If you’re looking for advice on how to run in the Grand Canyon keep looking because this isn’t it. I wrote a quick recap of my May 11, 2013 R2R2R run and you can read it here if you’re interested. It’s just like all the others you’ll find using a Google search so don’t get too excited. While writing it I was torn between basic information my non-running friends and family would be interested in and the real information I wish I’d had prior to my run. In this article my goal is to give you the real information to make your trip a little better. What I won’t be discussing in this article is how much water you should drink or how many calories you need to consume. If you’re even thinking about running R2R2R in the Grand Canyon you should be experienced enough to know what you need. If you have to look for someone else to tell you these basic items then stay out! The Grand Canyon is not a place for amateurs to test themselves.
With that said here are the things you won’t find in other R2R2R recaps…but wish you had.
The Drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon (and back)
According to Google Maps from the I-17 / 101 interchange in Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is approximately 3 hours 20 minutes. If you’re in a hurry go for it, you can easily make it to the Grand Canyon in under four hours. But if you’re not in a hurry take your time and do some or all of the following stops. These stops can be made going up or on the return trip to the Phoenix area.
Montezuma Castle National Monument near Camp Verde, AZ. Montezuma Castle is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. Just off I-17 about 5 minutes it’s a hidden little gem, especially if you’re not from Arizona or you’ve never seen a cliff dwelling in person. A stop at Montezuma Castle will take you less than an hour, unless you have extra time and want to soak in the atmosphere. It will also provide you with your first cool photo opportunity.
Sedona, AZ. What can I say in one or two sentences about Sedona to make you want to drive through this area? Sedona is beautiful, overly commercialized and touristy but beautiful. You can look it up on the internet and see for yourself and decide if you want to take the time to go through Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon on the back way to Flagstaff via Highway 89A. If you go through Sedona make sure to stop by and see our friends at Sedona Running Company. Say “hi” to Adam and Lindsay, pick up any last minute supplies you need or things you left laying on the floor back home in your rush to make it to the airport on time. Adam and Lindsay have covered every trail in the Canyon during 12+ annual trips and can talk to you about everything that you need to know. And don’t forget to ask Adam about running Hole to Hump, that will definitely give you something to contemplate while you run R2R2R yourself.
Flagstaff, AZ. Google Maps tells you the preferred route to the Grand Canyon is to bypass Flagstaff and take I-14 west toward Williams then AZ-64 north to the Grand Canyon. I never go this way, I prefer to take advantage of the amenities in Flagstaff to stock up on supplies and eat lunch. Be warned: Flagstaff traffic can me a nightmare at the wrong time of day and on the weekend. But if you aren’t in a hurry just be patient and stop at Safeway grocery store to stock up on those last minute food supplies or to get a sandwich from their deli. Safeway is located at 1201 S. Plaza Way.
Located in the Safeway parking lot you’ll also find two other quick lunch options. Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panda Express Gourmet Chinese (I take that “Gourmet” with a grain of salt but still like to carb load on the fried rice and kung pao chicken when I get a chance). If you have time though Flagstaff has a funky college town atmosphere and great downtown area so if you don’t like these options you’ll find anything you want in a few block area of downtown. Check out Beaver Street Brewery for their burgers and if pizza is more your style NiMarco’s Pizza is highly recommended.
Another interesting stop near Flagstaff is the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. A hike through the lava flow and cinders is a great way to stretch your legs and experience more of our Arizona history.
Last but not least on my list of Arizona historical sites near Flagstaff is Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon’s geographical cliff formations make the canyon remarkable by itself, but add in ancient cliff dwellings while you hike along the Rim or Island Trails and you can imagine what life was like along and within Walnut Canyon centuries ago.
Now it’s time to get out of Flagstaff! Well almost. I can’t got through Flagstaff without stopping at my favorite coffee house, Late for the Train Roastery. The Fort Valley Road location at 1800 Fort Valley Road is right on the way out of town to the Grand Canyon. Order my favorite, The Rockrammer, a triple shot pulled short with raw sugar and a splash of half & half (I prefer soy or almond milk) will keep you buzzing with excitement all the way to the Grand Canyon. Be sure to take some North Rim coffee with you when you leave, it’s a great way to start your morning before you take off on your R2R2R adventure in the next few days.
