It’s iconic. Emblematic.
Is it even possible to visit the Grand Canyon non-ironically?
Can you even say “I’m going to the Grand Canyon” non-ironically?
Well, it’s Grand.
But first, I want to backtrack and talk a bit about my planning for this part of the trip in detail. Perhaps it will be useful to someone.
When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have two main choices: South Rim or North Rim. (There is also a Grand Canyon West, where the Haulapai glass walkway is, but it not actually in the National Park. )
The South Rim is the more heavily visited section: about five million people a year visit the South Rim. It’s closer to Phoenix, obviously, and closer to Las Vegas. It’s very developed – there are many choices for accommodations and eating, and more nearby communities.
The North Rim gets a tenth of the South Rim’s traffic – about half a million people a year visit.
It’s more challenging to get to, with a tiny fraction of the tourist infrastructure as you find in the South.
But if your visit is oriented to the north – that is, you’re doing some iteration of the “Grand Circle” – it makes no sense to do the South Rim, which may be ten miles across the Canyon, but is a four hour drive from the North Rim.
And since we were doing Zion and Bryce, North Rim It was.
(Also good to note that if you want to see the Grand Canyon at any time other than between May and October, you must do the South Rim. The North Rim is only open during the summer and early fall because of snow.)
Accommodations are a challenge. Unless you are camping, there are only three even sort-of nearby choices for the North Rim.
About 45 minutes from the actual Grand Canyon is the Jacob Lake Inn, which also features a café, a small store, a well-known bakery and a gas station. It would not be a bad choice, if you were just looking to spend one day at the park – and as I learned, while I was glad we spent two days, I think you can get a good sense of the Grand Canyon in one day – if the weather is good, you can actually do all of the driveable and walkable vistas and viewpoints in a day, easily.
Closer in, about 5 miles from the Park entrance (which would then put you still about 17 miles from the Rim), is the Kaibab Lodge.
Finally, in the park itself, is the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, operated by Forever Resorts (which operates several other NPS accommodations, including the Bryce Canyon Lodge.)
It is much larger than the other two, of course, with a variety of types of rooms, including regular motel rooms and cabins with various layouts. Because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes back and forth, and because I just wanted the experience of being right there at the Grand Canyon, this was my choice.
So of course, given the distance of the other two accommodations from the actual park, you can see what’s most popular. Which means it has a reputation of being devilishly hard to get – A YEAR IN ADVANCE YOU MUST.
Well…not so sure about that.
No, I wouldn’t wait until the week before I left, having purchased airfare and rented a car to finally get around to trying to get a room at the GCNR Lodge, and if you definitely know when you are going to be there, sure…go ahead and grab the rooms that far in advance.
But if you have flexibility and if you decide, for example, today, that you’re going to try to hit the North Rim next week…yes, you might be able to get a room, and if you’re thinking…maybe next month? Sure. You can do it.
Check the availability calendar (screenshot taken today – 6/24) and see.
And here’s the thing: at this point, you can make and cancel reservations at the Lodge with no penalty. Yes, they charge your card with a deposit when you make the reservation, but I found that after making and cancelling a few times, they reversed the charges very quickly without having to be asked. And this is what people do – you grab something when it comes free, and then if you really would like something different, you wait, check many times a day, and when what you want comes free, you make that reservation and cancel the last one.
Availabilty changes constantly. Part of the reason, I think is that tour companies reserve blocks of rooms many months in advance, and as they change plans and group sizes, rooms become available.
So when I first started planning, I reserved a couple of days in the first rooms that came up, near the end of our trip. But then I started wondering if I really wanted us to do the Grand Canyon at the very end, and then have a fairly long drive back to Vegas, made even longer by everyone’s interest in seeing Death Valley, which is two hours beyond Vegas. So I started looking at the middle of the trip, which was, unfortunately, Memorial Day. The type of cabin I wanted finally came available for Monday the 25th, so it was up to me now to watch and wait to see if anything would come open either the 24th or 26th. A few days later, the 24th came open for the same type of cabin, I booked it online, then called the reservations center to consolidate the bookings – they are super nice, and used to people doing this reserve/cancel/consolidate dance.
