Grand Canyon National Park is grand whether you see it for a half hour, or over several days. But grand becomes spectacular with each sunrise and sunset, with each hike below the rim, with each change of weather created by the canyon itself.
Yes, you’ve read a lot about the Grand Canyon that is not worth repeating here. And yes, you have seen dozens and dozens of photographs. But take a minute to calculate the number of views, trails, and photographs that are possible within a canyon that is 277 miles long, ten miles wide, 4500 feet deep at the South Rim, and 5700 feet deep at the North Rim. In fact, the rim of the entire canyon including north, south, east and west (inside and outside the park boundary) is 2700 miles. Therefore, many unique experiences are available for the traveler who takes time to experience the canyon…, not just visit it.
DRIVE THE SOUTH RIM:
Hermit Road has some of the best views in the park. Access is by commercial tour bus or free park shuttle bus. And bike rentals are now available as well.
Use them in conjunction with the rim trail —you can get off at one stop, enjoy a scenic walk along the rim, and then get back on the bus at the next stop. Or if you feel like taking a longer walk, fill a backpack with food and water, then take the shuttle bus out to Hermit’s Rest and day hike or bike the Rim Trail the 8 miles (11 km) back to the Village.
Grandview Point and Desert View are both spots to watch the sunset. Mather Point has a scenic variety of peaks and rock shapes that are good in both early morning and late afternoon. You can see more than 25% of the canyon from here. The more remote Toroweap Overlook has tremendous views of the Colorado River 3000 feet below. Lookout Studio has become a popular place to look down on the California condors circling below in the canyon’s air currents.
HIKE THE SOUTH RIM:
The Greenway trail system is a continuous, paved accessible trail that runs all the way from Grand Canyon Village to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It's an extension of the Rim trail. The system is designed to encourage non-motorized modes of travel, complementing the South Rim Visitor shuttle system.
Trail of Time is a brand new walking timeline that helps visitors understand the magnitude of geologic time. Starting just west of the Yavapai Geology museum, visitors can walk backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss (1,840 million years old) or begin east of Verkamp's Visitor Center, walking forward in time from 1,840 million years ago toward the youngest rock in the Grand Canyon, Kaibab Limestone (270 million years old). Viewing tubes help visitors connect the rocks visible in the Canyon to their place on the geologic timeline.
Grandview Point has a trail that drops below the rim directly from the overlook. This is great for escaping crowds and getting below-rim views without taking a longer hike.
The Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail lead into the canyon itself. Heed the warnings about hiking to the river and back in one day. It looks easy (on a map it is 7 miles from Yaki Point to a Colorado River suspension bridge), but experienced hikers have to be hauled out of the canyon by helicopter or mule almost every day during the height of tourist season.
For an easier three mile round trip day hike, take the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge and back. Or, for the moderate hiker who is used to the elevation, try Bright Angel to Indian Gardens and back. That trip is a little less than ten miles, and water is available along the way.
TAKE A MULE:
One gowestusa staff member has done this twice. There is nothing like it. Riders wind through nearly 1.7 billion years of earth’s history along steep, narrow trails. The trips are strenuous, and you have to be in good physical condition. If you’re afraid of heights, think carefully before signing up. Mules seem to have an affinity for snacking on that tiny little strip of bright green grass three or four feet below the trail, stretching their necks out to catch a nibble and leaving their rider peering down into the canyon below. Staying overnight in the bottom of a mile deep canyon and having dinner in the increasing darkness while the rim above is still bathed in sunlight, is unforgettable.
Overnight trips to Phantom Ranch, bordered by Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River, are offered only out of the South Rim. Riders have lunch at Indian Gardens and get to the bottom early enough to swim in Bright Angel Creek. Departure via the Kaibab Trail is very early the next morning, returning to the rim around noon. You can get on a wait list for cancellations, but to make sure you can climb aboard make reservations up to a year in advance.
On the North Rim, full and half-day mule trips are available. Although they don't go all the way to the Colorado River, they do make it down to Roaring Springs which is deep inside the canyon walls. These shorter trips can usually be reserved with much shorter notice.
FLOAT OR FLY:
Helicopter and airplane tours of the canyon are available from the Grand Canyon National Park airport in Tusayan, five miles south of the park entrance.
Running the canyon on a river trip is a once in a lifetime experience. Trips range from five days to almost three weeks, depending on the length of the canyon run. Most expeditions depart from Lee’s Ferry near Page, Arizona.