There are few natural landscapes that evoke such recognition as the Grand Canyon. Even 100 years after it first opened, Grand Canyon National Park is a place that’s high on many peoples’ bucket list, and for good reason. The stunning vista of peaks and vast gorges gives a sense of awe and scale that few other sites in the world can reach. The canyon walls stretch around 277 miles, reaching a depth of over 6,093 feet, and the whole thing is bisected by the Colorado River.
Although Grand Canyon National Park attracts millions of people each year, only a small number of these ever venture into the canyon itself. It’s here where you get a true sense of the splendour on offer, with a variety of trails, historic sites, and viewpoints to explore. It’s truly one of the most remarkable places on our planet, and it’s worthwhile taking the time to find out as much about it as possible. And that’s exactly why we’ve written this comprehensive guide.
Grand Canyon Weather & When to Visit
When you’re planning your trip to the Grand Canyon, one of your main considerations should be what time of year you want to visit. In reality, there’s no bad time to visit the National Park; it’s beautiful all year round. However, depending on what you want to get out of the experience, there are a few things worth noting.
The canyon is in Arizona, a desert state that has hot summers and cool winters. Temperatures between November and March average between lows of 21.2°F and highs of 48.6°F (around -6°C and 9.2°C). Between May and September, this increases to lows of 44.6°F and highs of 79.6°F (around 7°C and 26.4°C).
When to Visit
Two of the best time periods to visit the Grand Canyon are between March and May, and September and November. During these times, temperatures during the day are cool, and there aren’t too many crowds. In the winter months, many areas of the park, such as the North Rim, close as soon as there’s snowfall.
During the peak summer season, you’ll find huge crowds flocking to the main areas. It’s also the hottest and rainiest time of year. However, if you’re looking to really get out and explore all the National Park has to offer, you can escape the crowds and venture into the canyon itself. If this is your aim, summer is perhaps the best time.
Seasonal Pros and Cons
Below, we’ve covered some of the advantages and disadvantages of visiting the canyon at different times of year:
Spring (March to May)
|Moderate temperatures during the day, making it the perfect weather for hiking.||Night temperatures can drop significantly, making it very cold and not ideal for camping.|
|Average rainfall is less than in the fall.||The weather can be unpredictable, with occasional snow and rainstorms.|
|It’s outside of peak season, so there won’t be as many people.||If the snow hasn’t cleared, parts of the park will still be closed.|
|Wildflowers are in bloom, making for some spectacular scenery.|
Summer (May to August)
|You’re almost guaranteed good weather, with long, sunny days.||It’s by far the busiest time of year, making accommodation scarce.|
|Night temperatures are warm, ideal for camping.||Temperatures can reach the 90s in certain parts, putting you at risk of sunburn and dehydration.|
|All of the park will be open, with plenty of activities going on.||July to September is monsoon season, meaning occasional short bursts of heavy rain.|
Autumn (September to November)
|Cooler daytime temperatures.||Similar to springtime. Night temperatures are cold, and the weather can be unpredictable at times.|
|Fewer crowds as it’s past peak season.|
|The fall leaves are simply stunning.|
Winter (December to February)
|Crowds are at their lowest point, meaning it will be nice and quiet.||Some areas, such as the North Rim, are closed after the first snowfall.|
|You have the chance of seeing the Grand Canyon covered in snow.||The adverse weather may impact your travel plans.|
|Temperatures are a lot lower, reaching the teens and low 20s during the night.|
Grand Canyon Interesting Facts
The canyon is one of the most fascinating locations in the US, with a rich, varied, and often mysterious history. Here are some snippets of information about the area:
- The sheer size and changes in elevation of the canyon mean that it creates its own weather systems. As such, the conditions you experience can differ greatly depending on where you are.
- People live in the canyon. Around 208 people live in Supai Village at the base of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the most remote communities in the US, and cannot be accessed by road.
- There are many hidden caves in the canyon. Around 1000 caves are dotted around the vast expanse, and only around 350 have been recorded and mapped. Only one is open to the public.
- It took around 6 million years to form. A combination of erosion and geological activity shaped the canyon over millennia. However, it’s hard to know exactly how old it is.
- It’s only the fourth-deepest canyon in the world. The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in China, the Cañón Del Colca and the Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru, are all at least twice as deep.
Historic Structures of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is full of historic sites that are culturally important. Many of these are worth visiting while you’re in the area. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important and worthwhile historic structures to visit:
El Tovar Hotel
Situated on Route 8A in the Grand Canyon National Park, this historic hotel was opened in 1905 and listed in 1974. It’s located directly on the South Rim of the canyon.
Hopi House dates back to 1904 when it was built as concessioner facilities for the South Rim development at the time. It was long used as a market for Native American crafts.
Bright Angel Lodge
The hotel complex of Bright Angel Lodge is situated on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There has been accommodation on the site since 1896, and today a series of cabins are focused around a central lodge building.
Also known as The Lookout, this stone building overlooks the South Rim of the canyon. It’s currently used as a gift shop but was originally built in 1914 as a photograph studio.
The historic structure of Kolb Studio was built in 1904 by brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. From its inception until 1976, it served as a photography studio.
This structure dates back to 1914, where it was built as a rest area for tourists exploring the Hermit Road hiking trail. It’s situated on the South Rim of the canyon.
Desert View Watchtower
This watchtower is around 17 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. The 70-foot high stone tower was designed to mimic ancient Native American watchtowers.
The Grand Canyon Power House
The power plant is a National Historic Landmark and located just off West Rim Drive. It was built in 1926 to provide electricity to the various facilities on the South Rim. Although no longer functioning, it is well-preserved.
Verkamp’s Curio Store
In 1905, Verkamp’s Curios was opened to serve the increase in tourists after the railroad arrived in 1901. After 100 years of operating, the shop closed and is now a small visitor center on the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon Depot
Also known as the Grand Canyon Railroad Station, this railroad depot was constructed in 1910. It’s a National Historic Landmark, located within 330 feet of the South Rim.
The El Tovar Stables
These stables were built in 1904 to house the mules and other animals used for park transportation. They’re still used to house working animals to this day.
Grand Canyon Nature & Wildlife
One of the most amazing things about Grand Canyon National Park (and let’s face it, there’s a lot), is the abundance of wildlife and natural wonders. It’s a place that’s rich with animals and plants, so you need to know where to start when it comes to seeing all the canyon has to offer. We’ve highlighted some of the things you have to see when you’re there:
There are around 34 different species of mammals that live along the Colorado River. Some are more easily spotted than others, while some, such as river otters and muskrats, are now nearly extremely rare. In the woodland scrub of the park, there are 50 species of mammals, and in the conifer forests, there are 52.
When exploring the area around the river, you might get the chance to see mammals such as beavers, skunks and coyotes. There are also a small number of mountain lions, raccoons, and grey foxes.
Some of the rarest and most endangered species include:
- Southwest River Otter
- Bighorn Sheep
- Pale Townsend’s Big-eared Bat
- Greater Western Mastiff Bat
- Spotted Bat
- Western Red Bat
- Allen’s Big-eared Bat
- Long-legged Myotis
Thanks to its diverse range of ecosystems, Grand Canyon National Park has habitats for almost 450 different species of birds. It has such biodiversity that it was named a Globally Important Bird Area in 2014. You can find geese, swans, ducks, quail, grouse, wild turkey, grebes, pigeons, doves, cuckoo, roadrunners, nighthawk, swifts, hummingbirds, and many, many more.
The canyon is also home to some incredibly rare species of bird. This includes:
- Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
- Mexican Spotted Owls
- California Condor
- Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
- Yuma Clapper Rail
Thanks to the desert climate of the Grand Canyon, there are around 41 different species of reptiles in the National Park. Some are more common than others, and there are lizards, tortoises, and snakes in abundance. In the area, you can find 22 snake species, 18 lizard species, and 1 tortoise species. Some of the most important include:
- Gila Monster
- Gopher Snake
- Greater (Mountain) Short-horned Lizard
- Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard
Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River are only home to a few species of fish. There were once eight different species, although only five of these are still found in the area today. These include:
- Speckled Dace
- Razorback Sucker
- Flannelmouth Sucker
- Bluehead Sucker
- Humpback Chub
Of these species, two are listed as endangered; the Humpback Chub and Razorback Suckers, both of which are now incredibly rare.
It is possible to fish in the river, although you’ll need a license to do so, which you can purchase online. Fees start from around $20 per day. The license is required for all kinds of fishing for both Arizona residents and non-residents over the age of 10.
The Grand Canyon is part of a desert region and is home to a few animals that can be dangerous. We’ve outlined the details below:
- Rattlesnakes. The Grand Canyon Rattlesnake is venomous. You may hear the distinct rattling sound it makes, serves as a warning to stay away. They’re slightly pinkish in color, and will generally slither away unless provoked.
- Scorpions. Although they don’t bite, a scorpion sting can be painful and, in some cases, cause severe symptoms. Bark Scorpions are straw-colored and around two inches long.
- Spiders. Although rare, the Black Widow Spider can be found in the canyon. With a jet black body and red abdomen, they’re small but can cause severe symptoms.
Grand Canyon National Park Essential Info
There’s a lot to explore when you arrive at the Grand Canyon, which is why you need to be fully prepared with all the essential details. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about opening hours, fees and passes, permits and reservations, parking, and more.
Operating Hours & Seasons
There are two main regions of the park – the South Rim and the North Rim. However, there are certain areas of these that are only open seasonally.
The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day for 365 days a year. This region includes areas such as the Grand Canyon Village and Desert View. Most of the services in the area, including markets, lodging, campgrounds and restaurants, are available throughout the year. Others, such as shuttle bus services, close during the winter.
During the spring, summer and fall months, you’ll want to make sure to book lodging far in advance. It gets full quick as there is high demand. Similarly, in the winter months, campgrounds cannot be booked online or at the office in advance. There is a self-service ticket machine that’s first come, first served.
The North Rim is open seasonally. Usually, this means it’s open fully between May 15th and October 15th each year. This includes the visitor center, lodging, restaurants and stores. The campgrounds usually run for a couple of extra weeks and can be booked through until October 31st.
North Rim roads close between December 1st and May 15th, during which no visitor services are available.
Fees and Passes
There are several different permits and passes available, many of which you can buy online. Admission includes access to both the North and South Rim and is for seven days. There are also several free days, where all entrance fees are waived. For 2019, this includes:
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Monday, January 21
- First Day of National Park Week: Saturday, April 20
- National Park Service Anniversary: Sunday, August 25
- National Public Lands Day: Saturday, September 28
- Veterans Day: Monday, November 11
Aside from this, the fees are as follows:
- Vehicle Permit ($35). Gives access for one, non-commercial vehicle and all passengers. Excludes organized groups.
- Motorcycle Permit ($30). Gives access for one, non-commercial motorcycle and all passengers.
- Individual Permit ($20). Gives one individual entrance by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway or private rafting trip. Guests under the age of 15 years old are admitted free of charge.
