Updated: Apr 2
Of all the bucket list travels, this one is at the top! National park extravaganza, come to be amazed at this feature of earth.
The Grand Canyon is on every must-see travel list for a reason. It’s awe inspiring.
I was trying to figure out how can I afford this? How would I even get there, it’s so far away!?
And then it dawned on me, just begin the planning and figure out the details later. One step at a time....
Well, I was no joke when it came to details, but let’s get to the basics first!
Where is the Grand Canyon? When is a good time to go there?
In the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada this wonder waits. The Colorado River, which flows through the canyon, drains water from seven states, creating a wet/ dry habitat in the middle of the reddened earth. The South Rim is 7,000 feet above sea level, which means snow in winter and cool nights even in summer. Weather is particularly changeable in spring and fall; visitors should be prepared for a variety of climates. In the summer, temperatures often exceed 100 ºF.
Coming from Florida, I knew I’d have to fly there.
Many Grand Canyon visitors fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport because it is the closest major international airport to the South Rim, the most visited part of the National Park; just over 3.5 hours' drive (231 miles). Flagstaff/Pulliam (FLG), is 90 minutes from the South Rim, and another viable option, only SkyWest Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United, Qatar Airways, and Mesa Airlines all fly non-stop to Flagstaff Pulliam.
Most Grand Canyon Visitors however make use of Las Vegas McCarran (LAS), which ultimately saves money as the variety of flights and options for flights make it a more competitive market. A multitude of airlines and variety of options are available to this location making it a planning breeze!
Then there is the transportation factor. Airports are all far. Which ever you choose, is miles from your destiny. You will need a vehicle! Once you chose your flights, research the surrounding car rental options. Decide what type of car/ van you’d like to drive. Remember the roads are different. Many roads do not have street lights and you are driving in uncharted territory. Your comfort level is important here. Remember larger vehicles also require more gas. You will still need room for all your travelers, and luggage. And lastly, consider your budget. Fox rental car has some very affordable cars, and whatever your budget, there is a ride for you and yours!
Fox rental car - What you need to know: Fox is NOT on the airport grounds like other companies that may be more convenient because they are closer. But they are not far and there is a free shuttle to take you to their locations outside the airport. Their cars are well kept and less expensive than competitors.
Many people now are opting for Vans or RV’s, which then open the camping option… Be aware that there is a lot of driving in between sights and some roads have restrictions. Research your route ahead of time to see if size restrictions or 4 wheel drive recommendations exist – and follow these carefully. For example – if you go on the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive the tunnel has restrictions.
Pick your time to travel: I knew I’d have to go during summer (I am a teacher and the kids were in schools). I knew it was going to get hot! While the South Rim is always open, the North Rim is closed through the winter: The 2021 Season on the North Rim, May 15, through October 15, 2021
I wanted to see both North and South Rims. I ruled out the West Rim for budgeting purposes.
I am traveling that far, I want to get the whole experience.
You decide what works for you….
$$ Paying to get in – There are 6 free entry days in 2021, however they will be very crowded days.
By the way… The America the Beautiful Park Pass is $80.00 to purchase and offers unlimited entrances to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges. You may purchase one through their site here: Online—Buy now from the USGS store!
You can also buy them at any National Park gate, however it’s so much faster to flash your card and drive in.
You may also purchase your Grand Canyon passes which are good for one week for - $35
This admits one single, private vehicle and all its passengers, up to a 15-person passenger van. No refunds.
Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass
This introduces U.S. 4th graders and their families to our national parks. By targeting fourth graders one year at a time, they want every child in the U.S, to have the opportunity to visit and enjoy their public lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old.
Why the North Rim??
• The North Rim is over 8000 feet (2438 m.) in elevation ( higher than the South Rim)
• Only 10% of visitors to the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim.
• The North rim is cooler, has limited access half of the year, and is far less crowded – leading to a quieter, more “nature-ish” experience.
