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Grand Canyon Skywalk: Bargain or Bust?

The Deal Detective
by , SmarterTravel Staff
The Deal Detective -Female
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 3, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, family travel, Grand Canyon, guided tour, Las Vegas, national park, offbeat travel, road trip, The Deal Detective, The Deal Detective, vacation package.

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Dear Deal Detective:

I agree with you about the North Rim. It's so much better than the crowded [and] overrated South Rim. Have you heard anything about the West Rim Skywalk, though? Any good?

—GaterHater

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Dear GaterHater,

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a glass "bridge" that extends part of the way over the Grand Canyon's West Rim. It is privately owned and maintained by the Hualapai tribe and located on the Hualapai Reservation; it is not affiliated with Grand Canyon National Park.

Tourists visit the Skywalk for an opportunity to see all the way to the bottom of the mile-deep canyon with nothing between them and the abyss but a layer of glass. Only you can decide if this sounds like an experience you're likely to enjoy.

The West Rim is located approximately 240 miles from the park entrance at the South Rim. The tourism infrastructure in this part of Arizona is less developed. You won't find restaurants, stores, or even gas stations nearby. The closest town, Kingman, is 70 miles from the West Rim.

This brand of isolation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the remote location and resulting smaller crowds make for a different kind of Grand Canyon experience. On the other hand, you're basically in the middle of nowhere. If something goes wrong with your car, or the weather turns foul, or you desperately need a Snickers bar—well, you're pretty much on your own. It presents particular problems for families, whose needs may be dictated by those of the youngest members.

All that aside, I've heard good things about the Skywalk itself. As long as you understand and accept what you're signing up for (more on this in a second), I think you'll find the experience a good one.

Visitors to the West Rim cannot simply "do" the Skywalk and go home. Instead, you must purchase a tour package from the Hualapai tribe, such as the Hualapai Legacy for $29.95 per person plus a $20 per vehicle "permitting and parking fee." This gets you access to the village and a hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus; it's a glorified entry pass. To experience the Skywalk, you'll need to fork over an additional $29.95 per person. Capitalism at work, or nickel-and-diming at its worst? You decide.

Other tour options include horseback rides ($59 to $99), an off-road Hummer "adventure" ($59 to $89), and a combination helicopter/pontoon experience ($159 to $219). These prices are all per person, too.

For $79.95 per person plus the $20 "permitting and parking fee" you can stay overnight at the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs (90 minutes from the West Rim) and get the equivalent of the aforementioned "Hualapai Legacy" day package. But be warned! Our adventure travel columnist, Josh Roberts, spent one sleepless night at the Hualapai Lodge a few years ago en route to the spectacular Havasu Falls and cautions that a train passes by at least once an hour throughout the night. A very, very loud train. Bring sleeping pills and earplugs, or seek lodging elsewhere, such as at the Hualapai Ranch ($129.95 per person plus the $20 vehicle fee) or the kitschy Grand Canyon Caverns' Inn on Route 66. The latter, with its faux dinosaurs and mammoth caverns, is especially good for families with young kids.

Last but not least, you can experience the West Rim and Skywalk as part of a package departing from Las Vegas. Among other options, an airplane-tour-and-Skywalk combo day trip currently goes for $295 per person and lasts six to seven hours.

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