I always thought of the Grand Canyon as a place I can get to “some day.” It was never high on my list of places to see. But after making an impromptu trip last March to Grand Canyon National Park, it is now one of my favorite places.
Everyone told me when I got there that the scenery would amaze me and pictures cannot do it justice. They were right. And in the terms of click bait, my jaw literally did drop at my first site of the Grand Canyon.
This is definitely a place people need to visit. It is such a marvel to see how wind and water can shape the land.
One really rad aspect of the Grand Canyon is it can be enjoyed by people of all physical abilities. There are paved walking trails, dirt path trails, and mega hard hiking trails. Also if you don’t have the physical ability to hike down into the canyon, you can ride a mule. Or if you want to hike down, but not carry a heavy pack with tent and all, you can have a mule carry you gear.
And if camping isn’t your thing, then you can hike down and stay at Phantom Ranch, sleep on a bed and have meals prepared for you.
Grand Canyon National Park by vehicle
When I visited Yellowstone National Park, I was overwhelmed by how huge the park is. I assumed the Grand Canyon would be the same. And don’t get me wrong, the Grand Canyon itself is massive. But unlike Yellowstone, we did not spend hours driving from one location to the other.
You can explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by car relatively quickly. There are many pullouts, so if you drive along the roads that hug the South Rim, you can pull over, get out and take pictures, and have a picnic or whatever. The drive is roughly 25 miles.
Some of the roads are closed to private vehicles from March 1 to November 30. I assume this is to keep traffic from clogging up the road. However, the Grand Canyon National Park has one of the best shuttle systems I have seen, so you can still explore without having to walk the Rim Trail.
Driving to the North Rim from the South Rim can take quite a bit of time. When I visited the Grand Canyon we did not go to the North Rim, because it doesn’t open until May. The North Rim is higher in elevation and subject to harsher winter conditions. It is open from May 15 to October 15.
Exploring the Village
If you are not into roughing it so much, Grand Canyon National Park is the place for you. With several hotels, cabins, restaurants, and shops, there are plenty of ways to stay without pitching a tent. There are about five lodges in the park, and a hotel.
The Village is the area where all these shops, hotels, etc., are concentrated.
My friend, Lagena, and I thought about going to eat at El Tovar Hotel for my birthday dinner. But we looked at the menu at the entrance, and saw it was a bit pricy and required reservations. We decided it was not the best place for a pair of dirtbaggers to go. So we settled on the less fancy restaurant in the Bright Angel Lodge. The food was amazing.
And the day Lagena and I hiked the Rim Trail, we explored the shops and museums around the Village.
The Verkamp’s Visitor Center is also located in the Village.
The park offers a grocery store and deli just outside the Village, so if you need any extra supplies Grand Canyon National Park’s got you covered.
Hiking the Rim Trail
As we began to explore the park we started at the Visitor Center and Mather Point. From there we hiked west along the Rim Trail.
The Rim Trail is a total of 12.8 miles from end to end. There are many places to get on and off the trail. The trail has a nice paved path from it’s beginning at the South Kaibab Trailhead, east of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, to a little ways past the Bright Angel Trailhead in the Village. From Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest on the went end of the park it is a nice dirt path.
At the visitor center there is a list of lookouts that are best for viewing the sunrise and sunset in the park, so check those out for awesome pictures. Be prepared for larger crowds between the Mather Point and the Village. However when we passed the Bright Angel Trailhead, about the end of the Village strip, the crowds thinned out.
Each overlook is spaced from a third of a mile to about a mile and half. And each overlook provides amazing views of the massive canyon.
Lagena and I walked from Mather Point to The Abyss, about six miles. From there we hopped on the shuttle and rode to Pima Point to watch the sunset. From Pima Point we were able to take the shuttle back to our vehicle at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
I loved seeing the hiking trails that take you down into the canyon as we hiked the Rim Trail. We knew we would be walking down there in a few days. It is amazing to get multiple views of this unique places. It is also amazing to see how small everything looks in the canyon from such great heights.
Hike into the Grand Canyon
Even if you don’t get backcountry permits or want to hike all the way to the river, I still recommend hiking down into the canyon. The park warns about attempting to hike all the way to the river and back in day. You should not attempt to hike to the river and back in a day. In fact, Grand Canyon National Park says that if you think you can accomplish this to please see a park ranger.
However you can get down to the mid-section of the canyon and back in a day hike. This way you can still enjoy the world below the rim and not die. Pick up an informative pamphlet called “Hiking Down Into Grand Canyon” at one the visitor centers.
This pamphlet has a color-coded drawing of the canyon. It shows the trail descents into the canyon with landmarks along the way. For instance, on the Bright Angel Trail you can get One and Half Mile Resthouse before you leave the green “Have Fun” section and enter the yellow “be careful section.”
On our trip we were able obtain backcountry permits and hike to the river, however our original plan was to hike to Indian Garden Campground and back if we couldn’t get permits. We were there in March and the weather was not too hot. The park said in the summer months because of the heat, hiking that far in a day is not advisable.
For a detailed trip report on the Bright Angel Trail check out my blog post on it here.
There are several other trails on the South Rim that allow you to day hike down below the rim and back up, like the South Kaibab Trail. But just remember you are hiking down into a canyon and these trails are steep. Hiking back up generally takes about twice as long as hiking down.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is an amazing place. I love the natural beauty and uniqueness of the place. The Park Service has created a park for people of all abilities to enjoy.
I am so glad we took the impromptu trip, and I didn’t wait to visit the Grand Canyon after I got to everything else on my list.
To visit the park’s website, click here.