Planning a trip to The Grand Canyon? Trust me from experience, it’s a worthwhile trip! My friend, Maddy, and I crossed this item off our bucket lists over an extra-extended Memorial Day Weekend, so I’m here to share tips, must-do’s and don’t-misses to ensure that your experience exceeds mine!
Travel Tales #3: A Gratifying Trip to The Grand Canyon – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey’s Way
Lodging Tip – Choose a Unique Experience Away From the Crowds
With the creation of sites such as Airbnb, the opportunity for experiencing a unique place to stay has become incredibly affordable. While it may seem a little odd when first booking a stay in someone else’s home, it’s definitely worth doing! On my trips, I’ve stayed in adorable little cabins, beautifully themed beach houses and remote RVs where city lights aren’t around the block the star-filled night sky.
On this particular trip, we stayed in….(yup, you guessed it!)…an adorable RV in a remote area, just outside of Williams, Arizona. Before you think “nah, I’ll pass on staying in an RV“, I encourage you to keep reading because this stay was beyond worth it!
The name of the RV that we stayed in was Dottie (yes, they named their RV, which added to the cuteness of it) and she was built in the 1970s. Her exterior was a beautiful teal with white polka-dots, making her easy to spot when driving down the pathway, and her interior was decorated with frilly pillows and gorgeous colors. The bunk beds were perfect for the two of us and the kitchen was equipped with the tools needed for the few meals we made during our stay.
Dottie was located 45 minutes south of the South Rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park, 15 minutes north of Williams, AZ and roughly 45 minutes west of Flagstaff, AZ which made the location perfect as it gave us plenty of options for things to do (be sure to check out Dottie’s AirBnB listing). Plus, her remote location gave us the most spectacular view of the night sky! I saw the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in my life, we watched a moon-rise (yes, that’s a thing! Read more about it here) and I also witnessed a couple of shooting stars. Had we chosen to stay in a hotel instead, we would not have experienced these magnificent wonders of the sky.
I will be honest, staying in Dottie was very much a “glamping” experience as was listed on Airbnb. We had to turn the water on with a switch before it came out of the faucets, the stove was gas which required lighting with a lighter and the toilet “flushed” into a tank. This was nothing new to me as I spent Kindergarten through 12th grade in Girl Scouts, although it might be a little uncomfortable for someone who’s never experienced camping before. Before booking something like this, I recommend that you do your research to ensure that you’ll be fully prepared for your experience.
The best part about this stay? The cost! I am BIG on getting the most bang-for-my-buck and Dottie most definitely hit the hammer on the nail. The total price for our 5-day, 4-night stay was exactly $400.78 – this included the cleaning fee, service fee and taxes! Name a hotel in the United States which includes unique experiences that costs less than that for the same length of time… I’ll wait. 😉
In conclusion, lodging doesn’t have to be expensive. Do your research before booking your trip, explore the areas around your desired destination and don’t be afraid to get creative and try something new!
The Grand Canyon National Park – Be More Than “Just a Tourist”
Not going to lie, this trip was Maddy’s idea because she wanted to hike inside The Grand Canyon. I had never even thought of this as a possibility before she mentioned it. While I love nature and exploring the great outdoors, before this trip I hadn’t had much involvement with hiking outside of a few simple hikes here in Texas. The great news is that there are maps posted all over the park that show the experience levels of the hiking routes available, so you can choose the one that best meets your current skill set.
Besides giving us much better views, choosing to hike the canyon instead of only viewing it from the upper edges empowered us and made us feel like total badasses. I mean seriously, how cool do you think it would feel to be able to say, “I hiked the Grand Canyon!” when someone asks you about your trip?! It’s definitely no small feat, yet it’s also not necessarily as difficult as it may sound.
A couple of important tips to keep in mind when planning your hike:
Ensure that you have the proper footwear.
When choosing a hiking shoe, it’s much better to purchase one in-person verses online. I bought a great pair from Whole Earth Provision where an associate helped me pick out a pair that not only fit properly, but was also great for the location of the hike. Apparently, there are certain shoes that are best for each type of climate and it’s important to wear the correct one.
Pack appropriate clothing.
It’s safe to assume that it gets even more hot as you descend down into the canyon. You’ll want to wear breathable clothing but less isn’t necessarily more in this climate… Because there is little shade, a hat and some sunglasses are basically a requirement and you’ll want to be sure to cover up your arms, chest and back to avoid sunburns. Don’t forget to pack lots of sunscreen if you’re sunburn-prone like me! Check out this Printable Essential Travel Packing List that I utilize for all of my travels!
Bring a Camelbak and stay hydrated.
I purchased a wonderful, inexpensive off-brand Camelbak from Walmart that worked perfectly! It held a liter of water which combined with one, 16-oz water bottle was just barely enough for our 7-mile hike. Don’t make the same mistake I did by not planning well enough in advance. Click this link to learn more about how much water you should bring based upon the length of your hike. Also, be sure to bring along some type of hydration supplement along with your water. Personally, I love Nuun hydration tablets because they are very portable, low in sugar and are very tasty! Find them at your local grocery store or order them online here.
Start early in the morning in order to avoid overheating.
