I'm in Las Vegas for a conference next month and am hoping to use it as my chance to see the Grand Canyon. I've always wanted to visit but don't know where to start. It's pretty big.
I've done some research but the more I read, the more overwhelming the options seem to be.
All the different charges and tourist fees are hard to make sense of. Do you have to pay to visit the national park? Is there any way to see it for free?
Las Vegas isn't everybody's scene. After completing 10km of safety barriers along the Strip and Boulevard, the city has become even more claustrophobic of late. Newly installed sidewalk "drunk barriers", a maze of pedestrian overpasses and inescapable casinos can leave you itching to get out of town.
Which is ideal, because there's so much to see outside.
Red Rock national park and the awesome Hoover Dam are right on your doorstep. However, if you dare to dream a little bigger, Las Vegas is a stepping-off point for tourists going to the Grand Canyon.
There's a lot to see and if you've not got a lot of time, you're going to have to make some hard choices. Then, with various permits for access, view points and outdoor activities there's some difficult additions too.
To get back to your point: yes, you need to pay. Unlike other national parks in the US or in New Zealand there is an entry fee of $35 per vehicle driving into the park, per day. There are exceptions around certain public holidays, however, it's a long way for a day trip. Particularly if you've not got anyone to share the driving.
Then there are additional fees charged by specific view points and a separate permit for visiting Havasupai tribe land.
While there are hundreds of rugged vantage points and kilometres of trails, there are three main points of attack to the Canyon:
The Western Rim is the first you'll come to on the way from Vegas. As you'd expect, there are photo ops and gimmicks galore. The Skywalk glass-bottomed bridge is a thrilling but pricey experience at $56 for general admission and $26 for the walk. You'll also have to pay for any photos, as cameras and phones are not allowed on the bridge. Unless you're literally box ticking, you'll want to see more.
The South Rim is perhaps the most visited and is home to the most iconic views of the Canyon. As part of the national park, unlike the West Rim, all of your entry fee goes back into conservation and rangers' salaries.
Almost invariably traffic driving into the park will be heading here and to the Canyon Village. Bus tours do depart from Las Vegas, but at 14 hours it's a long day trip with little flexibility.
A lot of people opt to use their own wheels or hire a car to get into the park, but as you'd expect it gets pretty busy. Parking is limited. To paraphrase a park guide: "Arrive by 9am or after 4pm, or not at all."
The North Rim is the last option from Vegas. The least visited of the three, it is a long drive along roads that close over winter. It's only accessible between May 15 and October 15, so you'll have to leave it for another time. However, you'll be glad you came back.
Its serene remoteness means park services refer to it as "the other rim" and at Point Imperial is the highest vantage point in the park. The remoteness is also the biggest challenge. Around the North Rim, Lodge is your only choice of accommodation.
If you're on a tight timeframe and based in Vegas, you could do worse than take a heli-tour. For between $300 and $600, you'd easily be able to chopper into the park for roughly the same cost of car hire and lodging. You'll be dropped right in on the action, however, you might be left wanting more time in the canyon.
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