Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located entirely in northern Arizona and is one of the great tourist attractions in the United States. The massive canyon encompasses several distinct areas, most famous of which is Grand Canyon National Park, a United States National Park. The national park is itself divided into two main areas: the remote North Rim and the more accessible (and therefore more crowded) South Rim. In addition, parts of the southwestern end of the canyon are located within the borders of two Indian reservations: the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the Hualapai Indian Reservation (which includes the development known as Grand Canyon West). Lastly, part of the southeastern end of the canyon is located within the borders of the Navajo Nation. Except for the Navajo Nation portion, all sections of the canyon offer amenities for visitors. However, the national park, and in particular the South Rim, is by far the most popular destination and the best equipped to handle the millions of yearly visitors.


The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world.

—Theodore Roosevelt

The Canyon is an overwhelming experience, and nothing can prepare a visitor for the sight. The Grand Canyon is a massive canyon carved over several million years by the Colorado River. Grand Canyon National Park boasts an elevation change of nearly 7,000 feet (2130 m) from Point Imperial (at nearly 9,000 feet or 2740 m) to the banks of Lake Mead (at just over 2,000 feet or 610 m). The canyon itself is over a mile (1610 m) deep, from rim to river. In spots the rock layers exposed in the canyon display over two billion years of geologic history.


The park was founded as Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and became a national park in 1919. Today the park contains over 1.2 million acres (490,000 ha), slightly less than the entire state of Delaware, and in 2012 received more than 4.4 million visitors.


Throughout the past century, hundreds of authors have attempted to depict the enormous landscape that is Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, words most often fail to invoke the sense of awe and wonder that many visitors experience. Edward Abbey, a noted Southwest author, once penned: "Those who love it call it the canyon. The canyon. As if there were no other topographic feature on the face of the Earth".

There are, of course, other canyons on the planet. Some are longer, others wider, and even some that are deeper. Canyon visitors are often surprised to learn that Grand Canyon sets no records for sheer size. It is, however, simply regarded by most as the "grandest" canyon of them all.

Geologically, the canyon extends from Lee's Ferry near the Arizona/Utah border to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, a distance of 277 mi (445 km). It ranges in width from about a quarter mile to over 18 mi (29 km) wide. In places the canyon is over a mile deep.

However, it is not the statistics that define this landscape as "grand", but rather a combination of factors. The desert environment and a lack of herbaceous ground cover reveal a geologic story that is unparalleled. Surprisingly, the rock layers displayed at Grand Canyon show little sign of wear. The layers have been preserved almost perfectly, as though they were layers in a cake. Nowhere else on Earth displays so many volumes of the planet's history in such pristine condition.

The resulting landscape provides visitors with some of the most magnificent and unsurpassed vistas on the planet.

Flora and fauna

A raven sitting near the canyon edge
Desert big horn sheep near the bottom of the canyon
Flowering cactus in the Grand Canyon

Arguably, the most famous animal in the park is the rare California Condor. They can occasionally be seen flying near Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Common bird life includes Canyon Wrens, Stellar's Jays (with their peaked caps), swallows, hummingbirds, and the playful and entertaining Raven.

Mule Deer are common. Some of the largest Elk in North America can be found in the national park, and in the adjacent Kaibab National Forest. Desert Big Horn Sheep are also seen on occasion, mainly in the inner canyon.

You'll often spot Coyote no matter where you are in the park, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear them sing. Other predators are Mountain Lions and Bobcat. Black Bears are rare, and they generally stay away from the inhabited areas.

Some of the smaller creatures that can be found in the inhabited areas of the park are the Ringtail (called a cat, but not in the cat family), which like to live in the rafters of some of the historic buildings on the rim. They are quick and stealthy, but they often forget how visible that tail is, and you'll see it hanging out over a beam.

A favorite with visitors is the Abert's Squirrel with their tufted ears. Other varieties of squirrels and chipmunks are also popular. They seem tame and like to beg for food behind the Bright Angel Lodge, near the Ice Cream fountain. But heed the warnings and resist the urge. One of the most common injuries in the park are squirrel bites.

