View from Mather Point.
When people plan a visit to Las Vegas they often take the opportunity to add in a side trip to the Grand Canyon – or visa versa. It makes sense given the relative proximity of one to the other.
Kate and I decided to take an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim from our base in Las Vegas. The drive takes 4-5 hours depending on how many toilet breaks you take and how close you stick to the speed limit! There are a lot of trucks “competing” with you along the way and some of their driving is a bit erratic so you have to have your wits about you for sure. It costs US$25 to take a car into the national park. We had previously bought a annual pass for US$85 which allows us to get into all national for no extra charge.
View near Yavapai Point.
Another option for people with very limited time in Vegas would be to take a helicopter or light aircraft return flight to the Grand Canyon. Most helicopter tours fly to the West Rim of the Canyon and are about 4 hours long which includes about 45 mins of flight time. I would check out reviews of the West Rim first as most people believe the South Rim is best.
Driving from Vegas we took the US-93 E to Kingman, Arizona (about 1.5 hours) where we refueled ( petrol was 60c/gallon cheaper than in Nevada!) and the switched to I-40 E and continued for another 2ours or so. About 30 miles short of Flagstaff you take the turn off to the Grand Canyon, driving an hour north on the AZ64 N/US 180 N which brings you to the canyon. As accommodation was booked out for within the Grand Canyon National Park we chose to stay at the Best Western Premier, which is one of a number of hotels just outside the national park in the tourist village of Tusayan. Tusayan is 15-20 mins for the canyon which allowed us to take meal breaks and have a rest back at the hotel between trips to explore the canyon.
View from Creek Pipe Vista about about 2 pm.
Like most people I have seen many photos of the Grand Canyon and so I knew it would be spectacular, and it was. There were a few things that struck us most as we stared in wonder at the views before us:
– It is so vast and amazing that we both felt surreal, like we were looking at a huge painting rather than actually being there. The slight haze adds to the illusion.
– I couldn’t get over the depth of the canyon. It is 1 mile deep! We were lazy and only walked the first 20 minutes of the Bright Angel Trail and from there it just goes down and down and down and down…. The Colorado River at the bottom looked so tiny. If you intend to hike to the base of the canyon and back I’d do some training beforehand.
Bright Angel Trailhead near Yavapai Point. See how small the people are, and the trail in the distance before it descends further to the Colorado River.
– We had driven for hours through a boring, relatively flat desert and scrubby pine forest landscape to get there. Then suddenly this unbelievable, vast “natural wonder of the world” appears before you. I couldn’t help but imagine what what the first Indians and explorers thought when they stumbled across it. Holy shit!!!
View from Creek Pipe Vista before sunset.
We visited Yaki Point for our “sunset” view of the canyon. There is no car access to Yaki Point so we parked at Pipe Creek Vista and caught the free orange shuttle bus to the point and back. When you are choosing somewhere for your sunset view you want a spot that has good views to the east because that is the side of the canyon that lights up. Just before it got dark we went for a stroll along the rim trail between Pipe Creek Vista and the South Kaibab Trailhead. As well as the stunning canyon views, we also had the thrill of seeing groups of 2-5 Elk up close, foraging in the undergrowth of the trees near the pathway. They are quite large and imposing but we just walked quietly by and they didn’t startle. The South Rim is surrounded by forest and the local wildlife comes out at night so you really do have to be careful on the national park roads. The speed limit is 45mph for a reason – when we left today we came across a dead elk on the side of the road 🙁
View east from Yaki Point at sunset.
Later in the evening we returned to the South Rim for some star gazing. We had earlier asked a ranger when we needed to leave the park by and were surprised to learn that the Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day! It was a new moon which is the best time of the month observing the stars because the sky is darker. It really was quite spooky because there are no lights in the park to light the roads so it was very dark once we turned our car lights off. That and we were the only ones at the spot we chose. With absolutely no light pollution or cloud cover the night’s sky was a truly magical site.
View near Mather Point.
The temperature at the Grand Canyon during our visit in mid April was a high of 74 degrees F and a low at night of 32. This meant we were sleeveless and needed suntan lotion during the day, but in the evening we needed to wear trousers and warm jackets outside. My understanding is that the temperatures are more extreme down in the canyon.
View near Mather Point.
Two final recommendations. Get to the park before 10 am so you can get a car park. The crowds start descending after 0930 so the visitor’s center car park and others get full after that. Lastly, bring a water bottle. There stations to fill your bottles along the rim walkway but nothing down the trails.
Near Yavapai Point