Grand Canyon National Park
Erosion over 5 or 6 million years carved out a natural wonder that merits its name. The Grand Canyon, a mile deep and up to 18 miles across, cuts across 277 miles of northern Arizona. The golds, oranges, and blues of the exposed rock---some an estimated 2 billion years old---change with the sunlight, making for varied panoramas throughout each day. Inner canyon trails lead from the rims to the floor, where the mighty Colorado River twists and turns, alternating stretches of tranquil water with exciting rapids.
Evidence suggests that people have been living in and around the canyon for almost 10,000 years, though the first Europeans didn’t come upon it till 1540, and the first settlers, many of them prospectors, didn’t stake their claims until the late 1800s. They soon realized that it was easier to make a living accommodating the increasing number of sightseers. Among the more eccentric entrepreneurs was Louis Boucher, the hermit of Hermits Rest, who mined his claim and raised goldfish in a trough at Dripping Springs. There was also Ralph Cameron, who fought in the Arizona courts to retain his right to operate Bright Angel Trail as a toll road. And there were the Kolb Brothers, who photographed (for a fee) visitors embarking on mule rides at their canyon-rim studio.
Although protected as a forest preserve (1883) and national monument (1908), the canyon wasn’t made a national park until 1919. What once attracted some 50,000 visitors annually today attracts 5 million. And there are now so many ways to take it all in: bus tours, drives, air excursions, mule rides, short hikes, multiday adventures across the canyon floor or along the Colorado River. Start by looking into the many park offerings---among them guided and self-guided tours, free ranger-led programs, and special exhibits---via its website or that of the Grand Canyon Association.
The park also has several visitors centers, though the main one is at Mather Point on the South Rim. The most popular point of entry, the South Rim is open year-round and home to Grand Canyon Village, with hotels, restaurants, shops, and services as well as a historic district with the depot for the Grand Canyon Railway line from Williams, AZ. From the village, you can also readily visit the Kolb Brothers Studio and then follow the popular Blue Angel Trail, of Ralph Cameron fame, into the canyon.
Shuttles run through Grand Canyon Village (free) and to canyon sights and overlooks. The Orange Line takes only 50 minutes round-trip, though plan on a half day if you hop off at the Yavapai Geological Museum and/or for a hike or mule ride along the South Kaibab Trail (2, 3, or 6 miles round trip). The 80-minute round-trip Red Line takes in nine scenic overlooks and follows the 7-mile Hermits Road---popular with hikers and bikers---to Hermits Rest, once home to Louis Boucher. Hikers Express shuttles stop at many South Rim trailheads. If you prefer to tour by car, follow the 26-mile Desert View Drive, with its six overlooks, watchtower, and Tusayan Ruin and Museum.
Fewer people visit the North Rim, where amenities, among them the Grand Canyon Lodge and its adjacent visitors center, are fewer, and access is seasonal (May 15—Oct. 15, weather permitting). With elevations of 7,600 to 8,800 feet, though, the North Rim offers some of the canyon's most spectacular views. To visit on a quick trip from Las Vegas, head to the West Rim and its famous Skywalk. Outside the park and managed by the Hualapai Tribe, this amazing steel structure hangs out 70 feet from the canyon’s edge and features a glass floor. Regardless of when or where you visit, make reservations (for everything!) as far ahead as possible. For the mule treks, this means up to 11 months out!
Village Loop Rd.
- Grand Canyon, Arizona 86023
- 36.05129900, -112.14155600
- Visitors centers: daily 8 or 9--5.
- Visit Website
- (928) 638-7888