Our four day Grand Canyon Vacation was one of many mini-vacations all rolled into one during our three month road trip across the USA.
I have wanted to visit the Grand Canyon for as long as I can remember, and it was one of 3 spectacular canyons we visited on our USA road trip.
Like most kids growing up at my age, I was a fan of the Brady Bunch TV show and still clearly remember the episode of their Grand Canyon vacation,which inspired me to visit.
UPDATE: This trip to the Grand Canyon was in 2006 when we road tripped the country as a couple. We have since been back twice with our two daughters. Both times to the South Rim, and, on one of those trips we visited the Grand Canyon in the winter! As you can tell, we think it’s one of the best national parks in the USA.
We have updated this post with new and better images. We weren’t travel blogging as a living then so our photos were pretty amateur and uninspiring!!
In this post we’ll share how you can experience a four day vacation to the Grand Canyon, including the north and south rim, which is what we did. We are so glad we spent time at the North Rim, as it is a much quieter and different experience.
It all starts with the Colorado River
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries which cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.
Recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, one mile deep, and 18 miles wide and shaped by the master chisel, the Colorado River.
I could just stare at it all day long and never be bored or blasé about it. We travel to stay connected to wonder and awe – there is no better place that the Grand Canyon to feel awe.
“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world…Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”President Roosevelt, 1903
Our road trip had followed the Colorado River down from her beginnings in the Rocky Mountains and we saw how she grew and widened, her twists and turns carving her magic and forming her overwhelming size.
Take your time and explore the Grand Canyon – North and South Rim
Not wanting to be one of the 5 million tourists that visit the Grand Canyon each year and stay for just 15 minutes to get their “I was here photo”, we set aside four days to explore and take in one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
We decided to split our time in half and spend two days on the North Rim and two days on the South Rim.
From what we were told, the North Rim doesn’t get near the amount of visitors that the South Rim does, which we found to be true, so we wanted take advantage of that.
We also wanted to experience the Grand Canyon from as many viewpoints as possible to see it’s beauty, to see the different shades of light, and to go on as many hikes as possible.
Whilst seeing the Grand Canyon from the top of the rim is breathtaking, the real experience comes from hiking down into the canyon and feeling it’s power and beauty all around you.
As you walk down through the different layers you get to witness the changing colors and landscape right in front of you. It’s truly awe inspiring.
Visiting the North Rim Grand Canyon (2 Days)
The North Rim, or “other side” of Grand Canyon is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors. It’s the off the beaten path experience you are looking for as the South Rim gets way too overcrowded.
The North rim is closed during the winter, whereas the South is open and less busier than summer.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon provides an experience of solitude and serenity. We highly recommend it.
We first arrived at the North Rim and saw our first sunset which was spectacular.
The canyons overwhelming size and the changing colors with the light is an unforgettable experience.
Our lodging of choice was to camp at the North Rim campground within the park. We love camping and the facilities were more than adequate.
Besides camping, the Grand Canyon Lodge is the only other lodging inside the national park on the North Rim. As well as camping, lodging is also booked well in advance so try to plan ahead as early as possible.
Roaring Springs, North Kaibab hike in the North Rim
Our first morning we were up at the crack of dawn to begin our 9 mile round trip hike down into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
We decided to hike down to Roaring Springs, which is the water supply for the North and South Rim. The springs lie 3050 ft below the canyon rim. The hike is strenuous and takes about 7-8 hours. This is the stopping point recommended for day hikes along the Kaibib Trail.
Don’t attempt the hike down to Roaring Springs unless you are on the trail before 7 am. It’s just too dangerous after that time with soaring temperatures. Bear in mind, the strenuous part to the hike begins on your way back.
Roaring Springs is on the North Kaibab Trail, which is the only maintained trail into the canyon from the North Rim.
Even a short hike along this trail to Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles / 2.4 km round-trip) or Supai Tunnel (4 miles / 6.5 km round-trip) is a great hike and will give you enough insight into he canyon’s rich natural beauty and immense size.
The Roaring Springs hike is easy going down. We passed through all the layers starting with the alpine forests down through the red rock, limestone, and sandstone.
