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As one of the most iconic, recognizable sites in America, the Grand Canyon is on almost everyone’s travel bucket list and one of the country’s most visited national parks. So big it actually has its own zip code, the canyon stretches for almost 300 miles and was formed by million-year-old rocks, brushed by brilliant bands of color that look like they’re straight out of a Southwest painting. Whether it’s your first visit or your 50th, the illuminated rainbow hues never cease to take your breath away.
Whether you’re an Instagrammer looking to capture an epic landscape shot or an outdoor enthusiast looking to be wowed by Mother Nature’s marvels, expect to stare in awe. Called one of the US’s natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Accommodations in the Grand Canyon
Accommodations around the Grand Canyon are plentiful and varied, from upscale inns and comfortable lodges to rustic ranches with something suitable for all travel styles and budgets. There are campgrounds, RV parks, and everything in between. Flagstaff and Williams are the closest major towns, which offer the most traditional lodging options. There are also pricier hotels like Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, and the Grand Hotel operated by Grand Canyon National Park Lodges right in the park, as you are paying for convenience.
How to Get to the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park resides entirely in Arizona, yet it’s about equal distance from the Phoenix airport as it is the Las Vegas airport, both being about 4-4.5-hours. Make it a picturesque road trip and break up the drive by stopping at some of these other must-see Arizona sites en route.
Which is Better to Visit? The North Rim or South Rim?
Despite only being separated by a 10-mile crevasse, the drive from the South Rim to the North Rim can take upwards of five hours. 90% of visitors head to the South Rim as it’s more easily accessible and open year-round. Free park shuttles run along different colored routes, taking you to all the major overlooks (Mohave and Hopi Point are highly recommended).
The North Rim is more remote, located at a higher altitude, and only open mid-May through October, so if you’re short on time or a first-time visitor, the South side is recommended unless you’re looking to get truly off the grid.
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon?
Despite Arizona’s soaring summer temperatures, summer is the high season at the Grand Canyon when kids are out of school, and families can hit the open road. June through August are the park’s busiest months. If you intend to visit during this time, book your accommodations way in advance and plan accordingly, as it regularly surpasses 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For a more pleasant climate and slightly less busy time, consider planning a trip during one of the shoulder seasons, March through May or September through November.
Not-to-Miss Adventure Activities in the Grand Canyon
There are many ways to see the Grand Canyon – by air, by water, or even by train.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk – You know the saying, “Don’t look down?” This is one instance where you really don’t want to listen. A horseshoe-shaped bridge made of glass; the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a breathtaking way to see 4,000 feet to the canyon floor. Located on the west side on the Eagle Point Indian Reservation (about two hours from the South Rim), while you’re in the area, you can tour the village, catch a Native American dance, and shop for locally made handicrafts.
Ride the Rails –Departing from Williams, Arizona,the Grand Canyon Train is a vintage railway and the last major stop on historic Route 66. Enjoy riding an old-timey train car as you’re wined, dined, and entertained by cowboys, bandits, and roaming musicians. The trip takes about two hours each way through the scenic Ponderosa pines, which gives you about 3-4 hours to explore the park before it’s time to depart.
Raft the Grand Canyon – For the adventurous water babies, why not ride the rapids? There’s everything from half-day trips departing from Page (where beautiful Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are) to multi-week overnight river trips along the Grand. The full expedition takes two weeks, and covers cover 200-miles, but day-trippers can easily beat the heat and spend a few hours splashing around.
Seen from the Sky – To truly take in the vast beauty and spectacular size of the Grand Canyon, you have to see it from above by flightseeing on a helicopter or scenic biplane or skydiving. You can catch a ride from the South Rim, Las Vegas, or West Rim if you want to combine it with a trip to the Skywalk.
Hoof It or Hightail It – If you’re feeling lazy or prefer not to walk, opt for a mule, horseback ride, or off-roading vehicle to get down into the canyon. Four-legged friends offer rides from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon Lodge, and a few other spots with twilight and wagon rides another memorable excursion. Arizona’s signature pink Jeeps make quite the entrance, as well.
Extreme Hiking – Hiking the Grand Canyon is a memorable and mostly multi-day endeavors if you’re fit and able. All treks are 10+ miles with significant altitude gain, and you must be mindful of the heat. The Bright Angel Trail (19-miles) is the most popular route, but the Rim to Rim trek (23.9-miles) is a truly a bucket-list worthy adventure, which less than 1% of the park’s 6 million annual visitors complete.
Chase Waterfalls – For the ultimate overnight adventure, plan a backpacking trip to Havasupai Falls. A private Indian Reservation hidden within the Grand Canyon, the five-brilliant blue-blue waterfalls are among the most magnificent natural areas the country. It’s incredibly hard to score a permit, but totally worth the effort if you make it. We have all the intel into how to visit here.
Note: as travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind. If you are comfortable hitting the road, please be responsible as any travel is at your own risk. It’s recommended to wear a face mask, bring hand sanitizer, wash your hands frequently, know the local guidelines, and book a hotel with flexible cancellation policies in case you need to change your plans last minute.
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