5. Get On The Bus
To alleviate the problems due to automobile traffic, Grand Canyon National Park provides free shuttle buses that depart every 15 to 30 minutes on four different routes: the main Village Route (a 50-minute roundtrip journey includes stops at the Visitor Center, Market Plaza, the Historic District and the Campgrounds), the Kaibab/Rim Route (a 50-minute roundtrip journey that is the shortest scenic route and the only access to Yaki Point, the South Kaibab Trailhead, and the Yavapai Geology Museum), the Hermits Route (a 75-minute roundtrip route that is closed to private vehicles with stops at nine canyon overlooks), and the Hiker’s Express Shuttle Bus that departs from Bright Angel Lodge every hour with service to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Each natural-gas-powered bus is equipped with a three-capacity bicycle rack and best of all; it takes visitors to places where cars are not allowed. In addition, the community of Tusayan (just outside of the park’s entrance) offers a “park & ride” service where visitors can leave their cars and take the seven-mile ride to the South Rim. The ride is free but visitors must present a valid park entrance pass, which can be purchased at a number of businesses in Tusayan.
4. Take The Train
The historic Grand Canyon Railway is based in the town of Williams, approximately 65 miles due south of the Grand Canyon. Originally a transport line for ore and gold from the nearby Anita Mines, it was transformed into a popular passenger line with direct service to the Grand Canyon that began on Sept. 17, 1901. But in 1968, after years of waning interest in train travel, the line closed down. Fortunately, entrepreneurs Max and Thelma Biegert reopened the railway for passenger service on Sept. 17, 1989, which was 88 years to the day when the first train headed to the South Rim. Today, the train makes one daily departure at 9:30 a.m. from the Williams Depot and stops at the South Rim with ample time to explore the area before returning to Williams by 5:45 p.m. The two-hour journey travels through the high-desert plains, the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest, and culminates with a 1,500-foot vertical drop toward the canyon. Passengers have a choice of four different classes of travel: Coach (in classic air-conditioned 1950s streamliner passenger trains), First Class (oversized, reclining seats with picture windows and complimentary drinks and snacks), Observation Dome (a streamliner passenger car with a glass-enclosed upper seating area that offers 360-degree views of the surroundings), and the top-of-the-line Luxury Parlor Class, which includes lounge-style seating, a private bar, and an open-air rear platform. Best of all, passengers can park their cars at the secure Williams Depot parking lot, leave all of the transportation up to someone else, and simply enjoy the view.
3. Take An Audio Tour
For those who prefer exploring the park away from the crowds without missing vital information, the Grand Canyon Association offers cell phone audio tours for 29 different points of interest on the South and North Rims. Highlights include Yaki and Mather Points, Grand Canyon Village and the Bright Angel Lodge as well as the North Rim’s Roaring Springs, Bright Angel Point, and the Grand Canyon Lodge. Just look for signs marked “Park Ranger Audio Tour,” call 928-225-2907, and simply enter the stop number. The two-minute presentations, recorded by 10 highly qualified National Park Service Rangers, includes historical facts and important information that range from geology and Native American history to what to look for in the night sky. The audio tours are free but note that not all cell phone providers offer service within the park. Visitors without cell phone coverage can download the audio-tour files onto their MP3 players or iPhones ahead of time by logging onto www.myoncell.com and following the simple instructions.
2. Find Lodging In Or Near The South Rim
No mention of lodging at the Grand Canyon is complete without including the historic El Tovar Hotel that dates to 1905. Located right on the edge of the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village, it offers 78 guest rooms and suites with upscale dining and spectacular views. But there are plenty of other accommodations in and around the park to fit any budget and taste. For those who prefer modern amenities and contemporary lodging in the South Rim (with a lower nightly rate), there are the Kachina, Bright Angel, Thunderbird and Yavapai Lodges. Visitors with trailers and RVs can choose to stay at Trailer Village. Located just a half-mile from the rim, it offers paved sites with full hookups for vehicles up to 50 feet in length. For lodging outside of the park, there are at least seven different accommodations in the community of Tusayan, ranging from the Red Feather Lodge and the Grand Canyon Suites to the Holiday Inn Express. The Phantom Ranch, situated at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, is the only lodging facility below the canyon rim. Even though the cabins and dormitory-style guest rooms can only be reached by riding a mule, hiking on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River, it has been a popular stop for visitors since it first opened its doors in 1922. Additional lodging is available near the east entrance to the park at the Cameron Trading Post and Motel (30 miles away) and the Anasazi Inn (37 miles away) but both of these locations are located in the desert and not within sight of the canyon itself. It is highly recommended that reservations for all of these accommodations be made as early as possible. Many of the popular lodges, especially on the South Rim, are booked months in advance.
1. Visit The North Rim
Even though the average distance across the canyon to the North Rim is only 10 miles, it can take up to five hours to drive the 215 miles around the canyon to get there. Therefore, the majority of visitors tend to just stay in or near the South Rim. This concentration of people and traffic can create congestion and the park has attempted to control it with free shuttle services (as noted earlier). But the overlooked North Rim is actually 1,000-feet higher than the South Rim and it offers spectacular views and scenery that are not normally seen in the guidebooks. As stated by the management of the Grand Canyon Lodge, “People who come to the North Rim choose to avoid the gridlock in the South Rim and have an overall quieter and relaxed experience.” But lodging and other services are open only seasonally from mid-May through mid-October due to the heavy snows that block access to the village. When in operation, the Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodging inside the North Rim and it too offers a dining room with spectacular views. In addition, it includes the “Roughrider Saloon,” the “Deli in the Pines” and the “Camper Store,” which sells everything from groceries and camping supplies to clothing and gifts. The North Rim Village also offers a special nightly “Grand Cookout Experience,” which includes a fun, cookout style meal under the stars.
James Nalley is a full-time travel writer based in Arizona. He has personally visited the Grand Canyon’s South Rim several times as well as the North Rim, which he finds equally as beautiful.