06 Sep Visiting the Grand Canyon with Red Rock Canyon tours
Alright, I have to admit that I have been on a tear when it comes to visiting as many U.S. Parks as I can before my annual pass expires. So far, I have been to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks and more recently, The Great Smoky Mountains. We decided to add The Grand Canyon to the list while planning our trip to Las Vegas.
The problem that we encountered is that there are so many tour companies who will pick you up from your hotel off the Las Vegas strip and after doing the same thing for each successive passenger, they will finally pull off hours later to your final destination. Some of the tours will make a stop at the Hoover Dam, which is becoming less of an attraction due to the drought.
Quite frankly, it was difficult to distinguish one service from another, so how do you ensure that you’ll make the best choice? Well, I decided to pay a visit to TripAdvisor, which allows you to read real reviews from real travelers about specific hospitality services. I came across one tour that really appealed to me because it was run by a gentleman by the name of Tom Dziadek whose stellar reviews won me over.
A little background about Tom’s company
His company, Red Rock Canyon Tours, started out unsurprisingly as a tour company that served visitors to Red Rock Canyon six years ago. Two years ago, Tom decided to apply his wealth of knowledge about the Grand Canyon into a full service group tour for people visiting Las Vegas. While his fledgling website leaves a little to be desired, it was fairly easy to see what he offered in comparison to other companies and it was easy to purchase our tickets on his site.
The prices were slightly higher than the rest of the tours ($119.00 PP/entrance fee included), but I was happy to pay it because the maximum number of participants on Tom’s shuttle would be 14, we would leave earlier than the rest of the luxury tour buses which meant we would arrive before they would and have ample time to explore and take photos before the rest of the hoards arrived.
We were told to meet in what was essentially a passageway between the Paris Las Vegas hotel and the CVS pharmacy next door to it. It was where taxis and limousines would park to pick up their fare. I must caution you that Tom takes his schedule seriously, so do not be late!! As each person arrived, he had you to fill out the standard liability contract that you must sign before leaving at 6 a.m. sharp.
We took our seats but I must confess, that while the shuttle is comfortable, if you are tall, you will have a problem. We had two stops along the way for a bathroom break, coffee, food, etc. and I mentioned to Tom that my legs were cramped and his relief driver, Kevin, happily gave up his front passenger seat to ensure my comfort. I was able to keep that seat the rest of the way and on the return trip.
Tom gave each of us an overview of the Grand Canyon, its history and what part of the Canyon we would be exploring (The South Rim). He asked us if we had heard of the Skywalk at the Canyon and of course, we had. He said that that part of the Canyon was closest to Vegas, yet they were getting the least number of visitors there because the views aren’t as spectacular as the South Rim. The South Rim is the area where the most scenic Canyon views are that you typically see online and on television and is worth the more than four hour trip there.
The Park Service decided to build the Skywalk in an effort to get more visitors and so far, it has worked. Additionally, the many helicopter tours that are offered, can only visit that same part of the Canyon. They are not allowed in the South Rim, therefore, if you take any helicopter tour, be advised that you will not see the beautiful photos that you will see in this report.
Tom was very forthcoming, knowledgeable, personable, kind and willing to answer any and all questions. Luckily, he realized that most of us were still sleepy and he still had some driving to do, so he put on a very soothing native American music cd that genuinely lulled me back to sleep. He spoke again at our next stop and once we had a chance to stretch our legs, he gave us a map of the route that we should take to see the best of the canyon.
The drop off point would be the Maswik Lodge (A) which contains a cafeteria, gift shop, information desk and restrooms. Luckily, the park has a free hop on, hop off bus route for each of the two trails that is only a five minute walk from the Lodge. The red line or Hermit Trail route would take us to the area where we can see the famed vistas. We could walk through Grand Canyon village which is where roughly 2,000 people who work inside the canyon live. Since those workers have children, schools are located inside the canyon as well.
Here are the stops for that route:
The blue line or Bright Angel Trail route is less scenic but it is where the Grand Canyon’s Welcome or Visitor’s Center is located. This route also provides access to the local hotels, restaurants and campgrounds. Here are the stops for that route:
Tom dropped us off at Maswik Lodge and told us that he would meet us back there in 4.5 hours to return to Las Vegas. We really liked the idea of being able to explore the Canyon on our own. Tom made sure to give us detailed maps, water, ID badges, hiking poles (if we were so inclined) before showing us which direction to walk to the bus transfer station.
Be aware that once you get there, you will see that there is plenty to see at the Village Route Transfer, so be sure to keep walking ahead to the Grand Canyon Village:
Once you have explored the village, go back to the bus transfer station to check out the other points of interest. Each bus line is in the same area running perpendicular to each other. The buses run in 10 minute increments and if you decide to ride the bus non-stop on the red line, it will take 80 minutes and 45 minutes on the blue line.
But I recommend that you take the time to explore as many of the stops as possible. Some visitors decided to hike to different elevations to get a closer look, but do be careful. Someone fell and was killed, the day after our visit, so you must exercise extreme caution and good common sense.
Here are some of the gorgeous views that we were treated to at the rest of the stops:
After doing the entire tour, we caught the return bus back to the Village Transfer station. We decided to go back to Maswik Lodge an hour before pickup time to grab a bite to eat. They have several mini restaurants to suit any taste. We decided to go with Mexican and it was better than I had expected and the price was reasonable. As promised, Tom showed up five minutes before our departure time and we were on our way back to Vegas.
I really can’t recommend Red Rock Canyon tours highly enough. If you prefer a more personal spin on a tour with a smaller number of people and detest being herded in luxury tour buses, this is the way to go. We arrived back in the same place where he picked us up that morning and he was very gracious and thanked us for our business.