The excellent NPS website has a TON of great information for planning a trip to the canyon but, judging from the amount of questions I see on the forums about the park, a lot of folks either aren't taking a look, or have trouble finding their way around it.
That said, I thought I'd make it easy by providing a few key links to getting started.
Click on this to go directly to the best page on the website for downloading seasonal newspapers in 8 different languages, guides, maps, info on permits, tours, weather etc. The park newspapers and guides cover ranger walks and talks available during specific seasons and are updated regularly: great to have before you go. There is also a link to a terrific, downloadable planner that encapsulates all the general info you need to know.
Additionally, you can plug your dates into the schedule of events calendar.
Knowing where the visitor centers are and the scope of services they provide is nice too.
My photo above is of the patio at the North Rim lodge. The rangers give a fair amount of informative talks from this venue and it's THE place to hang out with a beverage (like a cold beer from the bar) after a long hike. Very nice any time of day as the view is amazing but it's particularly great for star-gazing beside a roaring fire at night: definitely a "thing to do"!
My buddy and I rented bicycles the day after our day hike to Phantom Ranch and back up. This rental facility is new for 2010 and a much needed one. The owners are very helpful describing where to go and what to do and how to make your day more enjoyable. They recommended to ride out to Hermit's Rest (mostly downhill) and put the bikes on the bus for most of the uphill trek back. This service is fantastic as you can stop at the overlooks when you please and as long as you like. It may be the best possible way to experience the South Rim! You can ride out to Hermit's Rest where only park buses allowed and view the Canyon along the Rim Trail....FANTASTIC! The bikes performed very well, comfortable and fit my 6'2" frame. I highly recommend renting these bikes and seeing the GC from a different perspective.
This visitor center looks fairly new, and it is: It was officially opened 26 October 2000. There is a book / souvernir shop here, and an exhibition center. The picture is from the exhibition center, and shows a very informative three dimensional figure of the geological layers of the canyon.
There are two shuttle stops for tourist buses, and a free shuttle bus to the view point and other destinations. They are building greenways for pedestrians, bicycles and wheelchairs to several spots by the south rim, and along it. Bicycle renting and parking is planned.
There is no parking for private cars at the center, but it is only a short walk from the parking lot at Mather Point.
A very nice center, part of the plan to enhance mass transit instead of private driving, which is a good thing for the environment. But I did not find any coffee anywhere :-(
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm every day.
As in all the US National Parks, there is an extensive programme of activities – talks, walks, etc. We joined a late afternoon talk on one of the terraces of the Lodge. The subject was water and its importance to the Grand Canyon – not only creating it in the first place but also the ongoing effect of erosion and also the importance of water for life in the canyon.
Like all US Park Rangers, this one knew his subject and, just as importantly, knew how to make it interesting. We sat back to listen, with the stunning backdrop of the canyon behind him as he spoke, the warm sun on our faces, and a cold beer in our hands. The contrast between this and the previous day’s snowstorm couldn’t have been greater.
You’ll be given a free paper when you enter the Park which lists all activities and talks, or you can download a schedule ahead of your visit from the National Park website: www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit. They’re usually free, so do take advantage of them and learn more about the dramatic scenery in front of you.
That requires quite the answer(like, what is the best way to see the UK?) There has been GREAT advice already offered above. ESPECIALLY the brief hike below the rim. Start at the historic Kolb Studio at the head of the Bright Angel.
Not sure what your limited time is, or other things on your list. British Airways offers nice direct flights from Heathrow T5 (LHR) to Phoenix T4 (PHX)( BA 288 + BA 289). Whilst at the airport, you can hire a car, or use the above mentioned Open Road Tours. They offer an airport shuttle to the Canyon, via Flagstaff. About a 4 hr drive. Thats less than the drive from LA.
Once you arrive, there are LOTS of options-Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, as well as mule rides, rafting trips, buses, & hiking. It all depends on your preferences.
