The mighty Grand Canyon is incorporated in the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – alongside icons such as Mount Everest and the enchanting Northern Lights. Most visitors indeed rave about the jaw-dropping beauty of the Grand Canyon, a gorge in the American state of Arizona that stretches out for nearly 450 kilometres and is 1600 metres deep on average (source: NPS.gov).
From easy-to-reach viewpoints to thrilling helicopter rides, there are loads of ways to discover the canyon for yourself. We guide you on your path to this natural marvel and give you tips on how to enjoy the scenery to the max.
How to Get to the Grand Canyon?
There are a couple of ways to reach the magnificent Grand Canyon.
The closest airport for commercial aircraft is Flagstaff Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff. This is 140 kilometres south of Grand Canyon Village which is at the edge of the national park. From Flagstaff’s airport, you can pick up a rental car or take a cab into town to hop on a shuttle bus to Grand Canyon National Park. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport handles direct flights from major cities such as Denver, Dallas, and Phoenix.
A car is particularly handy for a trip around the USA in general, and the Grand Canyon is no exception. Flagstaff is an excellent base for exploring the legendary ravine, but driving from major cities like Las Vegas to the western part of the Grand Canyon (210 kilometres) and from Phoenix to the Southern Rim (365 kilometres) is also an option for travellers on a tight schedule. See car hire options.
If you lack a rental car, there’s still a possibility to reach the canyon from Flagstaff. A shuttle bus from Groome Transportation operates three times a day from the Flagstaff Amtrak station and heads for the Maswik Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. The fare is 40 USD for a one-way journey, which takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. From the Maswik Lodge, you can hit the trails and venture for viewpoints.
The tourism industry around the Grand Canyon is highly developed with plenty of tour options. From painting classes on dramatic viewpoints to guided multi-day hikes, the Grand Canyon truly is a playground for travellers.
For a brief introduction to this mammoth canyon and its history, the guided “Meet the Canyon” walk is both a highly educational and exciting activity. As you walk on the rim from Grand Canyon Village, you’ll discover fossils, plants and animals, learn about the creation of the gorge, as well as enjoy sweeping vistas. If you have more time and want to dive deeper into the canyon and the stories behind it then join a multi-day hike. These tramps take 4 to 9 days and give you a real sense of the size and spell of the canyon.
Grand Canyon Viewpoints
The impressive gorge has a length of 446 kilometres, so it might be hard to pick a spot for the best perspectives. These are some of the most dramatic lookouts:
Located along the South Rim Trail, the Yavapai Point lookout is within an hour walking distance from Grand Canyon Village. What you see here is the vastness of the national park, the vibrant red rocky mountains, and the Colorado River.
Desert View Watchtower
The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932, and the vistas over the southern part of the canyon rival those as seen at Yavapai Point. The watchtower can be reached after a short walk from a parking place, located 40 kilometres east of Grand Canyon Village.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is an astonishing observation point that lies in the west of Grand Canyon National Park, close to the town of Meadview and a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas. Walk over a hair-raising bridge that hangs over an abyss, with the Colorado River roaring below.
The Horseshoe Bend is located around 8km from the Grand Canyon National Park and offers one of the most iconic angles. From this point, you’ll see the Colorado River winding its way around the stunning red-orange cliffs, as well as the valley it carved out over the millennia. The Horseshoe Bend is situated near the eastern part of the Grand Canyon and is accessible through a short trail from a parking place near the town Page.
Best Hikes at the Grand Canyon National Park
For beginners and families, the walk from the North Kaibab Trailhead to Coconino Overlook is a compelling option. Despite the short length of 2.1 kilometres (round-trip), this section of the North Kaibab Trail displays some of the finest backdrops imaginable. Hikers here experience a forest walk and will eventually be rewarded with rock pillars and gorgeous views of carved-out valleys.
Bright Angel Trail
To see several highlights of the Southern Rim, the Bright Angel Trail is an excellent full-day hike. For this trail, you need to be reasonably fit, as it is roughly 20 kilometres long. The trailhead is in Grand Canyon Village, and the return point is Plateau Point, a magnificent viewing area. Along the way, you’ll cross deep valleys, walk on sandy paths on cliff edges, and get a glimpse of the sheer size of this reserve.
The Rim-to-Rim walk crosses the heart of Grand Canyon National Park and provides 37 kilometres of pure hiking joy. On the northern side, this multi-day adventure starts at the North Kaibab Trailhead, while the departure or arrival point in the south is Bright Angel Trailhead. The Rim-to-Rim trail is a cross-section of the national park, as you’ll stop by plenty of stellar viewpoints, wander through deep valleys, and walk on the banks of the legendary Colorado River. This trek isn’t for beginner hikers, and a great physical fitness is required to tackle the spectacular route. To indulge in the scenery to the fullest, reserve 4 days to complete the trip.
An alternative approach to discovering the Grand Canyon is via a helicopter tour. See the vast landscapes filled with towering mountains and the meandering river from a bird’s eye perspective. A helicopter journey is a relaxing and dazzling way to see large parts of the area like few others will ever see this. The trips often depart from Las Vegas and Grand Canyon Village, and the flying time is generally 30 minutes.
Alternatively, you can look up to the enormous mountains from the Colorado River itself, if you join a rafting tour. The river has exhilarating 5-grade rapids and calm parts, where the guides explain about the rocks and hieroglyphs. You can arrange half-day and day-tours that start at Lee’s Ferry in Marble Canyon, but also a monster trip throughout the entire Grand Canyon, which takes about 15 days. You can choose to go paddle rafting or to ride a motorized raft. Rafting trips on the Colorado River can be arranged through travel agencies and accommodations near the national park.
What to Bring?
Regardless of the season, it’s vital to bring plenty of drinking water and snacks with you on hikes. As well as this remember a camera, sunglasses, a hat, and proper hiking shoes. If you’re planning to do a multi-day hike by yourself, bring camping gear and heaps of food. Accommodation and food stops are limited within the national park itself, and it’s best to stock up before you head out.
Best Season to Visit
The Grand Canyon is located within the state of Arizona, one of the hottest parts of the USA. Therefore, it’s recommended to see the Grand Canyon in Spring (March to May). The temperature in this period dangles between 15 and 25 degrees on average during the daytime. These are exceptional circumstances to go for a hike and to see the wildflowers growing along the routes. Bring warm clothes though, as the Spring nights are still quite chilly.
Where to Stay?
Along the long-distance hiking routes, you’ll find campsites for overnight stays under the stars. If you’re not intending to tackle lengthy hikes, you’ll find an extensive range of lodges and hotels around the park. Mainly near the Southern Rim, many accommodations are based in Grand Canyon Village, Tusayan, and Flagstaff. On the western side, there’s a sparse collection of lodges near Meadview. In the east, Lake Powell is an excellent base to explore that part of the canyon. Booking.com has the largest selection of housing around the Grand Canyon so we would recommend starting your search there.
The Grand Canyon is a legendary landmark in the southwest of the USA, characterized by distinctively red mountains, carved-out valleys, and the twisting Colorado River. This gorge can be explored any way you’d like to: through hiking, a chopper ride, or a glorious rafting adventure.
For more nature spots in the USA also head over to 15 Best National Parks to Visit in the USA.
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