Tour the canyon from above with Maverick Helicopters // © 2016 Maverick Helicopters
Feature image (above): The Grand Canyon is quite photogenic during winter // © 2016 aimintang
Check out more from our year-long series on national parks, including Joshua Tree
The Grand Canyon sees some 5 million visitors per year, so beating the crowds can feel like discovering one of the seven great wonders of tourism. But after multiple visits to the park, I’ve gleaned a few tips to finding solitude in this majestic place.
There are a couple of lodges located directly on the canyon’s rim, but the trade-off for convenience includes grounds that are constantly teeming with people. Despite this fact, there’s no need to go off-site. Yavapai Lodge, which changed hands from Xanterra to Delaware North in 2015, is located in the park, about a 10-minute walk from the canyon.
Having just completed a $3.7 million renovation, the lodge offers modern ranch-style rooms separated from the main building, offering respite from the masses. Yavapi’s two eateries come with an outdoor fire pit and have a menu of cocktails, craft beer and locally sourced, creative comfort food (think elk burgers and roasted green chili), with enough options and kids’ choices to satisfy families. There’s also a general store, deli and coffee shop right on the property.
Brave the Cold
Not only do fewer people crowd popular sites such as Mather Point and Desert View in winter, but visits to the Grand Canyon in the colder months have other benefits, as well. The canyon is arguably most photogenic when a blanket of snow covers the vermillion rock formations, and the Bright Angel Trail — which descends into the canyon — is comfortably mild in winter. (It can sometimes be dangerously hot come summer.)
The canyon’s crisp, smoky air and shorter days are actually ideal for less active travelers or lovebirds who might appreciate some of the extra downtime in one of the park’s cozy lodges, which can be up to 40 percent cheaper during winter.
Go in the Sky
Congestion is the last thing anyone wants to deal with in the wilderness, but most of the year the Grand Canyon’s main sightseeing roads are gnarled in traffic.
So see it from the sky instead. Maverick Helicopters conducts 40-minute to full-day tours that start from a few points just outside the park and Las Vegas, where guests can book a nine-hour tour that includes a landing on the canyon floor, plus a motorized rafting tour along the Colorado River near the Hoover Dam.
Do the North Rim
Nearly all of the visitors to the Grand Canyon see only the South Rim, but traveling a few more hours up the road to the North Rim can substantially alter the experience. Because it’s about 1,000 feet higher in altitude, temperatures are less severe in summer than the south side. The North Rim is about a 4½-hour drive from the South Rim (there’s shuttle service once per day from October to May, when the North Rim is open) or four hours from Flagstaff (versus 1½ hours to the South Rim).
There are also great accommodations on the North Rim — including Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge — and scenic hikes and overlooks that are just as striking as from the south side, such as Honan Point and Cape Royal.
With a little bit of planning, your clients can beat the crowds and have an unforgettable experience at this iconic site — and they will be forever thankful for your help.