The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring place that offers much more than a look at the mile-deep, ten-mile wide gorge of multi-colored, multi-layered rock and the Colorado River below. It is a region of historical landmarks, Native culture, an abundance of wildlife, and sightseeing opportunities that go far beyond a lookout point. It offers much in the way of excursions, activities, shopping, and dining.
Unfortunately; however, most travelers think of the Canyon as something to look at for a few minutes, snap a few photos, and be on their way. So it doesn’t dawn on them to do any advance research in order to make the most of their time. As such, this is a destination that many travelers tend to squeeze between other destinations, such as a day trip worked into a Las Vegas vacation, or a brief stopover on the way to somewhere else. Both of these scenarios create limited time and limited opportunities and leave travelers feeling as though they ‘missed out’ upon discovery of so much they could have seen and done. And that’s exactly vacationing in the area is far more conducive to actually seeing and experiencing the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps the first thing to do is to ascertain which part (or parts) of the canyon you most desire to see. Tourists can visit the North, South, East or West rim, all of which offer different views, landmarks, and different excursion options.
The North Rim is the most difficult to access and is closed throughout the winter months so this is the least popular for tourists. If you’re visiting the canyon for the first time, this probably is not your best option. However, travelers that make it there during the May 15th to Oct 15th season are assured of gorgeous views along with access to the Grand Canyon Lodge, which was built in 1927. The area offers scenic drives, mule rides, ranger programs, hiking trails, helicopter and ATV tours, and several campgrounds for visitors desiring a woodsy experience.
Travelers can check out the Yavapai Geology Museum located in the former Yavapai Observation Station. Exhibits in the museum, including a topographic model, depict the deposition of the rock layers and the natural carving of the Grand Canyon due to the rise of the Colorado River.
For more naturally formed wonders, visitors can take a tour of Monument Valley via an excursion company, or by undertaking the almost 4-hour drive to gaze upon Navajo land rich with heritage and stunning rock formations.
The South Rim, ironically located in the Northwest corner of Arizona, is undoubtedly the most popular tourist spot, with drive times of 3.5 hours from Phoenix and approximately 4.5 from Las Vegas with the option of seeing Hoover Dam along the way. This region is accessible by car, plane or train, and offers the iconic wide sweeping lookout with walking trails that branch off in either direction. Access is granted via Grand Canyon National Park with vehicle permits costing $30 no matter how many people are in the car.
The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year including holidays, however, the Visitor Center and other relative facilities alter their hours between peak and off-peak season. A multitude of excursions and activities exist in this area, including scenic drives, bus tours, free and convenient shuttle buses, walking and hiking tours, plane and helicopter tours, and beloved mule rides. As well, there are white water rafting experiences and pontoon boat adventures on the Colorado River. A quick Google search will yield an abundance of tour companies that provide such excursions for varying time lengths and prices.
Some lodging and dining options can be found inside the park, or at the entrance called Grand Canyon Village. It is here that tourists can stay at the rustic Grand Hotel and can dine at Canyon Star Restaurant, one of many steakhouses in the area. For retail needs, the South Rim features the very convenient Market Plaza, located directly next to Yavapai Lodge. Here you can find a bank and a post office, as well as a convenient deli, a variety of groceries and souvenirs, Native American handcrafts, and much in the way of hiking and camping gear.
For travelers wishing to know more about the area, head to The National Geographic Visitor’s Center to attend the IMAX Theater and see the stunning film Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. Viewers get a bird’s eye view of what’s it like to soar above the canyon cliffs, raft down the rapids of the Colorado River, and descend to the surreptitious depths of the gorge.
As for historic landmarks, the South Rim houses several, including El Tovar, the 1905 premier hotel that was designed to resemble a Swiss Villa and has since played host to several celebrities. Also to be found are the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower, which was built in 1932; the Lookout Tower, which was built in 1914 and is precariously perched on the edge of the rim; and the 1905 Native American adobe-style Hopi House, which now houses a gift shop.
For adventurers interested in the wildlife of the region (but unprepared to track it through the dense forest) there’s Bearizona Wildlife Park, with 160-acres to be explored, approximately a 58-minute drive from the South Rim. The attraction is just off Historic Route 66 and is easy to find. Here, tourists are able to take a scenic drive through the parkland to view indigenous animals roaming free in their natural habitat of pine forest and canyon formations. This includes long horn sheep, burros, black bears, bison, bobcats, and wolves. Additionally, the park features a walk-through trail of exhibits as well as live shows featuring birds of prey native to the region.
The East Rim is gaining in popularity lately as it presents somewhat of a different view with a lot more emphasis on the Colorado River. The Little Colorado River Tribal Park on the Navajo Nation is located on the East Rim, as are the spectacular The Navajo Bridge, and The Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest known natural bridge considered sacred by Native American Tribes. Accessing some of this area requires a permit from the Navajo Tribe, so be sure to inquire before venturing out on a hike.
Tourists looking for more Native American culture can venture to Tuba City, approximately a 1.5 drive from the East Rim to partake in the Hopi Native Reservation Tour, or head to Window Rock, Arizona, a 3.5-hour drive from the East Rim to undertake the Navajo Nation Tour.
The West Rim is most widely known for The Skywalk at Eagle Point, a horseshoe-shaped, transparent glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the rim of the canyon and allows visitors unique views of the gorge directly below. Built by the Hualapai Tribe, the Skywalk attraction features an authentic Native American Village onsite that tourists can explore, as well as a gift shop of unique souvenirs and handcrafts. The Sa’ Nyu Wa dining room serves Southwest and Asian fusion cuisine for visitors wishing to stay for lunch or dinner, and live entertainment in the form of Native American dances takes place daily in the amphitheatre at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.