The Southwest is full of action packed adventure for the highest energy traveler. It’s also one of the most scenic areas of the world and will please the slow traveler that likes to “smell the roses” and enjoy every view and sunset.
If you are planning a major trip like the Grand Canyon, chances are you will be wanting to fit in a couple of side trips as well. There is so much to do and you can potentially visit Sedona or Flagstaff or even Las Vegas.
So, this begs the question, how many days do you need in the Grand Canyon? This depends on the traveler. Are you the hiking kind that will spend days perusing the Grand Canyon floor? In contrast, are you the kind that likes to just sightsee from the car, never really breaking a sweat. Both have their merits.
But, let’s say you are that person somewhere in between. You’d like to do some hiking and you would like to do a little sight seeing by car, by foot or even by air.
In this case, three days should be a sufficient amount of time for you to see many of the sights at the park and really experience the essence of the Grand Canyon. If you want to build in some rest days to hang out in the lodge or hotel, I would recommend five days.
Now, you are wondering what to do on those three days in to get the most out of your trip. These three days are designed assuming that you are visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. All the other rims of the Grand Canyon have various other activities. But, if you have a limited amount of time, you should pick from one of the four rims and spend your time there.
Day 1-Visit the Grand Canyon Visitors Center
It is an absolute must to visit the visitors center at any national park when you first arrive. Here, you can pick up park maps, learn about the park and its history, and talk to a park ranger. You can also sign up for ranger lead tours at the Visitors Center. If you need to apply for any permits, this is where you will need to do so. This always needs to be done on the first day you arrive.
Take a shuttle bus to see some of the viewpoints
There are five shuttle bus routes at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. All of them will take you to see various points on the rim. Most of the routes run from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. or an hour after sunset. Buses arrive every 15-30 minutes and do not require a fee. One thing to note is if you are visiting at busier times such as spring or summer break, it is wise to take the shuttle as early as possible to avoid long lines. Taking the shuttle is a great way to see the rim viewpoints without hiking the 13 miles Rim Trail.
Day 2-Hike the Bright Angel Trail (at least some of it)
Visiting the Grand Canyon would never be complete without hiking into the canyon, if not just part of the way. The canyon is so vast and expansive that it is difficult to really immerse yourself and “feel” the canyon unless you get down into the canyon.
The Bright Angel Trail is the perfect trail to get up close and personal with the canyon. This trail is a 16 mile round trip hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the edge of the Colorado River. Many hikers hiking to the bottom choose to camp overnight and explore further on the canyon floor.
But, if you aren’t a seasoned hiker or you don’t feel you have the time, there is an alternative. There are three rest houses on the trail. It is very popular for hikers that don’t want to go the entire way to the bottom to turn around at the Mile-and-a Half Rest House. You will be descending almost 1,000 feet on this hike, so you must ascend this 1,000 feet as well. This is a strenuous hike with thousand foot drop-offs. However, if you go in the morning before it gets too hot or crowded and bring plenty of hydration it is a wonderful hike with scenery and experiences that will complete your Grand Canyon dreams.
Take a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
There is no better way to see the expanse and depth of the Grand Canyon than to take a helicopter tour of the great crevasse. There are many tour operations to choose from ranging from $150 to $500 and lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes to seven hours. You can choose an economy tour that gives you a quick overview of the canyon, or pick a luxurious tour that serves dinner with sunset views.
Whatever you choose, a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon will be one of those, once in a lifetime experiences that you will cherish.
Day 3-Take the Desert View Drive of the Grand Canyon
Desert View Drive begins at Grand Canyon Village and travels east towards the eastern entrance. This drive contains some of the most breathtaking views of the canyon. With six major viewpoints, you are sure to get those canyon photos you were planning for.
There are also four picnic areas, so you can bring some vittles and enjoy the scenery as you dine. The Tusayan Museum along the route is also a great way to break up the car ride and stretch your legs.
Once you get to Desert View Overlook, the Desert View Watch Tower is a fabulous example of an Ancestral Pueblo Watch Tower. The Tower is as beautiful on the inside as it is outside. Mary Colter, a famous southwest architect, designed the tower in the 1930’s. She has woven art and architecture together perfectly in such a beautiful way.
From the Desert Watch Tower you can see the winding Colorado River, the North Rim and, on a clear day, you can see 100 miles in all directions.
This is my favorite place in the Grand Canyon. The view is absolutely stunning and the architecture and beauty of the inside of the tower is something everyone should see.
Eat at the El Tovar Dining Room
Before you leave the Grand Canyon you must treat yourself to a grand meal. The El Tovar Dining Room at the El Tovar Hotel, is exquisitely decorated in native stone and Oregon Pine and has a view of the rim of the Canyon. Magnificent murals on the walls pay homage to the Hopi, Apache, Mohave and Navajo Tribes.
The food is delicious with southwestern inspired dishes as well as international cuisine. The likes of Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney have dined at the El Tovar, which furthers the notion that this is a worthwhile establishment to spend some money and time in.
Whether you are spending a day or a week at the Grand Canyon, there will be so much to do that you must narrow down your preferences. You need to plan your trip so that you can get the most out of your excursions.
If you plan on visiting for three days, the options outlined will give you a lot to do and the perfect amount of time in which to do it.