The early bird gets the worm and avoids a heatstroke! Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how the saying goes, but this should be taken very seriously when hiking in a desert.
Plan your trip during the right time of year.
The Grand Canyon has seen a spike in number of visitors lately, as have other National Parks, and my opinion is that the COVID-19 lockdown has inspired people to get out and explore more now that we’re no longer on lockdown. With that said, The National Park Service website has a fantastic article, South Rim – Busy Season Tips for Fall 2022, which I recommend you review before planning your trip. You can find additional articles chalked full of useful information on https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Use the park maps to your advantage and pick hikes that are in your current level.
This is definitely where we made some mistakes… First of all, we both didn’t do our homework and research any of the trails before our trip. Due to this, we chose a trail that was a total of 7 miles, though the first mile or so was very steep, taking us a mile downward into the Grand Canyon! You know what that meant? We also had to hike that last, super-steep mile UPWARD to get back to the bus pick-up station… I was okay to do all of this as I engage in HIIT workouts on a weekly basis, though my friend struggled a bit. 😬 Had we taken the time to do a little research, we could’ve chosen a trail that was slightly easier and more pleasant.
Additional Grand Canyon Park Tips:
Choose to watch the sunrise over The Grand Canyon versus the sunset.
While most people might find staying to watch the sunset easier and more appealing, it tends to be over-crowded and hard to find a good viewing place at this time. Therefore, I recommend waking up before dawn and making it into the park before the sunrises, as it’s an equally magical experience, though a lot more comfortable! We prepared our clothing and snacks the night before, went to bed very early and got up around 4am to make this happen. Depending on what time of year you visit, the sunrise may occur at different times, so I recommend checking the estimated time of sunrise the day before to ensure you are able to plan properly.
Bring Plenty of Snacks
As you might expect, most National Parks don’t have restaurants, although I was surprised to learn that The Grand Canyon National Park actually has a few… Yet most of them are only open for certain times of the day and a lot of them are grab-and-go type places with pre-prepped food items. That said, modifications cannot be done, creating a possible sticky-situation for picky eaters. Additionally, while they do offer some vegetarian options, they are very limited. The best option is always to pack your own snacks and picnic lunch, but in the event you forgot to on the way, you can dash into one of the few eateries they have. We wandered into the Bright Angel Bikes & Café Coffee Shop for a sandwich and I was pleasantly surprised that they had a delicious veggie option for me. 😊 Check out this link for an entire list of the restaurants and general stores located throughout the park.
DO YOUR RESEARCH!
If you’re reading this article, let me go ahead and commend you for doing your research! Although, I hope that you’ll check out additional resources, especially the park’s official website and do some proper planning. Remember that 7+ mile hike down into the Grand Canyon on Hermit’s Trail that I mentioned? We chose that trail because it leads to a place called “Dripping Springs”. Sounds like it would be an awesome area with a waterfall that we could rest and cool our bodies off with, right? I mean, a river runs through The Grand Canyon, so this doesn’t sound too far-fetched. Well, we were incredibly disappointed to find that Dripping Springs is literally just a spot at the dead-end of the trail which drips water down into a puddle. THAT’S IT. Check out the photos below for proof. Moral of the story? Google what you’re hiking towards in order to avoid any unnecessary disappointment. Coming from my experience, disappointment is 1000% worse when you’ve hiked 3+ miles in a rocky, desert environment that you’re not used to.
Be sure to utilize the National Park Service website and the information listed on the Day Hiking section of Grand Canyon National Park. Click here to be redirected to this webpage.
Below are photos of the hike towards Dripping Springs as well as a few additional photos of the springs.
Explore the Surrounding Area
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hiking! Although I also enjoy exploring cities and towns when I’m visiting a new state. This was my first time heading to Arizona and I’m grateful that my friend was ready to go into a few of the nearby towns after spending the first two days of our trip hiking The Grand Canyon.
The first town we chose to explore was Williams, Arizona. On our way into this adorable little town, we saw a motel on the side of the road which had a massive Fred Flintstone character along with his pre-historic car that we could not resist stopping at for a photoshoot. This setup reminds me of rest stops that characters in 2000s movies would end up at when going out on a road trip.
There’s not much to do in Williams, though it was the first time I’d ever stepped foot/driven on Historic Route 66, so that was pretty neat! This is seriously a tiny, tiny town with a population of less than 5,000 people. In just a couple hours time, we were able to explore all of the shops, take a few photos in historic sites and enjoy a meal then some ice cream.
A little further away from our AirBnB was Flagstaff, Arizona. This is a much larger town with a population of 73,000+ people. We spent an entire day here, starting the adventure by grabbing some coffee at a local coffee shop. There are a lot of locally owned shops in this town that we had fun exploring! Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures this day as exhaustion was beginning to set in. Besides shops, this town houses quite a few building murals, something I always enjoy and find fun!
Whether or not you chose to consider the advice that I’ve given, I encourage you to find a travel partner – someone who has a similar travel style to yours – and go explore! If visiting The Grand Canyon wasn’t on your bucket list before, my hope is that it is now, and that you’ll find your way there in due time. Lastly, remember that “the world is too big to stay in one place and life is too short to just do one thing“.
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