[FOR GRAND CANYON NORTH RIM, SEE HERE!]
[This is the original GCNP post from Big Trip #1 in 2016, updated with details from our 2018 visit on Big Trip #2.]
If you’re planning a visit to the Grand Canyon, GET THERE EARLY! Even in late March and mid-November, outside tourist season, the park got crowded quickly. To avoid waiting in line at the entrance station, parking problems, and strangers in your scenic photos, get on the trail as early as you can. Note that I’m talking specifically about the South Rim here; the North Rim is only open May through November and is way less visited.
The Visitor Center opens at 8am during these times of year, so our goal was to park; walk, water, and snack the dog (while we hiked, since dogs aren’t allowed on Grand Canyon trails, we had to leave her behind: on visit #1 she spent a couple hours in her cozy, well-ventilated crate in the shady car, and she stayed in the Airstream on visit #2); and board the shuttle to the trailhead at 8. Our parking and hiking locations on visit #2 were walking-distance apart, so we got to skip the shuttle.
We’ve since learned that we don’t need to wait for the Visitor Center to open to get started if we know what hike we’re doing, so we’re typically on the trail at the National Parks earlier than 8.
Camping in the National Park
J and I wanted to stay in the National Park on Big Trip #2 to maximize our time there. We reserved a no-hookups RV campsite in Mather Campground the day before our arrival, but as we were heading toward the campground with the Airstream and dreading the cold night of boondocking, we changed our minds and grabbed a spot at the Trailer Village. It wasn’t quite the serene nature scene we would have had at Mather, but we did have elk neighbors! And it was a short drive to Yavapai Lodge where we were surprised to find a great beer selection, both at the big camp store and on tap at the Yavapai Tavern.
Camping outside the National Park
Cameron, AZ is the closest town to Grand Canyon National Park and it’s still an hour’s drive to the GCNP visitor center. We spent a night at the Cameron Trading Post RV Park, a characterless parking lot full of non-level sites across the highway from the cheesy Trading Post. The Trading Post has gifts and a restaurant, but no booze, because it’s on a reservation, and that’s the law.
Alternatively, you could drive up to the National Park from Flagstaff, a 90-minute drive. That’s what we did on our first Big Trip.
South Kaibab Trail
On our first visit, we hiked the South Kaibab Trail, which is steeper and less crowded than the more popular Bright Angel Trail. To further get ahead of the crowds, we ran the three miles down into the canyon to Skeleton Point, and then hiked back up.
See the tiny river down there in the picture below? That’s the Colorado, that (probably) carved out the Grand Canyon. Skeleton Point offers the first view of the river on the South Kaibab Trail after a three mile hike, and is the farthest you’re supposed to go on a day hike. Bright Angel Trail doesn’t show you the river until you’ve hiked six miles.
Bright Angel Trail
Since we did South Kaibab on visit #1, it made sense to hike Bright Angel on our second trip. We hiked down to Three Mile Resthouse and back up for a total of six miles. It was gorgeous, obviously, but we preferred South Kaibab’s views.
I’m going to rant for a minute. The trail was very crowded, of course, even in November. The first mile or two were the worst, since many hikers just want to walk down into the canyon a little bit and not do a big climb back out. That’s fine, I can deal with lots of people, if they’re RESPECTFUL. We passed teenagers blaring crappy music from their phones like boomboxes as they walked, we passed people with a dog (yes, I love hiking with my dog too, but I respect the rules of the National Park), we passed groups spread across the trail who were snarky to us when we politely asked them to move over so we could get by them. The kids with the music were the worst–since the trail follows switchbacks up the canyon wall, there was no easily escaping the music.
J and I agreed that this visit would be our last to Grand Canyon South Rim. It’s sad to say that.
Dogs are not allowed on any trails in Grand Canyon NP except the Rim Trail, which is thirteen miles long, following the park road from viewpoint to viewpoint. Viewpoints are popular, and each has a shuttle stop serving it, so don’t expect solitude. Bugsy enjoyed her walk and admired the view, but wished she could have gone on the real hike with us!
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