To call the Grand Canyon “world famous” is almost an understatement. This mile-deep chasm in America’s Southwest attracts literally millions of people from every corner of the world. On a summer weekend at the South Rim, you are likely to overhear more non-English speakers and English speakers. While it is fantastic that a landmark draws so many diverse people together, the crowds can be overwhelming. If you want to forge your own adventure in the rugged landscape, or to simply experience quiet canyon grandeur, there are several ways to break away from the throngs and find a slice of the Grand Canyon all to yourself.
1. Visit during the off-season
More than five million people visit the Grand Canyon annually, but 50 percent of them come during just three months of the year–June, July, and August. The off season is not only less crowded, but the weather is likely to be better. June is the hottest and driest time of year. July and August are hot as well, but also bring monsoon thunderstorms that can easily ruin a day of sight seeing. Try to visit during spring or fall if you can, when temperatures are cooler and the weather is more hospitable overall. Winter is even better, when crowds are thin and sunny days are plentiful, although occasional snowstorms can blanket the rim. This makes for a few additional hazards, but also for even more incredible scenery.
2. Consider skipping the South Rim
Most of the pictures you see of the Grand Canyon are taken along the South Rim because it’s the most easily accessible. To avoid the crowds there, make the extra effort to visit the North Rim instead. Missing out on the South Rim’s classic vistas is a small sacrifice to make, because the views from the North Rim are every bit as spectacular, if not more so. Instead of paved roads lining the rim, the Rim has trails, and even the most casual hikes lead to unbelievable views. The north entrance is only open May to October, however, so take the opportunity to visit when you can, and save the South Rim for the colder months.
3. Go hiking
Named overlooks on the rim are built up with pavement and guardrails, and are filled up with people elbowing for space. A relatively short walk is often all it takes to escape into your own picture postcard, even on the South Rim. Canyon Rim Trail makes it easy to meander along the edge and find unpopulated viewpoints through the trees. You can also walk or bike along Hermit Road and find spits of rock all to yourself in between the shuttle-stop overlooks.
On the North Rim you find the Wildforss, Transept, Uncle Jim, and Cape Final trails, all of which feature incredible viewpoints along the rim.
4. Go backpacking
If you’re up for it, go down. As you descend into the canyon, the crowds quickly disappear. On a typical day, even the most popular trails (such as Bright Angel and South Kaibab) are only congested for the the uppermost two miles. The reason is, of course, that hiking these steep trails is challenging, especially during the heat of summer.
The best way to earn canyon solitude is by taking an overnight trip. This way you can take your time navigating the difficult terrain and experience the canyon in a way most people never do. Plus, the national park’s careful permit system ensures that no campsite will be too crowded. If you pick a more remote site, you may even have it all to yourself. Consult the park’s Backcountry Information Center to learn about the many options for overnight trips and how to obtain a permit.
5. Camp outside the park
Though you can’t beat the convenience of staying inside the park, lodging and camping are expensive and often booked. If you know where to go, you can find amazing camping just outside the park boundary, offering most of the convenience with none of the hassle.
For the South Rim, try Ten-X Campground in Kaibab National Forest. This is a developed campground with plenty of amenities and some sites to reserve. Even though it is located just down the road from the park entrance, it is rarely full. The North Rim has a few options for developed camping as well. Demotte and Jacob Lake are nothing short of blissful in the summertime, and you can reserve sites at either well ahead of time.
If fee campgrounds aren’t for you, simply venture out into the national forest, where dispersed camping is allowed almost anywhere. You will need all your own supplies and to pack out your trash, but you can find freedom in the forest within easy driving distance to the national park.
In one of America’s most popular national parks, it’s not surprising that avoiding crowds takes a little work. There are, however, ways to get slices of the canyon all to yourself if you put in the effort. If you can get there during the off season, drive to the North Rim, walk a little ways off the beaten path, trek to the bottom, or camp outside the national park, you will earn yourself a grand adventure that most people never experience.
Originally written by RootsRated for Kelty.
Featured image provided by NPS photo by Michael Quinn