No matter how much you have travelled the world or what you have seen before, the Grand Canyon will make a deep impression on you. There is no better place in the world where one can observe the passage of time- it is almost as if a special window was opened and we can get to see a vertical cross section of how the landscape has evolved over millions of years.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Grand Canyon once in my life for quite a short visit and I hope that I will be able to make at least one longer visit to the place. The Canyon is one of those places where one can literally spend weeks exploring the different trails. What I’ve attempted to do in this post is to do a summary of the different things you can do in a short time as most of us don’t have the luxury of spending weeks or even days at the canyon. I’ve only been to the South Rim so I can only talk about that but the North Rim is also a great point to explore the canyon (it is not however, open all through the year because of it’s higher elevation which means that it closes in the winter).
The South rim of the Grand Canyon is more like a big village than a landing point to one of the greatest geological marvels of the world- this is not necessarily a bad thing. The village has sprung up not only to cater to the needs of the thousands of visitors that throng to the Canyon every day but also to house all the rangers and other staff who work at the various hotels, restaurants, museums, gift shops and the like. In high season you are likely to bump into a lot of people on the rim- however, you only have to turn around and look at the canyon to almost cut yourself off from the mayhem.
SO You have arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and you only have a limited time left to explore the National Park. What do you do?
If you have less than half a day This is definitely not an ideal situation to explore one of the world’s biggest geological wonders. However a few hours spent visiting is better than never having visited the Canyon at all. First, get yourself to the edge of the rim and take a deep breath. Spend a few minutes just soaking in the beautiful views. One of the things they always say about the Canyon is that there is no one or two great spots for views- almost every point along the rim is a great spot for views. I would recommend that you spend some time walking the rim trail. This is a flat trail that is very easy to walk on but still gives great views. Almost the first thing that you have to choose is whether you want to spend your time travelling to the east or west along the South Rim. They are both great routes- so don’t worry about going wrong. You can also take the FREE shuttle buses that can take you to the viewpoints that are further along.
If you feel adventurous enough you can descend into the canyon either along the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail- not too far though because coming up is much much more difficult that going down. If you have just about half an hour on the Bright Angel Trail you can go down just up to the first tunnel which is only 0.3 miles down- it is a great photo opp! If you have more time you can head down all the way to the second tunnel (about 0.8 miles) or to the one and a half mile resthouse (which as its name indicates is 1.5 miles down). It is ideal to do this early in the morning or later in the afternoon as it can tend to get very warm in the summer. The South Kaibab trail similarly features a ‘Ooh Aah Point’ (yes the views are great!) at a short distance down where you can turn around.
You can then stop for a nice meal at one of the restaurants at the Canyon Village. The Arizona room is recommended because of its views over the canyon but the Bright Angel restaurant is pretty nice as well.
If you have a complete day at the canyon- you should stay long enough to enjoy a sunset from one of the lookout points- it is an unforgettable experience. You can also visit the Yavapai museum of Geology.
If you’ve got a day and a night, try spending a night at the Park. We stayed at the Maswik lodge (all the other accommodation near the rim gets booked almost a year ahead so you need to plan much in advance) but the Maswik lodge is just a stone’s throw from the rim so you’re definitely not missing anything. If you’re spending the night at the Park (or can drive in early) do not miss the experience of a canyon sunrise- once again there are no best points for sunrise or sunset but we watched the sun come up from Powell point and that was great. I’ve heard that Yaki point is also spectacular.
If you’ve got two nights or more then you should attempt to go down all the way to the Colorado at the bottom of the canyon along the trails and then come back up or hike up to the North Rim. There are also mules that can take you down early in the morning if you cannot hike.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that people DO NOT attempt to hike down and up the canyon in one day.
The Grand Canyon is a great place to visit irrespective of whether you only have a few hours or a few days.
You can plan your visit better with the help of the resources on the National Park Services Website.