Other passes include:
- Annual Grand Canyon National Park Pass ($70). Gives unlimited visits to the National Park for a year, and applies to the person purchasing and those with them.
- America the Beautiful Access Pass (free). A lifetime pass that gives access to all Federal recreation sites that charge a fee, for those with permanent disabilities.
- America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($80). A yearly pass that gives access to all Federal recreation sites that charge a fee.
- America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass (free). An annual pass for all Federal recreation sites. Awarded to those with 250 cumulative service hours.
- Annual Military Pass (free). For active duty military personnel and their dependents. Identification required.
- Senior America the Beautiful Pass ($80). A lifetime pass for all Federal recreation sites for those over the age of 62.
Permits and Reservations
There are various activities and areas in Grand Canyon National Park that require permits and reservations. To get one, you’ll need to make sure you plan ahead and apply well in advance. One of the main permits is the backcountry permit. This gives you access to venture and camp below the rim. However, competition for these permits is fierce. Thousands apply each year, and only a few are selected. Other permits include river permits, photography permits, research permits, and special use permits. We covered each, below:
This is perhaps the most sought after permit, as it allows for overnight camping in various parts of the park, including Tuweep Campground, off-river camping, and North Rim camping between November 1st and May 14th.
To apply, you’ll need to fill out an application form and submit it to the Backcountry Information Center in person, via fax, or by mail. This process should be started 10 days before the 1st of the month that’s four months before your intended visit.
The cost for a backcountry permit is $10 per group below the rim, plus $8 per additional person or livestock.
There are several types of river permits available, allowing you to take a trip down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. Some of these permits are only available via a weighted lottery. The options include:
- 1 Day Commercial River Trips. This permit is for either full- or half-day trips on smooth water. These include half and full day trips on smooth water.
- 2-5 Day Non-Commercial River Trips. For longer trips, you have to apply one year in advance. This permit allows you to travel between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead non-commercially.
- Lees Ferry-Diamond Creek Commercial/ Non-Commercial Trips. This trip gives motorized and non-motorized trips that usually take a minimum of 7 days.
- 3-18 Day Commercial River Trips. For professionally guided tours, you’ll need to apply 1-2 years in advance of your trip.
- 12-25 Day Noncommercial River Trips. If you want a self-guided tour, you’ll have to enter the weighted lottery.
Photography and Film Permits
If you want to take photographs, video, or record sound in a way that may cause disruption to regular park visitors (such as using a crew, props, models, or set dressings) you’ll need a permit. Additionally, you’ll need one if you want to record material in areas usually closed to visitors.
You’ll have to apply for a permit at least four weeks prior to your visit date. You can fill out an application form and submit your $100 application fee. There are several other elements that you’ll have to provide, as detailed on the NPS website.
It costs a $300 administrative dee, as well as an hourly administrative fee of $65 per hour in some circumstances, such as filming below the rim or using large crews. You cannot use drones, film at Mather Point, or film wilderness areas.
Those visitors using photography/video for their personal use do not need to apply.
Scientific Research Permits
Scientific research is allowed in Grand Canyon National Park provided it doesn’t threaten the natural environment. To get a permit, you’ll need to fill out a research proposal. You’ll have to submit your proposal alongside an application form and a copy of your CV/resume.
It can take up to 90 days for your application to be processed and reviewed, so you’ll need to apply as far in advance as possible.
Special Use Permits
If you’re planning a special event in Grand Canyon National Park, such as a wedding, scattering cremation ashes, or organised run, you’ll need a special permit. You can fill out an application form and submit the appropriate payment, which differs depending on the area you wish to visit. According to the NPS website, the fees are as follows:
- Shoshone Point: $450
- Shrine of the Ages: $275
- Wedding (non-Shoshone Point locations): $150
- Special Event: $375
- Rim to Rim: $200
- Scattering of ashes: no fee, but you must adhere to certain rules.
Sunrise and Sunset Times
The sunrise and sunset over the Grand Canyon are some of the best in the world. When you’re planning your trip, it’s well worth figuring out the best time to see the majestic sight. Below, we’ve included a chart showing the various times over the course of the year:
There are several visitors centers located in Grand Canyon National Park. We’ve outlined details of each one:
- Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Open 8am – 6pm. Accessible via South Entrance Station.
- Backcountry Information Center. Open 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm. Located in the Village Historic District.
- Desert View Watchtower. Open 8am to 7pm. Located on the South Rim.
- Verkamp’s Visitor Center. Open 8am to 8pm. Situated the Grand Canyon Village.
- North Rim Visitor Center. Open 8am to 6pm from mid-May to mid-October. Located near Grand Canyon Lodge.
The park is vast, and there are various parking lots located throughout the area. Some are closer to certain attractions and amenities, while some don’t have RV spaces. There’s also a shuttle bus that runs from some of the parking lots. Although there’s no parking fee, there is a $35 entrance fee charge per vehicle ($30 per motorcycle) for seven days access. You can find the details below:
Grand Canyon Visitor Center
When entering the park from the South Entrance Station, there are four main lots that you can access. These generally tend to be quite busy at peak times.
- Lot 1. This spot is close to some excellent Grand Canyon views. There are spaces for RVs and trailers.
- Lot 2. Here, you’ll be closer to the main Visitor Center and plaza. There are no spaces for RVs.
- Lot 3. This is usually an overflow lot and is also located close to the Visitor Center. Again, there are no RV spaces here.
- Lot 4. From this lot, you’ll be close to the café, bicycle rental and bookstore. There aren’t any RV spaces.
Other South Rim Parking Lots
Lots 1-4 are often busy, particularly at peak times and in the mornings. You’ll find that there is additional parking at various locations at Market Plaza and the Village Historic District.
- Lot A. This lot is located near the Park Headquarters and opposite the Market Plaza. There are no RV or trailer slots.
- Lot B. Here, you’ll be close to the Market Plaza, as well as the Post Office, Store and Yavapai Lodge. There are spaces for RVs and trailers.
- Lot C. This small lot is situated where the Center and Village Loop roads meet. There are not any spaces for RVs or trailers.
- Lot D. Here, you’ll be close to the Backcountry Information Center. There are spots for RVs and trailers.
Bottle refilling stations
Although plastic drinks bottles are convenient, they also make up around 20% of the Grand Canyon’s waste. As such, the park is encouraging people to recycle and reuse their water bottles. There are several filling stations located throughout Grand Canyon National Park. Each of these provides free spring water from an approved water supply. They’re found at:
- Visitors Centers at Grand Canyon, Verkamp’s and Desert View
- In the cafeteria of Maswik Lodge
- The marketplaces at Canyon Village and Desert View
- The Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trailheads
- Yavapai Geology Museum
- Near the public amenities at Hermits Rest
- Adjacent to the restrooms at North Rim Visitor Center (seasonal)
- North Kaibab Trailhead (seasonal)
- North Rim Backcountry Office
Although the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US, there are many other spots in Arizona that are worth visiting. Many of these can be accessed when you’re in the area, particularly if you’re on your way to or from the Grand Canyon. We’ve picked out some of the ones that are worth a visit:
The half-finished utopian community of Arcosanti is located just north of the Phoenix metro area. It’s a place full of unusual buildings that were designed by the famous architect Paolo Soleri. There’s a free tour that takes you through the various elements of the community. You can find Arcosanti on exit 262 of the I-17.
Jerome is a 19th-century mining town that sits atop Cleopatra Hill. Nowadays, it’s famed for its art galleries, coffee shops, and antique stores. The funky little town is built into the cliff, making it a truly unique and historical place in Arizona. If you’re on the I-17, you take the AZ 260 exit to access Jerome.
The Grand Falls waterfalls are situated near Flagstaff and can be accessed via exit 211 at Winona. Although they’re known as ‘Mini Niagara Falls’, they’re actually taller than its more famous counterpart. It also has a less-flattering nickname of ‘Chocolate Falls’ thanks to its muddy-brown water.
Cameron Trading Post
Back in the early 1900s, the Cameron Trading Post was built to serve the developing area. These days, it’s home to a gift shop, art gallery, and ice cream store. You can buy Native American crafts and souvenirs or simply enjoy the beauty of the area. The post is located on US 89, only 32 miles from the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance.
The mighty Hoover Dam is located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, bordering Arizona and Nevada. The 700-hundred-foot-tall structure has a variety of tours, ranging from $12 to $30 depending on the tour. The dam is accessed from the US 93 at the Nevada State Route 172 turnoff.
Alpacas of the Southwest
If you like alpacas, (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) then the Alpacas of the Southwest ranch is well worth a visit. The family-owned business has two species of alpacas and costs $9 per car to access. You can get there off Interstate 40, halfway between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Around 50,000 years ago, a 150-foot wide meteor made the 550ft crater. You can visit the meteor crater off Interstate 40 and the old Route 66 near Winslow. It costs $18 for an adult ticket, which includes a free tour of the area.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
The attractive park of Walnut Canyon is definitely worth a visit. It’s a beautiful walk with plenty of scenic views, as well as several hiking trails that are teeming with life. It costs $15 for a seven-day pass, although children under 16 go free. The canyon is around 7.5 miles east of Flagstaff, located at exit 204 on the I-40.
The city of Kingman is in the heart of Mohave County, Arizona. Located just off I-40, the historic town has much to offer, including cafes, stores, and restaurants. It’s also part of the historic Route 66.
When you’re planning your excursion to Grand Canyon National park, you need to consider exactly how you’re going to get there. Of course, much of this depends on where you’re coming from and what you hope to do when you’re there. There are several airports that you could choose, and then various routes to and around the canyon itself. Whether you fly, drive, take a bus, or use the railway, you’ve plenty of options. We’ve covered everything you need to know about each:
If you’re coming in from out of state, you’ll most likely want to fly to one of the nearby airports. There are a few that could work, and each has its advantages. Below are the closest to the Grand Canyon:
Grand Canyon National Park Airport
This airport is around 10 miles from the park itself, which sounds ideal. However, it’s primarily used for small aircraft and tours, meaning that only flights from Boulder City and Las Vegas land there commercially, making it good for inexpensive day trips. If you’re coming from further afield, you’ll most likely have to choose another one.
Flagstaff Pulliam Airport
If you’re flying to Arizona, perhaps the closest practical one to the canyon is Flagstaff Airport. It’s a commuter location that’s around 85 miles from the park. One slight drawback is that some major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, aren’t connected. As such, prices can be a little high.
Another Arizona airport worth considering is Prescott Airport, located around 129 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Commercial flights arrive here from Los Angeles and Denver, making it a feasible option if you’re connecting in either of those cities.
Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix
Around 228 miles from the Grand Canyon is Phoenix International airport. It’s the closest international airport to the canyon, and probably your best bet if you’re coming from overseas. It takes around 3.5 hours to drive from here to the canyon.
McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
For Nevada airports, McCarran, Las Vegas’s international, is a good choice for getting to the Grand Canyon National Park. If you’re heading to the West Rim of the canyon, this could be your best option, as it takes just 2.5 hours to get there from here. The South Rim is slightly further, taking about 4.5 hours.
Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah
Although quite far away (approximately 385 miles), Salt Lake City International is a great starting point if you’re planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon. There’s plenty to explore on the way, with some amazing destinations on the route.
Shuttle Bus Service
The Grand Canyon National Park is an impressive place for many reasons. Perhaps one that is underappreciated is how logistically well-organized it is. Nowhere is this more evident than on the excellent shuttle bus services that run throughout the park. There are various routes that take you across the canyon, each suited to a different type of trip:
Hermits Rest Route
This route is also known as the red route, and it runs from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest, stopping at nine locations on the way (although only four on the way back). Some of the most notable include Trailview Overlook, Hopi Point, The Abyss, and Pima Point. The bus on this route operates from March 1 to November 30.
In terms of timetable, there’s a shuttle every 30 minutes from 5am to 6am and then every 15 minutes until just before sundown.
This 50-minute route loops round important areas of the National Park, such as campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, and visitors centers. It runs all year round from 5.15am to 9.30pm, making it a convenient way of traversing the park.
Hiker’s Express Shuttle
If you want to catch the sunrise as you descend into the canyon, this early morning bus will take you to South Kaibab Trailhead, a perfect location for starting out. It departs from Bright Angel Lodge, although the exact time depends on the time of year, ranging from 4am to 8am. It also stops at Backcountry Information Center and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
This route is also known as the Purple Route, and it’s the ideal way of skipping the queues during summer. Shuttle buses run on this route from March 1 to November 30, and there are four stops plus the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. It runs from 8am to 9.30pm.
Kaibab Rim Route
There are five great stops on this 50-minute route. This includes Mather Point, Yavapai, South Kaibab, Yaki Point and Pipe Creek Vista. Early morning buses run this route at 5.20am, 5.40am, 6am, and 6.20am, making it a good option for getting to South Kaibab Trailhead in the morning.
If you’re driving to the canyon, it depends on where you’re departing from as to where the route will take you. Generally though, you’ll want to head towards Highway 64 for the South Rim, which loops around the key areas of the National Park. For the North Rim, you should aim for Highway 67. Highway 89 connects to both Highway 64 and Highway 67. For the most accurate directions from your place of departure, use the map below:
Grand Canyon Railway
One of the most impressive ways of getting to the Grand Canyon is to take the railway. This historic route was constructed in the late 1800s and connected to the South Rim in 1901. More than one hundred years after it was built, it’s still ferrying passengers to this amazing location. You can book an entire vacation package based around the railway, which includes a stay at the majestic Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.
The 65-mile stretch runs from Williams to the Grand Canyon Village, lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s a great way of seeing the magnificent landscape and some of the beautiful animals that live in the region.
Rates for the route vary depending on the car you ride in. There are also discounts for children for some of the cars. Tickets can be purchased on the official Grand Canyon Railway website.
- The Pullman Car. Adult tickets cost $65.00 and child tickets are $29.00
- Coach Class. Adult tickets cost $79.00 and child tickets are $47.00
- First Class. Adult tickets cost $152.00 | Children: $118.00
- Luxury Dome Class. Adult tickets cost $219.00
- Luxury Parlor Class. Adult tickets cost $219.00
Getting across the Grand Canyon
There are many routes that you can take to traverse the Grand Canyon. For example, you can drive from the South Rim to the North Rim by taking Highway 64 east until you reach Highway 89. From here, go north to Highway 89 Alt, which you take west until Highway 67. From there, you go south to the North Rim.
There are other scenic paths available, which take advantage of the routes that the shuttle buses run:
There are quite a few things to see on this route, including:
- Grand Canyon Visitor Center
- Shine of the Ages
- Backcountry Information Center
- Maswik Lodge
- Bright Angel Lodge
- Train Depot
Kaibab Rim Route
If you’re looking to hit some of the most scenic points on the South Rim, then the Kaibab Rim Route is an excellent option. You’ll get to see Mather Point, Yavapai, South Kaibab, Yaki Point and Pipe Creek Vista and can also access various hiking trails.
Hermit Road Route
For a longer route that has more scenic spots, opt for Hermit Road route. You’ll get to stop at Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, and Hermits Rest. Each of these has its own breathtaking views over the canyon.
Geology & History
The Grand Canyon is truly one of the natural wonders of the world. The sheer scale and beauty of the National Park have fascinated people throughout history. Geologically and archaeologically, it’s truly amazing, and over the years it’s been home to a variety of different tribes. It’s worth appreciating some of this history before you visit, as it will give you some context for what you’re seeing.
How it was Formed
We’re lucky that the geology of the Grand Canyon gives us a fairly detailed account of some of its history. The thick canyon walls give us an understanding of the Paleozoic Era, which was around 550-250 million years ago. There are even rocks at the bottom of the canyon that are as old as 2000 million years old. However, a mystery remains; for all its history, there is a huge gap in the geological record. From 250 million years ago to the present day, there’s not a whole lot of evidence.
As for the formation of the canyon, the exact process is unknown. However, we know that the Colorado River played a big part. Erosion by its waters over the past five or six million years has carved out the impressive natural structure. Rainfall also plays a part, giving its unique strata of colours. And, of course, it continues to be shaped even now.
Exploring the Grand Canyon Throughout History
Unsurprisingly, the Grand Canyon has a rich and varied history. Some sources suggest that humans have occupied the area since as far back as 1200 BCE. There are several Native American cultures that still exist and influence the area today. You can even visit reserves of these cultures on the South Rim and in the canyon itself. There have also been European and American explorations of the area throughout history.
The Havasupai tribe have lived in the area of the Grand Canyon for at least the last 800 years. Over the years, they’ve farmed crops in the Havasu Canyon and created walking paths, now hiking trails, throughout the canyon. The water and land of the area plays a huge part in their culture, being significant spiritually and practically. Since 1882, they had a reserve that spanned 518 acres at the bottom of the canyon, although this is was five miles long and 12 miles wide, a fraction of their traditional land. In 1975, almost 185,000 acres were given back to them, and 650 people now live on the reserve.
The Hualapai people were traditionally hunter-gatherers who have lived in and around the canyon for hundreds of years. Traditionally, they lived in an area of roughly 5 million acres, although in recent times this has been reduced to just 1 million. Around 2,100 people of the Hualapai Tribe now live in Peach Springs on route 66. They are working hard to develop their reserve into a tourist destination, and they opened the famous Skywalk in 2007.
The Navajo Tribe was traditionally semi-nomadic and is currently the largest Native American tribe in existence. They have a reserve that stretches for 27,000 square miles, covering parts of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Around 250,000 people live on the reservation.
The Hopi tribe is one of the oldest cultures still in existence. They can trace their roots back thousands of years across an area much larger than their current 1.5-million acre reservation. Farming and arts and crafts are an important part of modern life for the Hopi people, and they have an annual arts festival in Flagstaff, near to the Grand Canyon.
In 1540, Captain García López de Cárdenas, under the orders of Spanish conquistadors, travelled to the South Rim of the canyon. They were guided by members of the Hopi Tribe and ventured some way down into the canyon. They had to turn back due to a lack of water. It would be another 200 years before Europeans ventured to the area again.
There were some notable people who explored what was known as ‘The Great Unknown’ during the mid-1800s.
During 1857 to 1858, Joseph Christmas Ives explored his way up the canyon. He took a steamboat to try and make his way up the Colorado River. Unfortunately, he crashed some way in, using a skiff to travel another 30 miles upriver. Illustrations and descriptions from the expedition paint the canyon as an intimidating and daunting place.
In 1869 and again in 1872, John Wesley Powell attempted to continue the exploration of the Grand Canyon. With boats and an experienced crew, Powell set off up the Colorado River. However, they soon ran into trouble and had to fight for survival as supplies ran out. He attempted the journey twice, taking scientists with him on the second journey.
There can be no denying that the Grand Canyon is a popular tourist destination. Millions of people visit the area each year from across the world. Summer is by far the peak season, where you may have to queue to get into the park and might struggle to find parking. If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds, you can plan your journey in terms of where and when you visit the Grand Canyon National Park.
One of the most important things to note is that, although summer is busy, you can still avoid the majority of the crowds visiting the National Park. The area spans over 2,000 square miles, meaning you can find quiet areas no matter the time of year. Most tourists visit the South Rim’s famous viewpoints and very few other places. Here are some tips for avoiding the worst of the crowds:
The Grand Canyon is beautiful all year round. So, if you’re flexible with your vacation time, you can plan a trip to avoid the busy summer months. Fall and winter are both excellent times to visit. The former will be quietest, giving the area a serene feel (although temperatures can drop quite low). In fall, you’ll get great temperatures and stunning light.
Visit the North Rim
The South Rim is undoubtedly the busiest part of Grand Canyon National Park. However, the North Rim has around 1/10th of the number of visitors, and still has the stunning views and beauty of the South Rim. It’s a particularly good choice if you’re coming from Las Vegas, as access is easy. Places like Roosevelt Point are ideal for quiet hikes on the North Rim.
Go Below the Rim
The majority of visitors hit the main scenic spots, which are all overlooking the canyon. Of course, you’ll most likely want to see these too. However, few people hike below the rim. You should use this to your advantage, exploring some of the trails that lead into the canyon itself. If you wake up early and get to the trailheads, you’re almost guaranteed a peaceful and quiet hike. Grandview Trail and Rim Trail on the South Rim are great hikes.
Stay Up Late
Because most people get up early and experience the Grand Canyon during the day, it’s usually pretty quiet at night. However, it’s just as spectacular on a clear, starry night. The area experiences some of the darkest skies, meaning you can see the entire cosmos (or so it seems).
Eating and Sleeping
There is a broad selection of restaurants, hotels, campsites, and other amenities located throughout Grand Canyon National Park. They cater to a diverse range of budgets, types of trip, and tastes, meaning you can organise a trip that’s perfect for you. For the sake of ease, we’ve separated out the four Rims and given some of the highlights of each.
- Bright Angel Lodge. This accommodation spot is incredibly popular thanks to its proximity to the Bright Angel trailhead. There are 90 units on the site, ranging in terms of standard lodges to historic cabins. Nightly rates vary greatly depending on the season and type of room, and rooms sell out far in advance.
- Yavapai Lodge. Rooms at Yavapai are some of the most reasonably priced on the South Rim. It’s also a highly convenient location, as it’s only around a mile from the South Rim itself. There are two locations, with the East Lodge being the more modern.
- El Tovar Hotel. This elegant hotel has housed some incredibly famous people over the years. Names such as President Teddy Roosevelt and President Bill Clinton have stayed there, and it’s an exclusive location right by the South Rim.
- Phantom Ranch. One of the most authentic places to stay in the Grand Canyon is Phantom Ranch. It’s only accessible via foot (or mule), and you can only get a cabin by entering a lottery. Cabins vary in size and can fit between two and 10 people.
- Thunderbird Lodge. Right between El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge is Thunderbird Lodge. Although the building reflects its 1960s heritage on the outside, rooms are well equipped and moderately priced considering its location in the heart of the historic district.
- Maswik Lodge. Maswik Lodge sits just a quarter of a mile from the edge of the canyon. It’s a fairly secluded spot in the middle of a pine forest, giving you a sense of privacy and adventure.
- Kachina Lodge. Another 1960s-inspired lodge that sits between El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge. It’s a hugely convenient location, and although it doesn’t quite have the charm of other locations, it’s fairly priced.
- Holiday Inn Express Page Lake Powell. If you’re looking for reasonably priced rooms with all the amenities you could want, the Holiday Inn Express in Page is a great choice.
- Hampton Inn Kayenta. Located in Monument Valley, this Hampton Inn, owned by Hilton, is well-equipped and convenient.
- Lake Powell Resort. Although quite far from the North Rim itself, Lake Powell is a relaxing location to adventure from.
- Best Western Plus At Lake Powell. As above, you’re getting all the mod cons without the convenience of being right by the rim.
- Travelodge Page. Page is a couple of hours’ drive from the North Rim, yet the Travelodge offers comfortable rooms at reasonable prices.
- Aikens Lodge Kanab. This family-owned lodge is small and convenient, located around an hour and a half from the North Rim.
- America’s Best Value Inn Page. A useful and comfortable hotel that’s located a couple of hours’ drive away from the rim.
- Best Western Red Hills. Red Hills is less than two hours’ drive away from the North Rim. This is a moderately priced hotel that’s well-equipped.
- Knights Inn Lake Powell. It takes around two and a half hours to reach the Rim from here.
- Rodeway Inn Page. Again, this hotel sits roughly two and a half hours away from the North Rim.
- Grand Canyon Western Ranch. It’s claimed that this hotel was once owned by a 19th-century gunslinger. It certainly feels like it could have been, with the décor and atmosphere. There are glamping sites and cabins available.
- Hualapai Ranch at Peach Springs. There are 26 cabins available at the Hualapai Ranch, perfectly located for exploring the West Rim. It’s a quiet and enchanting place, with a variety of cabins available across budgets.
- Marble Canyon Lodge. If you’re hoping to explore the Colorado River from the East Rim, Marble Canyon is one of the best locations to stay before you begin your adventure.
- Vermilion Cliffs Lodge. Lee’s Ferry Lodge at Vermilion Cliffs is another excellent starting point for river adventures.
- Cliff Dwellers Lodge. This beautiful lodge looks and feels truly authentic, giving stunning views of the valley.
There are plenty of fantastic eateries in Grand Canyon National Park, catering to all kinds of tastes and budgets. For some, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance, while others will let you walk right in. Again, we’ve separated these out by Rims.
- Arizona Room. Situated next to the famous Bright Angel Lodge, this handy spot takes walk-ins all year except January and February when it’s closed. Dinner runs from 4.30pm to 10pm, and lunch between 11.30am and 3pm during peak times.
- Bright Angel Bar. This is another location by the Bright Angel Lodge, offering organic coffee, fruit, and pastries all year round. It’s the ideal morning spot, open from 5.30am to 10.00am
- Bright Angel Fountain. If you’re in need of a quick bite near the Bright Angel trailhead, this is the perfect place. Opening times vary.
- Bright Angel Restaurant. This bar and restaurant offers a true taste of the Southwest. It’s open all year for breakfast, lunch and dinner, although opening times vary.
- Cafe at Mather Point. If you’re near the Visitor Center at Mather Point, make sure you grab a local coffee and a sandwich or bagel from this charming café.
- Canyon Coffee House. Another excellent place offering organic coffee and breakfast items is the Canyon Coffee House. It’s open during the main seasons, with various opening times.
- Canyon Village Market & Deli. This handy little store has just about everything you need for surviving in the canyon, including a deli offering various foods.
- Desert View Trading Post & Deli. Here you’ll find another handy location for groceries and food, situated just 26 miles from the Grand Canyon Village. The food is fresh and made to order.
- El Tovar Dining Room. This place has a lot of charm and is open throughout the year for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll need to make a reservation for the latter, however.
- Hermits Rest Snack Bar. If you’re in need of a quick bite, no matter what time of year, this place is open from 9am to 5pm daily.
- Maswik Food Court. Again, this location is open year-round from 6am to 10pm. It has a pizza pub built onto the side.
- Village Dogs. If gourmet hotdogs are your thing, you’ll be treated to a wide selection here during peak season.
- Yavapai Coffee Shop. Another place offering a quick coffee and a bite to go is this handy coffee shop, located near the main Yavapai Lodge.
- Yavapai Lodge Restaurant. This newly remodeled restaurant offers some of the finest food in the area.
- Yavapai Tavern. There’s a great selection of food and drink available here, perfect for after a day of exploring the South Rim.
- Big E Steakhouse & Saloon. Steaks, fish, salads and pasta are all on the menu at this Western-themed diner.
- Coronado Room. A fine dining location that’s situated inside the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn.
- Squire Pub. This is a great family-friendly location offering a broad range of pub fare. There’s also entertainment on-site.
- We Cook Pizza and Pasta. This one does exactly as its name suggests and is great for a casual bite in the evenings.
- Plaza Bonita. Although a chain restaurant, the Mexican food on offer here is decent enough, and it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- RP’s Stage Stop. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced meal any time of the day, you can’t go far wrong with RP’s.
- Grand Canyon Lodge. If you’re looking for ambience and views, there are few better places on the North Rim than the Lodge.
- Kaibab Lodge. Although it’s quite pricey here, there’s quite a good menu on offer, serving rustic fare and beer.
- Jacob Lake Inn. This family-owned joint has homemade meals at reasonable prices.
Places to Visit
You’re absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to places to visit in the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. No matter what you’re hoping to get from the experience, there are places that have all you could ever want. There are iconic landmarks, trails, viewpoints, and other places of interest. Knowing about what’s on offer gives you the chance to decide on which ones you want to visit.
Northern Arizona Historic Sites
- Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki is a site that dates back around 800 years. It was a traditional meeting place for a variety of Native American cultures, and it remains an interesting historical location.
- Navajo National Monument. At this site, you can see a number of original cliff dwellings inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan people. There’s also a few short hikes, a museum, visitor center and campgrounds.
- Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Canyon De Chelly is a place of huge importance. It’s recognized as the longest continuously inhabited site in all of North America. A community of Navajo people live there, and they own the land.
- Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Here, you’ll find the longest-serving trading post of the Navajo people. It’s been in operation since 1878.
- Grand Canyon Railway. Built in the early 1900s to serve the South Rim, the Grand Canyon Railway is a 45-mile stretch that connects Williams to the rim. You can still ride the railway to this day.
- Riordan Mansion State Park. This mansion has stood since 1904, built by lumber barons the Riordan brothers. The house remains much as it was when they donated it as a museum.
- Hopi Walpi Village. The Hopi people have lived in the area for generations, and this is one of the oldest standing villages, being established in 1690.
North-central Arizona Historic Sites
- Tuzigoot National Monument. There have been people on this site since as far back as 1000 AD, and some of the more recent structures are still intact today.
- Montezuma Castle National Monument. This is one of the best examples of cliff dwellings in all of North America, featuring a 20-room building carved into the limestone cliff.
- Petrified Forest National Park. The remarkable remains of a 200-million-year-old fossilized forest is a must-visit when you’re in the area.
- Walnut Canyon National Monument. People lived in this canyon around 700 years ago, and you can step back in time to see what their lives were like.
- Fort Apache Historic Park & Apache Cultural Center. This historic site gives insight into the famous Fort Apache and the lives of the Apache Tribe.
- Verde Canyon Railway. Verde Canyon is known as the ‘other Grand Canyon’ in the state, and taking the railway is the perfect way to experience it.
- Jerome (Ghost Town). At one point, this was the fifth-largest city in Arizona. Now, it’s completely abandoned and remains just as it was when it was left in the 1950s.
Southern Arizona Historical Sites
- Tonto National Monument. People lived in this area from 1250 to 1450 CE, and the monument shows some remarkable examples of the cultures that developed here.
- Casa Grande Ruins. This was the first archaeological reserve in America, founded in 1892. There is evidence of cultures being present here more than 5000 years ago.
- Fort Bowie Historic Site. During the mid-1800s, there were many bitter clashes between the Chiricahua Apaches and the U.S. military. This site marks and commemorates that conflict.
- Coronado National Memorial. This site was created to recognize the 16th-century Spanish explorations of the area, particularly that of Francisco V’uez de Coronado.
- Queen Mine. For almost 100 years, this was one of the most famous copper mines in the world. You can experience the history of the location on the Queen Mine Tour.
- Tombstone. This town is the very definition of the Old West, famed for its violence and lawlessness. It’s famed for the battle of the O.K. Corral in 1881.
Western Arizona Historical Sites
- Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. This is another memorial of the Old West, where more than 3,000 criminals were imprisoned between 1876 and 1909.
- London Bridge. This is the original London Bridge, built in 1831 and shipped to Arizona in the 1960s at a cost of over $9 million.
- Antelope Canyon, Arizona. This slot canyon, formed by water rushing through a narrow channel, is one of the most famous in the country. It must be visited with a tour guide, costing $40-$60.
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah. This canyon runs through an area known as Lee’s Ferry, marking the start point of the Grand Canyon.
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. The beautiful petrified wood of this forest is over 200-million years old. There are various hiking trails, as well as several historical sites.
- Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah. The natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks is over 2,000 feet deep, with a rim that sits over 10,000 feet above sea level.
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. This park was established in 1906 as is famed for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.
- Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona. Canyon De Chelly is a place of huge importance. It’s recognized as the longest continuously inhabited site in all of North America. A community of Navajo people live there, and they own the land.
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona. The two sections of this National Park sit on either side of Tuscon. It’s named after the huge species of cactus that thrive in the desert there.
- El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico. This National Park is located in the badlands, a barren, volcanic area that creates a truly dramatic landscape.
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah. These magnificent caves can only be accessed by a guided tour, which lasts around 55 minutes.
- Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona. The landscape here is utterly amazing, with various balancing rocks and hoodoos giving it an otherworldly feeling.
Grand Canyon First Time Tips
When it’s time for your first trip to the Grand Canyon, it can be a little overwhelming to know what to first. There’s so much on offer, and much to prepare for. To make the process easier, we’ve picked out ten of the must-do things when you’re there, this includes key things to know, preparations, and places to visit.
- Entrance fees. You have to pay to enter Grand Canyon National Park. It’s not hugely expensive, but rates vary depending on the type of vehicle and length of trip. Bear in mind that the West Rim requires separate admission as it’s not part of the National Park.
- South Rim hotspots. Make sure you pay a visit to the South Rim. Yes, it’s quite touristy, and yes, it’s busy at peak times. However, it’s popular for a reason. There are some simply breathtaking sights to behold, make sure you check them out.
