Best Eco-Friendly Grand Canyon Vacation Itinerary
Experience the best of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon while eating locally grown food, staying at eco-friendly lodging and hiking on gorgeous trails.
Hiking the trails in Grand Canyon National Park really immerses you into the beauty of the Southwestern desert. But with so many visitors flocking to the park every year, how can we as individual travelers help keep Grand Canyon beautiful? We’ve been talking here at National Park Trips on how we can be more eco-friendly travelers and leave less of an impact on the Grand Canyon and nearby towns. We’ve uncovered a number of ways to tread lighter and travel more sustainably during a Grand Canyon vacation, including dining at restaurants that serve locally produced food, staying in hotels that have made a commitment to being less wasteful and doing activities powered by our own feet. Here is an incredible two-day itinerary on enjoying the best of the Grand Canyon area while being environmentally friendly.
Day One: Flagstaff
Get a Great Start at Tourist Home
Wake up on the right side of the bed and walk to Tourist Home, a made from scratch all-day eatery with excellent breakfasts, lunches and pastries. Order a coffee made with locally roasted beans and sit at the community table or outside on the patio to get a taste of the local scene. This modern interior was reconfigured in 2014 with its historic exterior still intact. It served as a boarding house for Basque sheepherders in the 1920s. It’s located downtown at 52 S. San Francisco in Flagstaff.
Forest Bathing in Flagstaff
Next on the agenda? Forest bathing. Flagstaff sits in the world’s largest contiguous stand of ponderosa pine trees, and it’s worth walking amongst them to experience the longtime Japanese tradition of forest bathing. Studies have shown that forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku as it is referred to in Japan, reduces blood pressure, stress and anxiety and helps you sleep better when night falls. Unlike how it sounds, there’s no water involved. It’s just the practice of walking through the forest and surrounding yourself with nature. Head to Sandys Canyon Trail no. 137 in the Coconino National Forest to enjoy solitude, immerse yourself amongst ponderosa and see petrified sand dunes.
Get Picnic Lunch at Proper Meats + Provisions
But before you head out of town to the trailhead, stop at Proper Meats + Provisions to pick up sandwiches for a picnic lunch to go. It’s located downtown at 110 E. Route 66. Proper Meats + Provisions is Arizona’s first exclusively local whole animal butcher shop. At a whole animal butcher shop, the butcher can tell you exactly where each cut came from, what the animal was fed and moreover, there are more cuts available. That means less food waste. All meat sold there can be traced to the ranch it came from, and the animals harvested were humanely and sustainably raised. Along with meat cuts, you can get sandwiches, fresh-baked breads, local cheeses and salads. Take time to talk to the staff there — they’re excited to educate customers on the benefits of sustainable ranching and butchery. The butchery partners with family ranches and dairies in Peoria, Paulsen, Tempe, Campe Verde and more.
Dine at Brix for Dinner
After a day of hiking and forest bathing, head back to town for an incredible dinner. Not only is Brix one of Flagstaff’s best restaurants, it’s also one of its most eco-friendly. Its menu is driven by seasonal food from local ranchers and farmers from northern Arizona and the Four Corners region. Its cheese plates feature boutique cheese makers from all over the West like Point Reyes blue cheese and Humboldt Fog aged goat cheese from California. Plus, it recycles all glass and paper, purchasing recycled packaging materials for to-go food. Its organic waste is funneled to local composting operations.
For starters try the shishito peppers with mango curry and paneer or the pork cheeks with horseradish salsa verde if they’re on the menu. For entrees, there’s plenty of options for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Order the creative spring herb ravioli made with ramps, ricotta, summer black truffles or opt for the chile and chicory rubbed duck breast with crushed sunchokes, spring peas, pickled apple and cherry duck jus. Brix is located at 413 N. San Francisco in Flagstaff.
