Moon Grand Canyon
Hike, Camp, Raft the Colorado River
By Tim Hull
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- Flexible Itineraries: Adventure-packed ideas for anything from a week-long trip to a single day in the park
- Strategic Advice: Find tips for outdoor adventurers, families, history buffs, and more, with options for different levels of accessibility and tips on minimizing your environmental impact
- The Best Hikes in and Around the Grand Canyon: Detailed descriptions, individual trail maps, mileage and elevation gains, and backpacking options
- Get Outside: Go backcountry camping in the inner canyon or rafting down the Colorado River. Head to the Havasupai reservation's Havasu Canyon for a waterfall-filled hike, or ride horseback through the South Rim. Mountain bike along the Rainbow Rim or stroll along a 70-foot skywalk stretching into the canyon
- Experience Native American Culture: Advice on respectfully visiting reservations, supporting local businesses and artists, and the history of the region's tribes
- How to Get There: Up-to-date information on gateway towns, park entrances, park fees, and tours
- Where to Stay: Campgrounds, cabins, resorts, and more both inside and outside the park
- Planning Tips: When to go, what to pack, safety information, and how to avoid the crowds, with full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling to the Grand Canyon
- Insider Know-How: Explore with Grand Canyon expert Tim Hull
If you're headed beyond the park, try Moon Arizona & the Grand Canyon. Inspired to hit more parks? Check out Moon USA National Parks.
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DISCOVER Grand Canyon
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
TIPS FOR AVOIDING THE CROWDS
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I SPEND?
Explore Grand Canyon
There’s a reason why Arizona’s official nickname is “The Grand Canyon State.” Any state with one of the true wonders of the world would be keen to advertise its good luck.
The canyon must simply be seen to be believed. If you stand for the first time on one of the South Rim’s easily accessible lookouts and don’t have to catch your breath, you might need to check your pulse. Staring into the canyon brings up all kinds of existential questions; its brash vastness can’t be taken in without conjuring some big ideas and questions about life and humanity. The canyon is a water-wrought cathedral, and no matter what beliefs or preconceptions you approach the rim with, they are likely to be challenged, molded, cut away, and revealed–like the layers of primordial earth that compose this deep rock labyrinth and tell the history of the planet. Take your time here–you’ll need it.
The more adventurous can make reservations, obtain a permit, and enter the desert depths of the canyon, taking a hike, or even a mule ride, to the Colorado River or spending a weekend trekking rim to rim with an overnight at the famous Phantom Ranch, deep in the canyon’s inner gorge. The really brave can hire a guide and take a once-in-a-lifetime trip down the great river, riding the roiling rapids and camping on its serene beaches.
There are plenty of places to stay and eat, many of them charming and historic, on the canyon’s South Rim. If you decide to go to the high, forested, and often snowy North Rim, you’ll drive through a corner of the desolate Arizona Strip and onto the Kaibab Plateau, which have a beauty and a history all their own.
It is folly to try too hard to describe and boost the Grand Canyon. You just have to see it for yourself. Perhaps the most poetic words ever spoken about the Grand Canyon, profound for their obvious simplicity, came from President Theodore Roosevelt, speaking on the South Rim in 1903. “Leave it as it is,” he said. “You cannot improve on it; not a bit.”
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Catch your breath looking at the Grand Canyon from Mather Point.
2 Watch the sunrise or sunset from the ideal vantage of popular Hopi Point.
3 Hike the Rim Trail for all the best views from the South Rim.
4 Climb Desert View Watchtower for an expansive view of canyon country.
5 Descend the Bright Angel Trail into Grand Canyon’s inner depths.
6 Raft or kayak the legendary Colorado River.
7 Take in a different side of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim’s Bright Angel Point.
8 Dip your toes in the Colorado River at Lees Ferry–without having to hike deep into the gorge.
9 Stay at Phantom Ranch, an enchanting oasis hidden in Grand Canyon’s inner gorge.
10 Swim under waterfalls in Havasupai.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
The South Rim
For the vast majority of canyonland tourists, the South Rim is Grand Canyon National Park. The park’s busiest section by far, the South Rim offers amazing views of Grand Canyon from timeless spots such as Mather Point, Yavapai Geology Museum, and Desert View Watchtower. Take an easy hike along the Rim Trail with the canyon spread out before you, or venture on a day hike deep into the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. The South Rim’s popular scenic drive or bike ride to Hermit’s Rest, in the park’s evergreen western reaches, should not be missed, nor should a bus tour or road trip along Desert View Drive to the rim’s eastern, desert section.
The North Rim
Wrapped in a highland forest at the edge of the Kaibab Plateau, the remote and lesser-known North Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park boasts some of the best views in the park from the veranda in back of the enchanting and historic Grand Canyon Lodge. Here you can rent a rimside cabin and hike or ride a mule along the forest trails and down into the green-and-red canyon. Don’t skip the scenic drive to Point Imperial and Cape Royal, stopping along the way at several wondrous viewpoints and trails known only to a small and passionate percentage of canyon visitors.