Since small planes are out, you could try The Train (http://www.thetrain.com/) It runs from Williams to the Canyon. They do a Wild West Show & a Train Robbery by bad guys on horseback. No views of the Canyon until you arrive. Then there are bus tours & free shuttles to take you around.
If you hire a car, there are many viewpoints available. Be advised, however, that the weeks before around Easter (April 12) are VERY busy here. Parking is scarce.
For the Mule Ride Option check out: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/mule-trips-716.html
For the rafting option go to: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm
The Official Park Website is here: http://www.nps.gov/grca/
If you take the shuttle east to the Visitor's Center, your family can enjoy learning mre about the Grand Canyon.
The park offers a Ranger lead discussion for all ages. Also, you can look at the various exhibits explaining how the Grand Canyon was formed, wild life and other interesting exhibits.
Great for the kids!
We had a hard time finding this place, and finally got on the right shuttle. You can't drive there. It's a bit of a hike from the nearest parking spot if you try and drive. Just get on the Blue shuttle.
They have stuffed condors and some great relief maps. It's worth checking out.
From your computer - nps.gov - get the tips from the National Park people. What better source?
If you are inside the park or just entering, ask the Rangers. I do that a lot and I get a ton of great information!
There are various programs offered by the park rangers, and from our experience, they are all excellent. We went to three different ones and the rangers were all very knowledgeable and entertaining and obviously all loved their job. The ones we attended are:
California Condors - these gigantic birds (9 foot wingspan) were near extinction just a few years ago but have been sucessfully bred in captivity and released to the wild.
There are now about 60 in and around Grand Canyon, the result of releases to the wild begining in 1996. They have successfully bred in the Canyon, including one cave in which were discovered condor bones from about 10,000 years ago. This success is a source of great pride to the rangers and animates their presentations. The ranger obviosly picked the right spot for his talk as there were about a dozen condors flying over and around us during his presentation. As trhey are scavenger birds, he joked that we were his baid to lure the condors.
Fossil Walk - explains a lot of the geologic history of the canyon including the fact that it was once part of the ocean floor. The ranger takes you on a short and easy walk to an exposed fossil bed and explains what you are seeing.
Colorado River Talk - involves some of the history of the Colorado River's role in the formation of the Canyon.
None of these programs require any strenuous walks and all are most enjoyable. For information and schedules you can pick up a free GC Guide at the entrance to the park or almost any hotel.
My friends and i made our way to the canyon on the way to vegas. It is overated, JUST KIDDING. It truly is awsome, and huge. We ran around the upper rim, just next to the edge. There was no rails, and i could have reached out a penny and dropped it off the edge. We were close. Here is some info that will be helpfull.
Grand Canyon is heavily visited for most of the year and it is imperative to plan ahead for lodging, camping, backcountry permits, or mule trips. Persons planning day visits only should arrive early in the day as parking is limited.
At the park entrance station (either North or South Rim) you will be given a copy of The Guide, the park newspaper. In it you will find a listing of parking areas, ranger programs, and visitor facilities.
When visiting the South Rim, park your vehicle and ride the Village shuttle bus to Canyon View Information Plaza, then plan your visit. At Canyon View Information Plaza you will find informative exhibits about Grand Canyon and an inspiring view of the canyon is only a short stroll away.
Person walkin in
$10 - 7 Days
Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.
$20 - 7 Days
Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized non-profit groups, (service organizations, scouts, church groups, college/school clubs) are not eligible for the $20.00 vehicle permit, regardless of the type of vehicle utilized.
Grand Canyon Pass
$40 - Annual
Valid for twelve months from the date of purchase, for unlimited visits to Grand Canyon National Park. It admits the purchaser and any accompanying persons in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle, or the purchaser and accompanying immediate family (spouse, children, parents) when entry is by other means (train, shuttle, bicycle, foot, and boat). This passport covers entrance fees only and is NOT refundable and/or transferable.
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