Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

Absorb the park's immense beauty by spending a night there, beneath the stars

Amy Marr

The Grand Canyon's dizzying cliffs and vast scope can easily overwhelm ― as can its more than 4.5 million annual visitors. One remedy for absorbing the park's immense beauty and rim-gawking crowds is to spend a night beneath the stars. You'll feel a greater sense of peaceful solitude when sleeping in a tent, and you're more apt to capture the canyon's dazzling light, particularly at sunrise and sunset. If you're after views alone, the South Rim won't disappoint; its overlooks galore offer varied perspectives on the canyon. The higher, cooler North Rim ― claiming only 10 percent of the visiting throngs ― is more remote and bordered with wildflower meadows and thick stands of spruce.

Camping
North Rim. Facing the canyon, site 14 is lovely. Set at the far end of the campground, it's fringed with aspens and ponderosa pines and offers easy access to the Transept Trail. An added bonus: a perfect sunset view. 87 sites mid-May-mid-Oct, many reservable; $18-$25. 800/365-2267.

Also great
Desert View. Head 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village for the most peaceful and scenic camping on the South Rim ― not to mention the park's most beautiful sunrise spot. Professional photographers camp here to capture the unfolding layers of color and shadow at dawn. The best time to secure a spot is midmorning, when people are packing up camp. 50 sites mid-May-Oct; $12. 928/638-7888.

Outside the park
DeMotte. Five miles north of the North Rim entrance, the Forest Service campground was recently remodeled. It's adjacent to a grassy meadow and offers excellent interpretive programs. At 8,760 feet, expect cool evenings. 30 sites, 8 of which are brand new (DeMotte has been under construction but is expected to be open mid-Jul-late Sep); $14. 928/643-7395.

Havasu. Tucked into the 185,000-acre Havasupai Indian Reservation, this pretty campground is located 10 miles below the rim and boasts spring-fed waterfalls and loads of nearby swimming holes. The sites fan out along the creek between Havasu and Mooney Falls and are surrounded by cool cottonwoods. It's a three- to four-hour drive west of the South Rim to Hualapai Hilltop; hike, ride a mule ($150 round-trip), or fly ($170 round-trip) the 8 miles to Supai, and the campground is a 2-mile hoof from there. Campground accommodates up to 200 people year-round; $12 per person plus $30 per person entrance fee. No cars or RVs. 928/448-2121.

Jacob Lake. Set in a ponderosa pine forest about 45 miles from the North Rim, the campground has hiking and biking access to Buck Ridge Viewpoint, where you can catch views of Bryce and Zion. Just across the street is Jacob Lake Inn ( $$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily; 928/643-7232); if you tire of camp cooking, head here for a mean trout almondine and excellent baked goods. 53 sites mid-May-mid-Oct; $14. www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai or 928/643-7395.

Ten-X. Located 2 miles south of Tusayan, the Forest Service campground is set in the woods and has barbecue grills, large sites covered with soft pine needles, and an amphitheater with excellent weekend programs. 70 sites May 1-mid-Sep; $10. or 928/638-2443.

What camp hosts say
• Plan ahead when hiking. If you're going into the canyon, decide just how long you'd like to hike, then turn around once a third of that time has elapsed. Head out at dawn to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.

• Bring water. It gets hot here in the summer. Plan on 2½ gallons of water per person for each day of your stay.

• Take in the sunset. From North Rim Campground, hike along the Transept Trail at sunset and have a cocktail on the deck at the Grand Canyon Lodge.

Get ready to go
If you're planning to camp within the park, make the reservations one year in advance ― or try for a first-come, first-served spot at North Rim or Desert View Campgrounds.

Info: Seven-day pass $25 per vehicle. www.nps.gov/grca or 928/638-7888.