The Grand Canyon: What To Expect On Your First Trip
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
In January 2019 I was able to knock a huge goal off of my travel bucket list when my bf and I planned a trip to the Grand Canyon National Park. As someone who had dreamed about visiting for a long time, I felt a lot of excitement but I also remember not knowing what to expect. What do people even do at the Grand Canyon? Where do you stay? What's the weather like? If you're currently in those shoes, this blog is for you!
The Grand Canyon has several "rims" from which you can access it, but the North Rim and the South Rim might be the ones you read about the most. If you're wondering how to decide on which rim to visit, think of it like this: the North rim is more quiet, laid back, and has less amenities. The South Rim is home to the Grand Canyon village, has more hotels and is more popular among the two. For our first trip, Stephen and I chose the South Rim because it was closest to where we were driving from (Tucson, AZ.)
If you're flying in to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, odds are you may be flying into Phoenix or Tucson and making the drive. This means you'll get to see all of the changes in elevation and climate as you drive through places like Flagstaff and up toward the canyon.
What I found most interesting about the drive was the constant change in scenery, elevation and weather! We started off at around 50-60 degrees and sunny in Tucson, up to 6,000 feet above sea level through the mountains and ended up driving through heavy snow near Flagstaff. This was my first time seeing snowfall, and it was HEAVY.
The drive was fairly short, super pleasant and the beautiful views didn't hurt either.
Arrival - Southern Rim
What (and who) you see when you arrive will depend on what time of year you visit. Stephen and I chose January because we knew there would be less tourists in the area considering the cold. With that said, getting in was a quick stop and chat with one of the amazing National Park employees (who was voluntarily working during the government shutdown.) We received our map, drove a few more miles up the road to the canyon and parked near the visitor center. There were maybe 10 other groups there at the same time as us, and while there was snow and ice every where the vistas and walkways weren't crowded. In the summer, this is something you can expect to be different.
Talk about breathtaking. Of all of the places I've seen in my life so far, the Grand Canyon was one of the most overwhelming views I've had to take in. While there are some designated overlooks, there are literally endless spots to view the canyon from. Unfortunately, snow and ice kept us from going to close to the edge - something we may have been able to do during the Spring or Summer, but it did not take away from the trip in any way. It was maybe 16 or so degrees out, but not windy. We were able to walk 2-3 miles on the paths around the rim without much trouble or without getting too cold.
If you're taking a "self-guided" tour of the canyon, know that it is a very relaxing and quiet place (depending on the crowds.) You will be able to sit and take a moment to breathe it all in if need be.
Grand Canyon Village
Stephen and I planned ahead to stay the night in one of the hotels in Grand Canyon Village - a hub of stores, restaurants and lodging about 5 miles down the road from the main park. The hotel was pretty nice and - through a Hotwire deal - not expensive at all. We'd been in the cold all day so our plan was to grab some food and head to our room to relax for the rest of the night.
That's when we discovered that food in Grand Canyon Village is...expensive.
When making a trip to the Grand Canyon you have to keep in mind that this is a secluded place about an hour or two away from the nearest city. The restaurants in the village need to make money somehow, so prices will be significantly higher than you'd expect. Even the local Mcdonald's and Wendy's were pricey. We paid about $25 hour two combos.
Food aside, this trip was one of the best short trips I've ever done. The drive was absolutely worth seeing snow and seeing one of the most beautiful natural creations on Earth. I encourage anyone who hasn't traveled to Arizona to plan a trip - not just for the Grand Canyon but for the other amazing things you can see along the way in places like Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, and Flagstaff. It's a trip you won't regret, and one you'll more than likely want to do a second time.