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Grand Canyon: Tips and Tricks for a Better Vacation

SmarterTravel

This week’s Deal Detective column gives you two answers for the price of one. As always, look for a new case each Thursday in SmarterTravel.com’s Deal Alert newsletter.

Dear Deal Detective:

Is it too late for Grand Canyon deals this summer? We are flexible (me, my wife, and two girls ages 13 and 16) and can travel in the fall too if it is cheaper. We would prefer to fly from [Boston] but could also do Manchester or even Portland, Maine, if the price is a lot better. Thanks for your help. Hope you can answer this one for me!

—Patriotsfan

Dear Patriotsfan,

The Grand Canyon is hot, crowded, and uncomfortable in the summer. If you can wait until fall—or winter or spring, for that matter—do it. You and your family will have a better experience because you’ll find greater availability, smaller crowds, and better weather. Oh, and because demand is lower, so too are the prices.

In general, the months of January, February, and November are the slowest times of the year and thus offer the best availability at the busy South Rim. That said, for those of you who can’t avoid it, the best summer availability comes in the first two weeks of June or the first two weeks of September. The last two weeks of August also see fewer travelers.

While the South Rim is fun, my favorite side of the canyon is the North Rim. Less crowded, just as scenic, and with a lodge literally hanging off the side of the canyon, this is where I’d go if I were taking my family. Your two girls are old enough to enjoy a mule ride into the depths of the canyon (prices range from $30 to $125 per person), and there are plenty of casual (and free) day hikes to keep you busy without wearing you out.

Because of its higher elevation, the North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October. This short season makes it hard to get reservations at the North Rim Lodge—one spokesperson quoted me a “97-percent occupancy rate even before it opens in the summer” on the phone—so consider nearby Kaibab Lodge (18 miles from the North Rim) and Jacob Lake Inn (44 miles away) as good backups.

Next?

Dear Deal Detective:

I hear Iceland is a great place for a layover on the way to Europe. When is the best time to go and what kinds of thing are there to do? I want to swim in the Blue Lagoon, for example, but what else is there to do?

—Frodolives

Dear Frodolives,

I’m guessing from your username that you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings books and movies. If so, you’re asking about the right place. Even more so than New Zealand, Iceland’s unspoiled backcountry calls to mind the wild landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. And, it does make for a great stopover on a flight to mainland Europe if you can depart from one of Icelandair’s U.S. gateway cities (including Boston, New York, and Minneapolis).

As its country’s national airline, one of Icelandair’s jobs is to lure travelers en route to mainland Europe to linger a while in Iceland. And boy, does it do its job well. The airline makes it easy to stay a day or two and book a tour for your layover. Among the options are snowmobiling, ice walking, horseback riding, hiking, nature tours (see puffins up close!), and of course a dip in the Blue Lagoon. Sure beats sitting at the airport.

You can stay in Iceland for up to seven days without paying extra on your airfare. And you might be surprised to learn that due to recent fluctuations in the exchange rate, you can buy 20 percent more of the Icelandic krona with the U.S. dollar (see XE.com for current exchange rate). Who says there are no bargains left in Europe?

That’s all I have time for this week. Thanks for reading!

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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information might have changed since that time.

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