Grand Canyon is spectacular at all times of the year. Sunrises and sunsets are particularly stunning as you watch the light dance within the canyon's nooks and crannies. Park rangers give free talks to acquaint you with activities, which include hikes, mule rides, car excursions and shuttle rides.


This magnificent natural wonder
is encircled by great lodging,
fine food and fun activities

» If you go
» Hotels and restaurants

The Grand Canyon is one of Nature's almighty sights, offering jaw-dropping scenery, great trails, excellent lodging, and many activities to keep you busy for days. Always ranking high on surveys of global attractions, the canyon was recently rated by a BBC poll as No. 1 worldwide.

This is such a majestic place that you should explore it from several angles at different times of the day.

You don't want to come all this way only to take one or two looks before leaving. The canyon is too remote for a day trip, and because sunrise and sunset are the nicest times, you should stay several nights. It is a magical, spellbinding place where time flies.

Here are some tips, describing the lodging, restaurants, shops, and how to discover the beauty of this great spectacle. The focus is on the South Rim, the most popular side. It is open year-round and presents the familiar views seen in books and on television.

Your visit can be a breeze, thanks to our National Park Service, which does an incredible job of supervising the activities within the park, offering free ranger lectures, brochures, support, safety and other services for the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is spectacular at all times of the year. Sunrises and sunsets are particularly stunning as you watch the light dance within the canyon's nooks and crannies. Park rangers give free talks to acquaint you with activities, which include hikes, mule rides, car excursions and shuttle rides.

A three-day stay is ideal to allow time for the highlights and to let you see the canyon from many different angles.

A must is to get up early and go to the canyon rim for the sunrise, the best time of day to see the intense colors. Red morning light streaming in at a low angle juices up the brilliant canyon colors, casting highlights and shadows around the irregular geological shapes, bringing them to life.

The sun rises at 7:30 a.m. in December and 5:15 in June, so get up an hour before to get into position. Mather Point is the most convenient viewing place, but Desert View, 20 miles east of the center, offers the finest conditions. You can watch the light gradually, over 30 minutes, fill in the canyon's nooks and crannies.

Sunset at 5:30 p.m. in December and 7:40 in June, also presents a spectacular light show, best viewed from Hopi or Lipan points, or from the main rim walkway that runs through the village from El Tovar to Bright Angel.

If you're to catch the sunrise or sunset, you need to spend the night in the park or in nearby Tusayan village,.

Day 1

Check in and take a scenic drive along the East Rim.

Visitors usually enter the park through the South entrance, but the line during the summer can be considerable. You can bypass it by buying tickets at the Williams Chamber of Commerce or the IMAX Theater in Tusayan, at $20 per car plus $10 per person.

The South entrance leads to the Grand Canyon Village center where hotels, shops and restaurants are located. You will want to stay at a hotel inside the park, which requires making reservations well in advance or staying during the non-peak winter season.

Historic Bright Angel Lodge is an excellent, inexpensive place to stay, and all its cabins are within 70 yards of the canyon's rim. Some have a direct view into the canyon.

>> Hermit Road: A great way to begin your exploration after you've checked into your hotel is along West Rim Drive. This scenic two-lane road extends for eight miles along the western side of the South Rim, offering eight spectacular views, looking down into the canyon. From December through February, you can drive on Hermit Road, but cars are banned the rest of the year so you must take the shuttle bus, which runs every 15 minutes.

Grand indeed

The canyon measures 10 miles wide, 1 mile deep, with the Colorado River running through it for 227 miles. There are 16 observation areas you can drive to in the 30-mile length of the park, plus several more in a central village area.

You could hike along the rim trail and take the bus back, or vice versa. In some places this trail is without guardrails and comes near cliffs dropping hundreds of feet, making for spectacular but dangerous conditions; however, these stretches are easy to avoid with a short detour. The foot trail is especially dramatic in the three-mile section between the Abyss and Pima Point, where it is far enough from the road that no traffic can be heard. Wild deer occasionally are seen.

The first observation areas with parking lots are Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point and Powell Point, which features a monument honoring explorer John Wesley Powell, who, with his hardy crew, was the first to ride through the canyon in a boat in 1869. He wrote an account of his exploits that helped publicize this vast treasure. Spanish explorers were the first Westerners to discover the canyon in 1540, but it was ignored until the mid-19th century. Through Powell's efforts to plunge "down the Great Unknown" it soon became famous and began attracting scientists, artists and visitors.

