There is a smallish river that runs through the desert about an hour north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Over time, the current of water dug a little crevice into the land, and now throngs of visitors flood the region, all hoping to catch a glimpse and snap a few photos.
I am of course referring to the Grand Canyon, an unfathomable abyss with a span of around 10 miles between the rims. If you have never had the opportunity to take in a view of the place, hop on Hotwire now to book some plane tickets, or better yet, stumble into the nearest Greyhound station and head out on the next bus for Flagstaff.
There is a problem with Grand Canyon National Park: the humans. Thousands and thousands. Throngs and hordes. Oodles and scads. The southern rim of the natural wonder is extremely accessible, which means every beer-bellied, Coolpix-weilding, cigarette-puffing, white-socks-up-to-their-ankles, rental-RV tourist in the region can — and will – be right there next to you as you try to enjoy the view.
Have no fear fellow BlinkPackers. Here is a grand list of tips that will help you beat the crowds for a truer, more lovely Grand Canyon experience, even if your visit only lasts a couple of hours.
1) Rise early
Grand Canyon shuttle buses begin their routes at 4:30 am. If you can drag yourself out of tent, bed, or whatever-horizontal-surface-have-you, you will not only enjoy the park tourist-free, but you will also be treated to a breathtaking sunrise in one of the vastest spaces on earth.
2) Get down
The rim trail is flooded with wannabe hikers who huff it for a half-mile and head for the snack bar. Just because you do not have time to trek down to the river and back up does not mean that you should skip the trail. If you have an hour, head into the canyon for thirty minutes and turn around. The rim is indeed beautiful, but getting inside the canyon is a different experience altogether. Skip the crowds and have a closer look.
3) Go for second place
The beauty of the canyon is best viewed from, well, anywhere. Most of the tourists flock to the visitor’s centers at the east and west ends of the park. Spend minimal time at either of those and park instead at one of the next turnouts down the road. My family set a blanket on the rim a mere eighth of a mile from the west visitor’s center and enjoyed some quality family time without the company of another soul.
4) Put the camera down
Unless you are Ansel Adams, it is a fact that your photographs of the Grand Canyon are going to suck. They will all make the canyon look smallish, hazy, and pinkish-brown. If you snap one photo of your husband or 100 photos of your husband, it will seem that he went to the Sears photo studio, stood in front of a green screen, and had the technician zap a 1980s image of the canyon behind him. So dedicate 15 minutes to snapping this or that, and then put the camera back in your pocket. While the tourists-en-masse are spending their day squinting through tiny peepholes, you can take in the full experience.
5) Sack it
Restaurants in the canyon are like dining at Disney: the expensive food you order will invariably taste like reheated styrofoam, and for the privilege of placing an order, you will have to stand in line for at least a half-hour. Here’s how to stay full during your Grand Canyon visit, while minding the budget and enjoying what you eat.
Go big for breakfast at a diner on old route 66 in Flagstaff. Get your eggs, your bacon, your toast, your has browns, your waffles, your fresh fruit, your orange juice… the works. Then head to the canyon with a brown bag filled with two peanut butter sandwiches, some beef jerky, a small bag of clementines, two granola bars, and a Nalgene filled with water. After you leave the park, order up some asada tacos at a local Tex Mex joint on your way back into town. Not only will you be eating tastier, more satisfying food than your fellow park-goers, you will also skip the massive crowds hovering around the troughs during feeding time.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Williams, Arizona and headed toward the Phoenix. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!