Trip to Grand Canyon/Arizona. Need advice!
October 1, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Ok, I'm tenatively planning a trip to see the Grand Canyon with my sister. I'm looking for suggestions for things to do around there that are fun and relatively cheap.

Background - my sister is 20 and I am 31. She is pretty broke, so I will be funding most of the trip. My sister is super outdoorsy and wants to camp and picnic the whole time. I would prefer to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants (cheap ones - i'm not fancy!). My sister is very athletic. I am coming off a sprained ankle a few months ago (which means I can walk and do easy hikes but I cant do anything really taxing like rock climbing etc). My sister wants to hike mountains and climb trees and such. I want to go shopping, visit landmarks, and find cool bars with live music (remember though, she is not 21).

Things we both have in common - we both love live music, especially bluegrass. We both love to eat. We both like to swim and kayak. We both like quirky little old fashioned museums and farmers markets and small town stuff like that. But then, I live in nyc so I also love a bustling city.

I realize this sounds like a disaster and we will probably end up killing each other. HOWEVER, we both really, really want to see the Grand Canyon! Plus we get along amazingly well, despite all our differences, and we are both willing to compromise on stuff. I am completely willing to pay for most of our trip and I understand that anytime I want us to do something that she cant afford, I will foot the bill. Also, we don’t need to be together every second. We can separate sometimes to do our own thing.

So my questions are: A. what are some things that might appeal to both of us, i.e. physical stuff that is not SO physical that my newly healed ankle will get hurt again? or cool stuff that is not crazy expensive?
B. maybe what are some cheap hotels that we could stay at, or conversely, campgrounds that are not SO rustic?
C. general advice for visiting the Grand Canyon? like….it seems that the closest I can fly to there is Pheonix or Tucson. So I guess we rent a car then? Or maybe should we go with a tour group?

We are thinking of taking the trip in early November, so we have to book our tickets asap, preferably this weekend. We would probably be out there 5 days. We are flying from nyc if that makes any difference.

posted by silverstatue to Travel & Transportation around Grand Canyon, AZ (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
went to the grand canyon in april and had a great time. my girlfriend and i stayed on the south rim in a cabin. the cabin was relatively cheap, it's inside the park. i'd suggest calling them to see what kinds of rates you can get and you are right in the park by everything you might need. grand canyon lodges...

we hiked the south rim trail, about 7 miles. we hiked down the canyon 3 miles and then back up. we saw sunsets every night and sunrises every morning. i suggest going to the far east side in the mornings for some awesome sunrise scenery, but take a jacket as it's definitely chilly.

otherwise there are plenty of hiking trails, mule rides, biking, etc. plenty to do without having to spend much money at all.

pack your own trail mix, by plastic water jugs, get an electric griddle and cook your own meals.

hope you have a great time.
posted by its1am at 11:05 AM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: You may be able to fly into Flagstaff, which would significantly reduce your driving as compared to Tucson or Phoenix. Only 2 hours as opposed to 5+.
If you want to see live music (or a lot of the small-town kind of activities you mention), flagstaff is also a neat kind-of-granola college town that apparently just had a bluegrass festival. The Flagstaff friends of traditional music and Flagstaff Live (the local weekly) may also have some music suggestions. It also (if i recall) has some good restaurants, though none i can remember off the top of my head.
posted by anthropophagous at 11:39 AM on October 1, 2010

When we went to the Grand Canyon, we stayed in a hotel in Winslow and took the Grand Canyon Railway to the canyon. We only stayed for the afternoon. That website has lots of different options on it.
posted by CathyG at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2010

Eat hamburgers at Bun Huggers!
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2010

I did the grand canyon area in November of 2004.

We flew into and out of Vegas (cheaper!), spent a couple of nights in town on the strip, and then enjoyed the road trip out. We upgraded to a larger car which made the long drive more comfortable. The route takes in the Hoover Dam (touristy!), a great ride along Route 66, and a stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns (awesome experience). We stayed in Flagstaff for three nights and then drove back to Vegas for a short turnaround and flight out.

While in Flagstaff (We stayed at the Aspen Inn -- highly recommended if Joe and Raquel still own it) we made a day trip to the Grand Canyon itself, a day trip to Sedona, and a half day in Flagstaff itself.

If you want more time at the Canyon itself it's not too terribly expensive to stay at the south rim (I have a room booked for next year that was around $150/night, with partial view), but availability might be very limited. I booked my rooms a year in advance (because I also needed to book space at the bottom a year in advance).

There's also a meteor crater right in the area, though we didn't have time to visit it.

For me, the really "Canyon-y" thing is to hike to the bottom. If that's out of consideration due to the ankle, then perhaps one or two days there would be enough, and enjoy the rest of your time in the surrounding area.

I have photo albums from the visit, and can share links if you're interested.
posted by devbrain at 11:52 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have to say, for an outdoorsy person, hiking into the canyon and back out is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you should grant your sister. This might mean you spend a day in a hotel, or even better, in a tour bus driving around the rim. She can go down to Indian Garden, out to the plateau lookout, and back in about 8 or 10 hours, along Bright Angel. Or, go halfway down South Kaibab and back, though no water on this trail. (Down to the river and back is NOT a day trip, that's an overnighter.) In November there will be ice at the higher elevations, she'll need crampons. I would really suggest you try to do a little hiking too, but it'll be tough on your ankle. Mule rides down and back are a great compromise, but I very much doubt you can book them on such short notice.

There is a little town called Tusayan just south of the south rim, about 30 minutes drive. Aside from the fancy lodges on the rim, this is where you will probably find accommodation.. You should let go of the idea of shopping and live music because there isn't any (really) and this is not why you go to the Grand Canyon. There isn't a big city and there isn't a rustic cute little town, just a strip of hotels and restaurants and gift shops, unless you stay in Flagstaff, but that's way too far.

Possible option: drive to Las Vegas for the last day or two. It's a half day drive from Tusayan. You can get your big city experience there.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:17 PM on October 1, 2010

Just to say, if you're looking for shopping and fun bars and stuff like that, your pickins might be pretty slim.

The Grand Canyon is whatcha call isolated.

You've got the stuff at the South Rim complex. There's limited shopping and hotels bars there, to a limited extent. The restaurants in the park hotels can be expected to be pretty good.

Just south of the park (which is to say about half an hour from the South Rim), you've got the wee silly town of Tusayan. Which is basically a few hotels and a few restaurants, and some tacky souvenir stores.

About 100 miles away, you've got Tuba City or the only not-dinky town in the area, Flagstaff.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:21 PM on October 1, 2010

There are tons of hotels on route 66 in Williams and it's something like a 90 minute drive from Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Hotels were cheap there - $50/night ish - and it's fun to be on Route 66. We had a reasonably priced diner like dinner there and wanted to go to some fabulously neoned divey looking bars, but were too exhausted. Look in to it.
posted by maryr at 12:36 PM on October 1, 2010

On the drive to the canyon, we stopped at Paolo Soleri's Cosanti. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's beautiful, and sad, and inspiring all the same. Soleri's ideas have never really caught on, and I can pretty much guarantee you'll never visit anyplace else like it in the real world. Worth the trip.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:39 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: I would probably fly into Phoenix and rent a car from there- Phoenix will be the cheapest spot to fly into (possibly also Vegas), from there you're looking at 2+ hours to Flagstaff and another 90 to the Canyon itself. There are flights into Flagstaff, but chances are slim that's a direct flight. Tucson is very cool and has plenty of things to see but you're looking at 5+ hours of driving through the desert, and you probably would have to transfer for that flight as well. If you fly into Phoenix, you can visit Arcosanti, which is an experimental town designed by architect Paolo Soleri in the desert right off of highway 17 on the way to Flagstaff; it's a hippie-ish commune that has lots of events as well as some neat artwork. another 90 minutes north and just south of Flagstaff is Sedona, which is visually amazing and has some hiking nearby but the town itself is now very tourist-y. It's been about 10 years so I don't want to recommend anything specific for Flagstaff, but there should be plenty to do there in terms of nightlife, live bands, and bars, and it's a lot more "laid back" than Phoenix.

