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Itinerary: Grand Canyon National Park

July 28, 2012

Sunrise over crocodile rock in Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon is one of those parks which most people have “seen” even before they actually see it for real. You know, in the movies, in photos, in travel magazines. The Grand Canyon is such a popular national treasure that the chances of somebody not having any idea of what it looks like before they stand at the rim of the canyon is rare. But no matter how many times you’ve seen it in photos, on TV or in glossy paged magazines, seeing it for real is an unforgettable experience. Stepping up to the rim of the canyon, those last few steps when you sense that there’s something really big up ahead … and the canyon comes into view, the ground giving way to an enormous depth, with those gorgeous red rocks, eroded valleys & in-the-process-of-eroding plateaus, and if you’re lucky with timing it right – the sun is either rising or setting – that’s the true “Wow” moment.

Vistas of Grand Canyon National Park

What to see and do:

  • 1/2 day or day hikes on the Rim and below the rim – When descending into the canyon, be aware that you’ll be hiking on a steep trail on the way back up! Carry plenty of water and snacks.
  • Night sky – Get out after dark to admire the starry sky, Grand Canyon is one of the few places where light pollution does not yet mar the view of a star-studded night sky. They have ranger walks at night, especially moonlight walks. Check the park schedule after you get there.

Desert View Drive

  • Desert View drive – this takes you to the East entrance of Grand Canyon. Not all people who visit Grand Canyon get time to do this, but it’s worth the time. It’s a long but very scenic drive and there are many amazing view points and a watchtower at the East entrance to explore.
  • Vista points along the rim – all of them are pretty spectacular. Mather point is great for sunset, Yavapai point is amazing too. For sunrise, we liked Hopi point (via the park shuttle bus).
  • Make use of the park shuttle bus – If the park is crowded (usually the case during the summer months), and parking is a problem, then shuttle bus is a good idea. Else, just drive around yourself so you can go from point to point and take your time at each place.
  • See the magnificent condors – Make sure you see condors and even attend a condor talk by a ranger. These are rare and gorgeous birds!

Condor fly-by

Where to stay:

We’ve stayed at Bright Angel and Maswik Lodges which are inside the park, just a few feet from the South Rim! The other lodges – Yavapai, Thunderbird, Kachina and El Tovar are all also inside the park and near the rim. The availability and rates varies as per the season. Bright Angel and Maswik are rustic and natural, the others can be described as contemporary / modern. If no lodge inside the park is available, the other choice is outside the park in town of Williams – it’s a 1.15 hour drive away from  the park.

Shades of pink, red and orange at Grand Canyon

Map and orientation inside GC: 

Take a look @ http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/upload/2012SRspring-guide-map1202.pdf

Nearby attractions: 

Most people who visit Grand Canyon also do side-trips to nearby places. Las Vegas is a popular choice! How does a night partying in Vegas before getting on your Zen moment in the grandest of canyons sound? Also, if you’re flying in to Las Vegas and driving the 5 hours to Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam is the most accessible and popular site to visit enroute. There are guided tours of Hoover Dam which take you down to see the turbines if you’re interested. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is also great for a quick stop.

Hoover Dam, Arizona 

Page, Arizona is 3 hours up North from Grand Canyon. If you have a couple additional days, definitely visit Page for Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. If you fly in to PHX (Phoenix) and want to return South after visiting Grand Canyon, there’s Sedona and Scottsdale enroute.

http://www.sedona-az.biz/sedona-arizona-day-trips.php

http://www.sedona-az.biz/sedona-arizona-things-to-do.php

http://wikitravel.org/en/Sedona

The following two national monuments are a great alternative to Sedona.

Sunrise Crater Volcano National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Of course, there’s plenty for one to do in Grand Canyon itself – if your ambition is to do a rim-to-rim hike and you have the time, check this out!

Sunset in Grand Canyon from Mather Point 

A 4-day itinerary: 

Thursday:

– Reach PHX or LAS by ~10PM, stay in Phoenix/Vegas.

Friday: 

– Early morning drive (~4.5 hours) to Grand Canyon, reach the park by ~11AM or so. If driving from LAS, allow at least 1 hour to stop at Hoover Dam enroute to Grand Canyon. Reach Grand Canyon by early afternoon ~1pm.

– Check in at lodge, lunch

– Out exploring the visitor center, views from the Rim, vista points, ranger walks/talks

– Sunset from Hopi point

– Stay at lodge inside the park (adjust itinerary as convenient if staying in town of Williams outside the park)

Saturday:

– Sunrise from Mather point (convenient to do if staying inside the park)

– 1/2 day hike or full-day hike below the rim (Bright Angel trail or Kaibab trail). Other day hike options.

– If doing a 0.5 day hike, you can do Desert View drive in the afternoon to see the watchtower and other views towards the East entrance of park

– Sunset over Grand Canyon from another vista point, or call it in early

Note: Do hikes in earlier part of the day or later in the evenings when the sun is not blazing overhead

Sunday: 

– Head out of the park early AM

– Drive down to Sedona or back West towards Las Vegas, couple hours sightseeing around

– As alternative to Sedona, there is Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater National Monument enroute to Phoenix.

– Reach PHX or LAS in time for the evening flight back to wherever home is!

Bellagio fountains dance in front of the Eiffel Tower and Paris Casino in Las Vegas

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