One of the world’s most amazing natural wonders, the Grand Canyon, is located just 3 ½ hours north of Scottsdale by car. Though the Canyon has been well-recorded in photographs, paintings and in movies, nothing can replace the awe-inspiring experience of standing on the Canyon’s rim and taking in its grandeur. The South Rim is by far the most popular access point to the Canyon, but if you have time and are visiting spring through fall, make the drive (an additional 3.75 hours) to the North Rim for fewer crowds and equally scenic views. There are many ways to explore the Canyon, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Please note that most Canyon adventures and accommodations require reservations well in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead for your visit.
Ride the Rim: The South Rim’s free shuttle bus system will take you to all the most popular viewpoints. Though not a tour, the bus is the best way to access all the South Rim has to offer, including hiking trails, scenic views, historic buildings, museums and information centers. The buses run on compressed natural gas, so they have fewer emissions to harm people and the environment.
Watch the Big Screen: The Grand Canyon IMAX Theatre gives you a full-on sensory experience of the Canyon. Catch “Grand Canyon: Rivers of Time” and find yourself so immersed in the action that you can practically feel the spray as the camera runs the Colorado River rapids. The theater is located within the National Geographic Visitors Center on the South Rim.
Go Hiking & Camping: Many say that to truly experience the Grand Canyon, you must traverse her challenging trails and sleep outside under her brilliant blanket of stars. You can make that dream come true on both the North and South rims, which offer a variety of trails and campgrounds. If you’re not a regular hiker, stick with the rim trails. They tend to be smoother and flatter, offering spectacular views without much exertion. Experienced hikers in excellent health will enjoy descending into the Canyon’s rocky depths. As you descend through Ponderosa Pine forests and onto the desert Canyon floor, you’ll pass through an amazing geologic “time tunnel” that offers an unparalleled glimpse into the region’s past. Plan ahead and stay overnight and Phantom Ranch before tackling the hike out (accommodations are extremely limited and reservations are required).
Raft the Mighty Colorado: White-water rafting on the Colorado River is the ultimate Grand Canyon adventure. Single and multi-day rafting excursions with professional outfitters offer breathtaking scenery, magnificent side hikes and adrenaline-pumping white-water rapids.
Take a Helicopter Tour: Get a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon with an exciting helicopter tour. On your narrated tour you’ll soar high above the Canyon rim for expansive views that range for hundreds of miles, then dip gently below the rim for a close-up look at rock formations that are millions of years old.
Book a Mule Trip: If hiking isn’t your speed, venture into the Grand Canyon on the back of a sure-footed mule! Full-day and overnight mule rides into the Canyon are available, but reservations sell out quickly (up to 15 months in advance), so advance planning is a must. The full-day trip lasts about seven hours and offers plenty of photo ops along the way. Shorter, 1- to 3-hour mule rides are available on the North and South rims. These rides follow scenic Rim trails, but may dip briefly into the Canyon.
Explore with a Ranger: National Park Service Rangers offer a variety of interpretive walks and programs for Canyon visitors to enjoy. Check the website or look inside your copy of The Guide, the official park newspaper obtained at the park entrance, for more information and current program offerings.
Visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk: Located on the West Rim, a five-hour drive from the South Rim, the Skywalk is a glass-floored, horseshoe-shaped walk that projects over the massive Canyon. Marvel at unobstructed views as you stand almost a mile above the Colorado River.
Grand Canyon Railway: Board The Train and you’ll be transported back in time to the early 1900s! Strolling musicians, cowboy characters and even some ornery train robbers set the scene for a day of family fun. The Grand Canyon Railway excursion from Williams to the South Rim passes through miles of pristine forest land. All aboard!