How should I go about visiting the Grand Canyon?
October 8, 2005 6:34 PM   Subscribe

How should I go about visiting the Grand Canyon?

My friend and I will be driving from Boston to L.A. three weeks from now. Along the way, we plan to stop at the Grand Canyon because neither of us have ever been there. Can anyone who has been recommend places to stay (we'll be there two nights, and just have one day at the canyon itself), parts of the canyon to see, or other things we should keep in mind when visiting? It has been many years since I have been to one of the really huge national parks, so I don't have a sense of how easy it is to just walk up and look over the edge, so to speak. We'll be driving to the canyon from Denver, if that makes a difference.
posted by autojack to Travel & Transportation around Grand Canyon, AZ (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are, if I recall correctly 3 main tourist trails. Angel trail is the main one, has water available, and is the shortest route down. (In one day you probably won't be going down and up unless you are into extreme sports.)

Another trail, to the right as you face the canyon, is more rustic and less commercialized. The next trail up is quite a bit longer and meandering.

Spend part of a day walking the rim taking it in. (Those sugar packet pictures don't really do it justice.) Then walk about 1/4 to 1/3 down that second trail and see how the perspective changes. (Bring water and a shady hat.)

Last I checked no reservations were needed for the trails, only for camping at the bottom.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:53 PM on October 8, 2005

It's very easy to walk right up to the rim. You park your car and walk maybe 5 minutes.

Going down into the canyon is neat, but all the stuff you see going down, you're going to see twice as long coming back up. You might get more visual splendor for your time walking along the rim trail. The rim trail from the main visitors' center west to Hermit's Rest is something like 9 miles of easy walking, and you can cut segments out by taking a shuttle bus. If you walk between the shuttle bus stops, you will probably be very wonderfully alone, or nearly so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2005

If you want to avoid crowds, look into visiting the north rim, if lodging and transportation allow. The area near the south rim visitors complex is pretty built up and there are a number of hotels within a <30 minute drive and for a variety of budgets.
posted by TedW at 7:18 PM on October 8, 2005

According to NPS, facilities and services at the north rim will close on Oct. 22, though the road remains open through Nov. 15.

The south rim is a fairly short detour from Interstate 40 (as opposed to the north rim's hundreds-mile jaunt from Interstate 70) so if you are taking the southerly route to LA, this is probably a better option especially if you only have one day at the canyon.

If you do the south rim, the Best Western is quite nice (as of my visit in 2001, anyhow) and is very close to the park entrance.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:28 PM on October 8, 2005

Saucy is correct. I love the North Rim but the South is best for you limited time and it should not be at all crowded this time of year. Just go into the NPS office when you get there and let them plan your visit for you.
posted by LarryC at 7:32 PM on October 8, 2005

Oh, I didn't catch the bit about getting there from Denver. I still think the south rim is preferable given that everything shuts down on the north rim about the time that you'll get there. Besides, you get to drive through Mesa Verde and Four Corners.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:36 PM on October 8, 2005

also, I am totally jealous of your roadtrip and wish to go with you.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:38 PM on October 8, 2005

Do yourself a favor and get up for sunrise. Get up an hour early - I cannot stress this enough. As for a route, take the "dotted roads" (scenic) across Colorado - C springs to Canon City, across Wolf Creek pass, and down through the Monument Valley/Four Corners area. Enjoy!
posted by notsnot at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2005

check out the expected weather there -- don't forget your woollies.
posted by anadem at 10:25 PM on October 8, 2005

We stayed right in one of the "lodges" (tourist hotels on national park land) at the Canyon (South Rim) and could look out our window and see it. We could walk to the rim in a minute or so. In 1998, it was about $100/night if I remember right. We usually don't spend that much for a hotel, but it sure was worth it this once.
posted by Doohickie at 11:16 PM on October 8, 2005

Oh... and if you're not really into hiking, you can "just walk up and look over the edge, so to speak." It's mind-bogglingly huge. You can walk along the rim along several trails and get lots of outstanding views.

Remember that if you hike down, it's all uphill on the way back and will take many times longer than it did to get down.
posted by Doohickie at 11:19 PM on October 8, 2005

If you want to avoid crowds, look into visiting the north rim, if lodging and transportation allows.

I really love the North Rim, but if you have only one day to experience the Grand Canyon, the North Rim isn't the way to do it. For your first time, you probably want the full-on Grand Canyon experience, and the South Rim is just better set up for that, with more in the way of visitor services, interpretive material, ranger talks, and trail options.

The North Rim is a quieter experience, more backcountry-ish, a smaller Park installation. It's still incredible, don't get me wrong, but I think it's more of a subtle experience and is better saved for when you have more time to spend and can divide your time, or when you are staying overnight at the bottom and want to camp up top before and after for a relaxed trip. It's very peaceful, and it's beautiful. The elevation is high and there is an awesome longleaf pine forest with wonderful flat trails that take you along the canyon edge. Great birding. But again, what you've got in your mind as "The Grand Canyon Experience " is the one to be found at the South Rim.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on October 9, 2005

Also, I don't need to warn you this, because every darn poster and person you're going to see will tell you how hiking down into the canyon unprepared can kill you. But it bears repeating: Hiking unprepared can kill you (or make you otherwise miserable). I mention it here because you'll have some time to read up and plan as you drive. Arriving with the right idea is a great head start when time is short.

If you are going to hike into the canyon even a short way, know that you need to pre-plan your route and timing, and carefully pack more food, water, and supplies like flashlights and first aid stuff than you think you'll need even for a day hike. It's really difficult to make it down and back up in a day, particularly this time of year when days are shorter. Remember that in the lower portions of the canyon, days are seriously short -- sunlight doesn't reach the bottom except for a few hours at midday. So it gets darn cold down there. Much better to overnight at the bottom and divide the hike into 2 days.

Don't attempt to hike down casually on a whim - make a plan. People don't realize how exposed an area it is. There's little shelter in the canyon, you quickly dehydrate in the dry air with all the clambering on rock, and going up takes much longer than people anticipate.

NPS Hiking Tips.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on October 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice, there's some great stuff here and I have a much better idea of what I can cover in the time I will be there. Thanks!
posted by autojack at 7:25 PM on October 9, 2005

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