Next, you will come to Hopi, Mojave and The Abyss, the park's steepest roadside vista, with cliffs plunging 3,000 feet straight down from the edge with no guardrail. Be sure to stop at The Abyss, an awesome precipice. Called the Great Mojave Wall, the majestic Abyss cliff curves for a mile in a deep bay on the side of the canyon. If you are going to walk along any stretch of the rim trail, this would be the most exciting.

>> Hermits Rest: This historic building at the end of the road was designed by Mary Jane Coulter in her camouflage style to blend in with the hillside. The interior is dominated by a fireplace that takes up most of the back wall, reaching the ceiling in a soaring arch. There is also a small gift shop, snack bar, restrooms and a viewing terrace. A major trail leads from here into the canyon.

Desert View is a major lookout point. Mary Jane Coulter, famous for organic architecture, designed its 70-foot tower.

Day 2

Scenic East Rim Drive

>> Sunrise from Desert View: The first thing to do is catch the sunrise here at the park's eastern end, 20 miles from the village. There are five scenic vistas to enjoy along this 20-mile stretch: Yaki, Grandview, Moran, Lipan and Desert View. Each has a parking lot and paved path to secure lookout areas, with level viewing platforms surrounded by protective railing. Escape the masses by walking along the canyon rim for more natural viewing areas. There is no organized rim trail, but the terrain is easy to walk through as long as you don't get too close to the edge. At Grandview Point there is a trail that goes into the canyon.

Desert View is a major observation area, complete with a well-stocked gift shop. A 70-foot observation tower rising from the shop is one of many impressive structures designed by Mary Jane Coulter in the 1930s. Her architectural designs were organic, creating buildings of local materials that blend in with the environment.

The shop has many fine items produced by native craftsmen, along with a full range of souvenirs, but save some shopping for later as there are many stores and galleries in the central village.

>> Tusayan Museum and Pueblo Ruins: The museum, two miles from Desert View, displays artifacts of the Native Americans who lived in the area, including clothing, tools and 3,000-year-old wooden dolls. Foundation walls of a 14-room pueblo dwelling give you some idea of domestic life at the canyon 800 years ago.

The round-trip drive could be stretched out over four hours, depending upon how much time you spend at each observation area and at the museum, so you will be back in the village for lunch.

The Grand Canyon's many observation areas offer jaw-dropping scenery. The most popular side is the South Rim, which is open year-round and presents the familiar views seen in books.

>> Shops: There are many gift shops selling souvenirs ranging from postcards to expensive works of original art. Each hotel has a store and there are shops at each end of the park, at Desert View and Hermits Rest, but the nicest shops are four galleries within half a mile of each other in the village: Hopi, Verkamp's, Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio.

>> Visitor Information Center: The new information center provides brochures, maps, ranger lectures and displays. Signs tell you about the hiking trails, a 3-D model of the canyon provides a useful overview, and a huge diagram illustrates the layers of canyon geology.

You cannot drive to the center, so take the free shuttle bus, or park your car a couple of hundred yards away at Mather Point.

The center was designed as part of a master plan that once included a light rail system, but the rail plan has been abandoned, leaving the shuttles to fill the mass transit need.

A bookstore offers videos, DVDs and souvenirs. You can have questions answered by rangers, or attend free lectures. The list of times and topics is published in the free tabloid, The Guide, available throughout the park. Free ranger talks generally last 30 to 45 minutes, with time for questions.

The Canyon Rim Trail is easy to walk and affords excellent views into the canyon. A half-mile portion between El Tovar and the Bright Angel Lodge also offers tempting shops and restaurants.

Day 3


You have seen most of the main lookout points, so you might devote today to taking a couple of walks along the rim and perhaps a foray into the canyon. Or you could spend most of the day on a round-trip mule ride into the canyon.

>> Easy hikes: There are various levels of hiking activity, ranging from a 10-minute stroll to a weeklong wilderness hike. There is a broad paved path next to the canyon rim in the center of the park, which extends about six miles from Maricopa Point to Pipe Creek Vista. The easiest portion is the half-mile section between El Tovar and the Bright Angel Lodge, which gives lovely views into the canyon and has numerous benches to sit on, with a few tempting shops and restaurants along the way.

