I was 18 years old the first time I ever visited the Grand Canyon. I had seen photos of it all my life, and wondered what it would be like to see it with my own eyes countless times before the old suburban my friends and I were driving rolled up to the makeshift parking lot inside the South Rim of Arizona’s largest National Park. This was back in 2006. Before the shops and restaurants and paved parking lots were probably even conceived. Back when there wasn’t a chest high fence surrounding the entire canyon. It was perfect. It was breathtaking and humbling. It was more than I had thought it would be.
There’s an indescribable feeling that comes along with being able to dangle your legs off the side of the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen, while feeling the wind blowing sweetly through your hair and watching a hawk fly through the vastness in front of you. It’s the type of moment you dream about when planning a trip, and it actually happened to me. To us.
It is also an illegal sort of moment, which made sneaking away from the population and breaking the only rule the parks service really enforces all the more sweet and bright in my memory. I knew one wrong move would be bad for my health, and ultimately my life, but when was I ever going to get the chance to do this again? We all knew it was special. It’s why we were sitting behind a clump of trees away from the other tourists, being as quiet as we could. We didn’t want anything to ruin the moment. Not even conversation.
What I didn’t know as I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon was how much more there was to it than just the spectacular view before me. I had been out of high school only a matter of months. We hadn’t done all that much research on the places we were visiting, and only had a few fold-out maps and a vague idea of the route we were going to drive before we left home. It was a romantic idea as old as America. Go west in search of something. Only unlike the pioneers before us, we were driving back at the end of the adventure.
Years later, when I began my official travel bucket list, I immediately highlighted the Grand Canyon and filled the space below with spectacular things I didn’t even know about at 18. I have since been back to the Grand Canyon, finding myself yearning for the place I had known in 2006 that no longer existed, rather than enjoying the experience. Now that I know no normal day trip to the South Rim will ever match what I experienced that first time, I dream about a different sort of Grand Canyon, about what it must be like at the bottom and on the other side. Today the Grand Canyon section of my bucket list looks a little something like this:
The North Rim:
I’ve been told the North Rim is less popular among tourists because it’s out-of-the-way, closed for months on in due to snow (yes it does snow in Arizona… I know I was shocked too!!), and a little farther away from civilization than the South Rim. While I can vouch for the snow issue, having attempted and failed to visit the North Rim on my way back to Tucson from Salt Lake City Utah, I would like to cut through the BS of the first sentence by laying out one pure and simple fact. When one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth is a national park and has more than one entrance, it’s probably going to be busy no matter where you are. Especially when said North Rim has particularly nice lodging and Summers in Arizona offer a lot of daylight. Even so, if the photos are any indication of what to expect, I’d imagine the stunning scenery is worth the drive… again.
Skywalk – Grand Canyon West
I’ve been dying to experience the skywalk on Grand Canyon West since I first heard about it being built. Sadly, that was after my second visit to the South Rim in 2012 and even worse, after leaving Tucson for South East Asia. Since it’s located on the tribal lands of the Hualapai people, your national parks pass or visitors pass won’t help you out here. It’s about a 5 hour drive from the main entrance to the South Rim of the canyon, and along with the hefty price tag of about $70, you’ll also get to drive through a Hualapai city called Peach Springs. It’s location is awful convenient if you ask me, since they have everything a tourist should need and offer lots of activities to keep you occupied while you’re in the area.
Hike to the Bottom & Camp
If you’re not much of a camper, you can always opt to do a day hike from either side of the canyon without the expense of an overnight stay at the bottom. Although I know it’s not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, the real question is why wouldn’t you want a chance to sleep at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and explore a little? I know I certainly do. In order to enjoy an overnight stay, you’ll have to get the right permits and plan as far ahead as you can to give yourself enough time to prepare for your trip. Having hiked plenty in the desert surrounding Tucson, I’d recommend following the advice about both day and overnight hikes that’s listed on the Grand Canyon’s website. No matter how much hiking experience you have, it’s always best to be as prepared as you can for the hot desert climate.
Navajo Falls – Havasu Falls – Mooney Falls & Beaver Falls
Wedged between Grand Canyon West and the South Rim is the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It’s town Supai (which I’m not sure actually qualifies to be called a town since it still gets its mail delivered by mules), is known to travelers for its access to nearby hiking and spectacular waterfalls. According to every map I looked at, it appears as though the waterfalls themselves aren’t actually located inside the official Grand Canyon, but just outside of it in the Havasu canyon. Admittedly, it’s all a little bit confusing since everything has Supai as being located INSIDE the grand canyon, despite what the maps lead you to believe.
Despite the confusion or my lack of map reading ability, the beautiful blue waterfalls at the bottom of the Havasu Canyon look worth the trip to me no matter where they might be located. You can opt to hike to the bottom of the canyon, and to each respective waterfall in the area by contacting the Havasupai Tribe for a reservation yourself, or by booking a tour through one of the many companies offering everything from helicopter and mule rides to guided treks. No matter how you choose to get to the bottom, you’re going to need to book well in advance since spaces are limited and fill up fast. As with hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you should make sure to come prepared, as almost all the falls as located a good hike away from the nearest camping site and the desert terrain can be an unforgiving place.