The thing a lot of people think they know but they don’t really know-know is just how huge the Grand Canyon actually is. They know it’s wide, they know it’s deep but they don’t comprehend just how large this amazing world wonder is. Here are some numbers for you just to put it into perspective.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29Km) wide and over a mile deep (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters). That’s big, like really really big. 1,921.6 square miles BIG to be exact or 1,229,824 acres but for those who use the metric system that’s 4,976.92 sq. kilometers or 497,692.115 hectares.
Let’s make this more visual, for those like me who simply prefer images rather than numbers. The entire Grand Canyon is about the same size as Trinidad or half the size of Lebanon. For American’s, that’s the size of Delaware and twice the size of Rhode Island. What I’m saying is the Grand Canyon could be its own state or a fairly decent sized country. Exploring the entire thing is not something that can be done in a day.
Now how does this information help you plan your trip? Think of the Grand Canyon in three different parts. The National Park side is on the East end and is divided into two parts The North Rim and The South Rim. Each Rim could and should be given at least a day if not their own weekend.
The west side is not a part of the National Park, it is a reservation owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe in Peach Springs, AZ. Grand Canyon West takes up about 18 of those square miles mentioned earlier.
So before you show up thinking you’re going to hike the North Kaibab Trail and take a selfie at Horseshoe Bend before heading over to the Skywalk know that those locations are not close to one another, not in the slightest. If you find yourself at Horseshoe bend and you want to thrill yourself on the Skywalk know that they are on opposite ends of the canyon. It’s a 345-mile drive from Horseshoe bend to GC West, for us Westerners that’s about a 6-hour drive. Not exactly a day trip.
Also, if you’re looking for a helicopter tour flying through the canyon that’s not going to happen in the National Park. Helicopter tours inside the park only circle above the canyon they don’t fly into it. Those videos of helicopters gliding along the canyon below the rim are only taken on the reservation at GC West. If you want to fly through the canyon or even land on the bottom to catch a pontoon ride down the river you need to head to the west end and book a tour with the reservation.
Overwhelming isn’t it? Well, I’m here to make it easier for you.
Here is everything you need to know about the Grand Canyon West to help you make a better decision.
Grand Canyon West:
Roughly 2 ½ hours drive from Las Vegas, NV.
Without booking a room at the hotel there is no camping allowed inside the Reservation. But there is plenty of free camping outside of park lands. When you exit Highway 93 and follow the road into the Reservation you’re going to cross a few cattle guards. Everything outside of the reservation is BLM Land. That stands for Bureau of Land Management. You can camp anywhere on BLM land for free; you don’t need permits, you don’t need to check in and you don’t need to pay a fee. It’s considered dispersed camping in this area so none of those numbers spots, no security guy roaming around in a golf cart, no camp fee, and no capacity limitations. You won’t get turned away when the campground fills up. You can park anywhere on BLM land and spend the night. There are however some guidelines for camping on BLM Land. Below is a link to BLM Camping tips.
Seems like a lot of info without real directions. Remember those cattle guards I mentioned earlier. There’s a large cattle guard with a white sign that marks the entrance to the reservation; there’s no camping beyond this point. Just before the entrance is a dirt road leading west if you’re facing the reservation that would be on the left side of the road. There are loads of camping spots along this road, just follow it until you find a spot you like. It’s the closest you can camp to GC West. I’ve provided maps billow for people like me who need visual aids.
If you’re not interested in camping you can book a room at the ranch.
NO DRIVING THROUGH THE PARK
You won’t be able to drive up to the Skywalk or Guano Point on your own. This may be discouraging but you’ll find this makes things so much easier and it’s better for the park and the environment. With the transportation taken care of, all you will have to worry about is having enough battery power to take all those pictures.
You’ll be directed into a parking lot where you’ll be able to purchase which package you prefer and catch a bus. Each package includes a bus pass. There are three stops and the buses run in a loop, your ticket allows you to get on and off any bus within the park at your convenience. So if you want to stay at the Ranch for lunch or catch the gun show you don’t have to worry about missing the bus, or if you want to linger longer on the Skywalk or stay to see the performers there’s no rush to get to the next stop. Depending on what time of year you visit the frequency between buses varies but you won’t have to wait long. We never waited for a bus longer than 5 to 10 minutes but it was the slow season.
Many national parks are using this system to get traffic out of the parks and to keep exhaust emissions down to preserve the air quality as much as possible.
Only service animals are allowed on the tours. You cannot bring pets on any of the bus’s or leave them in your car in the parking lot. We didn’t know this and it’s not on the website. We were staying in a Motorhome (RV) with working AC even with the motor off, my parents German Shepard was completely comfortable the first day we were there and the second morning the guard at the gate didn’t say a word to us about Bear (the dog) staying inside the RV. He even petted him and talked to us about him without saying a word about leaving him in the motorhome. We spent all mourning touring the park and when my dad went to let Bear out and walk him around there was a new guard who yelled at my dad about leaving the dog in the RV. He wouldn’t even let my dad come find us so he could tell us he was taking the dog to the kennel.
