Saturday, July 2, 2011

Help With Visiting Grand Canyon National Park

(Our southwest trip started May 1. All of my posts were written as the trip went along but were not posted live until we returned. If you want to read all the posts related to the trip, click on "southwest" in the label section below).

The Grand Canyon is overwhelming. No question about it. I studied the official Grand Canyon National Park website before we left home, printing off some of the information, and it wasn't until we got there that some of it began to make sense.

Between the information available in the newspaper (available online as a .pdf file and handed to you at the entrance), the bus stops and bus routes (cars are not permitted on some of the roads), the historical area and the parking, it takes some planning if you want to maximize your experience.

First, absolutely nothing is close in the park. Whether it is going from the visitor's center to the Market in Grand Canyon Village to the historical lodges to the start of the red line bus route, getting from one place to another is either a hike, a hop in your car (but then you have to find another parking spot) or a ride on one of the buses.

If at all possible, before leaving home print out the multi-page guide that is on the website. We had the Spring guide and the Summer guide is now available. Take a look at the Ranger Led programs to see if any interest you so you can schedule your time appropriately. Ditto with times for sunrise and sunset.

We spent three nights in Tuscayan, giving us four full days at the park. The first afternoon we stopped at the visitor's center and, even though we were at the park before Memorial Day weekend, our parking spot was still a 10 minute walk to the center. There are four huge parking lots by the visitor's center and I am sure during the height of the season that they are all needed.

We learned that most people spend only a few hours visiting Grand Canyon National Park. If that is what you will be doing, walk to the Mather Point overlook near the visitor's center. Then take a blue line bus through the village, transfer to a Hermit Rest bus (red line) and enjoy the ride, stopping at one or two of the overlooks if you have the time. The buses run frequently and by the time you walk to the end of an overlook and back, the wait time for the next bus will be very short.

For our stay, we decided the best way to tackle the visit was to arrive early in the morning, return to our hotel during the heat of the day, and then head back to the park in the cooler evening. This worked very well for us. We got to see elks early in the morning along the road into the park. We got a parking spot along one of the roads near the beginning of the Hermit Rest bus route. We also avoided most of the crowd.

I wanted to hike as much of the rim trail as possible. The map in the guide gives the distances between the stops on the Hermit Rest bus route. We chose which ones to walk and which ones to bus between. Most of the trail is paved or groomed and is a relatively easy walk. Keep in mind though that as your walk west, you'll be walking uphill.

We broke our visit up into half the red route one day, half another time and the orange route another time. One morning we caught the first red line bus of the day. When we returned, approximately two hours later, there was a huge line waiting to first start out. We spent time wandering by the historical hotels, popping inside to see the architecture. (It was in this area that we saw the most people.) And we made a point of staying for sunset and one morning arriving early enough for sunrise.

We saved Desert View drive for our last morning as that was the road we were planning to use to leave the area and continue on our trip. There is another visitor's center at the East entrance so I got another stamp for my park's passport. At the East entrance is the Watchtower, another Mary Coulter building. Be sure to go inside and, if you can, climb to the top. The drawings inside are beautiful and the view from the top is stunning.

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