I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon with my own eyes. My husband and my mother had both been before, but this was a marvel of God's creation that I wanted to share with my kids. On our trip to California this year, we finally made it, and it was truly stunning.
I didn't do much research on the current state of this National Park, so while I loved being there, I wasn't quite as prepared as I could have been. If I do make it back again, there are a couple of things that I would do differently!
1. The Grand Canyon is Huge
This seems like a silly thing, but I just didn't realize that you can drive for five hours from the south rim to the north rim. Even within the park side of the south end, the distance between outlooks is substantial. It's seven miles from the Hermit's Rest to the Village, 2 miles from there back to the Welcome Center, and an additional 22 miles east to the Desert View Watchtower.
In the midst of the crowds that gather to see the stunning views, crossing those distances—even on the free shuttles—can eat up your time in the park. If you're going to take the time to go see this wonder of the natural world, give yourself plenty of time to savor it.
2. Stay Near (or in) the Park
Another silly idea I had was that I wanted to get up early and see the sunrise over the canyon. Since we'd traveled from Texas, we hadn't truly adjusted to the Pacific time zone yet, however, I forgot that Arizona doesn't follow Daylight Savings Time, so the sun rises in August at 5:37am. Yikes!
We were staying in Flagstaff, AZ, which is a little over an hour away from the park. As fun as my idea sounded, we just couldn't bring ourselves to get up that early to make it to the park. If we had stayed near or in the park, it would have been a different story.
In order to stay that close, you really have to plan at least a year in advance. It would be totally worth it though. There is enough to navigate within the park that taking away the "getting there" would make the experience that much richer.
3. Head to the Red Shuttle First (via the Blue)
When you arrive at the visitor's center, there are three shuttles you can catch that will take you to various lookouts around the park. The orange takes you a short way east, the purple takes you to hotels just outside of the park, and the blue takes you to Grand Canyon village as well as the red shuttle.
If you're interested in getting the best views of the Colorado River, you need to get to the red shuttle for all of the stops at the far west side of the park. Because these views are the best, there are bigger crowds that gather for these routes. The earlier you can get heading that way, the more time you'll have to enjoy the spectacular views.
The whole journey on the red shuttle ends at the Hermit's Rest. There is a gift shop and snack stand there for a nice break in your adventure. If you don't get off anywhere, the whole trip will take you 80 minutes. With nine stops, you can imagine that this section of the park will be well worth devoting a substantial amount of your time to seeing.
4. Take Plenty of Snacks
Since I had no clue that it would take as much time just to get around in the park, I was totally unprepared for how hungry and thirsty we would become over the course of time at the canyon. While there are snacks at the Hermit's Rest, you can bet that they come at a premium. I think we spent something like $36 on snack bars and drinks.
Since we had entered the park free with my mom's Senior Pass, we were happy to support the park in this way, but I would totally pack a backpack of supplies the next time we go!
5. Invest in a Tour Guide
As we looked out across the stunning vistas, we wondered how this one little river could carve a canyon in this way. It would have been nice to have a knowledgeable guide with us to give us the inside scoop. If nothing else, we'll be reading some of these articles from a Creationist's perspective on the formation of the Grand Canyon.
One of my friends had visited the canyon a couple of weeks before we did. She recommended A Different View Tours which offer a Biblical creationist's perspective on the formation of the canyon. You can choose a morning, full day, or sunset tour that allows you to truly experience the park with an experienced guide.
The Grand Canyon proclaims the glory of God. I would love to return and get to know more about the secrets that it holds.
Looking for ways to save a little money on your next trip? Here are some great tips for giving back and saving on your National Parks vacation.