- Various areas. There’s a lot to see aside from the South Rim though. You just have to make sure that you go at the right times. The North Rim is closed during the winter months, but it’s certainly worth a trip if you can make it. It’s around about a five-hour drive from the South Rim.
- Sunrise and sunset. The morning and evening sights across the canyon are some of the most beautiful in the world. Check the times for when you’re there and make sure you see at least one – you won’t regret it.
- Hike. Most tourists overlook the canyon from the South Rim. However, the hiking trails give you the chance to get into the canyon proper. If you can, go on at least one trail and venture below.
- Prepare for your hike. If you are hiking, make sure you prepare fully. You’ll need appropriate clothing, footwear, and provisions. Remember that it will take longer to get out than get down, so allow plenty of time.
- Know where the crowds are. Peak times around the South Rim are busy. You might have to queue to enter the park, and car parking spaces are at a premium. Arriving early can help with both, but generally, if you stay away from the hotspots, you’ll avoid the crowds.
- Food & drink. There are plenty of places to eat and grab a drink in the park. However, prices can be a little higher given the location. You can (and should) bring your own food and drink with you. It never hurts to be prepared.
- Permits. If you want to fish, hike the backcountry trails, or explore the river, you’ll need a permit. Applying in advance is usually required, so make sure you give yourself enough time to get one.
- Check the weather. The weather can change quickly around the Grand Canyon, and can also go from extreme to extreme. During the summer, it can get very hot and then suddenly downpour. Equally, in the winter temperatures can plummet quickly, followed by snow. Check and prepare appropriately.
How to Decide Which Rim to Visit?
On your first visit to the Grand Canyon, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to where to go. There are four main Rims; North, South, East and West. Each has a different experience, offering views, locations, and activities. With such variation, it can be hard to know where to start.
To determine which is the right Rim for your trip, there are some factors you have to consider:
- Have you visited the canyon before?
- What time of year will you be going?
- What’s the demographic of the group you’re going with?
- How long will you spend there?
- What do you want to do when you’re there?
The answers to these questions will give you a better understanding of which Rim to visit first. We’ve covered the four rims in further detail below:
By far the most popular and developed area of the canyon is the South Rim. Many of the most famous vistas overlooking the Grand Canyon can be seen from here, with over two dozen different viewpoints. People flock here from Phoenix and Las Vegas.
If it’s your first time going to the area, you’ll definitely want to check out the South Rim while you’re there. No matter what time of year, it’s truly beautiful. It has all the amenities, making it family-friendly and convenient. If you’re there for a few days and want to see some of the most spectacular views of the canyon, the South Rim is perfect.
Along with the South Rim, the North Rim is part of Grand Canyon National Park. It’s much quieter than its southern counterpart though, with only around 1/10th of the visitors going there. The wildlife tends to be a bit more diverse here, thanks to the fact it’s higher and cooler than the south.
The season on the North Rim is quite short, open only between mid-May and mid-October. During the winter months, there’s a lot of snow, which means most areas close. However, the fall foliage is breathtaking, and can’t be seen from the South Rim. If you want a more ‘authentic’ experience of the canyon, one that’s full of hiking and adventure, the North is where to go. However, there are fewer amenities and lodging spots there.
If you’re heading to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, the West Rim is closest. It also has the Glass Skywalk (also known as the skybridge), which overlooks the canyon. It’s not part of the National Park – the land belongs to the Hualapai Indian Tribe, meaning entrance fees are separate from that of the main park.
Those who are looking for some more challenging hikes should definitely consider the West Rim. Havasu Canyon is well worth a visit but is only accessible by foot, horseback or helicopter. Equally, if you want to experience some true Native American history should also visit.
This is a relatively hidden part of the Grand Canyon area. Areas such as Little Colorado River Tribal Park and Horseshoe Bend offer some spectacular views of the Colorado River. It’s a place worth visiting if you’ve seen much of the canyon already and are looking to experience the lesser-seen areas. However, there isn’t much there in terms of amenities and convenience.
Things to See
The Best Views of the Grand Canyon
You’ve no doubt seen pictures of the Grand Canyon in all its beauty. It’s one of the most naturally spectacular places in the entire world. If you’re wondering where the best views of the canyon and Colorado River are, we’ve got you covered, no matter which part you’re planning on visiting:
- Yavapai Point. If you’re looking for a panoramic of both Havasupai Point to the west and Desert View to the east, this is the spot to do it from. The crowds aren’t too dense here, and you’ve the added bonus of the Yavapai Geology Museum being nearby.
- Mather Point. Although the views from here are certainly spectacular (it has an elevation of around 7,000 feet) and the location is convenient, Mather Point is also the most popular spot to observe the canyon. At peak times, it can get incredibly busy.
- Pipe Creek View Yaki Point. From here, you’ll get another amazing panorama facing east. It’s also close to Kaibab Trail, making it a useful spot to catch sunrise before a hike. However, during peak times the roads are closed to all but shuttle buses.
- Overlook Trail, Maricopa Point. If you’re taking the Hermit’s Road shuttle bus, there are a number of fantastic points to stop off. One such is Maricopa Point. There are few views that give such a sense of scale.
- Powell Point. There are a few different perspectives you can get from Powell Point, which is situated close to the shuttle stop. If you have a wide-angle camera lens, you’re sure to get some impressive shots.
- Hopi Point. Although close to Powell Point and offering similar views, Hopi Point is a popular place to watch the sunrise and sunset. It juts out into the canyon further than any other point, giving views each side. Make sure you get there early to get a space.
- Mojave Point. At this viewpoint, you can see a fair amount of the canyon, including the terraced cliffs, sandstone mesas and a view of the Colorado River. It’s also located on Hermit’s Road.
- The Abyss. The Abyss is aptly named, thanks to its sheer, 3,000-foot drop. From this point, you can just about see the Colorado River, as well as the Tonto Plateau.
- Monument Creek View. From this spot, you’ll be able to see what is known as the Granite Rapid – the area where Monument Creek and the Colorado River meet. Walking from here to Hopi Point is recommended, as it’s quiet and gives some beautiful scenery.
- Pima Point. Pima Point is another stop along the Hermit’s Trail. Whether you’re walking or taking the shuttle bus, make sure you stop at this location.
- Hermit Rest. This is the last stop on the Hermit’s Trail give some impressive views and has a gift shop and café nearby.
- Desert View. You’ll definitely need a car to travel to Desert View and the other East Rim viewpoints. However, it’s certainly worth it. This is a popular spot that has a watchtower with panoramic views, as well as a restaurant and gift shop.
- Navajo Point. To see the Desert View watchtower from afar, you’ll want to stop here and look over the valley below.
- Lipan Point. At this viewpoint, you’ll get to see a wider and more expansive view of the Grand Canyon. It’s similar to that seen at Navajo Point.
- Moran Point. This is one of the most dramatic views of the canyon from the East Rim. It’s named after the painter Thomas Moran and looks picture perfect.
- Grandview Point. The clue is in the name with this one – it gives you a true sense of how vast the Grand Canyon is. There’s plenty to see from the spot that has an elevation of 7,500 feet.
- Imperial Point. It’s an 11-mile drive from the North Rim Visitor Center to this point, and it gives you the best elevation in the park (around 8,800 feet). You get views of Mt. Hayden, Vermilion Cliffs and Marble Canyon.
- Cape Royal. This point is only slightly lower than that of Imperial Point, standing at about 8,000 feet. If you’re looking for a panoramic of the Grand Canyon, this is perhaps your best vantage point.
- Roosevelt Point. This spot is a fairly new one, and as such is quite quiet. The views are stunning, although slightly restricted in some directions.
- Walhalla Overlook. It’s worth coming to this area for the hiking, but the view is impressive too. Its low elevation gives a beautiful look at the Unkar Delta.
- Bright Angel Point. It’s worth coming to this viewpoint to get a look at Bright Angel Canyon, which is just a short walk from the Visitor Center there.
- Guano Point. You’ll have to hike over some slightly rough terrain to reach this point, but it’s worth it for the stunning panorama you get from here. You can also see what’s left of the historic tram that spanned the 8,800 feet of canyon.
- Eagle Point. The eagle-shaped rock formation at Eagle Point is incredibly impressive. There are also Native American walking tours that start from here, as well as an amphitheater featuring live performances.
Best Night Sky Gazing Places
One of the aspects of the Grand Canyon that is sometimes overlooked is the amazing nighttime views. Because there’s so little light pollution, you can often get dark nights and clear skies, offering some mesmerizing vistas. So much so that it’s been named as an International Dark Sky Park and there’s an annual Grand Canyon Star Party every June. If you want to go star gazing, there are few better places. Here are some spots to check out:
- Yavapai Point. This handy spot is located just a short walk from Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. The overlook offers some excellent views, particularly if you set up with a telescope.
- Star Parties. On both the North Rim and South Rim, the annual June Star Party turns the entire park into an observatory. There are events, telescopes, and astronomy programs to enjoy.
- Lipan Point. If you’re hoping to view the Milky Way in all its glory, the Desert View Drive location on the South Rim will give you some truly wonderful views.
When you’re planning on going stargazing, you’ll want to time it so you avoid the crowds and get the best of the night sky. Usually, you’re best to wait until the moon isn’t visible, and you can check moonrise and moonset times to plan accordingly.
You also need to plan for your trip appropriately. Temperatures can fall quickly, and rain can also prevent you from seeing anything. April to June and November are generally the best times to get clear skies, but you’ll want to bring some extra layers and a flask of something warm.
Things to Do
Now that you know just about everything there is to know about the Grand Canyon and where to view it from, it’s time to get into the details of what else there is to do. If you love the outdoors and adventure, there are so many fantastic activities you can take part in. There are also many family-friendly things to do at the Grand Canyon. We’ve got everything you need to know about what you can do at the Grand Canyon:
Grand Canyon National Park is a true hiker’s paradise. Although the views from the various rims are amazing, to experience the true Grand Canyon, you need to walk along them and, if you’re able, get below them. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a total novice, there are routes and trails that are suited to your ability and aims. Some are wheelchair-accessible and paved, while others are unmaintained rocky treks through the backcountry. Some require permits, particularly if you’re planning on camping, while others take only a few hours to complete.
Amazingly, it’s estimated that only around 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon venture below the rim. Although some of the routes are tricky and the weather can be unpredictable, it gives you an opportunity to experience the majesty and solitude of this beautiful location.
When you visit the National Park, you’ll find that there are generally four levels of difficulty for the hikes there:
- Easy. Usually above the rim, they provide even terrain with little elevation. Some are paved.
- Moderate. These tend to vary in elevation a bit more and are often longer and more exposed than the easy routes.
- Difficult. For those with a bit of hiking experience who can deal with a variety of elevation changes and longer routes.
- Very difficult. Harder terrain that is more exposed, as well as substantial changes in elevation. Only for experienced hikers in good shape.
