Grand Canyon: Far From the Madding Crowd
Hiking beneath the rim is a near-certain way to escape the crowded world above.
If you notice just one thing about Grand Canyon, it’s that there’s plenty of it at roughly 277 miles long, 18 miles across, and one mile deep. But even then, it can sometimes seem too crowded.
The sense that there’s not enough elbowroom is actually an optical illusion caused by the annual arrival of summer visitors. Since they tend to concentrate on the same few miles along the South Rim, it can look like everyone in the world is visiting the park on the same day. To adjust this visual anomaly, simply expand your range and you’ll find there’s plenty of room to roam.
From arriving at Grand Canyon National Park via one of America’s most picturesque routes to adjusting your schedule, here are a few ways to avoid the masses in one of the largest places on earth.
To avoid the often-dense automobile traffic flowing north on Highway 64 and through the park’s south entrance, take the Grand Canyon Railway instead. You won’t need to worry about finding a convenient parking space since the train rolls into the depot just below the El Tovar hotel at Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
The added bonus of bypassing the traffic clog is the unforgettable train journey itself, which begins in the historic town of Williams, Ariz., 60 miles south of the park entrance and centered on legendary Route 66.
What makes this ride special is that when you step aboard the train you enjoy the option of different levels of seating — from Pullman cars to observation dome cars to luxury parlor cars at the end of the line. There’s also entertainment by troubadours singing classic Western tunes, and a dash of drama and comic relief by “train robbers” who join you on the return trip. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the journey is seeing the high desert, endless plateaus, and Mount Humphrey dominating the horizon. And you’ll only see this while riding the train.
Stay All Night
Should you arrive via Grand Canyon Railway, try to make a night of it. As part of an overnight package you can have your bags delivered from the train to your private room at Maswik Lodge. Surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pines and just a short walk from the Historic Village, a room at Maswik gives you additional time to enjoy the park long after most visitors have left for the day. Even better, it puts you in position to get up early to watch the sun rise over the rim — often when only a handful of visitors have gathered at vista points, overlooks, and along the Rim Trail.
Do this and you’ll enjoy a premium Grand Canyon experience: solitude and silence.
Timing is Everything
Aside from the peak summer season and several weeks during Spring Break, visitation at Grand Canyon is generally fairly steady. The least busy period comes when the chill of winter changes the landscape to a frosty white and attendance drops with every degree.
So if you want to visit Grand Canyon undisturbed by others, consider the period between January and early March. While temperatures may be on the frigid side, the park is emptier then. If your schedule doesn’t allow travel during this season, visitors are lighter Sundays through Thursdays throughout the year.
Take a Hike
Although it took a herculean effort to build the foot (and mule) paths that lead from the rim to the floor of Grand Canyon, relatively few travelers (estimated at only about one percent) take advantage of those trails. The result? Hiking beneath the rim is a near-certain way to escape the crowded world above. Even better, with every step you take you see the views around you change. Trails wrap around the curves of the canyon and then around corners and then lead to overlooks accessible only to those who make the effort to reach them.
A hike into the canyon is the great escape.
Hop on the Bus, Gus
Just because everyone else congregates at the Historic Village doesn’t mean you have to. Step aboard a shuttle bus and eight miles later you’ll arrive at the westernmost reach of the Rim Trail, an overlook at Hermit’s Rest. The view of the canyon here is as delightful as architect Mary J. Colter’s 1914 creation: a home designed for a fictional hermit, complete with a domed room, a large fireplace, and a few chairs and tables added as accents.
At the far eastern end of the park at Desert View, Colter designed the Watchtower, one of the canyon’s iconic landmarks. Decorative accents and artwork within the tower provide photo opps on par with those you’ll find of the canyon just a few yards away. One of the most remote locations in the park (it’s about 25 miles from the Historic Village), it’s less trafficked than other areas, but reveals some of the most extraordinary perspectives in the park. A small restaurant only adds to the appeal of this destination.
Dine in Peace
Savvy travelers are familiar with the strategy of avoiding peak dining times: usually before 11 a.m. and after 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and before 6 p.m. or after 8 p.m. for dinner. Being flexible with meal times is one way to avoid throngs.
There are several other ways to have a quieter dining experience. Make reservations as soon as possible to secure a prime time (and a prime seat). If you’d like to dine al fresco, you can always order a “grab and go” meal at a restaurant and find a secluded scenic spot to have a picnic. Finally, you can order a meal at one of Grand Canyon’s food trucks — a recent arrival on the food scene.
How to Explore
There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic train to Grand Canyon. Travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. The Grand Canyon Railway has been departing daily from Williams, Ariz., since 1901. Spend a night in Williams next door to the train depot at the AAA Three Diamond Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Just walking distance from quaint downtown Williams and Route 66, the modern hotel has a grand lobby, indoor pool and hot tub as well as Spenser’s Pub with its handcrafted 19th-century bar. Packages with train travel and overnight stays in Grand Canyon National Park and Williams are available. Visit TheTrain.com for more information.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.