How to Spend 36 Hours in the Grand Canyon
In November we checked a big item off of our bucket list - the Grand Canyon! I had high expectations for how grand and amazing it would be... and they were absolutely exceeded!
The length of our trip was about 36 hours so we had two nights and one full day. We stayed in Grand Canyon Village both nights which is located right on the South Rim. Prior to the trip, I had no idea that there is a mini-town on the South Rim! You can find lodging, dining, stores, and pretty much anything you need for your visit. Due to availability, we stayed a different lodge each night. The first night we stayed at the "nicest" of the options, El Tovar Hotel, and the second night in one of the more rustic options, Maswik Lodge. To our surprise, we actually enjoyed Maswik Lodge more because the rooms are larger and the quality seemed about the same. Most of the lodging options had dining as well - both restaurants and more casual cafeteria-style options. I recommend staying in the village rather than a nearby town because it saves driving time and is much more convenient for a short visit. The lodges are frequently at full capacity so book in advance! There actually wasn't availability when I initially looked but about a week before our trip I checked again and found available rooms!
While we would have loved to hike all of the way down and back up the canyon, we didn't have time on this trip. I've read it takes most people two full days with one night at the bottom of the canyon (you can camp or stay at Phantom Ranch). So instead we decided to spend half of a day hiking partially down the canyon to get a feel of the experience. The main two trails up and down are the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. We choose the South Kaibab Trail because I read on several sights it was the more scenic option and also the more challenging trail. We started around 6:00 am so we could see the sunrise while hiking. I'll quickly run out of adjectives to describe the experience...it was amazing! Starting with the most challenging hike of the day was a very good choice. It was less crowded, cooler, and we had more energy. We spent about three hours walking down the trail before turning around.
While researching for the trip, I read that only 3% of Grand Canyon visitors actually go below the Rim! I thought that was pretty incredible (and sad). Even though I hate heights (and there are no guardrails in the Grand Canyon!), for the most, the trail felt manageable as long as I didn't look down. :) I actually thought going up was easier because I couldn't see the drop below. We saw people of all ages and fitness levels attempting the hike and even a few runners.
Once we were back at the top, we walked to a few of the view points around the South Kaibab Trail Head including Yaki Point, Pipe Creek Vista, and Mather Point. THIS brochure is a very helpful guide to the South Rim! The Grand Canyon has an excellent, free shuttle bus system with stops to all of the view points, trails, lodges, etc. Parking is limited so it's easier to use the shuttles.
We got lunch to-go from a cafeteria in Maswick Lodge and spent the afternoon walking along the Rim Trail from Trail Overlook to Hermit's Rest (the end of the trail). The total distance was about 7 miles and it's an easy, relatively flat walk. Along the trail there are nine overlooks each with a different angle of the canyon. Walking the Rim Trail was my favorite part of the trip! It was beautiful, relaxing, and there were hardly any other people on the trail. If you don't want to walk, you can also use the shuttle bus which runs on an adjacent road and stops at each view point. We took the bus on the way back to the village.
We caught a few glimpses of the Colorado River while walking on the Rim Trail. If you do have enough time and interest, I think hiking to the bottom and spending a day rafting through the river would be an incredible experience!
We returned to lodge late afternoon and rested for a few hours before taking the shuttle (way too tired to walk at this point) to one of the view points we saw earlier in the day along the Rim Trail - Hopi Point. We were told it was the best spot to watch sunset so we got there early to grab a spot and wait. It was definitely worth the effort and wait! It was crowded so get there early if you want a good spot for photos and viewing.
By the end of the day, we were exhausted! We ate dinner in Maswick Lodge before calling it a night and left early the next day. It was truly the perfect day at the Grand Canyon! We thought one day was enough time - you get to experience sunrise, sunset, a few hikes, and many viewpoints! Another wonderful thing about the Grand Canyon is that it's a fairly inexpensive vacation. The expenses are: entrance fee ($30), lodging ($150-200/night), and food. We flew in and out of Las Vegas which is about a four hour drive. We loved the trip to Arizona so much that we are going back in a few weeks...to a new spot!