a tree on a cliff

Wondering what it’s like at the Grand Canyon right now? Look no further! Our friends TravelZork decided to find out, and were kind enough to share the experience with GSTP.

Is the Grand Canyon on your bucket list?  Thinking a pandemic might get in your way?  Don’t let it! These strange times have silver linings to them and we found several on our recent visit.

With a road trip planned from the Palm Springs, California area to Vegas for the grand opening of Circa Las Vegas, thoughts of outdoor adventure to maximize safety during covid-19 sprung to mind, and we started to think about extending the trip for a first time visit to the Grand Canyon.

The first step was to understand how Covid would impact the visit. 

a river running through a canyon

I found the National Park Service website very clear and recommend to check it regularly when planning your visit and then again shortly before you go in the event that there have been changes. Side note, be sure to check-out the online Pocket Map which you can use for planning and get when you arrive.

With some confidence established from the Park Service website, it was time to plan the big visit itinerary. I did numerous searches to learn about where we might stay, what we should – or could see, hiking we could do, and experiences such as seeing the sunrise. 

From there, taking into account some of the Covid limitations, I created a rough plan for the day with some prioritization between my ‘nice to have’ and ‘must do’ elements.  I found the Earthtrekker’s blog to be extremely helpful in this.

Enter: the next great silver lining of travel right now! Although we finalized our plans just a week in advance we were able to book a room for a very reasonable price at one of the Canyon lodges. THIS NEVER HAPPENS!  

Best laid plans can always be mired by lack of practical gear, and in extreme hiking areas like the Grand Canyon, you’ll really want to make sure you are prepared! 

a tree on a cliff

If you’re planning to go beyond basic vantage points, such as venturing into the Canyon, you’ll want gear such as walking sticks, broken-in hiking boots, plenty of water and snacks, quality sunscreen and hats. Never underestimate the uses of a hat!

Just as importantly, make sure that your fitness level matches your itinerary.  For example, I knew that “we” were not in top shape so we planned a hike that was of a moderate difficulty and started mid-morning to be sure we had the energy for it.

The Day Arrives!

We left Las Vegas shortly after noon with hopes of making it to the Grand Canyon in time for sunset.  Unfortunately I forgot that we would lose an hour going from Nevada to Arizona so we didn’t make it in time. 

My mistake on this front also meant that we drove the last 30 miles or so in the dark which was a bit of a challenge… it’s really, really dark, which makes the experience all the more spectacular.

For our base, we chose the Yavapai Lodge.  

Like all hotels, the Lodge has made a number of Covid related modifications including removal of the coffee machine from the rooms (although you’ll get coupons for coffee at the nearby market), closure of their restaurant, and limited housekeeping. 

Driving from check-in to the actual room was again a slight battle with the dark, but directions provided at check-in were good, as were the clearly marked signs. The room itself was perfect – simple, practical and most importantly, clean.

With the Lodge restaurant closed we picked up dinner and a few snacks for the next day at the Grand Canyon Market & Deli, which is conveniently located on the other side of the Yavapai Lodge parking area. This is a full size grocery store, souvenir shop, and take-out deli so you’re absolutely sure to find what you need.

But let’s dive into the reason we travel, the reason we’re here!

Sunrise At Yavapai Point

The staff at the Lodge recommended we drive to Yavapai Point to see the sunrise.  We arrived 30 minutes in advance so were able to see the full unfolding of light coming into the Canyon.  As expected, it was nothing short of spectacular.

Hiking to Ooh Aah Point

By 9:00 am we’d gotten some coffee and driven to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.  The center itself was closed but there were clear signs giving us all the information we needed. 

We took the Orange bus to South Kaibab Trailhead where we began our decent of 790 feet into the canyon, a 1.8 mile round trip.  This hike was exactly what we wanted – an extraordinary opportunity to spend 2.5 hours below the rim, but not too difficult a hike for beginners. 

Many on the trail wore masks either when approaching others or for the full hike, and everyone was courteous in this regard. Basically, you don’t need to wear a mask the whole time, but people are kind as if you pass in a narrow area.

