FOR A VACATION THAT IS GREEN AS WELL AS GRAND, SEEK CAR-FREE MODES OF TRANSPORTATION AT GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, SAYS CONCESSIONER XANTERRA
Ditching the car and exploring Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park using alternative forms of transportation – including two-legged, four-legged and wheeled modes – is surprisingly easy, affordable and healthy for travelers as well as the environment.
“By using alternative forms of transportation, travelers can spend less time watching the road and more time taking in the spectacular scenery of the Grand Canyon,” said Bruce Brossman, regional director of sales and marketing for Xanterra South Rim and Grand Canyon Railway. “Between the National Park Service’s free shuttle system, Xanterra’s various transportation offerings and your own two legs, it is a simple matter to explore the Canyon without ever returning to the parked car.”
While you may want to use a car to get here, once you’re there you really don’t need it, and in fact, using alternative transportation frees up travelers.
Parking is free, and there are numerous parking lots around the South Rim, including several centrally located in Grand Canyon Village as well as a variety of satellite lots. The National Park Service’s free shuttle system stops to pick up and drop off passengers every 15 minutes at a variety of shuttle stops throughout the park as well as the town of Tusayan during the summer season.
There is also a compelling environmental argument in favor of leaving the car behind. As a strong proponent of minimizing impact on the environment, Xanterra advocates visitors use mass transportation, bike or walk whenever possible to reduce air pollution as well as congestion on the roads.
Grand Canyon Railway
A fun and popular way to arrive at the Grand Canyon is by train. Grand Canyon Railway makes daily round-trip excursions from Williams, Ariz. some 65 miles south to the historic Grand Canyon Depot in the heart of the village. And visitors with an appreciation of history will enjoy learning that their arrival at Grand Canyon National Park is similar to the experience that visitors had more than 100 years ago, when construction of the Grand Canyon Depot – one of only 14 log depots ever constructed in the U.S. and one of only three remaining log depots – was completed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
Train passengers bypass the park entrance and proceed directly to the depot, situated near El Tovar. Park fees are paid in advance.
Vacationers taking Grand Canyon Railway arrive at the South Rim just before noon. Some travelers opt to spend a few hours in the park, often having lunch at El Tovar and exploring Grand Canyon Village before re-boarding the train for the return to Williams in the late afternoon. Many others choose to purchase a Grand Canyon Railway package that includes one or more nights at a lodge inside the park. Grand Canyon Railway passengers taking the roundtrip train in one day can opt for a special 90-minute motorcoach tour with an optional buffet lunch at Maswik Lodge. Overnight guests can reserve a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon to complement their land-based adventures.
Travelers can also choose the Railway Express Tour. This trip includes a one-way van trip from Grand Canyon National Park in the morning to Williams, a Wild West shootout at the historic Grand Canyon Railway Depot and a return trip to the park aboard Grand Canyon Railway. The trip aboard the train includes strolling musicians who entertain in each car. Grand Canyon Railway arrives back in the park around lunchtime.
Following Xanterra’s purchase of Grand Canyon Railway in 2007, the green-minded company undertook numerous initiatives to improve the historic train’s environmental impact. One of the most notable changes was to discontinue regular steam train runs and offer periodic special steam trains powered by recycled vegetable oil for fuel and reclaimed rain and snow melt – collected during the winter and Northern Arizona’s rainy season – in the boiler for steam. The train will offer six steam train runs in 2013.
For more information visit www.thetrain.com.
Did you know?: Traveling via Grand Canyon Railway relieves the Grand Canyon of some 35,000 cars annually.
Amtrak offers train service from Union Station in Los Angeles to Williams, where passengers are met by a Grand Canyon Railway shuttle for the 10-minute bus ride to the Williams Depot. From there, passengers can catch Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon. Prices vary depending on class of service. Travelers will have time between trains to enjoy breakfast at the Grand Depot Café, which serves made-to-order omelets as well as a variety of other breakfast dishes. The restaurant opens for breakfast at 6:30 a.m.
