15 Best Things to do at the Grand Canyon in 2020
With 6 million visitors last year alone, the Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States. No matter how many photographs of this iconic site you’ve seen, nothing compares to seeing the majesty of the Grand Canyon in person.
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the massive canyon carved out by the Colorado River is 18 miles wide, 1 mile deep, and 277 miles long! The steep and rocky walls of this famous canyon located in Northern Arizona offer visitors striking panoramas of brightly colored, exposed rock layers and geological wonders. But you don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate all that the Grand Canyon has to offer! Here are 15 things you absolutely must do when you visit Grand Canyon National Park:
Visit the Grand Canyon Village
It’s true. Grand Canyon Village is the busiest part of the entire Grand Canyon. But, despite the crowds, it’s also the area with the most lookouts and it’s really worth visiting. Take advantage of the buses for the easiest way to explore the village and the South Rim. Grand Canyon Village boasts a number of notable sights to include Hopi House, Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio, the Train Depot, and Verkamp’s Visitor Center. The Market Plaza has amenities like a post office, cafeteria, and shuttle bus pickup.
Hike in the Grand Canyon National Park
It should come as no surprise that the top thing to do when you visit the Grand Canyon is to hike. Before you set off on your hike, there are a few things to keep in mind. Be sure to check the weather. The conditions on the North and South Rims can differ drastically and are especially dependent on the time of the year. Temperatures on the South Rim in the summer can reach upward of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring your own water! Some trails have water stations, but not most. The number one mistake visitors make when hiking the Grand Canyon is not coming prepared with enough water. The National Park Service (NPS) recommends 1 gallon of water per person per day. In addition to water, bring enough food to sustain you for the duration of your hike. Light snacks aren’t going to cut it. Think foods that are high in calories and protein.
Here are a few of the Grand Canyon’s must-do day hikes:
Bright Angel Trail
The Grand Canyon’s most popular trekking trail takes you to the canyon floor and will leave you in utter amazement. Keep in mind that the hike down is the easy part, it’s the hike up that you will really need to pace yourself for. Stop at the Indian Gardens to break it up a bit. It will take at least twice as long to hike back up as it took you to hike down. The NPS advises against hiking from the rim to the river and back in one day, especially between May and September.
South Kaibab Trail
a more difficult trail, the South Kaibab Trail is a dirt trail and can be challenging for even experienced hikers. The breathtaking views make it easy to lose track of time and of how far you’ve traveled. Hike to Cedar Ridge for an easier nice 3-mile (5km) roundtrip hike. Or, take the trail to Skeleton Point for a roundtrip hike of 6 miles (9.6km) with steeper switchbacks and an awesome first view of the Colorado River.
the Rim Trail is a 13 mile (21km), well-defined, mostly paved trail. It’s considered an easy hike with little elevation change and fantastic views down into the canyon. It’s wheelchair accessible from Lookout Studio to the South Kaibab Trailhead.
North Kaibab Trail
The only maintained trail on the North Rim. Hike to 1.5 miles (2.4km) roundtrip to Coconino Overlook or 4 miles (6.5km) roundtrip to Supai Tunnel for stunning views and an idea for the canyon’s natural beauty and vast size.
See Havasu Falls
Everything about the Grand Canyon is breathtaking. But there is just something about waterfalls that are truly awe-inspiring, and Havasu Falls is no exception. It’s one of the Grand Canyon’s most beautiful waterfalls, and, believe me, you’re going to have to work hard for the view. It’s a 10-mile hike into the canyon, but the reward is sweet! The blue-green water seems almost unreal against the bright orange backdrop of the canyon rocks. Once you get your fill, it’s another 10 miles back up the to the rim. You can’t possibly do this as a day hike, so you will need to make a campground reservation.
Havasu Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and Havasupai means “people of the blue-green waters.” The land is owned and maintained by the Havasupai, and lies outside of the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. In order to visit the falls, you must have a reservation to enter the Havasupai Indian Reservation and stay at their campground. Day hikes are not permitted (probably because it’s a 10 mile one-way) and it’s recommended to stay 2-3 nights. Reservations can be made through their website, but fill up extremely fast, so act early.
