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First visit to Grand Canyon

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Winchester, United...
posts: 191
reviews: 75
First visit to Grand Canyon

I'm wanting it visit the Grand Canyon but don't have a clue on where to start. I will be travelling from Dallas on a 3-5 night stay. How far is GC from Flagstaff. I can't hire a car so are their tour buses, shuttles, etc?

9 replies to this topic
tucson az
Destination Expert
for Tucson, Arizona, Northern Mexico
posts: 12,585
reviews: 58
1. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

You can fly into Flagstaff and take a shuttle to GCNP. How soon do you want to make this trip? You will need lodging in the park. Also, look into the park website and get familiar with the park.




3 nights could work as the first day you will spend mostly getting there, and the last getting back to wherever you are going.

When in the park you can use park shuttles to get around in the central village area and on the west road to Hermits Rest. To see the east overlooks, you can take a tour inside the park. But other tours would not be needed.

Winchester, United...
posts: 191
reviews: 75
2. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

Great! Thanks so much for the info Bob. I'm thinking of visiting in September.

Fredericktown, OH...
posts: 5
reviews: 23
3. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

Last week I took the Arizona Shuttle from the Flagstaff Airport, spent the night in Williams, and then took the Grand Canyon Railway train to GCNP where I stayed two nights after which I took the Arizona Shuttle back to the Flagstaff Airport.

If you haven't been to the canyon before - skip the railroad. Look up the reviews - in my case it fit into my plans but I wouldn't recommend it for most people.

Be aware that the hotels in the park fill up as much as a year or more in advance, especially if you want anything on the rim. On a previous visit I was able to take advantage of a last-minute cancellation to get a room in the El Tovar but that was just being lucky. Maswik Lodge is a short walk to the rim and may have more opportunities due to it's less desirable location (you're still only a few hundred yards away form the rim so it's all relative). In any case, make your reservations as soon as possible and don't expect to walk in and get a room.

I took the mule ride down to Phantom Ranch but for that you really have to make reservations 13 months ahead of time. With only 10 riders a day now the odds of grabbing a last-minute cancellation are significantly less than back when they had 40 riders a day. If it's your first time visiting the canyon, there's plenty of great views from the rim without hiking down or taking the mules. There is also a 3-hour mule ride along the rim which seems to be easier to reserve with less advance notice. Again, make reservations ahead of time for everything!

In the park the last thing you need is a car as the parking is horrendous anywhere but at the main visitor center. The shuttles run continuously, they're free, and are really the best way to get around. Sure you can't see some of the more remote areas of GCNP, especially to the east, but there's more than enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days without a car.

The Arizona Shuttle worked out fine for me but be sure to make reservations as on both legs of my trip the 10-person van was full. The van tows a trailer for your luggage. The schedule is very limited so you may want to consider coordinating your flight times with the shuttle schedule. Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff has ONE gate, a small cafe, and nothing to do although it does offer free wireless so if you're stuck there for a few hours it can get pretty boring. Also, if you take the 6:15PM Arizona Shuttle to the airport with plans to stay overnight before a morning flight, get the phone number for a taxi service so you can call from the van before getting to the airport. I arrived at the airport around 9:00 PM to find the sidewalks had been rolled up and had to wait 20 minutes for a taxi to be dispatched. If your hotel offers shuttle service don't expect them to be running continuously like at a major airport - call them ahead of time from the van when you get close or be prepared to wait all by yourself at the darkened airport. I found that the phones in the airport for calling hotels and taxis directly did NOT work.

Norwich, United...
posts: 3,284
4. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

If you're going to be in the park for most of a complete day, I'd highly recommend the free Hermit's Rest shuttle bus route as one option to consider. With limited time you could do this as far as the first return stop but ideally it would be best to do the whole thing. This official National Park Service video explains and illustrates it:


Ann Arbor, Michigan
Destination Expert
for Grand Canyon National Park
posts: 5,006
reviews: 14
5. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

>> In the park the last thing you need is a car as the parking is horrendous anywhere but at the main visitor center.

With all due respect, you keep repeating this but, imo, it's simply not true. Parking in the main Village parking lots (i.e. around El Tovar, Thunderbird, Kachina, Bright Angel) takes patience during the PEAK visitor times, which is essentially the summer school vacation months. But even during these times, parking at Maswik, Yavapai, the Market, Backcountry Office lot, Visitors Center, Desert View and the eastern viewpoints are not an issue, much less "horrendous". I go to the Canyon in the spring and fall, and even during popular Easter week, parking hasn't been an issue.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a fan of the park shuttles or simply walking in the Village area. I've also used the Arizona Shuttle and would certainly recommend them for transportation to/from the Park if renting a car isn't an option. But I disagree that a car is "the last thing you need" at the Park and I think it's a significant loss to miss the eastern viewpoints just to avoid a non-existent parking problem. JMO.

Winchester, United...
posts: 191
reviews: 75
6. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

Wow! Thanks for the info and tips Dean, John and Det. It sounds like something I have to carefully plan for so I'm glad to know that I would need to make reservations far in advance. As for hiring a car that I would not do so the shuttles and walking are best for me. I will check more sights on hotels in the areas and tours. Thanks again :-)

Norwich, United...
posts: 3,284
7. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

> As for hiring a car that I would not do

Can I be very rude and ask why not? If it's the cost, fair enough. But if it's because you're concerned about driving in the USA, then there's really no need for that concern unless you're an extremely nervous driver in Britain. Most of the time driving in the USA is very easy, but to be fair there are exceptions such as on busy freeways through big cities. But a car opens up so many wonderful possibilities. Unless you've ruled it out completely, you might like to check out the first few posts on this very helpful thread tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i12567-k4420371…

On a separate thought, there's a map of the park's free shuttle bus routes here:


posts: 31
reviews: 34
8. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

The drive from Flagstaff to GC is about 1.5 hours, and goes through some beautiful country on a State Highway. Parking is crazy inside the park, though and traffic can be confusing. Try to at least, when you are here, walk along the rim trails a bit to get away from the crowds and experience some of the silence and vastness of the canyon without screaming children and cameras clicking.

Norwich, United...
posts: 3,284
9. Re: First visit to Grand Canyon

> Parking is crazy inside the park

But you only need to find a parking spot once, then use the free shuttle buses to get around. For details see nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm

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