Another way to see the Canyon is by mule, sometimes called “long-eared taxis.” Xanterra’s popular Abyss Overlook Mule Ride is a good option for travelers who desire a mule experience but cannot take the two-day mule ride that travels to Phantom Ranch on the floor of the Canyon. The Abyss Overlook ride lasts approximately two hours and 45 minutes and departs from the historic Grand Canyon Livery Barn. During the winter season the ride departs once each morning, and during the summer season – from mid March through late October – the ride departs twice daily. There are a maximum of 20 riders per tour. Cost of the ride is $122.81 per person. Water, snacks, bota bags and rain jackets are provided.
Riders must weigh less than 225 pounds fully dressed for the Abyss Overlook ride and less than 200 pounds for the Phantom Ranch ride, be at least 4 feet 7 inches tall, speak and understand English, be in good physical condition, and not be afraid of heights or large animals. Riders cannot be pregnant.
The ride follows a trail that heads along a section of Grand Canyon Railway tracks and then through a portion of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world. The ride is approximately one hour and 15 minutes each way with a half-hour stop at the Abyss where riders can dismount to stretch their legs and shoot photos. This is the riders’ only opportunity to see the Canyon during the ride. The Abyss features a 3,000-foot vertical drop and views of many of the Grand Canyon’s colorful pinnacles, buttes and mesas. The rides return on the same trail.
Xanterra also offers two-day mule rides to the bottom of the Canyon with overnight accommodations at Phantom Ranch. Two-day mule tours are typically booked many months in advance so Xanterra advises travelers to plan ahead.
Did you know?: Mules have been a mode of tourist transportation in the Grand Canyon for more than a century.
One of the most popular ways to view and learn about the Canyon is on a motorcoach tour. The drivers are well-trained and entertaining. For most tours there is no charge for passengers under the age of 16 when accompanied by a paying adult. Xanterra offers a two-hour tour to Hermit’s Rest along the West Rim; a three-hour, 45-minute tour to the Watchtower along the East Rim and 90-minute Sunrise and Sunset tours. All tours include extensive interpretive information offered by drivers and stops at scenic points along the way. Tours are conducted in comfortable, air-conditioned motorcoaches that allow travelers to sit back and relax while taking in the scenery. Rates for adults are $21.50 for the Sunrise and Sunset tours, $28 for the Hermit’s Rest tour and $47 for the Desert View tour. Guests may also choose a combination tour for $60 which includes the Desert View tour and a choice of the Hermit’s Rest, Sunset or Sunrise tour. Grand Canyon Railway passengers taking the roundtrip train in one day can opt for a special 90-minute motorcoach tour with an optional buffet lunch at Maswik Lodge.
Tip: The combination tour offers the best value.
Travelers can bring their own bikes or rent from Bright Angel Bicycles, which offers rentals by the hour, and for half, full and multiple days as well as guided tours. Travelers can ride on portions of the park’s greenway trail system and on park roads. Bicyclists can take self-guided tours directly from the rental kiosk or take a free NPS shuttle to any drop-off. Shuttles can accommodate a maximum of three bicycles. The bicycle rental kiosk is located at the National Park Service Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
There are also a variety of tours and activities in Grand Canyon Village. For example, visitors to the Grand Canyon can take a self-guided walking tour of the historic district of Grand Canyon Village. Brochures providing interesting information about each of the stops are available at no charge from the front desk of each lodging facility. Interesting and historic sites within walking distance of Grand Canyon Village are the famed El Tovar Hotel, the Bright Angel History Room, Hopi House, Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio.
Tip: Don’t miss the Bright Angel History Room in Bright Angel Lodge where Harvey Girl uniforms, early El Tovar china, historic photos and other artifacts are on display.
Visitors can book their rooms online by visiting www.grandcanyonlodges.com or by calling toll-free 1-888-297-2757 or 1-303-297-2757 from outside the United States. More information about Grand Canyon National Park can be obtained at www.nps.gov/grca or 1-928-638-7888.