The Grand Canyon ranks as one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes on the planet. Nowhere else on earth can one absorb anything like vast rock walls of this deep crevasse, with layers of rock exposed in stark relief, having been cut by the sheer power of the Colorado River over the course of millennia. The enormity of this slice of wilderness brings a hushed silence upon first viewing, and visitors quickly become aware of their own minute existence in the “grand” scheme of things.
From Ground to Sky
Start with a visit to Yavapai Museum of Geology on the South Rim, where beautiful displays explain the geologic processes that created the canyon. A sweeping 3D topographic relief map highlights the displays, giving visitors context of what they’re about to see. The nearby Visitor Center will help you get oriented, and from there it’s a short walk to Mather Point, a spectacular viewpoint at the edge of the canyon.
Ready to overcome that fear of heights? The Skywalk was created at the west end of the Grand Canyon on Hualapai tribal land. For a truly existential experience, visitors can stroll out over the canyon rim on a cantilevered glass-floored skywalk, suspended over 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. Look down for an unforgettable and pulse-pounding view! Afterward, watch Native American dances at the amphitheater.
Whitewater at the Bottom
The Colorado River generates formidable rapids as it flows along the floor of the Grand Canyon. The Lower Canyon in the western end of the park boasts a 192-mile stretch of river with a high concentration of Class IV whitewater. Feel your pulse race on the notorious Lava Falls, with daunting obstacles like Saddle Rock, Ledge Hole and Hump Wave. While floating on the more sedate stretches of the river, rafters can gaze up at the scenic Granite Gorges and Grand Wash Walls. Several outfitters offer rafting trips.
Not to be missed are the five aqua blue cascades of Havasupai Falls on the Havasupai reservation on the canyon’s South Rim. This desert oasis is an enigma in the midst of harsh arid landscapes. Visitors hike into camp, then spend days traveling to each waterfall, playing in the lush environments. Take note: Permits are required and usually sell out on the first day of availability.
Walk This Way
Hikers can wear out the treads on their boots here, with dozens of trails from which to choose. Many visitors start with the Rim Trail on South Rim for an overview of the canyon before taking on more challenging trajectories that wander down into the gorge, like North Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail. Of course, many visitors opt to ride a mule down the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the canyon, staying at famed Phantom Ranch overnight. These sure-footed animals are popular forms of transportation, so the rides book up quickly.
From Ruins to Success
Take a wonderful side tour within the national park with a visit to the Tusayan Ruin and Museum. This 800-year-old pueblo is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites in the state of Arizona. Its accompanying museum was built trailside and hosts ranger-led tours of the ruin.
Images of the Canyon
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb created the first thorough photographic record of the Grand Canyon in 1902. The brothers explored every facet of this anomaly, capturing its topography, changing weather and even sporadic visitors on film over the course of several decades here. After heated arguments between siblings and with the National Park Service, Ellsworth called it quits, but Emery stuck with the business until his death in 1976. Today, the Kolb Studio still sits on the rim overlooking Bright Angel Trail, a testament to stubborn entrepreneurship, a good business plan and a great photo subject.
Go Deep into the Canyon
Several activities allow visitors to see the canyon from different perspectives. Ranger-led tours from both the North and South rims give participants a deeper understanding of the geology, wildlife and history of the canyon. And special events, like the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, let visitors see this massive gorge through the eyes of painters, watching as plein air artists put their brushes to work capturing the shadows and hues of the canyon on canvas. A Star Party is held every June, as the Grand Canyon National Park hosts amateur astronomers when they view stellar night skies at one of the clearest evening observation sites in the country. Astronomers offer free use of their telescopes and share their celestial expertise with visitors from around the world.
Written in Rock
One realizes that the history of the Grand Canyon is written in the walls of this spectacular chasm, in rock layers formed over millions of years, and in the constant cutting of the river through colorful sedimentary deposits. It was only after Mother Nature’s hard work that tribes like the Yavapai and Havasupai found a way to live around the Grand Canyon. Its powerful mysteries were poked and prodded by gold hunters like García López de Cárdenas and adventurous men like John Wesley Powell in 1869. Ten years later settlers arrived, along with businessmen who saw value in bringing tourists to the area. And we all know how that idea worked out!
North Rim Getaway
Escape the crowds of the South Rim by fleeing to the North Rim. Open from mid-May to October (it’s closed in winter because of snow), the remote North Rim is an oasis of peace and relaxation for those who venture off the beaten path. The area also opens up a drastically different side of the canyon. Standing 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, the rugged landscape showcases luscious wildflower meadows and areas thick with aspen and spruce trees thanks to its cooler temperatures.
For More Information
Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona Office of Tourism