Guide To Your First Visit To The Grand Canyon. What To Do, Where To Stay, Tips & Much More
Have you thought about visiting the Grand Canyon but don't know where to start? That's exactly how I felt when we were initially planning our first Grand Canyon family adventure. There's so much to see and do and narrowing it all down can be a bit overwhelming. After all, The Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world and stretches an impressive 227 miles long and averages over ten miles wide. Yes, it's huge. If you're anything like myself, you don't just want a pretty picture but you want to really get a sense of the canyons history, explore, and make the most out of your family travel. Down below I'm going to share some of the things you can't miss on your first visit, specially if you are short of time and traveling as a family. Although nearly impossible to explore the whole canyon, you will leave your trip with a better understanding of why so many flock all year round to visit the Grand Canyon's impressive and natural grandeur. Of course I'll also share where to get the best views for that perfect picture.
I'm going to start by saying that the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most accessible and most popular section of the canyon to visit. Unlike the North Rim, the South Rim remains open all year round, 24 hours a day for all to enjoy. There's also plenty of things to do and see for all ages and skill levels. This Grand Canyon Travel blog will focus on the South Rim.
Things To Do
South Kaibab Trail
This is by far one of the most impressive hikes we've done to date. If you are going to do one trail at the Grand Canyon, this is the one! The trail has panoramic views unparalleled to any other trail at Grand Canyon. It is the only trail in the park that so dramatically holds true to a ridgeline decent. Hiking on top of the ridge with beautiful views and drops to both sides feels surreal. It feels as though you are walking on top of the world. The trail has several rest points. First one being the Ooh Aah Point which is a total of 1.8 miles out and back. Second stop was to Cedar Ridge which is 2.8 miles out and back and gives you stunning 360 degree views. I did not find the path down the mountain uncomfortably narrow at any point. The trail is very well maintained. However, important to keep in mind is that on your way back up the canyon the whole hike is at an incline so give yourself enough time to take it slow and steady.
Bathroom located before trail and at Cedar Ridge Point
No public parking available to access trail. Access is by foot, bicycle, or shuttle bus only. You can take the Kaibab Ridge Orange route from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (just to name a location). See up to date route here
Full sun hike, so wear a hat and sunblock
Bring plenty of water and snacks
Over-the-shoe traction devices are highly recommended during early spring or winter. Some snow and ice patches were present during our visit in December on the starting portion of the hike. These are the traction devices we used and recommend ://amzn.to/3GYe4pG
Dress in layers as winters get very cold or to protect yourself from the sun in the summer.
Bright Angel Trail
This is one of the most popular hikes at the Grand Canyon and understandably so. You pass 2 rock tunnels, one very early on, that open up to a vast view of the canyon. There are numerous switch backs but the views are beautiful the whole way to the 1.5 mile resthouse. Having visited in December snow, sludge and some ice was found along the way. Over-the-shoe-traction devices are highly recommended and extremely helpful.
Another beautiful trail to admire the canyons erosion and different rock formations up close. As with the previous hike, the hike back up is full incline so take your time, have plenty of water, snacks and only go as far as you and your family feel comfortable doing so. Parking is easily accessible right by the beginning of trail or near by.
The Rim Trail
If you're looking for an easy to moderate trail with amazing views, this is it. This mostly paved and leveled 13 mile trail takes you from the South Kaibab Trailhead all the way west to the Hermits Rest. The beauty of this hike is that its very well marked, and you can choose portions of the trail to hike. You can park, do a portion of it and turn back around. This trail is on the rim of the canyon and does not allow you to descend into the canyon but the views are just as incredible.
Sunrise & Sunset
There really isn't a wrong or right place to see the sunrise or sunset. I just advise you to do them both and if possible do them more then once. We viewed the sunset and sunrise twice during our visit and both were incredibly different and beautiful in their own way. Warning: During winter time, sunrise and sunset can be extremely cold. Layer layer layer!
