On the way back from Hawaii, our family decided to break up our trip back to Boston and make a stop at Grand Canyon National Park. While August isn’t usually considered the best time of year to visit, we ended up with fairly cool weather and had a fabulous family vacation!
Getting to the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon itself is 3.5 hours from Phoenix, 1.5 hours from [tiny] Flagstaff airport, and 4 hours from Las Vegas.
In our case, when booking the trip, noticed that Phoenix benefitted from relatively low west-coast fares to Hawaii, and that trips from Boston to Phoenix in the heat of summer weren’t particularly high. So, we booked separate tickets (caveat doing this: avoid combining separate tickets on the same travel day), and realized that if we arrived in Phoenix from Hawaii at 8pm, we could get a rental car and make it to a Flagstaff hotel that night.
In the morning, we had a quick hotel breakfast in Flagstaff and were on our way.
When entering driving directions into your GPS, you will want to make sure that you choose the correct rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive between the South Rim Visitor’s Center and North Rim Visitor’s Center takes 4 hours, which is a very costly mistake! We were headed to the South Rim, Which is only a 1.5 hour drive from Flagstaff and takes you through some nice forests.
When considering activities, you will want to keep a close eye on the weather and your water supply. In the summer, it can be quite hot, which will make hiking somewhat dangerous. If lightning is predicted, you will want to read this lightning safety guide. Fortunately, there are plenty of things to see from various lookout points. Many of those lookout points also have short or long hiking options as well. If you are looking for more than just hiking, there are other activity options! You can also browse through several brochures to help you plan your time in the park.
If you want to go all the way to the bottom of the canyon, you can either hike or take mules, but this will require spending at least one night at the bottom of the canyon and you will need to do some advance planning to get permits and/or make arrangements for lodging and tours. An overnight at the bottom is required, and if you are planning to hike up the other side of the canyon, you will need to arrange transportation back to your car on the other side of the rim. It works well if you have both hikers and non-hikers in your party, but we have known people who have exchanged car keys with a stranger and hiked from opposite starting points. That said, I’m not sure if we would be trusting enough to do this!
There are quite a few lodging options both inside the park and outside. If you are planning to stay in the National Park, the Grand Canyon Village is a great choice. We ended up at Yavapai Lodge, which is simple, but in a great location.
Upon entering Grand Canyon National Park, our first stop was the Mather Point overlook. We highly recommend making this your first stop too!
Our next stop was the grocery store to pick up a picnic lunch. We already had bought plenty of water at a gas station in Flagstaff. In any case, you should make sure carry more water than you think you need, particularly in the summer. I still remember helping a couple in Death Valley National Park when they ran out of water while hiking in the sand dunes!
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail inside the Grand Canyon National Park, and for good reason.
If you just want a quick hike down the rim, you can hike to the 1.5 mile rest house. If you are more adventurous, you can go to the 3 mile rest house, the Indian Garden, or Plateau Point. A few people continue all the way to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon, but this requires advance planning and reservations.
During our trip, it was an unseasonably cool day, so we debated hiking to the 1.5 and 3 mile rest house. The teenage boys voted for the longer hike, but in the end I was really worried about my ability to make it back up and we opted for the 1.5 mile rest house.
On the way down, we met a ranger that warned that lightning was on its way. In retrospect, we should have taken the lightning danger a little more seriously, but it all worked out.
The views were amazing! Just past the first rest house, we saw some rocks that looked perfect for a picnic lunch and we enjoyed eating while admiring the canyon.
Earlier in the day, there were a few European tourists who were enchanted with the squirrels and were feeding and petting them. I still remember my grandma’s warning that squirrels can carry rabies and was a bit horrified. Looking at this guy, you can see the appeal, but it really is best to keep the animals wild and not dependent on humans.
Deciding to head back up, we passed out water bottles and began the ascent. Shortly into the hike, we felt the first raindrop. I started to have visions of flash floods sweeping us off the trail and all the way to the bottom. Not how I wanted to descend!
Then the lightening started. Fortunately, it was fairly far away, but there was nowhere to take shelter and I started panicking about falling rocks. I don’t think I have ever done an uphill hike with the speed that I did that day!
After reaching the top, the rain petered out and we enjoyed walking along the Rim Trail and stopped at a gift shop. If you don’t have the stamina to hike down the canyon, the walking the rim is very pleasant and flat.
Lodge and Dinner
Exhausted from our run up the canyon, we decided to go check into Yavapai Lodge and rest for a bit. Our legs were covered in orange mud, so we also needed to clean up a bit.
As you get further away from the rim, you will also encounter more forests, which are great places for deer spotting!
The rain picked up again and we drove to a restaurant with good reviews, but the wait was longer than desired. The next restaurant didn’t look all that appetizing, so we ended up just picking up food at the grocery store and ate in our room. Sometimes simple is easier.
On our drive out of the park in the morning, we stopped at a few more lookouts, then continued our Southwest road trip to Horseshoe Bend!