The Perfect Grand Canyon Weekend
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon is a destination where everything is unforgettable — from riding a mule to hiking the canyon to simply soaking in its surreal beauty.
Grand Canyon National Park is like nowhere else on earth. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it’s a destination where everything is unforgettable — from riding a mule to hiking the canyon to simply soaking in its surreal beauty.
While there’s not one way to “do it right,” there are many ways to pack two days with excursions and activities that are alternately entertaining, educational and, at times, appetizing. Assuming you stay at one of the Grand Canyon Lodges, here’s how to fill a two-night visit.
Rise early and catch the first rays of dawn’s early light. The Sunrise Tour departs from the station beside the Historic Village. En route to a vista point along the South Rim, the driver shares the natural history of the canyon with their insights becoming even more impactful as the sun creeps over the canyon rim and you take in your first views of this spectacular, multi-colored expanse of buttes, mesas, towers, and emptiness.
Following the tour, continue with what will be the second unforgettable experience of the morning: breakfast at the famed El Tovar hotel.
The historic dining room overlooks the canyon, which makes this particular breakfast part of a well-balanced weekend. From superb service to décor that includes paintings of various Native American tribes to a breakfast menu that includes items ranging from cinnamon raisin swirl French toast to Southwest quesadillas. After breakfast you can walk off the meal by hiking along the iconic Rim Trail.
This wide promenade stretches for 13 miles between the South Kaibab Trailhead and Hermit’s Rest, but for now limit your exploration to the Historic Village. The village borders the rim and includes a collection of art galleries, museums, shops, boutiques, and overlooks. Among the most popular galleries is the Hopi House, designed by Mary Colter in 1904 and created as a residence and retail center for Native Americans. Today it retains its reputation for quality handmade paintings, jewelry, fabric art, sculptures, and crafts.
Farther west, another Colter creation is the Lookout Studio, which the Santa Fe Railway opened as a photography studio to compete with the Kolb Studio started by brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb in 1905 to bring attention to Grand Canyon. Nearby, Colter’s 1935 Bright Angel Lodge includes a small history exhibition that includes the Harvey House Café, which came to Grand Canyon as a link in the nation’s first restaurant chain. Be sure to check out the stone fireplace created with rocks taken from every layer of Grand Canyon.
It can take several hours to fully explore the village, at which point it could be time for lunch. The food court at the nearby Maswik Lodge has a selection of entrees including grilled burgers, home-style meals, and deli sandwiches.
After you’ve eaten, it’s time to explore below the rim. Near the western edge of the Historic Village, the Bright Angel Trail begins its descent into the canyon. Before starting the journey, make sure you have a pole or walking stick for support, sturdy shoes, and plenty of water and salty snacks just in case you end up walking farther than you expect. What many visitors miss is something to look for soon after walking through the first archway just a few hundred yards down the trail: High up on a wall to your left are Native American pictographs estimated to be about 1,000 years old. A note of caution: Unless you’re accustomed to physical exertion, don’t go too far. It’s easy hiking into the canyon, but the elevation makes it doubly hard to hike out.
Following the hike, walk to the shuttle bus station near the trailhead and then take a load off your feet. Courtesy shuttles depart for various vista points along the South Rim’s western edge, traveling as far as Hermit’s Rest about seven miles away. Each overlook offers a distinct and different perspective, and each affords you plenty of room to enjoy a sense of solitude. For even more privacy, just walk a few yards from the main overlook and you’re guaranteed to have Grand Canyon to yourself.
Dinner and evening
After a long day, take the evening to enjoy a casual meal at the Arizona Room of the Bright Angel Lodge. If you have excess energy, attend a ranger program presented at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium where topics cover various aspects of geology, zoology, hydrology, ornithology, and astronomy. Filled with newfound knowledge, head back to your room and rest up for tomorrow.
Today’s the day to expand your range. After breakfast at your choice of restaurants, once again you can walk off the meal with a hike — this time entering the canyon at the South Kaibab Trail. Considered by many experienced hikers as one of America’s best three-mile round-trip expeditions, the descent to famed Ooh-Aah Point and, eventually, to the vista at Cedar Ridge is unforgettable. Along the way, it’s like a Halloween bag of eye candy with numerous places to stop and savor the views. With the hike out taking roughly twice as long as the hike in, you may want to follow it up in air-conditioned comfort at the Visitor Center where a small museum and exhibits will fill you in on the canyon’s human history and early exploration. An added bonus is the Discovery Channel film Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, a captivating and intriguing look at its people, geology, botany, and wildlife.
Lunch and afternoon
Three more destinations will fill in the afternoon, starting with the Desert View Watchtower. Located at the farthest point within the park, you can grab a quick bite at the snack bar here before walking to the rim where Mary Colter’s 1932 creation gives you a 70-foot-high vantage point to take in some of the most spectacular views of Grand Canyon. You can also visit a gift shop, bookstore, and general store. On the return trip, be sure to stop at other points of interest including the Tusayan Ruin where the remnants of centuries-old homes and kivas and an adjacent museum help unravel the mystery of the Ancestral Puebloans who once lived along the canyon rim before mysteriously leaving their homes for destinations unknown. The final stop is Yavapai Geology Museum where, in addition to stunning views of the canyon, exhibits help explain the astounding natural forces that, over the course of six million years, created Grand Canyon.
With only a few hours of afternoon remaining, now’s the time to get off your feet and slide into the saddle on the Canyon Vistas Rim Ride. Astride a sure-footed mule, you’ll follow the perimeter of the East Rim on a three-hour tour (including two hours in the saddle) as wranglers offer lessons in the canyon’s geologic formations and human history.
Dinner and evening
As dusk approaches, return to the Historic Village for some last-minute sunset photographs, souvenir shopping, and a leisurely dinner at the El Tovar. Many of the dishes such as stuffed roasted quail, hand-cut grilled Arizona-grown filet mignon, and sustainable salmon tostada on organic greens, are prepared with farm-to-table ingredients. Advance reservations are required for dinner at El Tovar.
Before you retire for the evening, be sure to look up. Grand Canyon National Park is a provisional International Dark Sky Park, which makes it one of the best places in the country to see stars. With visions of celestial bodies dancing in you head, head back to your lodge for your last night here.
How to Explore
Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides the premier in-park lodging, managing six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
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For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.