5 Iconic Experiences at Grand Canyon
Although only about one percent of visitors see Grand Canyon from the unique perspective of the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails that descend below the rim, don’t skip this exhilarating experience.
Each year, Grand Canyon inspires six million people to travel to northern Arizona to experience one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. Bordered by the massive Kaibab Plateau (which rests upon the even larger Colorado Plateau), Grand Canyon’s dimensions — roughly 277 miles long, 18 miles across, and one mile deep — offer enough space to provide unlimited opportunities for recreation, discovery, and self-discovery. So how to choose? Here are five iconic experiences that will fully immerse you into this unique landscape and create memories that will last forever.
1. Canyon Vistas Mule Rides
The indelible image of mules and Grand Canyon wasn’t the product of an ad agency, it’s a historic partnership that goes back well over a century. You can become part of history by signing up for the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride. On this four-mile, three-hour tour (two hours in the saddle) a guide leads a line of sure-footed mules and their riders on a slow and steady journey along the South Rim where guests gain an instant education in geology, wildlife, and the canyon’s long line of human history — along with stunning views of this bucket-list place.
Learning about the ever-changing and ongoing creation of the canyon is one thing. Doing it while riding a mule makes it an unforgettable experience.
2. Touring the Historic Village
Long before García López de Cárdenas and his band of Spanish explorers arrived in 1540, humans had already established settlements in the high desert environment along Grand Canyon. But it wasn’t until the closing years of the 19th century that Grand Canyon began its transformation into a visitor destination. Pioneering entrepreneurs set up stores, restaurants, studios, galleries, and hotels — and many of those very same places are still here in the epicenter of Grand Canyon National Park: the Historic Village.
On a casual stroll along a wide promenade, you’ll see the Hopi House, architect Mary J. Colter’s 1904 masterpiece, which opened as a residence and retail center for Native Americans. The popular gallery is still a favorite for Native American arts and crafts. Further on, the Kolb Studio is where Ellsworth and Emery Kolb established their photography studio that brought attention to Grand Canyon (as well as to their daring exploits as photographers). Another Colter creation is the neighboring Lookout Studio, which the Santa Fe Railway opened as a photography studio to compete with the Kolbs. The views are just as vibrant today as when she designed the structure in 1914. And don’t miss the famed El Tovar Hotel, the park’s signature lodging and dining venue, and the nearby Bright Angel Lodge and its History Room, with a 10-foot-high geologic representation of the Grand Canyon rock layers. Not surprisingly, its exhibition includes information about Mary J. Colter who, in 1935, designed this as well, along with almost half the buildings in the district.
3. Sunrise, Sunset
Surprisingly, waking early to witness sunrise over the canyon rim or stepping outside after dark to see the Milky Way is something overlooked by the majority of visitors. But they’re really missing out.
Catching sunrise can be as simple as walking to the rim in time for the first rays of daylight. Otherwise, you can be dressed and ready to board a shuttle bus 30 minutes before sunrise, which, depending on the season, could be as early as 4:30 a.m. (summertime) or as late as 7 a.m. (winter). That’s when the 90-minute Sunrise Tour heads to Hopi Point or nearby overlooks with the driver sharing information about Grand Canyon’s natural history along the way. Find a vantage point along the rim, get your camera ready, and be mesmerized by the spectacle before you.
Later that day, bookend the experience with a Sunset Tour for views of the sun painting the sky in a rich color palette and for the brilliant wash of stars that follows
4. A Walk in the National Park
Although only about one percent of visitors see Grand Canyon from the unique perspective of the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails that descend below the rim, don’t skip this exhilarating experience. Located near the west end of the Historic Village, the Bright Angel’s convenient location makes it easy to reach. Follow it for half a mile (or even a few hundred yards) to change the way you see the canyon as the perspective changes with every step, angles alter sightlines at every turn, and the scope of the canyon changes as the walls above grow taller.
If a short hike whets your appetite for more, consider tackling one of the best three-mile round-trip hikes in the world: the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, which is filled with ooh-ahh moments. (Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water.)
5. Expand Your Range
More views and more Mary J. Colter structures beckon farther afield. A little more than 25 miles east is Desert View, a small settlement on the South Rim. With plenty of parking, restrooms, and a small restaurant, this is a popular destination due largely to its location, which offers some of the finest views of the Colorado River and canyon geology. Those views are magnified when seen from the summit of Colter’s Hopi-inspired Watchtower, one of the canyon’s iconic landmarks. Adding 70 feet of elevation above the rim, the tower provides an Instagram-worthy vantage point for taking panoramic images of Grand Canyon.
Just about eight miles west of the village, Hermit’s Rest is yet another example of Colter’s talent. Designed in 1914 as the refuge of a fictional prospector, this stone and timber structure blends so organically with its setting that it resembles a natural rock formation. And the bonus is still another unforgettable view of Grand Canyon.
How to Explore
The best way to enjoy these experiences is to spend a night or longer at one of the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, the premier in-park lodging with six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
Or consider the 10-day “Bryce, Zion & the Grand Canyon” tour from Holiday Vacations, one of America’s most reputable tour companies with more than 45 years of experience. As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, their packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, meals and must-see attractions. Expert tour directors handle all travel details, assuring you a carefree and memorable vacation. Visit HolidayVacations.com for more information.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.