Best Things To Do in Grand Canyon
Even the most skeptical of travelers becomes awestruck at the sight of the Grand Canyon's massive expanse of gorges, ridges and rock formations. So simply enjoying the view – from a variety of vantage points – is an activity that could take hours. One of the best ways to admire the canyon is on a hiking tour that takes you to the bottom: Some of the best trails include the Bright Angel or Rim trails on the South Rim. Rafting the Colorado River is another option
Updated August 23, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeGrand Canyon Village#1 in Grand CanyonFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Grand Canyon Village is the most popular entryway into the park and, as such, often suffers from heavy crowds during the peak seasons in spring, summer and fall. But there's a reason the area is so appealing. It's home to Yavapai Point, one of the best places to view the canyon. If you don't like camping but want to stay within the park, you should consider looking for lodging here.
If you're staying elsewhere, anticipate spending at least half a day visiting the village's sights. Stop by the rustic Grand Canyon Railway Depot, which welcomes Grand Canyon Railway passengers to the village. Here, you'll learn about how the expansion of the railroad had an impact on Grand Canyon tourism. For authentic Native American souvenirs, head to the Hopi House, an adobe-style building representing a traditional Hopi crafts studio. Meanwhile, art aficionados should stop by the Kolb and Lookout studios for works of art inspired by the Grand Canyon.
- #2View all PhotosfreeNorth Rim#2 in Grand CanyonHiking, Parks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The North Rim has a reputation for its rugged, isolated trails, its sparse facilities and a lack of appeal in the eyes of the tourist mainstream. However, this reputation is only partially true. Sure, the North Rim is less crowded than the South, but only relatively so. During peak tourism periods – from the late spring to early fall – the North Rim accommodates a large number of travelers (about 10 percent of all Grand Canyon visitors). The good news for the nature purist is that there are few available facilities in the North Rim, so the area will likely always remain relatively underdeveloped. Popular spots in the North Rim include Bright Angel Point, which allows views of the Roaring Springs, the North Rim's only water source. You should also swing by the 8,803-foot Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim.
Recent visitors called the North Rim spectacular and a must-see, remarking on its peaceful and quiet atmosphere. They also recommended booking accommodations here at least a year in advance to guarantee a room.
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Take this steep trail, which starts just west of the Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village, to Plateau Point for some great views of the river. But you should be warned: The Bright Angel Trail is a little more than 6 miles long one-way, and both recent visitors and travel experts say that attempting to hike to the river and back in one day is not a good idea. Make sure to pack camping gear if you plan on going all the way to Plateau Point and carry plenty of water with you – some rest stops along the trail only offer water seasonally.
For a unique Grand Canyon experience, consider traveling the Bright Angel Trail by mule. Riders are taken to Phantom Ranch for an overnight stay, with a lunch break at Indian Garden. While trips are usually safe, those who are not used to spending time in a saddle may find the ride grueling. The overnight, 10 ½-mile and 5 ½-hour ride costs $588.43 per person. Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers additional mule ride options that vary in price and duration. Visit its website for more details.
- #4View all PhotosfreeRim Trail#4 in Grand CanyonHiking, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
While the Grand Canyon Village has plenty to offer visitors, make sure you don't ignore the rest of the South Rim. The Rim Trail is one of the most popular and comprehensive trails in the Grand Canyon and one of the best ways to see the South Rim's most popular attractions and viewpoints. This fairly easy walking path traces the canyon's edge, stopping off at favorite lookout points like Maricopa Point and Hopi Point.
The Rim Trail begins at Pipe Creek Vista (several miles east of Grand Canyon Village) and ends at the popular Hermit's Rest lookout point west of the village. In total, the Rim Trail stretches about 12 miles. Fortunately for travelers, the park's free shuttle bus runs along a paved road along the trail, allowing for easy access to the village and points along the way.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Grand CanyonHiking, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you've chosen to explore the North Rim, the North Kaibab Trail is the area's premier hike. The trail leads all the way to the Colorado River, and hiking enthusiasts can take the 14 miles to the Bright Angel Campground near the water. The trail is rough going in the summer, when the hot Arizona sun is unforgiving to hikers. There is little shade along the way, making the journey even more difficult. You might want to walk the trail in the spring or fall rather than the summer; you'll get to enjoy some of the best views in the park sans the sweltering heat.
If you're new to hiking and camping, you should probably stay on the tourist-friendly South Rim. But if you want to escape the crowds, you can still take a guided, mule-driven tour through the trail from May to October.
- #6View all PhotosfreeHavasu Falls#6 in Grand CanyonHiking, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Lauded by travelers as one of the most beautiful sights in the Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls is a desert oasis, complete with crystal blue waterways and gushing falls that add an almost surreal quality to the dry canyon backdrop. The falls lie just south of the national park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. To get there, you must hike about 10 miles, beginning at the Hualapai Hilltop. Facilities are scarce, with just a large parking area and a few portable toilets. For more facilities and services, you'll have to stop in Peach Springs, Arizona.
Don't try Havasu Falls if you don't plan on spending the night camping. The initial hike to the waterway is far too strenuous to complete in one day. Recent visitors said that despite the hassles of getting a permit and taking the long, arduous hike to the falls, the sheer beauty of the falls and the fun of swimming in them made it all worth it.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Grand CanyonRecreation, Sports, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, Sports, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
To see the Grand Canyon from a different point of view, consider taking a rafting trip down the Colorado River. If you're not up for an adventurous whitewater experience, consider a daytrip with a company like Glen Canyon Float Trips, which offers half-day and full-day trips in the northeastern section of the canyon on calm waters.
If you're looking for a more intense daytrip, travel with Hualapai River Runners. This company takes passengers through the westernmost part of the canyon between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead where the river is rougher.
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One of the more controversial additions to the Grand Canyon's surroundings, the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a large, semi-circular bridge with a transparent glass floors, allowing tourists to walk 70 feet out over the canyon and view the floor from a truly unique vantage point – 4,000 feet above. The Skywalk lies outside of the park on the grounds of the Hualapai Indian Tribe. Purists initially criticized the construction of the Skywalk, claiming it ruined the area's natural aesthetic. Still, the attraction has drawn thousands of visitors since opening in 2007.
The Skywalk is a long drive from both the South Rim and the North Rim, inconveniencing many wishing to stay near the Grand Canyon Village. Recent travelers warned a stop at the Skywalk is an all-day endeavor since it's a long distance from other points of interest (about four hours from the Grand Canyon Village). Other travelers noted that the Skywalk was both inconvenient and overpriced. To access the Hualapai Indian Reserve, visitors must purchase a package. The lowest-priced option that includes the Skywalk costs $82.37 for adults and $62.09 for kids. The Skywalk is open year-round: From April 1 to Aug. 31, it’s open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; from Sept. 1 to March 31, it's open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit the Grand Canyon West website.
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Built in the late 1800s, this historic railroad was originally used to transport ore from the Anita mines, which sit just north of Williams, Arizona. The railway began traveling to the Grand Canyon in 1901, making the park accessible to the public. But with the rise in automobile use, the trains lost business, and the Grand Canyon Depot saw its last passenger train in 1968. The Grand Canyon Railway underwent extensive restoration and was reopened in 1989.
Today, this historic train carries passengers between Williams and the South Rim's Grand Canyon Depot. Along the way, passengers will see a variety of landscapes from the Ponderosa and Pinion pine forests to expansive prairies and of course, canyons. Most recent passengers say the scenery was stunning and that their train guides were entertaining and informative, regaling them with stories about the history of the train and the region.
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