You might also see the common Striped Skunk, and if lucky, you might even see the rarer Western Spotted Skunk (usually at lower elevations). Skunks here are also habituated to humans and may seem tame, but they will react as all skunks do, so don't come up on them suddenly!

For the reptile family, there are variety of small lizards, and a few snakes. The most striking (in more ways than one) is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake; with its reddish (almost pink) coloring it neatly blends into the rocky terrain of the canyon. They are interesting to see as long as it is at a safe distance. Rattlesnakes are MORE afraid of you than you are of them. If given the chance, they will avoid any contact with humans. Most rattlesnake victims are young males that are chasing or trying to capture a snake.

Do not feed the animals. It is unhealthy for them, and may be unhealthy for you. A seemingly tame squirrel might bite you—they carry plague, rabies, etc. A deer or elk can charge at you without warning. If the animal is aware of your presence, you're too close.


Temperatures and weather within the park vary greatly by location. Temperatures on the North Rim are often 20-30°F (11-16°C) cooler than at the river. This is a land of extremes. It can be snowing at the rim, while others are comfortable sunbathing at the river. Conversely, it can be cool and comfortable at the rim in the summer, while temperatures at the river exceed 120°F (49°C). It is not unusual for local canyon guides to encounter neophyte hikers in desperate shape. Some die. An unusual number of fatalities occur among young people who overestimate their abilities. Due to the high altitude, snowfall is a regular occurrence on the rims during the winter months.

The months of July and August are monsoon season in Arizona and strong thunderstorms can sweep in quickly with lightning strikes every few minutes and sudden downpours. Due to the elevation of the Grand Canyon rims, people are struck by lightning fairly regularly so take shelter indoors during storms.

South Rim

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 43 46 53 61 70 82 84 82 76 65 52 44
Nightly lows (°F) 12 16 21 24 30 36 47 47 39 28 19 13
Precipitation (in) 1.8 1.2 1.6 1.0 0.5 0.3 1.8 2.4 1.6 1.5 1.0 1.5

Average Elevation: 7000ft (2133m)

Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

North Rim

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 37 39 44 53 62 73 77 75 69 59 46 40
Nightly lows (°F) 16 18 21 29 34 40 46 45 39 31 24 20
Precipitation (in) 3.2 3.2 2.7 1.7 1.2 0.9 1.9 2.9 2.0 1.4 1.5 2.8

Average Elevation 8000ft (2438m)

Inner Canyon - River Level

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 58 64 73 82 93 103 106 102 95 82 68 57
Nightly lows (°F) 36 40 46 53 62 70 75 72 66 55 44 37
Precipitation (in) 0.9 1.0 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.8 1.6 1.0 1.0 0.8 0.8

Average Elevation 2100ft (640m)

Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Get in

By car

Grand Canyon area map

The majority of visitors to the South Rim of the park arrive from the south on Arizona Route 64 (AZ 64) (conjoined with US highway 180). Alternately, one can enter the south rim from the east on AZ64.

For the south entrance: from Flagstaff, you can take US Route 180 (US 180) northwest to Valle where it joins with AZ 64, and continue north to the south rim; or take I-40 west toward Williams to the junction with AZ 64 and continue north to the south rim. Both routes are approximately 80 mi (129 km). The approx 60 mi (97 km) on US 180 is a narrow 2-lane mountain road through a heavily forested area. The I-40 west is a wide multi-lane interstate for approx 20 mi (32 km), to AZ 64 which is a slightly wider, less mountainous 2-lane highway, and the recommended route during winter weather. There are two lanes at this entrance reserved for pass and prepaid entrance fees (now lanes 1 and 4), which can be pre-purchased outside of the park at the National Geographic Theater/Visitor Center.

For the east entrance, take US 89 south from Page, AZ or north from Flagstaff to the junction with AZ 64 at Cameron. It is approx 25 mi (40 km) from the junction to the east entrance of the park, and approx 25 mi (40 km) from the east entrance to the south rim village area.

Visitors to the North Rim use ALT US 89 to AZ 67 (closed in winter). While the average distance across the canyon is only ten miles, there are no roads, meaning the trip by car is a five-hour drive of 215 miles (345 km).

