A Grand Canyon Dream Trip: Epic Views, Tribal Lands, Whitewater Rafting, and More


One of the seven natural wonders of the world itself, the Grand Canyon is also home to some of the more varied terrain and scenery in the United States, making it well-suited for relaxing stays and challenging adventures alike. To experience the full scope of what the National Park has to offer, this 12-day itinerary immerses you in American Indian history and nature on a rim-to-rim journey of the canyon.

You will spend three days exploring each of the four rims (though officially there’s no eastern rim), including optimal views of the canyon from all sides, including by sky and water. Pick from a range of included activities based on your preferences, whether more outdoorsy or tending to small towns and historical sites. This adventure guides visitors with a myriad of ideal ways—hiking trails, ziplines, campsites, wildlife viewing, and more—to experience the can’t-miss parts of the canyon.

At time of publication of this article, the Navajo Nation was on lockdown due to COVID-19. However, the Arizona Office of Tourism is continuing to monitor the evolving COVID19 situation. Before traveling to or throughout Arizona, check for important travel and tourism updates.


Trip Designer

Visit Arizona

Visit Arizona invites you to discover life on a grander scale. The Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world, defines the destination’s beauty, while diverse landscapes across the state, rich and ancient history, and thriving culinary culture offer plenty more to discover. From Tucson’s fine dining to the ski slopes of Flagstaff and the curves of the Colorado River, adventures await all types of explorers.
Grand Canyon Skywalk

Trip Highlight

Birdseye Canyon Views From a Glass Bridge

On the West Rim, the Skywalk Glass Bridge brings visitors up close and personal to the deeper areas of the canyon—for those willing to take the extra step that others won’t. The horseshoe-shaped glass walkway, a 4,000-foot drop to the bottom of the canyon, tests your bravery while inspiring awe as you stand above the highest points.
Glowing walls of the Antelope Slot Canyon, Page, Arizona

Glowing walls of the Antelope Slot Canyon, Page, Arizona

Left_Coast_Photographer/Getty Images/iStockphoto

DAYS 1-3Go East

Fly or drive into Flagstaff and drive about two hours to Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a paradise for water sports fans that’s on the edge of the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon. Spend the afternoon fishing, kayaking, Jet Skiing, speedboating, or whitewater rafting—there’s something for any size group or appetite for adventure. (Pro tips: Much of this region is scheduled to reopen at the end of May, so plan for late spring as the earliest period to begin your journey. Book whitewater rafting trips well in advance.)

That evening check into your home base for the next two nights, the Marble Canyon Lodge. The property stands out with its private air strip, a three-bedroom standalone house available for rental, a bar and restaurant, and the Marble Canyon Trading Post where you can find Navajo crafts and other souvenirs to bring back home. For more rustic accommodations, there’s also Shash Dine’ where you can choose from a traditional Navajo Hogan, sheepherder wagon, cabin, or house.

The next day, get an early start to drive about 1.5 hours to the Little Colorado River Gorge Navajo Tribal Park (the Navajo Nation is presently closed due to COVID-19) and explore more of the surrounding wilderness, like the contrasting limestone and sandstone cliffs of the gorge and the river itself, which defines the eastern part of the Grand Canyon. The Navajo Nation provides permits for nearby hiking locations including the Little Colorado River and Rainbow Bridge trails, so be sure to arrive during business hours to get one.

On your third day here, take an hour drive to Antelope Canyon on the Navajo’s sacred tribal lands (presently closed due to COVID -19), among the most-photographed locations in the rim for its carved, flowing rock formations. Be sure to plan in advance and book a mandatory tour with an authorized Navajo guide. Fifteen minutes away, the Colorado River wraps around the towering rock butte of Horseshoe Bend for one of the most iconic views of the Grand Canyon, known as “intimate Grand Canyon.” Hiking trails and rafting trips are available if time allows at the Bend before about a two-hour drive to the North Rim, where only 10 percent of all Grand Canyon visitors go.
African American_Day 2.jpg

DAYS 4-6North Rim

Wake up today on the next leg of your journey in a room or cabin at either the family-run Jacob Lake Inn among the ponderosa pines, or at the Grand Canyon Lodge at North Rim, the only lodging in the park on the North Rim (be sure to book in advance). Campers can also sleep under the stars at the North Rim Campground. (The rim’s visitor season runs from May to October, so any vacation for the entire canyon is best planned for this six-month period.). The Roughrider Saloon, Jacob Lake Inn, and Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room all offer dining options in the area.

