Joined: 04 Jan 2003
| Posted: 8/24/2003, 10:58 pm
|Beginnerís Guide to Grand Canyon National Park
Iíve been to Grand Canyon National Park countless times since first visiting in 1994. At that time, it was a different place. We had arrived during the night and parked along the road. We walked a few hundred feet to Powell Point and rolled out our sleeping bags. A few hours later, as the sun rose in the East, I sat transfixed by something I could not fathom. Iíd never expected the colors, the depth, the vastness, and the hugeness! Iíd seen the Brady Bunch. I watched Alice and the gang ride the mules down the trial. I read Backpacker Magazine and had seen plenty of pictures of Grand Canyon. I thought I knew what to expect. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw that day. Amazing.
Having moved to Arizona, Grand Canyon is much more accessible than it had been living in Illinois. We visit often. Most often we are acting as tour guides to visiting family and friends. We have spent time at the Rim, and below the Rim. Both are amazing places, yet very different. Walking along the Rim, with Buffett (our dog), finding a quiet bench or secluded spot and just staring at the wonders of the Canyon is a great way to spend a few hours. Lifting a backpack and heading down Bright Angel as tourists stare in disbelief yet another. These are great ways to experience the Canyon. However, before you head to Grand Canyon National Park, there are some things you should know.
Tourist Contact Information
Grand Canyon National Park 520.638.7888
Backcountry Office 520.638.7888
Lodging within the park 303.297.2757
Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce 520.638.2901
Grand Canyon River Guides (river trips) 520.773.1075
Grand Canyon mule rides 520.638.2631
Helicopter tours 800.528.2418
Havasupai Reservations 800.622.4409 / 520.448.2121
Weather and When To Visit
South Rim Ė
The most popular and the most crowded of the Rims. The South Rim sees millions of visitors each year. Summer is popular, obviously. Winter is cold, so there are fewer visitors, however, the most optimal time period would be Spring or Fall due to moderate temperatures. If you plan to hike within the Canyon, do so during this time also. If you are visiting during the summer you will be hitting the Canyon at peak tourist season. Prepare yourself for long lines, traffic jams, and parking issues. Daytime Summer temperatures can reach above 100 with lows in the 50s, so pack accordingly and plan to layer your clothing. Spring and Fall temperatures can range from highs in the 70ís to around the 30ís at night. Winter temperatures drop below the 20ís. Road conditions are usually excellent, however excessive snow can lead to the main access road being closed.
North Rim Ė
Winter isnít an option here, as this Rim is closed. The elevation is over 1000 feet higher than the South Rim. Weather permitting; roads are open May through October. Youíll want to dress in layers, as temperature swings are similar at the North Rim. It is of course a bit cooler being at higher elevation. Approximately 90% of Grand Canyon visitors head to the South Rim, so crowds are not as much a concern at the North Rim.
Letís look at some temperature comparisons created by the National Park:
South Rim Inner Gorge North Rim
Max Min Max Min Max Min
January 41 18 56 36 37 16
April 60 32 82 56 53 29
July 84 54 106 78 77 46
October 65 36 84 58 59 31
Remember, these temperatures are taken in the shade of which there is little on many Canyon trails. Use these numbers only as estimates.
Getting to Grand Canyon
The park entrance is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a $20 per vehicle fee to enter Grand Canyon.
Highway 64 out of Williams or Highway 180 from Flagstaff accesses the South Rim. The Desert View area is accessed from Flagstaff via 89 then 64. This is an alternate entrance to the park. A public bus shuttle is operated out of Flagstaff through Hopi Bus Lines (520.774.5003). Amtrak connections from Flagstaff are done by bus shuttle. The Grand Canyon Railway offers train service to the South Rim from Williams (1.800.THE.TRAIN)
The North Rim is over 200 miles by car from the South Rim. From Jacob Lake, Arizona the park boundary is 30 miles south with the North Rim an additional 14 miles south. The only public transportation to the North Rim is via the Trans Canyon Shuttle (520.638.2820) from the South Rim.
The Inner Gorge is accessible via hiking/pack trail. Numerous trail options are available.
Two options, inside the park or outside the park, are available. Inside the park lodging is booked well in advance. Reservations are available through AmFac (303.297.2757). Many lodging options are available with prices ranging from $46 to $284 per night. Outside the park accommodations are available in Tusayan, 7 miles south of the South Rim. Some options include Holiday Inn Express (520.638.3000), Grand Canyon Suites (520.638.3100) and Red Feather Lodge (520.638.2414)
Camping inside the park is limited to established campgrounds. When hiking in the Inner Gorge, permits are required for the established campgrounds. A few remote sites are available via permit.
Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village. Tent and RV (no hook-ups) camping is available. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season. Contact Spherics (1.800.365.2267) to reserve a site up to 5 months in advance. Fees range from $10 to $15 with a maximum 2-vehicles/6 people per site. Sites are first come, first served from December 1 to March 1.
Trailer Village offers RV sites with hook-ups. Sites are $20 per site and can be reserved (303.297.2757).
Desert View Campground is located 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village and is open mid May through mid-October. Sites are $10 and are first come, first served.
Camping outside the park is available at Ten-X Campground 2 miles south of Tusayan. The campground is open May to September and rarely fills. Sites are first come, first served and cost $10 per vehicle per night. Camper Village (520.638.2887)offers RV camping with hook-ups in Tusayan with fees between $15-$23.
