How to spend a day in Grand Canyon National Park

Possibly the most famous of the United States National Parks, the Grand Canyon is an American icon. How to spend a day here when you’ve dreamed about this place all your life? The image always runs through my head…a nuclear family on a warm sunny day in a Model T on a long and lonely dusty road. Back to reality: it’s November, snowing, and packed driving through the Grand Canyon Village! I chose to stay in the Grand Canyon town as opposed to Flagstaff, but I am still conflicted about this. It’s only about 15 minutes from town to get into the park which is the main positive, but the food situation is dismal and of course you’re hungry after a long day of hiking. Flagstaff is approximately an hour and a half away which is long in the dark after a full day of activity, but the town is bustling with life and has great food options. Weigh your own personal pros and cons. Our first morning around dawn we got into town from Petrified Forest National Park and we drove past Flagstaff, grabbed some breakfast, and continued on our way to the park.

grand_canyon_national_park_1 grand_canyon_national_park_Driving past the national forests was a treat in itself. We were lucky enough to see a bald eagle in a tree (but unfortunately couldn’t photograph it!) waiting for a coyote to finish feeding on a carcass.

grand_canyon_national_park_2 grand_canyon_national_park_3Just up the road we saw another coyote, we felt like we were on a safari.

grand_canyon_national_park_4Next decision: the park is humongous so I knew there was no way to see it all, or even most of it, in one day, so which side to visit? We decided on the South Rim, and I know a return trip is in my future to see the more desolate North Rim. The North Rim is just under four hours away. You would definitely need a hotel on that end unless you want to drive eight hours in one day. So one day on the South Rim, what main hike to do? We decided on the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon. It is highly recommended that you do not attempt to hike into the canyon and back on the same day, so we heeded this advice. Our turn around point was the 3-mile Resthouse which was touted as ‘very difficult.’

DSCN6420I wish we could have continued on to Indian Garden as we certainly had the energy, but the weather was making a turn for the worse. Our first view of the canyon was magical. From the rim early in the morning it was shaded, and far out the plateaus were a dreamy, hazy, blue.

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_The trail is a ‘reverse-mountain’ so heading down is easy, and going back up is a pain. However, it is so astonishing to head into the canyon because the colors become brighter and look completely different than in the rim. Even heading down just a mile change is apparent.

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_5The trail is very popular, and as you may expect wonderfully maintained.

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_1 grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_3Even though this is such a greatly visited you will still see some wildlife about.

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_6 DSCN6436Once you reach your turn around point (unless you are hiking rim to rim, new item on the bucket-list!),

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_8take a look above to see just how much fun you are about to have.

grand_canyon_national_park_bright_angel_7It’s all worth it though, you’re in the Grand Canyon! By the time we made it up the sky had completely turned, snow was really coming down, and we were cold. We decided to switch from hiking to sight seeing. We headed to Grandview Point which was really spectacular. The hues were more purple and pink, perhaps on account of the grey sky?

grand_canyon_national_park_grandview_2grand_canyon_national_park_grandview_We listened to a ranger pointing out bear caves.

grand_canyon_national_park_grandview_1He went on to talk about the many cave systems within the canyon. The snow coming down even heavier, we took momentary refuge within the Tusayan Museum and learned about the ways of the Pueblo Indians who lived here 800 years ago.

Tusayan_Museum_grand_canyonWhen the snow stopped we stepped outside to look at the ruins and flora on a small trail. We drove out to the Desert View Watchtower which gave us a different view of the canyon, and spotted the Colorado River.

grand_canyon_national_park_desert_view_watchtower_4The tower isn’t an actual ruin, but based off of research and meant to mimic the ancient towers of the southwest Indians.

grand_canyon_national_park_desert_view_watchtower_5It’s pretty neat and certainly beautiful, worth a look inside if you can deal with the crowd!

desert_watchtower_grand_canyonI wanted to see the entire stretch of the South Rim, so there was only one direction to go: Hermit’s Rest. Only accessibly by bus during November, we ditched the car and hopped on. There are many stops along the way, all with different views of the canyon.

grand_canyon_national_park_hermits_route_2 grand_canyon_national_park_hermits_route_1 grand_canyon_national_park_hermits_route_You can hop on and hop off the bus, or take a hike out this way and catch the bus back later. When you reach Hermits Rest it isn’t the most amazing view in the park, but it is really quiet, which hermits such as myself like.

grand_canyon_national_park_hermits_route_5 grand_canyon_national_park_hermits_route_4By the time we got back it was dark, the roads were icy, and we were hungry. There was no way we were making the drive back to Flagstaff, so dinner had to be nearby. We headed to the El Tovar Hotel, just by the Bright Angel Trail. The dining room was all booked up so we were motioned to the lounge, which was actually perfect for us. We were soggy and tired, the lounge was casual and accepted us. All reviews say food here isn’t the best, so we went in not hoping for anything special. We ordered Indian nachos (with my meat on the side to give to Jeff) which weren’t half bad! We weren’t expecting anything gourmet so guacamole, salsa, and some fresh veggies were all happily received. For dessert we split a chocolate taco with mousse filling. It was a unique and tasty dish which came out with a funky presentation.

DSCN6512Without anticipating a five star meal, we were happy with the meal that we had after a long day, and long two weeks, hiking around the Southwest. Our day at the Grand Canyon wasn’t exactly what I had always imagined with snow and big crowds, but it was my own real memory to make! The landscape is overwhelmingly beautiful and I’ll never forget the hikes and sights seen within the park. There are so many more things I want to see and do in the park, see the North Rim, hike rim to rim. So till next time, Grand Canyon…

This entry was posted in Flagstaff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply