The sheer size of this natural wonder is mind-boggling. It is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. Looking down, you can gaze at a depth of 1 mile from the top.
It took nature 2 billion years to build this marvel, but you only need a few days to explore and appreciate its beauty.
How to get there
If you come from a neighboring state, you will probably drive to the South Rim entrance. If you are coming from further away, you can fly into Flagstaff, Arizona, then rent a car or ride a shuttle to the Grand Canyon plaza.
You can always take a tour from Las Vegas or Flagstaff. I stayed in Las Vegas on a recent trip and then drove to the south rim. Going this route, you get to see the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge.
Some tour operators offer Helicopter tours to the canyon, and others offer you a whitewater rafting tour through the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.
Another way to get to the south rim is to ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. A historic train ride from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon station.
Book the observation dome for breathtaking views along the way if you can.
The South Rim is the destination for most visitors. But if you want to explore more of the canyon, consider going to the West or North rims.
You can spend your time strolling along the rim, taking short guided tours, or you can hike all the way to the canyon bottom and back.
The Visitor Center
Start your journey at the National Geographic Visitor Center, where you can find information about tours, maps, guides, and an IMAX movie about the Canyon.
At the center, you can book adventures to explore the Canyon by air, jeep, or rafting.
The companion website helps you plan your visit, book hotels, and buy tickets before you arrive at the Grand Canyon. Go here the plan your visit. www.explorethecanyon.com
While at the center you can enjoy a nice meal at the Explorer’s Café. They serve Pizza Hut pies and deli sandwiches in a relaxing atmosphere.
The center received the 2016 TripAdvisor award of excellence, acknowledging consistently great customer reviews.
Around the Village
You can visit the Hopi House, which was built in 1904 and has unique architecture that mimics the cascading cliffs of the canyon. The Hopi are the native Americans of the Grand Canyon.
After admiring the building from the outside, you can go inside to visit a museum and some shops.
The Lookout Studio is also a walking distance from the village. It's perched at the canyon's edge with commanding views in all directions. Inside, you can view nature photography and buy gifts.
Mather Point is one of the most popular canyon overlooks. It is close to the visitor center and is the first view most visitors see when arriving. If you have time, avoid this overcrowded place and try one of the other overlooks.
A little further away, you get the most amazing views from Bright Angel overlook. You will get the best views at sunset or sunrise. Get your cameras ready for the most memorable photos.
Are you exhausted from the heat but want to see more of the Canyon? Then go to Yavapai Observation Station. You can still see some breathtaking views from the air-conditioned indoor observation deck.
While inside, learn about how the Canyon was formed over the millennia at the geology museum.
The trail is about 13 miles and mostly paved and level. There are areas where biking is not allowed. You are expected to dismount and walk your bike. This is mainly to accommodate predestines in narrow and crowded areas.
If you get tired at any point along the route, you can hop on the free shuttle – with available bike racks in the front.
Alternatively, you can start on the Schulte bus and go to the furthest stop, then bike back to your starting point.
The shuttle buses come around to each stop every 15 minutes and have routes that will take you to all the important landmarks and overlook points. The routes are color-coded:
Connects the visitor center to lodges, campgrounds, and attractions around the village.
This route takes you from the visitor center and stops at 5 viewpoints: Yavapai Geology museum, Mather point; South Kaibab trailhead; Yaki Pint, and Pipe Creek Vista.
This a longer route that takes visitors from the village to Hermits Rest with 9 stops along the way, including Hopi Point, Mojave Point, and The Abyss.
This is a seasonal line that runs during the summer season only. It connects the town of Tusayan on the outskirts of the state park to the visitor center.
During the busy season, you can avoid long lines at the entrance by parking at Tusayan and riding the Purple Bus.
Hiker Express Shuttle
If you want to start your hike early and avoid the crowds, you can take this early morning shuttle from Bright Angel Lodge to South Kaibab trailhead.
The shuttle leaves as early as 4 am – Depending on the season. During the summer months, it leaves very early, and during spring and winter, it leaves later.
Points of Interest
You will see awe-inspiring views everywhere you go on the canyon rim, but some are more popular than others. Here are some of my favorites:
Desert View and Watchtower
A four-mile drive o the east will take you to this Grand Canyon viewing point. On one side, you can gaze at the painted desert will multi-colored hills and flat plains. On another side, you can see the Colorado River and the canyon.
This point is also home to the Indian Watchtower, built in 1932 and stretched seventy feet into the sky. The legendary architect Mary E. J. Colter designed it to evoke Puebloan architecture and heritage – specifically, the stone watchtowers frequently found throughout the Four Corners region.
Another viewpoint overlooking a panorama of colorful canyons, ridges & the snaking Colorado River.
At an elevation of 7,400 feet, the view from here is one of the grandest in the canyon. To the northeast is a group of dominant buttes, including Krishna Shrine, Vishnu Temple, Rama Shrine, and Sheba Temple.
Directly below the point, and accessible by the steep and rugged Grandview Trail, is Horseshoe Mesa, where you can see remnants of Last Chance Copper Mine.
For a more detailed guide on hiking the Grand Canyon, go to OutsideHow.
Tip: Getting tired? Just hop on the shuttle to go to the next stop or back to your car or lodge. The trail is accessible from any of the shuttle stops.
The trail is about 13 miles long and will take a day to complete. Especially because you will be stopping a lot along the way to admire the views.
The trail starts from the South Kaibab trailhead and continues to Hermits Rest. You will also see some of the most popular viewing points like Pipe Creek Vista, Yavapai Point, Trailview Overlook, Hopi Point, and The Abyss.
Tip: Best time to view the canyon is during the Golden Hours. One hour after sunrise or one hour before sunset. This is when the canyon walls to turn every shade of gold.
You can customize this hike to your needs. For example, you can start from the Village and go south or north for a shorter hike. You can then double back or take the shuttle back.
If you prefer a more strenuous hike, don’t worry, you can choose one of the many moderate to difficult trails.
Bright Angel Trail
Tip: Always bring lots of water with you, especially in hot weather. Water is available at several rest stops on the trail and at the Indian Garden.
Obviously, you don’t have to hike all the way down. You can set a goal of reaching some of the rest stops along the way and then doubling back. You can stop at the Mile-and-a-half Resthouse (about 1.6 miles) or the Three Mile rest house (about 3.1 miles from the trailhead.
You can camp at Indian Garden Campground or the Bright Angel Campground, but you must reserve a spot way ahead of time.
Finally, if you want to enjoy this trail's amazing views but don’t feel like hiking, you can always book a mule ride.
You can also hike down to the campgrounds from the South Kaibab Trail. Here is Wikipedia’s description.
Rim to Rim Trail
Most Grand Canyon visitors stay at the south rim and never venture down the canyon. And out of those who make it to the canyon, only a fraction sees the north rim.
So if you are up to it, and after long planning and training, start your trek from the North Kaibab trailhead (North Rim) and descend 6000 feet for about 14 miles.
When you reach the bottom of the canyon, you will have to spend the night (or more) at the Bright Angel campground or the Phantom Ranch lodge.
After a much-needed rest and some exploring at the bottom of the canyon, you will connect with the Bright Angel trail and start climbing to the south rim.
Hopefully, you planned ahead and made arrangements for your return trip. Are you getting a ride back to your starting point at the north rim? Or are you crazy enough to make a round-trip hike?
Along with planning for your return trip, you will need to book the campground or the lodge at the bottom of the canyon way ahead of time.
Obviously, you can start your hike from the south rim and go up the north rim, but starting from the north is a little easier.
Another option to consider is hiring a mule service to carry your gear.
To avoid the hassle of planning every hike detail, you go with an experienced outfitter like OARS.
For a more detailed guide on hiking the Grand Canyon, go to OutsideHow.