Grand Canyon visitation surges just in time for July 4 weekend

KINGMAN - Visitation at Grand Canyon National Park has increased 20 percent over 2014 this year, and anyone planning a visit over the holiday weekend should count on large crowds and longer-than-usual waits.

July is already the park's busiest month of the year, and with Independence Day falling on Saturday, "we are expecting record-shattering numbers Thursday through Monday that weekend," said Marlon Avantyr, revenue and business fee manager at the park.

To date, the increased visitation means that traffic regularly backs up at all entrance stations, with the longest wait time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Waits during those times can last 30 minutes or more, particularly on weekends.

Once in the park, visitors can also expect parking lots, especially at Grand Canyon Visitor Center, to start reaching capacity by 10 a.m.

There are ways to reduce congestion and wait times.

At the South Rim Entrance Station, for instance, visitors can leave their vehicles in Tusayan and use the park and ride shuttle, which leaves every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Visitors riding the Tusayan Route must present a valid park entrance pass when boarding the bus and can purchase passes at six locations in Tusayan.

Once in the park, visitors riding the shuttle bus on the Hermits Rest (Red) Route will also experience long waits from late morning until sunset, waiting in line for two or three buses.

Concessions Program Analyst Pamela Edwards suggested using the Kaibab Rim (Orange) Route in the morning, driving along scenic Desert View Drive any time of the day, and walking or cycling along the rim-based trails system to leave some of the crowds behind.

For more information about the shuttle system at Grand Canyon National Park, visit www.nps.gov/grca, click on "Plan Your Visit" and look for the "shuttle buses" link.

Through April, the most recent month for which statistics are available, more than 1.2 million people visited the park, up from just over 1 million visitors in the same time period last year.