The Best Things to Do in and around Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is a stunner, no matter how you experience it: From a helicopter, from the glass Skywalk, from a raft rushing down the Colorado River, along the Bright Angel Trail, or from one of the overlooks along the rim. This awe-inspiring landscape commands your attention, may summon tears or sudden urges for adventure, and will linger in your memory long after you’ve left. America the beautiful, indeed.
Riding in the back of a 4x4 on a jeep tour or safari, you’ll journey through Kaibab National Forest, with its tree-covered prairies and plateaus, and glimpse thousands of years of history and geology. Best of all, a Grand Canyon expert will dispense plenty of intriguing facts and folklore. Keep your eyes out for elk, deer, bobcats, and hawks, then hop out to explore on foot the legendary El Tovar Hotel and lookout, Kolb Studio, Hopi House, and Bright Angel Lodge. Finally, it’s back to the jeep for a stop at Yavapai Point for panoramic views of the South Rim and the Colorado River. Grand Canyon Jeep Tours & Safaris offers a popular version of this tour.
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail was turned over to the National Park Service in 1928, but its history in the Grand Canyon goes back thousands of years as a natural route navigated by the region’s American Indians to reach the inner canyon. Today it’s one of the most popular Grand Canyon hikes and often is combined with the South Kaibab Trail for a longer excursion. Bright Angel is a shaded trail with plenty of natural water, so that means more plant and animal life for you to view. At Indian Garden, water is available year round, and there’s a must-see creek-side trail that snakes through ravines of water-sculpted stone and green cottonwood trees; from Plateau Point, you can see three miles of the Colorado River. Mules have the right of way on the trail.
This relatively short drive packs nine Grand Canyon overlooks into a seven-mile stretch along the South Rim to Hermits Rest. The road is open to private vehicles only during the winter months (December to February), but for the rest of the year, you’ll need to hop on either the free shuttle bus or a commercial tour if you want to see its stunning expanse. Every overlook offers a fresh, stop-you-in-your-tracks perspective of the canyon, but Hopi Point is particularly impressive because that’s where you’ll first spot the Colorado River. If you luck out with a quiet day, Pima Point is where you can actually hear the river as the water rushes over Granite Rapids, amplified by the canyon walls.
Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023, USA
Bringing riders on a journey through the heart of the Grand Canyon since 1901, Grand Canyon Railway takes you from a starting point in Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim and back for a full-day excursion, complete with on-train entertainment from strolling musicians. Multiday packages include a Wild West kickoff show, narrated motor coach tours along the South Rim, and free time to explore the canyon on your own. Overnights take place at the Maswik Lodge North and the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, along historic Route 66.
Supai, AZ 86435, USA
There’s a reason this is one of the most iconic spots along the Grand Canyon. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and hidden deep within a 20-mile round-trip hike, Havasu Falls’ sparkling turquoise waters are a popular destination for seasoned hikers who come for the amazing views, rock climbing, and swimming. The hike to the falls and back is best enjoyed with a preplanned route and plenty of stops for rest, food, and water. Because tribe members of the Havasupai, which means “people of the blue-green waters,” maintain the trails and work to keep their land as unspoiled and pristine as possible, reservations for campsites are limited and day hikes and drones are not allowed.
There are a variety of helicopter tour options, and a complete experience depends on which route and company you choose. No matter what, it’s a thrilling ride. Helicopters in the Grand Canyon have permission to fly approximately 1,000 feet lower than airplanes, so you’ll get closer to landmarks such as Lake Mead, Dragon Corridor, Desert Point View, Guano Point, and the Colorado River.
Shoshone Point, Arizona 86023, USA
One of the best-kept secrets along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, Shoshone Point is an easy and level hike—less than 2.5 miles round-trip. Surrounded by towering pine, oak, and juniper trees, the leisurely trek gains approximately 200 feet in elevation and takes you straight to the canyon’s dramatic edge with the rushing sounds of Hance Rapids in the distance. It’s a popular spot for weddings and other private events during peak season (May 1 to October 15), so make sure there’s nothing scheduled before you visit. If it’s open, you’re in for a quiet and scenic treat.
