Visiting the Hoover Dam and especially the Grand Canyon is unbelievable and an absolute must! I recently had this opportunity, so I’m sharing a few tips based on my personal experience:
-> Visit the Hoover Dam first – the Grand Canyon is so incredibly impressive that it was hard to be as impressed by Hoover Dam in comparison. If we saw it first, I suspect we would be more “wowed”.
-> Stop by the recently constructed Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge on the way in – this bridge spans the Colorado River and the Nevada/Arizona borders, offering great views of the dam which help you appreciate it more once you get closer. Plus it’s easier to head right towards the dam after visiting the plaza than making a left in crazy Hoover Dam traffic!
-> Get out of the car – just driving over the dam is kind of cool, but you really don’t get to see much. There is lots of free parking once you pass the two paid lots, so I recommend getting out of the car so you can really appreciate your surroundings.
For more information about visiting the Hoover Dam, such as hours and tours, click here.
First off let me say that I was absolutely blown away by the Grand Canyon. It was far more incredible than I expected and it’s virtually impossible to really capture it in photos. If you miss the Hoover Dam, no big deal, but you really can’t miss the Grand Canyon! The tips below are for the South Rim, which is the most accessed and visited part of the Grand Canyon (North Rim is only open part of the year). The West Rim is closest to Vegas, operated by the Hualapai Nation and includes the new SkyWalk.
-> Review the Grand Canyon website – there is tons of useful information here, especially the Trip Planner and Park Newspapers sections, including suggestions for what to do if you have a half day, full day, or more time.
-> Have a plan before you get there – even though we reviewed the website, we wasted time figuring which direction to go in first because we didn’t finalize our plan ahead of time.
-> You can save time by buying your pass in advance – no online purchase is available but you can stop in a few spots before you arrive and then bypass the line of cars waiting to pay (stay in the left lane). List of places to buy a pass is available here.
-> Grand Canyon is free on most holidays – check out the full list here.
-> You will need more time than you think you do – we expected to spend 4 hours, we actually spent almost 7 and we seriously wish we had more time! Half the time we just spent gawking at the Canyon in amazement. Shuttles also took longer than expected because they are often full.
-> Spend the night if you can – I would love to camp in the canyon next time or raft down the Colorado River. There is lots to keep you busy and your $25 vehicle pass is good for 7 days.
-> Avoid the blue bus route – Grand Canyon offers free shuttles in between view points, but the main purpose of the blue route is to get you around the village and connect to the red route for Hermit’s Rest. The blue route is long and crowded, so if you are just going for the day, park in the village near the Angel Trail and just take the red route. You can also walk the 5 km from the Visitor Centre to the red route for some nice views.
-> Pima Point has the best view – in my humble opinion anyway! Terrific view of the Colorado River and a panoramic of the Canyon. Pima Point is on the red route. Full disclosure, we did not take the orange route or go up to Desert View so these may have even better views.
-> Avoid boarding at the busiest stops – on the red route, skip Hermit’s Rest and just board at Pima Point to go back and on the blue route, if you are taking it, walk 5 minutes backwards to the Angel Lodge stop instead of boarding at the Village Transfer stop, which is the most popular (you will likely wait for several buses before you can board, whereas at Angel Lodge you just hop right on).
-> Avoid the shuttles all together by riding a bike – the buses have racks so you can always board one if you get tired of riding. Rentals are available at the Canyon.
-> Individuals with disabilities may get special permits – A Scenic Drive Accessibility Permit allows visitors with mobility issues access to some areas closed to public traffic. The permit is available at entrance gates and shuttle buses are also wheelchair accessible (for wheelchairs smaller than 30 x 48 inches).
-> Go down into the Canyon – this is my most important tip! We took the Angel Trail into the Canyon and it was a very cool experience. I would have loved to have done this early in the day so we could take the trail even further. It was really my favourite part! The trail is not difficult, but a bit scary if you do not like heights. Just don’t forget that you have to get back…and it will be an uphill climb, so leave enough time (and energy) for that.
Have you visited the Hoover Dam or Grand Canyon? Do you have any additional tips?