10 Things to Do at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a World Heritage Site. This geological wonder is one mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 river miles long. Some visitors to the Grand Canyon only spend a few hours there, driving into the park, peering down into the big hole in the ground in front of them, and then going on their way. But there is so much more to see and so many things to do at the Grand Canyon you can easily spend a few days there if not even longer.
Capture the Grandeur in a Photograph
Photographing the Grand Canyon adequately will probably be one of the most difficult things to do. Its magnificence is its grandiose size, which is hard to convey in a 4×6 picture. Take your time, be sure to enjoy the view in a way that you’ll always have it in your memory bank, and keep your eye out for photo opportunities. Early morning and late afternoon are best for photos because the low position of the sun allows for shadows and depth. Also photos that show perspective, like your traveling companion looking like a small speck on top of a cliff, give a sense of the sheer massiveness.
Walk the South Rim Trail
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon visit Mather Point near the park entrance and Grand Canyon Village. Mather Point does provide an impressive view of the Grand Canyon, but it can also get very crowded. To really get a sense of the splendor of the Grand Canyon, but the easy way, walk the South Rim Trail, which provides seven miles of level hiking, some of it paved, from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest, with multiple viewpoints along the way. If you’re traveling with pets, note that this trail is dog-friendly as it never enters the inner canyon. If you’re not traveling with dogs, you can hike as far as you want and then catch one of the park’s shuttle buses back to the village.
Drive Desert View Drive
While the South Rim Trail follows the edge of the Grand Canyon from Grand Canyon Village to the west, Desert View Drive follows the rim for 23 miles to the east entrance. Viewpoints along the way include Grandview Point which, as its name suggests, provides one of the grandest views of the Grand Canyon, and Desert View and Watchtower, where you can climb a stone tower which was built in the 1930s as an overlook. Also along Desert View Drive are the Tusayan Ruins and Museum, an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site.
Watch the Sunset
There are certain places in the world at which it is essential to watch the sunset. The Grand Canyon is one of those places. Yavapai Point is one of the best viewpoints from which to watch the sun set over the Grand Canyon. Get there early and grab a rock to sit on before the crowds arrive, because arrive they will. If you have a cute, tiny little white dog with you wearing a jacket, he’ll be the most popular thing at the Point. While waiting for the sunset, our dog Charlie was the star of the show, surrounded by Grand Canyon paparazzi shooting hundreds of pictures of him until the sun was ready for its performance.
Gaze at the Stars
Look for Wildlife
I have never seen so many stars as we saw one night at one of the pullouts along Desert View Drive (not even when we saw the Northern Lights, another of the seven natural wonders of the world). Since there are no street lights and no big cities anywhere nearby to create light pollution, nighttime along the Grand Canyon is pitch black, providing the opportunity to see a sky filled with millions of stars. It can also be a bit spooky to be out in the middle of nowhere in such complete darkness.
Because of the Grand Canyon’s large natural landscape, range of elevations, and protected status, it is quite likely you’ll spot some wildlife. The biggest animals you’ll encounter are the elk found within Grand Canyon National Park which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Be sure to keep a respectful distance. When your wife shouts, “Stop the car!” it is probably not such a good idea to make a U-turn to get closer as it may spook the elk and make them ponder charging. Other animals to steer clear of are mountain lions. Somewhat less dangerous animals that may be spotted in the park are mule deer, bighorn sheep, and rock squirrels.
Hike into the Grand Canyon
For a challenge and a closer look at the Grand Canyon, you can hike into the inner canyon along one of the many trails. For a day hike, the Bright Angel Trail is a steep trail which can be made into an up to 12-mile roundtrip day hike. The trail starts at Bright Angel Trailhead west of Bright Angel Lodge and ends at Plateau Point, which provides views of the Colorado River. It is not recommended to try to hike all the way to the Colorado River and back in one day. To go further into the Grand Canyon, you can obtain a permit and backpack overnight or join an organized hiking tour.
Ride a Mule
Raft the Colorado River
A less arduous way to visit the inner Grand Canyon is to join a mule trip. Mule trips are offered at both the South Rim and North Rim and they range from one-hour trips to overnight rides.
Fly Over the Grand Canyon
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-inducing Grand Canyon adventure, join a rafting tour along the Colorado River and get views of the Grand Canyon from the bottom up. Whitewater rafting trips last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on how much of the river you want to travel and may also include hiking to or from the rim. There are also some smooth-water half-day and full day trips.
For another adrenaline rush that provides a completely different view of the Grand Canyon, take to the sky with either ahelicopter tour or an airplane tour. Aerial tours of the Grand Canyon last anywhere from 15 minutes to all day.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon
If you plan on experiencing many or all of the above things to do at the Grand Canyon, you’ll need to stay nearby. There are a number of hotels within Grand Canyon National Park. Along the South Rim are Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Maswik Lodge, and Yavapai Lodge. There are also campgrounds on both rims and Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Since we were traveling with our dogs, we chose to stay at the pet-friendly Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon in Tusayan, a short drive from the Grand Canyon South Entrance. The hotel has a fun lodge-like Southwestern décor and a steak restaurant, Canyon Star, where Banjo Paul frequently performs, singing songs from all decades and all genres while strumming his banjo.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the huge expanse of this large hole in the ground, but dedicating a few days of your vacation to enjoy some of the many things to do at the Grand Canyon will be an experience that will last a lifetime.
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