Grand Canyon National Park; Stunning, changing views will bring tears to hardened travelers!


View from Mather Point near Grand Canyon Village changes by the hour; it will take your breath away!

Canyon from Desert Drive overlook; if your eyes are good, you will see the Colorado River almost 5,000 feet below!
Bright Angel Trail attracts both day hikers, and those descending the entire mile in elevation drop to the Grand Canyon floor (also the trail used by mules hauling guests into the canyon).
Two hikers explore big country at Moran Point

We have been profiling the nine national parks of California, but with a recent visit to the Grand Canyon, just east of California, we could not resist offering up this update.  Next week, we will return to California’s national parks with a feature on Sequoia National Park.

When my two brothers and I ranged in ages from 11 to 15, my mom pulled up to the Grand Canyon rim in our 1962 Ford station wagon and urged us to see the view.  Family lore has it that one of us said “no; it’s just a big hole in the ground”!

Not so; my wife and I recently approached the park’s south rim at 5 PM to find the canyon bathed in stunning hues from the setting sun – absolutely incredible!  We had each been to the park before a few years earlier, but these heart-stopping views of a canyon a mile deep never cease to bring tears to our eyes! 

This is a landscape to inspire the multitudes; the Colorado River runs 277 miles through the park, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep, and filled with the most incredible geologic layers carved over millions of years.  The colors change throughout the day, and each day brings new vistas and hues!

We entered Grand Canyon Park at the south entrance, stopping first in the town of Williams, 50 miles south of the park. Williams is on old Route 66, and offers a cute, walkable old downtown, with several blocks dedicated to the Route 66 mantra. We stopped at an Italian bistro, had a delicious pizza and a drink and stocked up at the Safeway before heading into the park.

Just outside the park entrance is the small town of Tusayan, home to the Grand Canyon Airport and a number of motels (we stayed recently in the Red Feather, a very nice place); the Grand Hotel also is another nice option. The town has a McDonald’s, several souvenir shops, the National Geographic IMAX theatre and more.

We spent three nights in the Mather campground, very well appointed, with more than 200 campsite options – only about a quarter-mile from the Canyon rim. No electrical hookups, but nice otherwise, with mostly secluded campsites set in an evergreen forest (and big mule deer seeking handouts).  Early mornings or late afternoons can bring sightings of mountain lions, wild turkeys, Bighorn sheep as well as rattlesnakes.

Our first full day included a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s just outside the canyon entrance (to use Wifi), a hike down to the canyon rim above the Bright Angel Trail, and a leisurely bike ride along the south rim and through our campground. Once again, the views of the canyon are surreal, no matter what time of the day. We planned the next morning to see it at sunrise!

We toured the south rim road the next day, heading east, with about a dozen different turnouts, each with unique vistas and history. We also stopped at the Tusayan Ruins and Museum; a tour shares the history of the native people that once made their life on the rim of the Grand Canyon. A short walk from the museum takes you to one of their encampments, including storage rooms, living quarters and a kiva, (the site of ceremonial events) and once home to up to 50 people some 800 to 1000 years ago.

Our final day, we had an early lunch at the Hotel El Tovar, the large and historic hotel on the South rim – delicious food and a dining room rich in elegance and history.

After wandering a few blocks along the South rim to the Bright Angel Lodge, we decided to take a hike down the Bright Angel Trail. This is the trail used by mules to take people all the way to the canyon bottom – we hiked about a mile down the trail, then had approximately 700 vertical feet to climb out – definitely tougher than the trek down! Absolutely amazing views at every turn; our camp dinner that night tasted all the better after that hike!

By the way, don’t do what one 20-something did when we stopped at Moran Point.  As he was pitching baseball-sized rocks into the abyss, I suggested that “rangers, animals and people below would not appreciate that”; “oh, I never thought…”, he replied.

You will want to book soon, if you plan a summer adventure to this national treasure!

How to get there: From Stockton, the park is 740 miles, about 12 hours; we took Hwy. 99 to Bakersfield, then east on Interstate 40 to Williams, then Hwy. 64 north to the park entrance on the south rim.   Grand Canyon also has an airport right outside the park entrance.  The canyon’s north rim is another option, but requires a longer drive and different route.

When to go: Just about any time of the year, though biggest crowds hit in summer when school is out.  The canyon’s south rim, ranging from 6,600-7,400’, stays pretty cool, even during most summer days, and gets nippy at night.

What to see while there:  Stop first at the visitor center for displays that offer the flora, fauna and historic insights on this stunning landscape.  You can drive directly to many observation points along the south rim, all of them breath-taking.  Enjoy a meal or snack at the historic El Tovar Hotel or Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village.  If you are a hiker or biker, miles of walking and biking trails line the rim, from Hermit’s Rest to Yaki Point.  And, hikers will regret not hiking at least part way down one of the several trails into the canyon.

What’s nearby: Las Vegas and Hoover Dam are not far off your route returning to California; the lovely red rock town of Sedona is just two hours south towards Phoenix.  And, Williams, that quaint town where your turn off I-40, is worth a visit it you have not done so on the approach to the park.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, of course, good walking shoes or boots, sunscreen and sunshade hat, and water bottles or a canteen if you plan to hike the park’s spectacular trails. 

Where to stay (including camping): Williams and Tusayan offer lodging and dining options outside the park.  Grand Canyon Village and Desert View (further east on south rim) offer a host of lodging and dining options.  Camping is offered at a number of sites within the park; we camped at Mather Campground our last visit.

For more info: Grand Canyon National Park, PO Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023;; or phone  928.638.7888 for insights into the park as well as hiking and camping. Camping can be booked through, or by calling 877.444.6777.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; or contact me,  Next week, we will return to California’s national parks with a feature on Sequoia National Park, until then, happy travels in the west!

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