Day Two: Grand Canyon South Rim
Head to Grand Canyon National Park and Charge Your Vehicle
Wake up way early to get to the Grand Canyon’s South Entrance near Tusayan or East Entrance near Desert View before everyone else does. As you get ready to head to the park in the morning, be sure to pack your reusable water bottle. The park has a lot of free filtered water bottle filling stations conveniently placed throughout the park. By bringing your own reusable bottle, you’ll be lessening your impact on the park. If every visitor bought a disposable plastic water bottle in 2020, there would be a staggering 2.9 million plastic water bottles sitting in the park’s landfill.
From Flagstaff, it’s an hour-and-a-half-drive to the national park and if you can arrive by 7 a.m., you’ll have some time to find parking before the crowds arrive. If you drive in an electric vehicle, we have a complete list of where to charge your vehicle in the park and what to do while it’s charging.
Take the Train to Reduce Your Emissions
If you’re looking for a hassle-free, eco-friendly way to arrive in the park, take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Ariz. It’s just a 35-minute drive from Flagstaff. On the first Saturday of every month March through October, you can ride on the railway’s eco-friendly Locomotive No. 4960, also known as the French Fry Express.
The two trains run on vegetable oil collected from restaurants in the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and Williams, Ariz., where the 65-mile train ride to the Grand Canyon starts. The recycled oil emits 50% less carbon emissions than diesel fuel. Passengers who take the train to and from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim help reduce vehicle pollution and traffic by an estimated 70,000 cars per year.
Leave No Trace in Grand Canyon National Park
When you get to the South Rim, hit the hiking trails. We compiled a great list of the canyon’s best hikes ranging from flat and very easy to challenging with a ton of vertical. Check them out to choose which hike is best for you. There are also amazing things to see at the South Rim, including Desert View Tower. See our itinerary on the top things to do in 48 hours.
Be sure to bring several full, reusable water bottles or a hydration bladder, and if you’re traveling in the summer, start very early or later in the evening. Even though you may not think you are sweating because the air is so dry, dehydration and heat-related illnesses are a very real threat. You’ll also want to pack snacks because going down feels easy, but coming back up out of the canyon can take at least twice the amount of time it took to get down.
Just as importantly, if you don’t know about Leave No Trace, a list of best practices for being outdoors, take a few seconds to familiarize yourself with them. They include packing out all of your food instead of throwing orange and banana peels on the ground next to the trail. While peels are biodegradable, they are not native to the area, not healthy for native animals to eat nor do they break down immediately. Like you, other travelers want to experience the area in its natural state without garbage and half-eaten food strewn along the trail.
Support the Grand Canyon Conservancy
If you’re looking for a gift, head to one of the Grand Canyon’s bookstores. Run by the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the stores funnel a portion of each sale to critical park projects like wildlife preservation, trail work, research and education programs. It also raises money for the park through its educational programs. For summer 2021, the conservancy is not offering educational trips, but in non-pandemic times, you can go on a day hike or tour, take a photography or yoga class, go on a guided backpacking and hiking trip, do a service-based trip or learn something new in a natural or cultural history class.
Dine and Spend the Night at the Grand Canyon
Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest just a short shuttle ride from the rim is the Yavapai Lodge where being environmentally friendly is a priority. Stay in a lodge building or a one-story motel-style building where you can park in front of your door. The lodge’s commitment to sustainability encompasses all aspects of the business. In 2020, it diverted 65% of its waste from landfills. The company is also aiming to become a zero-waste facility by 2025. Until then, 90% of food ingredients at the on-site restaurants are sourced within 190 miles of the park.
Buy Carbon Credits to Offset Your Vacation
If you’re looking to offset your carbon footprint during your vacation, you can buy carbon credits. Your carbon credit purchase will help sequester or avoid carbon via various projects. Use the Protect Our Winters carbon calculator and offset purchase tool (protectourwinters.org/cost-of-carbon/) to calculate the footprint of your trip. You can also choose which programs you want to support with your offset purchase. Options range from forest management and emissions reduction to methane recovery.