Visiting Grand Canyon National Park

One of the best things about living in Arizona is ready access to one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park is one of our very favorite places to visit, all year round. On February 26, 2019, the Grand Canyon will celebrate it’s centennial – it was designated a National Park 100 years ago in 1919! Every season offers something different at the canyon, but this year will also host a many special centennial events.

You can get a new perspective of the majesty of the Canyon and its surrounding wilderness with every visit. Here is some advice for making the most of your visit to Grand Canyon National Park, every time you go.

It Takes More than One Day to Really See the Grand Canyon

View along the Rim Trail

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, but there are a few out of the way routes that can avoid traffic (roads that go through Williams or Winslow, for example). While it may be possible to make the journey in a day, you won’t be able do much more than see the Visitor’s Center and walk the rim for a short while. 

And rest assured, there is a little something for everyone in Grand Canyon National Park. From sightseeing, history, science, walking 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 are handicap accessible and 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 scene twice. The shadows and light shift with the sun throughout the day 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.

Visitors Centers and the Rim Trail

Junior Ranger swearing in at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center

The first destination visitors usually go to once they enter the park is the Visitor’s Center at Mather Point. This is probably the most busy point, and popular parking area, in the park, but it’s also a great place to learn more and help plan where you want to go next. The main Visitor Center, hosted by National Park Rangers, provides great educational displays, materials and movies, as well as a Junior Ranger Program that is fun and educational for kids. You can shop in the gift shop, rent bicycles or grab a quick sandwich or drink at the coffee shop. It’s also a hub for the free shuttle system.

Other visitor centers along the Rim trail include the Yavapai Geology Museum and the Verkamp’s Visitor’s Center in the Grand Canyon Village. Each stop provides a different focus on the Grand Canyon and gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about it’s history, geology, wildlife and preservation efforts. They are also great places to help your youngsters earn those Junior Ranger badges, so take the time to stop at each if you can.

Grand Canyon Village, Hermit’s Rest and Desert View

The historic, much loved Grand Canyon Village is also a definite must-see during your visit to the Grand Canyon. The National Park buildings and lodges along the rim tell the story of what it took to develop the park into a place that everyone can see and visit today. Fred Harvey, Mary Colter and the Kolb Brothers all left their mark on the park in their efforts to help tame the wild west and help people around the world experience the wonder that is the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Village has restaurants, shopping and lodging, and is the nearest point to the train station, if you decide to visit the park via the Grand Canyon Railway.

The furthest points along the rim include Hermit’s Rest, which is accessible by shuttle, and Desert View. Both of these visitor’s centers are worth the trip and provide a new and different view of the Grand Canyon, but be sure to plan ahead if you decide to make the trek. The Hermit’s Rest can only be reached by shuttle, hiking or biking along the rim, about 7 miles from the Grand Canyon Village. Desert View is located at the east entrance of the park, about 25 miles down the road from the main village.

Be Sure to Plan Ahead

Yavapai Geology Museum

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). Be sure to check the Grand Canyon National Park website for current weather and traffic conditions before you go.

Once you get to Tusayan, the town that sits about a mile outside of the park entrance, you will find a variety of lodging and dining options if you haven’t planned ahead and made arrangements in the National Park. It’s a great place to stay overnight and be sure to take advantage of the free shuttle that goes from the town into the park from March through November – it will save you a lot of parking headaches! Buy your park pass in advance to take advantage of this shuttle and save yourself time when entering the park.

Of course visitors won’t be able to see the whole park in one visit, but each point is worth visiting and spending some time. Be sure to check Ladybugs Blog for more information about the Grand Canyon and other fantastic places to visit in Arizona. Happy travels!

– mambug

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{Published in the January 2019 issue of the Deer Valley Times, North TatumTimes, North 32nd News and the Scottsdale North News}

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