Rim trail behind Hopi House/ El Tovar Hotel- tons of parking
Hopi point- crowded but with amazing direct sunset views. Turns the canyon and trees a deep orange that looks like it's all glowing.
TIP: After sunset drive back on hermit trail towards the village to see cotton candy skies found between Maricopa and Trailview overlook point. By this time many are heading out of the park but make sure and stop at the tournabout found right after Maricopa point. Hopefully the sky shows off for you, like it did for us.
Rim trail behind Hopi House/El Tovar Hotel- tons of parking
During our first visit to the Grand Canyon we were eager to see and experience the Canyon further then just the rim. Over dinner we all had a spur of the moment idea and booked a helicopter ride above the Grand Canyon.
We were excited for 1, our first helicopter ride and 2, to see the canyon in all its glory. It was an unforgettable tour and one we highly recommend if you want to give yourself the gift of an unforgettable experience.
The pilot pointed out and explained everything we were seeing during our 45 minutes ride. This was just one of many options! If you are planning a visit and this is something you’d like to add to your itinerary, I’d highly recommend Maverick Helicopters. They even fly out of Vegas! The following link is the specific tour we did https://www.maverickhelicopter.com/grand-canyon-south-rim-tour
Places To Eat
We enjoyed a breakfast, lunch and dinner at this restaurant found at the Grand Canyon Village. Delish food, beautiful location, and great service.
Don't let the tavern part fool you. The food was really tasty and flavorful. If you enjoy spice, get the potato salad. It's spicy but so good. Also their elk burger, which is more like a sandwich was delicious. I'd definitely try it again. Unfortunately you'll have to take my word for it. Pictures were forgotten as soon as the food arrived.
We traveled the week before Christmas. Would we travel in the Winter to the Grand Canyon again? Absolutely! Far less crowds... no crowds at all actually, easy to get restaurant reservations and we had ideal hiking weather. It was cold however nothing layering couldn't fix. I would not rule out visiting in the Winter, in fact I would encourage it.
Things You Need For Your Visit
Entrance to the park is $35.00 per vehicle and pass is good for 7 days. You can purchase pass here
Depending on the time of year, South rim entrance can be congested. Plan to enter before 7am to avoid long lines if possible.
Shuttle routes differ in the Winter when Hermit Road is open to private vehicles. See Winter updated routes here
Over-the-shoe traction devices are highly recommended during early spring or winter. We found them extremely helpful during our hikes since we visited in the winter and did come across some snow, ice and sludge on some of our hikes. These are the exact ones we used and recommend ://amzn.to/3GYe4pG
Where To Stay
We love a good Airbnb and we found the perfect one just a short 25 min drive from the South Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon! We stayed at the beautiful home called The Retreat! The Retreat sleeps up to 5 people and sits on a 30 acre ranch . The home is bright, beautiful, impeccably clean, and private with tons of outdoor space and amazing night sky views. It included all the amenities we needed like a fully equipped kitchen, fast WI-FI, air conditioning/heating and so much more. Plus the host Pat is extremely helpful and welcoming.
Personally I loved staying in an Airbnb! It's nice to be able to brew our coffee first thing in the mornings, have a fridge full of snacks and a fully functioning kitchen for a home cooked meal. I love coming back after a day of fun to all the comforts of a home.
Traveling with a bigger group? Well "The Haven" also sits in this 30 acre ranch and sleeps 7! It's just as beautiful as the previous house only with more space for a bigger group or family. You can see that listing here! We highly recommend either of these properties for your next visit.
We had a wonderful first trip to the Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon and really felt like we got to experience so much in such a short amount of time. We all felt we got the full experience and really saw some key elements that make the Grand Canyon the special family friendly travel destination that it is. Of course there's plenty more hikes to do, but if you're short on time these are some you absolutely should prioritize and not miss on your families first Grand Canyon Travel Adventure.
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