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Spotlight: Grand Canyon

Get an eyeful of America’s favorite National Park

The crown jewel of American tourism is, without question, the Grand Canyon. Sweeping panoramic vistas—brushed with pastels of tawny orange and rust red at high noon, to soft mauve and glowing midnight blue at sunset—make it one of the most breathtaking natural attractions in the world. An abundance of campgrounds, RV parks and visitor amenities make stopping here both easy and profoundly rewarding, so be sure to set aside ample time in your Grand Canyon itinerary for some proper exploring.

The heart of Grand Canyon tourism is the South Rim Village, about a 90-minute drive north from Flagstaff. Here, the canyon runs a mile deep, spans 10 miles across and separates the South Rim from the lesser visited North Rim. Far below, the iconic Colorado River snakes its way westward to Lake Mead and the Arizona-Nevada border.

Upon arrival at the South Rim, visitors will find a surprisingly vibrant little community, complete with its own small airport and railway service. Mysteriously, the average stay here for most visitors is only about 12 hours. But with so much to see and do, be sure to stray from the pack and spend at least a few days exploring the canyon’s stunning array of trails and lookout points.

NPS photo by Michael Quinn

NPS photo by Michael Quinn

Goin’ South

As you approach the South Rim, be sure to stop at the National Geographic Visitor Center first, before you make your way into the Village. Here you’ll find information on lodging and South Rim attractions, as well as have the chance to sign up for National Geographic-led canyon tours. This is also the home of the Grand Canyon IMAX Theater, a six-story screen that provides spine-tingling views of the canyon and its geological history.

At the South Rim Village head straight to Mather Point for your first look at the Grand Canyon, and then go exploring. A free shuttle bus system makes getting around easy and cost-efficient. Be sure to hop on and hop off at Yavapai Point (home to Yavapai Observation Station), Kolb Studio (scenic lookout and rest house), the Powell Memorial, Hopi Point, Pima Point (where the sounds of river rapids far below reach the canyon rim) and Hermit’s Rest (nationally protected stone building designed by Mary Colter).

Hikers will have their pick of the litter, with Bright Angel Trail, Tonto Trail, South Kaibab Trail and Hermit Trail each descending down into the canyon for unparalleled views. Hikes can be self-guided, Ranger-led, or done on the back of a mule.

Northern Rim

On the opposite bank of the canyon, the North Rim offers a similar selection of activities and amenities but is decidedly less popular due in part to its remoteness. Even though it’s just 10 miles from the South Rim—as the crow flies—those wishing to visit both rims face a five-hour drive each way to do so. The North Rim is also closed to vehicles throughout the winter months (October 15 to May 15 each year). Winter hikers require valid backcountry permits.

For many, the smaller crowds found at the North Rim and its remoteness only add to its appeal. The North Rim Village offers a variety of lodging, shopping and dining options, as well as information on park trails, sights and free Ranger-led programs.

NPS Photo by Michael Quinn

NPS Photo by Michael Quinn

Be sure to make your way to Bright Angel Point, Point Imperial and Cape Royal. At Bright Angel Point, you’ll be treated to some of the most iconic views and vantage points of the canyon, making for fantastic photos. Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim and offers stunning views of the Painted Desert (desert badlands) and Marble Canyon (where the Grand Canyon opens dramatically to take on its “grand” stature). And at Cape Royal lookout you’ll find some of the best sunrise and sunset views of the canyon, as well as views of the Desert View Watchtower, Angels Window and Unkar Delta.

Further afield, Desert View (25 miles to the east of the South Rim Village) and Grand Canyon West (118 miles east of Las Vegas) are two popular visitor centers that offer a myriad of trails and attractions for tourists.

Desert View is home to the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower, the Tusayan Museum and an interpretive trail that winds through 800-year-old Tusayan ruins. Just a 45-minute drive east of the South Rim Village, this is an easy and highly recommended stop.

Grand Canyon West, for its part, is most popular with those traveling from Las Vegas. Operated by the native Hulapai people, the main attractions are Eagle Point, Guano Point, Hulapai Ranch and the world-famous Skywalk—a horseshoe shaped all-glass bridge that juts 70 feet out from the side of the canyon more than 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. Shuttle buses, guided tours and interpretive hikes are available to make exploring the Grand Canyon West area fun and easy.

Wherever you stop to explore this national natural treasure, be sure to set aside lots and lots of time. Hike to the canyon floor, picnic on the canyon rim and watch as the setting sun paints the canyon walls in bold new colors.

For More Information

Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona Office of Tourism