Get oriented at the North Rim Visitor Center, which provides maps, bookstores, exhibits, and other sources of information needed to start the adventure. You can also learn about where to explore from the Rangers Program, which can help travelers of all ages learn about the canyon’s resident animals including elk, bison, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. Once you’re squared away, take advantage of the opportunities for views in this area afforded by the North Rim Scenic Drive, designed with as many vantage points as possible in a shorter period of time. Hit popular spots including the panoramas of Cape Royal (aim for sunrise or sunset if you can) and Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim. (Pro Tip: Pack for cooler temperatures because the North Rim elevation is at 8,000 feet.)

The next day, head out for a day hike; the variety available here range from challenging to easy. Options for trails include the North Kaibab Trail, Bridge Angel Point Trail, Cape Final Trail, Ken Patrick Trail, and Wildforss Trail. Turn in early tonight and rest up for the four-hour drive to the South Rim the next day.

DAYS 7-9South Rim

In the gateway to the South Rim, Tusayan, learn more about the park on the silver screen thanks to the IMAX Theater at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, where maps and other resources are available too. For rooms with stunning views, head to the family-focused Thunderbird Lodge, directly on the Rim Trail, or the historic El Tovar Hotel for the next two nights. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be enjoyed at the El Tovar Dining Room and the Canyon Cafe at Yavapai Lodge, or grab a meal to go at The Fountain at Bright Angel Restaurant.

You’ll want to check out the numerous viewpoints, which can be accessed via walking, biking, shuttles, or helicopter rides to allow as much exploring your time here as possible. Choose among nearby options such as Lookout Studio, Mather Point, Desert View and Watchtower, and Hopi Point—a popular site for learning about the Hopi tribe, best saved for the end of the day so you can catch a view of the sun setting over the canyon. About 30 minutes driving, Grandview Point makes a worthwhile stop too.

The next day is hiking day. Test your navigation of the gorges on trails at different levels of difficulty. Options include the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Rim Trail, Grandview Trail, and Hermit Trail. If you want some history too, squeeze in a tours of historic sites such as El Tovar, Kolb Studio, Hermit’s Rest, and Bright Angel Lodge before making the approximately two-hour drive west.
Grand Canyon Skywalk

Photographer: Mark W. Lipczynski/Mark W. Lipczynski

DAY 10-12West Rim

Your Grand Canyon adventure will end with learning about the Hualapai Nation, the tribe whose name means “people of the tall pines” and who operate Grand Canyon West on their Tribal Lands here. A stay at Hualapai Lodge (reopening soon) or Hualapai Mountain Resort for two nights allows you to enjoy luxury accommodations and easy access to local activities. You can also take dining to the next level at Sky View Restaurant with its floor-to-ceiling windows making for postcard-worthy views of the West Rim. (It’s located at Eagle Point Viewpoint, making it a convenient stop before or after a walking tour there.)

Hualapai River Runners Colorado River tours consist of both whitewater rapids and calm water for equal parts adventure and relaxation along this river. Learn about the Hualapai Tribe and the history of the “youngest side” of the Grand Canyon. Book a tour that ends with a hike to Travertine Cavern Falls for ideal vistas for snapping photos of the river. You can also take in the canyon from the sky with helicopter tours that offer views of the entire park.

The following day will begin about an hour-and-a-half drive from Peach Springs to the Grand Canyon West Skywalk Glass Bridge to check out the canyon on a glass walkway 4,000 feet above the ground. The marvel is on Hualapai Ranch, which also offers wagon rides, roping, horseback rides, and other activities for those interested in the cowboy experience. Additional thrills can be found at the Ranch’s West Rim Zip Line, which allows visitors to end their trip with a rush while taking in views of the area. Spend your final night at your hotel before driving to Flagstaff to catch your flight home the next day.
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