“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is…Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Visiting the Grand Canyon was something that I always wanted to do but never found a good opportunity to do it. I am someone who appreciates the majesty of nature and revels in the endless creativity that the universe has displayed when forming a place like this. I expected to be amazed by the scale of this place but actually seeing it was something way more magical and something that I will remember forever.
Grand Canyon National Park was the first stop on our road trip to several national parks between Arizona and Utah. When we finally felt comfortable traveling on a plane, we decided to plan a trip domestically since international travel is banned due to, you know, what Cardi B said "CORONA VIRUS!!!!!"...
How We Got There
It turns out that October was the perfect time for this trip. We flew into Las Vegas from Orlando via Spirit Airlines and got an amazing price on the flight - just $50 one-way, including taxes. We rented a small SUV and hit the road! But not without stopping for some In-n-Out (if you know, you know!). The 3.5-hour drive to the south rim city of Valle was pleasant and it was nice to see the change in vegetation as the elevation went from 2,000 feet to about 6,000. We arrived just as the sun was setting and we treated ourselves to a cold local brew before calling it a night.
Where We Stayed
We spent two nights in Valle, Arizona at Grand Canyon Inn and Motel. The hotel itself was pretty standard and the cost for the 2 nights was $169.
The drive to the town just before the entrance to the south rim, Grand Canyon Village, is about 22 miles north. While the hotel we chose did offer the basic amenities we wanted, but I would recommend staying in the town of Grand Canyon Village for more convenience and options.
The Grand Canyon South Rim
Driving into the Grand Canyon's South Rim was an easy drive through Kaibab National Forrest. We stopped in the town of Grand Canyon Village on our way, ate breakfast at the most expensive McDonald's you could imagine (and we only went there because we were expecting something fast and cheap), and grabbed some items to make sandwiches in the park. We also made some beautiful friends just before entering the park.
You might be like me and wonder where do you even start? Especially in a time like now with lots of uncertainty of what's available! However, the National Park Service did a great job informing visitors of what's available and some suggested activities based on the duration of your stay. We were just planning on spending the day there, so we decided to hike along the South Rim, which was more like a casual walk of several miles along a comfortable paved path overlooking the canyon.
We started our walk at Mather Point, which is near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and parking lots 1 through 3. We expected to not have any service so we downloaded an offline Google Map and pinned our parking location (because I have a terrible memory) but the park also has really great maps like the one above. Our first views of the canyon were both jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring!
We hiked about 2 miles from Mater Point to Village where most of the park's buildings are located, including the famous El Tovar Hotel. Each turn on the path, whether an obvious man-made overlook or just a natural bump out of the canyon walls, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the perspective that each location offered. There were so many times that I said, "ok, this is the last photo I will take for a while," and then I took at least 100 more... Here are some of the photos I took along this stretch of the canyon.
While we stayed off-property, I did enjoy seeing the hotel and village and could imagine that it would be a great experience for anyone, but particularly for families to really be immersed in the history of the Grand Canyon. Here are some photos of that area. You can also see the super fancy meal that we had, where the real highlight was the view!
From here we took the Grand Canyon Shuttle down the Red Route towards Hermits Rest. The shuttle was an excellent way to see many of the South Rim's epic views without putting in a ton of effort. Even with social distancing and wearing masks, the shuttles were comfortable and the drivers helped make the experience all the more enjoyable.
Here are some of the views along that route.
We took the shuttle back from Hermits Rest to the Village. Having had a great experience with the shuttle service, we decided it made sense to hop on the shuttle back to the Visitor's Center where we parked. Unfortunately, because of limited operations, this route was closed and we learned that the shuttle service had only recently returned to the park in its current capacity. Instead of walking back on the Rim Trail which we did in the morning, we decided to take a bike route that cuts through a wooded area and ran basically parallel to the trail. Being mid-afternoon at this point, the tree-covered and paved path was welcomed!
For Next Time...
Since this was part of a multi-day/park trip, we only visited Grand Canyon National Park for this day. My recommendation would be to spend two days at this magical place! If we had another day I would have definitely hiked down into the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. There are portions of this trail that can be done roundtrip in a day (depending on how far and hard you want to go) and provide a different perspective of the canyon.
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