Rangers' Secrets: Grand Canyon National Park

It was not the Grand Canyon's majestic landscape, but a cafeteria on the North Rim that changed Florida native Vanya Pryputniewicz's life forever.

In 1990, Pryputniewicz was a recent college graduate working a couple of low-level jobs. So, when her family proposed a trip to Grand Canyon National Park, she jumped at the chance to travel.

Walking into the cafeteria there, she saw a bus boy and had a realization:

"I thought, 'Wow, I have a crappy job in Florida and this guy has a crappy job at the Grand Canyon. I should be him,'" she said.

Pryputniewicz began working for the Grand Canyon concessionaire on May 25, 1991. For several years, she moved between national parks including Yellowstone, Death Valley, Grand Teton and Yosemite, however nothing compared.  

"Everywhere else I went I still missed the Grand Canyon," she said. "The place is under my skin."

In 1997, Pryputniewicz got her first park service job and is now a Grand Canyon outdoor recreation planner.  After more than 20 years exploring the park, here are her top recommendations for unique experiences that will help you beat the crowds:

Backpack the Deer Creek Thunder River Trail

For the experienced desert backpacker, this trip is an ideal way to see three of the Grand Canyon's biggest waterfalls. Be warned, however, that is is a very strenuous trip.

"Water in the desert is always a really special experience," Pryputniewicz said. "After you've been walking across miles of treeless, hot desert, you hear this roar and you see Thunder River gushing out of a cliff wall."

Because of the intensity, remoteness and duration of this hike, Pryputniewicz recommends knowing the current road conditions (especially in the spring) and being very careful to bring ample food and water. Furthermore, backpackers should be familiar with the capricious weather of the Grand Canyon.

"It doesn't have to be June for the Grand Canyon to be 110 degrees at the bottom," Pryputniewicz said. "And on the same trip you often have both heat and snow."

This trail can start from one of two points: Monument Point (Bill Hall Trail) or Indian Hollow.

Walk or Cross Country Ski to Shoshone Point

This lookout provides spectacular views no matter what time of year you visit. Located near the east entrance of the park, you'll park your car and make the one-mile trek to Shoshone Point through ponderosa forest. You can hike in the warmer months, or cross country ski in the winter, depending on conditions. As one of the higher elevation points on the canyon rim the area often has snow from December through February.

"When you get to the lookout, you can walk on a spindly promontory and it feels like you're in the canyon rather than on the rim," Pryputniewicz said. 

Because you can't take a shuttle bus or car directly to the lookout, only a small percentage of park visitors take advantage of Shoeshone Point.

Hike the Waldron Trail

Take the shuttle bus to the West Rim, but rather than take the area's popular Hermit Trail, venture onto the Waldron Trail for a quieter adventure with equally amazing views.

"It's an old historic trail and nobody knows about it because it doesn't end up at a camp or at the river," Pryputniewicz said. "You'll have the canyon to yourself, and in the summertime that's rare."

The Waldron and the Hermit begin at the same point, but watch for the fork about two miles into the hike. The new path will take you through a side canyon. This trip is an out-and-back, so you can turn around and head back the way you came whenever you prefer.

And here's another bonus: With fewer tourists, you'll have a better chance to see wildlife including deer, coyote, elk, bobcats and foxes.

For more information on any of these adventures, visit the National Park Service website.  And check out our National Parks Guide on The Active Times.