Visiting the Grand Canyon, for me, was one of those life bucket list things I just had to do and it turned out to be an unforgettable USA adventure holiday. Being broke as all heck, I jumped on a van tour of the West Coast and tried to see as much of the States as I could. Thankfully the Grand Canyon was part of that tour and it was dang spectacular! That said, there are a few things I wish I’d known before I went. So, here are my must-know tips for visiting the Grand Canyon, to help you plan an amazing trip you won’t forget, without any regrets.
You need to plan how to get there
Yeah, I know, that’s exactly why you’re on this webpage in the first place. I get it. But seriously, you need to have a good think about how you’re going to get there and what that means for you. If you’re doing it as part of an organised tour, how long do you have to spend there? What are your must-sees? If you’re planning on getting there yourself, where will you fly into and drive from? All of this stuff has an impact on the rest of your trip, so think it through. If you fly into Las Vegas, for example, it’ll take you 5 hours each way to get to South Rim. This isn’t the time to wing it, this is the time to plan the crap out of it. You can read more about directions and how to get to the park here on the Grand Canyon National Park website.
You can visit different parts of the park
There are different sections of the park you can visit, so visiting the Grand Canyon isn’t just a one-stop shop. Kinda like visiting the Great Wall of China, you need to choose which part of the park to visit. First-timers might like to start with South Rim, which is open year-round. North Rim is only open from the middle of October to the middle of May so it may not be an option for you if you’re visiting in winter. If you’re thinking, “Oh, great, I’ll see both the North and South Rim,” think again. It’s a 5-hour drive between the two and, in that time, you could’ve driven your bad self to Vegas. You can read more about the different sections of the park here.
South Rim is tourist-equipped
South Rim gets 90% of the park’s visitors and there’s a good reason for that. It’s totally tourist ready. There are accommodations, places to eat, visitor centre and camp grounds too. There’s also a free shuttle bus service which connects these places with canyon overlooks. So your best bet is to park at the visitor centre then use the free bus to get to where you want to go. Find out more about the free shuttle bus service here.
There are entrance fees
Yep, you gotta pay to get inside the National Park. That’s cool though, because that money goes toward its upkeep and all the facilities there that make our visits easier. Thanks, America! You can find out fee and pass rates here and you can purchase your permits at the entry to the park.
You should aim to see a sunrise and sunset
I cannot properly describe how beautiful a sunrise is at the Grand Canyon. A lot of people go for the sunset, which is pretty wonderful too, but the sunrise really takes the cake. It’s a grounding experience to watch the canyon come alive with colour, changing from shades of blue to brilliant orange. Be sure to wake up in the pitch dark, walk to the edge of the canyon and sit there, your feet dangling over the edge, as the sun comes up. It’s amazing. For the best views of the sunset, catch the shuttle bus and walk to Hermit Rest Road.
You can hike like a mofo
Of course! Hiking! Which trail you do will totally depend on how much time you have and it’s important to remember that however long it takes you to hike down into the Canyon, it’ll take you twice as long to get back out. So, 30 minutes down will take you an hour to get back out. A great starting point for time-poor visitors is the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge or further on to Skeleton Point. Just remember, hiking is no joke and the Grand Canyon is a total beast. Know your limitations, plan and prepare appropriately and read ALL the information you can about hiking on the Grand Canyon National Park offical website, here. They have a wealth of resources.
It isn’t always super crowded
If you time your trip right, you can beat the hoards of tourists. Busy season runs from around end of May/early June to the beginning of September. This is during the American summer, so it’s pretty dang hot. If you plan your trip outside these times, you’ll find there may be less visitors than usual. If you do show up to the park during peak tourist times, you’ll find most visitors stick to the main areas. I walked between viewing points and found great views without a single tourist in sight!
You should BYO food and drink
I found the food at the park to be pretty dismal, so don’t recommend you pin your culinary dreams on the restaurants there. Instead, I’d recommend you get your hands on an esky or cold box, fill it with picnic foods and drinks and have yourself a delicious picnic lunch or sunset dinner with million dollar views. You didn’t go all that way just to sit inside a restaurant, did you?
There are so many activities!
There are loads of things you can do at the park, aside from hiking and staring at rocks. You can take a helicopter ride or scenic flight in a small plane, you can join up with a guided hiking tour, go rafting or take a guided mule ride. It’s really up to you, I didn’t do any of those things and I guess the only thing I wish I’d done was a flight of some sort. I think it’s important to see the Canyon at different angles, so you can really appreciate just how spectacular it is. If I go again, I’d still skip the rafting and mules. Find more things to do here on TripAdvisor.
There’s lots of stuff nearby to do too
Let’s be honest, there’s only so long you can spend staring at the Grand Canyon. Let’s say, two or three full days of rock-staring is enough. Lucky for you there’s plenty to see and do nearby. Take a road trip to Vegas, visit Zion National Park, Hoover Dam, Lake Powell, Monument Valley or Bryce Canyon. You’re spoilt for choice!
Useful travel resources for your trip to the United States
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Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
RentalCars.com – a great search engine for renting a car
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TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours
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