By plane

Many Grand Canyon visitors fly into one of two metropolitan airports located within half a day's drive of the South Rim:

Flagstaff's Pulliam Field (FLG) is the nearest commercial airport to the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN) is located just outside of the South Rim entrance in the town of Tusayan; it is primarily utilized by companies who provide Grand Canyon air tours and private aircraft.

By bus

There are currently no commercial bus lines offering transportation to either rim, but several tour companies offer guided tours originating in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other locations, either directly to the South Rim or that include the South Rim as part of an itinerary, and a few offer tours which include a visit to the North Rim. There is a small shuttle service, Arizona Shuttle Service, which does carry passengers and luggage from the Flagstaff Amtrak station. The tickets for this shuttle may also be purchased from Amtrak.

By train

See also: rail travel in the United States

The Grand Canyon Railway operates a train ride from the town of Williams to the Grand Canyon Village (travel time is 2.5 hours in each direction). The terminus at Grand Canyon Village is within walking distance of some accommodations. The train features a historic steam locomotive during the summer season, restored Pullman cars, and a staged old west style shootout. However, the Grand Canyon is not visible from the train. It is simply another option for traveling to the canyon, and takes about twice as long as driving to the canyon.

Amtrak's Southwest Chief, with trains operating daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, stops at Williams Junction located 3mi/4.8km east of Williams town, with connections to the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams. There is a Thruway bus shuttling passengers from Williams Junction to Williams town.


All private vehicles entering the Grand Canyon must pay a $30 entrance fee, which is good for seven days. Individuals on foot or on a bike must pay a $12 entrance fee, also good for seven days.

There are several passes that allow free entry for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes are valid at all national parks including Grand Canyon:

In 2016 the National Park Service will offer several days on which entry is free for all national parks: January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), April 16-24 (National Park Week), August 25-28 (National Park Service's 100th birthday weekend), September 24 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).

Get around

Several viewpoints and trailheads in the park have limited or no parking and must be reached using the park shuttle system. The National Park Service runs an extensive shuttle service on the South Rim with three interlocking routes. The service is free, and generally runs from before sunrise until after sunset, depending on the route. Service is more frequent from May through September and includes additional routes. In addition, during the summer the park service operates a shuttle from Tusayan into the park.

Horse and mule riders are required to follow a number of rules and restrictions while in the park, and must get a permit from the park service to keep animals in the park overnight.

From Mar-Nov the West Rim Drive is not accessible to most private vehicles (handicap vehicles may request a variance at the entry gate). The park service runs a shuttle during this time. The shuttles are frequent but long lines form during the busy summer months.

There is no easy connection between the North and South rims. By car, the shortest route is a five-hour drive crossing the river by a bridge near Lee's Ferry; by foot, it is a two-day hike across the canyon.


Looking down the canyon from Guano Point at the West Rim

South Rim

There are several other viewpoints along the road between Hermit's Rest and Grand Canyon Village (West Rim) or Desert View and the village (East Rim).

North Rim

Located only 10 mi from the South Rim by air, is the   North Rim. The North Rim is a 215 mi (346 km), 5-hr drive from Grand Canyon Village. At 8,000 ft (2,440m) the elevation of the North Rim is approximately 1,000 ft (305m) higher than the South Rim, and as a result features more coniferous trees and cooler temperatures. The roads to the North Rim are open only during the summer (from approx 15 May to the first fall snowfall), while the in-park facilities usually close by 15 Oct, regardless of the weather. With far fewer visitors, this area can be a great place to enjoy the peace and majesty of the canyon. The main viewpoints are Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal (where the Colorado River can be seen), and Point Imperial (the highest viewpoint in the park).