Preparing for Grand Canyon Hikes
Even if you’re only taking on the easiest and shortest routes in Grand Canyon National Park, you’ll still need to prepare for the occasion. And, the harder the route you’re attempting, the more preparation you’ll have to do. Even if you’re going on a guided hiking tour, you’ll want to make sure you’re up for the challenge. The weather can change rapidly and reach extremes depending on the time of year you’re visiting. Equally, the elevation can vary considerably, meaning you’ll have to be in good physical shape for the more demanding routes. Here are some of our top tips for preparing for your hike:
- Bring appropriate footwear. Although some of the easier paths are paved, many of the more difficult ones have rocky terrain. You’ll want a sturdy pair of walking shoes or hiking boots that are up to the challenging. Make sure you break them in before you start your trip.
- Bring layers. Depending on the time of season, you can experience periods of extreme heat or cold. It’s a good idea to bring a variety of layers so you can regulate your body temperature.
- Plan ahead. It’s important you know what kind of conditions you’re going to be facing on your hike. In the winter, temperatures can drop low, while in summer the sun can beat down on you. Look at forecasts before you set out and pack appropriately.
- Bring fluid and food. You’ll want to keep hydrated and your energy levels up when you’re hiking. Bring plenty of water, and food enough to keep you going for the duration of your hike.
- Know your limits. Just about everyone who hikes into the canyon says it’s more difficult than they expected. Make sure you know what you’re capable of and plan a route accordingly, you don’t want to exacerbate any medical problems. Remember, if you’re going below the rim, the uphill section usually takes twice as long (and is much harder) than the downhill part.
- Watch out for mules. You might encounter other hikers and mule riders on your trek. Mules have the right of way, and you should step off the trail on the uphill side to let them past. Remain quiet and still, and don’t return to the trail until the last mule is at least 50 feet past you.
Winter time can be a treacherous time around Grand Canyon National Park. Certain areas close, and it’s recommended that you check the backcountry trail closures and restrictions before setting out. The same applies to the weather forecast. At this time of year, it’s even more important that you’re adequately prepared to take on any hikes. Here are some essentials that you should pack:
- Food and water. You’re likely going to consume more energy than usual trying to keep warm. Bring plenty of salty food, as well as water with electrolytes.
- First aid kit. You should have all the essentials in here should you encounter any problems.
- Flashlight and batteries. If you lose the light, this can be an absolute lifesaver.
- Correct footwear and clothing. Sturdy, waterproof boots with traction devices are a must. You’ll also want thermal and waterproof clothing, including a hat, gloves, and parka.
- Hiking poles. Trails can get icy, and hiking poles can save you a lot of grief.
- Whistle/signal mirror. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, you’ll need one of these.
Remember that the North Rim can be incredibly hostile during the winter. You’ll most likely encounter deep snow and trail ice, as well as an elevation of 8,000 feet. Only the most experienced hikers should attempt North Rim hikes in winter.
Although the warmer weather may seem alluring during the summer months, hiking at these peak times should be given as much consideration as in winter. The downward trek into the canyon often seems fairly easy, but it’s the return journey and the heat that are dangerous. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyponatremia (a lack of electrolytes) are real threats, and you should take care to avoid them. Stay hydrated, eat plenty of sugar and salt, take frequent breaks, and keep cool. Make sure you’re prepared by packing the following:
- Food and water. You’re likely going to consume more energy than usual trying to keep cool. Bring plenty of salty food, as well as water with electrolytes.
- First aid kit. You should have all the essentials in here should you encounter any problems.
- Flashlight and batteries. If you lose the light or want to hike in the cool of the evening, this can be an absolute lifesaver.
- Sunscreen. Keep your skin protected from the sun.
- Correct footwear and clothing. Sturdy, waterproof boots are essential. You’ll also want layers of light clothing, as well as a hat to keep the sun off and some waterproofs if you’re there during monsoon season.
- Whistle/signal mirror. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, you’ll need one of these.
The heat can soon drain your energy, so try and keep as cool as you possibly can. A water spray bottle can help, as can keeping yourself wet any time you come across water.
If you’re a day hiker wanting to visit below the rim of the canyon, there are a few options available to you. However, none of these is considered easy. It’s not possible to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day, so do not attempt it. Some alternatives include:
- Rim Trail
- Bright Angel Trail
- North or South Kaibab Trail
- Hermit Trail
- Grandview Trail
- Bridle Trail
- Ken Patrick Trail
- Arizona Trail
With all of these, you’ll want to prepare adequately and have all the essentials we’ve already mentioned. Again, remember that the hike down is far easier and quicker than the return journey, so factor this into your timings.
There are some trails that mix adventure, sightseeing, and the true canyon experience. Some of these can be a little busy at peak times, but nothing like the crowds you’ll see at the South Rim. We’ve picked out some of the very best Grand Canyon hikes:
- Rim-to-Rim hike. This is one of the longest hikes you can take in the Grand Canyon region. With a grand total of 44 miles around, it will likely take you 5-7 days to complete. The route is spectacular yet grueling, and even experienced hikers appreciate just how tough the going can be. But, with some training and preparation, you should be fine. You’ll descend into the canyon, leaving from the North Kaibab Trail on the North Rim and climbing up the 4,500 feet to the South Rim.
- Bright Angel Trail. If you’re hoping to go from rim to river, this is one of the best hikes out there. It’s roughly 9.5 miles to get to the Colorado River, and there are two campsites off the trail. After staying overnight, you can then take the South Kaibab trail back to the rim.
- South Kaibab Trail. For those who want a day hike on a fairly well-maintained trail, there are none that offer better views than this one. It’s quite steep in places, and there’s little shade, so you’ll need to be well-equipped,
- Rim Trail. This trail spans around 13 miles from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest. The majority of this route is paved, although some areas are harder to navigate than others.
- North Kaibab. Not many people take on this trail, so it’s not quite as well-maintained as some of the other. There are various routes you can take, raining from just under a mile to around 14 miles, each offering a vast array of terrains and ecosystems.
- Grandview Trail. This trail can be hard going in places, and you’ll want to be well-prepared before you attempt it. However, there are some stunning destinations on the way, including Cottonwood Creek and Page Spring. There are several loops available, ranging from 1.1 miles to 4.5 miles.
Like any great hiking location, there are some inherent dangers associated with hiking in the Grand Canyon. However, provided you’re fully prepared and take the proper precautions, you should be fine. The first to appreciate is the sheer size of the place. It’s around 1,902 square miles and runs roughly a mile deep. With such elevation, it makes for a difficult hike for even experienced hikers. Make sure you’re physically able to take on any treks you’re planning, and prepare and train hard in advance.
Temperatures in and around the Grand Canyon vary greatly. You can experience a big shift in temperatures on one hike and must be prepared for these changes. Similarly, it gets incredibly hot in summer and well below zero in winter. Your gear and equipment should reflect this. Don’t take any chances, and read through our hiking guides, above.
There are a few things you should know in terms of respecting the area and other hikers when you’re visiting the Grand Canyon. Here are some of the essentials to bear in mind:
- Uphill hikers have the right of way. If you’re going downhill, you should step out of the way to let them pass. The same applies to mules.
- When a mule train comes your way, step off the trail to the side away from the edge. The mule handler may give you other directions to follow.
- Take a toilet-to-go bag if you’re on a long hike.
- Don’t leave your heavy gear on the trail to wait for later.
- Politely ask slower hikers to allow you to pass rather than jostling past them.
The Grand Canyon is an almost magical place to camp, whether just overnight or for a few days. There are two main types of camping that are permitted in the area. The first is at the developed campgrounds that are situated around the National Park and other areas. These are accessible by vehicles and don’t require permits. The second is dispersed camping, which you can do outside the developed areas and below the rim. This form of camping requires a Backcountry Permit (see above), and you’ll need one if you wish to camp anywhere other than the developed campgrounds.
How to Choose the Best Campground for You
There are a few designated campsites around Grand Canyon National Park. Each has its own charms and merits, so the one you opt for really depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the experience. If you want to be at the heart of things, in amongst all the other campers, you should opt for a campground near Grand Canyon Village. There are two to choose from – Mather Campground and Trailer Village RV Park. As the name suggests, the latter is perfectly suited for those with an RV looking for a hookup. Although Mather does have room for RVs, there aren’t any hookups.
If you’re the kind of camper who’d prefer a site that’s a little out of the way, then you’ll find Desert View Campground more suited to your tastes. It’s located in a quieter area of the National Park, and there are only 50 sites available.
Those looking to camp outside the park (or who find there are no spaces left inside) should opt for either Grand Canyon Camper Village or the Ten-X Campground.
Reserving a Spot – South Rim Campgrounds
- Mather Campground. You’ll be able to camp here from March to November, although it’s recommended that you make a reservation for peak seasons. Prices range from $6 to $50 per night depending on what you’re booking.
- Desert View Campground. This spot is open from mid-May to mid-October depending on the weather. There are no reservations, and spaces are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. It costs $10 per site per night.
- Trailer Village Campground. You’ll find fill RV hookups at this site, and you can make reservations online in advance. It’s open year-round.
Reserving a Spot – North Rim Campgrounds
- DeMotte Campground. This campground is open between mid-May and mid-October, taking only walk-ups in October. Some sites are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others can be reserved online. Availability is released six months in advance.
- Jacob Lake Campground. This area is also open between mid-May and mid-October, and availability is released six months in advance. Sites can be reserved online.
- Dispersed Camping. As with other areas of the National Park, you’ll need a Backcountry Permit for dispersed camping.
- Kaibab Camper Village. This is the only North Rim campground with full RV hookups and is open between mid-May and mid-October. You can book a space in advance on the websites.
Backpacking and the Backcountry Permit
Those wanting to backpack through the Grand Canyon will need to get a Backcountry Permit. This permit allows you to camp anywhere in the park aside from the developed campgrounds. If you want to go below the rim, camp off-river, or go packrafting, you’ll need to apply for one. Those looking to day hike, camp at developed campsites, or stay at the dormitories or cabins at Phantom Ranch won’t need to apply for one.
Backpacking Rules and Regulations
There’s a fairly strict code of conduct that you’ll have to follow when backpacking and camping in the Grand Canyon Backcountry. If you’re the holder of the Backcountry Permit, it’s your responsibility to make sure that all participants are aware of and adhere to these rules:
- The Backcountry Permit must be kept with you at all times.
- The Backcountry Permit is only valid for the people, campsites and dates specified on it.
- You must take out your trash and cannot burn, bury, or leave it.
- The Backcountry Permit is void if another affiliated group uses the same campground as you.
- If you intend on using the backcountry commercially, you’ll need Commercial Use Authorization.
- You cannot use wood or charcoal fires. Sterno or fossil fuel backpack stoves are allowed.
- No form of soap can be used in the creeks.
- You cannot disturb, feed, or touch any wildlife.
- You cannot throw or roll rocks down hillsides or into the canyon.
- You cannot leave trails or walkways to take shortcuts.
- You cannot take, destroy, deface, or otherwise interfere with any of the natural landscape or archaeological resources.
- You cannot use any motorized vehicles below the rim.
- Overnight private stock use requires a backcountry permit.
- You cannot use traps or nets. If you wish to fish, you must apply for a separate permit.
