10 Best Tips Exploring Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)
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17th Jul | 9 min read

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    As one of America's most popular national parks, the Grand Canyon never ceases to amaze visitors with its immense scale and breathtaking natural beauty. This is a must-see destination for any adventurer, and if you've never been there, this post can help you plan the perfect trip.

    These are our 10 best tips for exploring Grand Canyon National Park.

    For my trip to the Grand Canyon, I traveled with two friends. The three of us were on a budget, and we split all of our costs to keep them as low as possible.

    If you're planning a trip to Grand Canyon National Park, GAFFL can help you find travel companions from over 190 countries to share costs and experiences with.  

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    How To Get To The Grand Canyon

    Because of how close it is to Grand Canyon National Park and so many other national parks, Las Vegas is the best starting point for a trip there. Grand Canyon National Park is approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes from Las Vegas, and other popular national parks, like Zion National Park, is approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes away, and Death Valley is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes away.

    During my recent trip to Vegas, we rented a car, and looped Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon National Park in 6 nights before returning back to Vegas. It was an incredible road trip and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has the time.

    Best Way To Get Around Grand Canyon & Where To Park

    When we visited Grand Canyon National Park in February, everything was easily accessible in our car. There was tons of parking everywhere we went. Popular places like Bright Angel Lodge, Yavapai Lodge, and the Visitor Center all had a lot of parking spots available so it was easy to drive everywhere we wanted. 

    Since we were there in the winter, Hermit Road was open to private vehicles. Hermit road is closed to shuttles in December, January, and February. Being able to access Hermit Road was fantastic because it gave us access to some incredible viewpoints like Hopi Point and Mohave Point, both of which are excellent places to catch a sunset.

    For these reasons, if you are visiting the Grand Canyon National Park in the winter, I strongly advise you to bring a car. If you visit at another time of year, you may have difficulty finding parking.

    During peak season, if you arrive at the park by 9 a.m., you should be able to find parking in one of the four lots surrounding the Visitor Center Plaza. During peak season, however, the majority of visitors rely on the park's shuttle service to get around.

    The shuttle service operates throughout the day and will take you anywhere in the park. This includes all of the popular trailheads.

    You can board a free Village (Blue) Route shuttle from the Visitor Center Shuttle Bus Terminal, which serves the lodges, campgrounds, Backcountry Information Center, and Market Plaza, which includes the general store and US Post Office.

    The other shuttles takes the eastbound Kaibab Rim Route (Orange) Route to South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point scenic overlook, or the westbound (Orange) Route shuttle to Mather Point and the Yavapai Geology Museum from the Visitor Center Shuttle Bus Terminal.

    Most Popular Trails

    Grand Canyon National Park has three popular hiking trails. The Rim Trail is the shortest and most straightforward, making it perfect for first-time hikers. It's about 15 miles of mostly paved trail that connects the South Rim's most popular sights.

    The other two trails are the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail, which both lead you into the Canyon.

    Bright Angel Trail is the most popular day hike in the South Rim because of how close it is to the Visitor Center and Bright Angel Lodge. Bright Angel Trail is less steep than South Kaibab Trail, but it is also two miles longer. The trail descends 4460 ft (1360m) to the Colorado River, along a 7.8 mile (12.6 km) trail.

    South Kaibab Trail is steeper, shorter, and more direct than Bright Angel. The trail descends to the Colorado River after three rest stops on the way to the canyon floor. The elevation change from the rim to the river is 4860 feet (1480m) over a 6.3 mile (10.1 km) trail..

    Best Hikes To Do For Your Skill Level

    For Beginners The aforementioned Rim Trail is perfect. 

    Hiking the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point, a 2 mile round trip that can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, is a more moderate hike. You can also hike the Bright Angel Trail to Mile-And-A-Half Resthouse, which is a 3 mile roundtrip that will take you about 2 to 4 hours to get down and back up.

    Intermediate hikers can try the South Kaibab Trail's 3 mile round trip hike to Cedar Ridge which can take between 2 to 4 hours, and Bright Angel's 6 mile round trip to 3 Mile Resthouse which will take about 3 to 6 hours.

    For Advanced Hikers day hiking South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point is a 6 mile round trip that will take around 4 to 6 hours. On Bright Angel Trail hiking to Indian Garden is a 9 mile round trip which will take you about 6-9 hours.

