When we visited Las Vegas, we knew that we wanted to factor a visit to the Grand Canyon into our visit. I mean, come on, it’s the GRAND CANYON. A mile deep, 18 mile wide, 277 mile long, 3 million year old hole in the ground. So we packed up our rental car and left the blinking neon lights of Sin City behind to head for the South Rim, 280 miles east. Here’s my guide to visiting the Grand Canyon on an overnight trip from Las Vegas.
* This is a revamp of an old post recounting our USA Road Trip in September 2010. All information has been fact-checked to ensure it’s still relevant today*
** This trip was taken before I’d started blogging, and before Mr Fletche ever picked up a DSLR. Therefore photos from this trip were generally blurry and of low quality**
It’s a 4-5 hour drive to the South Rim from Vegas so it’s best to plan an early start. We were just a couple of days into our USA trip, so jetlag meant that early mornings weren’t a problem for us. It’s a straightforward route on US-93 (S) and I-40 (E) – but after the initial excitement, it’s a pretty tedious journey.
Plan to make a couple of stops to break up the journey. We stopped at the Hoover Dam, parking up on the far Arizona side and walking back to avoid the $10 fee on the Nevada side. Don’t forget to adjust your watches at the dam as the states are on different time zones! You can take various tours here but we were just making a flying visit for a few photos.
We break up our journey with lunch at Seligman, the birthplace of Route 66, and a step back in time. It’s a dusty desert town but absolutely worth a stop for it’s colourful buildings (including your opportunity to be locked inside a jailhouse for a quick photo), a milkshake from the famous Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Diner and rusty old vehicles. We ate at Westside Lilo’s Cafe, a typical American roadside diner with a German twist.
Williams is known as “The Gateway To The Grand Canyon”. It’s exactly what you would expect from a historic American town on Route 66. The downtown main street has stars and stripes hanging from each shopfront, and every store window showcases quirky artefacts and vintage Americana memorabilia. We stopped in Williams on our return journey for breakfast. Sadly it looks like Old Smokeys Pancake House is now closed.
You are required to pay an admission fee when you arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park by car. This is currently $35 for a car and all passengers. For individuals entering the park without a vehicle it is $20 per adult (16 and over). Admissions are valid for seven days.
A lot of visitors tend to base themselves outside of the National Park but with just one night to spend we decided to stay right in the heart of the Grand Canyon Village at Maswik Lodge. The accommodation was nothing fancy, but ideal for a one night stay. The lodge complex has a food court (which was so-so) and a pizza pub (which was better), and is close to the shuttle bus routes.
With such limited time available, at the very least I’d recommend selecting a spot for sunset and sunrise, and taking a short hike along the canyon rim. If you want to do one of the longer hikes down to the canyon floor, you should consider spending at least two days in the area.
The South Rim Trail extends from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest, 12 miles in length. It’s a flat, well paved and mostly accessible path. The free shuttle bus follows this route, so it’s easy to hop on and off wherever you desire. This PDF from the National Park Service gives great information about the route and the shuttle bus stops along the way.
For sunset we took the red shuttle bus east to Mohave Point. We were originally going to alight at Powell Point, but everyone on the bus seemed to have the same idea. Our driver suggested that we carry on a stop or two further. It was a great spot, not too busy but easy to find a more secluded spot when the crowds did descend. If you’re brave enough to look down you can see the rapids on the Colorado River far far below.
For sunrise, we simply took a stroll along the South Rim Trail westwards from the Grand Canyon Village. It was surprisingly peaceful at 5:30am with just a few hardy hikers beginning their trek down into the canyon itself. Watching the sun slowly creep onto the canyon walls, and feeling the warmth sweeping away the dawn chill was well worth the 5am alarm call.
We took a short detour after sunrise along the first couple of switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail. This trails leads all the way down to the canyon floor, a distance of around 9.5 miles. But with time running out – and a distinct lack of preparedness – we sensibly turned around at the 1.5 mile marker. After all, even at this short elevation drop it’s harder coming up than it is going down.
I’m a guidebook fanatic, and thus I never plan a trip without consulting a) trusted bloggers and b) Lonely Planet. If you’re planning a trip soon, here’s an affiliate link to the Grand Canyon Guidebook from Lonely Planet.
It’s been fun to look back over an old travel diary post; hopefully if you’re planning on visiting the Grand Canyon I’ve provided you with some useful information! I’d love to return as this trip was taken way before blogging, photography and even accidental hiking were a thing!
Thank you for reading x