The fact that it was early, it was the North Rim there were very few people on the trail, made it even more enjoyable. You do share this trail with mules so be careful.
We stopped at Roaring Springs and then we began the climb back out.
It was an awesome hike, albeit strenuous on the way out. It wasn’t too bad until the last hour when it got steeper and the heat of the sun started to take its toll.
But it was great to experience the quiet stillness and grandeur of the inner canyon.
I highly recommend you experience the wild and remote feeling of the North Rim. Solitude can be found hiking the trails whilst enjoying the awe-inspiring views.
For those less physically fit consider a mule trip, which are offered from mid May to mid October. North Rim mule trips do not go to the river.
Half day inner canyon trips are usually available on a daily basis.
Bright Angel Point
This is the main viewpoint of the North Rim Grand Canyon from Grand Canyon lodge.
From the lodge the paved, 0.5 mile (0.8 km) round-trip trail leads out the spine of the ridge to Bright Angel Point.
This trail is steep in places, with drop-offs and stairs, but provides dramatic views into Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons.
Reward: Lunch at the North Rim with spectacular views
On our next day at the North Rim, we spoiled ourselves with a beautiful lunch in the restaurant right on the North Rim which has amazing uninterrupted views over the canyon.
We were traveling on a budget so wouldn’t normally splurge like this. But with those views, we knew it was a worthy spend.
Our meal of choice was a delicious salmon burger washed down with a few cold beers. Well worth it after that strenuous north rim hike.
North Rim Scenic Drive
We then took a drive to various viewpoints with a glimpse of the Colorado river along the way. There are two main view points that can be reached via the winding scenic drive.
There are short walks at each viewpoint and pullouts along the way with some glimpses of the Colorado River. Allow for at least half a day.
Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet (2,683 meters), overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of Grand Canyon.
Richness is added to these views with layers of red and black Precambrian rocks. It’s a different perspective to what you see at Bright Angel Point,
Cape Royal offers a panoramic view of across the canyon, which makes it popular for both sunrise and sunset.
There is a paved, level trail here to the viewpoint where you can see the turn of the Colorado River at Unkar Delta, which is framed through the natural arch of Angels Window.
Look for the Desert View Watchtower across the canyon on the South Rim. (which is my favorite viewpoint on the South Rim and probably the entire national park.
Visiting the South Rim Grand Canyon (2 days)
Next up we did the long drive to the South Rim. It’s only 10 miles as the raven flies but 210 miles by road.
When we arrived at our first viewpoint our views were obstructed by a haze which we later discovered was due to the Southern California fires going on at the time.
The weather and pollution from California impacts the Grand Canyon a lot and clouds it in a hazy fog.
Despite the haze, it was an incredibly beautiful view and even more spectacular than the North Rim. We also had views of the Colorado River snaking through the canyon.
We spent the afternoon walking along the South Rim. In the evening we took the shuttle to some other viewpoints and listened to a ranger talk about the formation of the canyon which was fascinating.
At days end we watched to sunset over the canyon. It was stunning. A pink and red sky. And a perfect way to end the day.
Plateau Point Hike on Bright Angel Trail, South Rim
We hiked 12 miles down into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, the most popular trail in the Grand Canyon National Park. You can go as far as you like and turn around.
Remember the hardest part of the hike is at the end when you climb back out – and it is steep. So make sure you have reserves in the tank. As for the north rim hike, be sure to start early!
The hike down to Plateau Point – 12 miles round trip – wasn’t as hard as the North Rim hike as it was flat in a lot of areas and not as steep.
But it was longer, and much hotter, The hike into the South Rim is a lot more open than the North side with not as much shade which made it tiring and challenging.
Once again we started our hike very early in the morning just as the sun was rising, casting a soft light over the canyon.
We hiked down to Plateau Point where you get fantastic views of the inner gorge and the Colorado river. It was well worth the effort.
On our return hike with the sun higher in the sky it got hotter and hotter. Some cramping started to set in, and it got quite exhausting. Luckily we were wearing hats and light clothing and had plenty of water.