The Inner Canyon
While a day hike into Grand Canyon from the South or North Rim is an excellent introduction to the hard beauty and magic of the Inner Canyon, for an experience like no other take a two- to three-day backpacking trip down the Bright Angel, South Kaibab, or North Kaibab Trails to the green and shady oasis of Phantom Ranch, or dare a multiday white-water rafting trip along the roiling Colorado River through the canyon’s inner gorge of ancient rock.
Beyond the Boundaries: Canyon Country
Where Grand Canyon National Park ends, the canyonlands begin. Head toward the North Rim and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Arizona Strip, and the Kaibab Plateau–and make sure to take along your hiking shoes and kayaks. Head east to gaze into the Navajo Nation’s Canyon de Chelly and to tour the fascinating Hopi villages on three remote mesas. West of the park, hike to the canyon home of the Havasupai, swim beneath their world-famous blue-green waterfalls, and then take the historic remains of Route 66 toward the Hualapai Tribe’s Skywalk hovering over the western Grand Canyon.
Gateways to the Grand Canyon
Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is the closet major airport to Grand Canyon National Park’s popular South Rim section, and many visitors drive north from the Valley of the Sun and enter the park from either Williams or Flagstaff. Williams, a small town about an hour from the park, is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, and Flagstaff has the most varied dining and accommodations near the park. For trips that include the North Rim and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the small town of Page makes a good base, while a visit to the North Rim, nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and the state parks in southern Utah is better launched from Kanab, Utah.
When to Go
No matter which season you choose for your visit to Grand Canyon National Park, the overwhelming beauty of the place will be on full display, sometimes drenched in summer rain, sometimes dusted with winter snow, but always a view for the ages. However, just about everything else–how much you spend, the size of the crowds, your choice of accommodations, the services offered in the park, how long you can comfortably stand on the rim, and how far you can safely hike into the canyon–depends on when you go.
High Season (Summer)
The high season on the park’s South and North Rims comes in summer, from roughly May through August. Expect crowds at the most popular viewpoints and sights along the South Rim, lines at the main South Entrance and the shuttle bus stops, full lodges, campgrounds, and eateries, and busloads of tourists from around the globe. With average daytime rim temperatures in the 70s F (21-26°C) and 80s F (27-32°C), the crowds can hardly spoil a day spent walking along the Rim Trail and exploring Grand Canyon Village. Summer inside Grand Canyon is pleasant and safe only in the early morning and evening; high temperatures regularly exceed 110°F (43°C) during the hottest part of the day, when all creatures within the gorge seek their hidden recesses of shade. Late-afternoon thunderstorms, often with spectacular displays of lightning, are a common occurrence throughout the region from July to September.
Mid-Season (Spring and Fall)
Still busy but with a more welcoming inner canyon, the park’s mid-season comes in spring (roughly mid-March through April) and fall (roughly September through October). Inside the canyon, spring starts in early March and fall stretches into November. Mid-season offers something of the best of both worlds–pleasant (though often windy) days and cool nights on the rims and near-ideal conditions for backpacking and exploring inside the canyon. Backcountry permits and river-trip reservations are, as a result, more difficult to obtain during the mid-season months.
Low Season (Winter)
The remote North Rim closes for the season by early November, with the Kaibab Plateau blanketed in snow. (The only road leading to the North Rim, AZ 67, is closed December to mid-May.) Around the holidays there is usually an early-winter rush at the South Rim. By January the South Rim has entered its relatively slow low season, which lasts through about mid-March when the first of the spring break crowds arrive. Though cold and periodically snowy, the days and nights of the low season are a great time to be at the South Rim. A light but warm coat, a wool hat, and a pair of gloves is all you need to enjoy a winter visit to the canyon. You may find significant discounts on accommodations throughout the region during this season, but also curtailed services. On a winter backpacking trip into the inner canyon from the South Rim, you’ll encounter cool days, cold nights, and fewer people (permit required). Commercial river trips through the inner canyon do not run during winter (rafting season runs April-October).
Before You Go
Park Fees and Passes
The entrance fee for Grand Canyon National park is $35 for a private vehicle with up to 15 people. The pass is good on both the South and North Rims for seven consecutive days. Motorcyclists pay $30 to enter, and those walking, cycling, or riding the free Purple Route shuttle bus from Tusayan or the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, or who are part of a tour group, pay $20.
