Two hours at the Grand Canyon? That seems a bit ridiculous for a national park that is 215 miles and takes five hours to drive between the North and South Rims.
But what do you do when you have a massive road trip planned out perfectly and on the morning of day 3, you realize that the Grand Canyon is only two hours out of your way?
You reroute the GPS of course!
We had a tight itinerary that was more driving than sightseeing. On day one, we drove from Denver, Colorado to Tucson, Arizona. We spent the next day visiting family and then it was time to continue on. The original plan was to leave Tucson and drive to Mesa Verde National Park, while stopping at the Four Corners. While looking at a map, it was obvious that the Grand Canyon was only a couple of hours away so we did some quick research.
We rerouted the GPS to take us from Tucson, Arizona to the South Rim Entrance.
Our drive through the Grand Canyon was quite literally that: a drive through the Grand Canyon. We didn’t have time for leisurely hikes or picnics. We were there to gape at the giant hole in the ground, snap some pictures and continue through the park to an east exit near Cameron.
So how did we fare?
We were glad that we added the Grand Canyon to our itinerary at the last minute. How could we be so close and not stop? After we left the Grand Canyon and continued driving, all of the older kids on our trip (we had a 13 year old, 2 ten year olds, an 8 year old and a 3 year old) proclaimed the Grand Canyon to be the best stop on our road trip. That made it worth it.
Here are a few tips that we learned along the way if you only have a couple of hours in the Grand Canyon:
Fill up your car with gas before driving into the park entrance. This gave us a peace of mind because we had no idea what was on the other side!
Stop and take pictures when you want to stop and take pictures. You only have an hour or two and you are not going to want to turn around.
Stop at the visitor center but plan to spend some time. We decided to stop at the visitor center to pick up Junior Ranger books, use the restroom and stretch our legs. Parking at the visitor center is a premium and you might have to drive around for a little while. It can also be quite a walk to the center depending on where you have to park. While at the visitor center, we spoke to a ranger and found out how to exit the park so we were headed in the right direction. We also explored the exhibits. There is a water bottle filling station as well as plenty of restrooms and a shop. You can walk around the visitor center to Mather Point where you will get your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. This is also one of the most crowded spots. We snapped a few pictures and headed down the road.
From the South Rim to the Cameron exit, there were plenty of places to stop and take pictures. Before we went, a friend told us to skip all the touristy places and just make the drive if we didn’t have the time. She was right. We could have stopped at the visitor center, used the restroom, and hit the road. We would have still seen the majestic views that the Grand Canyon has to offer.
If you are making the trip from Tucson to Mesa Verde National Park, be aware that adding the Grand Canyon on to your itinerary will make you arrive in Mesa Verde long after dark. With two hours at the Grand Canyon and minimal stops along the way we arrived after 10:00 at night. Because of this, Four Corners was closed when we arrived. The next day we had to tack two more hours on to our itinerary to make the drive to Four Corners and back.