Visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Scenic view of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, located in Arizona, is one of the most awe inspiring and most visited natural sites in America. Forged over millions of years from erosion caused by the Colorado River, this huge canyon stretches over a distance of close to 277 miles. Its width varies from a few hundred yards to 18 miles, while its depth reaches distances of just over a mile in certain areas. Most of the canyon is situated within Grand Canyon National Park, which attracts more than 4 million visitors every year.

Entering the Grand Canyon

Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park; © Rixie | Dreamstime.com
Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park

Traveling to the Canyon is possible from a variety of roads and directions. There are, however, two primary entrances to the park: the North Rim and the more popular South Rim. Both Rims offer visitors similar activities and lodging choices. The popularity of the South Rim means that it often becomes crowded, particularly at the height of the summer season.

The South Rim is very accessible from Route 64, which is most likely the reason it is such a popular choice for tourists. This route runs by many other popular sites, such as the Grand Canyon Village. Busses and coach services to the South Rim can also be found in several towns and cities, such as Flagstaff and Phoenix (Arizona), Las Vegas (Nevada), and Los Angeles (California).

Tours from these cities and others offer numerous excursion opportunities to the Grand Canyon. These range from simple day visits to extended, week-long discovery tours that lets visitors take in all of the sights.

For the more lavish traveler who wishes to experience the sights of the Canyon from a bird's-eye view, several travel companies also offer helicopter trips to this natural marvel. Most of these companies will even pick guests up from various nearby towns and cities, including Las Vegas and Phoenix. One of the more prominent companies providing these tours is Papillon. Like most companies, Papillon provides a range of services and travel options to choose from.

Permits Required

Before visitors can begin exploring the Grand Canyon, they'll need to purchase the appropriate permits. Vehicles permits are a flat rate of $25, which allows access to the site for a week. In addition, visitors must purchase a $12 permit in order to roam the area. These permits can be purchased from numerous kiosks, shops, and travel centers throughout the site and the surrounding region.

Activities

Mules at Grand Canyon National Park; © Chee-onn Leong | Dreamstime.com
Travel by Mule

There are many activities available for Grand Canyon visitors. Tourists have the opportunity to hike, bike, ride, or raft their way through the Canyon. In addition, there is no shortage of rental options or trails for people to hike. When traveling by foot or bike, it's best to stick to marked routes. Horse and donkey rides to the bottom of the canyon are also available for visitors who prefer not to walk.

The Colorado River runs right through the Grand Canyon, and it provides a variety of additional activities for visitors. From placid waters to raging torrents, visitors can travel down the river in rafts, kayaks, and boats. Beginners can rent boats and explore the river with the help of a guide, while visitors with a little more experience may choose to tackle the waters on their own.

Tour options include:

  • Helitours - There are many companies that offer 25 - 45 minute flights across the Grand Canyon. As an example, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters' Grand Kingdom tour flies across the south rim (a 45 minute ride) for just under $250 per adult, and their North Canyon tour flies across the north rim (a 25 minute flight) starting at approximately $160 per adult.
  • Treks: The Wildland Trekking Company offers a number of Grand Canyon hiking tours for backpackers. For up to seven days, you'll visit waterfalls, rivers, deserts, and classic Grand Canyon views. Prices start about $120 for a day hike.
  • River Tours: Arizona River Runners offer motor and oar-powered trips on the Colorado River that last three to 13 days. The 13-day oar-powered trip takes you along the full length of the Grand Canyon. Costing just under $3,400, your guides will also take you on hikes and cook your camp dinners.

Lodging at the Grand Canyon

El Tovar Lodge; © Telecast | Dreamstime.com
El Tovar Lodge at the South Rim

Due to the popularity of the Canyon, a number of accommodation options have popped up on both the North and the South Rim. Hotels, lodges, hostels, and camping options are all available. Places to stay can be found either on the Rims or in the surrounding area, such as in the town of Tusayan near the South Rim. Tusayan offers a range of international hotels, including Best Western and Holiday Inn. A variety of camping sites can also be found on the Rims of the Grand Canyon. Some of these sites are very basic amenities, while others supply a few more amenities. For visitors wishing to camp below the Rim, it is necessary to obtain a backcountry permit first.

Accommodation at the South Rim

You will find the most accommodations at the more popular south rim with its excellent facilities and range of accommodations. Xanterra South Rim LLC is the official park concessionaire.

  • El Tovar: Opened in 1905, this is the oldest accommodation in the Grand Canyon, and it has welcomed the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. However, its prestige is thankfully not reflected in its prices. It costs just over $180 for a room that includes cable TV and a bath.
  • Blue Angel Lodges and Cabins: As suggested in its name, the Bright Angel offers both cabins and lodges. What they don't offer is a TV and, in some rooms, a bath. It costs just over $80 for a lodge and about $155 for a cabin.
  • Kachina Lodge: As you get nearer to the rim, you begin to find accommodations like Kachina, which has partial views of the canyon. Calling itself family accommodation, the large lodge rooms include a TV and a bath. Pricing starts at $180 per night.
  • Masawik Lodge: Masawik lodge maybe 1/4 mile from the rim, but it's set in the beautiful surroundings of Ponderosa Pine Forest. The lodge is split into a north and south side. The south side has motel-style accommodations, while the north side has slightly bigger hotel-style rooms. Rooms start at $92 per night, and they also have cabins available for a few dollars more.
  • Yavapai Lodge: Located in Pinyan and Juniper woodlands, Yavapai is 1/2 mile from the rim. It has 198 rooms on its east side and 160 rooms on its west side. Best of all, it is right next to the market plaza where you will find a post office, a general store, and a bank. Rooms start at $125 per night.
  • Phantom Ranch: The Phantom Ranch is the most romantic accommodation on this list. Located on the floor of the canyon, you can get there either by walking or riding a mule. Once there, you can either stay in a dorm room for under $50 per night, or you can stay in a cabin for around $150 per night.
  • Trailer Village: For about $35, you can book a trailer at the trailer park that's about 1/2 a mile from the rim. They have an on-site laundry and other essentials.

Accommodation at the North Rim

Due to its remote location, the North Rim attracts far fewer people than the South Rim, and there's only one accommodation within the park. The Grand Canyon Lodge offers motel and cabin style rooms from about $125 per night. While their website states the rooms only have telephones, the dining options are what really make it worth staying there. All their produce is local and fresh, and the beef contains no hormones or antibiotics.

Prepare for the Challenge

When visiting the Grand Canyon, it is important to be aware of conditions that visitors typically encounter. The varying levels of the canyon cause some sections to be cool, while others are extremely hot. Visitors need to come prepared for these conditions. Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts must be sure to keep plenty of fluids on hand and protect themselves from the sun. Parents also need to be sure to keep children well-hydrated and protected. Each year, hundreds of people suffering from intense heat, dehydration, or sheer exhaustion are rescued from the Grand Canyon. Going down the canyon may be simple, but it is important to remember that going back up offers an entirely new challenge.

Something for Everyone

These days, the Grand Canyon offers an experience for everyone. If you are a back packer, you can either stay at the more remote North Rim or go on a hiking tour that takes you across the rocky floor of this stunning natural wonder. If you are looking for a family holiday, stay in one of the cabins on the south rim only few miles from the nearest towns. One of the wonders of the world, a visit to the Grand Canyon just might turn out to be the best experience of your life.

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Visiting Grand Canyon National Park