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Grand Canyon Travel Guide

"Grand" doesn't begin to do this canyon justice. Measuring approximately 277 miles in length, up to 18 miles in width and a mile deep, this massive chasm in northern Arizona is truly a natural wonder. For six million years, the Grand Canyon has expanded with the help of the mighty Colorado River, and for centuries, people from all over the globe have traveled to gaze out over its red and orange grandeur. Managed by ... continue»

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When to Visit Grand Canyon

The best times to visit the Grand Canyon are March through May and September through November when daytime temperatures begin to cool and the crowds begin to thin. If you decide to visit during the summer (the park's peak season), be prepared for hordes of tourists and very limited lodging availability. You can find deals on hotels during the winter, but much of the park (including the entire North Rim) closes after the first snowfall.

Best Times to Visit Grand Canyon»

Getting Around Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Neighborhoods

The majority of the canyon's services and facilities -- campgrounds, lodges, guides tours, and etc. -- are located on the popular South Rim. Because the Grand Canyon is a national park, be aware that there is an entrance fee. For private vehicles, the fee is $25 per vehicle. You can also take a free shuttle from nearby Tusayan and pay a $12 entrance fee per person. Visit the NPS website on the Grand Canyon for more information on lodging, tours and parking.

South Rim

Once you enter the South Rim of the park, you'll see Grand Canyon Village, which holds the Park Headquarters and Visitor Center, the historic El Tovar Hotel, and a handful of local restaurants. According to the Travel Channel, you can explore the canyon from here using either West Rim Drive or East Rim Drive. Both are accessible by shuttle and private cars, except during the summer when only shuttle buses are allowed. The East Rim Drive follows the South Rim of the canyon for 26 miles, offering views of the canyon's rock formations. Yaki Point and Grandview Point are popular lookouts along the East Rim.

For a nice hike that affords great views of the canyon, walk along the Rim Trail, an easy 12-mile trip that can be hiked at length or in short segments, and is accessible via the South Rim heading westward. In the summer and at various points along the trail, you can hop on the free South Rim shuttle bus.

You can also follow the Bright Angel Trail (on foot or by mule) from the Grand Canyon Village down into the canyon. This 12-mile roundtrip trail offers close-up views of the Colorado River and the chance to experience the Grand Canyon from below.

North Rim

The North Rim is far less crowded than the South Rim. But what the North Rim loses in services or facilities, writers say it makes up in seclusion and the same great views. The Transcanyon Shuttle takes travelers from the North Rim to the South Rim for $80 one-way and $150 round-trip. Because the park service does not operate snowplows on the North Rim, the area is closed from the first snowfall to May. Main points are Bright Angel Point and Point Imperial. Fodor's also recommends Point Sublime, about 20 miles west of the North Rim Visitor Center, where you can camp close to the canyon's edge. The road, however, is only accessibly by four-wheel drive vehicles, and it's necessary to be equipped for wilderness travel. Camping also requires a permit.

Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon West (located on the southern side of the Colorado River) is managed by the Hualapai tribe. The Hualapai Indian Reservation is located on the southern side of the Colorado River, and lies outside the boundary and jurisdiction of the NPS. The tribe operates the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass walkway that extends over the side of the canyon for awesome views and photo opportunities. According to the official website, the skywalk has hosted more than 600,000 visitors since it opened in March of 2007. Visit the Grand Canyon West's official website for more information on tours, prices, and directions.

Outside the Park

You'll probably save a little money by staying in one of the towns outside of the Grand Canyon National Park and which offer a glimpse into the region's culture. Williams, Ariz., the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway, offers inns, hotels, restaurants and gift shops for souvenir-seekers, as well as annual winter and fall celebrations. Even closer to the canyon, the town of Tusayan houses the popular Grand Canyon IMAX Theater, which features a short film about the 227-mile canyon. Also, several tour companies sell sky tours of the canyon. Tusayan also offers a number of gift shops with affordable and high-end goods, some of which are hand-made by local Native Americans.

Nearby Native American reservations offer travelers a glimpse of the area's indigenous culture and history. On the south side of the Colorado River just outside of NPS-administered grounds is the Havusupai village of Supai. Located near Havasu Falls, Supai is accessible only by hiking or horseback. To inquire about hiking permits, see the Havasupai website.

Favorite Grand Canyon Trails

Rim Trail

Accessible from Grand Canyon Village, along the South Rim.

One of the most popular trails in the park, the north and south extensions of the Rim Trail offer spectacular views of the Canyon while remaining relatively easy on the feet. Frommer's says, "Paved and smooth, it lets walkers enjoy the scenery without worrying too much about their footing."

Bright Angel Trail

Accessible just west of Bright Angel Lodge, along the South Rim.

The Bright Angel Trail is a great scenic trail to hike to the bottom of the Canyon, but beware: it's approximately a 12-mile hike roundtrip. Rest houses along the way provide water, but avoid taking the full trip in the summer to avoid heat exhaustion.

South Kaibab Trail

Accessible at Yaki Point, off of Desert View Drive, along the South Rim.

If you're feeling adventurous, the South Kaibab Trail is a better alternative to the nearby Bright Angel Trail. While the trail is steeper and lacks the shade and frequent rest stops of Bright Angel, many writers think the South Kaibab Trail is more scenic. Be sure to bring plenty of water, especially if you're hiking during the summer.

Plateau Point Trail

Accessible via Bright Angel Trail, along the South Rim.

Frommer's rates the Plateau Point Trail as the best day hike below the rim. The trail runs 12.2 miles round-trip and runs through the difficult Bright Angel Trail.

  • This is an especially tough hike in summer, when you may not want to venture further than Indian Garden." -- Frommer's

North Kaibab Trail

Accessible two miles north of Grand Canyon Lodge, along the North Rim.

Frommer's recommends the North Kaibab Trail for those trying to avoid the crowds on the South Rim. You can camp at the Cottonwood Campground halfway along the trail.

Safety

The Grand Canyon is a relatively safe park in terms of crime. If you park your car within the canyon, be sure to lock your vehicle and safeguard any belongings just in case.

The greatest safety concern in the Grand Canyon is outdoors safety. Never hike or camp alone in the park unless you know the park very well. Even experienced hikers have become lost in the park because they were not acquainted with the oftentimes dangerous trails. Be sure to bring an adequate amount of water during your trip and wear sunscreen. For more information, see the National Parks Service website.

The best way to get around the Grand Canyon is by shuttle bus. Operated by the National Park Service, these shuttles will take you all around the South Rim for no cost whatsoever. If you're visiting the North Rim, a car will be the most convenient option, but make sure to check the park's website for listed road closures. Getting to the area can be trickier; of the numerous airports, many travelers choose to fly into Phoenix's Sky Harbor International (PHX) or Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport (LAS). Amtrak trains, tour buses and car rentals are all available from both Phoenix and Las Vegas. To land closer to the canyon, consider flying into Pulliam Airport (FLG) in Flagstaff, Ariz., about 80 miles from the South Rim. Trains, buses and car rentals are available here as well.

Getting Around Grand Canyon»

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