Marvel at one of the country’s greatest natural wonders
Few things in this world produce such awe as one’s first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. “It will seem as novel to you,” wrote a mesmerised John Muir, “as unearthly in colour and grandeur and quantity of its architecture as if you found it after death, on some other star.” The mile-deep chasm carved by the Colorado River is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide in places—making the views more like looking down on an ancient, multihued mountain range.
Most of the 4.6 million visitors per year head to the South Rim, about an hour’s drive north of Flagstaff. Here you’ll find the main Visitor Centre, a cluster of shops, and six lodges led by the grand old El Tovar, the park’s main man-made wonder. Built by Hopi craftsmen in 1905 from native stone and ponderosa pine logs, it is considered the crown jewel of all the other national park lodges, offering edge-of-the-world views and the best food in the park.
Guided mule rides go down to Plateau Point and back in a day, or you can hike the Bright Angel Trail that runs 9.3 miles to Phantom Ranch (a no-frills lodge with dorm rooms by the river, the only accommodation available below the rim). The more scenic South Kaibab Trail gets less foot traffic. Even the easy and mostly paved Rim Trail is hardly taxing, but with views that will leave you breathless. The canyon’s North Rim, a 210-mile drive from Flagstaff (although only about 10 to 12 miles away from the South Rim as the crow flies), is less popular though no less awe-inspiring. It’s also 1,000 feet higher and therefore cooler. The stone-and-log Grand Canyon Lodge here, built in 1937, offers views from two flagstone porches and the octagonal Sun Room. As on the South Rim, many short trails lead to various overlooks, and the North Kaibab trail runs 14 miles down to Phantom Ranch.
Two hundred and fifty driving miles west of the South Rim in the Hualapai Indian Reservation is the exhilarating 70-foot glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk, which juts out 4,000 feet above the canyon floor.
The best way to get a true sense of the sheer size and grandeur of the canyon is to take a raft ride through it on the Colorado River. Options include motorboats, oar-powered boats and rafts, and the trip can take two days or as long as you like. Either way it’s one to tell the grandchildren about, as you explore ruins in side canyons, swim in waterfalls and brave gigantic rapids that can reach Class V.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.