If you’re planning to visit the Grand Canyon’s South Rim this summer, you’re already doing it wrong.
Going at the busiest time of year is just one of the mistakes travelers typically make when visiting Arizona’s natural wonder.
Everyone should see America’s second-most-visited (and first-most-awesome) national park. But you know how you avoid the crush at your neighborhood’s trendiest restaurant by eat at less crowded times?
Same applies to the Grand Canyon. Go on a spring or fall weekend. Or see it in winter, which offers a chance to see it frosted with snow like a wedding cake.
Here are other common mistakes when going to the Grand Canyon.
1. Wearing shoes that are cute, not functional
Grand Canyon visitors often wear heels, flip-flops or sneakers that would hold up well while strolling through a gift shop, but not so much on a rugged trail carved into a cliff.
If you plan to venture below the rim, lace up appropriate footwear such as hiking boots or trail shoes.
2. Hiking down as if you’re not going back up
As you head down the Bright Angel Trail, gravity whispers, “Can you believe how easy this is? Let’s keep going.”
It’s not until you turn around, when gravity offers a cartoonish bad-guy laugh, that you know you’re in trouble.
Depending on your fitness, it can take twice as long to hike up as hike down. To make sure you haven’t outhiked your ability to get back up safely, try this simple test. Turn around and walk 20 steps uphill. If the top suddenly seems a lot farther away, it’s time to return to the rim.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of America’s largest and most frequented parks. Known for its vast size and biological diversity, the park is often considered as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. USA TODAY NETWORK
3. Getting too close to the edge
You’re on vacation, so there’s no way you can seriously injure yourself. Right?
On average, 12 people die every year in Grand Canyon, because of heat or natural causes, even suicide, according to park officials. Perhaps two or three people fall off ledges, nearly all of which are precipitous.
Keep a safe distance between you and mortality when peering over the edge or snapping that perfect photo. Perishing due to vacation carelessness is not going to look good when presenting your heavenly resume to St. Peter.
4. Driving in the park during summer
Spend an hour hunting for parking and you’ll be sorry you came. Here’s a tip: You don’t need your car in the park.
A robust park-and-ride system lets you park in Tusayan (just outside the front gates), show your admission pass, hop on the bus and wave as you pass all those car-bound suckers in line. They may wait a half hour or more at the busiest times while you shuttle-hop to your favorite destinations in the park.
Three shuttle routes within the park stretch from Hermits Rest to Yaki Point with plenty of stops in between. The free buses run every 15-30 minutes.
The Grand Canyon is not some roadside attraction. Yet some visitors park, take a few photos and head out as if they’d just seen the world’s largest Paul Bunyan statue and were not impressed.
They leave without knowing how the view changes from overlook to overlook, or the way the cliffs begin to glow as the sun sets. Now wait for the canopy of stars, and look down into the inky blackness to spot the bobbing lights of hikers thousands of feet below.
Spending at least a full day and night at the Grand Canyon is an experience you’ll be talking about for years.
The North Rim offers amenities the South Rim only dreams of: uncrowded overlooks, cooler weather and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
It gets just a tenth of the visitation of the South Rim, so you can enjoy a drive through aspens and pines to Cape Royal and Imperial Point, vantage points offering a depth and breadth of the canyon as you’ve never seen.
As the sun sets, ease into an Adirondack chair on the veranda of the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, which is perched on the edge with an incomparable view.
Then wave at the South Rim and say, “Having a great time, glad you’re not here.”
Like New Yorkers who’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty, many Arizonans don’t make the Grand Canyon a travel priority because it’s just a few hours away. You’ll go at some point, right?
Years later, you move away. It comes up at a cocktail party that you’re from Arizona. You’re asked if the Grand Canyon is every bit as amazing as it seems, and every eye is on you. You have to explain how you always meant to go but, well, you know. Or you lie and mumble, “Yeah, totally.”