The Grand Staircase is a region in the southwest US named for the topographic cliffs and plateaus that increase in elevation from the rim of The Grand Canyon all the way up to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The staircase “steps” eroded into colorful cliffs that reveal earth’s geological history from the oldest layers (Grand Canyon) to the newest (Bryce Canyon). These colorful steps are visible as you make your way up or down the staircase and include the vibrant Pink, Grey, White, Vermillion, and Chocolate Cliffs (youngest to oldest) throughout the region.
We visited the Grand Canyon, or the bottom of the Grand Staircase, on our 10-day road trip from Los Angeles to Denver, CO. Our first stop was the famous South Rim - one of the most visited places in the park! Even with the crowds, we enjoyed expansive views of the canyon from almost every angle.
The South Rim
The trail along the south rim of the Grand Canyon is an easy and breathtaking hike. Most of the path is paved so it’s wheelchair and stroller accessible and is mainly flat so it’s perfect for any level of physical fitness. We began the walk at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center and ended at the Grand Canyon Village about three miles later. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery, both official (read: safe) and unofficial (read: sudden death if you slip) so just be careful where you step!
We happened to arrive at the rim a couple of hours before sunset so we walked along the Rim Trail and watched the canyon go from muted reds and oranges to brilliant golds and blues with the setting sun. If you can time your visit with sunset, do it! Just be ready to fight the crowds for a good picture.
The South Kaibab Trail
On our second day, we got an extremely early start to begin a sunrise hike down South Kaibab Trail. South Kaibab is a great option for a day-hike into the Grand Canyon and you can make the trek as long or as short as you’d like by turning around at the various viewpoints. We chose to hike down to Cedar Ridge, or the second viewpoint along the South Kaibab Trail. Cedar Ridge is located 1.5 miles from the canyon rim, which totals a 3-mile round-trip hike. The official ‘end point’ for the South Kaibab Trail is Skeleton Point which is another 1.5 miles from Cedar Ridge.
Where to Stay (on a Budget)
Full disclosure, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon has plenty of amazing places to stay if your budget isn’t tight. From world-class hotels to quaint cabins and even a family-friendly campground right in Grand Canyon Village, there are a number of options for most budgets (depending on the season you visit). However, this is one of America’s top tourist destinations, so even prices for the on-site campground can be steep.
As budget travelers, we decided to research some alternative places to stay and were pleasantly surprised by what we found! We ended up taking our Jeep to Forest Road 305 about 15 minutes before the South Rim entrance (close to the town of Tusayan) off Highway 64. The forest roads are located in the South Kaibab Forest with plenty of dispersed camping options available. Just look for fire rings or clear parking turn-offs and set up camp!
If you’d prefer a more established campground but don’t want to pay in-park prices, then the Ten X campground is your best bet. We heard great things about this accommodation ($10/night) which includes pit toilets, metal fire rings, and picnic tables. For tight budgets, this is a great option if you can arrive early enough to claim a spot (first come first serve sites).
The Grand Canyon is really f-ing Grand. Think larger, deeper, and more beautiful than you’ve ever imagined. We wish we’d had more time to explore the hiking trails, viewpoints, and camping spots in and around the canyon as we just barely scratched the surface in 2 days. It was perhaps our most anticipated stop on our tour of the Grand Staircase and it definitely lived up to the life-long hype.
Again, places are touristy for a reason! Ignore the crowds (or don't be afraid to use elbows) and go enjoy, in our opinions, one of America's most impressive natural sights.