National parks

Grand Canyon : do not trust any picture you may see !

22 March 2016
Grand Canyon road trip

Yes, please, do not trust any picture you may have seen from Grand Canyon… Because nothing is comparable to the beauty of this place when you are actually in front of it ! Honestly, I had heard a lot about it and had the chance to see the place on the Internet many times, but I did not know that I would be so impressed by the Grand Canyon ! Pictures, as beautiful as they look like, are far from giving full credits to the park – and you absolutely must stop by if you are in the area. Apart from the fact that it is one of the best places we have visited during this road trip on the US West coast, it is also by far the most surprising. I was kind of expecting hundreds of tourists gathering around an orange crevasse – hmmm… But it was way more than that, and I hope to be back some time to discover more about it !

Road trip Grand Canyon

» Making the detour through Grand Canyon

We went to Grand Canyon from Las Vegas : we left Nevada to reach our third American state, Arizona, further East from the Pacific coast. Count a 5-hour drive including quick stops. The highway does not allow you to drive straight (distance as the crow flies), so you can make a stop at Flagstatt on the way for example. Given the fact that we did not have much time ahead of us and that we were in a hurry to discover this national park, we went straight to Grand Canyon with no transitional stage.

Road trip Grand Canyon

You then have to choose whether you want to visit the North or South Rim ! Both will offer you breathtaking views, but the one located on the North side (around 350km away) is apparently a bit less touristic. In fact, the park welcomes more than 4 millions visitors every year and only 10% actually go to the North Rim ! But you should get your info ahead because it is closed during Winter (from mid-October to mid-May ish). Considering that we were visiting beginning of May, it was all set; we went to the South Rim, opened all year long. You will find a visitor center near Grand Canyon village – where you can chat with the rangers, who will provide you with any useful information about interesting spots and things to do. Last but not least, make sure you book your campground spot in advance because they are hard to get. Campgrounds are booked months in advance during high season.

Road trip Grand Canyon

» What to do at Grand Canyon ?

You can do many various activities there, I will mention a few here after. But on our side, we simply chose to enjoy the endless panoramas the canyon has to offer ! And you will surely have enough to be going on with ! You should get a South Rim map at the visitor center and ask the rangers to mark on it the must-see vista points. Do not forget to ask about the time the sun is going down to get organized according to it and know about the best spot watch sunset. Then, head for the park shuttles. They are free, going on a regular basis and allow you to reach car-free zones as well. (We just had the bad luck to share a ride with annoying French teenagers on a school trip but otherwise the system is very efficient)

Road trip Grand Canyon

We started with Yaki Point and Mather Point – the closest points from the visitor center. We then made several stops West from the Grand Canyon village : Yavapi Point, Maricopa Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point (you will find them all marked on the map below, thanks to Karolin for refreshing my memory !). We ended up at Pima Point to watch the sun going down over the canyon. A must-see show, the colors are absolutely wonderful with this special light ! Do not hesitate to walk on the trails from one point to another, distances are given on the signs. You should also sometimes get off the marked trails to get away from the tourists for a bit, especially to watch sunset in peace and quiet. We simply walked a few hundred meters to find an empty spot with an amazing view. Quick safety warning : be careful not to take inconsiderate risks just for a picture or a look over the canyon. I would not believe it when the guys told us (they are usually often playing with our credulity haha), but a man died on the day we were there because he fell from the edge… The watchword is then : be careful !

PS : do not go to the Grand Canyon Skywalk with the touristic buses ! It probably can be interesting, somehow, but honestly I doubt it is worth the price and once you are on site, it is nearly impossible to enjoy the view because there is quite the crowd. Furthermore, you will not even be allowed to take your own pictures (possibility to buy souvenir pictures at the end of the tour). With no hesitation, I would rather invite you to plan your own trip and select the vista points you are interested in !

For further information, you can consult the park trip planner and guide.

Carte Grand Canyon road trip

» Things I wish to do next time

Pff those stages are definitely always too short, and I have to say that Grand Canyon especially would have deserved a slightly longer stay… But it would have been at the cost of other visits, like Antelope Canyon that we did not want to miss, so it was still a very nice trip. Anyway, I keep in mind a few things to do at Grand Canyon for my next visit :

HIKING IN THE CANYON : Yes, we only stayed on the edge of it, but it is actually possible to hike within the crevasse ! We enjoyed the view over the whole site, but I think that perspectives should be quite impressive looking from below as well, so I hope to get the chance to do that some day. Activity to ban when it is getting warmer, the air at the bottom of the canyon apparently gets very hot.

SAILING ON THE COLORADO : It probably costs an arm and a leg, but why not let yourself drift away to discover Grand Canyon ? I think that for this one, you should be quite selective in choosing your guide, and give priority to smaller groups to fully enjoy it.

FLYING IN A HELICOPTER : I was actually quite surprised not to be bothered by the helicopters flying over the canyon all day long – we even hardly saw one. But it is a major activity there though, I have a lot of friends who did it and their pictures are just amazing. It must be crazy to see everything from above ! You definitely have to plan an extra budget for it,but I would guess it is worth it. It is possible to plan this activity from surrounding cities (Las Vegas, Flagstatt…).

VISITING THE NEARBY VISTA POINTS AND CANYONS : In Arizona, we stayed focus on Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon – the essential attractions of the region. But there are plenty of other places where nature is as magical, I guess it would be worth it to spend a few days exploring the nearby parks and canyons !

But all that will be for next time – fingers crossed ! We were lucky enough to visit Grand Canyon in the first place, and I am glad we took the detour through this amazing park. I recommend that you should not only go there, but also think about the length of your trip according to what you plan on doing once on site. And as usual, do not hesitate to share your own thoughts by commenting here below, or even by posting your pictures on the blog’s Facebook page.

Panorama Grand Canyon

Coucher de soleil Grand Canyon

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  • Reply Charlotte 5 April 2016 at 6 h 17 min

    Hi Estelle,
    Love your article!
    I’m living in San Francisco and I’m planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon (and the area) for 4 days.
    How long do you think I should spend in the Grand Canyon?
    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    • Reply Estelle 5 April 2016 at 9 h 12 min

      Hey Charlotte 🙂 Thanks for your comment ! It really depends on what you want to do in the area (how far you wanna go near the Grand Canyon) I guess. But you should at least spend one day there, to enjoy the views all day long, hike for a while and watch sunset. Maybe you can also plan another day for an activity like sailing on the Colorado or smth like that 🙂 Let me know what you’re up to, I’m curious !

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