One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon is one of the must-see places on this planet. Designated as a National Park in 1919, after years of working on the bill (it was first introduced in 1882), it attracts thousands of visitors every day.
Located in the high desert of Arizona, it is a four-hour drive from Phoenix, the city with the closest major airport to it. If you plan to visit Arizona, summer is generally not the ideal time, however, if you leave Phoenix and head into the high country, it is not as unbearably hot. You can enjoy pine forests before you get to the Grand Canyon, snowcapped mountains (there is still snow at this time in June on San Francisco Peaks), and a scenic drive through the high desert.
Alternately, you can take a train to the South Rim from Williams. It is a fun experience especially for kids, if you have the time and inclination to do it. You need to stay in Williams for the night, since the train leaves early, but it is an old steam train, taking you through beautiful scenery, you see old-fashioned cowboys on the train, and you will even experience an attack by bandits (all in good fun, you won’t be really robbed – I hope).
(Photo by author)
Your first glimpse at the canyon will most likely leave you speechless. No matter how many pictures or videos you see of it, no matter how many descriptions you read, nothing can quite prepare you for the first view of this immense beauty. The color combinations of the rocks are so unique, and due to barely any vegetation you can see all of the width of 18 miles and depth of 1 mile of this wonder of the world. You need different vintage points to see all of it, since it is 277 miles long, and the view changes constantly. Part of the wonder is due to the fact that it is in the desert, so you can see so much of it at any given time, and the top is amazingly flat on both rims.
You can visit the Grand Canyon through the South Rim as well as the North Rim. Since the South Rim is more accessible, it is more developed and much more crowded. Plan to get there before 9am during he summer, if you drive in, to find a parking spot. There are free shuttles available from the parking lot that take you to all of the sites, there is a great visitor center, a very nice rim walk, multiple restaurants, hotels and a historic lodge. El Tovar, the lodge and restaurant is worth the stop, for lunch or dinner if you get to spend overnight there or close by.
Unless it is too hot (which might be the case in the summer months), you should plan to walk the self-guided rim trail. It is an easy walk on a paved trail, and while you can enjoy the view of the canyon below, you can also learn about the rocks that form it, at all different levels, from the mini rock exhibits on the trail.
In addition, there are plenty of guided tours available. Day hikes and walks led by park rangers are free and you learn a lot about the geology and history of the park. Several other companies offer walks or trips guided by expert instructors.
If you prefer to just take a bus tour, sunset and sunrise tours are available daily. You can rent a bicycle or even sign up for a guided bike tour at the visitor center.
If you want to follow an old tradition, sign up for a mule trip into the canyon. They are available from both the South and the North Rim, but due to their popularity, you need to sign up for those well in advance.
If you have time, and you can plan in advance, the North Rim is an even choice to visit than the South Rim. The historic lodge doesn’t have unlimited rooms, and the ones available fill up quickly, so reserve one well in advance. Since the North Rim is farther from civilization, there are no other amenities available close by, so it is a good idea to stay at the lodge, unless you plan on camping. There are great campgrounds on both sides of the canyon, although they don’t have unlimited sites available either. However, if you have time to plan, it is a great place to enjoy the canyon. The rim itself is more wooded, and less crowded, you can take a walk in the woods and even the descent into the canyon is easier than from the South Rim, if you choose to go down.
If you do plan to hike into the canyon, you need a lot of planning and you need to be in great shape. You can go a little way down on numerous trails, both on the South and North Rim, and if you are in good shape, plan ahead and train for it. Even while hiking on the rim, remember that you are in the desert, make sure you have plenty of water, wear a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. In the summer, avoid the midday sun, hike early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Regardless if you want to hike, bike, or just simply stop by and enjoy the beauty of the Grand Canyon, your trip will definitely be worth it.
Emese Fromm is a writer/translator whose work has appeared in publications like Parachute by Mapquest, Travel Thru History, Travellady, Skipping Stones, InTravel Magazines, among others. She specializes in travel, but writes about a variety of topics.