1500 E Rte 66, Williams, AZ 86046, USA
Spanning approximately 160 acres of ponderosa pines in the Kaibab National Forest, Bearizona Wildlife Park is a walking and drive-through park where you can view North American wildlife—including Rocky Mountain goats, American burros, Alaskan tundra wolves, black bears, and bison, just to name a few—in their natural habitat. From March to December, guests can see the daily Birds of Prey show, created by High Country Raptors, a nonprofit that promotes raptor conservation of such birds as the red-tailed hawk and great horned owl. The park also hosts a petting zoo and a mine-shaft experience.
Page, AZ 86040, USA
I saw this place in so many photos before but when I got there and saw it in person it was such an overwhelming experience. Getting there is easy. You take the Interstate 89 South from Page and after 7 minutes you get to the parking lot. The road is suffering some constructions down the road from here and it will appear as closed but go passed the detour sign anyway. Once in the parking lot you must walk about a quarter of a mile to the actual spot where Horseshoe Bend is located. Beware there are no protection rails so one must pay attention when approaching the edge. At 7am there are very few people around and it’s also a good time for photography. After the sun is high in the sky everything is too bright for decent photos.
This is a great option for a day hike in the Grand Canyon. South Kaibab Trail is a well-maintained (but steep!) stretch of dirt with very little shade and a trailhead that’s accessible only by shuttle bus. No private vehicles are allowed in this portion of the park. It’s a scenic adventure through and through, but South Kaibab’s main destinations include Ooh-Aah Point (at the highest elevation of 6,660 feet), Cedar Ridge (good for novice hikers and late starters), and Skeleton Point (an unobstructed view of the Colorado River with steep switchbacks).
Started by pioneer brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, this artist’s studio along the South Rim is full of the duo’s engaging depictions of the Grand Canyon’s early tourism days—black-and-white photos of mule parties and raucous river floats included. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kolb Studio hosts regular art exhibits in its auditorium, which are free to the public, and boasts spectacular views of the Grand Canyon itself. It’s open year round.
Lees Ferry Road
Following a tunnel down to the waters edge, a group of 15 of us boarded the pontoon. Leaving our hard hats behind, I glanced up at the massive Glen Canyon dam 700 feet above us. As we started to push off, I caught a glimpse of a fly fisherman on a small rocky patch alongside the sandstone cliffs. He looked like a speck of dust against the cavernous rocks that loomed over us from both sides. Gliding along the smooth Colorado River, the edges of the sandstone played tricks on my eyes as the surface reflections danced with the ripples the pontoon made as it pushed on. The views on this river are unbelievable to say the least. And I think everyone was in awe as I don’t recall hearing much from the onlookers. If you get a chance to head up North to explore, this half day pontoon rafting tour is a definite must for a relaxing view of the Colorado River. You’ll also get a chance to learn a lot about the history of this dam and the rock formations. Tickets need to be purchased in advance at $89 per person. You’ll walk away breathless.
U.S. Hwy 89 A, Marble Canyon, AZ 86036, USA
Bordered on the south by its eponymous deep-red cliffs, the national monument is home to broad plateaus, endangered California condors, and some of the oldest petroglyphs in the United States. But the area’s greatest hit is the Wave, a dramatic, undulant orange rock formation. There are trailheads, maps, and minimally marked checkpoints along the trail leading to the famous spot, but unless you opt to hire an authorized guide, you’ll have to pick your way carefully across relatively untouched desert—that is, if you manage to snag one of the 20 daily hiking permits. Apply online four months in advance or enter the daily lottery at the visitor center in Kenab, Utah. Didn’t make it? Grab a map, make sure you have a spare tire, and explore the monument’s lesser-known slot canyons and gulches, or head to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park; both are within a two-to-three-hour drive. You can always try again the next day. Permits are $6 and $7.