You can purchase a digital entrance pass at www.recreation.gov and https://yourpassnow.com, or pick one up on your way to the park at the Williams-Kaibab National Forest Visitor Center (200 W. Railroad Ave., Williams, 928/635-1418 or 800/863-0546, 8am-6:30pm daily spring-summer, 8am-5pm daily fall-winter), the Flagstaff Visitor Center (1 E. Route 66, Flagstaff, 928/774-9541 or 800/379-0065, www.flagstaffarizona.org, 8am-5pm Mon.-Sat., 9am-4pm Sun.), the Chevron Travel Stop in Valle (through a machine that only takes credit cards), or the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (Rte. 64, Tusayan, 928/638-2468, www.explorethecanyon.com, 8am-10pm daily Mar.-Oct., 10am-8pm daily Nov.-Feb.).
If you plan to visit more than two national parks in one year (or one park more than twice), purchase an $80 America the Beautiful Pass, which allows unlimited visits to any federal park or forest for one year. The pass is free to active military personnel and their dependents, and to all U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years old or older.
Start making reservations for in-park hotels and activities up to a year in advance.
• South Rim and inner-canyon lodging and mule rides: Contact Xanterra Parks and Resorts (888/297-2757, www.grandcayonlodges.com) for reservations at most of the South Rim lodgings–El Tovar, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, and Maswik Lodge)–and Phantom Ranch. Also book South Rim mule rides and motorcoach tours through Xanterra. To reserve a room at Yavapai Lodge (which has the park’s only pet-friendly rooms), contact Delaware North (877/404-4611, www.visitgrandcanyon.com). While in-park hotels seem to always be booked solid, it often pays to call the local numbers several times to check for cancellations and lucky breaks (928/638-2631 for the Xanterra lodgings, 928/638-4001 for Yavapai Lodge).
• North Rim lodging and mule rides: For Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, contact Forever Resorts (877/386-4383, www.grandcanyonforever.com), and go through Grand Canyon Trail Rides (435/679-8665, www.canyonrides.com) to book mule rides there.
• Campground reservations: All reservations for the South Rim’s Mather Campground and the North Rim Campground go through Recreation.gov (877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov). To make reservations for the South Rim’s Trailer Village, contact Delaware North (877/404-4611, www.visitgrandcanyon.com).
Inner-canyon adventures such as backpacking and river trips require long-term planning as well. You must apply for a backcountry permit by the first day of the month that is four months before your planned backpacking trip; for more information about obtaining a permit, contact the Backcountry Information Center (928/638-7875, www.nps.gov/grca). River trips must be booked about a year in advance and through an approved park concessionaire; the best place to start is the website of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association (www.gcroa.org), a nonprofit group of licensed river outfitters.
MAIN ENTRANCE (SOUTH)
The park’s primary and busiest entrance station is the South Entrance Station, reached via AZ 64 from Williams or via U.S. 180 to AZ 64 from Flagstaff.
DESERT VIEW ENTRANCE (EAST)
The South Rim has a secondary and far less busy entrance: the East Entrance Station, in the park’s Desert View section, about 25 miles (40 km) east of Grand Canyon Village. This entrance can be reached via AZ 64 from U.S. 89 near Cameron.
The lone North Rim Entrance Station is located on AZ 67, the only road leading into and out of the park. The North Rim closes for the season by early November, and AZ 67 is closed December-mid-May.
In the Park
The main visitors center on the South Rim is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (7am-6pm daily May-Sept., 9am-4pm daily Oct.-Apr.) near Mather Point, just a short drive from the main South Entrance and surrounded by parking lots. The North Rim Visitor Center (8am-6pm daily May 15-Oct. 16, 9am-3pm daily Oct. 17-30) is located at the end of AZ 67.
Where to Stay
Staying at one of the lodges inside the park offers the most convenience, with a bit of charm, history, and style thrown in. The in-park lodges are operated by concessionaires Xanterra (www.grandcanyonlodges.com) and Delaware North (www.visitgrandcanyon.com).
Outside the South Rim section of the park, Williams (60 mi/97 km, 1 hour) and Flagstaff (80 mi/129 km, 1.5 hours) have the most varied options in the region, while Tusayan, about 1 mile (1.6 km) outside the main gates, has a small selection of mid- to high-end hotels.
The North Rim section has only Grand Canyon Lodge within the park, Kaibab Lodge about 18 miles (29 km) north of the rim, and Jacob Lake Inn some 45 miles (72 km) north of the rim.
The best campgrounds are Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, and North Rim Campground inside the park and those administered by the Kaibab National Forest. Make reservations through Recreation.gov (877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov).
The free South Rim Pocket Map & Services Guide is a handy resource for exploring the South Rim, available at entrance stations and most visitors centers in the park (or download at www.nps.gov/grca). It includes a map of shuttle bus routes and stops as well as a comprehensive list of greenway trails.
Park your car and take the free, natural gas-powered shuttle buses around the South Rim. The buses run several different routes around the park, including the Village Route (Blue) and the Kaibab/Rim Route (Orange), which both operate year-round; the Hermit’s Rest Route (Red), which operates March-November; and the Tusayan Route (Purple), which operates from early spring to fall, running from the nearby town of Tusayan into the park.
- On Sale
- May 4, 2021
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Moon Travel