Best of Grand Canyon National Park
It is true what they say about the Grand Canyon…pictures just don’t do it justice! There is no way to capture the vast, awe inspiring views in a photo. You have to see it to really appreciate it!
There is so much to see and do on a visit to the Grand Canyon, almost as vast as the canyon itself. How do you narrow it down, especially if you only have a short time to visit?
Here is my “Best of” Grand Canyon National Park! I hope it gives you a little inspiration when planning your own trip to see one of the natural wonders of the world!
Tip: Las Vegas visitors that are looking for a “day trip” to see the Grand Canyon usually head to “Grand Canyon West”. While it is still technically the Grand Canyon, with the Skywalk, helicopter tours, and river rafting, it’s not part of Grand Canyon National Park. It is a ticketed, tourist venue that doesn’t come close in comparison. Make sure you visit the South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park.
Desert View Watchtower
If possible, plan your trip so you can arrive via the east end of Grand Canyon National Park. Arriving this way you can visit Desert View Watchtower and avoid back-tracking the 32km (20mi) from Grand Canyon Village.
If you’re arriving from the west (i.e. Las Vegas), this would add about 35miles to your drive, but I argue, well worth it! The first glimpse of the Grand Canyon from this outlook is simply stunning!
We drove from Sedona, north through Flagstaff on US 89 to AZ 64 W. A quick lunch at the famous Cameron’s Trading Post to enjoy the Navajo “fry bread”. This is also a good shopping stop for authentic Native American Art (I bought a gorgeous silver and turquoise ring that brings back such wonderful memories of the trip every time I wear it).
Tip: Split the Navajo “fry bread” between at least 2 people, no matter how hungry you are! It’s huge!
The Watchtower is a 4-storey stone structure that also serves as a visitor station with book and gift shop. Climb the 85 steps to the observation tower, and check out the wall murals and architecture.
The official Grand Canyon Visitor Center is located in the Grand Canyon Village. Outside exhibits in the courtyard greet you on arrival, with information about park activities and hiking trails. Inside you’ll find more exhibits, a giant interactive map, and historic artifacts. Don’t miss the free movie Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder (which we found to be better than the ticketed IMAX film in nearby Tusayan).
Arguably one of the favourite activities to check off your Grand Canyon bucket list is watching the sunrise or sunset over the canyon. There are plenty of spots to do so, with just as many arguements as to the best spots. We chose to watch the sunrise at Mather Point, although we ventured a little to the east, away from the crowds. Here is one of my best sunrise shots, although we had more than 100 to choose from!
For sunset, we gathered with a smaller crowd a little west of Yavapai Point, along the Rim Trail. Although not quite as spectacular as our sunrise shots, it did give us yet another perspective of the canyon during the changing light of dusk.
Shuttle Bus to Hermit’s Rest
The Grand Canyon Park has a wonderfully efficient shuttle bus system, allowing you to leave your car and check out the Village, Visitor Center and the various outlooks along the rim towards Hermit’s Rest. The latter bus route is the only way to experience some of these outlooks (the exception being cycling and hiking or commercial bus tours), as the road is closed to personal vehicles most of the year .
You could opt to stay on the bus for the entire 80 minute round trip, but to truly appreciate the different vistas and historical sights, you need to get off at some (or all) of the stops. Take note that while the bus stops at each overlook on the way to Hermit’s Rest, the return only stops at 4 of these, so plan accordingly.
Buses run every 15 minutes throughout the day (every 30 minutes early morning, and after sunset, check the current schedule), so no need to rush.
Hike Rim Trail
Everyone agrees that to really appreciate the Grand Canyon, you need to hike some of it. While I had planned to hike part of the Bright Angel Trail to see the Grand Canyon from below the rim, a recent illness before my trip, coupled with the dry air and altitude, I was in no shape to do any real hiking. We did compromise and hiked part of the Rim Trail.
We chose to skip the bus and hike the Rim Trail section between Hopi Point and Mohave Point, a distance of 1 mile. With lots of stops for snapping pictures, and just enjoying the peaceful surroundings, our leisurely pace took about 45 minutes. The terrain is mostly flat, dirt and gravel path, right along the edge of the canyon. Be warned, there are no guard rails along the trail, and in some spots, you are truly walking right along the edge. Not for the faint of heart, but so worth the detour. We were all alone, save for a random photographer who passed us along the trail.
Enjoy the view!
In my mind, the best part of the Grand Canyon is simply taking the time to stop and enjoy the view! Each stop along the way offers a different, stunning view of this remarkable wonder. Stand still as the clouds pass by, or the sun rises and moves across the sky, and the landscape completely changes! Here are some of my favourite shots…
One regret, that I’m sure is shared by many visitors to the Grand Canyon, is not having enough time. While we stayed 2 nights at Yavapai Lodge, right in Grand Canyon National Park (which I recommend), we actually only had a day and a half to truly enjoy the sights. We did pack quite a bit into that time, and were blessed with perfect weather and low crowds (we were travelling in mid November, far from the summer peak traveller season).
But the most magical moments for me were just standing still, taking it all in. No words, and no pictures can take the place of just being there. If you haven’t already, add this one to your bucket list of places to visit!
Visited the Grand Canyon National Park? What is your favourite part? What would you add to the “must see and do” list? Let me know by leaving a comment below!