Ladybug loves the Grand Canyon National Park. There is no place like it on earth. It’s one of our very favorite places to visit, all year round. Every season offers something different and allows you to get a new perspective of the majesty of the Grand Canyon and its surrounding wilderness.
There is a little something for everyone there. From sightseeing and shopping to wildlife viewing, camping, biking and hiking for every skill level, the Grand Canyon has all of the best features available in a National Park and more.
For the casual sightseer, paved paths allow anyone and everyone to walk a few feet or a few miles along the South rim of the canyon and enjoy its spectacular views. As time passes and weather changes, you never see the same thing twice. As the sun shifts throughout the day, the shadows and light play on the canyon walls, trees, rocks and sky to paint a new picture from every angle. This is a photographer’s paradise.
For the avid outdoors people, there is hiking for every level of experience both along the rim and down into the canyon. Bikers will find paved bike paths throughout the park at the rim and campers can choose from a variety of campsites, whether using a tent, camper or RV.
Getting there – on the Road from Phoenix
The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is about 3-4 hours from Phoenix, depending on your location in the Valley of the Sun. The most direct route is straight north on I-17 to Flagstaff.
The real challenge is finding the right time of day, day of the week and time of year to travel. The traffic from Phoenix to Flagstaff is always incredibly heavy Friday afternoon and evening, and Saturdays from 9:00 am to later afternoon. You can easily spend most of your day stuck in traffic if you don’t leave early in the morning or take an extra day off the work week to leave before Friday afternoon. Mid-week trips are best, if you hope to avoid traffic and crowds.
The busiest time of the year for visitors at the Grand Canyon is summer. Memorial Day through Labor Day is the peak season, in line with vacation times around the world. Temperatures are beautiful and mild in the spring, from March through May. Fall color is in abundance in October and November. The off-peak season is December through February, but remember that you will encounter winter weather (and the hazards of cold, snow and ice along with it). It is also important to note that some holidays are extremely crowded. For example, many park rangers tell us that Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest few days of the year. Everyone from Phoenix, California and other nearby areas take trips to the Grand Canyon when they have a few days off. So look at the park’s website, monitor the weather and traffic and plan accordingly.
Hiking the Rim
The well-paved paths for miles along the south rim are wheelchair and stroller accessible. This lets visitors of every ability see the majesty of the canyon and the beauty of the woods on the rim. Ladybug has encountered many elk and mule deer and has even seen California Condors flying above the canyon on these paths. Birding and squirrel watching is abundant. Everyone can enjoy the wilderness with relative ease along this route.
If you are a more experienced and adventurous hiker, you can head further along the path on the rim to unpaved, narrow (and sometimes harrowing) trails that bring you within feet (or inches) of the canyons edge. Remember that this is the wilderness, folks – there are very few guardrails here and only in the most populated tourist spots. The unpaved paths take you through the forest on the rim and make a great trail for day hikers. There is wildlife viewing in abundance. You can also catch the shuttle bus from many specific points within the national park, so don’t lose your map!
Down in the Canyon
Of course hard core hikers and backpackers can venture down into the canyon itself. Each trail is magnificent, but be forewarned – rangers advise that you need to plan for at least two hours up for every one hour down. Some trails are much harder than others, and these hikes aren’t for the fainthearted or inexperienced. We hope to take Ladybug down into the canyon someday, but we’ll wait a few years until she is bigger, older and a more experienced hiker.
Another important note on hiking down into the canyon: make reservations to camp in the backcountry or stay at Phantom Ranch in advance! Every t
rip we see sweaty, exhausted backpackers struggling onto the bus to head to the backcountry office so they can get the appropriate passes to camp in the canyon. They hiked down without making their reservation and had to hike right back up! Rangers are happy to help you get all of the information you need and send you in the right direction. Take their advice and ask lots of questions before you venture down the trail.
There is plenty of lodging in the park and in the small town of Tusayan, Arizona, right outside of the park. The Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge and Maswik Lodge are operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts. You can go to the Grand Canyon National Park Lodging site to make reservations and find out more about each lodge and hotel. You can find information for hotel bookings in Tusayan through any major travel site. We prefer to stay at the Best Western Squire Inn when we don’t stay in the park, but there are many other good options to choose from. Be sure to make your lodging arrangements in advance – otherwise or be prepared for the long drive back to Flagstaff or Phoenix.
Remember to stop by the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center to make the most of your trip to Ladybug’s favorite National Park. Their nature, research and education programs are outstanding and it is fascinating to have a discussion with one of the Park Rangers. Many of them hike down and up the canyon on a daily basis – talk about being in shape!
So what, exactly, does Ladybug love most about the Grand Canyon? The gift shop, of course! She is crazy about toys and has a blast picking out fun stuff to remember her trip. She also loves the Junior Ranger program, eating in the cafeteria, seeing the wildlife, being outside and spending time with Mom and Dad.
(That’s our favorite too.)
Enjoy your trip!