grand canyon village
A place of superlatives with mind-blowing proportions — 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep — the Grand Canyon is rightly on many travelers' must-see lists. Because it is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the U.S., it's also a place where trips have to be mapped out carefully for a good experience. Here are six things to know about visiting the Grand Canyon's South Rim.
Once there, try to time your hikes against the flow: everyone rushes to Desert View for sunset, for example, but the sheer scope of the canyon allows for exquisite sunset viewing from pretty much anywhere. A great spot is Pima Pont, the second-to-last stop on the Red Line shuttle.
When hiking along the rim, you will encounter crowds near the scenic view points that have a parking lot or a shuttle stop, but in between – the ones where you have to walk – you will have stretches that are basically deserted.
If El Tovar is booked, which it often is, the cabins at the Bright Angel Lodge (www.grandcanyonlodges.com) are the next most-desirable accommodations. They are in the middle of everything and there will be crowds outside your window all throughout the day, but the views here cannot be beat. Kachina and Thunderbird lodges are low-rise concrete constructions and the Maswik Lodge, a five-minute walk away from the rim, has motel-style rooms. In the end, the Grand Canyon lodges book up regardless of service and amenities, so the more in advance you can reserve, the higher your chances you will score a nicer room or cabin.
Alternatively, hikers can choose one of the trails that snakes down into the canyon, like Bright Angel or South Kaibab, both of which are exhilarating but only whet your appetite to go further. Countless signs warn hikers not to tempt to climb to the bottom of the canyon and back out in a single day: hikers have died from dehydration and exhaustion (it takes about 3 hours to get to the bottom and more than 6 to come back up).
Ultimately, there are no satisfying, longer day hikes that take you through very different terrain, as you find in Zion or Bryce, so once you have had your share of rim photos, you are ready to either move on to an overnight hike into the canyon or to keep driving to the next stop along your road trip.
Phantom Ranch has small wooden and stone cabins with bunk beds and a small bathroom. Accommodations are very rustic and bare-bones, but the location at the bottom of the canyon on the Colorado River is incredible. Breakfast is served, and you can purchase box lunches. Dinner, usually stew, is served in the evening. Some of the bathrooms have hot water but some don't.
Indagare Tip: The Canteen has strict hours, so you have to bring down your own snacks or else it's possible to go hungry for hours until it opens for dinner.
Spend time in the Kolb Studio, dedicated to the work of the Kolb Brothers, photographers of the Grand Canyon around 1900, whose black-and-white works are fascinating. Walk along the Trail of Time, which details the geological evolution of the billion-plus-year-old canyon. Visit the hard-working mules that carry visitors up and down the canyon (they have their own chiropractor on staff). And take in such prime viewing spots as Mather Point and South Kaibab Trailhead to marvel at the multi-hued layers of rock and time of this magnificent place.
There's no right or wrong way to do the Grand Canyon: some people treat it as a drive-by photo op; some spend a night and walk around the rim; and others look into the great abyss and see the challenge to return.
Written by Simone Girner