The next silver lining? Smaller crowds.

As may not be surprising, there are fewer people at the Canyon than typical for this time of year.  This meant ability to park near the visitor center and no problem getting a seat on the bus even with its socially distanced capacity limitation. 

South Rim Viewpoints

We explored leisurely at Yaki point and Maher point via the Orange bus route in the early afternoon.  We missed a few others on my list due to exhaustion but had the up-side of then driving out of the Canyon before dark. After the first time, that felt like a win.

If this is on your bucket list, as odd as it may sound right now, there’s hardly been a more enjoyable time to visit. This was an amazing day that has us geared up and ready to spend much more time hiking in the Southwest over the coming months as we prepare to head back to the Grand Canyon soon! If it’s on your bucket list, go for it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. We did a last minute booking at Bright Angel Lodge and got a great room. Crowds were nonexistent. The challenge was eating at night. Two hour wait with few options. Take-out is actually the best option. But with or without COVID,the park is still gorgeous.

  2. We were at GC and Zion a week ago. GC was great for its uncrowded trails. Zions was a scary zoo. What a contrast!

  3. We are just back from this same adventure! The weather there on our visit last Thursday was fantastic for November! We stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge….was great, especially for the location right on the rim. Only downfall was lack of dining options after 6pm! (We ate lunch at El Tovar which was a nice experience!) Less crowded right now which was enjoyable!

  4. We did this in early August , when the temps were blazing, the route buses weren’t operating, but the crowds were small & courteous also.
    The canyon did not disappoint! Absolutely stunning.
    I do agree about the night driving….try to avoid it at all cost. Drive back to Williams just after sunset sitting on the edge of my seat the whole way down the 2 lane road, opposing traffic & all. It was scary

  5. I had the exact opposite experience in July. We booked a room at North Rim lodge for my 40th birthday and it was cancelled because of the wildfires. Once it opened back up, we noticed the shuttles were not running on the south Rim and the visitor center was closed completely. I would not recommend going to the Grand canyon because COVID is peaking at the moment. I think this article gives terrible advice.

    1. So you are advising people to take your advice from an experience back in July, over a visit last week? That helps explain many things in the world right now. I’ll stick with this expert advice, thanks.

      1. Come on, Gilbert, are you so thin skinned that you can’t accept someone has a different opinion? He said he wouldn’t advise going now because of Covid. Maybe he just wants this current Covid situation to keep from worse. That’s legitimate. You might not agree, but I’m assuming that your “expertise” is not on Covid.

  6. Just got back from a trip to Grand Canyon and other points in Arizona and Utah. Been on my bucket list for years but wasn’t until recently that I found a co driver with the time to help this old guy drive out and back. Overall a great trip with spectacular sights. We had no reservations but always managed to get a room. Finding a sit down meal was difficult at times. Thank goodness for Denny’s breakfasts. Some days it was our only full meal. Would do it again in minute.

  7. Wow– we did a similar trek in 1998 for our “Honey Moon” . Do they call it that anymore 🤣
    Thank you for the fantastic description Took me right back!

  8. We went October 20, 2020 to October 24, 2020. We had a wonderful time. We stayed in William’s and drove over instead of taking the train. I need my wheel chair or scooter. Looking over the Grand Canyon was just magnificent. It was just unbelievably beautiful. So many things to see and do. It was good we went that week because the next week they were expecting snow in William’s on the next Monday. At the Grand Canyon if you are handicapped you can get a special paper you can go 2 where the busses go and the general public can’t go.

  9. We just drove over from Sedona a couple of weeks ago and the only difference I noticed was no entry fee and the Watch Tower rim was closed. Due to smoke the colors weren’t as vibrant as usual but it is still beautiful.

  10. We were there Nov 9-11, 2020 we had the very best time! We were even blessed to have snow. The shuttle buses were never packed, masks were worn! Overall it was worth the drive from Texas, I would do it again.

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