Thursday 13: The Dos and Don’ts of Planning a Trip to the Grand CanyonMay 31, 2012
A couple of months ago, we went to Arizona for the express purpose of visiting the Grand Canyon. Unlike most of my impeccably planned travels, this one was seriously lacking. Hopefully you can benefit from my mistakes by following these tips.
- When researching the local weather, don’t check weather temps for Phoenix. Do be sure to look at Grand Canyon weather instead. Even though I knew there was a 4-5 hour car trip between the two locations, it did not occur to me that I could look up Grand Canyon weather. After all, I can drive four hours from home and only have temperature variances of a few degrees. Imagine our surprise when we left 90 degree Phoenix and drove up to the Canyon, only to be greeted by a snow storm. We now own tacky Grand Canyon souvenir sweatshirts as a result.
- Do plan way in advance and stay at one of the park lodges. (They fill up early, so it’s essential to get reservations as far out in advance as possible.) The only other hotels nearby are going to be ridiculously expensive ($200 a night for a substandard Holiday Inn Express) and lacking in amenities. The park lodges are less expensive, provide shuttle service around the park, and have all different types of restaurants either on site or nearby.
- Don’t plan to be there more than a day or so. You can see all of the majesty and nature that the Grand Canyon has to offer in one day. You just don’t need more time than that, unless you’re planning to do some serious hiking or exploration.
- Don’t eat outside of the park. The restaurants in the hotel area just south of the park are mediocre at best and ridiculously expensive. If you must eat at a restaurant outside the park, I recommend Wendy’s or McDonalds (which will still be more expensive than they are elsewhere in the US).
- Do stay hydrated. The Arizona air can leech every bit of moisture out of you, even if you aren’t sweating away in the sun. Keep a refillable bottle of water with you and/or stop to buy beverages often.
- Don’t overdo picture-taking. I have approximately 450 photos from the Grand Canyon. Most of them fail to capture the vastness and beauty of it. Many are barely distinguishable from the others.
- Do take pictures at sunset. The lighting is better and the colors more vibrant. You can even book a relatively inexpensive “Sunset Tour” that will take you to various lookout points by bus at the right time for awesome photos. (This was one of the few things I did right!)
- Do utilize the park’s shuttle service. It is fast, free, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get an entertaining driver who will share some tips about seeing the park.
- Do take time to look at more than just the canyon/rocks. There are California condors, ravens, and mule deer throughout the park. There is also a Tusayan Museum and Ruin that sheds light on the Native Americans who called that area their home.
- If you have school age children, do have them complete the Junior Ranger program. It’s free and it will keep the kids from getting bored.
- If you’re hiking down into the canyon, don’t do it on a whim and don’t underestimate the distance or time you will travel. There was a chilling poster in one of the visitor centers about an athletic young woman, age 24, who had run in the Boston Marathon, but died on a hike into the canyon. Why? She under-calculated the length of her hike, and didn’t carry enough water with her.
- Do check out the Desert View Watchtower. It’s an amazing, beautiful building.
- If you do venture into to the money-sucking town south of the canyon, do see the IMAX movie about the canyon and its explorers. You’ll be impressed with the one-armed Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell, who was responsible for mapping most of the canyon.