10 Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon
Photos: Britt Reints
My family of four just spent three nights camping in Grand Canyon National Park. It was one of the coolest places we've visited, and we've spent the last eight months checking out cool places all over the country. We spent four years living near and frequently visiting Disney World. Our standards for tourist attractions are high. We were blown away by this world wonder, and you will be, too - if you take the time to go.
1. Make visiting a priority.
I posted photos of the Grand Canyon to our Facebook page and I was surprised how many of my friends commented that they'd been planning to visit, but had never made it a priority. A few people even said it was on their "life list." Here's a secret: the Grand Canyon is right here in the US and pretty inexpensive to visit. Just hop in your car and go!
2. Consider going in the spring or fall.
Summer is the busiest season at the canyon, which means more people with whom to share look-out points and trails. The heat is also a factor in the summer, especially if you plan to spend time below the rim. Winter is less crowded, but much colder, and snow and ice can make hiking below the rim treacherous. The fall and spring months let you enjoy more solitude without the hassle of winter weather.
3. Spend the night inside the park.
Grand Canyon National Park is pretty isolated and about an hour's drive from the closest campground or motel. The rates to camp inside the park are very reasonable, and being on-site will make it easier to enjoy sunrise and sunset with naps in between for the little ones. You'll also have a better chance of seeing some of the wildlife that calls the park home. (If you're not into camping, there are a few hotel options available as well.)
4. Return all emails before you go.
In theory, none of us plans to work or be glued to our smartphones when we're traveling with our family. In reality, our smartphones have gotten us into the habit of always being accessible. Cell phone service and wifi are extremely difficult to come by in the park, no matter what the brochures say. (Ironically, I got the best signal on my iPhone 1,100 feet below the rim.)
5. Go ahead and take that hike below the rim - even with kids.
You don't have to be a skilled athlete or hiker to experience the beauty of the canyon below the rim. My six year old easily endured a 3-mile hike down the Bright Angel trail. Do be sure to read and follow all of the safety guidelines.
6. Heed all warnings.
I think we've become desensitized as a society to warning labels. We already know our coffee is hot, our blow dryer could electrocute us in the tub, and there may be ice on the bridge in the winter. Whatever. As a rule, posted precautions are overly cautious. Not in the Grand Canyon. They're not kidding about 250 people per year being rescued from the canyon or about the ravens poking holes in your RV's sewer hose if you don't cover it up at night. This is not your typical tourist attraction; this is a raw, real, sometimes-hostile natural wonder. People die here when they don't heed the warnings.
7. Feel free to pack light.
The Grand Canyon National Park is its own little city. You can find a post office, a bank, restaurants, and multiple general stores stocked with groceries and supplies. If you run out of hot dogs, you can get more, and nothing is outrageously overpriced.
8. Rent supplies you won't use again.
Considering a hike but live in the middle of Midwestern cornfields? There's no need to spend hundreds of dollars on hiking or camping gear that you'll never use again; you can rent many of the essentials at the park's general stores for a small fraction of the regular purchase price. Call ahead to get a list of available supplies and current rental prices.
9. Bring something to do at night.
The disadvantage of staying in the park is that this is a little city that shuts down completely after 8 pm, and most of it closes even sooner. You won't have cable (or even local) TV if you're camping. Bring a book, cards, a portable DVD player with a few family favorites - something to pass the time after the sun goes down.
10. Take pictures of people.
Unless you are a professional photographer, chances are you will be disappointed when you pull your photos off your digital camera at night. What you see on the screen is guaranteed to pale in comparison to the real deal. However, the photos of you and your kids standing in front of that massive canyon will be priceless memories - and they offer perspective for just how huge everything is.
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