Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon
Our family just visited the Grand Canyon for the first time. I can’t believe it took us so long to visit such a beautiful, awe-inspiring national treasure. If you’re planning your first visit, here are some tips we learned from our recent trip:
Grand Canyon Lodging
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year round, and the less-traveled North Rim is only opened in the summer months from mid-May through mid-October. Reserve lodging well in advance of your trip, especially in the summer months when the Grand Canyon is a very popular destination.
According to the National Park Service, in the summer months of 2015 alone, the Grand Canyon Park hosted more than two million visitors! There are several lodging options within the park; the campsites, four lodges and an historic hotel and can be reserved on the Park Service website.
Outside the park, you can also opt to stay in the gateway community of Tusayan, which is about a 10-minute drive from the park entrance. If you plan to visit in the summer months (mid-May through mid-September), the park service offers a free shuttle service from Tusayan to the park. Please note that adults will still be required to purchase a park entrance pass ($15/person, valid for 7 days), but visitors ages 15 and under are free!
Grand Canyon Entrance Fees for Cars
Car visitors to Grand Canyon National Park must purchase a vehicle pass to enter. The pass is $30 per vehicle (also valid for 7 days), but you don’t have to wait in the long lines at the park entrance; you can buy vehicle passes at the National Geographic store and other locations in advance. Then, when approaching the park entrance, use the far left lane which is for vehicles who have already purchased passes.
There are several special days when the Grand Canyon and other National Parks are free to enter. If you are a frequent visitor to the parks, you may want to consider one of the National Park annual passes, some of which can be free for certain groups.
Grand Canyon Shuttle Buses and Tours
The National Geographic store in the neighboring town of Tusayan also offers bus shuttle services, which allows you to avoid paying the vehicle pass and eliminates your parking stress during busy times. Once inside the park, the Park Service offers free shuttle bus service to many of the park’s scenic overlooks (many of which are closed to cars anyway). Pink Jeep tours are also available and can be booked at National Geographic.
What to Bring
The dry desert air dries out the skin quickly. On hikes, stay sated and hydrated, and don’t forget your lip balm. Don’t worry if you forget something; there are gift shops located throughout the park that sell sundry items.
There are also multiple locations to refill your water bottles, depending on the season. When we visited this spring, there were still some taps near the bathrooms that were winterized. However, we were pleased to discover fresh spring water taps were functioning at Yavapai Point and the Bright Angel trailhead. Refreshing!
Grand Canyon Restaurants
There are several restaurants located at the lodges within the park serving three meals per day, and snacks are available at the Visitor Center and at the camping area grocery. We ate lunch at the El Tovar Hotel and were pleasantly surprised at the varied menu of fresh sandwiches, chili and salads. The prices were the same as those in nearby Tusayan, but the food was better!
Some Final Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon…
- While driving through the park, keep your camera at the ready. Elk and deer are everywhere and are seemingly unafraid of humans, providing plenty of close-up photo opportunities.
- There is a wealth of information at the Visitor Center: ranger talks, maps, hiking trail advisories and the all-important bathrooms. Before your trip, check online for a list of ranger talks being given during your visit. The day we visited, there were a number of interesting topics that our kids would have enjoyed.
- Please note that cellular service is VERY unreliable all around the park. My husband had service at certain times, but I didn’t have service at all. Make sure to upload and/or print out all necessary information in advance.
- If you’re not interested in booking a mule for the three-hour rim trail tour, you might be interested to know that there are horse stables located just outside the park entrance. Apache stables offer one-hour or two-hour horse or wagon rides through the forests near the Grand Canyon.
One day, my family plans to return to the Grand Canyon to take the mule ride trip down to the bottom of the canyon and stay at Phantom Ranch, where visitors can stay in dormitories or cabins. Advanced reservations for meals and accommodations are required and recommended as they can be made as early as 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. If you’ve made that trip, I would love to hear how you liked it!
You may also enjoy:
- Visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids
- Hiking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with Kids
- National Parks to Visit near 6 U.S. Western Cities
- 10 Tips for Visiting National Parks with Kids
- Day trips to the Grand Canyon are also possible from DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Flagstaff and Hilton Sedona Resort.
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Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.