Is it possible to stay socially distant at the Grand Canyon
August 4, 2020 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I’m moving cross country and therefore driving cross county. My friend and copilot has his heart set on seeing the Grand Canyon. I’d love to see it too, but have to be following super stringent social distancing. Can you “see” the Grand Canyon without leaving your car or encountering others?

Last week, y’all helped me plan how to pack my car to move cross country; this week, I need some help figuring out how to make my co-pilot’s Grand Canyon dreams come true.

I’m moving to start a new job that will have me in close contact with others, and while I know nothing is failsafe, I need to be doing everything I can NOT to get covid during this trip. (I’ll be quarantining and getting tested before this contact with others begins, but it’s very important that I be able to start work when that quarantine period ends and obviously if I’m sick that’s going to be tricky.) To this end, we’re trying to get across very quickly, won’t be using public restrooms or rest stops, wearing masks AND face shields when we do have to deal with public places, etc etc.

Except, my saint of a friend who is doing this with me really and desperately wants to stop and see the Grand Canyon. I really want to make this happen for him. Is it possible to see the canyon without having to leave our car, ideally while being able to pop out briefly at a viewpoint? It’d be on a weekday so I assume it won’t be terribly crowded, but crowds at all are a concern.

It’s fine if this is a quick thing versus a proper full experience; he just wants to see it.

If the answer is absolutely no this is a stupid idea, I’m more than happy to hear that too! Not getting sick is still the most important thing, and my friend will survive if we can’t make this happen on this trip.
posted by nancynickerson to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You will absolutely have to leave your car. You should still do it.

Not sure what the current situation is (call the Park and find out), but in summer, they tend to make you use the bus for the overlooks outside the main village. Depending on how they're managing, that may be ruled out.

There are a number of south-rim overlooks where you park and walk up to the overlook. It is absolutely worth it. Yes, you might be within six feet of someone, but you might also get COVID from some other source and never get another chance to see the Canyon.

My grandpa was set to see the Grand Canyon in 1995 (?) but Newt Fucking Gignrich decided to shut down the government and the Park was closed. Grandpa never got another chance, so he never saw it.

Take this chance.

(and fuck Newt Gingrich. *spits*)
posted by notsnot at 7:56 PM on August 4 [21 favorites]


Yes, the complex centered around Grand Canyon Village has roads that follow the canyon edge where you can see the canyon from your car. There are also a large number of viewing points, some of which I suspect will be deserted enough that you’ll feel comfortable getting out for a look.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:59 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


Is it possible to see the canyon without having to leave our car, ideally while being able to pop out briefly at a viewpoint? I

Popping out briefly at viewpoints along the South Rim between Bright Angel Lodge and the Watchtower is very doable. Some are close enough you can see the edge from the parking, but you really have to get out of your car, walk over and look down to appreciate the Canyon. Some are small enough that, depending on the day & time, you may have the turnout all to yourself. And very easy to walk away just a short distance to sit a while at a remote little outcropping, away from anybody else (even if they're around). This was our experience a couple years ago at Thanksgiving, around sunset; can't say how the amouunt of tourists then compares with now.
posted by Rash at 8:00 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


I forgot to add: if you can manage to be there at sunrise (plan for one hour before posted sunrise) you'll have every overlook to yourself.

I'm the guy who yells at people for poor mask wearing in public. Despite this, I recommend you go. Especially for the (apparently dear, who drives across the country like that) friend who made that one request.
posted by notsnot at 8:16 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]


I'm assuming you're talking the South Rim, ie the Arizona side. There is a road along the south rim, you go north about an hour from the interstate through Tusayan into Grand Canyon Village, the visitor centre of the park. It's a T, with roads to the east and the west. The western side is Hermit Road, where there is normally a shuttle bus. The eastern side is normally accessible by cars and you can exit the park on the east side at Desert View. These maps might help.

Right now, according to the park, that eastern entrance/exit is closed, but the road goes 95% of the way there, to Navajo Point. The shuttle bus along Hermit Road is not running, although you are allowed to walk and bike along the road. which might mean smaller crowds than usual. It's a very large, outdoor area so you should be able to stay away from other people, and the further you walk, the thinner the crowds.

The road through the park is often a little ways away from the edge without much of a view - although there are a couple of views from the road. There are a number of short drives (like 100 yards) off the main road to parking lots with viewpoints and trailheads. You should be able to get some view from the lot, and could play it by ear as far as getting out of your car if there are few people around, to walk a little closer and really take it in.

