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Grand Canyon Guide

  • Submitted by: Arne Henden
  • Submission Date: 14th Feb 2005


Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is 277 miles long, 17 miles wide at the widest point, and a mile deep.
The Park gets nearly 5 million visitors a year, of which only 500,000 visit the North Rim. The South Rim has become congested enough on Summer weekends that the National Park Service is seriously considering prohibiting automobiles on the Rim, providing shuttle bus service from nearby parking lots instead. If you can visit in May or September on the North Rim, or any non-summer months on the South Rim, you will far fewer tourists. If you must go during the summer, try to see the Canyon in the early morning before the tourists (and tour busses!) arive.


For recorded weather information, call (602) 638-7888. For the South Rim, you can use the Flagstaff weather report and be pretty accurate (telnet 3000). Typical Flagstaff weather (South Rim is approximately the same; North Rim is usually about 5-10 degrees cooler; River is usually 20 degrees hotter).

In July and August you will usually have a thunderstorm every afternoon. Rainbows are common over the canyon. The months of December, January and February are often cloudy with snow about once a week. However, in typical Southwestern style, the sun comes out immediately after a snowstorm and turns the Rim into a winter wonderland with crystal blue skies.

There is no major carrier airline that services the Grand Canyon. There is a small airport in Tusayan that is used for flights over the Canyon and does have service from Las Vegas (Air Nevada, Grand Airways); Phoenix (Arizona Pacific); and Los Angeles (Grand Airways).

If you are renting a car, there is a Budget office at the South Rim airport, and several car rental agencies in Flagstaff. However, I'd highly recommend renting in Phoenix and driving up. The rentals are half the cost and give unlimited miles (you only get 100 free in Flag!).

Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars! If you intend to hike, bring water bottles as well -- there is no water on the trails. Suntan lotion is a must. Hats are suggested, but it does get windy on the Rim, so tie-downs are advised. Look for deer and elk on both Rims, and the Abert and Kaibab squirrels are some of the prettiest rodents you will ever see.

You might consider staying in Flagstaff and day-tripping to the Canyon. There are numerous other outing possibilities in Northern Arizona, and Flagstaff is centrally located with every motel chain and Bed&Breakfasts. There is an Arizona-wide B&B service (800-266-7829), about a dozen B&B's in Flag, several in Williams, and another dozen in Sedona.

Campground reservations for large groups from 800-365-2267 or write to P.O. Box 85705, San Diego, CA 92138-5705. Get the 'Trip Planner' from the Grand Canyon NP, 602-638-7888 or P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon 86023 for more park info. Brochures also available from Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 3007, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.

Other Grand Canyon information can be found in the rec-travel archive at in the directory rec-travel/north_america/usa/Arizona.

[Editor's note: the site mentioned above has moved to]


This is the usual destination for tourists because of its easy accessibility. At an average elevation of 7000ft (2300m), it has a climate very similar to Flagstaff, with Ponderosa Pine vegetation and little ground cover. The South Rim is open year-round.
To reach the South Rim by automobile, take: (1) US64 from Williams, a 58-mile straight shot north that starts in pine but quickly becomes high desert; (2) US180 from Flagstaff, 81 miles, also direct to Grand Canyon Village (GCV), but passing through several miles of aspen forest and past the San Francisco Peaks before

hitting the high desert south of Tusayan; (3) the pure desert route of US89 from Flagstaff

(or also from Page approaching from the north), which hits the eastern end of the park (52 miles), from which you can drive along the rim to the west on US64 (57 miles to GCV). Road notes: if you take US180, be

aware that it passes through Flagstaff on city streets. The route is well marked, but you must pay attention to the signs. The important turn is about 2 miles from the I17-I40 interchange, when you will pass under a railroad overpass. About a block past this, you need to turn left. There is one other left hand turn about a half mile later, but you can't miss it. Similarly, US89 north from I40 at exit 201 is a little confusing as the overpass splits into east and westbound exits after crossing back over I40 -- take the eastbound (just follow the signs!). An alternative is to take Grand Canyon Railway (800-843-8724) from Williams, a 2-hour ride to the Rim (about $50 roundtrip). It is a nice steam locomotive with beverages and 'wild west' activities.

There is bus service from Flagstaff and Phoenix (Nava-Hopi Tours, 800-892-8687). A shuttle bus operates between the North and South rims, making one trip/day (800)-GRAND-CANYON or 602-638-2820.

During the summer months the road to the west of GCV is closed and is only accessible by a free shuttle bus or by foot.

One can hike or drive along the rim. The South Rim can easily been seen in a few hours; I'd recommend early morning or late afternoon to get shadows and the true 3D effect of the Canyon. At noontime everything appears washed out.

There are several trails down into the Canyon. Two trails are maintained by the Park Service: Bright Angel and South Kaibab. Bright Angel is the most travelled, and does have a 1-day round trip destination hike from Bright Angel Lodge (at 6860ft) to Indian Gardens (4.7 miles each way). The round trip to the River and back is 19 miles, and is only possible by folks in extremely good shape. Most of the mule rides also use Bright Angel and the trail gets sloppy and smelly at points. South Kaibab is the second easiest trail, starts at Yaqui Point (7260ft) and reaches the River at 2450ft after 6.7 miles one way. The other two most popular trails are Hermit and Grandview. Notes: in summer, you leave the rim at 40 degrees and arrive at the river at 100+ degrees. Be prepared! In the winter, all South Rim trails are in the shade, often get snow/ice packed at the top and very slippery.

Mule rides into the Canyon depart from Bright Angel Lodge. These are typically full-day tours with lunch included and run about $87/person. An overnight mule trip, staying at Phantom Ranch one night, costs $260/person. Call 602-638-2401 for reservations.

