Things to Do in Grand Canyon National Park
Want to make a spectacular understatement? Go ahead and call the Grand Canyon “a great big hole in the ground.” About 277 miles (444 km) long, an average of 10 miles (16 km) wide and more than a mile (1.6 km) deep, the colorful, eroded layers of this northwestern Arizona wonder reveal nothing less than the incredible geological history of the North American continent.
Each year, some 5 million people visit this testament to the power of water over rock, making the Grand Canyon the most popular national park in the U.S. Some arrive on a historic train from the depot in the Old West town of Williams, an hour south, while far more travel here by car.
You can brave the Skywalk, a transparent (and strongly reinforced) walkway that juts out over the West Rim; hike down, around or across the divide (remembering to bring lots of water); or soar high above the whole canyon on a helicopter tour.
This scenic drive in the Canyon’s southern section is open year round and boasts scenic views, incredible landscapes and plenty of overlooks. Travelers can explore the 26 miles of highway in about an hour, while en route to the park’s east entrance. While the spectacular views are the highlight of this journey, the Desert View Watchtower and Tusayan Ruin and Museum are both worth a stop for visitors who want to explore the region’s history and Native American culture.
A visit to Tusayan Ruins and Museum provides a glimpse into the life of the Hopi tribe and the Ancestral Puebloan people who inhabited the region 800 years ago. Inside the museum, there are artfully displayed exhibits on various aspects of life in the village including pottery, arrowheads, and other household artifacts. The museum also features some of the original 2,000–4,000 year old split-twig figurines, which are made in the shape of deer or bighorn sheep, sometimes with horns or antlers.
The Tusayan Ruins and Museum is part of the Grand Canyon South Rim’s Desert View Drive. The trail itself holds a variety of attractions including Desert View, the breathtaking scenery unfolding from Desert View Watchtower, Navajo Point, where you can see the Colorado River and Escalante Butte, and Lipan Point, where you can see several stretches of the Colorado River. Also here is Moran Point, where you can see a layer of red shale in the canyon walls.
Located in the southernmost point on the Grand Canyon’s south rim, Grandview Point is accessible via a one-mile side road off of East Rim Drive. Travelers agree the panoramic views from this famous vista are some of the park’s most impressive. Easy hiking trails wind through narrow ridges and well-preserved nature, giving travelers the opportunity to stretch their legs while driving the popular pass along Highway 64. But it’s the epic views and scenic landscape that make Grandview Point a quintessential Grand Canyon stop.
One of the highlights in Grand Canyon West is the Hualapai Village. The authentic dwellings provide a real fun-filled real Western adventure, which includes gun fights, cattle drives, and cowboy games like axe throwing and horseshoes. You can even mount up for a horseback or wagon ride to the edge of the rim for a spectacular scenic view of the Grand Canyon.
At the Hualapai Village, you can shop at the Hualapai Market, tour an authentic re-creation of an Indian village, watch Native American dance performances, dine at eateries and cafés, and view the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River from 4,000 feet/1,200 meters above from the Grand Canyon Skywalk. You can also enjoy activities like river rafting or exploring the Grand Canyon Caverns, which are dry caverns created from lava and limestone. This is also the only place within the Grand Canyon where visitors can access the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon on a helicopter.
Enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the Grand Canyon from the historic Desert View Watchtower. The tower was built in in the early 1930s by architect Mary Colter, who created it as an homage to the watchtowers built by the native Anasazi people who once inhabited the area. The site consists of two circular buildings, one large and low, the other taller and more narrow, which stands five stories high. Inside the tower are petroglyph-style paintings.
With one of the most spectacular vistas in the Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Point lies at the end of the Bright Angel Point Trail, one the most popular of the North Rim corridor trails. The trail itself is wide, well graded and easy to follow. It's equally attractive to first-time canyon hikers and seasoned pros, as well as mule trains, making it a popular route. Because once you reach the point, panoramic views of the Grand Canyon unfold.
This easy trail follows a ridge line at the end of the Bright Angel Peninsula to Bright Angel Point, which offers a panoramic view of the canyon from its north side. You can also see and hear the rush of Roaring Spring, the North Rim’s only water source, which lies 3,600 feet/1,100 kilometers below the rim. Portions of the Cottonwood Campground, 4,000 feet/1,200 meters below the rim, are visible from the end of the trail. Grand Canyon Village on the south rim is visible about 10 miles/16 kilometer across the canyon.
