One of the seven natural wonders of the world, The Grand Canyon lives up to it's name, and then some. If it's not already on your bucket list, it's time to edit your bucket list. The vastness of this mile deep gorge is difficult to digest, and the ways to experience it are almost as endless as the canyon itself. I'll take you through the must dos and definitely don'ts of The Grand Canyon, and some tips to save you time, energy, and potentially your life.
Getting to the Grand Canyon is an adventure in itself, as there are so many incredible sights and towns worthy of a detour. We flew into Pheonix and rented a car. In the four hour drive to the Grand Canyon, the landscape transitions from desert sand and cactus farms to ice capped mountains when you approach Flagstaff. From there, you will pass quaint street side markets selling everything from native jewelry to meat jerky, and other locally made crafts and snacks. After stocking up on dream catchers and everything turquoise, you'll approach the Kaibab National Forest, a stunning and surprising change of scenery. The woodlands consist of 1.6 million acres and border the rims of the canyon. Not what you would expect when you think of the Grand Canyon, but lovely nonetheless.
Where to Stay & Where to Eat
Don't expect five star luxury when staying at the Grand Canyon, expect cozy, charming, rustic-chic. We stayed at The El Tovar, which, in comparison to other options, was The Four Seasons of the Grand Canyon. Built in 1905, this landmark limestone and pine hotel is considered the crown jewel of Historical National Park lodges. Wood burning fireplaces, moose heads mounted to the raw log walls, rocking chairs and swinging benches will make you want to curl up with a good book and glass of wine...until you remember that one of the seven wonders of the world is literally steps away. We had a room overlooking the canyon, and depending on the time of day and the sunlight, the canyon looked like it was always changing. Truly majestic. El Tovar has picturesque porches spread across the property, with live music daily and elk roaming freely. Note: Do not approach the elk, as they can be very aggressive, and have been a source of several injuries and even deaths at The Grand Canyon. Observe from a safe distance.
Every evening we enjoyed happy hour on the back porch of the El Tovar and watched the sun set, followed by dinner in the main dining room. Note: Reservations are a must, and should be booked in advance! Visitors across the south rim come to dine at this rustic elegant restaurant serving up upscale Southwestern American fare. Evenings were spent relaxing in the lodge, or playing cards in the game room before retiring to bed.
What to Do
Spanning 277 miles, the sights and adventure at The Grand Canyon is seemingly endless. From the adrenaline junkie to the athletically challenged (yours truly), the canyon is accessible to everyone. The most popular form of exploration is hiking, and the premier hiking trial is the Bright Angels trial. It is moderate in difficulty and delivers some of the most spectacular views in the whole canyon. You can follow it all the way to the Colorado River and then some (4,380 elevation change over 10% average grade). At the base of the trail is a popular campground and Phantom Ranch, a lodge located inside The Grand Canyon. Note: Reservations must be made thirteen months in advance, so plan ahead! The rim trails also provide incredible views of the canyon, without the physical exertion. There is no elevation change, and is accessible via bicycle, rollerblades, or even segway. There are picturesque viewing spots all along the way, including observation towers and educational facilities.
If hiking is not your thing, there are several other ways to experience The Grand Canyon, including mule rides, helicopter tours, white water rafting, biking, etc. No matter what activity, be sure to have plenty of water, and wear layers. The best time of year to visit The Grand Canyon is late spring when the mornings are cool and the afternoons are fairly mild. Temperatures in the canyon can reach 130 degrees, so be prepared.
On our way out, we stopped by the Desert View Watch Tower, which has the best views of the Colorado River in the South Rim. Several miles from town, and en route to the highway, this detour was a perfect excursion for our last day at The Grand Canyon. A coffee and pastry shop on the property will prepare you for your road trip ahead, which for us meant a scenic two hour drive to eclectic and spiritual Sedona, Arizona!