A quick note before we head to the Grand Canyon. We’ve heard the Northern Rim is less crowded and some say prettier. However, it is closed during the Winter and much of Spring. Since this was a Spring Break trip for us, we chose the Southern Rim.
The drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon is two-and-a-half hours backtracking through the forest and windy roads again. And you can make a quick stop in Flagstaff at the Flagstaff Visitors Center and pre-purchase a Grand Canyon pass which can save you a lot of time when entering the park if it is a busy time of year. Rather than waiting to buy a pass, you’ll be able to drive through the express line at the park.
Now this part was just lucky coincidence. We happened to plan our stop for a helicopter tour before checking into the hotel. And if you can, we’d highly recommend doing it this way. The tours are at the airport which is about ten minutes south of the canyon which means the first time we saw the Grand Canyon, it was flying over the edge which will take your breath away and drop your stomach. I think it would have been slightly less amazing if we had already seen the canyon from the hotel and then went back into town to take the tour. We used Maverick Helicopters which accommodates about six people and did a great job.
The whole tour took about two hours from the time we parked to get back to our car, so the afternoon was still open. This meant heading over to Bright Angel Bicycles and grabbing a sandwich while we rented four bikes. There’s something about riding at your own pace down the Mather Point trail which can’t be replaced by a bus or car window.
Travel note. Until you arrive, you don’t realize just how close you are going to be to a 2,000 foot cliff. There are no guard rails except at the major lookouts. In the gift shop, there are books on all of the people who have died falling over the edges of the trails or paths – and after seeing these drop-offs, it’s easy to see how a momentary lapse in balance could lead to tragedy. If you have small children who are often, let’s say, boisterous or wild, you may want to consider whether you should do any of the hikes or trails right by the edges. There’s nothing wrong with active children, but playing around on the edge of a cliff is never a good idea.
Within the park, there are a lot of hotels. After having been there, I’d recommend staying at the Bright Angel Lodge. We stayed at the El Tovar which is reminiscent of the hotel in the movie The Shining. My husband says they call these hotels Kubrickian after Stanley Kubrick. It is an old, historic hotel with no TV’s or amenities but I’ll emphasize the “old” part of that statement. It is definitely worth eating a meal there and taking a quick tour but the Bright Angel lodge is less expensive and provides all you need which is a bed to sleep. Please note, these hotels are in very high demand and can book as early as one year in advance so if you are thinking of going, you should book your rooms as soon as you can and cancel later if you need.
The next day we hiked down the South Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge. Frankly, we prefer hiking mountains versus canyons. It’s somehow more rewarding to hike uphill knowing the trip back will be much easier. A good rule of thumb is it will take you twice as long to go up as down, so keep an eye on how far you go down into the canyon. If you go one hour down, you can plan on it taking two hours to get back out.
We also recommend taking a LOT of water. We’re always amazed at how many families hike down with a single bottle of water. We have backpacks for both girls and one for ourselves so we can bring food (trail mix, some fruit and bologna and cheese sandwiches with mustard and mayonnaise.) Bringing a lunch gives you a nice break and time to enjoy eating on the ridge surrounded by the walls of the canyon.
It’s also a good idea to always have some rainy day plans. It doesn’t rain often at the canyon, but in case it does, the IMAX in town gets very good reviews for a large screen tour of the canyon and some of the history. On our trip, it snowed a lot before we arrived. The trails were covered with snow and ice near the rims. However, this ended up being a bit of luck. We were able to purchase crampons which strapped to your shoes for added traction on ice – and our girls loved – at the store in the Village. And once we went down 500 feet or so, we could take them off as it is warmer down in the canyon. And because of the snow, there were far less people on the trail than would have been there otherwise.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itineraries for Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, New Mexico/Arizona or Moab/Dunton Hot Springs or destination notes for the Painted Desert, Sedona, Zion/Bryce Canyon, Amangiri/Slot Canyons, Route 66, Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Tucson, Phoenix, and Albuquerque.