If you fly into Vegas you can drive by/check out the Hoover dam, and if you're into gambling and putrid smells you can check out Laughlin, NV. If you're a beginner hiker and want to do the canyon, I'd recommend the Bright Angel Trail, which hopefully shouldn't give you too much problem on a bum ankle. I've heard the Grand Canyon Skywalk is apparently a huge ripoff, even though it looks really cool. If you feel that your ankle is giving you too many problems you can rent a mule though I've never tried it myself. Or as an alternative you can go to the Grand Canyon you can go to Canyon de Chelly (4+ hours from Flagstaff, you'll probably recognize it from Ansel Adams prints) and get a horseback tour of the canyon from the Navajo tourguides at Totsonii Ranch and also check out the Petrified National Forest on the way there or back. I highly recommend the Canyon de Chelly horseback tour.
posted by Challahtronix at 12:40 PM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: thanks for the suggestions so far!

My sister is a pretty experienced rock climber, so she can definitely do the harder stuff on her own while i chill somewhere else. my ankle is PRETTY good right now. i mean i can walk all day without it hurting. I just dont wanna do anything too crazy, like rappelling off the side of a cliff.

i love the idea of taking the railway in. and Flagstaff sounds cool (and 2 hours drive is totally doable) i see i have to do lots of research this weekend.

devbrain, i'd love to see photos!
posted by silverstatue at 1:00 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: Here are the pages for the month of November. Please focus on the photos, not the site -- I revived it only recently and have put off working on the theme or formatting until after I've gotten all the photos back online.
For now, you need to just click the title of each post to get to the pictures.

Page one, Page two, Page three.
posted by devbrain at 1:24 PM on October 1, 2010

The GCR runs from Williams which I think is a more pleasant town than Flagstaff times a million. And the Sultana bar is a must.
posted by A189Nut at 2:02 PM on October 1, 2010

Maybe you'll be okay hiking then. The trails are not particularly difficult, nor are they that steep. It's just a really really long downhill (2 hours, if you're going to Indian Garden) followed by a really really long uphill to get back out (4 hours). The uphill is where people fall apart if they're not in shape or tired or injured. If you had hiking poles to take some of the pressure off you might able to swing it. You should think about doing this. Hiking in the canyon is seriously amazing.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:25 PM on October 1, 2010

Years and years later, my lovely spouse and I still remark on how very cool it was to sit on the outdoor deck on the North Rim lodge, sipping mochas and watching the sun come up. (Cost of mochas minimal).
posted by KneeDeep at 9:26 PM on October 1, 2010

Or you could do a shorter hike. List of day hikes. South Kaibab might be nicer for a shorter hike, because the views are better; on Bright Angel you won't ever see the river. (I haven't tried any of the others).
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:31 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: Most people fly into vegas if you want to see the north rim, or phoenix for the south rim; it's possible to fly into flag or directly to the grand canyon airport, but I imagine the cost is prohibitive.

If you fly into Phoenix, you can hit Arcosanti and Sedona on the way up. Drive from Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon to Flag, it's much prettier than the interstate. Stay in Flagstaff at least one night; good college town with lots of restaurants and live music. there's also meteor crater (neat) and lowell observatory, where pluto was discovered (the telescope is way cool).

Past flagstaff, there's not much to do or see except the canyon itself. There are a few hotels and restaurants just outside the park, and more inside the park itself, but nothing very cheap and nothing very good (I do recommend the best western squire inn, though). Lots of tourist shops and overpriced restaurants with meh food, and no live music that I'm aware of.

Given your ankle situation, I recommend taking the shuttle from the south rim village out to hermit's rest. You get great views of the canyon, it's less crowded than the village, and you can hike along the rim trail until you're tired and then catch the shuttle back to the village. In the village, the El Tovar is a neat old hotel, and the restaurant is decent. I've heard the train is OK, haven't been myself. Also, the main visitor center is undergoing serious renovations so don't bother stopping there. The yavapai point station has a nice explanation of the canyon's geology, and there's an IMAX theater just outside the park if that appeals to you.

There's camping inside the park, outside Flagstaff (marshall lake is nice), and in Oak Creek Canyon. Depending on the weather, it can be crowded.

