In the heart of Arizona, the Colorado river flows fast and free through over 1 million acres of preserved land, land that has been regarded as sacred for centuries. The approaching landscape appears completely flat. You feel as if you are driving into the middle of nowhere. It is a sudden surprise, then, when the earth appears to collapse in on itself. At first glance, the world seems to stop moving. Everything seems frozen in time. Only gradually you again become aware of your beating heart and go on to discover the mystery of the Grand Canyon.
Measuring up to 18 miles wide and 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon is in every sense of the word "grand." However, it is not the largest nor the deepest canyon in the world. Yet, travelers from all over the world have Grand Canyon National Park on their bucket list. In fact, the Grand Canyon, located in the heart of Arizona, is one of the most sought after destinations in the United States. In 2017, the park saw over six million visitors.
What's the big deal then? Honestly, I wish I could tell you. But the Grand Canyon is a place that you feel, not that you explain. Pictures cannot capture it. Words cannot describe it. You have to see it for yourself.
"How far below! And all between is cleft
And carved into a hundred curving miles
Of unimagined architecture! Tombs,
Temples, and colonnades are neighboured there
By fortresses that Titans might defend,
And amphitheaters where Gods might strive."
--Henry Van Dyke
When is the best time of year to visit?
The Grand Canyon is breath-taking at any time of year. The peak season is in July, which is also when the temperature is at its hottest. If you prefer a more private experience, visit in winter, when the canyon gets dusted with snow (note that the North Rim closes in winter). The shoulder seasons, spring and fall, offer less crowds and more moderate weather.
That said, we think the best time to visit the Grand Canyon is during the Star Party in June. The Grand Canyon has protected skies, which means less light pollution. That along with the clear air and dark nights allows for some of the best night sky observing in the United States. What's a star party? For eight days in June, chosen for when the sky will be at its darkest, the Grand Canyon partners with the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (South Rim) and the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix (North Rim) to offer visitors a chance to gaze through professional telescopes and learn from the astronomers about the planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, distant galaxies, and more that they see. Additionally, park rangers give constellation tours and during the day a few telescopes are set out so you can view the sun or planets in the light. It's an experience unlike any other.
North Rim or South Rim?
While the North and South Rim both have different sights and experiences to offer, we recommend the South Rim if it is your first visit. While it is more crowded, it is more easily accessible and also has more facilities and services, which gives you more freedom and more to do. The North Rim has less visitors, offering a more private experience. If it is your second visit, consider going to the North Rim to see the Grand Canyon from a different perspective. Remember that the North Rim is only open in the summer.
Where to stay?
A trip to the Grand Canyon means connecting with nature. That's why we highly recommend camping at the Grand Canyon. However, the Grand Canyon should be accessible to everyone--including those who don't like "roughing it." Because of the large and increasing number of visitors, the Grand Canyon has more lodging and services than most other National Parks. Whether sleeping under the stars or in a plush bed (or maybe a combination of both!), you are sure to be comfortable.
In the busiest seasons, the lodging and camping within the park (both rims) can easily fill up, often far in advance. However, the town of Tusayan is a five minute drive to the entrance to the South Rim of the park, so we will recommend some lodging there as well. Along the North Rim, the closest town is Jacob Lake, which is an hour away from the visitor's center.
South Rim: Ten X Campground or Mather Campground
Ten X Campground is located in Tusayan and is part of Kaibab National Forest. It is situated in a ponderosa pine and gambel oak forest, giving the feeling of being in the midst of nature. It offers vault toilets, grills, campfire rings, and drinking water for $10 per night. There is a nature trail that runs through the campground, and don't be surprised if any deer appear near your camp.
Mather Campground is located within Grand Canyon National Park. It offers all the best amenities, including flush toilets, for $18 per night. Reservations are required March 1 through November 30 and it often books far in advance. We highly recommend attending one of the free campfire programs offered by the park rangers at the campsite.
North Rim: Demotte Campground or North Rim Campground
Demotte Campground is located 25 miles from the North Rim visitor's center (about a 30 minute drive). It offers water, firewood, vault toilets, and grills for $20 per night. There is also a convenience store nearby. This is a great option for if the North Rim Campground is booked.
North Rim Campground is located within the National Park. It offers flush toilets, showers, fire circles, a convenience store and even laundry for $18 per night. Book well in advance, because this campground fills up.
South Rim: Kachina Lodge or The Grand Hotel
Kachina Lodge, located within the park, has one thing really going for it: canyon view rooms. Open your drapes to reveal the splendor of the Grand Canyon right outside your window. You are probably thinking that these rooms must be insanely expensive. Think again. Even the canyon-side rooms are surprisingly well-priced.
The Grand Hotel, located in Tusayan just seven miles away, has all the hotel amenities you could hope for so close to the Grand Canyon. Take a dip in the pool after a long day of hiking in the hot sun, or sit down in the parlor room and play a board game with your family to unwind.
North Rim: Kaibab Lodge or The Grand Canyon Lodge
Kaibab Lodge, located about thirty minutes from the North Rim visitor's center, is the closest lodging option outside of the park. The lodge offers individual, duplex, and quad cabins for rent and has a restaurant attached.
Grand Canyon Lodge, located inside the park, has both cabins and rooms available to rent. There are several dining options on the property, including a coffee shop, for visitors to enjoy.
What to do?
It's one thing to experience the Grand Canyon and another to understand it. Treat your mind with a free Ranger Program like the Fossil Walk, Critter Chat, or Canyon Tales. Then cool off in one of the educational centers, like the North Rim, Verkamp, and Grand Canyon Visitor's Centers, the Yavapai Geology Museum, or the Kolb Photo Studio. Connect with the past at the Tusayan Ruin and see how ancient native peoples lived in this sacred area.
