I know it’s kind of early to be thinking about Thanksgiving. I mean, we still have our holiday memories still lingering around in our heads. But, if I may, I wanted to plant a tiny seed, an idea to file away for the future. How about celebrating Thanksgiving at the Grand Canyon with your family? No pressure, just give it a thought then put it aside for when you’re thinking about doing something special for Thanksgiving break. IF you are interested, however, getting reservations for lodging and doing a bit of trip planning now will make it soooo much easier than trying later when reservations are much harder to come by. Remember you can always cancel your reservations if you need to. Once you book your room the option now becomes available to you, whereas it may not be when you think about it later on in the year.
Everyone knows the Grand Canyon, and those of you that have had the opportunity to visit already, know how truly “grand” this place is. It’s one of those places that you really have to see for yourself, you need to feel the enormity of the place. Although the Grand Canyon is known as a world-class outdoor adventure destination with its epic canyon hikes, the Grand Canyon is really accessible to everyone. I love that people can experience the canyon at their own pace and have their own individual experience that is just right for them. With lodges, restaurants, cafeterias, campgrounds, RV parks, visitor centers, museums, hiking trails, bike trails, bike rental shops, scenic drives, etc… it’s all there so everyone can come and enjoy. In my opinion the Grand Canyon is a perfect place for a family, young and old, to celebrate Thanksgiving, to be able to enjoy nature and still get the special holiday experience. On Thanksgiving day they up the ante and serve a delicious Thanksgiving meal with all of the fixings at both the El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge.
There are some of you who read this blog (you know who you are 😉 ) that don’t want to hike up and down a canyon or work up a sweat on a bike ride, you want to experience nature in a more “relaxed” way. The Grand Canyon is for you, too! Think warm and cozy hotel room on the rim, a flat scenic trail to walk on for as long or as little as you want, a delicious Thanksgiving meal in a historic dining room, and shuttles to take you around if you don’t want to drive. Then there are the canyon views…the ones that will remind you to your core that you have so much to be thankful for. If you crave outdoor adventure, there are so many incredible hikes of all levels and bike rides that will leave you absolutely exhilarated. Something for everyone!
We visited the Grand Canyon last November, during the week of Thanksgiving, arriving on the Monday before Thanksgiving and leaving on the Friday after. Although we experienced rain on Monday night, the weather the rest of the week was beautiful. Being that it was the end of November, the temperatures were a bit on the chilly side during the day, but nothing a good jacket couldn’t fix. Camping at Mather Campground, on the other hand, was COLD, especially after the sun went down. There were some tent campers who braved it all, but the majority of those that were at the campground were RVs. It wasn’t totally comfortable, but it was doable for $18/night inside the park.
By the time Thanksgiving Day arrived for us we had hiked, biked and gone 4 days without a shower! Four active, sweaty days! Mather Campground had showers, but we just couldn’t make ourselves brave the cold to actually get to the showers. We had reserved a night at Kachina Lodge so that we could get cleaned up and celebrate Thanksgiving with a meal at El Tovar Hotel, which was right next door. This is probably our last visit to the South rim of the Grand Canyon for awhile (there are just too many other places we want to visit), so we wanted to check things off the list like staying at a lodge on the rim, and watching a Grand Canyon sunrise.
shower time check-in wasn’t until 3 pm, we still had time to explore the canyon the morning of Thanksgiving. We spent some time bike riding the Tusayan Trail and walking the Rim Trail from Mather Point to Kachina Lodge, stopping by the Yavapai Geology Museum on the way. The Trail of Time is on this route and this trail is one we walked on during our previous trip when our daughter was little. The name of this trail was so appropriate, we kept remembering how little she was and how much she’s grown since then…The Trail of Time (gone by). The rim trail here is relatively flat, paved, right along the canyon, and can be walked by anyone. There are shuttles to help take you to places if you don’t feel like walking back the same way or if you want to see something else without getting in your car (see the NPS map of the south rim with shuttle stops).