Your sister would probably be fine to do a day hike to indian garden or even down to phantom ranch, but I wouldn't go if I were you. It's not a terribly technical hike, but the sheer length of the downhill is terrible on joints, and if you're favoring an ankle it'll be that much worse.

If she wants to get in some rock climbing, I don't think there's much along the rim, but there is trad climbing and bouldering down in the canyon. Sedona has some trad and sport routes, and red rocks (right outside of vegas) has fantastic climbs. There's also a rock gym in flagstaff.
posted by Chris4d at 11:01 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: Hey, I live in Flagstaff! The Grand Canyon is totally awesome! Here's my Grand Canyon trip advice, which may or may not be, you know, good.

All of the restaurants and attractions at the North Rim close October 15, so you're probably going to want to plan a South Rim trip. US Airways flies to the Flagstaff Airport and flights here often aren't that much more expensive than ones to Phoenix, but either choice is fine. Rent a car. Anywhere but the bottom of the Grand Canyon it will be too cold for non-extreme camping, so I'd plan on getting a hotel room.

Are you open to hiking down into the canyon? If you can get a permit to spend at least one night in the canyon (looks like they're mostly booked for the first half of November but have some availability later in the month - there's a number on that website you can call for info), I highly highly highly recommend it.

Seeing up close the difference as you descend from high mountain forest into desert; seeing the Colorado River up close...I guess I just feel like it's an unforgettable experience, especially compared to what most people do when they visit the Grand Canyon (Say, "hey, that's a big hole," take some pictures, buy some crap).

(NAU, the university here, will rent you outdoors gear if you need something or would just prefer not to drag it across the country for super reasonable prices.)

For the rest of your time:
  • Flagstaff is neat. We have a cool historic downtown with neat shopping, galleries, restaurants, etc. but sort of limited nightlife options if you're under 21. (Movie maybe? We have a small movie theater.)
  • Downtown Sedona has neat shopping up and down the main part of town. Just park somewhere and walk around. Tlaquepaque is kind of neat too. Everything seems to shut down by 8 or 9 pm though. Be sure to take the (gorgeous, windy) route through Oak Creek Canyon if you go.
  • There's a ton of good rock climbing in the area. It'll probably be too cold to climb in Flagstaff, but there are plenty of options in Sedona. Vertical Relief is our local climbing gym here in Flagstaff.
That's all I can think of right now. Feel free to memail with any other questions or ideas you have! Also check your memail!
posted by joshuaconner at 12:42 PM on October 3, 2010

Best answer: I just re-read the rest of the thread. Mostly good advice up there! Couple more points:
  • Cheap, good eats downtown: Racha Thai, which was amazing, closed a couple of years ago. A new Thai restaurant, Pato Thai, opened in the same space and is excellent as well. Beaver Street Brewery (and their sister restaurant The Lumberyard) is a brewpub with pretty good sandwiches & pizzas and award-winning beers. Diablo Burger serves burgers made with local grass-fed beef and was recently named one of 51 great burger joints across the US. It's maybe not THAT good, but it's pretty good. Tasty milkshakes. Macy's and Late for the Train are both good coffee places. Martanne's is my favorite place for breakfast in the entire world. It's a tiny, tiny place, though, so expect to wait for a table, and then wait more once you're seated. If you're patient, you will be rewarded with super delcious tex-mex style breakfast. (I am unable, however, to second the Bunhuggers recommendation.)
  • Less cheap good eats: There are IMO three very good fine dining restaurants in Flagstaff. Brix, Tinderbox Kitchen, and Pasto (NB: I work here! So I'm possibly probably biased). I mention them only because dinner for two at any of those three places will run you around $100, which is sort of reasonable by New York standards? and also because I like them.

posted by joshuaconner at 1:32 PM on October 3, 2010

Response by poster: you guys are the best. thanks so much for the awesome advice. Unfortunately I'm not sure if the trip is going to happen in November after all because of various logistical reasons, but if not, we'll definitely be going in the spring. Now I'm even more excited about it!
posted by silverstatue at 7:34 AM on October 4, 2010

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