Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim – Arizona, USA


View from above, the amazing Grand Canyon up ahead from South Rim

It was my birthday this month and I got to celebrate it with a trip to Vegas (woot woot). Normally I’m the type that would opt for peaceful sandy beaches or fresh mountain air, but going to Vegas then presented the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon close by in Arizona. I have been to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon about four years ago, so lucky me I get to go again but experience it from a different angle – the South Rim.

And what’s luckier than being able to see the Grand Canyon in person? Being able to see it above by air via helicopter tour! The best birthday present ever, I get to cross off ‘ride in a helicopter’ from my bucket list with a helluva view to boot!

At 6.30am we boarded a bus that picked us up from our hotel The Venetian and brought us to the Grand Canyon Tour Company where we were divided into the groups visiting the West or South Rim. We then boarded another bus that would take us to the South Rim. Our first stop was Hoover Dam where we walked along the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which provides a clear view of Hoover Dam beneath.

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Going along the separated pedestrian path on the new bypass bridge

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Hoover Dam below

Back onto the bus, a few hours later we were dropped for our helicopter tour. Those who didn’t go on the helicopter tour continued on the bus to the National Geographic Visitor Center at the entrance of South Rim to stop for lunch there. We were assigned our seats on the helicopter and I was very relieved once we boarded that everyone got a prime window seat. The tour was about 35 minutes but it felt much shorter! It was fun to wear the headphones and be able to speak to the pilot and during the flight she played songs to match the occasion.

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Approaching the canyon, what a view!

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Flowing river

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Thumbs up for the great ride!

After the helicopter tour we got on a small shuttle bus that took us back to our main bus to rejoin the group. Since we were on the tour we didn’t get extra time to eat lunch like the others and were given sandwiches (which we surprisingly fresh and yummy) that we ate on the bus and about 15 minutes later we were at Mather Point overlooking the South Rim. The bus driver told us that we had the option to walk to the next viewing point at Bright Angel and that it was about a 1.5 mile walk along the canyon rim. We of course chose to be adventurous and had a beautiful walk along the paved rim trail.

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The view from Mathers Point

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Just a little bit of snow

There was snow along the sides of the trail but the path was clear. We reached Yavapai Point which has a geology center where you can learn all about the history and geology of the canyon. I asked the staff if we were on the right path to Bright Angel and they said to continue onwards for another 2 miles. Realizing that it may be further than the driver mentioned, we quickened our pace and as the sun started to set I wished I had more time to take photos instead of rushing to get back to the bus. We bumped into two more members of our tour group that also decided to walk and we reached a parking lot which we thought was part of Bright Angel and where our bus would be… but there was no bus. Oops. It was getting dark and we asked a gentleman if this was Bright Angel to which he replied no (crap) but we could catch the free bus at the stop and it would take us there. Luckily the bus came a few minutes later and it was only a 5 minute bus ride to Bright Angel and we saw our tour bus (relief!).

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The rim trail, nice and paved to Bridge Angel

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I’m not sure if the bus driver was correct in saying that it’s 1.5 miles from Mathers Point to Bright Angel, it could be a little farther but then again we were also slower walking along taking in all the views. I’m just glad we did do that walk and that the bus didn’t leave us! I think we had about four hours to walk around and take pictures, and at 5pm we headed back to Las Vegas.

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Sunset

The bus ride from Vegas and back again takes about 8-9 hours in total. By the time we were dropped off at our hotel it was 9.15pm. A very long but very wonderful day.

Since we traveled in December during the winter, the weather was chilly but escaping Vancouver’s winter it was more like spring weather temperatures a nice 12 degrees or more in the day and 7-8 degrees at night. A thin jacket was comfortable enough though I was hoping for hotterĀ  t-shirt weather. The tour prices are also much cheaper in the winter – the bus tour was $80USD per person and the helicopter tour add-on which we decided on the day was $175USD per person. When we went to the West Rim in the summer four years ago, prices were astronomically higher (I think I remember it was almost $300 per person for just the bus tour). Both provide beautiful viewpoints, but I think walking along the South canyon rim for a few hours is the better experience.

Living in Vancouver and being used to temperate rainforest of lush green, suddenly switching to desert landscape is always surprising and it’s like I forget there’s more out there in the world that I haven’t seen. I would love to explore Arizona more one day beyond the Grand Canyon, but for now I’m lucky enough to have seen it twice.

For more information, latest trail conditions, maps and updates visit the Grand Canyon National Park website.

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I love how different the trees look here, and even more beautiful in dusk

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