Leaving Antelope Canyon behind, we drove towards the Grand Canyon, one of the most famous national parks in the USA and one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders.
Almost everyone has heard of the impressive Grand Canyon, whose massive and colorful landscape provides sensational views. I heard about it when I was a kid, and I have always wanted to see it with my own eyes. I knew it was enormous, but I was not prepared for its vastness and sheer size. We were standing at the rim, looking toward the horizon, and everywhere our eyes landed, we could see the canyon.
About the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the oldest national parks in the USA, designated a “forest reserve” in 1893, and later in 1919, becoming Grand Canyon National Park. The uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the erosion caused by the meandering Colorado river flowing through the canyon created this wonder of nature. Beautiful sequences of rock layers serve as windows into time and show us the history of Earth as early as 1.8 billion (PreCambrian) years ago. The Colorado River established its course through the canyon approximately 6 million years ago and likely evolved from pre-existing drainages to its current course.
The Grand Canyon is 1857 meters deep and 446 kilometers long. It is 28.8 km long at its widest point and only 180 m at its narrowest point (Marble Canyon). The highest points at the Grand Canyon are found at Point Imperial on the North Rim, 2683 m high, and Navajo Point on the South Rim, 2285 meters high, while the elevation of the lowest point at Phantom Ranch on the bottom of the canyon floor is only 750 meters.
The oldest human artifacts found in Grand Canyon are nearly 12,000 years old. Researchers have uncovered more than 4,800 archeological sites while surveying only 3% of the park’s total area. Grand Canyon is also home to 11 tribes with deep history and connection to the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon is officially split into the North, South, and West Rims, while East Rim is an unofficial area of the Grand Canyon.
Most tourists come to the Grand Canyon from its southern edge, South Rim, which is accessible all year round. It is the most developed site, with a visitor center, train station, and shuttle busses driving people to the most bewitching vistas.
It is also the rim that we picked, as there are the most viewpoints along the road, and they are easily accessible by car. There are also a lot of interesting trails leading along the rim and deep into the canyon; however, due to lack of time and cloudbursts (again!), we didn’t hike much ;(
Grand Canyon South Rim has over 1100 km of hiking trails and myriad kilometers of backroads, allowing countless opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, photography, and viewing wildlife.
If you are into a unique experience, you can try mule rides along the rim of the Phantom Ranch, rafting on the Colorado River, and train tour with the Grand Canyon Railway, a heritage railroad that carries passengers between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park or helicopter tour. With so many helicopter tours available, and commercials everywhere, you will definitely be tempted. We considered taking a helicopter ride from Las Vegas, but in the end, 500$ per person felt like a lot of money 🙁
There are many incredible viewpoints at the South Rim to get the best views of the Grand Canyon, which can be divided into three sections:
- Desert View Road (Grandview Point, Shoshone Point, Moran Point, Zuni Point, Lipan Point, Navajo Point, Desert View Watchtower)
- Grand Canyon Village (Lookout Studio, Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, Ooh Aah Point)
- West Rim Drive – Hermit Road (Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, Hermit’s Rest, Yuma Point.)
We drove along Desert View Road and stopped by every time we saw a sign for a vista. My favorite one was Desert View Watchtower, with a tall magnificent tower on the cliff overlooking the canyon. Simply breathtaking.
After we reached the visitor center, we grabbed our National Park passport’s stamp and checked out Mather Point and the incredible views from the rim. I was very close to following Rim Trail to Yavapai Point, but with dark stormy clouds approaching fast, I was pulled away by my more responsible half.
Unfortunately, to my utter disappointment, we ran out of time to see Hermit Road and its vistas, so that will be left for our next visit.
Grand Canyon Rim Trail
Grand Canyon Rim Trail is a 20.4-km point-to-point trail stretching from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermit’s Rest. It is one of the easiest and, thus, most popular hikes, where you can choose to hike certain sections and hop on a shuttle for other parts.
Along the trail, you will see breathtaking views and incredible viewpoints wherever you turn your head.
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail is a 24.6-km out-and-back trail leading all the way down to the Colorado River. However, how far you will go is up to you.
Remember, if you want to stay overnight near the river, you need a permit.
North & South Kaibab Trails
If you would like to walk from the south to the north of the canyon, you can choose the North & South Kaibab Trails. You will have to cover 37 km, with a height difference of 1780 m. Because of the distance and the time required to traverse the canyon (~19h), it is best to plan it for two days.
Sunrise and sunset
Seeing the sunrise and sunset in the Grand Canyon is a unique experience (Mr. Google told me 😛 ). The visitor canter had posters recommending the best places for sunrises and sunsets.
Recommended vistas for sunrise:
- Hopi Point
- Mather Point
- Yavapai Point
- Yaki Point
Recommended sunset spots:
- Hopi Point
- Lipan Point
- Mather Point
- Yavapai Point
- Mojave Point
- Pima Point
National Parks are some of the last remaining sanctuaries for pristine night skies, with Grand Canyon being the best example. Because of the park’s efforts to reduce its light pollution, practically anywhere in the park is a great place to stargaze.
Some of the recommended vistas:
- Mather Point
- Desert View
- Moran Point
Read more about stargazing here.
North Rim is a much wilder, quieter, and less accessible part of the canyon, with smaller crowds. The main visitation area of the Grand Canyon North Rim is much smaller than that of the South Rim, with only three viewpoints. The views from the North Rim showcase the canyon’s width, with only a sliver of the Colorado River visible only through Angel’s Window. Although it is only 16 km away (in a straight line) from South Rim, you need to drive for 5 hours around the entire Colorado Canyon to get to it.
From what I’ve read, it is an ideal location for those that want to escape crazy crowds drown to South Rim.
The North Canyon Visitor Center and Campgrounds are only open from May 15 to October 15. The trails and infrastructure are closed to tourist traffic for the rest of the year.
Grand Canyon West is located on the Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands and is not a part of Grand Canyon National Park. This is the closest part of the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas, with only a 2-3 hour drive from the city.
West Rim is known for a Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge suspended above the Grand Canyon floor. Mark, though, that it is extra paid (26$) on top of the admission ticket (~50$). You are also not allowed to bring a cell phone, cameras, purses, backpacks, etc., onto the Glass Bridge.
Other activities are also available, like zip lining, pontooning, rafting, and helicopter tours. To read more, check the official site.
Grand Canyon East is not a definition used by the National Park Service; however, local people use it to mark the area where you can find many mesmerizing sites like The Little Colorado River Gorge, the historic Cameron Trading Post, Marble Canyon, Navajo Bridge, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Rainbow Bridge, Tower Butte, part of Lake Powell and the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry.
Much of this area is known as the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the remainder is Navajo Land.
The East side of the Grand Canyon is less touristy and is perfect for travelers who want to escape the crowds from the South Rim and West Rim.
While day hiking doesn’t require permits, overnight camping outside Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, and North Rim Campground do. So if you plan to hike down the canyon and sleep next to the river, make sure you have a permit.
More info about permits and when you need them can be found here.
Check the website for the current pricing.
We have once again used our America the Beautiful Annual Pass, saving us some dollars 🙂
The entrance fee to Grand Canyon West is administered by Hualapai Tribe and is separate from any National Park Pass Entrance Fee.