Planning your trip
Located about four hours from Phoenix, the South Rim is one of America’s most popular National Parks. During the summer tourists flock to rim hotels such as the El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodges and others, or camp in one of several campgrounds located in the national park. A few miles away is Tusayan, a small community that also offers lodging, camping, restaurants and other services. My preference is to stay in the Grand Canyon Village in the National Park both for convenience and because it’s frequently less expensive to stay there than it is in the village.
Entry into the National Park is $25 per vehicle. Photographers with disabilities can get a free National Parks pass useable in any National Park.
An alternative to driving up to the canyon is to use the Grand Canyon Railway out of Williams, Ariz. This route provides numerous photo opportunities from both the antique train, and also from surrounding scenery on the ride to and from the canyon. Tours and lodging packages are also available through the railway.
One of the first places visitors to the South Rim go is the rim trail between the El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodges. It’s hard to imagine just how many snapshots of the Grand Canyon have been taken from this spot, but odds are few did more than just provide a record of the individual’s visit. While there’s nothing wrong with this viewpoint as a photo location, it’s nowhere near the best place for canyon photography. Making the challenge worse is that unless you’re there at sunrise, the view is often washed out and shots made there suffer from the haze that covers the canyon many days of the year. (The haze is a result of pollution from the Navajo Power Plant in Page, Ariz. This coal burning plant has not helped canyon photographers.)
More remote is the North Rim, which is also several thousand feet higher in elevation. This makes the North Rim much less visited, in part because the park is closed from October through April, in part because of the heavy snowpack. Popular shooting locations are the rim from the Grand Canyon lodge (a spectacular building built right into the side of the canyon) Cape Royal (for great shots of Wotan's Throne) and Cape Sublime (the road is not well maintained and can be very treacherous).
Just as remote is the area known as the Western Rim. This is the gateway to Supai Village and the four waterfalls that are popular destinations. Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls are well worth the effort to visit them, but it is an effort. The Supai indians own the land and control access. Permits are required to hike in and you need to reserve campsites as much as six months in advance or more. There is also a lodge in the village, but make your reservations at least a year in advance (longer is better). It's a brutal 8-mile hike to Supai Village and another 2 miles to the campground and Havasu Falls. It's possible to hire a horse and pack mule with local guide. Some helicopter service is also available, but there are no guarantees you'll be able to get a flight in or out.