The great gorge is accessible from two sides, north and south. Most of the more than five million visitors per year choose to go to the South Rim, which has many more tourist facilities than the north side and, accordingly, tends to get action-packed during the summer season and even some winter weekends. The North Rim is a quieter and more remote place and preferred by people who wish for a more serene, less crowded experience.
The access road to the North Rim is frequently closed during winter due to snow. Both rims can get very cold in the winter, and nights are cool even during summer months. Hiking inside the canyon below the rim, however, is quite another story, as summer temperatures near the Colorado River at the bottom may reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Hikers, in particular, will face extreme changes in climate and should be prepared for these.
THE SOUTH RIM
If you, like the majority of visitors, approach the canyon from the south on Highway 180 via the nearby towns of Flagstaff or Williams, you will most likely stop at Tusayan, a commercial area consisting mainly of gas stations, motels, fast food restaurants and the Grand Canyon Airport. The main attraction here, however, is the
Grand Canyon Village
Your first stop inside the park should be the Park Headquarters and
East Rim Drive
This 26-mile drive skirts most of the canyon's south rim, offering several overlooks to get a better view. Among the best viewing areas en route are
West Rim Drive
This drive stays a little closer to the edge than its eastern counterpart and also offers a greater variety of canyon views. Note that it is closed to private vehicles in the summer, when a free shuttle service from
THE NORTH RIM
While the South Rim is open 24 hours, 365 days a year, facilities on the north side close down from late October to mid-May. You can still visit the North Rim in winter, provided the access road is not closed by snow, but be advised to bring a thermos with hot coffee or tea! The best time for visiting the North Rim is actually the fall season, when the Kaibab National Forest turns into a dazzling showcase of yellow leaves trembling on aspen trees. A cross-canyon shuttle connecting north and south rim in both directions is available May through October for $60 one way, $100 round trip.
Visitor facilities on the northern edge are all clustered in the relatively small area around
The inner canyon is accessible by so-called 'Corridor Trails' connecting the rims. The trailhead for the
This is a small settlement at the intersection of U.S. 89A and State Route 67, the road leading to the North Rim. It's also the place where you might end up staying overnight if you haven't made reservations for camping or lodging in the summer. The Forest Service's
Inside Grand Canyon National Park, lodging is available at several places along the South Rim and, on a very limited scale, the North Rim. As rooms with views of the gorge are naturally the most popular ones in the area, be prepared to stay at some distance away from the rim unless you've made reservations well in advance. Contact AmFac Xanterra Parks & Resorts, tel. toll-free U.S. +1-888-297-2757 or +1 303 297 2757, or fax +1 303 297 3175, for rates and reservations, or online at www.grandcanyonlodges.com. A variety of hotels and motels are also available outside the park at Tusayan, Williams and Jacob Lake.
THE SOUTH RIM
Phantom Ranch, nestled beside Bright Angel Creek near the Colorado River, is the only lodging facility below the canyon rim. It is well known as the popular overnight spot for hikers and mule riders descending into the depths of the canyon. Accommodations here are provided in dormitories and rustic cabins, designed by the prolific Ms. Colter in the 1920s. The Phantom Ranch Canteen provides hearty meals for adventurous travelers tired and hungry from climbing up and down rocky trails.
Built in a style reminiscent of the American West, the Grand Hotel in Tusayan, just outside the park boundaries, offers 120 guest rooms with a Southwestern ambience and decor, an upscale restaurant and events relating the Native American experience in the region.
Grand Canyon Village
The El Tovar Hotel, built directly on the rim of the canyon in 1905, has been described as the 'architectural crown jewel of the Grand Canyon'. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and well worth visiting even if you don't stay there overnight. Its lounge and dining room offer stunning views of the canyon through big glass windows. If you do nothing else at the Grand Canyon, be sure to visit this location.
Also located along the rim, just west of the El Tovar Hotel, are the Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge. The Fred Harvey Company built both lodges in 1968 and 1971, reflecting the architectural tastes of the period, and offering modern-day accommodations within convenient walking distance from the Historical District/Grand Canyon Village.
The rustic Bright Angel Lodge, located right on the South Rim, is a prime example of the environmentally sensitive, beautiful 'log-and-stone' design favored by the early developers of tourism in the park. Designed by Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter and opened in 1935, the lodge provides several rooming options, the Arizona Steakhouse, live entertainment, and a transportation desk.
In wooded areas not too far from the rim are the Maswik Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. These are the largest lodges, and have the most rooms that will accommodate families, as most of the rooms have 2 queen beds. They each also have cafeterias, transportation desks, and curio shops.
