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The Grand Canyon is one of the Earth’s greatest wonders and one of the crown jewels in America’s National Park System. Visiting the Grand Canyon should be part of any traveler’s bucket list. However, visiting the park does take some planning and preparation, especially if you plan on going during the peak tourist season, so Expedia.com asked me to share my insider tips to help you make it your best trip yet.
To get your vacation started, check out all of the Grand Canyon hotel options at Expedia.com.
Where Should You Go?
This is the first thing you have to determine and to do that there is one important fact you need to know: You can’t cross the Grand Canyon by car. The Grand Canyon cuts an enormous swath through the State of Arizona. To go the few miles from the South Rim to the North Rim might take over 200 miles of driving.
That means your visit to the Grand Canyon will probably involve one rim or the other, or a whole lot of driving.
The South Rim is the most popular of the two sides of the Grand Canyon, getting 90% of the total visitors. It is usually the warmer of the two sides and it is physically close to Phoenix, one of the two major airports near Grand Canyon National Park. The South Rim is warmer because it is at a lower elevation than the North Rim which allows it to stay open year-round. There are more hotels and other guest services located near the South Rim of the canyon.
The North Rim is higher, colder, and closer to Las Vegas. It gets only 10% of the visitors to the park and it is closed in the winter. Getting here will take you through or near several other great National Parks including Zion and Bryce Canyon.
There is also an area known as the West Rim, which is technically on the south side of the Colorado River but is located west of the main park area. This part of the Grand Canyon is outside of the national park area and is owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe. They own the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West as well as the Hualapai Lodge.
When Should You Go?
Because the North Rim is closed in the winter, when you go will in part be determined by where you go.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country has received over 6.25 million visitors in 2017. To avoid the largest crowds, consider avoiding any time between Memorial Day (late May) and Labor Day (early September). Especially be wary of the dates around July 4, which is Independence Day in the United States.
Unlike other parks, the Grand Canyon isn’t seasonal. There are no trees turning color or waterfalls that other parks have as attractions. With the possible exception of snow covering the canyon and temperature, there isn’t much difference between what you will see in October vs April.
What Should You Do?
The main attraction of the Grand Canyon is simply seeing it in person. It is one of the most incredible sights in the world. That being said, if you are going to travel all the way to the Grand Canyon, you should probably take the opportunity to do more than gawk at it. There are several things you can do inside the outside the park:
- Drive the Rim Roads. The rim roads extend along the Grand Canyon on both the North and South Rim. Along the roads, there are many stops where you can get out and view the canyon from another angle. You will find that in most places, you cannot see the actual river as it is so deep. You will need to physically move in order to see the river and get other views of the canyon.
- Photography. Almost everyone travels with a camera nowadays. There are many places along the rim roads where you can set up and get great photos. You will also want to be on the rim of the canyon for either sunrise or sunset, as they provide the best photos of the park.
- Hiking. The Grand Canyon has trails you can walk all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. If you are extremely fit, it is possible to walk rim-to-rim in a single day (this would be walking down from one rim, cross the river, and walk up the other rim). It should be noted that preparation and precautions should be taken if you hike in the canyon. Bring plenty of water as people can and have died in the canyon due to dehydration and exposure. Professional athletes have died, so the canyon shouldn’t be taken for granted by anyone.
- Helicopter Flights. There are services which offer aerial tours over the Grand Canyon. You can even take flights from Las Vegas which will fly you there and back and even land at the bottom of the canyon! These flights are not cheap, and you might have to reserve ahead of time, especially if you visit during the peak season.
- Rafting. This is something you usually start and finish outside of the park but rafting down the Colorado River is a popular activity. You will probably need to reserve your rafting trip months or even a full year in advance as they sell out quickly, and there are only so many outfitters who are licensed to offer rafting through the park.
- Skyway. Located outside the park on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, the Skyway is a giant cantilevered U with a glass bottom which is suspended over the canyon on the West Rim. You can walk out and look straight down into the canyon while you are suspended over it. Note: cameras are not allowed on the Skyway.
Where Should You Stay?
A popular option for all National Parks is to camp. The Grand Canyon has many campsites available for use, but they must be reserved in advance. Campsites during the peak season are usually claimed quickly. There are also private campsites and RV parks located just outside the park boundary.
Within the park, boundaries are several lodging options. They tend to be expensive most expensive lodging options for visiting the park.
The park properties include:
- Phantom Ranch. This is the only lodging available below the rim of the canyon. You can only get here by foot, mule, or raft. Rooms here are allocated by lottery. If you win a lottery, you might have to adjust your schedule to the date you are allocated your rooms.
- El Tovar Hotel. One of the great National Park lodges. Room go from $200-500 per night and it offers the classic park experience.
- Grand Canyon Lodge. This is the only lodging inside the park on the North Rim. It is a collection of cabins which can sleep 3-4 people.
- Bright Angel Lodge. Located in Grand Canyon Village near the El Tovar Hotel, it has a more rustic feel and a great view of the rim.
The most affordable accommodations will be outside the park boundary. There is a large collection of rooms in the town of Tusayan which is right outside of the park on the South Rim. Expect vacancies to be at their lowest, and room rates to be at their highest, during the peak season.
If you are willing to drive farther, you can find more rooms at cheaper rates, however, driving back and forth will cut down on your time inside the park.
If able, a trip to the Grand Canyon is one which everyone should make at least once. It is one of the most awe-inspiring and impressive sites on Earth. With just a little bit of planning, your trip can be enjoyable and be satisfying with minimal headaches.