The paved canyon-rim path, with spectacular canyon views, continues west for a mile and a half to Maricopa Point, where it becomes a dirt trail that goes seven miles to Hermits Rest. You could walk out and take the shuttle back, or start with a bus ride to the end and walk back to the village.

The paved path also extends east from the village two miles to Yavapai and Mather Points, with a 10-foot-wide surface that is easy for walking. At Yavapai you will find the observation station, and by the time you reach Mather Point the crowds will remind you this is the most popular viewing place. The new Greenway walking path has been extended an extra mile beyond Mather Point, enhanced by landscaping and clearings with dramatic views.

>> Strenuous hikes: There are eight major trails that descend into the canyon from the South Rim. These are all very steep and require good conditioning and proper equipment. Overnight camping requires a permit, but you can walk part way along any of these trails without permits. If you want to go to the bottom, you can hike down the South Kaibab Trail, spend the night at a canyon-bottom campground, then hike up the Bright Angel Trail. However, these popular trails get crowded in the summer, requiring advance reservations.

>> Hermit Trail: Another major path into the canyon descends from Hermits Rest and takes you all the way down to the river on a rugged two- or three-day round trip. You could take a shorter branch from the Hermit Trail to Dripping Spring, a six-hour round trip. This moderately difficult route drops 1,600 feet in three miles, returning up the same path.

>> Moderate hikes: You can walk part way on any of the trails that descend into the canyon, then backtrack. Bright Angel Trail is easy to find, leaving the rim from just behind the Kolb Studio. South Kaibab trail begins at Yaki Point, three miles east of the village. Grandview Trail is the steepest, most difficult trail, but the first mile down to the Coconino Saddle stop sign is easy.

>> Mule ride: Or you can take a ride on a mule. There's a seven-hour trip that goes to Plateau Point, offering a panoramic view of the Canyon and the Colorado River 1,300 feet below for $130; or you can go to the bottom and spend one night at Phantom Ranch for $350 or two nights for $500, meals included.

Riders weighing more than 200 pounds are not allowed. You could hike down and back, if you are in very good condition, but don't attempt the round-trip walk in one day. Plan to camp at the bottom, or stay at Phantom Ranch.

Dennis Callan is the president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and produces the "World Traveler" TV series that airs at 8 p.m. Mondays on 'Olelo, channel 52. He frequently leads tours through Europe, and writes "Three Days In ..." the first Sunday each month for the Star-Bulletin, explaining how to get the most out of three days in the world's great places.


If you go

Getting there

Most visitors enter the park through the South entrance, driving about four hours from Phoenix. The drive from Las Vegas takes five hours and crosses Hoover Dam. If you are driving north from Phoenix, consider breaking the trip midway with a stay in Sedona, famous for its red-rock scenery; and then continue through picturesque Oak Creek Canyon. From Flagstaff go to Williams, and take Highway 64 to the South entrance.

There is also train service from Williams that can take you to the canyon for a day trip, or you can stay in the park on a rail tour arranged by the Grand Canyon Railway (800-The-Train).


>> The Hopi House: Facing El Tovar Hotel, this is a special kind of gift shop. It was designed by Mary Jane Coulter in the traditional pueblo style to look like a native home. Hopi craftsmen actually lived on the second floor and sold their wares on the first floor. The shop sells authentic American Indian handiworks, including jewelry, pottery, weavings, paintings, carpets, sculpture, straw baskets and ceremonial dolls. Along with the quality cultural items distinctive of Southwest cultures, you can also choose from an assortment of T-shirts, postcards, guidebooks and other souvenirs.

>> Verkamp's Curios: Another major gift shop and gallery, across the parking lot from Hopi House. Verkamp's opened in 1898 in a tent just a few years after the area's first hotel opened, and it has been in its current rustic building since 1905, selling high-quality curios, handicrafts and artwork.