Mather Campground, located in Historical District/Grand Canyon Village near Canyon Village Marketplace, is served on a first-come, first-serve basis from December 1 to March 31, with reservations accepted during the rest of the year. Make those reservations as early as possible by calling Biospherics at +1 800 365 2267
THE NORTH RIM
For travelers wanting to get away from the summer crowds, the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim affords a sense of serenity and peace that is hard to find on the busy South Rim. Situated directly on the rim, the lodge offers both hotel rooms and cabins for accommodations. Built in the 1920s, it reflects the rustic style prevalent in many other lodges dating from that era. This is in fact the only lodging facility inside the park on the North Rim, with the other major hotel in the area, the Kaibab Lodge, located five miles north of the park boundary on Highway 67. Both lodges are open from mid-May to mid-October.
For camping, the North Rim Campground is the most popular area, and thus the most crowded camping spot on the northern side of the great chasm. It offers shaded spots, picnic tables, fire pans and showers nearby, as well as close proximity to the Grand Canyon Lodge for those who like the idea of being able to sip a hot latte after a cold night in the tent. Reservations should be made well in advance in the summer, though you can also arrive early in the day and hope for a spot to be vacated. About 20 miles north of the rim, DeMotte Campground offers pit toilets and picnic tables from May to October .
The little settlement of Jacob Lake at the junction of highways 67 and 89A in Kaibab National Forest, about 45 miles from the North Rim, frequently serves as an overflow for travelers that were turned away at the rim due to overcrowding. Tourist activities here focus around the Jacob Lake Inn. The Inn offers motel style units and weathered cabins, a well-stocked country store carrying groceries and provisions, and a big playground. For more rustic accommodations, Jacob Lake Campground is a good place to commune with nature. Note that winter snow may sometimes close the highway to Jacob Lake.
Ever since Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his party first set eyes on the Canyon in 1540, it is a safe bet that no visitor to the area has come here to sit in his or her hotel room and watch television. There is just too much to do and see. And, of course, the Canyon itself is the first and foremost point of interest.
Avid outdoor enthusiasts enjoy a myriad of options when it comes to exploring the area, which encompasses nearly three thousand square miles. The Visitor Center, located near the General Store and not far from the Historical District/Grand Canyon Village is a valuable source for planning your adventure. There, you will find exhibits and information to help you map out your strategy, whether it includes backpacking down into the Canyon via Bright Angel Trail, scaling the steep and strenuous South Kaibab Trail to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, or a casual, carefree stroll along the paved Rim Trail. To learn more about the long history of the area the Kaibab Petroglyphs in the Kaibab National Forest or the Tusayan Ruins and Museum are a great place to learn about the history of local Native cultures. To continue canyoneering Sycamore Canyon is the areas second largest canyon.
Even though most visitors come to the Grand Canyon to experience the great outdoors, there are still some interesting things to do indoors too. The Planes of Fame Museum provides guests with a history of planes and aviation, even featuring one of General McArthur's planes from the Korean War. Inside the canyon gates, at Grand Canyon village you can visit Kolb Studio, former home of the Kolb brothers, famous Grand Canyon photographers. Today the building is an art gallery and bookstore. Another museum in Grand Canyon Village is the Bright Angel History Room which exhibits memorabilia from the early days of the canyon as a tourist destination. If you're more interested in local culture, the Navajo Interactive Museum teaches visitors all about the Navajo lifestyle and culture.
Throughout the year, special events in the Grand Canyon and Williams area provide residents and visitors with even more entertainment. On the first weekend of May, the Route 66 Fun Run Car Rally cruises through Williams, featuring more than a thousand classic and vintage automobiles in shiny, mint condition. Independence Day in Williams is pure Americana. The Small Town Fourth of July features a Main Street Parade and a variety of events including, of course, a fireworks extravaganza. More than a thousand Harleys roar into town in late June for the annual H.O.G. Rally and street dance and, later on in the summer, classic vehicles vie for spectators' attention during the Williams Cool Country Cruise-in and Williams Route 66 Festival. In September, the Grand Canyon Music Festival presents concerts by the nation's finest chamber musicians at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at the South Rim.
This is truly cowboy country, and throughout the summer, local, regional and national cowboys compete in a slough of rodeos. In August, the working hands get their chance to shine at the Cowpuncher's Reunion Rodeo. The Williams Labor Day PRCA Rodeo attracts many of the sports' top cowboys from around the world.
There is no more spectacular sight than the Grand Canyon itself. But to focus on this wonder alone would be doing yourself and your family a grave injustice. Northern Arizona's High Country affords visitors an array of activities, sightseeing and entertainment opportunities nearly as broad and deep as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Explore, discover and create your own uniquely Arizonan memories.
