An Insider’s Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

An Insider’s Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is one of the most powerful and inspiring landscapes in the United States. It truly overwhelms our senses the first time that we lay eyes on its geologic beauty. 

As Naturalist John Muir wrote, “In the supreme flaming glory of sunset the whole canyon is transfigured as if the life and light of centuries of sunshine stored up in the rocks were now being poured forth as from one glorious fountain, flooding both earth and sky.”

Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Getting into the Grand Canyon National Park

There are two rims in the Grand Canyon, the South Rim, and the North Rim. We will focus on the most popular, South Rim. To make getting around the South Rim easier, park your vehicle in any parking area and use the free shuttle bus system to visit the visitor center, lodges, restaurants, gift shops, overlooks, and trailheads. Buses run at frequent intervals from sunrise to sunset. Make sure that you pay attention to the scheduled shuttle times. The park newspaper, The Guide, will detail bus route maps and schedules.

Start your adventure at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center
  • The Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center is fascinating, and you may find yourself spending a lot of time here. Be sure to pick up a Passport Book where you will be able to record your visits to our National Parks with stamps, stickers, and notes that you wish to remember about your visit.
  • The Guide will also list food and lodging. Be aware that some lodging, such as camping and Phantom Ranch (available by foot or mule on the Bright Angel Trail leading to the canyon floor), may require reservations up to 13 months in advance. We prefer to bring our food and picnic in a permitted area. Purchasing food can be expensive.
Places to do and see: 
  • Watch the sunrise/sunset at Mather’s Point.
  • Yavapai Point – Geology Museum, the geology of the canyon
  • Tusayan Museum – Highlights Native American cultures
  • Attend a park ranger program.  We attended the Starry, Starry Night program and learned how the constellation rotated around Polaris and recognized constellations in different seasons of the year.
  • Visit the Desert View Watchtower – View the pictographs and petroglyphs representing the natural world, stars, and animals created by Native Americans designed by architect Mary Coulter*.
  • Stop by the Verkamp’s Visitor Center
  • El Tovar Hotel – Considered the crown jewel of Historic National Park Lodges.  
  • Bright Angel Lodge – Re-created by Architect Mary Coulter*.
  • 1 1/2 Mile Resthouse Trail – Just over 1,100 feet (335 m) below Grand Canyon’s rim; this first rest area offers visitors a taste of the struggles and rewards of the Grand Canyon’s steep trails. For most visitors, the 3-mile (4.8 km) round-trip hike from the South Rim requires a 2-4 hour commitment depending on health, hiking ability, and rest stops.
  • Kolb Studio – The home, photography studio, tollgate, and business of two adventurous brothers, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. Their photography is fantastic!
  • Hermits Rest – Designed by Mary Coulter, built-in 1914, located at the western end of Hermit Road at the South Rim. 
  • Lookout Studio – Ancient ruin re-created by Mary Coulter
  • Mary Coulter’s Hopi House – Mary Coulter (1905) recreated the Hopi House as a model after the 1,000-year-old pueblo dwellings of the Hopi village in Old Oraibi, paying homage to the early inhabitants.
  • Grand Canyon Train Depot
  • Mule Trips, Rafting Trips, and other tours should be reserved well before visiting the Grand Canyon.  
  • Locate a spot to sit quietly and use your senses to take in what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.  It is simply breathtaking!  Observe the canyon’s remarkable features; the forest, desert, plants, animals, and river habitats are incredible.  Plants and animals turned into rock formations show us how climate change altered ecosystems throughout time.  This time spent may inspire you to get involved in helping to conserve, preserve, and protect our parks, whether they are national, state, or local to your home.

* To learn more about architect Mary Colter, pick up the book Mary Colter, Builder Upon The Red Earth at any of the Grand Canyon’s bookstores and gift shops.  It is a fascinating story!

Safety is very important! Stay on the trails and away from cliffs.  Thunderstorms are common in the summer.  Seek shelter and stay away from the rim and exposed areas when lightning threatens.  Pets must be leashed.  Pets are permitted in developed areas about the rim but not on shuttle buses. All vehicles, including mountain bikes, are restricted to maintained roads.  When hiking, carry food and water; wear sun protection and appropriate clothes, including sunglasses and a hat; and wear footwear that has an excellent grip. Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is highly discouraged; instead, try one of the many hikes that are shorter in distance.  I recommend the 1 1/2 Resthouse Trail.  Feeding deer, squirrels or other animals is illegal.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us on Instagram @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Yvonne’s Grand Canyon National Park Photo Gallery
Check out Yvonne’s Insider Tips for exploring these National parks as well:

National Park Ranger Programs are Fun for All Ages

National Park Ranger Programs are Fun for All Ages

Whether you are 4 or 94, our beautiful 63 national parks offer a Junior Ranger Program that is an exploratory, educational, and fun experience for the whole family. It’s a great way to learn interesting facts, archeology, preservation of ecosystems (including forests, plants, and waterways), cultural pieces of history,  wildlife, and more.

Becoming a National Park Junior Ranger requires a promise to learn about helping to preserve our treasured national parks and sharing the knowledge obtained with others for future generations. Don’t let the name “Junior” fool you. It is a wonderful program for all ages.  

Participating in the Junior Park Ranger Program is Easy

Pick up an activity booklet at the Park Visitor Center to get started. Instructions for activities are clearly outlined and are based on age groups, with a checklist provided to explore the park, participate in a ranger-guided tour, and complete the assigned activities in the booklet. 

After you have completed the booklet, simply return it to the visitor center for a park ranger’s review.  The ranger may give you a hat to adorn while you raise your hand and take a pledge promising to educate others about what you have learned. 

We promise you will have so much fun and be surprised at what you learn. You may find yourself pondering and wanting to learn more about our national parks long after your visit.

Park Ranger Materials
There are also Citizen Ranger programs in our National Parks.

While similar to the Junior Ranger Program, the Citizen Ranger program is more in-depth and requires most activities to be completed in the park. Individuals, families, or groups design their path or “a do-it-yourself learning adventure” to become a Citizen Ranger. Upon completing your personalized “Quest,” you earn a unique Citizen Ranger certificate and patch.  

Citizen Ranger Quests are designed for persons 12 years of age and older, and younger children participating with adult assistance. For more information, ask a park ranger how you can get started in the Junior Ranger and Citizen Ranger programs at any national park you visit. 

Be sure to share a photo with your badge and certificate with us @one_planet_life and an interesting observation or fact that you learned. Most of all, have fun!

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us on Instagram @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Interested in learning more about our National Parks? Get our Insider Tips for these parks:

Zion National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Arches National Park

North Cascades National Park

An Insider’s Guide to North Cascades National Park

An Insider’s Guide to North Cascades National Park

If you love the vast native wilderness, turquoise water, mosses, majestic trees, plants, and wildlife, North Cascades National Park in Washington State should be at the top of your bucket list.

“If there is magic on this planet,” American Anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote, “it is contained in the water.”  North Cascades National Park is a beautiful treasure with mountain scenery, mesmerizing cascading waterfalls, glacier-sculpted mountains with peaks blanketed with snow, cliff walls, spires, and more. It’s hard to believe it is one of our least visited National Parks!

Here are Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Getting into the Park:

Drive Washington State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) from Burlington on the west or Twisp on the east to reach the North Cascades.  State Route 20 passes Gorge, Diablo, and Ross Lakes in Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  Only Gorge, Diablo, and Ross lakes can be reached by vehicle from State Route 20.  The wilderness scenery along this road is spectacular as over 94 percent of the park and recreation areas are designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area.

There are several overlooks and hikes, including a short, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk through an old-growth forest that is simply stunning. You may want to bring a camera with an extra battery or a battery for your phone as they will be working overtime for the pictures you will take.

Where to Stay:

Lodging can be found on Ross Lake, in Stehekin, and at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.  There are four vehicle-accessible campgrounds: Goodell Creek, Newhalem Creek, Colonial Creek, and Hozomeen –  all on a first-come, first-served basis.  Make reservations well in advance as these campgrounds fill up for May – September.  If there happen to be sites available it will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, reserving a camping site near the stunning turquoise alpine lakes is pretty hard; but do not let that deter you, as there are some beautiful camping sites nestled in the old-growth forest.

