Note: The US government is currently shut down, which is affecting our national parks. Some parks are open with limited to no staff, while others are closed. According to local media, Grand Canyon National Park will remain open to visitors. Arizona is reportedly using state funds to keep the park open and maintained for tourists. It is not known when the shutdown will end. [Note updated 01/17/19]
Planning your first trip to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming. At 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, with four different areas to visit it’s hard to know where to start. However, with some research, planning, and travel tips, you’ll feel ready to experience this natural marvel in northern Arizona.
Here are 10 tips for visiting the Grand Canyon.
1. Decide on Your Time and Destinations
The first and most important task is to decide how long you have for your trip and whether or not you want to add on any other destinations. This greatly depends on how far you have to travel to reach the Grand Canyon.
If you’re not traveling long way, you might only be interested in seeing the Grand Canyon, but if you’re traveling quite far, you’ll probably want to see some nearby places as well. Some other popular cities nearby are Las Vegas, Sedona, or Phoenix; plus there are several other National Parks close by, like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. This is important to decide because your other stops will determine which area of the grand canyon is best to visit.
2. Choose Your Rim
Once you’ve determined your other stops for the trip, you can choose which area of the Grand Canyon to visit. The tourist areas of the Grand Canyon are separated into four rims: North Rim, East Rim, South Rim, and West Rim.
If you’re also planning on visiting Bryce Canyon, you’ll be closest to the North Rim, while if you’d like to visit Sedona, you’ll be nearest to the South Rim. The most popular area to visit is the South Rim, while the North Rim is one of the least visited. The West Rim is the closest to Las Vegas and his home to the popular sky bridge. The East Rim is near the famed horseshoe bend. Depending on where else you’re going and what you’d like to see, you can then decide which rim of the canyon to visit.
3. Go When It’s Slow(er)
If it all possible, plan your trip when it’s less crowded. However, this can be more difficult than it may seem. In the summer it’s super hot and crowded, while in the winter it’s freezing and not all areas are open. Spring and fall can bring some unpredictable weather as well, but it’s generally more mild and less crowded. If you can, plan your visit for spring or fall to see the canyon during a time with pleasant weather and fewer visitors.
4. Plan Ahead
Accomodations at the Grand Canyon book up fast, so you’ve got to book far in advance, particularly if you’re going during the summer. I’m talking six months before or more, if you want to have your pick of lodges and campsites. You might not need to book quite as far in advance if you’re going during a slower time of year, but it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead.
You’ll want to be sure to plan well with your packing, too. You’ll likely be in a pretty remote area, so it’s important to have everything you need with you. Sure, there are stores around if you’re really in need, but prices are higher, so it’s best to plan and pack accordingly.
5. Make it a Road Trip
When visiting the Grand Canyon, it’s much more convenient to have your own car. This way, you can move about at your leisure and visit your other stops as you please. Once you’re settled, there are shuttles that can take you around as well, though these may not be at all four rims and may be seasonal, so having your own transportation is important.
6. Stop by the Visitor Center
There are visitor centers at the South Rim and the North Rim. If you’re visiting one of these areas, plan to stop in at the local visitor center. From historical exhibits to updated maps and park rangers on hand, the centers have a ton of useful information to help you during your trip.
7. Be Careful While Hiking
This really applies to any time you’re hiking, but make sure to be extra careful, even if you’re an experienced hiker. However, it’s particularly important to keep in mind at the Grand Canyon due to the elevation and steep drop offs.
From speaking with the rangers during our visit, we learned a couple things. Most significantly, never try to hike to the bottom of the canyon in one day. If you want to hike all the way down, you’ll have to stay the night at the bottom and hike up again the next day. Additionally, since you’re always hiking down into the canyon as you start, it’s easy to go farther than you intend. Just remember that it’ll take roughly double the time to walk back up as it did to walk down. And don’t forget to bring plenty of water!
8. Respect the Wildlife
It’s common to see all sorts of wildlife at the Grand Canyon. Whether it’s vegetation along a hiking trail or an elk wandering through a parking lot, make sure to respect the local wildlife. If you’re unsure about any respectful practices or have questions about any plants or animals you might see, just ask a ranger.
9. Stay Hydrated!
At the Grand Canyon, you’ll be in a desert climate at a high elevation. On top of that, you’ll likely be doing a lot of physical activities outdoors, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water and always have some with you when you’re out exploring. If you’re also prone to dry skin and sinuses (like me), pack some extra thick moisturizer and saline nasal spray as well.
10. Be Patient
Finally, remember to be patient. The area is usually packed with visitors, which means more traffic, longer lines, and crowded attractions. There could be additional delays as well due to a variety of other factors, like road construction or elk crossing the street. The Grand Canyon is truly an incredible sight, and you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more if you refrain from letting frustration overcome you. So, take a breath, find some patience, and enjoy your vacation. Cheers!
Click here to check out our complete travel guide for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.