Few people could argue that the Grand Canyon isn’t a natural wonder. Mother Nature at her grandest but with a $90 per person entry fee to see Grand Canyon West is it overpriced?
Why So Much?
The Grand Canyon is huge and largely inaccessible. There are 2 main tourist hotspots, Grand Canyon South and Grand Canyon West. Grand Canyon West sits on land occupied by the Haulapai People, a Native American tribe, more commonly referred to as Navajo. The Navajo Nation is a collection of many tribes that have banded together to secure land and ownership rights that their ancestors laid down centuries before the first westerners colonised what would become America.
They own the land surrounding the West Rim and are responsible for all aspects of your day when visiting. They also set the US$90 entrance fee, not the government.
What Does $90 Get Me?
For your $90 you get a wristband granting access to 3 separate stops within the West Rim. Access to these areas is tightly controlled, you can’t drive yourself. Your wristband also includes a shuttle bus between each of them. Running every 15 minutes, you won’t have to wait too long.
Basic toilets and a small restaurant are available at each stop . A large, impressively well stocked shop is at the main entrance. There are no time constraints on any of the stops. You are dictated largely by the travel time it takes to get here. Most people choose to visit as a day trip from Las Vegas which is roughly 2.5 hours west of here.
What Is At Each Stop?
The shuttle buses run in a 1-way circle from the main entrance. It’s is easier to do each stop before moving on to the next. The last stop has the best views but by leaving it until last you will know how long you have got to enjoy it. This is particularly important if you have come on a day tour from Las Vegas.
The buses run in the following order in a continuous loop:
- Main Entrance
Helicopter flights take off and land from here no matter which flight you are doing. Toilets are located inside the gift shop and there are a couple of coffee stops both in the shop and just outside the helicopter terminal.
- Hualapai Ranch
The Hualapai Ranch is a good stop if you have children. As well as a reproduction of a ranch, horseback rides are offered as well as a spin on a mechanical bull (surely more entertaining to watch than partake). If you are staying overnight this is also where the cabins are located. If you are on one of the many organised day tours from Las Vegas and opt for one of the helicopter flights you would be best off skipping this stop for time constraints. It’s is also not possible to look out over the Rim from the ranch.
- Eagle Point
The 2nd stop on the bus but the first with a view over the rim. Eagle point is also home to to Skybridge but panoramic views are limited. Stop number 2 is also where the famous Sky Bridge is located. My pain point with this attraction is the banning of camera and cellphones on the bridge. If I pay $25 on top of my park entry I want the opportunity to capture those memories but currently that isn’t allowed. Eagle Point takes its name from the shape of the rock face upon which it sits, although you will only notice it if you take the helicopter and boat combo giving you the option to look up.
- Guano Point
The last stop is named after a cave just over the cliff edge where bat guano was extracted and sold for fertiliser in the 1930’s. Guano Point is the most striking, and largest of the two view points. The striking structure at the end of the promontory was from a private 1950 cable car project. The tower and one further down the cliff face are all that remain. The cable was severed by a foolish aircraft pilot in 1960 and never reopened. The Guano Cafe has the widest menu with astounding views over the canyon. Or walk around the headland drinking in the view as helicopters ferry their passengers to the boat landing below. Either way this is the most impressive of all stops, make sure you don’t miss it.
Is There Anything Else?
Yes there is! I’ve already touched on them. The Skywalk at Eagle Point (stop 2) is an optional extra, currently $25 per person extra.
Then there are the equally famous helicopter flights. Starting at $168 they are far from inexpensive but they do offer the best views. With up to 8 helicopters operating, the never ending line of people in the helicopter terminal soon goes down. This is a very efficiently run system.
If you stay in Las Vegas and want to do the West Rim as a day out, look out for the coupon booklets in Las Vegas magazines in hotel lobbies. There is usually a $50 coupon inside to save you a little money off the sightseeing flight. Alternatively look up their website before your visit because the online cost may be cheaper than if you just walk up and book.
If you are short on time but not money there are operators that will fly you to the canyon and back to save the 5 hour return journey. You won’t be able to explore the rim but, depending on the trip type, you will land on the canyon floor.
Is It Value For Money?
Although you can see where the money is being spent. They have their own fire and ambulance service. Amenities are clean and functional, not long drop toilets like in so many of the National Parks. I still find it hard to justify the steep $90 entrance fee.
Eagle Point, despite its majestic name, doesn’t offer the best views of the canyon. The banning of personal cameras and phones on the Skywalk, already a separately ticketed attraction, is inexcusable. It’s a seemingly relentless quest for more of your dollars (there are official photographers on the Skywalk).
Guano Point easily steals the day while the Ranch is nothing more than an add on for children. Dropping the must see sights to just 2 stops with an air conditioned bus ride for your $90. I don’t think anyone would be able to justify that but this is the Grand Canyon. The other option is the South Rim but at 5 hours each way instead of 2.5 hours to the West Rim, you’re paying for convenience.
You can’t blame the Hualapai People for trying to make a living but $90 can’t be classed as value for money by any stretch of the imagination. While there are people willing to pay it the price isn’t going anywhere. You have to decide if it is a price you’re willing to pay.