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Grand Canyon Info & Highlights

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The Grand Canyon stands alone in the annals of canyons. There are deeper canyons, wider canyons and longer canyons, but none have the scintillating, spiral-colored majesty of the Grand Canyon. The Canyon is over a mile deep, 13 to 18 miles wide and 227 miles long. An experienced backpacker can spend weeks exploring it. The canyon is so huge that it is really three distinct entities; The South Rim, the North Rim and the Canyon Floor.

Five million people a year visit the Canyon, so expect traffic at any time of year, but especially in the summer. The most popular destination is the South Rim. About 4.5 million people see the Canyon from here every year. The North Rim is at a higher elevation and is less traveled, but definitely worth the trip. If you plan on staying overnight at the Canyon just remember that Lodgings on site are booked a year ahead of time and the licensed campgrounds within the park take advanced reservations and/or operate on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up fast. If you have no luck with a campsite within the park, try the campgrounds in nearby Tusayan. They cost about $10 and usually have vacancy.

Hiking permits for the backcountry and overnight stays on the canyon floor are best booked 4 months ahead of time. Last minute cancellations may allow you access to the canyon floor just by showing up (7am at the Ranger Station is your best bet). You can make reservations with the Grand Canyon National Park. (928) 638-7888 or (800) 365-CAMP for campsite advanced bookings.

A 7 day park permit for the North and South Rim costs $25.00/car or $12.00/person or cyclist, payable upon entry to the park.

The best places to explore the Grand Canyon are from Williams and Flagstaff for the South Rim and Kanab (Utah) and Page for the North Rim. Each town has hostel accommodation.

Things to See & Do

Check out the visitor center for up-to-date info on hiking and ranger-led programs offered daily, some of which are free. The South Rim visitor center is located in Grand Canyon Village, six miles past the South Entrance. The North Rim information desk is at the Grand Canyon Lodge.

Mule Rides  
1 and 2 day trips from the South Rim to the Canyon Floor can be booked 11 months in advance and tend to fill up fast. There is a waiting list for cancellations. You must be at least 4 feet 7 inches (137.5cm) tall, weigh less than 200lbs (91kg), be able to understand English and not be pregnant. Full day tours cost about $148 per person. Overnight trips about $703. (888) 297-2757

Apache Stables  
“Never walk when you can ride.” See the canyon the cowboy way. One or two hour trail rides. (928) 638-2891

Western River Adventures  
(866)904-1160

Arizona Raft Adventures  
(800) 786-RAFT

Hiking the Grand Canyon

Unlike the usual destination for the free-spirited traveler, it is NOT a good idea to arrive at the Canyon and wander about figuring things out as you go along. In a city, such an approach may yield exciting and memorable experiences. The desert is not as forgiving, and make no mistake, the Grand Canyon is a desert. The best way to see the Canyon is to hike it. Make sure you are well informed on the hazards you may face before you set out. There are no easy trails in the Grand Canyon. And remember, it will take twice as long to climb as it did for you to descend.

Day hiking is free, but camping overnight will cost you. If you wish to camp anywhere in the park other than in developed campgrounds on the rims, you must obtain a permit from the Backcountry Office. There are four ways to apply for a permit: 1) hand the application in at the Backcountry Office; 2) submit an application through the National Parks Service website (www.thecanyon.com); 3) fax a request to the Backcountry Office at (928) 638-7875; 4) mail an application to the Backcountry Office at PO Box 129 Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.  Applications are processed first-in, first-out. Phones are answered from 1 to 5pm EST Mon-Fri. (928) 638-7875

Note that starting late October, only day hiking is available at the North Rim during the winter.

Trails and Views
There are sixteen marked trails and many additional obscure passageways to the Canyon floor from both the North and South rims. But only the South Kaibab and Bright Angel from the South Rim and the North Kaibab from the North Rim are maintained and patrolled regularly. These three trails converge at the Canyon floor near the Colorado river, creating a wide cross-canyon trail. The traffic concentration here has allowed the Park Department to provide modern conveniences such as reliable water sources and good camping sites. These three trails are a good idea for an enjoyable Grand Canyon Adventure, especially for first time visitors.  Due to the immense proportions of the Canyon, the Colorado River is visible only from certain areas including the rim and the plateau at the end of the Bright Angel day trail. It’s a strenuous minimum 2 day (r/t) hike to the river from the South Rim; it’s a longer trip from the North Rim.

South Rim

There are many overlooks accessible by car which offer spectacular views. The East Rim Drive (Highway 64) follows the canyon rim for 26 miles east of Grand Canyon Village to Desert View (the east entrance to the park). The East Rim Drive, east of Yaki Point, is open to private vehicles throughout the year. From the Tusayan Museum, 23 miles from the Village, you can take a Ranger-led or self-guided tour of the Anasazi ruins.
The West Rim Drive follows the rim for 8 miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. The West Rim Drive is closed to private automobiles from April 11 through October 12. At that time of year, a free shuttle bus takes you to overlooks on the West Rim Drive.
A hiking trail follows the rim from Yavapai Point to Hermits Rest; the Rim Trail is paved from Yavapai Point west only as far as Maricopa Point. Unpaved portions of the trail are narrow and close to the edge.
Yavapai Observation Station (just west of Mather Point on the South Rim) offers panoramic views of the canyon from inside the building and is open all year. For viewing and photographing the canyon, the light is most dramatic early or late in the day; the mid-day sun tends to wash everything out. Times for sunrise and sunset are listed in The Guide. If you’re planning to see the canyon at sunrise or sunset, you’ll want to be on the rim at least an hour beforehand.
($12pp/$25 per car, 928-638-7888)

North Rim

The North Rim, at a higher elevation, is less traveled, but definitely worth the trip. At the North Rim, within walking distance of the Grand Canyon Lodge, is Bright Angel Point. It offers great views of the canyon (1/2 mile walk).The North Kaibab Trail leads to Roaring Springs (9.4 miles, 8 hrs r/t), a strenuous, all-day hike (take plenty of water) and the canyon floor (2/3 day hike r/t).  By car you can drive to Point Imperial, the highest point on both the North and South Rims. From Cape Royal, you can take a self-guided nature trail and catch a view of the Colorado River. The North Rim is 220 miles by car from the South Rim.
($12pp/$25 per car, 928-638-7888)

West Rim

This once lightly touristed corner of the Grand Canyon has been transformed into a big tourist attraction (or trap for some). The Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that juts out from the canyon rim, 4000 feet above the Colorado River, costs $75 but includes Guano Point, the Hualapai Ranch, a Native American cultural performance and an all-you-can eat meal. (702-878-9378).

Cheap Eats

Good advice says to pay a visit to a supermarket at your starting point (Flagstaff, Williams, etc.) and stock up. It’s the cheapest way to go. A cafeteria meal at the canyon will run you $8 to $12. Tusayan has fast food, such as Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.


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