Day Hiking in Grand Canyon
THE GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK RECOMMENDS THAT YOU DO NOT TRY TO HIKE FROM THE RIM TO THE RIVER AND BACK TO THE RIM IN ONE DAY.
That having been said, another point of note is that there are no loop hikes that can be done as day hikes in the Canyon. This means that you will be hiking on the same trail in both directions. Letís look at some day hike options
Rim Trails Ė these trails are on the Rim and accessible from any viewing area. They are paved and easy to follow. There is minimal elevation change and great views! These trails are of course the most populated, as you will encounter the masses at each of the viewing areas. Use The Guide, which is the Grand Canyon visitorís guide, in determining where along the Rim youíd like to walk.
Bright Angel Ė popular trail starting from the west side of Bright Angel Lodge, steep and can be icy. At the 1-Ĺ mile mark and the 3-mile mark are rest houses. From the Rim to Indian Garden campground is a 9-mile round trip hike. Water is available at Indian Garden. Plateau Point is considered an EXTREMELY STRENOUS 12 mile hike. The view from Plateau Point is amazing. If looking down from the Rim you can see the trail leading out to Plateau Point. The trail appears to lead right off the edge. This is a tough day hike. Stay within your ability level.
South Kaibab Ė begins south of Yaki Point and is considered steep. There is little water and no shade. Ooh Aah Point is a 1.5-mile round trip hike with 780 feet in elevation change. Cedar Ridge is a 3 mile round trip with an 1100 foot change in elevation and, a toilet. To get a view of the river, youíll need to hike to Skeleton Point, which is a 6 mi, 4-6 hour round trip hike.
Grandview Trail Ė begins at Grandview Point and is very steep. There are narrow sections and no water. Possible turn around locations include Coconino Saddle for a 1.5 mile round trip hike with 2000 feet in elevation change or Horseshoe Mesa for a 6 mile round trip hike. Remember, no water! This trail is unmaintained.
Hermit Trail Ė begins near Hermits Rest and is unmaintained and steep. A 3-mile round trip hike takes you to Waldron Basin with a 1600-foot elevation change. Santa Maria Spring is a 5-mile round trip hike. A 7-mile round trip hike takes you to Dripping Springs, with 1700 feet in elevation change.
Backpacking in Grand Canyon
A backcountry permit is required for all overnight backpacking. Plan to reserve your permit about 4 months prior to your planned hike. There is a fee of $10 per permit and $5 per person per night. Please abide by these Park Service requirements, the permits are not in place to make money, but rather to regulate the number of people using the limited number of sites available within the Canyon.
There are numerous possible routes for overnight hikers within the Canyon. Rather than present them here, I will say that the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails are heavily used. Bright Angel Campground at the Colorado River/Phantom Ranch is popular, with bathrooms and even a phone. Access to this area requires crossing the Colorado River on one of two suspension bridges. Phantom Ranch caters to mule riders (and hikers) with cabins and meals and must be reserved months if not years in advance. Indian Garden on the Bright Angel Trail is a popular overnight rest stop. Again, restrooms and water is available.
Things To Keep In Mind
Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke, and Hypothermia are very real possibilities when hiking at Grand Canyon. Stay within your ability level and bring more water than you think youíll need. Donít be that guy that takes his family down the trail to the river with only a can of coke and bottle of water. Laugh, but it really happened. Falling is also a possibility. Grand Canyon is deep. You donít want to slip and fall. Stay away from the edge. The Colorado River is cold and flows quickly. Take necessary precautions if you intend to go for a swim. Encountering animals enhances the outdoor experience. Donít ruin it by trying to feed or pet wild animals. They are dangerous and will hurt you. Yes, even the pretty deer. Sadly, car accidents are also a concern. There are a lot of people visiting. Be aware of yourself, and others.
If you are exploring the Inner Gorge, stay within your ability level. Rescue from the Canyon is considered an ambulance service. Youíll be billed about $2000 for the helicopter ride. Stay within your ability and be safe!
Grand Canyon is an amazing place. I can, and have, spent hours just wondering around the Rim and Village. Each time I visit, it is a new experience. Yes there are crowds, yes there are tourists who donít know what the heck they are doing. Iíve been amazed at what Iíve seen people do. Iíve seen people try to feed mule deer. Iíve seen an entire tour group turn its back on the Canyon view to take pictures of a squirrel. Iíve seen a child let one of the HUGE Canyon Ravens peck at his ice cream cone. Once, while sitting quietly enjoying the view with Buffett, I listened to a tour guide field questions from his tour group. This cowboy handled the questions marvelously. When asked ďWho made the Canyon?Ē, he replied ďThe Indians dug it millions of years ago.Ē He didnít miss a beat. Smiling, I caught his eye, and he winked at me. I donít know if he ever told them the truth, for they seemed to believe his answer.
The Grand Canyon is called the House of Stone and Light. Itís called an upside down mountain range, itís called a Wonder of the World. It is all these things and more. Contact the Grand Canyon National Park and request material before your visit. Plan what youíll do and where youíll go. Enjoy your visit.
If you walk along the Rim and see a good looking dog sitting patiently with his owner, chances are itís Buffet and me. Say hi! And remember...
The Journey is the Destination
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