One of the sites most visitors encounter when they enter the South Rim is Mather Point. It’s an astonishing, breathtaking glimpse into the Grand Canyon. Best of all, you’re a short walk to the Canyon View Information Plaza, where you can pick up park information and begin your journey into the Canyon.
Mather Point has quite an extensive viewing area, set as it is on the south side of the Colorado River. Two narrow, railed overlooks, built on projecting rocks, provide views along the rim in both directions. The panorama extends from the lower end of Garden Creek, taking in some of the Bright Angel Trail, and a spectacular view over the deep canyon of Pipe Creek. To the west, you can jump on the Rim Trail, which offers more scenic vistas on its way to Yavapai Point. You can also see Bright Angel Creek, on the North Rim, between a collection of red buttes and ravines. A stop here is an excellent introduction to the Grand Canyon.
More Things to Do in Grand Canyon National Park
Views like those from Toroweap Point in the North Rim are a big part of what draws travelers from around the globe to the Grand Canyon. The vantage point here is 3000 feet above the Colorado River and sheer red cliffs look out over incredible canyon views, ancient lava flows and vast open skies. Though a popular spot for photos, hiking and picnics visitors often find themselves alone atop this awesome and remote destination. That’s partly because these spectacular panoramas come with some difficulty. Toroweap is accessible by car, but the rustic a nature of this incredible overlook means roadways are typically primitive and can be rather demanding for a novice to navigate.
Cameron Trading Post is a Native American themed motel, restaurant and shop located 30 minutes from the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The trading post was established by the Richardson brothers shortly after a suspension bridge was built over the Little Colorado River in 1911. At that time, the only visitors were members of the local Navajo and Hopi tribes who came to barter their wool, blankets, and livestock for dry goods. Since the journey to the trading post took days, the Richardson brothers offered their hospitality by giving visitors food and a place to stay. Due to road improvement and proximity to the Grand Canyon, eventually tourists started coming to Cameron Trading Post as well to learn about the history of the southwest.
Modern trains may have lost some of their luster, but the great American dream lives on in the Grand Canyon Railway. Combining the mystique of the Wild West with the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway gives visitors a chance to live part of the great American dream – travel across the great stretch of North America by rail.
Your legendary journey begins with the history of the Railway itself. Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been touring the hallowed grounds of the Grand Canyon and familiarizing its guests with the ways of the Wild West - a tradition it carries on today. Be entertained by authentic characters and musicians who bring the Old West to life, and lose yourself in the passing scenery that is the Grand Canyon National Park.
Observe wildlife from the observation deck, or enjoy lunch while characters right out of the old west sing songs and regale you with stories of their times.
At six stories tall and 82-feet wide, the screen at Grand Canyon Imax Theater is nearly as big as the canyon itself. Start a Natural Wonder adventure in this massive 487-person theater that’s been showing “Grand Canyon—The Movie” 12 times a day, 365 days a year since it first opened. The 34-minute show gives travelers an up-close look at the canyon, as well as a trip through its history and incredible aerial views.
After catching a film, visitors can wander the visitors center and load up on Grand Canyon gear, snacks and park passes before heading out to explore the real life canyon.
In 1964 the roaring waters of the Colorado River needed to be tamed, so the towering 710-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam was built and nearby Lake Powell created. The 186-miles long lake is the second largest manmade lake in the country and took17 years to fill to capacity.
Today, Lake Powell attracts some 3 million tourists every year. The site has become a popular destination for houseboats and waterskiing because of its placid waters and incredible views. Each marina has its own public picnic area and houseboats are available for rent. Lenient park rules mean visitors can set up camp almost anywhere, too.
One of the most remote hotels in the Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch serves as a rustic, idyllic respite adventures who visit the bottom of the canyon. Even getting here is one of the purest ways to experience the canyon: the ranch is only accessible by floating down the Colorado River, by hiking, or by riding a mule.
Phantom Ranch offers nine, simple, stone-walled cabins, all of them air conditioned. This is truly Canyon living: the inside of each cabin as a concrete floor, desk, a toilet, sink, and bunk beds. Outside the cabins, picnic tables sit under cottonwood trees. It’s the only park lodging below the rim. The location is perfect, especially if you’re exploring Ribbon Falls and the River Trail, or if you just want to relax and read. The canteen is a popular spot for hotel guests as well as from the nearby Bright Angel Campground.