You want to make the best of that week that you have off for the “Grand Canyon Summer Roadtrip” you’ve been planning for the last three years. Itineraries can be daunting when taking on a trip of this magnitude. There really are so many decisions to make. What part of the canyon do you want to see? Will you hike or take a van tour? Where are you going to stay?
Before you can answer any of these questions, it might be wise to find out what are some of the best things to do at the Grand Canyon? From the Skywalk to Desert View Watchtower, there are many ways to amuse yourself on this trip of a lifetime!
But, the Grand Canyon is as enormous as its name implies. There are four entrances into the park and all of them have their strong points.
- 1 South Rim
- 2 North Rim
- 3 West Rim
- 4 East Rim
The South Rim is the most visited area of Grand Canyon National Park. There is much to do, ample accommodations and many visitor’s centers and educational areas are accessible. You can easily get to the South Rim if you are coming from Flagstaff, Sedona or Williams, Arizona. Flagstaff has a convenient airport to fly into from almost anywhere, and you can rent a car there to drive the 1.5 hours to the South Rim.Once you arrive, there are a multitude of things to choose from that your crew will enjoy.
Check out the viewpoints
There are dozens of viewpoints on the South Rim. You can take a shuttle or you can take your own car and move around at your leisure. Start at the Grand Canyon Village and make your way to some of the best viewing points in the park.
Mather Point is where you will find all of the crowds, but this is usually the first viewpoint for anyone visiting the park. It will probably be your first glimpse of the canyon, leaving you breathless and a forever fan. Other viewpoints that are incredibly gorgeous are Yaki and Ooh Ahh Points. Expansive 360 degree views and unbelievably gorgeous terrain awaits you at these vantage points.
Seven mile long Hermit Road must be seen from the shuttle during the spring and summer season. However, you can drive your car along the route during the winter and stop at Powell, Mohave and Pima Viewpoints and get those Grand Canyon photos you have been dreaming about.
Hike The Bright Angel Trail
This 9.5 mile trail is a must do for anyone visiting the park. But, you don’t have to hike the entire 4,380 descent in order to appreciate and experience some of the greatest things about the park. If you want to walk to the 1.5 mile Rest House and turn back, that would be a great hike.
As you hike down and walk under the arch, make sure you look up and check out the red handprints left by indigenous early people. It is one of the hidden secrets of the trail. Look over the edge but don’t get too close. It is a long way down. When the mules come trailing by, get close to the wall and let them walk passed. Those animals have no fear.
If you don’t make it to the bottom and to the campground, you will still have had a fantastic hike that immerses you in all the beauty and wonder that the Grand Canyon is capable of producing.
Visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology
I know you have as many questions as I did when I first visited the Grand Canyon. How was it formed? How old is it? How many people have died in the Grand Canyon? Well, maybe that’s just me and my morbid sense of wonder.
The Yavapai Museum of Geology will take you through time and explain with models, pictures and reliefs how the Grand Canyon was formed and all of the stages from 2 billion years ago to present day.
Not only is it a great place to get educated, but the view is the best in the national park system. This is a great place to start when you first arrive at the canyon so that you will know what you are looking at as you stop at all of the vantage points. You can also impress everyone in your group with your newfound knowledge.
The North Rim is one of the least visited areas of the park due to its proximity and the fact that it is closed during the winter. In fact, the North Rim only gets about 10% of the parks visitors per year.
Located at 8,800 feet in elevation the North Rim becomes a winter wonderland and all services come to a halt. Roads close and visitor’s centers are not operational during this time. So, around May 15th, visitors are ready to come and see the North Rim and what it has to offer.
Hike a trail
There are some amazing trails that can be as quick and easy as a mile roundtrip to 24 miles out and back. But, one thing is for sure. The view never quits at the North Rim. There is something wild and rustic about this part of the Grand Canyon. Free of the commercialism and crowds that you get at the South Rim, you will just have time with yourself, the ones you love and nature.
Ride a mule
If hiking is not your cup of tea, you’re in luck! There’s another way to see the canyon at the North Rim. Take a tour with a Mule riding outift and let something else besides your legs do the work.
The North Rim is the better option for mule rides because reservations are not required, whereas in the South Rim you must book 15 months in advance to ride the mules.
Mule rides into the canyon look like fabulous fun and I can’t wait to give this a try on my next visit.
