How to make less than 24hrs in the Grand Canyon count
Planning a visit to the Grand Canyon? As part of a month-long road trip, the Gran Canyon National Park was pretty much the first stop on our journey. After a lot of on-line research on how to reach the park, best ways to visit and make the most out of our limited time, we gave up and decided to simply head there from Las Vegas and play it by the day.
The question was ‘where to start?’
We booked a room just outside the park knowing that the lodges inside the gates were fully booked since months…besides being outrageously overpriced. So, how to make less than 24hrs count if you are visiting the Grand Canyon in the middle of a road trip?
Here is what we did:
17:00. Arrive just before sunset. Drive straight to the Park Visitor’s Center after a small gate where you will have to pay an entrance fee. Keep the ticket well visible in your car, it is valid for 7 days and you need it when you drive in and out the park. At the Visitor’s Center, you can park and they are close to the shuttle bus stop (the Red & the Blue line).
18:00. Hop on the Red Line bus, it’s free! There are several viewpoints where the bus stops and you can choose to get off and enjoy the view or head to the last stop called Hermit Rest or the one before called Hopi Point for the best sunset view over the Canyon. It takes about 20minutes to get there by bus, so time it well. The bus drivers are amazing; always ready to give you all the information you need and ready to share a good laugh with you all the times.
Sunset time. Lots of people gather at the sunset to see this ever-changing spectacular view. Nothing can prepare you for it, it is breathtaking. As simple as that. But if I may leave a suggestion here, do walk away from the viewpoints, there are many other corners with great views and less (or no) people to disturb your magic moment. And believe me, it is magic.
After sunset. Rapid temperature change and it’s suddenly cold, a jacket on hand would be not a bad idea. As always, when the tourists are done with their pictures, they all leave at the same time creating a bit of traffic. However, it is unfortunately also true that the Red Line shuttle bus runs only until 19:30 or so, making everybody leave basically at the same time. So, not the best end of the day after such a romantic moment in communion with the sunset and the canyon!!
20:00 Dinner options? Depending if you are staying inside the park or not, dinners can be arranged by either choosing one the restaurants outside the gate or the ones at the lodges. Lots of Mexican food around and HUGE portions.
21:30 Check-in at the hotel. Several lodges and small hotels are just outside the main gate and easy to reach. Despite the appearance, all the accommodations are actually quite expensive. A simple standard room goes nothing less than 250USD a night. Sleep tight, early wake up call to catch the first rays of light at sunrise is a must if you are up for it.
03:45 Wake up! Re-pack bags and off we go. Afraid of big crowds like the ones we met at sunset, we sprinted to the parking lot to catch the Blue Line Bus (best for sunrise viewpoints) but ended up waiting as the shuttle only starts at 04:30. To our big surprise…forget about the crowds! There are very few people at sunrise and everybody is more respectful, there is no yelling, savage selfie sticks around or people running to secure the best spot.
About 05:00 Sunrise is incredible. It is crisp and evolving subtly from a cooler set of colors to warmer notes by the minute. Ever-changing. It is almost like a photo-trap because you do end up taking thousands of pictures of the same ray of light against the same rock. So, hold on to your camera and enjoy the view.
Breakfast? Yes, if only you thought about it in advance or you had a quick run to the café at the Visitor’s Center after sunrise. We had a nice cup of coffee to go and yummy lemon-cream muffins. We decided to pack it and eat while looking out onto the Canyon rather than sitting at the bar.
07:00 Follow the trails. Not in a mood for a tough hike down into the Canyon, we decided to stroll along the rim, taking plenty of time for pictures and videos. The truth is that you can really feel like you are alone in the Canyon if you just walk a bit off the beaten trails. The only thing you really need to be careful about is the rim’s edge! I’ve never seen a National Park with absolutely no railings along the cliffs, viewpoints with nothing but rocks and sharp edges all the way. Keep you eyes open and your feet where they are supposed to be.
11:30 Lunch? Maybe not. Lunch options inside the Canyon or at the Visitors Center are limited and overpriced. We decided to head back to the car and drive outside the park to find some lunch before hitting the road towards Los Angeles.
It’s quite hard to describe the Grand Canyon. The views, the colors, the intensity of the light effects at any time of the day – from sunrise to sunset – is all part of a mystical experience that will change your definition of ‘Grand’.