>> Lookout Studio and Kolb Studio: Two excellent gift shops with fantastic views from dramatic sites hanging out over the edge of the canyon. Both offer large collections of books, toys, handicrafts and unique gift items. Easy to find near Bright Angel Lodge, these two beautiful stone buildings were also designed by Coulter. The Kolb brothers were photographers who operated a studio and small theater, showing their canyon films here from 1906 through 1976. A large art gallery downstairs carries on their artistic tradition, hosting special Southwest- and canyon-related exhibitions.

>> Canyon Village Marketplace: This large supermarket and convenience store lies about one mile from the center of the village, at the Market Plaza shopping complex next to Yavapai Lodge. Here you will find a bank, post office, photo processing, hiking supplies, clothing and other essentials.

Web sites


When to go

The park is wonderful any time of the year, with each season having advantages. Most people go during the summer, but winter is great because it is not crowded, temperatures run in the 30s and 40s during the day, and there's ample sunshine and occasional snow.

Be aware, however, that winter temperatures sometimes plunge to single digits at sunrise. And if there is snow, the hiking trails get slippery.

The West Rim Drive is more accessible from December through February, the only months open to automobiles, with travel required by shuttle bus the rest of the year. Another advantage of winter is that sunlight filters into the canyon throughout the day at a low angle, bringing out the shape and color of canyon features better than the flat overhead light of summer days.

Most hotel prices drop during the winter, and room availability is better from November through February, except for Christmas week. During the colder half of the year you should be able to find parking at any of the viewpoints.

Weather conditions on the rim vary greatly, depending on the season, but it is comfortable year-round. Although this is the desert, summer temperatures are kept moderate by the 7,000-foot elevation.

The record high on the rim is 89 degrees in June and 90 in August, but summer temperatures at the canyon bottom can reach 110. Usually the visibility is good, especially in the summer. There is always a chance of hazy or foggy conditions the rest of the year.


The various rock layers that appear in the canyon were laid down over a long period, sandwiched between the bottom layer, dating back about 1.7 billion years, and the upper layer, 250 million years old.

The canyon was created over the last 6 million years, making it a relative newcomer in geological history. During the eons this land rose and fell, changing from marsh to mountains to ocean and finally being uplifted to form the Colorado Plateau 65 million years ago.

The sedimentary layers have different components of limestone, shale and sandstone, with contrasting texture, tone and hardness that contributed to the variety of color and shapes. The canyon was carved out by the action of the Colorado River, producing what amounts to an X-ray of the earth's crust that reveals more of our planet's history than can be found anywhere else.

Human history

American Indians lived here from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer days 10,000 years ago, settling into farming communities more than a thousand years ago. The Havasupai tribe still lives inside the canyon and on the plateau during the winter.

The Hopi are the largest tribe in the area. The members live in pueblo structures as their ancestors have for centuries, still following many of their cultural traditions. Other tribes in the area are the Navajo, Paiute and Hualapai.

The first Westerners to reach the canyon were Spanish conquistadors in 1540, looking for gold, but the canyon was ignored for the next 250 years. Not much happened until some mining activities, exploration and scientific studies took place in the 19th century.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the railroad arrived, bringing the start of a tourism boom that has grown ever since.

Park events

The schedule of daily talks at the center and elsewhere includes the following topics, but for exact schedules, check with the Canyon View Center or the park Web site:

>> Visitor Center: "Introduction to Grand Canyon's Geology"

>> Mather Amphitheater: Each evening offers a different presentation on a significant aspect of the canyon's natural or cultural history.

Ranger talks offered at other park locations daily include:

>> Bright Angel Lodge patio: Fossil Walk. An easy half-mile walk explores an exposed fossil bed along the rim.

>> Tusayan Museum: "Glimpses of the Past" discusses canyon residents of 800 years ago.

>> Lookout Studio: Hosts "Condor Talk" about the endangered bird with a 9 1/2-foot wingspan often spotted around the canyon.

>> Yavapai Observation Station: "Read the Rocks" Geology Walk.

>> Lipan Point: "Splendor of Time" explains the wonder and origin of the canyon.


Hotels and restaurants

There are a number of excellent choices inside the park, ranging from the deluxe El Tovar Hotel to campgrounds, but most of the 907 hotel rooms are in comfortable, inexpensive motel-type buildings.

Park lodging is managed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a private company, but the prices are regulated by the federal government so they are reasonable, starting from $55.