Drive the North Rim Scenic Drive
If you aren’t a hiker and you don’t like animals, then a car ride will probably be more to your liking. Rather than having the cool winds of the canyon run through your hair, you can turn the air conditioner on full blast and enjoy the ride through the window.
Start at the North Rim Visitor’s Center and drive 23 miles to the Cape Royal lookout point. There are also many places to stop along the way and enjoy the view. The drive will take about an hour each way, depending on how long you stay at each stop. This is a perfect way to see the canyon if you have physical limitations or you are tight on time.
If you are coming from Las Vegas, the West Rim is the most convenient entrance to the park for you. The views are still beautiful but may pale a bit in comparison to the North and South Rims in terms of scale and depth. Yet, the West Rim still has things that are interesting and worth investigating.
Walk the Skywalk
Owned and operated by the Hualapai people, the West Rim has some unique features that you won’t see at the other areas of the park. The most extraordinary feature at the West Rim is undoubtedly the Skywalk.
The Skywalk is a cantilevered bridge made of glass that extends 70 feet from the edge of the rim at Eagle Point. The engineering in this amazing structure took two and a half years to construct and the first person to walk upon it when it opened was a Native American astronaut.
If you’re worried about the strength of this modern marvel, you shouldn’t be. The Skywalk was constructed so that it can hold 71 fully loaded 747 airplane and withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Your biggest worry will be the hit to your wallet, as the walk out to the edge of the earth will cost you at $20 per ticket.
Visit Guano Point
In the 1930’s a boater noticed a cave containing guano, which is bat dung. This substance can be mined and used in various compounds such as fertilizer and fungicides. In order to mine the guano a tram that spanned 8,800 feet had to be built across the canyon. The mine ended up being a bust as it only contained 1% of the guano that was projected. Additionally, in the 1960’s a U.S. fighter jet crashed into the cables which operated the structure and it was never repaired. What remains is the remnants of the mine and the facilities that were left behind.
Come to Guano Point and enjoy some of the most stunning scenery in the Grand Canyon along with some fascinating history.
Visit Havasu Canyon
This activity is not for the weary. Visiting Havasu Canyon and the Havasupai peoples lands will require a permit and lots of stamina. Getting here requires a ten mile backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon until you get to the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Here, you will hike another two miles to the most stunning waterfalls you will ever see. Havasupai Falls is the most famous and you will want to swim in its blue-green waters and take a lot of photos. There are four other waterfalls that are just as beautiful. Camp in the area for two nights and enjoy nature at its finest.
If you want to cheat, it will cost you. You can charter a helicopter ride into and out of the canyon which will cost you $170. Either way, you will love this experience of a lifetime.
The East Rim is not officially designated by the National Park Service, but it has many points of interest that are worth noting and places that you shouldn’t overlook while you’re on your vacation. Some of the East Rim is on Navajo Nation Tribal lands, but there are still many Grand Canyon overlooks and features worth putting into your itinerary.
One of the most photographed places in the Grand Canyon area is Horseshoe Bend. This is not difficult to comprehend when you stand on the “guardrailess” edge and see the emerald green waters accompanied by the rich red clay of the surrounding cliffs.
But the 1,000 foot drop from the side of the canyon into the Colorado River below is as stunning as you have seen in pictures and something that is a “must see” while in the Grand Canyon area.
Antelope Canyon is Mother Nature’s artistic gift to her child, Earth. It is exquisitely designed by wind, water and temperature to bring to us what we can see in the secret crevices that is one of the most beautiful sights your eyes will see.
If you go, try to book your tour at mid day when the sun shines directly into the canyon, illuminating the walls in a brilliant variant of light. The photo opportunities at this gorgeous feature are endless and you will definitely want to bring you “good camera” for this outing.
Desert View Watchtower
The Desert View Drive is my favorite view point and is located in what is considered the East Rim, but you can get there from the South Rim. Enjoy the amazing views as you travel along the 25 mile road to the eastern most point to Desert View. Climb the watchtower for panoramic views. Then, walk down towards the rim and see the Colorado River snaking through the park with its sparkling blue water against the backdrop of the red rocks. It is truly a divine sight.
Visiting the Grand Canyon will be one of those trips that you knew it always could be. Whether you choose to spend your time in the South, North, East or West rims, you are sure to find something extraordinary, unusual and epic.