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 Zion National Park

An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Zion National Park

If you are lucky enough to explore Zion National Park, then you are lucky enough, according to One Planet Life Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer. An experienced park visitor, Yvonne is happy to share her insider’s guide as to what to explore at Zion National Park.

Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is an awe-inspiring nature preserve. Here are Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Getting into the Park:  

Use the free Zion Canyon Shuttle to travel into Zion Canyon. Each full shuttle reduces traffic by 28 cars. According to NPS @ Zion National Park, shuttles reduce vehicle miles traveled per day by over 50,000 and reduce CO2 emissions by over 12 tons per day.


Where to Stay:

Reserve a room six months in advance at the Historic Zion Lodge settled in Zion Canyon. If you prefer to camp, there are three campgrounds: Watchman, The Lava Point, and South.  Senior/Access pass holders get 50% off the camping fee, which does not include the America the Beautiful Pass. Many of the first-come, first-served sites should be claimed first thing in the morning during the summer months. Campground restrooms have no showers or electrical outlets. Comfort stations provide flush toilets, drinkable water, and trash containers. Be aware: Zion gets extremely hot during summer, with little to no shade. There are very few riverside campsites along the Virgin River.

Zion Park Campground
What to See:
  • The Temple of Sinawava a natural amphitheater, is known as the park’s hallmark. It is an easy 2-mile paved Riverside trail walk that follows the Virgin River upstream, leading to the Narrows.  
  • The Grotto – a shaded picnic area among cottonwood trees, is a great place to relax, read, or journal. 
  • Weeping Rock – Dripping springs create beautiful hanging gardens and mini waterfalls.  It’s a steep hike but short – stunning views of Angels Landing and Big Bend. 
  • Zion-Mt Carmel Highway Tunnel – Built in the 1920s, this 12-mile scenic drive with spectacular views of the canyon below and the Great Arch connects Zion Canyon to the east side of the park.
  • Canyon Overlook Trail – This one-mile trail has beautiful views of Zion Canyon.  It begins at a higher elevation, is short, and the parking area is very limited.
  • Checkerboard Mesa – On the east side of the park, the mesa has no running water, and bathrooms are scarce.
  • Angels Landing – 5,700 feet above Zion Canyon, this is the most iconic and notorious rock formation in the United States.
  • Court of the Patriarchs – You will find beautiful views of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob peaks  –  named by Frederick Fisher in 1916 for the biblical figures.
  • Zion Narrows – Take a day hike on the gorgeous riverwalk with stunning sheer multi-colored rock layers and sandstone cliffs, natural springs, and hanging gardens with ferns, moss, and Columbine in nearly every turn you take. You will surely never forget this experience.  Be aware: The Narrows is subject to flash flooding. Check the weather before hiking here, as storms can cause rising water levels.  Hiking in the Narrows may involve walking, wading, or swimming in some areas. Be sure to bring a hiking stick and wear water shoes with an excellent grip.  We wore Keen water shoes with a great grip (rocks are slippery) and wool socks because the water is cold (water shoes are available to rent), and permits are required for overnight camping.

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 Zion National Park Photo Gallery
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