Grand Canyon Travel Information

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Grand Canyon
 
The great gorge is accessible from two sides, north and south. Most of the more than five million visitors per year choose to go to the South Rim, which has a lot more tourist facilities than the north side, and, accordingly, tends to get overcrowded during the summer season, and even winter weekends. The North Rim is a quieter and more remote place and preferred by people who wish to get away from it all.

Other than crowds, the difference between the north and south rims is elevation, and, accordingly, climate and vegetation. Due to the north-south slant of the Colorado Plateau, the north side rises up to 8,800 feet, while the southern edge is at around 7,000 feet above sea level. The north side also has a markedly different look, featuring pine-covered peninsulas carved by deep side canyons jutting out into the main chasm, while the southern edge is more like an irregular amphitheater, with easily accessible vista points along the rim.

The access road to the North Rim is frequently closed during winter due to snow. Both rims can get very cold in the winter, and nights are cool even during summer months. Hiking inside the canyon below the rim, however, is quite another story, as summer temperatures near the Colorado River at the bottom may reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Hikers, in particular, will face extreme changes in climate and should be prepared.

THE SOUTH RIM

Tusayan
If you, like the majority of visitors, approach the canyon from the south on Highway 180 via the nearby towns of Flagstaff or Williams, you will most likely stop at Tusayan, a commercial area consisting mainly of gas stations, motels, fast food restaurants, and the Grand Canyon Airport. The main attraction here, however, is the Grand Canyon IMAX Theater, which is highly recommended. The place features one of the best films in the nature genre, drawing you right into the chasm and taking you on a vertiginous flight between the canyons walls.

A few miles further north, at the park gate, you will be requested to pay your $20 entrance fee per vehicle, or $10 per individual (pedestrian, bicycle etc.). An Annual Grand Canyon Pass is available for $40. You are now about to enter Grand Canyon Village, the focal point for all tourist activity at the gorge.

Grand Canyon Village
Your first stop should be the Park Headquarters and Visitor Center, where an abundance of books, films, and slides will help you to get better acquainted with the park, and rangers will be available to answer any Grand Canyon question you might have. You can stock up on supplies at Babbitts General Store & Deli just south of the Visitor Center, then go on to see the historic El Tovar Hotel and the Hopi House, a shopping center built in the style of a Hopi pueblo. The Fred Harvey Museum inside the Bright Angel History Room offers an interesting glimpse into the life and times of the man who built the El Tovar Hotel and first brought upscale tourism to the West. From here, start on your first exploration of the canyon using either the West Rim or the East Rim Drive.

East Rim Drive
This 26-mile drive skirts most of the canyons south rim, offering several overlooks to get a better view. Among the best viewing areas en route are Yaki Point, thrusting out beyond the rim for a good look at canyon formations, Grandview Point with its panoramic wide-angle view, and Lipan Point, which provides an excellent view of the geological layers. A visit to the Tusayan Ruins and Museum, showing walls and outlines of an Anasazi pueblo built in the 12th century, provides fascinating information about the Native cultures in the area. The drive ends at the Watchtower at Desert View, a visitor complex containing services and a campground, offering views of the Painted Desert to the east and the Colorado River deep down inside the gorge.

West Rim Drive
This drive stays a little closer to the edge than its eastern counterpart and also offers a greater variety of canyon views. Note that it is closed to private vehicles in the summer, with a free shuttle service from Grand Canyon Village taking over transportation, meaning you can always hop on the bus if you get tired after choosing to hike the eight-mile Rim Trail.

Some of the best vistas in the park, enhanced through polarized windows, are offered at the Yavapai Observation Station, perched on the lip of the ravine. You'll also pass the Bright Angel Trail, one of the most popular trails in the park with a steep descent into the canyon all the way to Phantom Ranch. At the end of the drive is Hermits Rest, a souvenir shop and refreshment stand in a rugged stone building.

THE NORTH RIM

While the South Rim is open 24 hours, 356 days a year, facilities on the north side close down from late October to mid-May. You can still visit the North Rim in winter, provided the access road is not closed by snow, but be advised to bring a thermos with hot coffee or tea! Also, be aware that although it is only ten miles from rim to rim as the crow flies, it is 215 miles or four and a half hours by car. The North Rim is 44 miles south of Jacob Lake on State Route 67. This is a particularly elevating experience during fall, when the Kaibab National Forest turns into a dazzling showcase of yellow leaves trembling on aspen trees. A cross-canyon shuttle connecting north and south rim in both directions is available May through October for $60 one way, $100 round trip.

Visitor facilities on the northern edge are all clustered in the relatively small area around Grand Canyon Lodge, a rustically elegant castle-style hotel with terrific views from its terraces and dining rooms. Its also the North Rim Visitor Center, booking center for mule rides, and various other activities. A quarter-mile paved trail leads from the Grand Canyon Lodge to Bright Angel Point, famous as the best spot for seeing sunsets and sunrises over the canyon.

Eleven miles northeast from the Grand Canyon Lodge, Point Imperial is the highest vantage point in the park at 8,803 feet, offering a panoramic view of the Grand Canyons eastern end and Marble Canyon with glimpses of the Painted Desert even further east. From there, follow the winding road to Point Royal, about 23 miles from the lodge. The trail from the parking area leads to another pair of outlooks, Cape Royal and Angels Window, the latter a giant peephole carved into a ridge of rock. Views are equally impressive from nearby Walhalla Overlook.

Trails
All main roads in the park are paved, and there is a wide network of gravel roads in Kaibab National Forest, on both rims, which may become impassable in wet or snowy weather. The inner canyon is accessible by so-called 'Corridor Trails' connecting the rims. The trailhead for the North Kaibab Trail is about two miles north of the North Rim visitor area. The North Kaibab Trail descends deep into the canyon, then links with Bright Angel Trail for the steep ascent up the South Rim. It is one of the busiest trails, but there are many less traveled trails in remoter areas of the canyon. Keep in mind that all hiking in the Grand Canyon is strenuous, and it is imperative to carry plenty of water, food snacks, sunscreen, and, vitally important in the summer, a shade hat. Also remember that permits are required by the Backcountry Office for overnight travel below the rim ($20 USD per person).

Jacob Lake
This is a small settlement at the intersection of U.S. 89A and State Route 67, the road leading to the North Rim. Its also the place where you might end up staying overnight if you haven't made reservations for camping or lodging in the summer. The Forest Services Jacob Lake Campground is usually available till late afternoon, and you still may find vacancies at the commercial Kaibab Lodge Camper Village. From here all the way to the canyon, it is a huge area of still largely unexplored wilderness with trails where you're more likely to meet squirrels, deer, bears, and mountain lions than humans.

Hualapai and Havasupai
Just south of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary, the Hualapai and Havasupai Indian reservations offer even more opportunities for scenic hikes and canyon vistas. Both tribes have gotten into the tourist business and provide both tours and accommodations for visitors. To reach the area from the South Rim, drive down Highway 180/64 through Tusayan, continue past the town of Valle on Highway 64 to Interstate 40 west. Follow I-40 past Williams and Seligman. Just above Seligman, turn onto historic Highway 66, which will take you into the Hualapai Reservation. Its around 70 miles northeast to the end of State Route 18 at Hualapai Hilltop. This is the trailhead for hikes and horseback rides into Havasu Canyon and the ancestral village of Supai, where the Havasupai people have lived in isolation since the days of the Spanish conquistadors. The areas main tourist attraction, however, is gorgeous Havasu Canyon below the village, and the hike along Havasu Creek with its spectacular waterfalls definitely qualifies as one of the most scenic in the entire Grand Canyon.