Visiting Arizona’s Grand Canyon is either on your bucket list already or ought to be.
If you choose to visit its popular South Rim, the best times to go are within the next two months. The weather is usually ideal for sightseeing and hiking, with daily high temperatures often in the 60s and 70s.
You can just linger on the rim and enjoy this marvel from its overlooks, but for real adventure descend into the canyon. One of the best routes is the Bright Angel Trail. It goes all the way to the Colorado River, but for a day trip you’ll want to go only a few miles at most. You’ll start at an elevation of 6,820 feet, from a trailhead located behind the Bright Angel Lodge, next to Kolb Studio.
The experience becomes memorable in the first few minutes, as the trail passes through a man-made tunnel. Just after the tunnel, look up on your left to the cliff and a small alcove called Mallory’s Grotto, where you will see American Indian pictographs. They are painted in red and depict elk. Pictographs are very old and survive only in such protected places.
Continue as far as you feel comfortable, but remember the return route is all uphill and a strenuous hike.
As you make your way down the trail, you might see a wrangler-led mule train with tourists descending the canyon or returning to the rim. Etiquette calls for hikers to stand off the trail on the uphill side, if possible, and to stay put until the last mule is at least 50 feet past the last hiker.
If reading this makes you think you’d rather be aboard the mule, be sure to make reservations well in advance at 303-297-2757. Sometimes saddles become available because of last-minute emergencies or chicken-out syndrome, and you can get on a waiting list for such openings if you inquire at least a day before at 928-638-2631.
Whatever you do, don’t attempt to hike all the way to the Colorado River and back in one day. It’s nine and a half steep miles each way, and many have died trying it.
Good destinations for a day trip are the mile-and-a-half or three-mile rest houses. You will lose 1,131 feet and 2,112 feet in elevation, respectively, reaching those destinations, and of course gain that much coming back.
Super athletes could possibly go to Indian Garden and back, a 9.2-mile round-trip, but it’s very strenuous, with a 3,060 feet elevation gain returning to the rim.
Water is usually available year-round at Indian Garden, but only seasonally (pipes often flowing in May) at the upper rest houses. Carry all the water you might need, as the pipes break once in a while.
If you go
Directions: From Las Vegas, take U.S. Highway 93 south about 100 miles to Kingman, Arizona. Go east on Interstate 40 for about 112 miles to Williams. Exit onto Arizona Route 64 and drive north for about 60 miles to the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.
What to pack: Water and snacks. Bring an over-the-boot/shoe traction device for possible icy patches or snow at the top of the trail. Be sure to wear a hat for shade, dress in layers, and use hiking poles.
Length of stay: A day or longer.
Not to be overlooked: The National Park Service’s Fee-Free Day is April 20, the first day of National Park Week.
Centennial events: 2019 marks Grand Canyon National Park’s 100th birthday, with special events taking place throughout the year. Check out a detailed list of events at nps.gov/grca.