There is a kennel at the Hualapai Ranch that only charges $18 for a day to watch your pet. That’s not bad, especially compared to other places we’ve been. We wouldn’t have had a problem with it if all the employees had given us the same information. It was frustrating because we didn’t know until we were separated and had no idea my dad had to drive the motor-home back to the ranch to put Bear in a kennel and we had no way of communicating with him because none of our phones had any service. All of a sudden the RV wasn’t in the parking lot and we didn’t know where my dad was.
The kennel’s nice, clean, and the dogs get to roam around and play with one another. They’re not locked inside a cage. Bear had a good time and the people there were very accommodating and great with him.
We screwed up by not scheduling a tour first thing in the morning when we arrived. My mom wasn’t certain if it was worth it so she wanted to explore before paying for the helicopter. By the time we returned to buy tickets, it was already too late. The helicopters have to return to Las Vegas before sunset so they stop taking tours early depending on what time of the year you visit. Don’t wait until the last minute because the seats go quickly and you may run out of daylight.
Also important to know, the only Helicopters that actually go down into the canyon are at GCW. Because it’s not a national park they don’t have to stay above the canyon. Both the North and South Rim helicopter tours only circle above the canyon because they have to stick to National Park regulations.
Here is a list of the helicopter tours at GCW. Check the website for changes.
THE CONDOR FLIGHT | $107.42 | TAX INCL.
20-minute tour above the Grand Canyon
FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE | $144.97 | TAX INCL.
12-15-minute flight over the rim for unparalleled views
GRAND CANYON DISCOVERY | $158.82 | TAX INCL.
40-minute tour, half of which is spent 3,500 ft. below the rim above the Colorado River
HELICOPTER/PONTOON BOAT | $202.22 | TAX INCL.
Helicopter flight through the Canyon plus a pontoon boat tour
HISTORICAL RIVER TOUR | $262.67 | TAX INCL.
2½-hour tour featuring a helicopter flight into the Canyon where it lands at the bottom and a pontoon boat tour with views of the Skywalk and Guano Point
SKYWALK: NO CAMERAS OR PHONES
A lot of people may find it surprising that you can’t bring a camera, GoPro or a phone on the skywalk. And trust me there’s no sneaking one out there either. (Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone but next time I’m bringing spy glasses) When you arrive there are free lockers to put all your belongings inside before they make you walk through a metal detector and there’s a guard to guarantee that people don’t sneak them onto the skywalk.
The reasons behind this boil down to two things. One, it stops people from dropping things into the canyon. The reservation wants to keep the park, the canyon, and the river clean and safe. If thousands of people are dropping things into the canyon this gets hard, expensive and sometimes impossible. Two, if everyone standing on the skywalk is taking dozens of pictures and fifty million selfies with every step it seriously backs up the line and fewer people get to see this awesome place. Besides with your hands-free of electronics you might actually get to, oh I don’t know, look at the Grand Canyon and actually see it.
Enjoy it, take a moment and stop thinking about Instagram or filters and look, really look at what nature is capable of. It can amaze you if you give it a chance.
If you absolutely have to get pictures there are park photographers that can take pictures for you… at a price. Photography packages include $16 for one picture or $65 for all the pictures the photographer takes in an allotted time period. It’s about 8-10 pictures on average.
Also, you can’t purchase tickets for just the Skywalk alone.
The basic package is the Legacy package and is only for entrance into the park. $49.92 per adult/$40.44 per child 3-11 which DOES NOT include the Skywalk. It’s basically only a bus pass.
The Gold Package is $82.37 per adult/$62.09 per child 3-11 includes bus pass, the Skywalk, and one meal.
The Legacy VIP package is $333.14 per Adult and requires a minimum of two guests which includes a private tour guide, private shuttle, Native American gift, Skywalk ticket, and a meal.
It does say hiking on the brochure and the website but most hikers wouldn’t qualify this as an actual hike. You mostly just walk around the ridge. Pyramid point can get you winded but it’s not difficult. My mom climbed to the top; she just had to go around the rim towards the tramway to find an easier trail.
There is no railing, so keep an eye on your footing and away from your screens. It’s a long drop to the bottom.
Here’s a link to the website so you can get a full list of packages and tours available at Grand Canyon West. Enjoy your trip and if you have any questions or have more information not provided I would love to hear from you.
For those nature enthusiasts like myself who find the California Condor absolutely amazing. You won’t find them in the GCW. Frowny-face.
In 2001 there were only 22 Condors left. Today, there are more than 500, most of them living free and in the wild. Pretty remarkable if you ask me. The most frequent sightings in the Grand Canyon is along the North Rim and Horseshoe Bend. It’s still very rare but you never know. It could happen.
GCW is also the location for the famous Evil Kenevil jump across the Grand Canyon. Even at its shortest width, 600 feet, it’s still an insane distance. Evil Kenevil never did get to jump but his son Robbie did, however it wasn’t exactly ‘across’ the Grand Canyon. He jumped over a section that was 228 feet and the exact location is at GCW where they have now opened a zip line. Again, not ‘across’ the grand canyon but one of it’s many side canyons.
I hope you found this guide helpful and informative. If anything you will be better prepared for your trip to the Grand Canyon.
As always, leave the world a better place than you found it. Happy travels.
For more pictures from my trip visit my Instagram @dashboard.destinations
See you out there.
PS. Here’s those maps.