Nothing can quite prepare you for that first moment as you walk up to the South Rim and look out and down into the depths of the Grand Canyon. I got a lump in my throat. Even in the rain and mist, it was overwhelming.
Because of the clouds we couldn’t see the north rim across the canyon, but we could see down some two or three thousand feet to the canyon floor. The low clouds and mist gave it a haunting aura that you sometimes get when you come face to face with the awesomeness of nature.
As the day went on the sun came out, the clouds cleared away, and we were able see across the entire canyon. It was us and thousands of other tourists and school bus field trips. The area around the Visitor Centers and hotels gets pretty crowded. It’s best to walk along the rim trail a mile or so to the east or west of the hotels where it isn’t as crowded.
There are three below-the-rim trails along the South Rim. They range from easy to very difficult depending on how deep into the canyon you want to go. Park Rangers like to caution hikers, “Going down is optional, but coming back up is mandatory.” Be sensible about your abilities. The farther down you go, the longer and more difficult the climb back out. Because of the weather we didn’t do these trails, but I’m sure they would hold memories for a lifetime.
There are mule rides into the canyon, but they are a tough ticket. Reservations need to be made as much as 13-months in advance.
A few notes about the South Rim. The park attracts 4.5-million people a year. Parking is a nightmare. Visitor Center lots are full by early morning and you spend a lot of time driving round the parking lots waiting for someone to pull out. Parking in the hotel area is even worse. There is no guarantee that you will find a parking space anywhere near the hotel you are staying at. If you find a parking space, lock your car and leave it, and rely on the free shuttle buses to get around.
About the hotels: All are located right on the rim. Walk out your door and in a few steps you’re looking into the canyon.
The El Tovar is a grand old hotel that opened over 100 tears ago. It has been fully restored. It only has 78 rooms and reservations are hard to come by, requiring booking a year or more in advance. Even the hotel restaurant requires a 30-day advance reservation.
We stayed at the Bright Angel, also an older hotel. To call it rustic is being polite. Some rooms even have to share hall showers. In some ways it reminded me of a youth hostel.
Because of the parking and hotel conditions on the South Rim, a possible solution is to stay in the village of Tusayan, about 5 miles south of the park. There are lots of modern traveler’s hotels, restaurants, and free shuttles to the South Rim every 20 minutes.
The elevation at the Grand Canyon is nearly 7,000 feet. Coming from a low-lying area like DFW, some adjustment to the altitude is possible. Headaches, shortness of breath, chest tightness, are common symptoms. Drink lots of water, take aspirin and give your body a few days to adjust.
Most people only go to the South Rim of the canyon. The North Rim is only 10 miles away as the crow flies, but over 200 miles by car. The North Rim is only open from mid May to mid October.
Suggestions & Recommendations: This is a trip that needs to be on everybody’s bucket list. The canyon is truly one of the most amazing sites on earth. Spend several days, walk the trails away from the hotels and visitor centers, get away from the crowds. The NorthTexasActiveLife.com rating for the canyon is 10+, off the scale. Our rating for the South Rim hotel area is a 5. You would be better off staying in Tusayan.