El Tovar Dining Room is renowned for its food. It is difficult to get evening reservations (pricey too); you might try it at lunchtime. There are two cafeterias and Bright Angel Lodge has a restaurant as well.

The IMAX theater in Tusayan has several showings/daily. Usually one of the features is a Grand Canyon tour and shouldn't be missed.


There are about 800 rooms in the Park and another 800 in Tusayan, but

they fill up rapidly during the summer. You are advised to make reservations early. In the park, the best lodge is El Tovar, followed by Bright Angel. The remaining lodges are Motel 6 equivalents. (602) 638-9247 for reservations. Tusayan (Too-see-on) is just outside the park boundaries, and has the usual collection of Best Westerns, Quality Inn, McDonalds, etc.

If you want to stay overnight at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch, call (602) 638-2401 for reservations, or write to P. O. Box 699, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 SEVERAL MONTHS IN ADVANCE. If you are lucky and want to camp at the bottom, some permits come available around 7am at the ranger station.

There are several campgrounds within the Park on a first-come, first-served basis.


IMHO the North Rim has far better scenery at the top than the South Rim. It is 1000ft (300m) higher in elevation, enough so that the typical vegetation is fir, spruce and aspen. It offers excellent views of the large volcanic mountains to the south -- the San Francisco Peaks, Sitgreaves, Kendrick, etc. At noon you have to look into the sun to see the Canyon, which means a large part of it is in shade, but just a couple of hours either side of noon and the 3D effect is sensational. The North Rim offers better hiking on the Rim, and Roaring Springs is a good destination hike on the North Kaibab Trail itself. The drawbacks are that it is out of the way, requiring at least 4 extra hours from the south (210 miles from Flagstaff) to reach by auto, and has
limited overnight facilities. IMPORTANT: because of the heavy snow, the North Rim has NO SERVICES from late October to mid-May, and CLOSES after the first heavy snow (usually in mid-November) and does not reopen until early May. If you only have two or three hours, drive to the Grand Canyon Lodge (GCL) on the Rim and

then walk to Bright Angel Point to orient yourself. On the east side of the Point, look down into the tributary canyon and see/listen to Roaring Springs, the water source for both the North and South Rims. You can also see Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim (pretty impressive at night to see the line of cars entering the park!). You also see the San Franciso Peaks from their north side, where snow will be visible until about mid-July.

Continue your tour by driving to Point Imperial (11miles/18km from GCL), the highest

point on either rim at 8800 feet (2700m). From there, you have a nice view of the eastern part of the canyon. If you have a half-day, then head down to Cape Royal (23miles/ 22km from GCL). There are several nice trails along this route, including a self-guided nature trail which winds its way to the point and gives a view of the Colorado River below. With a whole day available, try hiking down the North Kaibab trail a short distance. To get to Roaring Springs and back will take the better part of a day, as it is 3400ft (930m) below the rim and a 9.4mile(15km) round trip. The Widforss Trail near the intersection of the main road and the Point Imperial road is a pretty hike through fir and aspen, giving you canyon views after a mile or so.

Unless you are a fanatic, don't attempt to hike down to the Colorado River and back in one day. It is a 28mile (45km) round trip, drops 6000ft (1830m), and is typically 25 degrees warmer than at the Rim.

Mule rides into the Canyon are $70/day. Call (602) 638-2292 for information.

Day hiking does not require permits. Overnight permits are available from: Backcountry Office, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.


Grand Canyon Lodge is located right on the rim and offers a good restaurant with an excellent view, along with a pub and an ice cream shop. The cabins are VERY rustic -- be prepared. Rooms last year were $50-70. Call (801) 586-7686 for reservations, or write TW Services, P.O. Box 400, Cedar City, UT 84720. The GCL was built in 1928, burned down in 1932 and rebuilt. Kaibab Lodge is located just outside the park boundary (but 20 miles from the rim). Again, VERY rustic cabins, but beautiful setting on a meadow with deer/elk at dusk. (800) 525-0924 or (602) 526-0924 for reservations. Note: Kaibab Lodge stays open year-round, with SnoKat pickup from Jacob Lake in the winter for nordic skiing. The Lodge has a good restaurant that is open to the general public, and almost always has a fire going in the gathering room. Room rates $60-80. Jacob Lake Lodge is the typical motel on a busy intersection, about 50 miles from the rim. Call (602) 643-7232 for reservations. They have a reasonable restaurant with good bakery items. There are 82 no-hookup campsites near the GCL in the North Rim Campground. Closes late October. $10/night. A gas station is near this campground.

Other camping just outside of the park is available at DeMotte Park Campground (next to Kaibab Lodge). 25 sites, no hookups, $7/night. Jacob Lake Campground, 50 miles from the rim, offers 50 sites with water/restrooms available. $10/night. Jacob Lake RV Park offers 80 full-hookup sites plus 50 tent sites. Call (602) 643-7804 for reservations


The Havasupai Indian Reservation allows visitors. Havasu Canyon has waterfalls, village, motel. Havasupai Tourist Enterprises, Supai AZ 86435, 602-448-2121.


All of the River raft trips start from Lees Ferry, just below Glen Canyon Dam (Page, AZ). There are at least 20 companies providing rafting trips from a one-day smooth water cruise to 3-week-long trips through the Canyon. The one-day trip can be reserved at (602) 645-3279. Get a copy of the NPS newspaper 'The Guide' for other phone numbers. The raft tours are available April through October. See the archive at

in file rec-travel/north_america/usa/Arizona/grand_canyon_rafting for complete information.

[Editor's note: the site mentioned above has moved to]


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