1,904 square miles of adventure
Millennia of erosion by the Colorado River, wind and volcanic activity created the deep gorge and steep canyon walls that make it one of the great wonders of the world. By any standard, the Grand Canyon is enormous.
How big is it?
Grand Canyon National Park covers 1,218,375.54 acres of flat plateaus, naked rock outcrops and broad river valley. Its size is easier to imagine in terms of the length of the Colorado River, 277 miles, as it winds from Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs along the canyon floor. The canyon is a mile deep and 10 miles wide at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. In some places, it’s 6,000 feet deep and 18 miles wide. While it’s possible to hike it in one day, a reasonable trek to the canyon floor and back takes two days. Floating the length of the river can take as long as two weeks, and a one-way rim-to-rim hike takes three days.
How to see the Grand Canyon
Many visitors drive along the South Rim, catching glimpses of the canyon out their car windows. The view is spectacular, even if you don’t stop at an overlook, but there are a number of ways to enjoy the canyon. The Rim Trail stretches about 13 miles from the South Kaibab trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. A shuttle bus runs near the trail, so you can break the hike up into smaller sections.
A number of trails of varying length lead into the canyon. Most are steep and strenuous. Keep in mind that, once you’ve made your way down a canyon trail, you’ll need to hike back up when you’re already tired.
If you have more time, look into one of the mule trips from the South Rim to the canyon floor that are offered year-round. Rides from the North Rim are available mid-May through mid-October. Mule ride reservations for the South Rim trips go quickly. The North Rim trips are usually available daily.
A float down the Colorado River reinforces the enormity of the Grand Canyon, but they take as long as two weeks.
The best views of a world wonder
The Bright Angel Point Trail at the North Rim of the canyon is a half-mile round-trip walk to a dramatic view of the canyon. The path is paved, and the walk should take less than 30 minutes.
You can get to Yavapai Point on the South Rim by car, shuttle or the Rim Trail. From there visitors have panoramic views of the canyon and the Colorado River 5,000 feet below them.
Tucked away in a remote part of the park that's difficult to reach, Tuweep (Toroweap) Overlook provides remarkable views of the Colorado River, 3,000 feet down sheer cliffs. Lava flows and cinder cones attest to the volcanic activity that formed parts of the Grand Canyon.
Crowds swell from mid-spring through mid-fall. The Grand Canyon has a desert environment, so expect high heat on the canyon floor in the summer. Early spring and late fall are the best times to visit, though visitor services at the South Rim remain open year-round. Facilities at the North Rim close from late October to mid-May because of heavy snow.
Pets must be restrained at all times and aren’t allowed on trails leading into the canyon. If you’re hiking and have your dog or cat with you, take advantage of the concessionaire operating a kennel at the South Rim.
The National Park Service charges an entrance fee for cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians. The fee covers both rims of the canyon and is good for seven days.
Travel basics for the Grand Canyon
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 80 miles from the Flagstaff, Arizona airport. Visitors who don’t want to rent a car can take the shuttle service that operates between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village. From mid-May to mid-October, a shuttle runs daily between the South Rim and the North Rim. Train enthusiasts should consider taking Amtrak to Williams, Arizona, and transferring to the Grand Canyon Railway.
If you plan to spend more than a couple of hours at the Grand Canyon, or are planning a hiking trip into the inner canyon, pack layers of clothing that can be put on or taken off as the weather changes. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and sturdy shoes.
Visitors have a multitude of lodging options inside the park and out. Developed campgrounds, backcountry camping and lodges inside the park, as well as motels and hotels outside the park, cover every sort of accommodation needed. Make reservations well in advance if you’re traveling during the high season.
If you plan to hike into the backcountry overnight or camp in one of the canyon floor campgrounds, you’ll need a backcountry permit. The number of permits awarded each year is far fewer than the number applied for, so you’ll need to apply well in advance.
The desert ecology is fragile. Keep to trails, don’t deface archaeological sites and follow “leave no trace” practices. Pack out anything you pack in.