One tip I forgot yesterday is that if you are coming into the park you will be charged a $30 one-time park fee (per vehicle). However, if you’re on a road trip like us visiting several parks it makes sense to buy the annual multi-park pass which will cost you just $80.
While you are planning your trip it’s best to have a look at the national park website so that you can work out what you want to do while you’re here. Probably you will want to do some hiking and there are lots of options for both the energetic and not so energetic.
There are spectacular views to be had from the rim and therefore unless you really feel you have to there’s no need to hike down into the canyon although of course, that may be your raison d’etre for being here. Don’t think however that the hike down to the bottom is a simple ‘pop down and pop back up again’, it seems that generally, the guidance is at least one day down and one day backup. I wouldn’t dissuade you from doing the walk (there are enough signs on the site warning you of imminent early death for the unprepared) but just be clear that it requires a fairly heavy time commitment if you’re on a time-pressured schedule.
As well as walking, there are free shuttle buses around the rim trail taking you to some of the best lookout points or, of course, you can walk between them. The bus is hop-on hop-off so you do not have to commit to a lot of walking if you don’t want to. We had intended to walk the whole south rim trail to Hermits Rest trailhead but, rather comically, the park map they give you makes it look quite short from end to end (it isn’t – in fact it’s around 12km), so we ended up mixing walking and taking the bus when we got tired. We made it to the end and then took the bus back which still took us a good four hours.
As I mentioned there’s a question as to how much time you actually need in the park and if you’re on a really tight schedule and not intending to walk to the valley floor i.e. You could arrive in the afternoon, see the Canyon at sunset, get up early to see the sunrise, have a short walk and then head off before lunch. I’m sure the purists will call this a heresy but time is money as they say and the US is a big place so if you need to save time to cram other things in then I reckon you would see enough of the Canyon from different angles to at least appreciate it (and get enough pictures for the album). After all how much time can you spend looking at a big (admittedly very big) hole in the ground? We’re actually staying two nights which is really plenty of time as we’ll also get to see the East rim tomorrow as we begin our journey north. We’re not going to stop at the north rim as it’s a significant detour off our route and…well…isn’t it just the south in reverse?
I wonder whether part of the problem with modern tourism is that the internet means we have seen a lot of the major sites from many angles, inevitably photographed a lot better and at times that we could not hope to replicate. For that reason, some of the places we visit (not just in the US but elsewhere) lose some of the shock and awe. The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly amazing but still feels very familiar.
After our day exertions, we spend some time looking at the Canyon as the sun begins to set and note that it’s really pretty cold – make sure you prepare for that. We then decide to stay local at Bright Angel Lodge for our second evening meal of the visit and promptly wish we hadn’t as the quality takes an alarming turn for the worse!