Havasupai Indian Reservation

Grand Canyon skywalk

A popular destination in the canyon lies southwest of the park on the   Havasupai Indian Reservation. Havasupai can be loosely translated as "People of the Blue-Green Water". Entry into this remote portion of the canyon requires a $35 per person entry permit and a $5 per person environmental care fee. Entry permits are only available to those people with reservations at either the Lodge ($145 per room per night) or the campground ($17 per person per night). All charges are subject to a 10% tax. Those venturing into Havasu Canyon are greeted by spectacular world class waterfalls. Although the Havasupai Reservation is somewhat impacted (trashy), the incredible canyon below the Supai Village is worth the visit. Access to Havasu Canyon is from Hualapai Hilltop north of Peach Springs. Visitors must park at Hualapai Hilltop and hike, ride, or fly to Supai near the waterfalls. It is an eight mile hike or horseback ride to Supai Village, and not typically a day hike. Helicopter transportation to and from the village is available on a first come basis four days a week. An extremely rustic lodge is the only public accommodation available in Supai. A large mile long campground is located two miles down canyon between Havasu and Mooney Falls. This campground can be extremely crowded in the summer months; advance reservations are strongly recommended.

Hualapai Indian Reservation (Grand Canyon West)

The   Hualapai Reservation borders the Colorado River, with Grand Canyon National Park to the north. Tribal headquarters are located in the impoverished town of Peach Springs. The Grand Canyon Resort Corporation is a collection of tourist enterprises wholly owned by the tribe. Activities include motorized rafting trips on last few miles of white water in the canyon, and pontoon boat rides on the smooth waters of Lake Mead. In addition, Grand Canyon West (located in the remote northwest corner of the reservation) is a collection of viewpoints overlooking the last few miles of Grand Canyon and the stagnant waters of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Mead. The Hualapai have partnered with dozens of commercial tour operators from the Las Vegas area, and a tour package purchase (ranging from $29–109 per person) is required for entry to the Grand Canyon West area. Literally hundreds of helicopter flights ferry passengers from the "West Rim" to a multitude of landing zones near the lake shore.

The   Grand Canyon Skywalk is a glass bottomed walkway extending over the rim. Fees within this portion of the reservation are $44 (including tax and fees) per person for access to two viewpoints, while those wishing to visit viewpoints and walk on the Skywalk must pay an additional $32 per person (including tax). Note that photographs may not be taken from the Skywalk but can be purchased for $30 per photograph, or $100 for all photographs taken(as of Oct 2011).


Taking in the view from Mather Point.
The South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon
The bottom of the Grand Canyon, looking at the Colorado river at the base of the South Kaibab trail.


Hiking in the Grand Canyon is unlike anywhere else on Earth - trails range in difficulty from fifteen minute loops to multi-week treks, and all offer spectacular views. In addition, there are numerous unmaintained trails throughout the park for the more adventurous. For individuals who prefer guided hikes a variety of outfitters offer options. Note that while most canyon hikes entail significant elevation change, less-strenuous hiking options include nature walks along the rim trail which offer great views without requiring much exertion.

All hikers should take trail warnings extremely seriously. Temperatures in the canyon may vary by 50-70 °F depending on elevation and time of day, and unlike most places, the most challenging portion of a hike in the Grand Canyon will always be the end, meaning that if you run out of water you will get heat stroke, and if you get too tired you will be unable to get back to the trailhead. Carry more liquid than you think you'll need, and know your limits. It is far too easy to overextend yourself hiking in the canyon, and each year over 250 people require rescue due to underestimating the heat and difficulty. Also be aware that trails may be icy during the winter - if you have crampons for your shoes or hiking poles you should bring them or consider purchasing them from a local shop.

From the South side it is possible to do a loop going down the South Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail. One can leave a vehicle at the Bright Angel Trail head and take public transit to the South Kaibab Trail head. While often not recommended as a day hike, if you are fit it can be done in between 6 and 10 hours.

Whitewater rafting

Whitewater rafting expeditions depart daily during the summer months from Lee's Ferry. Commercial trips range from 3–18 days and cover from 87-300 mi. Trips book up fast so be sure to book your trip about a year in advance or you will have to get lucky with cancellations. The most popular section of river for the "true" Grand Canyon river experience lies between Lee's Ferry and Diamond Creek.

Private (non-commercial DIY) river permits are also available for river trips up to 30 days in length. The new Colorado River Management Plan has changed a 12-20 year wait list to a new weighted lottery.


Airplane and helicopter tours are offered by providers outside of the south rim in Tusayan at the Grand Canyon Airport, and also from Las Vegas. Scenic flights are no longer allowed to fly below the rim within the national park. However, some helicopter flights land on the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Reservations within Grand Canyon (outside of the park boundaries).