Kachina Lodge is one of four lodges on the rim of the Grand Canyon (El Tovar Hotel, Thunderbird and Bright Angel Lodge are the other three). You can walk out of the building and be at the rim with a gorgeous view in a matter of seconds. By the time we booked a night at Kachina, the canyon side rooms were all booked up (not too much more in price for a canyon-side than street-side, so keep that in mind when you book early). We were very happy with our one night stay at Kachina. The rooms were like your standard motel rooms, it’s really the location that is the draw. I was a little too preoccupied with getting my first shower in 4 days to check out the room carefully, it seemed clean, quiet and comfortable enough…and warm, so wonderfully warm.
Thanksgiving day dinner:
It was a nice change of pace to get cleaned up and then dress in anything but activewear for dinner. The El Tovar dining room serves a preset Thanksgiving menu featuring a number of entrees, including turkey with all the fixings (menu). The Arizona Room at the Bright Angel Lodge also serves a special menu (we didn’t get to try the meal, but the prices seem to be cheaper). They don’t take reservations for this meal, so you leave your name at the reservation stand and wait until it is called. If you are not there when your name is called, you forfeit your place on the list. The last time we did this, we only waited 30 minutes, but this time we had to wait over an hour (If you can eat your meal earlier, you can shorten your wait time). Let’s just say we gobbled up the bread basket when we first sat down at the table. At least your name gets put in an alphabet group and they let you know which letter they are seating. So, if your group is not going to be called for awhile you can sneak out and enjoy the canyon views for a bit.
Dinner was delicious and the wonderful waitstaff at the El Tovar Dining Room made the night feel special. It was nice to have spent the day exploring the Grand Canyon and not cooking all day (although I love to cook and I’m sure I will be happy doing this other Thanksgivings). This Thanksgiving day experience was so different (in a good way) and one that brings a smile to my face when I recall it.
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon
We took advantage of staying at the rim and planned on getting up for a sunrise. Sunrise was supposed to be at 7:15 am, so getting up and catching a sunrise when the canyon was only steps away seemed like something we should at least try to do. Make sure you dress warmly because we saw a guy in a T shirt and windbreaker who looked like his lips were turning blue. To his credit he had set up his camera on his tripod on a prime location for sunrise pictures. I totally get it, what we do for pictures, right?
Bright Angel Trail:
Immediately after watching the sunrise we hurried over to do the last thing on our list, hike the Bright Angel Trail. It was nice and early in the morning, yet there were people (just a few though) on the trail already. This was another trail (like South Kaibab Trail) that led down into the canyon with incredible views.
After about 20 minutes, I decided to hike back up and walk the rim trail at the top to try to take pictures from a different vantage point.
After the exhilarating hike in the morning we bid farewell to the Grand Canyon and drove home. We had originally planned to see family in Southern California, but the flu got the better of them and we ended up driving the 12 hours back home that day. We loved every minute of our time at the Grand Canyon! We would still like to visit Grand Canyon West and the North Rim as well…someday. But these five days at the south rim allowed us to fully explore the Grand Canyon the way we wanted to and to leave without regrets. Thanksgiving is a magical time of year to be in the Grand Canyon when the crowds have thinned and the winter weather hasn’t made the canyon inaccessible. This time the canyon seemed a little more populated than the last Thanksgiving we were here, but it was still easy to get away and find our own private Grand Canyon. Being surrounded by my family and awe-inspiring nature at Thanksgiving reminded me to be thankful and be present in each and every moment that we are given. I hope I was able to plant a seed, however small it may be, that the Grand Canyon may be a worthy place to visit during Thanksgiving.
Links to get you started:
Grand Canyon Lodges reservations (El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Maswik Lodge). Maswik Lodge is not directly on the rim, but only a few minutes away.
Maswik Lodge South and Yavapai Lodge will be your most affordable accommodations in the park other than camping (Mather campground, campsite reservations can be made 6 months in advance) and the RV park.
Just outside the park in Tusayan there are many hotels to choose from as well. We’ve stayed at the Grand Canyon Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites before, and was surprised at how close to the park it was (just 7 miles).
Map of the south rim.