Some tips to help make a visit to Grand Canyon's South Rim even more pleasant
By CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | Los Angeles Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 27, 2015
Don’t go anywhere without water.
Don’t even think about hiking to the bottom and back in the same day.
Don’t count on paying $25 per car to get into the park. Rangers say the entrance fee may climb to $30 in coming months.
Don’t expect great food in the park or in the neighboring village of Tusayan.
Do expect to hear vigorous conversations about land use. Just south of the park in Tusayan, developers have proposed building 2,200 homes and 3 million square feet of commercial space. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation has proposed a Grand Canyon Escalade gondola ride and riverside restaurant on East Rim reservation land visible from several South Rim viewpoints. Park Superintendent David Uberuaga has called these plans “serious threats to the future of the park.”
Do cover at least a little ground on the Bright Angel Trail. Once a Native American path, then a toll road (for mules and hikers), this is now the park’s premier hiking trail. It’s a 7.8-mile journey down to the Colorado River at the canyon bottom, and 9.9 miles to Phantom Ranch, where mule riders typically spend the night. (It usually takes four to six hours to get down, and twice as long to climb back up, which is why hikers should spend a night at the bottom.) In winter, the top two miles of the trail are icy; hiking poles and crampons are recommended. In summer, the lower parts of the canyon are routinely hotter than 100 degrees, sometimes as high as 115. The easy option: At sunrise, hike down half a mile (just far enough to reach the trail’s second tunnel), then come back up for a big breakfast. More info at www.lat.ms/1ae1LCX
Distance from Bright Angel trailhead:
Fewer than 1,000 feet east. Do browse in the Kolb studio (Grand Canyon Village; (928) 638-2481, www.grandcanyon.org). This studio, built in 1904 on stilts over the canyon, was also a home and in 22 years grew to five levels and 23 rooms. Exhibits inside tell the story of Ellsworth and Emery Kolb and their tourist photo business. The Grand Canyon Association runs a gallery and gift shop here now.
Fewer than 1,000 feet east: Do duck into the Lookout Studio (Grand Canyon Village; www.lat.ms/1IlClBO). Determined to compete with the Kolb brothers’ photo business, the Santa Fe Railway and Fred Harvey Co. commissioned architect Mary Colter to build a rival photo studio 100 yards away. Completed in 1914 (and under exterior renovation in March), the building mimics 12th century Native American building styles. It’s a gift shop now. But for a classic selfie with a canyon panorama behind you, you can’t beat this studio’s view decks — one upstairs, one down.
Fewer than 1,000 feet east: Do book well ahead if you want a spot at the Bright Angel Lodge (9 N. Village Loop Drive, Grand Canyon Village; (928) 638-2631, www.grandcanyonlodges.com). This landmark, built in 1935, includes 90 units, mostly lodge rooms (some share baths) and rustic cabins. The most coveted quarters: the Buckey O’Neill Cabin, built in the 1890s, which has separate bedroom and sitting room and rents for $426 a night. Lodge rooms for two: $89 with shared bath, $100 with private bath. Most cabins $128-$197.
Fewer than 1,000 feet east: Do try the lodge’s Bright Angel Restaurant. It offers all three meals, but I liked it best for breakfast, $5.95-$12.95. It starts serving at 6:30 a.m. in winter, 6 a.m. from April through November. For a quicker meal, head a few paces closer to the rim to the Bright Angel Fountain, open seasonally 11 a.m.-5 p.m. There you can get hot dogs and other snacks, and ice cream for dessert. Don’t let the long line scare you.
0.6 mile east: Don’t expect an elevator in El Tovar Hotel (1 Main St., Grand Canyon Village; (888) 297-2757 or (928) 638-2631, www.grandcanyonlodges.com). It’s the fanciest hotel on the South Rim, but it’s also a historic landmark from 1905, so this three-story, 78-unit lodging has plenty of log-cabin-meets-Craftsman style, but no elevators. If you’re spending the night, be sure to ask about renovations. (Half of the lobby was behind a tarp when I arrived and a re-roofing job was in progress. When I told the front desk that nobody had warned me, the representative immediately took $100 off my bill.) Rooms for two, $197-$321, suites $401-$489. If you’re not spending the night, consider lunch or dinner in the stately but rustic dining room.
2.5 miles east: Don’t dawdle on the way to Mather Point. It’s a gorgeous spot to catch a sunrise. Also, once the sun is up, the parking lot fills fast. Just about every canyon visitor comes here at some point — the main Visitor Center, the biggest bookstore and the bike rental operation are clustered here a short walk from the rim. It’s no fun prowling the aisles at midday searching for a parking spot.
4.3 miles east: Even if you’re not going to hike it, do check out the top part of the South Kaibab Trail. The switchbacks are dramatic, as is the view. The trail reaches the canyon bottom in 6.3 miles. But because it’s so steep and shade is so scarce, rangers recommend hikers go downhill on South Kaibab and come up on Bright Angel. For more, go to www.lat.ms/1Jibog5
2.6 miles northwest: Don’t think you can drive to Mohave Point. This is one of several South Rim viewpoints closed to private cars. To get here, take one of the park’s free shuttle buses and enjoy the view of the river to the northwest. For info on the shuttle system, go to www.lat.ms/1aEiG2l. As one of the bus drivers pointed out, any South Rim location with “point” in its name is probably good for sunset or sunrise photos, because those points jut into the canyon with views to the east and west.
6.9 miles south: If you want hearty Mexican food, do try Plaza Bonita Family Mexican Restaurant (352 State Route 64, Tusayan; (928) 638-8900, www.casabonitaaz.com). The tortilla soup alone will fill you up. This is a chain with many Arizona locations. Dinners $10.95-$21.75.
6.9 miles south: For generous portions in a riotous dining room full of picnic tables and waiters in cowboy hats, do head for the Yippee-ei-o Steakhouse (U.S. 180/64, Tusayan; (928) 638-2780, no website). Expect to see an automatic 15 percent tip on your bill. Despite the dismal reviews on Yelp, we had a satisfying dinner here. Main dishes $13.95-$29.95.
7.2 miles south: If all the South Rim lodgings are booked, do consider the 121-room Grand Hotel (State Route 149, Tusayan; (888) 634-7263 or (928) 638-3333, www.grandcanyongrandhotel.com). Run by Xanterra, the park concessionaire, it’s one mile outside the park. Rooms from $199. The hotel’s Canyon Star Steakhouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in an enormous dining room done in modern ranch style. Breakfasts $8.95-$17.95.
29 miles south: Don’t forget Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty, in Bedrock City (101 U.S. 180, Williams, Ariz.; (928) 635-2600, www.bedrockaz.com). Since the early 1970s, this 30-acre theme park has celebrated the Flintstones. It’s really tired, but you could change that. The place is for sale, asking price $2 million. There is, however, a catch: The Hanna-Barbera license, which allows use of the Flintstones name, doesn’t convey with the property.
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