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 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, and it’s one of my earliest memories of being inspired to go visit.
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.
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
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.
From what we were told, the North Rim doesn’t get near the amount of visitors that the South 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.
North Rim Grand Canyon
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.
Our first morning we were up at the crack of dawn to begin our 9 mile hike down into the canyon.
It was easy going down and 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 and that it was the North Rim there were very few people on the trail, making it even more enjoyable.
We stopped at rising springs which is the water supply for the North and South rims 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 it’s 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. And half day inner canyon trips are usually available on a daily basis.
We had a beautiful lunch in the restaurant right on the North Rim which has amazing uninterrupted views over the canyon. Our meal of choice was a delicious salmon burger washed down with a few cold beers.
We then took a drive to various viewpoints with a glimpse of the Colorado river along the way.
South Rim Grand Canyon
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 down there impacts the Grand Canyon a lot and clouds it in a hazy fog.
However it was an incredibly beautiful view. 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.
We hiked 12 miles down into the canyon. It wasn’t as hard as the North Rim hike as it was flat in a lot of areas and not as steep.
Although it was much hotter as it was 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
President Roosevelt visited in 1903 and exclaimed:
“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.”
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:
Accommodation at the Grand Canyon
- Booking.com has over 130 properties in the Grand Canyon area including hotels, motels, B&B’s and apartments. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
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