While not the deepest canyon in the world, the enormity of the Grand Canyon is certainly impressive. It is also hailed as one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world. The Grand Canyon is an excellent place for those looking for a rigorous hike, because all of the trails are difficult. Many take 1-2 days to complete. But if you’re not up for hiking and still want to experience the vastness of the canyon, you’re in luck. There are many scenic overlooks along both the north and south rim that provide great views and photo opportunities.
A trip to the bottom of the canyon and back (on foot or by mule) is a two-day journey. Rim to rim hikers generally take three days one way to get from the North Rim to the South Rim. Overnight trips below the rim require a Backcountry Permit, which can be obtained at the Backcountry Trip office. A trip through Grand Canyon by raft can take two weeks or longer. Experienced backpackers have spent weeks in the more remote areas of the canyon. The inner canyon can be accessed on the South Rim by the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail, and the North Rim can be accessed by using the North Kaibab Trail. There are sixteen trails in all that provide access to the inner canyon, but keep in mind that none of these trails are easy. When hiking to the bottom, you will experience discomfort from the change in elevation, the different temperatures, and the distance, so it is best to be well prepared.
There is a scenic drive at each end of the Grand Canyon. The East Rim Drive starts on Highway 64 and follows the canyon rim for 26 miles east of Grand Canyon Village to Desert View (the east entrance to the park). This road is open to public vehicles all year. The West Rim Drive follows the rim for 8 miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. This drive is closed to public vehicles from late May through September due to snow, but during this time the park runs a free shuttle bus to overlooks in the West Rim Drive. Getting a good view of the Colorado River is hard, and the best vantage point is at Lees Ferry (the official beginning of the Grand Canyon), about a 2.5-hour drive from the South Rim.
Believe it or not, humans have inhabited the Grand Canyon for at least 4,000 years. Split-twig figurines, which were representations of animals, have been found in caves below the canyon rim, made by people of the desert culture. The Grand Canyon has been home to the ancestral Puebloan people, the Anasazi, the Havasupai, the Hualapai, the Pauite and the Zuni. Pictographs are abundant and many are still plainly visible. The first white men to discover the canyon were Spaniards who came in 1540, but settlement didn’t take place until Mormon missionaries led by Jacob Hamblin came to the canyon in the mid-1800′s.
The Grand Canyon National Park is over a million acres, most of which are wilderness. There are three defined sections of the park: the South Rim, the North Rim, and the Inner Canyon. Each is unique in that they all have different climates as well as different vegetation and animal life. The Colorado River spirals through the bottom of the canyons. The earth’s creation of the canyon is debated, but the beautiful color change of the layers with the light of the sun is not. The layers are obvious, and erosion as well as the Colorado River have cut their artistic muses into the canyon.
Wildlife thrives in the Grand Canyon. The park boasts 75 species of mammals, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, 25 species of fish, and over 300 species of birds. Two of the park’s most popular tenants are the Albert squirrel, who lives only on the south rim, and the Kaibab squirrel, who lives only on the north rim. These two species of squirrel were once one, known as the tassel-eared squirrel, but when separated by the vast canyon, they evolved into two separate species. While hiking or photographing the Grand Canyon, you will most likely find Mule deer, desert bighorn, a few bobcats and coyotes, and smaller animals like beavers, gophers, chipmunks, rabbits and bats. Watch out for the insects, spiders and scorpions. Several species of endangered birds call the Grand Canyon home, including the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and willow flycatcher.
The most dominant trees in the Grand Canyon are the ponderosa pine, the pinion pine and the Utah juniper. Many of the plants and trees that grow there don’t need much water to survive, which is good because the Grand Canyon doesn’t see much rain in the spring and fall. But rain falls generously in the summer and snowfalls punctuate the winter. Due to the scorching temperatures inside the canyon, much of it is desert, shrubs and cacti.
For questions or more information on visiting the Grand Canyon National Park, call their Visitor Information line at (928) 638-7888.
We do not offer recommendations on any roads or activities. We do recommend that you check road conditions if you choose to set out for any scenic drive or hike by contacting the corresponding visitor center, state tourism office or the BLM. Roads may be slippery when wet, and weather may call for extra water, food, clothing or appropriate camping gear. Do not touch or attempt to feed any wildlife you come across, and ask federal or state officials before removing any fossils or artifacts, because in some areas a hefty fine can be imposed. Please be prepared for any emergency. Many of these areas are quite remote and cell phone service is limited. Have a safe and fun journey!