What to See:
  • The North Cascades Visitors Center in Newhalem should be one of the first stops once inside the park to learn about this magnificent vast park’s natural and cultural history that is so diverse and rugged.  Ask a park ranger for recommendations on accessible trails to hike, picnic, and explore.  There are also informative and educational exhibits, audio-visuals, and ranger-led programs to participate in.
  • Hiking trails – There are approximately 400 maintained in the North Cascades National Park.  You can observe over 1,700 species of plants, ferns, fungi; birds, including the bald eagle; mammals such as bears, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.  Pick up a trail map at the visitor center.
  • Ross Lake National Recreation Area – This area stretches along the Skagit River below the dams.  There are many outdoor recreational activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, and more.  Ross Lake rents canoes, kayaks, and small motorboats and offers portage service between Diablo and Ross Lakes.
  • Diablo Lake, a reservoir created by the Diablo Dam, is truly astonishing as the color is a magnificent turquoise, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and pines. Take a hike on the Diablo Lake Trail. For more information on this beautiful scenic trail with old-growth forest, visit the Washington Trails Association website.
  • Be sure to pay attention to the posted speed limits along Route 20, as you can get distracted by the beauty. There are plenty of roadside turnouts to view the scenery safely.  Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, pedestrians, bicyclists, rocks on the roadways, and other drivers.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Yvonne’s North Cascades National Park Photo Gallery

Check out Yvonne’s Insider Tips for exploring these National parks as well:

An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Arches National Park

An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Arches National Park

Arches National Park is an amazing breathtaking park featuring sculptured red rock sceneries created from 100 million years of erosion and weathering, thus creating one of the world’s greatest densities of natural arches. Located in eastern Utah, Arches National Park features the world’s most extensive collection of natural stone arches. According to the park’s information brochure, the park has over 2,000 cataloged arches ranging from a three-foot opening, the minimum considered to be an arch, to the longest, Landscape Arch, measuring 306 feet base to base.

Native Americans used this area for thousands of years. The Archaic peoples, and later ancestral Puebloan, Fremont, and Ute peoples, searched the arid desert for food, animals, wild plant foods, and stone for tools and weapons. Evidence of their time in this park is found on pictographs and petroglyph panels.

Here are Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.
  • The busy season for Arches National Park is March through October. Try to arrive at the park before 8:00 am for a beautiful sunrise, fewer crowds, and reduced traffic congestion.  Some national parks have timed entries, so be sure to check the National Park website to gain clarity on information when visiting the national park on your bucket list to make your visit truly enjoyable.  
  • Go to the Arches visitor center to pick up a park brochure and map to help plan your day. Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and two liters of water. Cell service can be limited, and be mindful of the weather, especially in monsoon season.
  • At the visitor center, take a tour of the geological displays and learn more about salty inland seas, interweaved river systems, coastal plains, and sand dunes.
  • Arches’ highlighted features for some beautiful photos in the early morning or late afternoon hours include Turret Arch, Double Arch, Delicate Arch, Courthouse Towers, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Petrified Dunes, and Landscape Arch at Devil’s Garden.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Check out Yvonne’s Insider Tips for exploring these National parks as well:

Yvonne’s Arches National Park Photo Gallery

An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Mesa National Park

An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Mesa National Park

If you love learning about ancient archeological history and culture in the United States deserts, you will love this national treasure!  The cliff palaces, tools, pottery, farming practices, family life, and topography of Mesa Verde National Park will amaze you and spark your curiosity to discover and learn more.

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado. Follow Yvonne’s insider tips to get the most out of your visit.

Exploring the Park:
  • Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Research Center is so interesting with exhibits, a bookstore, and an introductory movie about the culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people.  Park rangers are very enthusiastic about helping you plan your visit.
  • Take a Guided Park Ranger Tour to Learn About Impressive Ancient Dwellings. Visit the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. It is believed that 100-120 early Puebloans lived at Cliff Palace. Visit Step House on Wetherill Mesa, a 12-mile road leading to overlooks and fascinating archeological sites.
  • Spruce Tree House is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings and the park’s third-largest
Mesa Verde Park Ranger
  • Drive the Mesa Top Loop Road. Short paved walking trails lead to captivating architecture featuring Pithouses and Early Pueblo Villages dating back as early as A.D. 700-950 and Sun Point View A.D. 1200-1300.
  • Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon Trail – This loop trail leads to a petroglyph panel through scenic wildlife habitat.
  • Far View Sites – Take this self-guided tour with interpretive signs illustrating mesa-top farming communities with a reservoir.
  • Nordenskiold – This is another self-guided trail to a cliff-dwelling overlook.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us on Instagram @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Interested in learning more about other National Parks? Get our Insider Tips for these parks:

Zion National Park

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