How To Spend 5 Hours At The Grand Canyon

This is a tale of three canyons.  Chances are you haven’t heard of at least one and maybe two.

Here’s what I plan to cover in this trip report, mostly in order:

Visiting the Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway represents an interesting challenge.  It was to be our only day visiting the canyon.  After all, we still had 2 more canyons to go!  With just about 5 hours on the ground we wanted to make sure to maximize our time.  Here’s a brief overview of what we did as well as a few tips.

Getting Around

Here’s a reference map of the South Rim that I found online.  You can download a full version on the parks website.

Grand Canyon South Rim Map

The train pulls in right by El Tovar hotel.  We hopped off and climbed up the hill for our first view inside the Grand Canyon.  Wow!

We chose to head west along the rim to Bright Angel Lodge. There’s a snack/ice cream shop where we decided to get a quick bite. There are full service restaurants in both El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge if you’re looking for a more formal meal.  You’ll find a variety of souvenir shops at each stop along the rim here.

After that, we chose to head down into the canyon at the Bright Angel Trailhead. All told it is less than a 10-minute walk from the train depot to Bright Angel Trailhead walking along the canyon rim.

Our First Mistake

Honestly, it’s the only mistake I can recall making. We definitely didn’t take enough water. Our bottles were filled with ice. It was a brutally hot day and we figured we needed the ice water to keep us cool. We did, but we exhausted our water supply much more quickly than we expected. More on that in a bit.

Hiking Down The Bright Angel Trail

Our plan was to budget 2 mins of time “walking up” for every minute we descended into the canyon. We had a train to catch and had built in a big cushion even beyond the time allotted.

The initial part of the descent was quite flat. It was an easy walk on a very slight decline. There were plenty of places to stop and take in the view. The kids were having a ton of fun.

There were active repair crews working lower on the trails. This worker passed us on the way down. I bet he was happy not to be carrying that log up out of the canyon on a hot day!

That’s One Heck of a Backpack!

Once we hit the first switchback on the trail it got quite a bit steeper.  The trail was still very manageable to walk both descending and ascending. But, it was a clear indication that we’d have our work cut out for us on the walk back up.  I took some pictures where you should be able to make out the change in grade of the trail.

You Can See Bright Angel Trail Cut Into The Canyon

After almost 30 minutes of hiking down the kids were starting to get a bit tired.  More importantly, we were dangerously below what I considered to be a comfortable water level. We rested for a bit in the shade and began the hike back up to the top.

Unless you’re in great shape, it makes a ton of sense to stop periodically on hot days and rest.  It would be pretty easy to get dehydrated/exhausted without being careful.  There were plenty of people hiking up and down that would have been able to help us with an issue.  I would guess you’ll find that on most days for a populated trail like Bright Angel.

About 3/4 of the way back up the trail we stopped to rest, almost completely out of water.  I tried to make the foolish decision to hike to the top while the family stayed behind to get some more water.  Instead, we ended up popping out ice cubes into everyone’s mouths as we covered the distance to the top.  Thankfully, that last stretch was much less steep.

The real lesson we learned here was that we felt like we had plenty of water.  We were weighed down pretty good with bottles.  On a hot day the four of us were consuming much faster than I expected on a short hike.  We usually have to encourage the kids to drink water.  Not this day.

A Bit More Walking Around

Right near Bright Angel Trailhead, Lookout Studio has some fabulous views of the canyon.  Plenty of expensive art to buy as well.  But, if you walk to the back of the studio you’ll find two open-air decks (upstairs and down) that are great spots for pictures.

After resting there for a bit we walked further around the rim to Trailview Overlook.  From there, we decided to take a 10-minute walk to Maswik Lodge for a snack and more rehydration.  Maswik Lodge is a sizable place to grab cafeteria-style snacks.  There’s a grill, salad bar, taco station and a bunch of grab n go items along with another souvenir stand.  From there we headed back to Bright Angel Lodge for some souvenir shopping and then it was time to board the train home.

A Few Tips

One of the things that ended up working really well for the kids were a couple of towels we picked up called Chill Skinz.  They’re pretty affordable and provided an astonishing amount of cooling.  Having these wrapped around the back of the kids’ necks cut down on complaints quite a bit.

There are free buses that run along the rim.  The map has a list of stops.  If you didn’t want to do Bright Angel Trail, there are plenty of other lookout points and a few trails.  Most are accessible by the buses.  If you’re riding the train home, it’s important to note that the buses can get very busy.  Buses run every 10-15 minutes, but you might be waiting for a while in line during peak season.

If you took the train like we did, another option is to stay overnight at the rim of the canyon.  This was suggested by a reader and I think it’s a great idea if you want to explore more.  There’s no question you could spend days exploring the Grand Canyon.  Heck, you could probably spend a full day easily just exploring the South Rim.

The Final Two Pennies

There’s plenty to see at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We got just a taste of it in our five hours.  It’s my second time visiting the canyon.  I really do need to plan a longer trip to explore.  For now, the kids were excited enough with the short visit and have it on their list for future trips.  We also learned a valuable lesson about how much water can disappear on a hot day.

If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to explain just how breathtaking it can be.  Even on my second trip it was a sight to behold.  Alas, there was plenty more to see on our trip.  It was time to pack up and head on to Antelope Canyon.

The post How To Spend 5 Hours At The Grand Canyon was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. It’s quite a road trip, but driving from Phoenix to the East Rim of the GC has some amazing views and educational experiences at the National Monuments along the way. We’re National Park nerds, and I’ve got to make everything educational, so it was right up our alley! Ha ha!

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