10 Great Tours and Experiences in the Grand Canyon

By Veronica Stoddart

It’s iconic. It’s dramatic. It’s historic.

The Grand Canyon, a craggy 277-mile-long, one-mile-deep gorge carved by the Colorado River eons ago, is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Too many people satisfy themselves by standing on the edge, taking some photos, and leaving. But there are so many better ways to get to know the park’s 1.2 million acres by land, river, or air; by horseback, mule, or raft; via helicopter, guided tour bus, or train.

Hike the Bright Angel Trail

 

Surround yourself with massive soaring cliffs and endless vistas as you pick your way down the park’s most popular rim-to-river hiking path, the Bright Angel Trail. It’s steep, to be sure, but also easy enough for those in moderately good shape. The century-old trail starts in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and zigzags its way down endless switchbacks for 9.5 miles to the Bright Angel Campground.

Spend the Night at Phantom Ranch

 

Looking for bragging rights? Spend the night at Phantom Ranch, the only Grand Canyon lodging below the rim.

Accessible only by mule, on foot, or via raft on the Colorado River, the remote facility features rustic stone-and-wood cabins and a main lodge all designed by Mary Jane Colter, the celebrated early-20th-century Grand Canyon architect.

Board the Grand Canyon Railway

 

You don’t have to be a train buff: One of the world’s great rail journeys is the Grand Canyon Railway. Departing from the historic Arizona town of Williams, it chugs each morning on a 65-mile journey north to Grand Canyon National Park. On the two-hour trip, you’ll wind your way up and over Arizona’s 5,000-foot-high Colorado Plateau, passing the red buttes, prairies, and pinyon pines of the high desert along its incredibly scenic route.

Raft the Colorado River

BOATERS RUNNING LAVA FALLS RAPID IN GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK. MARK LELLOUCH, NPS.

Thrill to the challenge of whitewater rafting down the mighty Colorado River. You’ll tackle waves up to 13 feet in the biggest rapids, witness magnificent slot canyons one after the other, and be inspired by a new perspective of the canyon from the bottom looking up.

Sightseeing by Helicopter

Helicopter flying through Grand Canyon National Park

There’s nothing like a bird’s-eye view to absorb the sheer size and scale of the most famous canyon in the world. Soar over the landscape in a circular route on a helicopter tour. With departures from both the South and West Rim (or even from Las Vegas), you’ll fly over the Kaibab National Forest, the world’s largest stand of ponderosa pine, see Marble Canyon and Point Imperial, and skim through Dragon Corridor, the widest and deepest part of the canyon.

Take a Horseback Trail Ride

 

Saddle up and play cowboy as you clip-clop on a path far below the remote North Rim on the six-day “Grand Canyon Winter Pastures”. You’ll camp along the way (be prepared to lend a hand) and eat hearty meals cooked over an open fire. With nearly no other people around, your only trail encounters might be an occasional desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, or condors soaring overhead.

Bike the Hermit Road

 

“Low on traffic and high on wow.” That’s how Bright Angel Bicycles describes the popular 5.5-mile Hermit Road Tour. Built by early pioneers, the historic Hermit Road follows the canyon’s South Rim for seven miles. Riding along greenways and roads closed to traffic reveals sweeping vistas and knockout overlooks, while guides share info on the natural and human history of what you see.

Pause on a Sunrise or Sunset Bus Tour

 

Whether it’s the subtlety of the early morning or the spectacle of the day’s end, sunrise and sunset at the canyon are showstoppers. The best way to enjoy them is on an interpretive bus tour offered by Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. Drivers also enrich the experience with informative narration on history and geology.

Tour it Three Ways with a Multi-Part Adventure

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS/ Mark Lellouch.
There are three different river trip opportunities through Grand Canyon National Park. Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm
While on river trips, we all seek something special for ourselves, our families, and our friends. This might be solitude or camaraderie, or both. Even though we are unique individuals, we visit the river and the canyon for many of the same reasons. By considering the needs of others and by leaving the canyon as pristine as or better than you found it, everyone has the potential to create a positive and safe river experience.

What can be better than a three-in-one? This daylong, multi-part experience, Scenic Canyon Flight and River Adventure from Adrenaline, combines sky, land, and river excursions. Begin with a one-hour airplane tour of the East Rim, swooping over timeless sights. Follow with a 90-minute four-wheeler tour of the upper Antelope Canyon, maneuvering among labyrinthine formations through dramatic slot canyons. End with a 15-mile smooth-water float trip on the Colorado River, drifting past remarkable petroglyphs etched by ancient peoples. Now that’s one fine day.

Ride a Mule

 

Mules have long ruled the canyon and for good reason. By following the canyon’s East Rim trail on the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride, you’ll thrill to Insta-worthy views of the park at every turn. Guides lead the four-mile, three-hour trek (riders must weigh less than 225 pounds, fully dressed) while sharing tales and tidbits about the canyon’s history, geology, ecology, and more. Yes, the trail is scarily narrow (not for the faint of heart), but consider that mules have carried more than 600,000 visitors safely since 1887.

Image courtesy of Courtesy: Frommers.com

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