What did we finally get?
A “rim-side Pioneer Cabin.”
Some of the cabins are duplex style, this was not. There were two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with bunks and a futon. The bathroom was modern and clean, both rooms had space heaters, and there was a small fridge. Yes it was, “rim-side” but unfortunately, ours didn’t exactly have a view. From the cabin.
That’s our cabin on the right. That’s how far I had to walk to get the view in the second photo. Not bad!
There are “nicer” cabins with front porches, and that are larger, but those are all located closer to the actual Lodge (which might be nice for you if you don’t want to have to walk far to eat)…but that means they are also right in the thick of foot traffic – I mean, you get a front porch, but what you get to see (and hear) from your front porch is mostly other people walking around.
Some points, addressing complaints and comments about the Lodge one finds online:
- I can’t speak to the non-cabin accommodations – the complaints are that they are small and cheaply done. But the cabin we stayed in was just fine. It was very clean, warm and not-buggy. The linens were clean, the bathroom was modern. I have no complaints. Yes, it was a little expensive, but you are paying TO STAY AT THE GRAND CANYON.
- There is walking involved. You can’t pull right up to your cabin and unload your luggage at the door. You may have to walk forty feet. Oh dear. GRAND CANYON.
- Noise? We didn’t experience any. We weren’t, as I said, in a duplex cabin or motel room, so that wasn’t an issue. I found the park very quiet and peaceful at night. You would hope so, right?
- Note: NO WI-FI at the Lodge or any of those rooms. There is a General Store at the campground, about a mile down the road, with Wi-Fi. There was a part of me that thought they should have Wi-Fi at the Lodge, in the lobby area at least, but then I had a vision of dozens of people sitting there in front of the picture window, Grand Canyon spread out in front of them, their noses up against their phone screens. So…probably not. We can live without it.
- Also at the campground is a laundromat, which I used.
- They don’t sell bottled water at any of these National Parks, which is a good thing, but be prepared – have your own refillable bottle, or be ready to buy one there.
- The food at the main restaurant is expensive and not very good. We didn’t do the restaurant for dinner – I had made reservations, but then I looked at the menu and the prices and cancelled. We did the breakfast buffet one morning, and it was mediocre at best. Turkey bacon like leather, cold biscuits, that sort of thing. Nice waitress, though. All of the employees were courteous and friendly. No complaints there.
- There is a “deli” like place right next to the Lodge which has good sandwiches and pizza at decent prices. The boys said the pizza was really good. There’s also a “saloon” that sells alcoholic beverages and has a few food menu items.
- And that’s it for food. So really, take as much food as you can in with you (although it would need to be the kind you don’t have to , you know, cook…since the rooms don’t have anything but fridges – sandwiches that will keep for a day, milk, cereal, bars, fruit, carrots, crackers, cheese, bread). You will probably want to avoid the restaurant, especially if you have a family.
- (For contrast…the Death Valley accommodations are also isolated and also function as a monopoly, but they are operated by a different vendor –Xanterra (which also operates the South Rim lodge) – and the food was much better and more fairly priced.)
- I was curious about the employees. They are seasonal, obviously, since the place is only open a few months a year. They all live on site, and many, it seems, are foreign students – I heard a lot of Eastern European accents while I was there.
This is the view of the main Lodge from one of the little hiking trails that goes out from it.
The Lodge building itself is wonderful – historic and classic “National Park” style, with a fabulous glass-enclosed viewing lounge as well as patios with chairs. The dining room also has that great view (those are the windows on the left) but again, the food isn’t good, and you can walk ten feet and sit on a couch and enjoy the same view. I thought I had photos of that lounge, but I can’t seem to find them. You can get a good sense of it just from this search.
Well, I had intended to make this post about our first day at the Grand Canyon, but time is running out, so this will have to do. But maybe it will help you out if you’re planning a trip…add your own insights if you like!