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How To See The Grand Canyon The Right Way

You simply must visit the Grand Canyon in your lifetime.

It’s one of the most breathtaking landscapes the American Southwest has to offer.

I’m driving to all 50 states in my RV, and trust me—this is one destination you cannot skip.

Grand Canyon
A panorama from Pima Point. Photo via NPS

Will the real Grand Canyon please stand up?

When I began planning our trip to the Grand Canyon, I wasn’t excited in the least.

So it’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world—I’d seen pictures.

It’s just a bunch of red rocks and cliffs in the middle of a bland desert… so I thought.

It looked cool enough, but I assumed it would be the kind of place to hop out of the RV, take a few pictures, and keep driving onto someplace less well known.

But I was wrong!

Not only did the Grand Canyon blow my mind, I still get goose bumps just thinking of the view.

Grand Canyon
Photo via Olivier on Wikipedia

To do the Grand Canyon the right way, you’ve got to visit more than just the main event. You’ve got to do a little exploring and sightseeing away from the main touristy points of interest.

So many interesting places surround the canyon.

Here are some of my tips for how to get the most out of your Grand Canyon experience.

Stop in Williams, Arizona

First, stop in Williams, Arizona a short one-hour drive south of Grand Canyon Village (check out the interactive Google map below). It’s a one-red-light kind of town, but our fuel pump gave out right at Exit 163, so we were glad Williams was there!

The small town grew on Route 66 and is still around, peppered with cafes, diners, and dozens of souvenir shops. 

Williams is perhaps better known for the train station where you board the Grand Canyon Railway. Upon departure, locals ride horses alongside the train and perform an old-fashioned train robbery. You can also watch a shootout on Route 66 on Fridays at 7:00 PM.

If you’re looking for a taste of the Wild West, Williams is the perfect overnight stop before continuing on to the Canyon. You’ll find much more detailed and up-to-date information on events and schedules on the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce site.

Make Mather Point your next stop

From Williams, you’ll drive north on 64 to reach the South Rim’s Visitor Center. Most visitors see the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. It’s open all year and is on the Arizona side of the Grand Canyon.

Driving into the south entrance to the national park, there are no hints of the Canyon.

The ground is mostly flat and the road is lined with majestic tall pine trees.

Once you reach the Visitor Center, it’s a short hike on a paved road from the parking lot to Mather Point, the main overlook at the south rim.

There are a lot of paved pathways which make getting around easy.

Certain areas allow you to walk out to the edge of the canyon and look over the cliff – if you’re brave enough!

Many of the hikes around or to the base of the Grand Canyon begin at the South Rim.

Grand Canyon
The view from Mather Point. Photo by Michael Quinn, NPS

The view from the top at Mather Point is mind blowing and spectacular from every angle. The rocks shine a brilliant red and drop nearly a mile directly under your feet. You’ll have to do some maneuvering to cut people’s heads out of your photos though ūüôā

Circle the Canyon on the way to Utah

After a quick hour of pictures and crowds, we climbed back into our Coachmen Leprechaun to head toward Utah—which meant we would need to drive all the way around the Grand Canyon. It sounds doable enough until you realize the Canyon is 277 miles long and changes in elevation rapidly.

Although the South Rim is open year round, the North Rim has a short visitor’s season.

Make use of pull-throughs and scenic lookouts.

Drive slowly on your trek around the canyon.

You’ll save your brakes, avoid hitting elk that are crossing the road, and won’t miss any secluded pull-offs or overlooks.

Every few miles the trees break and provide a special view of the Canyon. There are many parking lots or pull-throughs to stop and grab a few photos.

I highly recommend you stop at all of them.

The canyon is so large that each view is different. Some areas are more heavily wooded and some feature white rock instead of red, steeper drops, or better views of the Colorado River.

The landscape changes as you drive north.

The first hour around the canyon is a steady descent with stunning views.

Aside from the National Park scenic overlooks, there are a handful of Indian Reservations with small parks right off the main road. Each park has free entry with suggested donations, but if you want to experience every part of the Grand Canyon, it’s worth the stop.

After you reach flat ground and have driven north on 89 for a couple of hours, you’ll pass through Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

You’ll even cross an Indian-owned bridge across the Canyon over the Colorado River. There’s a pedestrian bridge over the river to provide a terrifying (but amazing) view of the flowing Colorado River.

grand canyon
View from the pedestrian bridge

Near the bridge is a small lodge and gas station, the last one you’ll see for miles, at Marble Canyon.

 

Soon, the road ascends—and quickly—all the way up to 8,000 feet elevation.

In our 29’ rig, it was a white-knuckle type of drive.

Road 89A is curvy, steep, and nestled on the edges of cliffs in the Kaibab National Forest.

I would not recommend this drive in a Class A, but we saw multiple Class Cs on the road.

Jacob Lake Campground

At 7,925 feet, you’ll find a small inn and state campground for Jacob Lake, a dry spot of land where a lake used to be.

There are no hookups in the state campground, but the air is cool and clean and you’re surrounded by beautiful 70-foot pine trees.

grand canyon
Camping at Jacob Lake Campground

From Jacob Lake, the North Rim is a quick one-hour drive south on 67. You can find a lot more information on the amenities offered at the North Rim, as well as details on dispersed camping, winter camping, and making reservations at the National Park Service website.

I didn’t get the chance to make the drive to the North Rim due to wildfires at the canyon, but if it’s anything like the rest of the journey, you’ll be glad you made the drive.

Have you visited the Grand Canyon? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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4 thoughts on “How To See The Grand Canyon The Right Way”

  1. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Grand Canyon 7 times in my 60yrs and it still takes my breath away at the beauty that God has created for us to enjoy,we just spent 2 nights in a cabin on the North Rim in July 2014 and it was my wifes first trip to the north side and was pleasently surprised but the beauty. The say 90% of people go to the south rim so you can imagine how peaceful and uncluttered the north rim is ..We highly recommend at least 2 nights in cabin or lodge on the edge so you can watch a sunset and a sunrise in this magical place ..

  2. This is a terrific itinerary for a visit to the Canyon. My husband and I went there last summer on a 10-state, 10-park sojourn. It was simply magnificent. We sold our house and everything 2 years ago (with me kicking and screaming) and struck out. We spend part time in our RV and part time internationally with just carry-on bags. We recently returned from 5 months in Asia. Now I’m lovin’ it and wouldn’t go back! You can read our story at my blog of our adventure on http://carolsuestories.com. Keep writing about yours. I love hearing the stories.

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