My whole life, I’ve wanted to visit the Grand Canyon. It’s something you read and hear about, and see in pictures and videos growing up your entire life (at least in the U.S.). I’ve gotten to visit this natural wonder twice in my life, once in 2017 and again in 2021 (I will be including pictures from both of these trips, interchangeably). In 2017, I went with my friend, my then 8-month-old daughter, and my weenie dog, during the 2017 cross-country roadie from Illinois to California. It was only a brief visit, mainly just to “ooo” and “awwwe” and say we’ve been there. It was once I came back in 2021 with my two great friends did I really get to experience the Grand Canyon in all it’s glory. We were determined to hike down into it, and that’s exactly what we did.
Officially called the Grand Canyon National Park, from the I-40 turn off to the canyon’s south rim, it’s approximately a 45-minute drive. It’s around 1.5 hours total from Flagstaff and about 1 hour if you stay in nearby Williams. From Phoenix, it’s roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes, and from Tucson, 5 hours and 20 minutes. From Las Vegas it’s around 4 hours and 20 minutes, and from Los Angeles and the vague region of southern California, it’s roughly 6 to 8 hours. All of these times depend on traffic and weather, of course.
Also, you should probably get there no later than 9am or after 2pm if you want a fighting chance at finding a parking spot in any of the lots or along the rim. This is particularly true if you go during the summer, which is understandably peak tourist season. The first time we went was in the middle of July (so smack dab during tourist season) and we stayed in Flagstaff. We left our hotel around 7:30amish, getting there a little before 9am (leaving shortly around 10am). The amount of traffic coming into the park at 10am had already risen exponentially from just an hour before.
The second time, we arrived around 1:30pm. Getting into the park at this time wasn’t awful, but there was certainly a line. Due to my friends veteran status, we were able to get in for free (just an FYI for all veterans out there!). We drove to the main parking area, and found parking very easily. People had already come and went around this time, so it was less crowded than it could’ve been. Plus, we came during October, which is not peak season. Also, while you can drive to many parts along the rim, some parts are only accessible via the tram system. The tram has different colored lines, which take you to different parts of the park. Definitely check this out when you arrive!
Located within the Grand Canyon National Park, the South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (however, it does snow here during the winter). The North Rim is open between May and October. There is a hotel at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, named Phantom Ranch. It’s open year-round and according to the official Grand Canyon website, “overnight accommodations at Phantom Ranch consist of dormitory spaces and cabins. Cabins and dormitories are heated in the winter and cooled during the summer months.” You can check for availability by calling 888-29-PARKS (888-297-2757). There is also a campsite called Bright Angel Campground, and it’s the only established campsite at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s open year-round, as well, and offers drinking water and toilets.
So, for a little Grand Canyon stats. It was formed around 5 to 6 million years ago (and is one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen in my entire life). It’s approximately 2,600 feet (800m) deep, 277 miles (446km) long, and 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29km) wide, depending on the location. Also depending on where you are hiking (and your skill level), it takes roughly 8 to 10 hours to hike down into the canyon and then back up. As for how many miles a hike down and back is – it depends on the trail. Some trails are 18-miles, others 14.5-miles, and others are even longer, at around 24-miles (all round trip). Hiking to the bottom within a day is doable, and done regularly, but it’s grueling and difficult. In fact, it “is discouraged by park officials because of the distance, steep and rocky trails, change in elevation, and danger of heat exhaustion from the much higher temperatures at the bottom“.
During my first visit, we basically just drove to numerous spots along the South Rim, trying to find different angles and views to take in. We were driving randomly, with nowhere in particular in mind. We found our first spot, which was a small parking lot, shaped into a loop, and was quickly filling up as we were leaving to find a different spot (around 5 million people visit per year). This spot had trashcans and I’m almost positive, a restroom. Next, we simply drove along the rim, eventually pulling over into one of the side parking spots, finding an open area to view the canyon with ease. We were able to take my dog out during these times, but please be advised, dogs are strictly forbidden inside the canyon. They can be around the rim, as long as they’re leashed, but you cannot take them hiking with you into the canyon. So, due to my doggo (and my baby), hiking down into the Grand Canyon just wasn’t in the cards for us.
However, during my second visit, hiking was a must! We settled upon the Bright Angel Trail, which was a great hike and workout, but also, really hard. It’s rated as “difficult” on the popular hiking app All Trails, and I believe that it’s appropriately rated. It was hard, both going down and up. It was rather vertical in many spots, so it made going down a challenge and worked the leg muscles. This, of course, didn’t bode well for going back up, as it was strenuous and rather difficult. We were trying to make it as deep into the canyon as possible, but quickly learned that it was 9-miles down and then, 9-miles back up (at least on this particular trail). We noticed tons of hikers coming back up in full hiking gear, complete with hiking poles, boots, backpacks, and more. I eventually stopped one and asked how far down it was, and that’s when I learned it was 18-miles round trip and we were only but a fraction of the way there. The hiker told me they started this hike at 7am and were just now coming back towards the top of the rim (at 3pm). After this, we took a break and decided to head back up.
While hiking is obviously the number one activity at the Grand Canyon, there are numerous things to do besides that. There is also whitewater rafting, mule rides to the bottom, skydiving, and helicopter tours. The helicopter tours typically take off from either Las Vegas, Phoenix, or the small Grand Canyon National Park Airport, located about 7 miles away. There is also the Grand Canyon Skywalk, something I’d really love to do, but it’s located near the North Rim, which is typically a 3-hour, 45-minute drive from the South Rim.
One last thing: please be smart while visiting this epic hole in the ground. As of 2021, approximately 900 people in total have died at the Grand Canyon, either from heat-related issues, foul play, suicides, or falling to their death. On average, around 15 to 20 people die here every year, with many falling because they try to capture the “perfect picture” or jump from rock to rock. 18 people lost their lives at the Grand Canyon National Park in 2021.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed visiting the Grand Canyon, both the first time and second time (especially the second time). In my opinion, every person on the planet should visit this great natural wonder at least once in their lifetime. It’s incredible, beautiful, breathtaking, other-worldly, and mesmerizing. It’s mindboggling trying to understand how it was created, and how long it must have took. My only suggestion is to NOT go during summer or winter break, as it will be suffocatingly crowded. Try to go during any other time in the year. However, regardless of when you can go – GO!!!