    Which trail is easier, the South Kaibab or the Bright Angel?  Both trails are well-maintained, but they are very strenuous and require hiking numerous switchbacks. Like we mentioned previously, The Bright Angel Trail is about 2 miles longer, but it has water, some shade, and Indian Garden, which is a great place to stop for a rest.

    If you want to hike down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon, it's best to do it as an overnight hike. There are actually signs all over the park recommending as much. Many people, however, still do this as a day hike, and it can take up to 14 hours or longer. Day hikes to the canyon's floor and back are only for experienced hikers with a high level of fitness. Because of the lack of water and the steepness of the South Kaibab Trail, rangers recommend hiking down this trail only - and then returning via the Bright Angel Trail, which also has water.

    What To Wear

    Wear Proper Footwear - if you’re hiking into the canyon you’ll need durable footwear. 

    Wear A Hat & Sunscreen - The sun is usually beaming down on the trails so you’ll need sunscreen and a hat while hiking.

    Layer Your Clothing - I wore a heavy winter coat, but if I were to do this trip again, I would leave it at home. Instead, I would layer my clothing. As the day warmed up, I could simply remove layers and stuff them into a backpack. On this trip, my jacket became quite heavy to carry around at times. While hiking down South Kaibab, I had to take off my jacket and stuff it into a backpack due to the heat.

    Wear Spikes - if you’re visiting in the winter, it’s very possible that the trail can get icy, if this is the case you may need to grab a pair of crampons. While it may not be too much trouble hiking down an icy trail, hiking up will be very difficult.

    Best Viewpoints For Sunrise

    If you're staying overnight in Grand Canyon National Park, I highly recommend getting up early one morning to see the sunrise. Sunrises at the Grand Canyon are stunning. Mather Point is one of the best places to watch the sunrise, but it is also a popular spot. If you want a more secluded view, Yavapai Point and the Desert View Watchtower are great places to watch the sunrise.

    Best Viewpoints For Sunset 

    Sunsets in the Grand Canyon are also breathtaking. Hermit Road has some of the best sunset views on the South Rim. Hermit Road is accessible by shuttle for the majority of the year, but from December to March, the shuttle doesn't run, and you can instead drive the Hermit Road and park right next to a vantage point. For sunsets, we recommend going to Mohave Point or Hopi Point; they are unquestionably the best places to watch the sunset in Grand Canyon National Park.

    Where To Stay

    Lodging in the Grand Canyon is plentiful, but it tends to fill up quickly, especially during peak season from spring to autumn. If you want to save the most money, camping is your best bet.

    The National Park Service operates Mather Campground, Trailer Village, and Desert View. The campground is open from mid-May to mid-October. Campsites are $15. Stays are limited to seven days per season.

    You can also stay in one of several hotels in nearby Tusayan which is just 11 miles down the road and is where the Grand Canyon national park airport is located. During the time of our visit the hotels in Tusayan were priced similarly to the lodges within the Canyon. We figured staying in the canyon would be a cooler experience so we decided to do that.

    We stayed at Yavapai Lodge during our visit because it was the most affordable option at the time. The El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, and Maswik Lodge are also excellent places to stay when visiting the Grand Canyon National Park. Our stay came up to only $122 per night and we stayed a total of three nights.

    I should also mention that we received some additional hotel discounts with our GAFFL Unlimited Memberships. As a GAFFL Unlimited member you can save up to 60% of select hotels around the world. These rates are private for GAFFL Unlimited members and not available to the general public. Click here to learn more about a GAFFL Unlimited Membership. 

    Where To Eat

    There’s several places to get food scattered all over the South Rim. During our stay, we ate mostly at the Yavapai Lodge, and Bright Angel Lodge. Most of our dinners were at Yavapai  Lodge, which has a decent selection of food. It's also a nice place to hang out to meet people, especially by the fire pit outside. 

    We had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge, and also ate a meal at Maswik Lodge. There’s also a humongous general store that is well stocked in case you want to make something yourself.

    Our favorite meal in the grand canyon was the Pizza at Bright Angel Lodge. It was so good that we had it three times!

    Best Time To Visit

    In my personal opinion, winter is the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. It does get cold in the winter, while we were there in late February it was below freezing and it snowed one night. Even still, I'd recommend visiting in the winter because during the day it warms up quite a bit, and it’s comfortable hiking weather if you layer appropriately. Also lodging is so much cheaper during the winter months, and the crowds are far fewer.

    Also, like we mentioned previously, Hermit Road is open to private vehicles in the winter so you can literally drive around the whole park and park anywhere you want. Because of these factors, I think winter is the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park.

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