Allow the beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon to inspire you. Try your hand at some photography at one of many view points. Sit on one of the benches overlooking the canyon and write poetry. Walk up the steps of the Desert Watchtower Kiva and get inspired by the art and architecture. Worship at one of many religious services.
Nature has a way of sparking our sense of adventure. Take a drive to the many view points. Take a bus or bike up to Hermit's Rest. Take a scenic hike along the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel Trail into the canyon, or better yet ride a mule. For the extreme, take a river rafting trip or backcountry into the canyon and back out. There is lots of adventure to be had for all kinds of people. Just be sure to follow the park safety rules and recommendations.
Where to eat?
All this activity is going to make you hungry. Luckily, both the North and South Rim have plenty of places to grab a bite. At the South Rim try Mather Point Café for grab-and-go breakfast and lunch. After a journey to Hermit's Rest, grab an ice cream at the Hermit's Rest Snack Bar. For dinner, try Harvey House Café or the Arizona Steakhouse in the Bright Angel Lodge. On the North Rim try the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room at any mealtime, or the Deli in the Pines for lunch. If you need a pick-me-up try Roughrider Saloon.
Make it romantic
At Make a Date of It we are always trying to emphasize how to make the everyday romantic. A trip to the Grand Canyon can be grumpy and sweaty or it can be romantic and adventurous. Which to you prefer? Here are a few tips to up the romance on your trip:
Tip #1: Stay your Final Night at a Hotel
Camping is fun, but it is also dirty and sweaty. If you don't want to splurge on a hotel your entire trip, try finishing with just one night at a hotel. Leave your campsite, have a fun day exploring the Grand Canyon, and then check-in for your final night of romance. Take showers before a nice dinner and a romantic stroll under the stars. Then, take it back to the room.
What about the kids? If you have kids with you, this is still a great way to go. It may not be as romantic of an evening, but the hotel will feel special. You and your family will leave feeling refreshed and the car ride home will be much more enjoyable.
Tip #2: Get a Mesh Tent and an Air Mattress
Is there anything more romantic than stargazing? On a perfectly clear night when you aren't worried about rain or heat (so, mid-summer) pull out your mesh-roofed tent and leave the rain fly off. Then, climb between the sheets of your air mattress (talk about comfort) and cuddle up under the stars until you fall asleep. When my husband and I visited in June it was so warm at night we hardly needed sleeping bags.
Tip #3: Take a Moment to Watch the Sunset
On a trip like this it is easy to be go-go-go. But that isn't what the Grand Canyon is all about. Take a moment and sit on a rock or bench together, preferably somewhere private. Look out over the canyon as the sun sets. Hold hands. Think of what you are appreciative for.
Where can I find somewhere private?
Choose one of the less-visited view points. Around sunset other people tend to disappear. Or, check out Shoshone Point.
How do I get to Shoshone Point?
Shoshone Point is where events like weddings are held, so you can only visit when there is no event happening. The trick is that it isn't on the map and there are no signs leading to it on the road. Hence, it is more private.
While driving between the Desert View Watchtower and the Visitor's Center on Desert View Drive, look for a green metal gate blocking a side road next to a small parking lot with enough room for about six cars. It will be on the north side of the road as you drive east, 1.2 miles east of Yaki Point and just beyond mile marker 244. Park the car and take the one mile hike through the forest. It leads to a group area where the events are held and just beyond that to a breath-taking view point.
I have been to Shoshone Point on two separate occasions and both times there were other people there, so don't count on it being entirely private (though it is possible). Still, two other people is better than twenty.
Day 1: Arrive and Toe-Dip
Check-in and get settled at your lodgings. If you are camping, set up your tent and find where the toilets are, etc.
Get your first view of the Grand Canyon. Take pictures.
If there is time, check out one of the visitor's centers. They can be a wealth of knowledge.
Eat dinner at one of the place we suggested above, or at your campsite if you brought food.
Take part in an Evening Program at your campsite or go to the star party.
Day 2: Learn and Explore
After sleeping to a reasonable hour, wake up and eat breakfast. Decide on what you want to accomplish today.
Optionally go on the Fossil Walk or History Walk, or hear some of the Canyon Tales at Verkamp's Visitor's Center (check for times).
Take the bus up to Hermit's Rest, getting off at the various view points and hiking as you like between them. (Alternatively, rent bikes!) Once you get to the top, eat ice cream from the snack shop and check out the area. Bus back down.
Eat lunch to recuperate before visiting Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio.
Take a hike on Bright Angel Trail.
Check out the other buildings in the area, like the Hopi House. Be on the look out for condors.
Eat dinner and watch the sunset, finishing a long day with stargazing.
Day 3: Adventure and Depart
Check-out of your lodgings and store your luggage at the hotel or in your car.
Take an educational hike along the Rim Trail to understand the "Trail of Time". Arrive at the Yavapai Geology Museum, where you can cool off and learn. Listen to the Geology Talk if you are in time. Alternatively hike the South Kaibab Trail.
Drive along Desert View Drive, checking out the view points as you go.
Eat lunch and relax a bit before spending the afternoon at Desert View. View the Tusayan ruins and check out the museum. Climb the Watchtower to see from the highest point on the South Rim. Before you head back to where you came from, take in the last breath-taking sites of the Grand Canyon.
Feel free to comment or contact me with questions or comments. Enjoy your trip!
This Post was Last Updated: 05/01/2019
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