Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park lives up to the grandeur of its name. Vast and breathtaking, the mile deep Grand Canyon, carved out over 6 millennia by the Colorado River, is located in northwestern Arizona on the Colorado Plateau. The park is just 74 miles north of Flagstaff and encompasses over 1.2 million acres, stretching 277 miles along the Colorado River. Visitors can access the park by both the remote, rugged North Rim or by the more popular South Rim; but no matter where you choose, you will enjoy immense, spectacular vistas of amazing geologic features. Those truly fortunate visitors may even catch a glimpse of one of the rarest birds in the world: the California Condor, wheeling in the thermal updrafts of the Grand Canyon.
This area is known for its strenuous, isolated trails, and sparse facilities, but for those wanting an undeveloped, natural experience away from the crowds, the North Rim is just what you’ve been looking for.
North Rim: North Kaibab Trail
North Kaibab is the North Rim’s most celebrated trail, offering some of the best scenery in the park. It winds its way 14 miles down 5,780 ft. to the Colorado River. The trail was literally blasted from solid rock in half-tunnel sections through the Redwall Limestone. As a reward for the effort of descending, hikers are rewarded with the unique perspective of looking up at the surrounding canyon walls. This strenuous trail requires most of a day to hike, so plan on camping overnight. Because you will find little shade along the North Kaibab Trail, it’s better to hike it in spring or fall. The hot Arizona summer sun is as unrelenting as it is unforgiving. Not up to the demands of the hike but still want to experience the North Kaibab Trail? Consider a half-day mule ride to the Supai Tunnel. Reserve early at the Grand Canyon Lodge: http://www.canyonrides.com/grand-canyon-mule-ride/
North Rim: Point Imperial
The many tributary ravines make Point Imperial the best place to enjoy the gorgeous Grand Canyon sunsets. Point Imperial, at 8,803 ft is the highest point on the North Rim and the northernmost overlook. The striking panorama from here is very different from the other two popular viewing spots, Cape Royal and Bright Angel Point. Point Imperial is perched just above where the Grand Canyon first takes on its wide, meandering appearance, allowing for unobstructed, expansive views.
North Rim: Bright Angel Point
Bright Angel Point is the most popular lookout on the North Rim as much for it’s spectacular scenery as its accessibility. Unlike the other overlooks along the North Rim that require driving a few twisty miles after leaving Cape Royal Highway, Bright Angel Point is accessible by a 0.4 mile path, beginning just behind Grand Canyon Lodge, at the junction with Transept Trail. You will be delighted by views of The Transept, Bright Angel Canyon, a bit of the inner Grand Canyon, and to the east, the iconic layered red and white sandstone cliffs of the Walhalla Plateau.
South Rim: Grand Canyon Village
This is the most popular entryway into the park. It holds some of the best lookout points in the entire park, including Yavapai Point largely considered the best place from which to view the canyon. Many services are available in Grand Canyon Village, including a marketplace, restaurants, lodging, and shopping. Be sure to check out Hopi House, for authentic Native American souvenirs. Get inspired by the photographic art of Kolb and Lookout Studios . Railroad enthusiasts will surely want to stop at the Grand Canyon Railway Depot, which continues to welcome passengers to the Grand Canyon today.
North/South Rim: Mule Rides
This time-honored mode of canyon transportation remains a great way to experience the Grand Canyon. Xanterra Parks and Resorts offers mule rides into the canyon as well as along the rim. Overnight rides take you deep into the canyon, affording you views from within.
Rides North Rim: http://www.canyonrides.com/grand-canyon-mule-ride/
Rides South Rim: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/things-to-do/mule-trips/
South Rim: Bright Angel Trail
This steep, historic route for Native American groups, early trappers, and settlers is still one of the most popular trails in the park today. Although rigorous, especially on the way back up, Bright Angel Trail rewards hikers with incredible scenery and an appreciation for the scale of the Grand Canyon. It follows a natural break in the high cliffs formed by the massive Bright Angel Fault, descending steeply into the bowl-shaped Pipe Creek drainage. The trail takes you past amazing vistas, petroglyphs, the Indian Garden oasis, water sculpted rock formations, and through rock tunnels. Because of the shade provided by the high cliff walls in the upper section of the trail, it is a favorite among hikers and wildlife. Bright Angel Trail offers some shade, potable water, covered rest houses, good signage and ranger stations along the route. Even with all these resources in place, hikers should plan cautiously; the combination of heat, elevation change, and mileage make this trail more strenuous than it would seem.
South Rim: Rim Trail
Spectacular views of the inner canyon are afforded from this flat, customizable, family-friendly hike. You can access the Rim Trail from any of the viewpoints in Grand Canyon Village or along Hermit Road. Since most of the viewpoints are also bus stops, you can choose when to hop back on the bus. Most of this trail is paved and several sections are wheelchair accessible. The total elevation varies by only 200 ft along the entirety of the trail. Rim Trail is a great choice for a flexible, easy hike with breathtaking scenery.
South Rim: Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive is a 25 mile drive east from Grand Canyon Village to the Desert View Area, which includes the historic Watchtower. There are 6 canyon viewpoints, 4 picnic areas, and 5 unmarked pullouts along the route. Additionally you’ll pass the Tusayan Museum and ruin site. Plan to spend some time at the Desert View Area where you can enjoy the Watchtower, visitor’s center, marketplace/general store and trading post.
North/South Rim: Raft the Colorado River
To see the Grand Canyon from a completely different viewpoint, try a rafting trip down the Colorado River. Outfitters offer a variety of trips, including smooth-water daytrips for the less adventurous. Outfitters: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm
North/South Rim: Skywalk
The Skywalk is located about 235 miles from Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Entrance on the Hualapai Indian Tribe lands. This controversial attraction is a large, horse-shoe shaped bridge with a transparent floor that extends over the Grand Canyon, allowing visitors to walk over the canyon and see it underneath their feet. No photos or video is allowed, but Skywalk photographers offer pictures for about $20 each. Admission is about $70. Tickets: http://www.grandcanyonwest.com/skywalk.html