The Grand Canyon is amazing, majestic, awe-inspiring, and completely overwhelming….and not just the size! Planning a trip to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time can be intimidating. There is not a lot of information out there for first time visitors and after our trip this summer, we faced a lot of “I wish we would have done this…gone here…..planned this…..”. So, for all my friends out there who have not yet been, here are 10 simple tips to make your first visit to the Grand Canyon, well, Grand.
1. Where to Stay? The Grand Canyon is over an hours drive north of Flagstaff. And while there are plenty of great places to stay there, be prepared for the drive there and back. If you want to stay at the Grand Canyon, there is all types of lodging available within the park, from camping to beautiful lodges. When we go back, we want to try to stay in one of the cabins. I want to be in the park to see the sunrise or sunset without having that drive. There are also a lot of great Park Ranger programs available to do on site. Be smart and make reservations early, as they book quickly, especially in the summer. Also, there is plenty of lodging right outside the park gates in Tusayan, AZ.
2. Start at the Visitors Center Start your day off by talking to a Park Ranger at the Visitors Center. You can tell them what your want to see, how much time you have, etc. and they can help plan your day for you. They gave us excellent advice of where and when to go to certain points along the rim and they were spot on. Plus the Visitors Center has an excellent film about the canyon to view.
3. Take the Shuttle Busses Access to certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by shuttle bus during most of the year. And as much as I like to be in control, it was nice to hop on and off a bus to take me there. The drivers are very knowledgable and provide you with all sorts of great information about each of the overlooks. We took the shuttle bus out to Hermits Rest and walked from point to point but there were plenty of buses to pick us up along the way of we needed it.
4. Bring Your own Water Bottle, Lunches, Snacks There are cafeteria-style restaurants, cafes, and snack shacks within the park to purchase food and drinks. But we found it to be amazing to sit along the rim and have a picnic lunch. It’s not every day you can have that type of view while eating! Also, there are plenty of water bottle filling stations to refill.
5. Take advantage of the Park Ranger Programs There were so many amazing talks and programs available when we were visiting in July. They were offering hikes, nature walks, story time, campfire programs, and more. We were able to join a ranger at the Hopi Point for “Ranger on the Rim” for a brief time, before it started to rain and he moved us all away from the rim.
Also, while at the Visitors Center, ask for the Junior Ranger booklet. There is plenty of time on the bus rides to work on it. But keep in mind, you must attend a Ranger talk to complete it. And remember the park rangers go home at 5 pm, so try to complete it before then.
6. Be prepared for Monsoon Season Monsoons in Arizona?? Yes! Apparently, July is the month for afternoon rainstorms to quickly sweep into the canyon. It was really cool to watch them move across the canyon, and it left as quickly as it came. It was brief and cooled us down. But can be dangerous for those who are hiking in the canyon.
7. Hold on to the Kids!! I was a bit surprised at how easy it was to step right along the rim. I guess in my mind, I pictured a long fence along the whole rim. Uh no. It’s a bit massive – and would take away from the beauty of it all.
That said, my son was a daredevil. My 10 year old scampered his way out on several overlooks that this knee-knocking old lady never would have attempted. It was incredible for him but nerve-wracking for me. Though most adults would tell me that there was cliffs and overlooks beneath him, I was still a nervous-wreck when my kids got close to the edge. Stay on the path….just stay on the path.
8. Be Patient There are a ton of people visiting the Grand Canyon. With it’s massive size and breath-taking beauty, it is an international tourist destination. And during the summer, it is crowded. The first view of the canyon we had was at Mather Point, directly behind the Visitor’s Center, along with every other first time visitor. It was extremely crowded but we didn’t know any better. Have patience, there is plenty of canyon to go around. Had we walked just half a mile west along the rim path, we would have had a view to ourselves.
And that afternoon, while walking along the rim up to Hermits Rest, we were alone most of the time.
9. Plenty of places to take pictures along the rim with no crowds When you first come upon the Grand Canyon, you can’t help but want to take a gazillion pictures of it’s beauty. You really can’t. You and 50 other people are trying to get the same shot. Again, walk half a mile west along the path and you will have plenty of space to take pictures. The Grand Canyon is also a great place to Pay it Forward and offer to take family shots for others. We were paid back and got a few ourselves too.
10. Put your camera down and enjoy The Grand Canyon is so majestic, you want to capture the moment with your camera, over and over. But you have to tell yourself to stop. You don’t need 245 pictures of the Grand Canyon, you really don’t. The best piece of advice I have for you is to put the camera down, sit on the side of the rim and take it all in. The kids and I had some of the best conversations that day just sitting and staring into the rim. It was awesome.
Our brief time at the Grand Canyon was amazing thanks to a wonderful Park Ranger who planned our day out for us. But it was just a taste of all there is to do there. We can’t wait for the kids to get a bit older, so we can spend a few days there and really take it all in. But for now, if you only have a day, I hope these 10 tips help! Enjoy!