Options for avoiding long lines at Grand Canyon entrance gates
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - In the heat of the summer, when tourism at Grand Canyon National Park is in full swing and with over five million visitors to the Canyon in 2015, visitors might be happy to learn that there is more than one way to visit Grand Canyon.
Ride the train
One option is the Grand Canyon Railway, which transports between 1,600 to 1,800 people every day to and from the Grand Canyon.
"We estimate we keep 50,000 cars out of the park a year," said Bruce Brossman, regional director of sales in Arizona for Xanterra, the operating concessionaire of the Grand Canyon Railway.
Brossman said the train provides a historic, fun and educational journey to the Canyon and is a great option to having a unique experience while helping to keep heavy traffic lines down at the South Rim park entrance.
"We're certainly contributing to keeping congestion, pollution and irritation less for the guests and for the park service," he said. "It's just a totally different experience and way to go to the Grand Canyon. It allows people to relax and enjoy the journey not just getting to the rim of the Canyon and looking in."
During peak season the Grand Canyon Railway will run two trains a day from its depot in Williams to the historic depot in Grand Canyon Village, which is within walking distance to the rim. An average train ride takes two hours and 15 minutes, after de-boarding the train, passengers have three hours to explore.
"It's two hours and 15 minutes to the Canyon on the train, it's an hour and 15 minutes from Williams to the visitor center in a car on a good day. On a bad day the train probably beats the guy waiting in line (at the entrance gates)," Brossman said.
For train passengers not sure what the Canyon has to offer once they arrive at the Canyon, Xanterra offers passengers the option of bundling their train tickets with a motor coach tour. These tours depart directly from the train depot and stop at viewpoints along the South Rim, some of the tours include lunch.
"A lot of our passengers are multi-generational families," Brossman said. "A lot of seniors and children, so you got a lot of grandparents and grandkids or the parents, so you've got different levels of mobility, commonly in a group that might be riding the train so the bus tour option really helps people maximize their time there."
Another option is to purchase a bundled package that includes an overnight stay at Maswick Lodge on the South Rim. Additionally, Xanterra sells one way tickets and offers to transport your bicycle, for an additional charge, from Williams to the Canyon.
Brossman said not only does riding the train save you from long wait lines at the park entrance and finding parking within the park, but train attendants and motor coach operators give an educational experience that provides helpful and fun information during your trip.
Brossman said every seat on the train is assigned and even at peak season The Grand Hotel in Williams, where the train departs from, runs at 70 - 75 percent occupancy.
"We've added a two train schedule to spring break and starting Memorial Day through Labor Day we will be running two trains a day."
Brossman said having the public infiltrate the park on the train is also beneficial to the park service.
"It helps the park service, it helps the visitor experience and it helps protect the park from car pollution," he said. "It does add a cost, there's no question that taking the train does add a cost, but it's a different experience than driving a car. People spend an awful lot of time in their cars now, 'why not try something different?'"
The train offers everything from Pullman Class, which Brossman said runs under $200 for a family of four to luxury class.
"One of the most aggravating things you could experience when you're so excited about going to the Grand Canyon is waiting in line for an hour or more. I can't imagine a worse start to your Grand Canyon trip," Brossman said. "I think you're doing the park a favor. Relieve the congestion, I think you should feel good about that. The park service itself is talking about how overwhelmed they are with cars, why contribute to that? Help the park and give yourself a better experience by keeping the cars out of the park."
Another popular option is to take a ride with various tour operators offering South Rim van and jeep tours. One of these operators, Pink Jeep, picks up passengers at Tusayan hotels and the Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitors Center. Those booking tours with Pink Jeep enjoy the IMAX movie, included with all of the company's tours.
Visitors can book the tours in Tusayan, where they depart from and can book through Pink Jeep partners in some of their other locations. Pink Jeep Tours runs tours locally in Sedona, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Scottsdale, with the other locations outside of the Grand Canyon offering day trips to the South Rim.
While Pink Jeep does have to wait in the park entrance lines, Chris Epper, vice president of marketing for Pink Adventure Group, said the tour starts before entering the park.
"As a tour company we are required to wait in line, but the good news is the tour doesn't wait till the Jeep enters the park," he said in an email. "During the wait, our guides take advantage of the extra time to get to know their passengers and begin the background on the park and history, often getting a chance to view wildlife on the side of the road."
Eppers said on average the wait is five to 10 minutes, but during the peak season and peak entrance hours, the wait can be upwards of 30 minutes. However, not having to drive a private vehicle into the park and find a parking spot gives visitors a more relaxing visit.
"Our tours provide complete transportation from pick up to drop off and unlike other tours, you never have to look for another option or wait in line at a bus stop, your Jeep is your ride for the duration," Eppers said. "Guests can take advantage of an open air 360 degree view and a completely unobstructed look at the Canyon and the surroundings. Instead of worrying about where to park, where to turn, and finding the best viewpoints, our guides do all the work. We take you away from the crowds, show you things you wouldn't find on your own or necessarily read in a visitor's guide, and leave you with lasting memories of the canyon versus a quick selfie."
Eppers said tours comes with a guide that receives over 150 hours of training before giving a tour, and each guide lives at the Canyon.
Additional options inside the park
After getting into Grand Canyon, other options for getting around include renting bicycles at Bright Angel Bicycles.
Bright Angel Bicycles offers bike rentals and tours for those interested in getting a close up look at the Canyon.
"People really enjoy the experience," said Wes Neal, owner of Bright Angel Bicycles. "There are basically three options: you can rent a bike and do your own thing, you can opt for a shuttle where we'll get you up to the top (of the Hermit Rest route) and we'll send you off and pick you up or you can go with a fully guided, interpretive tour."
Other options include taking the free national park shuttles and hiking the rim trails.
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