My sole purpose of visiting Northern Arizona was to reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. This 12-mile wide area is the most popular part of the park and one that is accessible nearly year-round. Over four million visitors go through the park annually. My friend, Sara, and I took to the open road and made this dream a reality last fall. Here is what you can expect when visiting the Grand Canyon by RV.
Arriving at the Canyon
Sara and I parked our RV in the main parking lot and walked to the Visitor’s Center. Then, onward to the transportation center we went. We boarded free shuttle buses to reach each part of the Grand Canyon National Park. Shuttle schedules and times were clearly posted and available on the website, too. The Grand Canyon’s motor coaches are incredibly easy to use, and this is coming from a Southerner who tries to avoid public transportation at all costs.
There are three color-coded loops to choose from: red, blue, and orange, with orange being my favorite. Stops on the orange loop included Yaki Point, South Kaibab Trailhead, and Mather Point, to name a few. Red loop is the most popular, and the blue loop has the village and other special feature. Buses come by every ten to fifteen minutes. It is impressive how easy the National Parks system has made exploring the Grand Canyon.
It’s worth noting that hiking the Rim Trail (12.8 miles total) would have been in the cards for Sara and I had the temperatures and wind not been so extreme. Many of the points of interest are less than a mile apart and the is beautiful. There are places (points, overlooks, and vistas) to enjoy picture perfect views of the Grand Canyon’s magical scenery throughout the National Park.
Sara and I road the bus to each stop and hopped off at many of them to take epic scenery photos. It was surreal seeing the sheer magnitude of the open space and the depth of the canyon. In some parts, we could see the Colorado River nearly a mile below us. The sporadic juniper and ponderosa pine trees were stately and majestic, while the layered colors of rock were sheer beauty.
You could take only a few steps in either direction from where you were standing, and the look of the Grand Canyon may be totally different. I was mesmerized by the beauty of it all, yet my mind kept going back to the iconic Brady Bunch episode.
Points of interest at the park include:
- Bright Angel Trail
- Lookout Studio
- Geology Museum
- Hopi HouseÂ
- Bright Angel Lodge
- The Village (with several more Fred Harvey lodges and shops)
- Hermit’s Rest (has restrooms, gift shop, and eatery)
- Verkamp’s (visitor center and park store)
Though we chose to view the scenery via bus and on foot, you can also ride a mule into and take a helicopter over the Grand Canyon National Park. Bicycling is another popular method of travel, weather permitting, of course. Be on the lookout for wildlife, including fox, deer, elk, big-horn sheep, and coyotes.
Tip: See the sunset or sunrise from Yaki or Mather Points.
Fred Harvey’s Legacy at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon has several lodges and restaurants to enjoy during your visit. El Tovar, built in and opened in 1905, is one of the most famous chains of hotels owned and operated by the Fred Harvey Corporation (of Harvey Girl fame and someone I’m fascinated by right now). It is beautiful inside, decorated of Oregon pine and local limestone with a rustic feel.
El Tovar is a National Historic Landmark and is regarded as the crown jewel of the National Park lodges. Maswik Lodge (originally a motor lodge) is another Fred Harvey property. He certainly made his mark on the Grand Canyon and with the style and grandeur, it is obvious.
- A vehicle permit is $35, which is good for seven days, both North and South Rims.
- Individual permits are $20 per person, under 15 years of age are free. (This is for those arriving by bus, bicycle, foot, railway, and private rafting trip)
- El Tovar was shown in the original Vacation movie.
- Bicycle rentals are available seasonally.
- The Kolb Studio offers fantastic art installments and a curio and book store.
- The South Rim Visitor’s Center offers park information, exhibits, maps, a twenty-minute movie of what you can see at the Grand Canyon National Park, Science On a Sphere®, and historic artifacts.
- Shopping for souvenirs and park-themed memorabilia are available at the Grand Canyon Conservancy’s Park Store.
