The Grand Canyon is a valley carved by the Colorado River, located in the U.S. state of Arizona. Estimated to have formed 5-6 billion years ago, the Grand Canyon is situated within the Grand Canyon National Park and expands across the Hualapai Indian reservation, the Navajo Nation, the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and the Kaibab National Forest. Originally home to a number of different Native American nations, the Grand Canyon AZ holds tremendous cultural significance for Native Americans and is still home to a number of sacred sites.
With no shortage of stunning vista views and an abundance of cultural and geological history, it's no wonder that President Theodore Roosevelt sought to preserve the Grand Canyon National Park. In 1908, President Roosevelt declared Grand Canyon AZ a national monument, protecting the region from private development. Since then, Grand Canyon National Park, with the help of the U.S. National Park Service, has been used for various purposes, including hiking, whitewater rafting, and geological research.
If you're not within driving distance, you can get to the Grand Canyon by catching a direct flight from Las Vegas or Phoenix to Flagstaff Airport — both of these flight routes will give you a scenic introduction to the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon AZ is not the deepest canyon in the world. However, with its unique geological formation, it is one of the most well-known. Much of the region's geological history has been sourced from the towering high walls of the Grand Canyon. At its deepest point, the Grand Canyon is approximately 6,093 feet deep. The deepest points of the Grand Canyon can be found around the North Rim, near the highest sections of the Colorado Plateau.
The Grand Canyon is a particularly unique structure and its formation can be accredited to a series of unlikely geological events. These events began when layer upon layer of sediment settled upon a 2 billion-year-old rock bed of igneous and metamorphic rock, forming what would eventually become the building blocks for the soaring Grand Canyon canyons. Studies of the stratigraphic (rock) column indicate that the uppermost rock layer of the Grand Canyon is composed of Kaibab Limestone, a rock type originally formed at the bottom of the ocean. Scientists deduced that, after an unknown amount of years, the movement of tectonic plates lifted the entire area, creating what we now know as the Colorado Plateau.
The elevation of the Colorado Plateau was a crucial step in the formation of the Grand Canyon. Over time, the erosive power of water began to forge valleys through even the biggest rock formations. Given that the Colorado River is predicted to be up to 10 million years old, we can confidently presume that the Colorado River molded the winding valleys of the Grand Canyon as we see it today.
If you're looking for the vast, panoramic views of the Grand Canyon seen on Instagram and travel websites, the Grand Canyon South Rim is your best option. With around 24 viewing platforms, the South Rim provides more accessible viewing points to accommodate for all demographics and, with an abundance of visitor centers and child-friendly activities, caters well for tourists. The Grand Canyon South Rim is located approximately 5 hours drive from both Pheonix and Las Vegas. You should have no problem finding accommodation in the South Rim — you can choose to stay at one of the many lodges or camping grounds within the national park or stay in the small town of Williams or Tusayan just outside the boundaries of the Grand Canyon AZ. If you're planning on staying at the South Rim during the high season, be sure to lock in your accommodation well in advance as bookings during this period sell out quickly.
If you're looking for Grand Canyon activities and tours, then the South Rim is an excellent option. Arguably the most popular activity in the South Rim is hiking the Bright Angel Trail, a 7.5-mile descent from the canyon rim to the Colorado River. It is not recommended to hike the entire round trip of the Bright Angel Trail in one day.
The Bright Angel Trail also marks the conclusion for most Upper Canyon whitewater rafting tours. Beginning at Lees Ferry, you can hop in a motorized, paddle, or oar-powered raft and explore the Upper Grand Canyon AZ. During your trip down the river, you will get the chance to tackle some of the region's toughest rapids. After your rafting tour, you'll make the 7.5-mile ascent back up to the South Rim.
Much like the South Rim, the North Rim has plenty to offer in the way of hiking and scenic views. However, as it's 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, the North Rim is more exposed to seasonal weather and is thus closed in the winter months for visitor safety. In most cases, the North Rim is safe to visit during the summer months, however, if you're unsure of accessibility outside of this time, you can check for news on the U.S. National Park Service website. When the North Rim is open to visitors, you can drive there from Las Vegas or, if you have arranged a guided trip, by shuttle.