Ride a Mule to the Grand Canyon Floor
A truly unique way to experience the Grand Canyon is on the back of a mule! While they are a little stinky, the ride it totally worth it. Not only will you save a ton of energy not hiking the trails yourself, you will experience some of the best views. The only mule tours that take you to the canyon floor are the tours conducted on the South Rim. Of course, this makes them highly desirable and reservations are extremely competitive which means you’ll have to plan at least 12 months in advance.
If you are already within the 12-month window, don’t worry. There is an abundance of mule rides on North Rim and the National Forest Trail. Rides on the North Rim primarily keep you on the rim trails. Because these trail rides are more available, you can book them right in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Take the Grand Canyon Railway
Step back in time as you board the Grand Canyon Railway. You’ll feel like you are in the American West in the early 1900s on the beautifully restored railcars. To make the experience even more immersive, you’ll be accompanied on your journey by western musicians and cowboy characters as the Old West is brought to life. Look out your window for a scenic ride as the train takes you from Williams, Arizona and drops you off right at Grand Canyon National Park.
The train departs Williams at 09:30 and takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to arrive at the canyon. It returns from the canyon to Williams at 15:30 daily. Visit during the fall and holiday seasons for special seasonal-themed train rides.
Watch a Sunset looking over the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon is probably one of the most mesmerizing things you will ever see. The fading sun lights up the red and orange rocks. There no “best place” to catch a sunset, but do look for a viewpoint that juts out into the canyon so you have views to the east and the west. Some notable places to view and exceptional sunset are:
- Hopi Point– one of the most popular sunset destinations, Hopi point is easy to access, has bus service, but it can be crowded.
- Hermit Road– along this stretch stop at Mohave and Pima Points for stunning sunset views sans the crowds.
- Desert View Drive– Yaki, Navajo, and Desert View offer excellent east to west panorama views.
Spend a Night Camping in the Grand Canyon
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon for several days, spend at least one of those nights camping in the seemingly endless desert. There are two ways to camp in the Grand Canyon. The first is to stay at a “frontcountry” campground, which means you can drive your car right up to your campsite and you don’t need a special permit (but you will need a reservation).
The South Rim has two campgrounds and an RV park and the North Rim has one campground. If you are visiting in the winter, you will have to camp out on the South Rim, as the road that goes through the North Rim completely closes down for the winter. With a shorter operating season (May-October), campsite reservations at the North Rim Campground can be harder to get, so make your reservation as soon as possible.
Although a little more crowded in the summer, the South Rim is also an excellent place to spend the night camping. The South Rim offers two campgrounds—Desert View Campground and Mather Campground. Desert View is more secluded than Mather Campground and tends to be a little more peaceful. It is also located near some great viewpoints including the Desert View Watchtower. Mather Campground is closer to the amenities of Grand Canyon Village and has more robust facilities. The Trailer Village is located next to Mather Campground and has full RV hookups.
The second kind of camping you can do at the Grand Canyon is backcountry camping. This means that you will be pitching your tent anywhere other than the park’s designated campgrounds and you will need to obtain a permit to do so.
Go rafting on the Colorado River
The Grand Canyon really owes all of the credit to the reason it exists—the Colorado River. To get to really know this massive canyon, you need to get on the water that started it all, and the best way to do that is on a raft. Picking the right rafting trip is very important. Do you want to go for 10-14 days, 4-9 days, or just for the afternoon? Also, consider your skill level to determine whether you should take a whitewater or smooth water rafting adventure. Longer trips include hikes and overnights at some spectacular locations. If you’re short on time, a day trip is a great way to soak in the majesty of the Grand Canyon on the waters of the Colorado River.
Take a helicopter Tour of the Grand Canyon
One of the coolest ways to marvel at the beauty of the Grand Canyon is from above! Get an awe-inspiring bird’s eye view of this natural wonder with a helicopter tour. You’ll get unique, panoramic views of the canyon that stretch for hundreds of miles. After you take in the sheer enormity of the Grand Canyon, you will also get an opportunity to get an up-close look at the stunning rock formations. A helicopter tour is a great option to see more of the canyon than stopping at a couple of viewpoints if you aren’t physically able, or simply don’t want to hike.