- Any entry into the caves or mines in the canyon must be pre-approved.
This is perhaps the most sought after permit, and many hundreds of people apply each year. As such, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to apply in advance. Usually, you should start the process 10 days before the 1st of the month that’s four months before your intended visit. For example, If you wanted to hike in June, you’d need to have your application in by February 1st.
To apply, you’ll need to fill out an application form and submit it to the Backcountry Information Center in person, via fax, or by mail. You cannot submit it via email.
The cost for a backcountry permit is $10 per group below the rim, plus $8 per additional person or livestock. This gives you the chance to stay at designated campsites or campgrounds for two nights, although you can stay at the various areas (staying at different campgrounds) for a maximum of seven nights. Overall trip lengths are not limited.
Preparing for Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
If you plan on backpacking through the Grand Canyon, you’re going to have to train properly. No matter your ability level, it’s important that you’re fully prepared for the excursion and follow a strict regime. You can’t simply go out for a light jog a few times and consider yourself ready for the task ahead. You’ll need to practice dealing with various inclines and having a fully weighted pack. Without sufficient training, you will undoubtedly struggle with a backpacking adventure in the canyon.
The best way to train is by going on some smaller hikes beforehand. This gives you the chance to deal with various terrains and inclines and tests your gear bit by bit. If you can’t commit to going on three hikes per week, the gym is the next best place to practice. Treadmills often have incline settings, allowing you to have a controlled environment to walk.
Make sure you work out your leg muscles and upper body muscles in preparation. Squats and presses can help with your legs, which will feel the strain of going downhill.
When it comes to preparing your equipment and supplies for backpacking, check out our hiking section for the details of what to pack.
Grand Canyon Backpacking Safety Tips
As with any hike, there are a few things to be aware of when it comes to staying safe backpacking in the Grand Canyon. It’s not a trek that’s for the inexperienced, and as we mentioned above, you need to be prepared. Every year, around 12 people die in the canyon. To make sure you don’t become another statistic, here are some safety tips to be aware of:
- Watch out for the heat. This applies to backpacking below the rim, particularly during May and September. Temperatures can reach as high as 120°F. Come prepared with plenty of fluids, and stay in the shade wherever possible. Sunscreen and lightweight clothing are also essential.
- Dehydration. You should be drinking at least 1 liter of water per hour when temperatures reach over 80°F. Set a hydration goal and make sure you have some isotonic sports drinks with you. Signs of dehydration can include headaches, muscle cramps, lack of appetite, lethargy, and stomach ache.
- Cliffs. Keep your eyes on the trail when you’re walking. Cliffs can be steep and unforgiving if you get too close to the edge.
- Dangerous animals. As you backpack through the Grand Canyon, you’ll be sharing the environment with a host of other creatures. Some are more dangerous than others, in particular snakes, scorpions and spiders. Don’t take any chances.
Best Backpacking Trips
There are some amazing backpacking trips that you can take in the Grand Canyon. Here are a few suggestions:
- Cremation Canyon. This remote location will take you far away from the crowds. It also affords some epic views and plenty of wilderness camping. You can find some panoramic views of the Colorado River, and there’s a high chance you’ll be the only group out there.
- Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and Bright Angel Campground. This expedition is relatively easy and will give you some excellent hiking trails, plenty of water stops, and some photo opportunities that are beyond belief.
- Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls are deep within the Grand Canyon, and their beauty makes them a popular destination. At peak times, you’ll likely share your camping spots with plenty of other groups. However, it’s well worth the effort of getting there.
If you like to get around on two wheels, the Grand Canyon offers miles of stunning trails, many of which are paved. Whether you’re looking for a short expedition around the rim or a longer, more challenging one, there are some great routes to choose from.
Rules and Regulations
There are a few rules that apply to those looking to cycle in the canyon. Cyclists should:
- Obey the same rules as other road users.
- Use caution when riding on park roads.
- Ride single file with the flow of traffic.
- Wear a helmet.
- Be clearly visible.
- Must load and unload their own bikes to shuttle buses.
- Should pull over and dismount for buses.
- Must yield to pedestrians.
There are several trails available to bike across, each offering amazing views. Here are some of the most impressive:
- South Rim. There is over 13 miles of roads and Greenway Trails on the south rim, allowing you to explore various sights. The best thing about this route is that you can simply jump onto a shuttle bus if you get tired of the ride.
- Hermit Road. This is perhaps the most popular biking trail in the National Park. It’s only 7 miles round, and you’ll see no road traffic other than the occasional shuttle bus. In total, this trail takes you to six different overlook points.
- The Rainbow Rim Trail. This trail isn’t for the fainthearted. The 22.5-mile trail is the only singe-track trail on the North Rim that’s open to cyclists. It’s perfect for an overnight trek around the North Rim.
Renting a Bike
You don’t have to bring your own bike with you if you want to cycle in the Grand Canyon. One of the rental companies is Bright Angel Bicycles, which offers guided tours and rentals between mid-Mark and the end of October. They also repair bikes if you can’t fix your own and run into trouble.
One of the top activities that people want to do in the Grand Canyon is rafting on the Colorado River. It’s clear why, too; to appreciate the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, you need to see it from the canyon floor. However, it’s a trip that takes plenty of preparation.
Guided Rafting Tours
Unless you’re an experienced whitewater rafter, you’ll most likely want to join an organized tour. There are plenty of options (around 16 outfitters), however, they usually sell out pretty far in advance. You can usually choose from motor, oar, paddle, hybrid, and dory trips, with some taking longer than others. Motorized trips are the most common, and so are usually more available. However, each has its merits:
- Motor. These are usually larger boats that have an onboard engine. They can carry roughly 15 people, and are the quickest way of traversing the rivers.
- Oar. Oar craft are smaller than motor ones and consist of a guide who steers the raft.
- Paddle. These smallest craft can hold six to eight people, and require the passengers to row their way along the rapids.
- Hybrid. As the name suggests this type of raft combines oar and paddle rafts. Passengers take it in turns to paddle the craft.
- Dory. These beautiful, classic rafts are the rarest available. They consist of a hardwood boar that’s controlled by the guide.
If you want to take your own private trip down the Colorado River, you’ll need to get hold of a rafting permit. These are in high demand, and so there’s a lottery system that allocates them. The lottery applications are only accepted online during the first three weeks of February,. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, and cannot already be a part of a commercial trio. It costs $25 to enter the lottery, and winners must pay a $200 to $400 deposit if they win depending on the size of the group. Each person must then pay $100 at least 90 days before the trip starts.
When you’re on a rafting trip, there are some essential safety rules that you must adhere to:
- You must have your own lifejacket and personal floatation device. Both must be worn when you’re on the river.
- Make sure to hold onto the handholds on your craft when in the rapids.
- Pay attention to your guide and follow any instructions they give.
- Do not wrap ropes or straps around your arms and don’t wedge your feet in. They can entangle you if the boat flips.
- If you fall out in the rapids, swim with your feet pointing downstream and aim for the boat first. If you can’t reach it, head for the shore.
- Do not intentionally swim in the river. It can be incredibly cold and put you at risk of hypothermia.
- Pay attention when you’re by the water’s edge. Wear your lifejacket when scouting the rapids or going close to the edge.
The Grand Canyon isn’t just a place for the super-fit and outdoorsy types. It’s also a fantastic family destination, with lots to offer besides grueling hikes and whitewater rafting. We’ve picked out some of the best family activities in the Grand Canyon.
The history of the Grand Canyon is rich and diverse. The many museums are a testament to this, and there are a few that are well worth exploring:
- Yavapai Geology Museum
- Tusayan Museum and Ruins
- Kolb Studio
- Desert View Watchtower
You can view some of the best night skies in the country at the Grand Canyon, and there’s no better way to pass a warm summer night than sat staring at the stars. June is a particularly good time to take on this activity, with the annual Star Party sure to please people of all ages.
Desert Watch View Tower
This historical site is a great way of viewing the Grand Canyon. It also offers insight into the Native American history of the area. The 70-foot tower was designed by Mary Coulter and built in 1932 on the ruins of an Anasazi tower.
Rafting Day Trip
A rafting trip doesn’t have to span your entire holiday. There are day-trips available that are suitable for adventurous families. It’s truly one of the best ways to see the Grand Canyon, and you can travel down some of the smoother parts of the river if it’s your first time.
Trail of Time
The walk along the Trail of Time gives you the chance to see the geological history of the canyon, spanning back millions of years. There are plenty of exciting stops along the way, as well as content that’s suitable for all the family.
Junior Ranger Program
Junior Rangers get to learn about the history and nature of Grand Canyon National Park. You can pick up a Junior Rangers book from the South Rim, North Rim, and Phantom Ranch. They have activities, badges, and certificates that you can earn.
Family Fitness Activities
If you like to spend time in the great outdoors as a family, there’s no better place than the canyon to do it in. It’s a stroller-friendly place on the paved trails, and you can bike along trails such as Hermit Road. The canyon is a pet-friendly place too, although they must be on a leash at all times.
One of the most memorable ways of experiencing the Grand Canyon is to take a mule ride tour. Whether it’s a ride into the canyon itself or along the rim, you’re sure to have an unforgettable trip on one of these sturdy beasts. However, it’s a popular activity, and places sell out fast, so make sure that you book a place far in advance. Although riders of all skill levels are welcome, there are also some safety guidelines, meaning all riders must meet certain requirements. The requirements vary slightly depending on the route, but in general, riders must be:
- At least 7 years old.
- In good physical condition.
- Those going to Phantom Ranch (into the canyon) must weigh less than 200 pounds when fully clothed.
- Those going around the rim must weigh less than 225 pounds when fully clothed.
- At least 4 feet, 7 inches tall.
- Able to speak and understand fluent English.
- Clothed in long-sleeved shirts, full-length pants, close-toed shoes, and a hat.
- Not pregnant.
- Not scared of heights or animals.
South Rim Mule Rides
Since 2011, mule rides into the canyon have been somewhat restricted. From the South Rim, there are two main trails that you can take: the Canyon Vistas tour (around the rim) and the Phantom Ranch tour (into the canyon, with one- and two-night rides available). Prices for the mule rides vary depending on the trip you take. For example, the overnight trip to Phantom Ranch (available all year) costs $605.81 for one person or $1056.62 for two. A two-night ride (only available November to March) costs $875.02 for one person or $1440.04 for two. A tour around the rim is considerably cheaper, costing just $142.83 per person. Mule rides can only be reserved via phone, by calling: 1-888-297-2757 or (303) 297-2757.
North Rim Mule Rides
There are three main trips that leave from the North Rim, varying from one to three hours in length. Both the Supai Tunnel and Uncle Jimmy Owen’s Point trips take three hours and cost $90 per person. The one-hour Rim Tour trip costs $45 per person.
