Nobody knows the Grand Canyon like the park rangers who work there. Fortunately, if you’re thinking about a trip to Grand Canyon National Park, you can now use their insider knowledge to make sure your trip goes smoothly.
“With a busy summer season upon us, we want everyone to have a positive park experience,” the National Park Service (NPS) explains. “Advanced trip planning can ensure that your only surprises are pleasant ones.”
In that spirit, as part of its “Plan Your Vacation Like A Park Ranger” series, the NPS has released its “Top 10 Tips for Visiting Grand Canyon.” These tips explain how rangers themselves plan a trip to Grand Canyon National Park.
So, let’s get to it. Here are Grand Canyon park rangers’ vacation-planning tips.
1. Know Before You Go
It’s always a good idea to do as much trip planning in advance as possible. It’s even more important this year because temporary closures and modified operations are in place at the park.
To be prepared, be sure to check the Park Operations Update for information about fire restrictions and public health measures such as capacity limits and face mask/covering requirements. There is even up-to-date information about road conditions, entrance fees, and closures.
Pro Tip: The NPS App provides interactive maps, tours of park places, and on-the-ground accessibility information about more than 400 national parks to make your trip planning easier. The free app is available for iOS and Android devices.
2. Know Where You Will Spend The Night
Grand Canyon is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. It comes as no surprise then that park campgrounds and lodging both fill up months in advance. With that in mind, it is imperative to reserve a place to stay before you arrive at the park.
You can check here to begin planning where you’ll spend the night when visiting the Grand Canyon.
Pro-Tip: Camping in the park is only allowed in designated sites within designated campgrounds. It is not permitted along roadsides, overlooks, pullouts, trailheads, or other parking areas.
3. Pack Your Patience
National parks are experiencing extremely high numbers of visitors this year, so expect crowds and traffic. To make your visit a little smoother, rangers recommend arriving before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. If you arrive at the South Rim Entrance Station between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., rangers say you can expect to wait in line for up to 2 hours just to enter the park.
Pro-Tip: Buy your park pass online in advance to reduce wait times. Also, remember that cash is not accepted at entrance stations.
4. Drive Responsibly
Let’s face it: If you’re planning on crowds and traffic, you also know it will be challenging to find a parking space. For instance, rangers note that parking lots around Visitor Center Plaza are usually filled by noon.
Parking will be especially challenging if you drive an RV that is over 22 feet long or if you drive a vehicle with a trailer and need a pull-through space. To find a good parking space for an RV or vehicle with a trailer, rangers suggest arriving at the South Rim before 9 a.m.
Pro-Tip: Use this map to find the three RV parking lots at the South Rim.
5. Shuttle Bus Routes Are Limited
Keep in mind that shuttle bus passenger capacity is limited to 31 people. Also, passengers will only be able to enter and exit the bus through the rear door. And of course, masks or face coverings are required on the bus for all passengers.
Take note, this summer, the Village Route, Westbound Kaibab Rim Route, and Tusayan Route are not in operation.
Pro-Tip: Prepare to be patient and expect crowds on shuttle buses.
6. Pets Are Not Allowed Below The Canyon Rim
We all love our pets and enjoy traveling with them. However, dogs and other pets are not allowed on inner canyon trails, even when carried, for two good reasons. First, the trails are narrow and well-traveled. Hikers, runners, or wildlife can surprise pets, causing an accident that nobody wants to see. Secondly, the temperature increases dramatically below the canyon rim, which is dangerous for pets.
More information about taking your pet to the Grand Canyon may be found here.
7. Keep Wildlife Wild
Rangers note that people have been injured by squirrels, bison, deer, and elk, so they warn visitors to stay away from wildlife. Bison, deer, and elk are large, so the warning is understandable — but squirrels? Yes. Rangers explain that bites on the hand from squirrels are the most common wildlife injury experienced by visitors.
“Their sharp teeth crack nuts — and cut fingers,” rangers explain. “Bite injuries often require stitches. Please protect yourself and don’t feed or water squirrels.”
Pro Tip: To safely take pictures of wildlife, rangers use the “rule of thumb.” Here’s how to do it: Hold your thumb up and out at arm’s length. If you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb, you’re probably a safe distance away.
8. Backcountry Permits Are Required For All Overnight Trips
A backcountry permit is required if you plan to camp anywhere that is not a developed campground on the South Rim or the North Rim. Rangers explain that it is possible to “just show up at the Backcountry Information Center and get on a waiting list for any last-minute permits that could become available due to cancellations.”
Pro-Tip: Chances of securing a backcountry permit are higher if you are flexible about dates and locations of campgrounds.
9. Canyon Hikers Must Prepare For Excessive Heat
Summer temperatures inside the canyon can easily exceed 115 degrees. Unfortunately, unprepared hikers experience severe illness, injury, or even death from hiking in the canyon in the dangerous heat every summer.
If you plan to hike below the rim, rangers recommend planning so you do not hike between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. More tips for summer hiking can be found here.
10. Protect Yourself — And Others
When visiting the Grand Canyon, take precautions to stay safe. Rangers urge visitors to stay on designated trails and walkways — and always stay at least 6 feet from the edge of the canyon rim. Also, do not climb over any protective railings or fences.
Secondly, even though COVID-19 vaccination rates are climbing across the country, rangers ask that you do not visit the park if you are sick. Face masks/coverings are required on public transportation, but otherwise, masks are only required for non-vaccinated or partially vaccinated people. However, rangers do advise keeping a distance of at least 6 feet away from other people.
Now that you know how rangers would prepare for a trip to the Grand Canyon, you can start planning your own vacation. And for more information and tips, be sure to check out all of our Grand Canyon coverage.