A helicopter tour is also an excellent option to see a whole lot if you only have a short amount of time to spend at the Grand Canyon. The most popular places to catch a helicopter tour are out of Grand Canyon Airport on the outer edge of the South Rim, Las Vegas, Nevada, or Sedona, Arizona.
Do the Grand Canyon Skywalk
This controversial engineering marvel, is a must-see when you visit the Grand Canyon. Although some argue that it’s a blemish on the natural surroundings of the canyon, the breathtaking views that this glass-bottom, horseshoe-shaped bridge offers are something you have to see for yourself. The glass floor of the Skywalk reaches 70 feet out over the edge of the canyon rim and sits 4,000 feet above the canyon floor.
The Skywalk is located at Eagle Point, named for the natural rock formation that looks like an eagle. Eagle Point offers more than just the Skywalk. Explore the tribal heritage, traditions, and dwellings of several Native American tribes including the Hopi, Plains, Hualapai, Navajo, and Havasupai in the Native American Village. Or, enjoy Native American dances in the amphitheater every day at 13:00 and 17:00. Find a hand-crafted souvenir in the Native American giftshop on your way out.
Cross the Grand Canyon on the Black Suspension Bridge
Also known as the Kaibab Bridge, the Black Suspension Bridge was the first safe way to cross the Grand Canyon and was built in 1928. Before the bridge was built, the only way to get from the North Rim to the South Rim was to cross the Colorado River by a steel cage that hung perilously from a cableway high above the river. Sitting 65 feet above the Colorado River, the Black Suspension Bridge allows visitors to continue on the Kaibab trail. The only other bridge within hundreds of miles is the Silver Bridge pedestrian bridge.
Visit the Bright Angel Lodge and History Room
The Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon Village was designed in 1935 by famous Southwest architect, Mary Colter. The design of the hotel was inspired by the surrounding geologic features. The rock fireplace in the Bright Angel History Room mimics the geologic sequence of the layers of rock found along the Bright Angel Trail, from river to rim. This scientifically accurate representation of the natural environment of the Grand Canyon is a definite must-see!
See the Tusayan Ruins
The 800-year-old Tusayan Ruins is one of the major archeological sites in Grand Canyon National Park. This ancestral Pueblo site dates back to 1185 but stop by the Tusayan Museum to check out artifacts ranging from 2,000-4,000 years old. Park Rangers offer guided tours which you should definitely take advantage of to hear the story behind the ruins and make sense of the archaeological site.
Desert View Watchtower
This National Historic Landmark was built in 1932 by renowned Grand Canyon architect, Mary Colter. The Ancestral Puebloan-style stone tower stands 70 feet high and is filled with murals by Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie. There are 85 steps that lead to the top which offers magnificent 360-degree views of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, and the Painted Desert.
Stay at the Bar 10 Ranch
Have you ever wanted to sleep in a covered wagon? Well, lucky for you, you can do just that at the Bar 10 Ranch. Located on the North Rim, the beautifully secluded Bar 10 has been a favorite destination for Grand Canyon visitors since the 1970s when it was originally opened by the Heaton family. Although the ranch’s original purpose was to serve rafters ending their week-long journey on the Colorado River, today the ranch is one of the premier recreation destinations in the area.
If a covered wagon isn’t sounding quite like your thing, don’t worry, Bar 10 Ranch has a beautiful lodge with stunning views of the Grand Canyon. They’ll even let you sleep out on the deck if you want a perfectly clear view of the night sky. As a working cattle ranch, the Bar 10 serves up some of the best beef barbeque. For some fun, try horseback riding, river rafting, skeet shooting, or an ATV tour. Prices are extremely reasonable and overnight packages include your accommodations, dinner, and breakfast. The Bar 10 Ranch is located in St. George, Utah.
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