• There is no close village or town to stay. Kanab, Utah, about 90 minutes from the park; Page-Lake Powell Arizona, roughly 2.5 hours from the park, and St. George Utah, about 3 hours from Grand Canyon North Rim. The Grand Canyon Lodge, the sole in-park hotel, is costly and books a year in advance.
• But – THE VIEW. The unadulterated view. The wild life. The colors. The depth. The history.
THIS is why people drive to such a remote location. Beautiful hikes and view points make this worth all the while!
Viewpoints provide a rugged view of the Canyon with breath taking perspectives, in which the entire world feels untouched by man.
Points to see:
Point Imperial - the highest overlook on the North Rim at an elevation of over 8,800 feet. *We had a picnic lunch here and enjoyed the view from the picnic benches by the parking lot. This is forever imprinted in my memory.
Cape Royal - The southernmost vantage point on the North Rim, with a near-panoramic view of the Canyon.
Kaibab National Forest - Higher elevation promotes a wider range of vegetation, and the surrounding forest is home to many species. *There were many forest fires before our trip and we were shocked with how much damage there was evident, but also with the recovery and line of sight.
Why the South Rim ??
Many places to sleep in the area, much more centrally located.
Many places to eat and shop
Shuttle service, and much more information/ education available
It’s massive. It’s grand. It’s impossible to see it all at once.
Tusayan, AZ offers close and affordable accommodations to the South Rim. During the months of March – September the National Park Service operates their Tusayan Shuttle which take guests to the main Visitor Center every 20 minutes. This is free, and saves you from having to drive. Show your America the Beautiful pass and go right in.
Tusayan is also home to Grand Canyon National Airport, where helicopter and airplane plane tours depart daily. Soaring high over the contours of the canyon!
The South Rim is more developed than any other Grand Canyon destination, with a variety of hotels, restaurants, and cultural experiences.
Grand Canyon Village and locations like the Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio, are great to explore. The Ranger demonstration, or hiking along the Rim to enjoy spectacular views along the way are priceless. You can even bike along the Rim or take a mule ride down into the Canyon.
Multiple hiking trails also originate at the South Rim, including the popular Bright Angel Trail. Bright Angel Trail is perfect for beginners and day hikers. The entire trail is seven miles long though, so don’t plan on hiking the whole thing in a single day.
View Points you don't want to miss:
Desert View - Climb to the top of the Desert View Watchtower and take in 360° views of the Grand Canyon. Having just come from Navajo Nation we were still in Native American mode, this was a great tribute to the Hopi/ Anasazi ancestor's who lived here before it was a National Park. Incredible art and impressive monument.
Yaki Point - offers unobstructed views of the east side of the Grand Canyon.
Mather Point - See nearly a quarter of the Grand Canyon from Mather Point. It’s especially popular at sunset.
Favorite things to do with the family/kids:
Of all the places to see and do all around the Canyon, We rate this one the best place to take your kids for a few reasons.....
* The Junior Ranger Program is awesome. (Ages 4 and up) Stop by the visitor center for your book. Complete the activities. Return to the Visitor Center for your award.
*Yavapai Geology Museum - Fun place to check out the rocks and gems, while learning about the layers of rock. Outside you will find the trail of time. Here we walked by many elk grazing in the fields.
* Grand Canyon Historic Village - El Tovar, Hopi House, General Store, Many Gift Shops, and Grand Canyon Railway depot. Lots to explore here! There are 3 places to eat in this village area as well as the entrance to the Bright Angel Trail. Many families chose to hike the first mile down into the canyon as it is wide and fairly graded going in. However, if it is very crowded this may not be my first choice with smaller children who like to be able to see, but we don't want them too close to the edge.
Why Grand Canyon West?
This one is not a National Park, and located five hours away from Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon West is on the Hualapai Native American Reservation and is owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. This area offers attractions you can’t find anywhere else, such as the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This is more of a tourist attraction than Natural Wonder.
It’s also closer to Las Vegas – Grand Canyon West is a much shorter three hour drive away from the Strip. If you are short on time, and have extra money to spend this may be the fastest/ most entertaining option.
They offer the adventure of a stroll on the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk! Awe-inspiring views 4,000 feet down to the Canyon floor as you walk 70 feet straight out from the edge of Eagle Point. There is hiking, food options, and shuttle bus.
While there are different experiences available, you do pay for access to the land, choices of reservations are Earth ticket, sky ticket, or sky ticket plus. No outside food is permitted and pictures must be purchased. We have opted not to visit this side as the cost to view and hike seemed excessive.
Ok, I’ve picked a destination…. Or multiple destinations… Now What?
Planning - The hardest part of this trip is finding good lodging on the South Rim so start with that. What is good lodging? Stay as close as you can to the entrance to the park. It is still many miles in to the visitor center and the canyon itself.
Booking.com – I was able to find hotel discounts using this site. I did look for the least expensive options with certain amenities. My first preference was location – to save time and energy. I was a bit particular with WHERE we would stay, I did not want to drive unnecessarily. Consider when you stay farther you may find cheaper lodging, and more money on gas. It is strongly recommend NOT driving in the dark as areas are not well lit and the roads are tricky. These roads have a lot of wild life, and high-speed limits. Even in the day light I was amazed at how the animals live so close to the edge of traffic. Drive as little as possible or not at all after dark. With Booking, some hotels had to be paid in advance, and others were paid for on check in. This helped me budget because things paid in advance were already off my radar for things to do/ get for the day. This helped in my planning immensely.
Air B & B’s - I feel these are best utilized if you plan to stay more than 2 nights in one place, due to cleaning and booking fees. Decide which amenities you want before searching.
Have you ever Heard of the Bureau of Land Management? BLM-managed lands offer numerous opportunities for camping under the stars ranging from staying in an RV at a highly developed campground to simply throwing a sleeping bag on the ground in the backcountry. There are “Developed campgrounds” and “dispersed campgrounds”. Developed are specific locations that provide amenities like bathrooms, and have a small fee. Dispersed camp grounds means camping for free on public lands. Tent camping, Van camping, and RV Glamping are all appropriate here!
Now I said the North Rim has more wild life, but these are all from the South Rim -- Elk everywhere! (Moose, and squirrel as well)
How long should I stay?
How much time do you have? How long can you stretch your budget? How long can you be gone comfortably from the home life? These are the real questions. There is so much to see and do you could stay any length of time and make it work... I would definitely say explore as much of the rim trail as possible from multiple view points both at Sunrise, and Sunset. See the Visitor Center, and check out the Yavapai Museum of Geology. There is the trail of time, Hopi House, and El Tovar dining room are all worth a stop. We really enjoyed the artistic gift shops as well. If you are not doing any of the extended hiking trails one or two days is enough for the South Rim, but if you can manage I strongly recommend seeing more of the region while you are there.
The Grand Canyon and Surrounding Amazing Destinations….
If you make your way there you could spend indefinite time hiking/ exploring and just seeing the Grand Canyon itself. However, in this area there are other bucket list locations not far away…
Zion National Park (click for more)
Bryce National Park (click for more)
Page Arizona – Home of Horseshoe Bend, and famous slot canyons like Antelope and Waterhole
In fact, you could have an entire itinerary to see each of these in one trip. I would recommend a week. I will even share our itinerary from our trip! We Circled the Grand Canyon and saw all of the most immediate sights of the area. We can not wait to return to expand our hiking experiences and add to our memories.
Having grown up on the East Coast, I had never seen the colors and land like the Great South West gifts us. Then in driving I expected the parks to resemble each other. Boy was I wrong. This trip proved to me (one again) that this world was created with intention and ingenuity. Who could put the hoodoo's just so or the Monument Valley buttes there?
If you can squeeze a week, this itinerary worked for us VERY WELL.
Here are some of our trip highlights:
To which I have to end with... just go!
Thank you for sharing the journey with me, please share and leave feedback!
~~I appreciate you ~~