A good place to start when visiting the North Rim is the Grand Canyon North Rim Visitor Centre. Here you will find detailed information on the Grand Canyon's various lookout points, hikes, maps, and other available activities. A popular and reasonably priced activity for families is mule rides. Although these tours do not descend all the way down into the basin of the Grand Canyon, you and your family can choose between a 1-hour ride around the North Rim, a 3-hour ride to Uncle Jim's Point, or a 3-hour ride to Supai Tunnel. The ride to Supai Tunnel is one of the more popular options as it takes you 2,300 feet below the rim. The cost of mule rides in the Grand Canyon will set you back anywhere between $45 to $100.
In order to maintain the infrastructure necessary to support the area's 6 million annual visitors, the Grand Canyon National Park Department charges a small entrance fee. Grand Canyon admission fees are then used to establish walking tracks, support visitor centers, and maintain on-site accommodation.
If you intend to drive in Grand Canyon National Park, you'll also need to purchase a vehicle permit. A standard Grand Canyon National Park vehicle permit costs $35 — this allows you 7 days of travel, in one non-commercial vehicle, across both the North Rim and South Rim. If you intend to travel via a motorcycle, the cost of a vehicle permit will decrease to $30. Finally, if you're traveling by foot, bicycle, or park shuttle, you'll only be charged $20. Children 15 years of age and younger are admitted to the park for free. Please note, if you're traveling with a rafting tour group, don't forget to consult your rafting outfitter as commercial rafting tours may incur additional entrance fees.
Theoretically, you can visit the Grand Canyon National Park at any time of the year. However, to get the most out of your trip, the best times to visit the national park are between March-May or September-November. Unlike other rivers, the water levels of the Colorado River are regulated by the Colorado River Management Plan rather than being dictated by melting ice and snow. This means that peak water rafting conditions usually occur in the warmer spring/summer months of the year when demand for water downstream is higher. Despite this, rafting outfitters still operate for the greater part of the year, generally offering tours from April through to October.
With summer well and truly on the way, temperatures will be on the rise and you can enjoy warmer weather without throngs of tourists, crowded accommodation, and debilitating heat. The only downfall when visiting the Grand Canyon National Park in March-May is that many areas of the national park, such as the North Rim, may still be off-limits due to lasting winter snow. Furthermore, with altitudes dramatically differing across the national park, you may still experience colder nights and inclement weather. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to pack plenty of layers and waterproof clothing just in case you run into wet weather.
Autumn is another ideal time of year for those wishing to visit the Grand Canyon AZ. Children will be back at school and parents back to work, leaving the trails and rafting routes free from large crowds and accommodation easy to come by. You will still have mild days, however, pack some warmer clothes as temperatures can get as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, if you're counting on visiting the North Rim during this period, you may be disappointed. Although early snowfall can limit access to the North Rims, you should still be able to access most other areas in the national park.
During the peak summer season (June-August), all of the national park's facilities are open to the public and the weather will be ideal for hiking and whitewater rafting. However, be prepared to battle hordes of tourists for trail space and accommodation availability.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is one of the most popular guest experiences in the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk is located in the Grand Canyon West, a mere 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas. This engineering marvel is a horseshoe-shaped bridge with glass floors and reinforced barriers strong enough to hold seventy 747 passenger jets. As you can imagine, the Grand Canyon Skywalk offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding canyon system. Unfortunately, phones and cameras are not permitted on the Skywalk. However, you will still be able to purchase photos of your experiences for as little as $16.
There are a number of packages available for those wishing to visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk. An all-inclusive, Skywalk bundle is available for $87. This includes the cost of general admission, your entrance onto the Skywalk and a voucher to use at Guano Point Cafe or the Skywalk Cafe. If you'd rather treat yourself to a luxurious meal with a view, you can purchase a voucher for the Skyview Restaurant for an additional $25 (not available as a part of the Skywalk bundle).