is the best time to visit. Rooms are available, as are seats in the Canyon Cafe at Yavapai Lodge. Parking in the village, which during the busy season can be difficult to find anywhere but next to your hotel or campsite, is not an issue during this slowest season. The west rim drive to Hermit's Rest is open to vehicles in January and February and the overlooks are not crowded. Remember the elevation of the south rim is 7,000 ft or so. Bitter winter storms packing lots of snow can race across northern Arizona this time of year, so be prepared.
During the other three seasons, the village can be a madhouse. Rooms and campsites are all booked - reserve your spot well in advance. We love the international flavor during these busy seasons and have found that by doing everything a few hours earlier than most tourists - from shuttling out to Hermit's Rest to eating lunch or dinner in the cafes - saves us from most of the lines.
We enjoy staying in the park
Even though sleeping in the park lodging can be expensive - $120/night and up for hotel rooms - it's the best way to get the most from your visit. Evening strolls along the rim are a must and there are many Park Service scheduled walks and presentations that you'll miss if you have to return to a room at one of the hotels outside of the park. We often choose the camping option - under $20 a night - with access to fine camper services including showers. The General Store is within a few hundred yards of Mather Campgrounds. The campground at Desert View is 20 miles or so east of the village and is less hectic and now has eating and shopping choices.
You don't need your car once you've arrived
The park has an excellent in-park transportation system to zip you around to all of the overlooks, hotels and campgrounds. It's all detailed in the information packet you receive when you pay the $25/vehicle park entry fee. It's good enough that there is really no reason to start your car once you're settled into your room or campsite. Bicycles are also a good way to buzz around the village with paved bike-paths tying all the sites together. If you're in reasonable shape, riding the west rim with only shuttle buses to contend with is a good option. Pretty good climb out the 7 miles to Hermit's Rest but the flight back is great fun.
Your first view
Mather Point behind the new Visitor's Center is the perfect place to get your first glimpse of the Canyon. Of course sunrise and sunset are the most spectacular. It's not far from the south entrance and on your way to all the lodging and camping.
And finally some random stuff
Cell service is marginal around the Yavapai Lodge and the General Store. Much better at the village center around the main lodges.
Wi-fi is available at the lodges.
Eating in the park can be expensive. Two people eating 3 meals a day at the Canyon Cafe can expect to spend $60 to $90 a day, but the $7 chicken pot pie is great.
We stock up on snacks and camping supplies at home or in Flagstaff on the way to the park as the General Store charges typical 'in the park' prices.
If you're headed out the east entrance, the gift shop at Cameron, AZ is a good choice for Canyon and Native American items.
The train from Williams, AZ - 80 miles due south - can be a fun way to get to the Canyon and avoid the traffic issues in the busy seasons.
The North rim is less developed, less crowded and features some of the best views of the Canyon.
From others who've crossed the Canyon off their bucket list -----
Have a tip for new visitors? eMail us. We'll post a few below.
Hiking in the Canyon - From Jake
About the back-country permits: inside the canyon is the most magical place I've ever camped, and a group of 2-4 people can almost always get last-minute permits. I've walked a 3-day rim-to rim (about 25 miles across!) and also 3-day loop down the Kaibab to the Colorado river and back up the Bright Angel to the GC lodge (also about 20 miles). The rim to rim requires a hell of a shuttle, or an expensive bus ride because I think its around 250 miles back around by car. Both are spectacular- both have plenty of water along the way and amazing campsites- but the best part for a "back-country" hiker has to be the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of a long, hot hike. It offers up cold beer, a steak dinner, and amazing, shaded campsites with sand and miniature rainbow-colored-pebble beaches along the Rio Colorado.
Worth putting onto that bucket list- and it is worth mentioning that I did both of these hikes with my mother, the second of which (rim to rim) she did on a recently rebuilt knee. The trails are well maintained and the grades are tolerable. You must take the going out slow. And the best part, was when I went to Europe shortly after, and there was nothing that impressed the "continentals" more than the fact that I actually walked across the Grandest Canyon of them all. Almost everyone in Europe would ask me about NY and LA, and blah, blah, blah- but then when they asked about the wild-west I had a story to share, you could see their faces light up with adventure most usually reserved for 11 year old's faces. And to state the obvious for us "wild westerners" it is (excuse the cliche and American tendency to foreshorten long drives) in our backyard. a good informational site: http://www.grandcanyonhiker.com/traildata/rimtorim.shtml
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