There is a room type and price range for every traveler, and the same is true for dining, ranging from fast food to fine cuisine. About half the hotel rooms are along the rim and the other half are in two complexes, Maswik and Yavapai, a few hundred yards from the rim. Reserve up to 23 months in advance at 888-297-2757. For same-day reservations call 928-638-2631.

Here is a rundown on the hotels and restaurants:

>> El Tovar: The most elegant hotel is the famous El Tovar in the heart of the village, with rooms starting at $124 for a standard double. Opened in 1905, El Tovar is a registered National Historic Landmark. It was built for the Santa Fe Railroad, which had just extended service to the rim. The original architecture has been preserved so the public areas look just as they did when they opened. The lobby has two gifts shops, a reception desk, a concierge, a fireplace, and a large porch with rockers and a view of the canyon. El Tovar was designed to look like a European hunting lodge, and the lobby has several trophy heads, copper lanterns and log-cabin walls. For a memorable splurge you could stay in one of the El Tovar suites ($300) that have private terraces and a dramatic view into the canyon, just 100 feet away, but you should reserve well in advance. El Tovar is generally full from April through Thanksgiving, but there are often last-minute cancellations. The other 74 rooms do not have canyon views, and the least-expensive rooms are usually the most available.

The El Tovar Dining Room offers the best meals at the canyon. It's open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Even if you're not staying at the hotel, you should drop in for breakfast, then return for an amazing dinner by executive chef Joseph Nobile. The cuisine is international and continental, he says, "with regional influence that uses a lot of local products like corn, vegetables, very good beef and fresh fish." The two most popular dishes are a purée of black bean soup with sour cream, scallion and fried tortilla, and an entrée of pan-seared salmon tostada, served with a chile-lime rice, corn salsa, lime sour cream and cilantro with organic greens dressed in a chile olive oil. For dessert, chocoholics will die for the Chocolate Taco, filled with Belgian semi-sweet chocolate mousse, whipped cream and chocolate fudge sauce.

Guests are surprised by the variety of fare they get at the hotel. Chef Nobile says the best meal is breakfast, which is big, bold and spicy.

A hotel concierge will help guests with tours, directions, park activity information, maps and brochures.

>> Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins: Your next-best choice for accommodations is the historic Bright Angel Lodge, in a prime location along the canyon rim a few hundred yards from El Tovar. It consists of a series of unique cabins, with a cozy feeling of seclusion, even though you are right in the village center.

The cabins are a remarkable value at $76 per night, or you can stay in one of 12 cabins near the rim for $123 per night. They are cozy and romantic. Four of them have fireplaces. There are 55 historic cabins, mostly one-bedrooms, offering old-fashioned character.

The Bucky and Powell Lodges offer the least-expensive rooms at $55. They have no televisions and most do not have private bathrooms, but they are ideal for backpackers and budget travelers.

You can dine at the Bright Angel Restaurant, a family-style place with moderate prices, open from 6:30 a.m. through 10 p.m. daily, or, for a more upscale meal, dine at the Arizona Room, serving Southwest regional dishes from 4:30 to 10 p.m. daily Ask for a table near the panoramic windows with a view of the canyon.

>> Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges are located next to Bright Angel, just 100 feet back from the canyon rim, and offer reasonably-priced rooms, each with two queen beds. They are clean but so ordinary there are plans to remove them from this special location. In the meantime, they offer excellent value with canyon-view rooms for $126. You can save $10 by staying on the road side.

>> Maswik Lodge is about 1,000 yards from the rim. The Maswik North rooms are large, with two double beds, cable TV, a balcony, a bathroom, and parking in front. The buildings are two-story wooden structures with forest views. Maswik South rooms are smaller and moderately priced. One convenience is the cafeteria a few minutes from the rooms, open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

>> Yavapai Lodge is the largest of the park's hotels, with 358 rooms distributed through 16 two-story buildings, about a half mile from the canyon rim, the farthest of all the accommodations. There is a cafeteria and the complex is adjacent to a supermarket.

>> Mather Campground is an attractive option for tent owners. The price is $15 per night. Located about a mile from the rim in the park center, with 319 campsites and shower facilities, this is a popular spot that fills up during the summer. There is a smaller Desert View campground on the park's east end with 50 sites available on a first-come basis for $10, but it fills quickly each morning.


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