At the Grand Canyon
There are several option for staying at or near the Grand Canyon National Park. I’ve never stayed outside the park but there are numerous hotels just outside the entrance. Inside the park you have several camping or lodging options.
For those who like to camp Mather Campground is located within busy Grand Canyon Village. From Mather Campground it’s a short walk to shuttle buses to get you anywhere you want to go on the South Rim.
If lodging is more your style you have a wide range of prices to choose from. There are two things that are important to point out regarding lodging. First is the fact that everything on the South Rim (Grand Canyon Village) is old. Don’t expect to find a glitzy new hotel sitting on the Rim with large fancy rooms. With the exception of El Tovar Hotel lodges at the Grand Canyon most resemble college dorms or apartments than hotels. Even El Tovar as rustic and quaint as it is won’t fool you into thinking you’re staying at a Disney World resort. But they are all clean and fit in with the rough and rugged nature you’re about to explore.The other item that should be noted is reservations for lodging is handled by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. You can book online through their website but I’ve found very limited selection online. Even when the website says it’s sold out I’ve never failed to get rooms by calling directly to Xanterra. With a 48 hour cancellation policy rooms often become available 2-3 days prior to your stay so be patient and keep trying (but have other options available too).
I’ve stayed in every lodge at the South Rim at one time or another. On my most recent trip the only rooms available were at the Maswik Lodge. Located less than ¼ mile from the Rim is was well worth paying half what other rooms on the Rim go for. Especially when you wake up in the dark to catch the 5:00 a.m. early Hikers Shuttle anyway, you’ll get plenty of Canyon views during the day so paying twice as much or more for a glimpse out your window isn’t a big deal.
Down in the Grand CanyonI’m going to keep this section very brief. Like I’ve already mentioned there are numerous recaps for doing R2R2R on the internet that detail what other runners did right and wrong. But I’ll say I again, this is a hard run! If you need someone else to tell you what to eat and drink please stay home and try this run when you have more experience. With that said I found this chart for Backcountry Trail Distances very useful as I ran through the Canyon. Not only does it list the distance for each trail you’ll use for your R2R2R crossing but the distance between available drinking water, toilets and emergency phones. I printed a copy of this chart at a reduced size of 6” X 5 ½” then placed it inside a plastic baggie so I would always know how far it was to the next available water. This allowed me to know if I should fill one handheld bottle, two handhelds or put water in my vest bladder to get through to the next stop.
Enjoy the ExperienceMany people who read this will only make this trip once in their life. If you have your sights set on breaking Rob Krar’s FKT of 6h 21m 47s go for it. Otherwise slow down and enjoy the experience. Notice how difficult is was to build and maintain the trails, tunnels, building and bridges, without the use of heavy duty construction equipment. Take time to stop and visit with other people inside the Canyon. There are interesting people from all over the world inside the Canyon every day. I found the most interesting to be the “old timers” who had done it when they were younger and now relishing the opportunity to be able to do it again at a more advanced age.
The ability to run R2R2R in the Grand Canyon is truly a special moment in your life. Make sure you turn your opportunity into an experience you’ll look back on with fond memories.
Stay Tuned for More…
My recent trip to the Grand Canyon was training for my next 100 mile ultra race in July. During my R2R2R crossing I took an opportunity to experiment with various equipment and nutrition products. Based on this R2R2R run in the next few weeks I’ll follow up with product reviews that include:
- Brooks PureGrit2 trail running shoes
- Black Diamond – Ultra Distance trekking poles
- e-Gel Electrolyte Energy Gel
- Ultimate Direction SJ Vest. I’ll do a follow-up review on my previous post to let you know how it performed under extreme circumstances
Feature photo by Andy Gage