- Hikes are available for desert views, the Watchtower, Tusayan ruins and museum
Food at the South Rim
We found the map to be a bit confusing when it came to food, and heard several guests unsure of exactly where to go to grab a quick bite or full meal. Here is a list of places you can do just that:
- Desert View Market & Deli (breakfast sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, burritos)
- Yavapai Lodge (pizza, salad, bbq)
- Maswik Lodge (food court, pizza)
- Hermits Rest (grab & go sandwiches, ice cream)
- El Tovar Hotel (breakfast, tapas, fine dining)
- Canyon Village Market & Deli General Store (breakfast sandwiches, burritos, salads, sandwiches)
- Bright Angel Lodge (2 restaurants) (casual dining and Arizona cuisine, ice cream fountain open seasonally)
- Bright Angel Bicycles and Caf© at Mather Point (breakfast burritos, grab & go sandwiches)
We had lunch at the Maswik Food Court, where you have choices from different stations and types of food. I opted for a made-to-order burrito (with hatch chile peppers, of course) and refried beans. Sara chose a good, hearty burger and fries. There was something for every taste, it was fast, and very affordable. My plate plus a soda was under $10.
If you are feeling more exotic, consider Fred Harvey Burger at the Maswik Lodge. With gourmet burgers, such as elk, bison, lamb, and turkey, and creative wintery coffee cocktails, the choices are very appealing.
Lodging books up fast at the Grand Canyon, so book as early as possible. Even a year or so in advance is often not soon enough. Other places to stay inside the Grand Canyon National Park include Bright Angel, Thunderbird, and Kachina Lodges.
Sara and I spent several hours exploring the stops of the Grand Canyon, each more gorgeous than the last. However, with 15-degree temperatures and the strong winds, I couldn’t take anymore. We had to leave the park and head to our RV to thaw out.
Trailer Village beside Mather Campground was where we stayed overnight during our Grand Canyon visit. It is located inside the park. Mather has 327 campsites, each with a campfire ring and cooking grate, picnic table, and parking, but Trailer Village is for larger RVs and have pull-through spaces.
After obtaining our permit and signing the necessary documents, we pulled our Cruise America RV into the designated space and again braved the cold to make our connections. She and I made a tasty dinner in the comfort (and warmth) of our motor home, and spent our time doing what work we could that did not require the internet. Wifi is not an option at the campground.
The next morning was even colder than the day before, so Sara and I were worried about keeping our RV safe and decided to head out, even though we were supposed to have two days in the park.
We should have known we couldn’t go the entire week without a small hiccup, and that is what we found when the water hose was frozen to the pipe. It was so bad that we had to enlist the help of our neighboring campers, which still took them the better part of an hour to get it all packed up for us to leave. Down the mountain on wintery frozen roads we went, stopping for caffeine at the local coffee shop on the way out of town.
More Epic Northern Arizona Scenery
Sara and I stopped by several scenic spots during our remaining travel days for photos and to take in nature. The landscape changed drastically every few dozen miles. We went through rolling plains, spaces laden with saguaro cacti, thick natural forests, and setting every bit as gorgeous as art gallery paintings.
One of the must-do stops is Walnut Canyon National Monument. The cliff dwellings are stunning and the curved canyon walls are another wow factor. For this park, you go to the Visitor’s Center and have enjoy epic window views and a balcony (called rim trail) that overlooks the canyon. It is so peaceful at Walnut Canyon.
Stairs take you down to a path where you can hike a short distance into the canyon. Pay close attention to the remarkable pinyon pines, juniper trees, desert scrub, and prickly pear cactus. I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed the scenery at this National Park as much as I did the Grand Canyon.
RV + Grand Canyon = A Great Combination
Seeing the Grand Canyon National Park via RV travel was a wonderful idea and one I would do again and again. I would, however, not go there in late October as the weather conditions are too iffy and extreme for this Southern gal. For the price and convenience, the campground cannot be beat.
Happy exploring! Don’t forget to get your National Parks Passport stamped!
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Read more of our Arizona adventures at:
Cruise America RV Trip through Northern Arizona