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.
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!
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.