I loved my trip to the Grand Canyon. I had been hoping to see it for some time and it certainly didn’t disappoint. However, I do wish I had planned a bit more ahead of time before I went. Luckily some things I just happened to do right and some things I figured out when I was there. Here are my tips on how to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon:
#1 – Start the day close by
We stayed in Sedona the night before our visit (which was a 2+ hour drive to the south rim of the canyon). On my next trip I want to stay in Flagstaff which is only a 1.5 hour drive. This doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but the road from Sedona to Flagstaff is a two lane curvy road that can take extra time to drive depending on the the traffic. The closer you stay the more time you will have to explore the day of your visit. You can also stay in the park itself at one of the 6 hotels (though space there is limited and must be booked months in advance).
#2 – Decide how you will enter the park
Arriving from Flagstaff will allow you to explore the south and east rim of the canyon. This will give you the views you see most often in ads or postcards. The easternmost entrance is considered the most impressive. There were plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the view without crowds of people in the way.
#3 – Start the day early
The earlier you arrive at the park the less people will be in your way. There are 4 to 5 million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year, so it can definitely get crowded. I had to work hard to take the photos I wanted without crowds of people in my way at the more popular lookouts.
Those millions of visitors come in lots of cars and create some long lines as people wait to pay the entrance fee. Buying a yearly National Park Pass before your trip will allow you to enter through one of the shorter, faster lines. The pass allows unlimited access to any of the National Parks in the US and well worth the $80 cost if you have any other stops planned.
We used our pass at Montezuma Castle National Monument, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the Petrified Forest National Park during our week long trip to Arizona.
#4 – Be careful
Each year there are dozens of people injured and several killed. Many of these accidents could have been avoided by people simply being more careful. Take care where you are walking and don’t be so distracted by taking photos you don’t pay attention where you are standing. It is possible to get right on the edge of the canyon in many spots which allows for amazing views, but definitely requires caution.
#5 – Sights not to miss
The Indian Watchtower is a 70 foot tall tower that was built in 1932. You can climb the spiral staircase inside to reach the top and see the amazing views of the canyon. The walls and ceiling of the tower are covered with original artwork by a Hopi artist.
The Tusayan Museum is worth a stop to get a feel for what Indian life was like 800 years ago.
Mather Point is the viewpoint closest to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center. There will be lots of people at this spot, but the view is incredible.
#6 – Plan your photographs
If you are like me photographing the Grand Canyon was my favorite part of the visit. I wish now I had research what photographing the canyon would actually be like. Now I know I should really be shooting at sunset and using a graduated neutral density filter to have a more balance photo that shows the detail in the canyon. Before my next trip I will have a filter and have experimented with it.
#7 – Consider hiking below the rim
I am not much of a hiker, but I wish now I had planned a short hike below the rim. It is possible to hike down for 30 minutes and see the canyon from a completely different perspective. If you decide to hike into the canyon keep in mind it will take longer to hike out and make sure you bring along water and wear shoes for hiking.
These are my best tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon. I will definitely be better prepared on my next trip, but happily my first experience was amazing and only inspired me to go back and explore some more. If you are interested in other places to visit check out my quick guide to Arizona.
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? I would love to hear anything you learned or places you think should not be missed!