As you’d expect from a place as popular as the Grand Canyon, there are quite a few guided tours and companies offering them. They range from the expensive and extravagant to the affordable and adventurous, meaning you can find one that suits your needs and budget. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the best Grand Canyon guided tours around:
Flying over the Grand Canyon with a helicopter/plane
All of the scenic air tours fly in from outside Grand Canyon National Park. However, there are daily tours in both helicopters and fixed-wing planes.
- South Rim Tours. There are three helicopter tours that fly from Tusayan Airport: Grand Canyon Helicopters, Maverick Helicopters, and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters. None of these tour operators land in the canyon, and each has a 30-minute tour and a 45-minute tour. The 30-minute tour flies from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, costing from $209 to $269 per person depending on the company. For the 45-minute tours, you’ll also see the East Rim, and you’ll pay around $299 per person.
- Las Vegas Tours. There are a few options here, and prices range from $250 to $500 per person, and the helicopter flights often land in the canyon itself. However, most helicopter tours only visit the West Rim and not the South Rim. If you want to visit the south, you’ll have to take a plane from either Papillon ($494 per person) or Maverick ($534 per person).
- West Rim Tours. Both Papillon and Mustang Helicopters offer tours of the West Rim, with prices starting at around $175 per person.
There are day hikes and walks at both the North Rim and the South Rim of the canyon. The Park Rangers do a free tour throughout the year.
The Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute also provide educational tours that can last from a day to multiple days and cover hiking, backpacking, camping, & white-water rafting. Prices start at $50 for an easy hike to $815 for a 5-day backpacking tour. You can also take on a more challenging hike over the course of a few days.
Professional tour companies such as Wildland Trekking also offer hiking vacations covering all areas of the Grand Canyon. Prices here range from around $130 per person for a day hike to $1150 per person for a 4-day hike of the South Rim’s top sites. A packrafting trip from rim to rim will set you back around $1775 per person.
Guided Biking Tours
There are a couple of excellent guided biking tours of the Grand Canyon available. They generally tend to be seasonal and include a small number of bikers. The longer route on Hermit’s Road runs from March to October and covers a 6-mile route along the South Rim. You’ll get to see some of the top viewpoints along the way, and it takes around 2 hours to complete. Prices for this tour range from $47 to $65 per person. The other tour on offer, Yaki Point, is slightly shorter. It’s a safe and easy ride, yet still has some amazing views for you to take in. Prices range from $42 to $55 per person.
Guided Backpacking Tours
Adventurous types will absolutely love the many Grand Canyon backpacking tours on offer. No matter how long you want to go for, what you want to see, your budget, and how experienced you are, you’re sure to find a route and tour that’s right for you. Prices range a fair bit depending on your choice, but you can generally expect to pay between $940 and $1775 per person. As an example, the Horseshoe Mesa 3-day tour (covering classic views, canyon solitude, and desert oases) starts at $940 per person. A 6-day rim to rim packrafting tour comes in at $1775 per person.
Another enjoyable way of seeing the Grand Canyon is on a jeep tour. There’s nothing quite like seeing the many interesting and beautiful sites of the canyon when clipping along in an open-top jeep. There are three main Grand Canyon jeep tour operators in the area, each offering their own unique take on the experience. Prices start at around $95-$99 per adult (most companies offer concessions for kids) for a short tour, to around $1500 if you want to hire out an entire 13-seat vehicle.
No matter how long you’re planning on visiting the Grand Canyon and surrounding area for, there’s plenty that you can see and do. However, planning is a must, as you’ll want to ensure you make the most of your time there. We’ve pulled together some itineraries to help get you started:
Grand Canyon 1-Day Itinerary
The South Rim is your best bet if you only have one day in the area. It has some of the top and most iconic viewpoints of the canyon, as well as all the amenities and shuttle buses. Here’s a good way of structuring your day:
- Start as early as you can, and head to Mather Point Visitor’s Center. From here you can get maps and info about the park, giving you some orientation. Check out the Mather Point viewpoint for your first breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon.
- Next, head east along the rim to the Verkamps Centre. Not only will you be able to see some more amazing vista, but there is a lot of history and culture here. You’ll get to learn about some of the Native American histories, and there is also a museum and ranger talks.
- By this time, you’ll want to stop for lunch. There are some good spots to choose from, so check out our restaurants list to get an idea. The El Tovar hotel is a popular spot that’s in the area.
- After lunch, head to Desert View. You’ll get to see the Colorado River to the west of here, and you can explore all that Desert View Tower has to offer. There are plenty of historical buildings, and you’ll get a great view of sunset (hopefully).
- Once the sun has set, wait around and do some stargazing. You can get some great views at various points of the park, provided it’s a clear night.
Grand Canyon 2-Day Itinerary
If you have a bit more time in the canyon, you can expand your basic itinerary and tailor it to what you want to see. We’ve got a few suggestions of what you can do with two days in the Grand Canyon:
- Hiking and biking. If you love the outdoors, you’ll want to make the most of your time in the most stunning of natural environments. Choose a bike tour on your first day to explore some of the best views along the rims. On your second day, take a hike below the rim and into the canyon itself.
- River rafting. The river is one of the best ways to experience the canyon, and the smooth water trip between Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend is ideal for a shorter trip. You’ll get to see the Eastern Rim, the Navajo Reservation, and the Painted Desert before arriving in Page. The second day will take you to Lee’s Ferry.
- Mule ride and Ranger tour. The free Park Ranger tours are more than worth taking part in on your first day, and you’ll have time left over to do something else with that day (such as a shuttle bus tour or Trail of Time hike). On your second day, a mule ride will take you down below the rim and into the canyon.
- Historical sites and a day hike. On your first day, take in the culture and history of the Grand Canyon by hitting up the museums and Desert View. For your second day, a hike along or below the rim will give you a good experience of the canyon.
Grand Canyon 7-day Itinerary
If you’re the adventurous type and you fancy spending a whole week exploring all that Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding area has to offer, you’ve a whole array of options. Here’s just one example of how to spend your time:
Day 1 – Las Vegas to Grand Canyon
If you’re in the area, you’re going to want to see Las Vegas. So, once you’ve got your fill, your first day of Grand Canyon adventure is a 5-hour (or so) drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. If you have enough time, you might want to stop at the Hoover Dam along the way. There are some good stops for food along the I-40, particularly in Kingman.
Before arriving the park itself, take a stop at Tusayan, a town around three miles from the main South Rim entrance. It’s a good place to stock up on supplies, although you’ll have plenty of chances in the park itself.
Your first place in the park to stop is the Canyon View Information Plaza located at Mather Point. You can get some maps, information, and figure out where you are in relation to the rest of the park. The free Village Look Shuttle is worth taking from here, and the Historic District should also be explored.
If you’re up to it, the Bright Angel Trail hike is quite short and will give you the chance to get into the canyon itself. Alternatively, the Hermit’s Rest shuttle bus gives you some great views from the rim.
Day 2 – Grand Canyon to Monument Valley
If you didn’t make it through until sunset on your first day, make sure you get sunrise on your second. It’s spectacular from almost everywhere, but Desert View is particularly good. If you’re not an early riser, (or saw the sunset already) then your morning should take you on the drive to Monument Valley. There are a few good places to stop along the way, including Navajo Point, Zuni Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, and the Desert View Watchtower.
The Historic Cameron Trading Post is a good rest stop along the way, where you can refuel and get some food. If you fancy a quick hike, the Navajo National Monument is definitely worth seeing.
Once you’re at Monument Valley, check out the Tribal Park Visitor’s Center to see some amazing panoramic views of the area. A guided tour of Monument Valley is an absolute must, although you’ll have to reserve this in advance.
Day 3 and 4 – Page and Lake Powell
If you didn’t get on the tour of the valley on day two, then the morning of day three is the day to do it. You’ve many options here, so try and find one suitable to you and your traveling party. Once you’ve explored it to your heart’s content, it’s time to head to Page, which is a 2-3 hour drive. If you book far enough in advance, you’ll be able to stop at the famous Antelope Canyon, but it gets very busy.
The Horseshoe Bend Overlook is on your way to Page, and you’ll definitely want to stop and take in the view of the Colorado River from here. There is some hiking involved with this section, but nothing too strenuous.
On your fourth day, the Glen Canyon Half-Day Float Trip is a huge amount of fun and is family-friendly. You’ll get to see various parts of the river and stop at some Ancestral Puebloan sites along the way. If you’re on a history binge, you can check out the nearby John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum.
Day 5 – Bryce Canyon
The drive to Bryce Canyon has a few points worth stopping at on the way. This includes the ‘New Wave’ rock formation, the Big Water Visitor Center, and the Paria Rimrocks-Toadstools Trail. The landscape in this region is truly remarkable.
If you can, take a horseback ride to the bottom of Bryce Canyon in the afternoon. It’s fun, educational, and there are some spectacular scenic views along the way. It’s a trip suitable for all the family. Alternatively, the National Park Service tour to Rainbow Point is free and stops at lots of different places.
Day 6 and 7 – Zion National Park
On the morning of day six, explore Bryce Canyon and the area a little more if you haven’t got your fill yet. Next, you’re heading to the famous Zion National Park. If you don’t have lodging in the park, you’ll have to stop off at Springdale and get the mandatory shuttle bus into Zion. Once you arrive at the Zion Human History Museum, you can explore the various hikes and walks during the afternoon. Get a good night’s rest ready for your final day of exploration.
Perhaps the most impressive hike you can do is the ‘Hike the Narrows’ trail in Zion National Park. It’s quite a challenge in places, and the longer route is 10 miles round. Alternatively, you can hike to Angel’s Landing, go horseback riding, or go tubing on the river.
Grand Canyon Safety Tips
The Grand Canyon is a spectacular place, but it can also be a hostile environment at times. To make sure your trip is safe and enjoyable, there are a few things that you should be on the lookout for:
- The weather. The Grand Canyon is a place of extremes at times. In the summer, temperatures can soar, while the winter months often see snow. Whatever time of year you visit, make sure to check forecasts and prepare accordingly.
- Animals. There are critters galore in this part of the world, and most are harmless. However, there are snakes, scorpions, and spiders that can all be harmful. Keep your wits about you and don’t take any chances with any of these species. Don’t approach or feed any animals in the park.
- Hiking. The canyon is a mile deep in places, and there are plenty of steep inclines on the various trails. Don’t take on any challenges that are beyond your ability level. Make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time, prepare properly, and follow good hiking safety. Check out our hiking section for more information.
What to do When the Weather Suddenly Changes
The weather in the Grand Canyon can quickly deteriorate, so it’s important you know what to do in such situations. Here are some suggestions:
- Always keep aware of your surroundings and the weather conditions.
- Always check the weather forecast in advance.
- If there’s lightning, head for a low-lying area away from the cliff edge, trees, and metal objects. Don’t shelter in caves, and make yourself as small a target as possible. Minimize your contact with the ground.
- Flash floods are a real threat, particularly in the slot canyons. July to September is peak time for floods, but they can occur at any time of year. Keep an eye out for signs, and avoid stream beds and don’t camp near a dry wash. Don’t cross water that’s flowing and above your knees. Move to higher ground and don’t try to outrun a flood.