Other activities


The Watchtower.

All types of tourist trinkets relating to the Grand Canyon, native American Indians, and the American Southwest are available in shops in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. The South Rim is overflowing with shopping options. The North Rim has only one shop located at the North Rim Lodge.


South Rim

Additional Cafeterias are located in the Maswik and Yavapai Lodges. There is a grocery deli at Market Plaza inside the grocery store, as well. Just outside the park, in the gateway community of Tusayan, are a number of dining selections.

North Rim


South Rim

North Rim


There are a variety of hotels, lodges, and campgrounds both inside and outside of the park on both the North and South Rims. As lodging at the Canyon fills early and is fairly expensive, many visitors opt to base themselves just outside of the South Rim in Tusayan. For those willing to stay further from the park the cities of Williams or Flagstaff offer additional options.


South Rim

The following lodges are located inside Grand Canyon National Park. Reservations can be made by contacting Xanterra for the first five lodges, and Delaware North for Yavapai.

North Rim

Inner Canyon


Campgrounds are located at both the North and South Rims. Reservations are highly recommended, especially at the busier South Rim. Outside of the park, Kaibab National Forest has numerous undeveloped campsites and "at large" camping is allowed for up to 14 days. Due to extreme drought conditions, check for closures and camp fire restrictions.

South Rim

North Rim


Any camping below the rim in Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit. Permits must be obtained through the Backcountry Country Office (BCO) at Grand Canyon National Park. Permits are currently not available online or via telephone. They are only available in person, by fax or by mail. There is limited water available within the canyon, so backpackers should plan on carrying sufficient water with them. All backcountry users are asked to follow "Leave no Trace" principles.

Permits are limited to protect the canyon, and become available on the 1st day of the month, four months prior to the start month. Thus, a backcountry permit for any start date in May becomes available on 1 Jan. Space for the most popular areas, such as the Bright Angel Campground adjacent to Phantom Ranch, generally fill up by the requests received on first date they are opened to reservations. There are a limited number permits reserved for walk-in requests available on a first come, first served basis.

There are a number of outfitters that provide fully guided backpacking trips (including permits and gear) at Grand Canyon.

Stay safe

Hiking at the Grand Canyon often surprises people who attempt Inner Canyon trips. It can be hotter than you'd expect, colder than you'd expect, drier or wetter. A prepared hiker is better able to survive the extremes of the canyon. Even for short walks into the canyon keep in mind that it is a seducer: it seems easy hiking down into it but when you come back up you find that you have over-extended yourself. It's the opposite of climbing up a tall mountain, where you can stop and turn back when you get tired, knowing that the descent will be much easier.

In particular, do not attempt to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day. Hundreds of hikers each year have to be rescued from the Inner Canyon due to exhaustion and dehydration. While the temperature on the canyon rim is cool due to its elevation, below the rim it can be very hot. The vertical distance from the bottom back up to the rim is nearly a mile straight up (1.5 km), in addition to the distance you travel horizontally. If you plan to go to the bottom of the canyon, spend the night (permit required), and take enough food, water, shelter, and other backcountry camping equipment to keep yourself safe and sound. If you don't have the equipment, don't go.

For an eye-opening look at the dangers of hiking in and around the canyon unprepared, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Thomas M. Myers (long time resident doctor at the south rim), and Michael P. Ghiglieri (biologist and river guide), describes the various ways in which visitors have lost their lives at the canyon. (ISBN 097009731X).

Go next

The Grand Canyon is part of the Grand Circle, which includes the Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Arches National Park and many other attractions.

While literally getting out of the chasm may be the most difficult part of your visit, getting out of the national park is relatively easy.

Popular attractions near the North Rim include Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The nearest major airport is in Las Vegas.

Travelers to the South Rim often head toward Flagstaff or Sedona. Phoenix and Las Vegas are the nearest major airports; however, there is a small commercial airport in Flagstaff as well.

Routes through Grand Canyon

Flagstaff/Williams Tusayan  S  E  ends → Cameron ends at

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, December 28, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.