The Grand Canyon is really incredible; like I can write a thousand words and I'd still be underselling it. There's a risk and reward trade-off everyone has to make on every decision they make and I respect that you're being very cautious. But if you commit to leaving your car only if there are few people around, it's hard to think of a lower risk than a short walk a long way from other people while outside, and it's hard to think of a greater reward walk on the entire damn planet than to the rim of the Grand Canyon.

PS: It's summer, it's desert, bring water.
posted by Superilla at 8:16 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Under an hour and already solved—you are all the best! I truly had no idea what the logistics were like and this sounds totally fine. notsnot, we would prefer to be there for sunrise because a) that’s awesome and b) desert is hot so that’s a super helpful data point!

To the canyon we shall go!
posted by nancynickerson at 8:33 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]


I tacked a GC stop onto to a cross-country drive over a decade ago and would absolutely do it again even in COVID-times, even if it added a day to a trip. Since you're shooting for sunrise, I suppose it's not impossible you might be there in the dark? So I'll share that when I went we stayed the night and even though it was dark by the time we got in, distant summer lightning kept lighting up the canyon for split seconds. One of the most incredible things I've ever seen.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:37 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


The North Rim is also quite nice, and even in the best of times is sparsely populated compared to the South Rim. There are no buses or anything; you can park your car and walk five to ten minutes to the edge of the Rim, with a few short hikes.

Usually the problem with the North Rim is the lack of lodging and facilities, but in this case all the visitor centers and restaurants are closed on both sides anyway. I would hope you're not there for the food.
posted by meowzilla at 11:56 PM on August 4


I just visited the Grand Canyon last year and I would suggest you should be fine.

We went to the North Rim entrance intentionally because it is so much less crowded compared to the South Rim.

We got there early in the morning to beat the heat and there was virtually no one else there at all even in peak summer. There are some really nice hiking trails along the rim that I recall were fairly wide (the ones right by the parking lot may even have been more than 6 feet wide).

We went for a hike on a smaller rim trail and there were almost no other people at all.

Also potentially relevant, where we were last year I’d say at least 50% of the other visitors were from Europe or Asia so I’d assume without foreign tourism happening it should be really quiet.
posted by forkisbetter at 5:18 AM on August 5


at least 50% of the other visitors were from Europe or Asia so I’d assume without foreign tourism happening it should be really quiet.

I wouldn’t assume that. I live in a tourist town and the fact that we can’t travel internationally means internal tourism has gone insane. A couple of beaches/parks briefly opened and then immediately shut down due to overcrowding. I would choose the North Rim as well, but perhaps calling the Park Serice will give an idea of what the tourist loads are like right now.
posted by saucysault at 7:00 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I agree you should do it. Wear a high quality mask, don't touch anything outside of your car, bring lots of your own cooler and water and meals and snacks so you don't have to buy anything, etc.

I will add that if you do get there before sunrise (you should!) it will likely be very, very cold on the rim, even in August. We hiked down the canyon several years back in August. In the dark morning at the top we were shivering and could see our breath and were seriously considering getting more clothes for the hike. By the time we reached the bottom 9 hours later, it was 110 degrees. I think it only tops out at maybe 75 degrees F at the rim that time of year, too, on hot days. So, bring lots of layers, even in August. Maybe even a few blankets. And have fun! It's a great thing to do.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:06 AM on August 5


Nthing to explore the North Rim as an option. It might not fit logistically in your plans - it's usually orders of magnitude quieter because it is MUCH more remote than the South Rim - but the tradeoff there is that the drive there is pretty amazing and more interesting than (IMO) the drives south of the canyon. It's also got a lot smaller footprint, so if I'm totally wrong and it's at capacity, there are fewer places for people to spread out to in terms of developed areas, trails, parking areas, etc. Also nthing advice about wearing layers, because I was at the North Rim on Memorial Day a few years ago and it snowed.

Still totally worth doing though, no matter which side of the canyon you're on. Have fun! What a great experience.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:29 AM on August 5


The Grand Canyon is grand -huge - yes, you can see it from your car and yes you will be able to get out at certain points and view it by yourself.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:35 AM on August 5


An update for y’all; we ended up booking a room at a hotel within the Grand Canyon Village for the night. We’ll get in the night before, wake up early for sunrise and have a little more time than I originally planned to explore.

Thank you SO much for encouraging me to embrace the trip! I’m very excited and so is my indeed very dearest friend.
posted by nancynickerson at 4:14 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


You will not regret it.
posted by billjings at 12:33 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


As one who's stood on the rim at night-time, staring out into the dark void (only illumination, the stars and a couple lights way down on the canyon floor) I must say your experience sounds amazing, deludingmyself.
posted by Rash at 8:18 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


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