7 Tips to Optimize Your Grand Canyon Trip

If you're planning to cross the Grand Canyon off your bucket list this year, follow these 7 tips to maximize your time, and your fun.

The Grand Canyon, one of the US’s most visited national parks, rewards you with the kind of panoramic vistas that have come to define the West. The canyon walls, striated with pink, cream, and gray rock, change color depending on how the sun strikes the formations. In the morning, oranges and reds predominate and in the late afternoon and early evening, the setting sun turns the rock walls to deep blues and purple. From the rim trails you see differing shapes and by hiking the inner canyon, you experience yet another face of this natural wonder. Follow these tips to make the most of your Grand Canyon visit.

• Be on the Bright Angel Trail by 7 a.m. in summer. Not only will you get ahead of the late morning push of people on this popular trail, but you will be more comfortable since temperatures rise as you descend into the canyon. You don’t have to hike the entire 9.2-mile trail, but do a section. The descent into the canyon reveals another perspective, that of the canyon as sea bed millions of years ago. Look carefully at the walls to spot fossils of coral and sea critters that lived long ago.

• Bicycle along the South Rim. Rent bikes from Bright Angel Bicycles and Café near the Visitors Center and pedal on the greenway, a paved trail for cyclists and hikers—not vehicles—to Yaki Point, 2.9 miles from the Grand Canyon Historic District.

• Go on a flightseeing tour. From the air, the canyon unfurls as a vast expanse of pinnacles and buttes carved by the winding, blue Colorado River. From a small plane or helicopter, you gain a perspective on the size of the canyon and you get awe-inspiring views. Reserve these tours ahead of time.

• Take in a ranger talk. At the Visitors Center, check the schedule for ranger-led talks. The presentation on condors is popular even though no live birds appear. At the Yavapai Geology Museum, rangers often speak about the canyon’s formation.

• Admire the sunset and stars. Plan evening sightseeing. Before sunset, which can be past 9 p.m. in summer, board a park shuttle to Maricopa, Hopi, or Pima points for views of the canyon in the waning light. On the trip back, be sure to look up to see just how bright stars can shine.

• Bring a flashlight. Since outdoor lighting at the park is soft, you may feel more comfortable navigating some areas near the village at night with a flashlight.

• Consider arriving via the Grand Canyon Railway. The two-hour trip from Williams, AZ, is fun for families with grade-school children. The train departs after a shootout between a bad guy and the sheriff. During the trip, view pine forests and the high-mountain desert from your window. Strolling cowboys play guitars and sing and beware of the Cataract Creek Gang who may try to rob the train. Conveniently, the train pulls into the park at the foot of the historic El Tovar Hotel, a good place for lunch.