We made our way back to the top of the rim just before lunch time. And we couldn’t believe the amount of people just starting their hike.
Whatever you do, in the summer time make the effort to get up early and on the trail at sun up to beat the heat. Don’t make things any more challenging and dangerous than they need to be.
IMPORTANT: read our in-depth post on things to do in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It includes more hikes, scenic drives, spectacular views and things you can do with kids.
Grand Canyon Lodging
We camped on both sides of the rim within the National Park. You can reserve a site for two of the campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park, one on each rim.
Both the South Rim Campground and the North Rim Campground fill up fast so the earlier you book the better.
A variety of other lodging facilities are available
The Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim offers accommodation ranging from around $80 to over $$400.
And the parks free shuttle buses operate on four routes connecting the lodges with restaurants, shops, visitor centers, scenic overlooks and trail heads.
The North Rim Grand Canyon Village, open from mid-May through mid-October, offers similar options. Reservations can be made here.
Where to stay outside the Grand Canyon National Park
For more affordable Grand Canyon accommodation, and hotels that you don’t have to book so far in advance, look in the town of Tusayan, where I stayed with my kids.
As mentioned, we stayed at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel.
It had everything we needed, it was clean, our room was large, and it was an easy 15-minute drive into Grand Canyon Village (we left early each morning, would take longer in peak season).
Read reviews and book the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel with our partner Booking.com.
Search more Grand Canyon Hotels:
- Booking.com has 4 properties to choose from in Tusayan
- TripAdvisor has 10 properties to choose from in Tusayan
Some people even choose to stay in Flagstaff, or are forced too due to no vacancies elsewhere.
This would be my last choice of places to stay near Grand Canyon as it’s a 1.5 hour drive from Flagstaff, which would make for a long day!
See all Flagstaff hotels here.
Grand Canyon Facts:
- The Grand Canyon is in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada.
- The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 metres)
- It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, which became a national park in 1919
- The Grand Canyon National Park is a World Heritage Site and encompasses 1,218,375 acres.
- Scenery, climate and vegetation vary between north and south rims because of different elevations. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.
- Grand Canyon National Park attracts about five million visitors per year.
Grand Canyon Tips:
- In the summer get up early. Start hiking to beat the heat. People have gotten disorientated and died from heat stroke.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the time of year, including hats and raincoats where necessary.
- Wear footwear that is comfortable and sturdy with good grip.
- Don’t hike alone. Know what your destination will be and how to get there.
- Know where water is available. Carry enough of your own water and food for energy.
- Get the weather forecast.
- Choose an appropriate hike. Know your abilities. Know your limits.
- Stay on the trail and never shortcut switchbacks.
Read More: 7 tips for visiting the Grand Canyon in winter
Grand Canyon Directions:
- The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open all year and receives 90% of the park’s visitation. The South Rim has an airport and rail service and is close to Interstate 40
- For detailed directions see how do I get to the south rim?
- The North Rim of the park is more remote and is only open from mid-May through mid-October.There is no airport or rail service so the North Rim village may only be reached by road. (entrance station is 30 miles south of Jacob Lake on Highway 67).
- For detailed directions see how do I get to the North Rim?
Plan Your Grand Canyon Vacation
We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:
Booking flights to Grand Canyon
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Car Rental for the Grand Canyon
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar and has locations in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Las Vegas
Tours of the Grand Canyon
Looking for Grand Canyon tours?
If you don’t have your own car or a rental car and only have a limited amount of time, doing a Grand Canyon day trip from Las Vegas is an option.
Our partners, Get Your Guide, offer a Grand Canyon South Rim day tour.
Get picked up from your Vegas hotel then experience one of the best Grand Canyon tours with a professional guide.
Get all the details and read reviews here. Check out all the Grand Canyon South Rim tours on offer here!
Tours to the Grand Canyon with G Adventures
If you can’t get to the Grand Canyon as an independent traveler, we highly recommend G Adventure tours for their adventurous tours but also how they support local communities and environmentally conscious practices.
See the following tours that pass through the Grand Canyon (and include other epic Southwest USA places to see).
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Do you have any tips for a Grand Canyon vacation? Share in the comments.