Like a giant slash in the earth cut by nature's knife, the Grand Canyon exposes millions of years of the planet's history, normally buried under gigantic layers of rock. This grandest of all gorges has inspired admiration, awe and terror in those who came to stand on its edges and gaze into the mile-deep chasm down to the two-billion-year old Pre-Cambrian rock at the bottom.
All geologists today agree that the canyon was created by the Colorado River's incessant cutting action, with the gradual uplifting of the Kaibab Plateau allowing it to cut even deeper. The Kaibab is part of the Colorado Plateau, a permanently shifting chunk of earth that has formed the magnificent natural features of Northern Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The plateau itself is not flat, but sloping to the southwest, putting the northern rim of the canyon at a markedly higher altitude (8,200 feet) than its southern edge (7,000 feet). The river is twice as far from the north than it is from the south rim, with the south side much steeper than the north, as any hiker struggling up the steep South Rim switchbacks will confirm.
No one knows for sure where the first humans descending into the canyon came from, but certain archeological finds in the park suggest that people visited the gorge as far back as 10,000 BCE It seems that a nomadic hunter-gatherer people known as the 'Desert Culture' inhabited the area between 6,000 and 2,000 BCE. Centuries later, the Anasazi people, most likely descendants of the Desert Culture, began settling on the rims and in the depths of the canyon. They developed a system of agriculture that allowed them to live deep within the ravine, growing grains on river's banks and mesas. Granaries and ruins of their houses have been found along the cliffs. Archeological research now suggests that the Anasazi abandoned the area around the 12th Century CE, either because of droughts or attacks by hostile neighbor tribes.
The first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon were the Spanish conquistadors. In 1540, explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, prompted by rumors about golden cities to the north of present-day Mexico, started on his famous trek into Arizona and dispatched Garcia Lopez de Cardenas to find an Indian village supposedly close to a great river canyon. With the aid of Hopi Indians from the village of Tusayan, now the name of the tourist town at the gateway to the park, Cardenas finally got to the South Rim, only to turn back after deciding that it was impossible to cross the gorge. Two centuries passed until the Spanish returned to the area. In 1776, Francisco Atanasia Dominguez and Sylvestre Velez de Escalante left from Santa Fe in search for an overland route to California; they did not see the Grand Canyon but crossed the Colorado a couple of hundred miles north at Glen Canyon.
The first man from the United States to come across the canyon was probably James Ohio Pattie, whose exploring party happened onto the North Rim in 1826. Just like the conquistadors before him, he spent many frustrating days trying to cross it, without success. Accordingly, he did not feel much appreciation for its natural grandeur, but rather described it as an infuriating obstacle in his explorations. It was a fearless, one-armed Civil War veteran named John Wesley Powell who finally put the Grand Canyon on the map. In the year 1869, he and his nine companions became the first white men to travel 1,000 miles down the river through the canyon. They braved brutal heat, dangerous rapids and sinking morale, and lost three men before completing this remarkable adventure. Powell came back for a second trip in 1871-1872, providing invaluable information to the U.S. government about one of the least explored areas in the country. The government now advertised the region as a land of limitless resources, thus encouraging miners to come and stake their claims to copper, zinc, and lead. However, facing the immense difficulties of extracting and transporting ore from the canyon, some of them soon turned to the more profitable and less dangerous business of tourism.
As the 20th Century dawned, the switch to this more lucrative way of extracting value from this natural wonder coincided with a change in public attitudes to wilderness areas. Increasingly, environmentalists, writers and artists joined forces with railroad magnates in fighting for the creation of protected areas called national parks. In the early 1900s, a fellow named Fred Harvey started some fine park services with that goal in mind, creating buildings designed to blend in with the natural environment, most notably the El Tovar Hotel, still in business, and now a National Historic Landmark. Tourism soon was in full swing, as it remains to this day, drawing almost five million visitors a year. Yet, despite its popularity, the canyon did not become a national park until 1919. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, a great lover of the outdoors, visited the gorge and was quite impressed. He created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve, which was upgraded to national monument status in 1908. Finally, on February 26, 1919, the U.S. Congress authorized expanding and upgrading it to its present national park status.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed an act doubling the park's size to 1,904 square miles. In appreciation of its universal value to people from all over the world, the Grand Canyon was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Today, the canyon provides a multitude of fully developed facilities for tourists. Some say the park is over-developed, claiming that increasing commercialization ignores Teddy Roosevelt's admonition to 'do nothing to mar its grandeur'. Plans for new developments on the South Rim are hotly contested, and the park, like so many other nature areas in the American West, has become another battleground in the continuing war between environmental and economic forces.