Just north of Flagstaff in Northern Arizona lies one of the most awe-inspiring wonders of nature – the Grand Canyon National Park. Carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Grand Canyon is a 446 km long and 29 km wide gorge with sheer walls. It is considered one of the world’s top natural attractions, drawing some five million visitors every year.
While the site offers a number of fun and adventure activities such as hiking, running, skydiving, helicopter rides, camping and rafting, just viewing this deep, rugged, massive expanse of light and shadows from different vantage points is an experience in itself – in fact the main purpose of visit for most – and may take hours to cover, if not an entire day.
The North Rim of the gorge is located at an average elevation of 8300 feet and is less frequented, while the 7000-foot-high South Rim has considerably high tourist traffic. Weather permitting, the South Rim is open throughout the year and the North Rim can be accessed from mid-May to mid-October only.
While the average summer temperatures can range between 50 and 80 degrees F, certain areas can reach 100 degrees, with the Inner Gorge receiving the most intense heat during the summer months.
Winters are pretty severe here with frequent storms. Morning fog can obstruct the view of the canyon from time to time; however, it clears up as the sun rises overhead.
The Park is home to a rich variety of wildlife species including the rare California Condor, mule, deer, and elk with Desert Bighorn Sheep inhabiting the Inner Gorge.
The bird population includes ravens, hummingbirds, Stellar’s Jays, and Canyon Wrens.
Bobcats and mountain lions are also sometimes seen in the area.
The desert is full of different kinds of squirrel and chipmunks.
Grand Canyon Activities and Attractions
The Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village boasts some of the best vantage points in the Park making it the most popular and, hence, the most crowded point of entry into the Park. The Yavapai Point is rated by Frommer’s as one of the best lookout points of the Canyon.
The Village is home to some of the Park’s best hotels and lodges including the El Tovar Hotel and the Bright Angel Lodge, but be advised that they have exorbitant price tags attached.
Bright Angel Trail
Close to the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village starts the steep Bright Angel Trail all the way to Plateau Point offering some great vistas of the Colorado River. While the 12-mile up-down hike can be undertaken in a day, it is advised, for safety reason, to plan an overnight trip equipped with camping gear and plenty of water.
Mainstream travelers are under the impression that the North Rim with its rugged terrain isolated trails, and lack of facilities, is not worthy of a visit. Which is not all true! Nature purists love to explore the area, still relatively untouched by development.
Between late spring and early fall – the peak season – North Rim attracts a fairly large number of visitors who come to visit popular spots including the Bright Angel Point offering a great view of the Roaring Springs and Point Imperial – the highest point of the Rim at 8803 feet.
The only accommodation available on the North Rim is the rather expensive Grand Canyon Lodge where entry is impossible without prior reservation.
With its crystal clear waterways and roaring waterfalls, the Havasu Falls is claimed by many travelers as one of the most stunning Grand Canyon sights. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation just south of the Grand Canyon National Park, the falls can be reached if you are okay with a 10-mile hike starting at the Hualapai Hilltop. Facilities are almost non-existent with just a large parking area and some portable toilets.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
Criticized by nature purists for spoiling the natural beauty of the area, the Skywalk is a semi-circular bridge with transparent floors offering excellent views of the canyon. It is located in Hualapai Indian Reservation outside of the Park.
In addition to the long drive from the South Rim, as well as the North Rim, a trip to the Skywalk will take up an entire day with ticket prices as high as $75 each. Cameras of any kind are strictly prohibited in the area allowing Skywalk photographers to charge $20 per photograph.
Colorado River Rafting
River rafting allows you to view and enjoy the Grand Canyon from a different perspective.
For the less adventurous traveler looking for a smooth-water experience, the Colorado River Discover company is a good option as they offer smooth-water day trips between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry in the north-eastern part of the canyon.
For those interested in white-water trips, the Hualapai River Runners can give you that great turbulent-water experience between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead in the westernmost part of the canyon.
Grand Canyon Railway
The Grand Canyon Railway opened to the public in 1901 giving direct access to the Park. However, with more and more people taking to cars over the years, the Railway lost its profitability and closed down in 1968 only to open again in 1989 after a complete overhaul.
The Railway operates between Williams and the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Depot departing daily at 9:30 a.m. from Williams reaching Grand Canyon Village by 11:45 a.m.
Return journey commences at 3:30 p.m. and ends in Williams at around 5:45 p.m.
Hotels and Lodges at the Grand Canyon National Park
- Bright Angel Lodge – South Rim
- Maswik Lodge – South Rim
- Thunderbird Lodge – South Rim
- Kachina Lodge – South Rim
- Yavapai Lodge – South Rim
- Grand Canyon Lodge – North Rim
- The Grand Hotel
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites