3 Awesome Ways to Experience the Grand Canyon
Drive, hike, or ride a mule? Listed here are the most popular ways to explore The Grand Canyon. Here's our guide on how to experience the best the canyon has to offer!
There are so many ways to explore the majestic Grand Canyon. Do you want to see the view from the North or South Rim? Would you like to explore the canyon floor? Are you most interested in the geology, the importance of this natural wonder to Native Americans? Or do you just want to soak up those fantastic views?
There is so much information about tours and activities in the Grand Canyon; it can be quite overwhelming when trying to plan a trip. Here at Daring Penguin, we have honed down these options to come up with three of the best ways make your trip to the Grand Canyon an awesome once in a lifetime experience.
1. Drive and Enjoy the Lookouts
There are some great lookout spots that you can get to by car or 4-wheel drive. So if you aren't mobile enough to hike on the trails, are short of time, or just want a leisurely way to explore the Grand Canyon, this is a great option; you can experience some fantastic views this way.
It is worth noting that, unsurprisingly, the Grand Canyon is very large. The North and South Rims are in fact about 200 miles apart, so you will probably have to choose one or the other. You can walk across the canyon floor in a couple of days, but driving takes over five and a half hours. The South Rim is full of iconic views of the canyon. It is generally more accessible, so this means it is more touristy and crowded, but one look at the majestic canyon and you will see why!
A good place to start looking when putting together a driving tour of the South Rim is by looking through the National Park's Service website. Desert View Drive is a 25-mile long route that takes in many beautiful view points. These include Moran Point, where you can appreciate the geology of this natural wonder, Navajo Point- the highest outlook over the South Rim, and Desert View, which includes the iconic Desert View Watchtower and visitors' center.
Desert View Drive is a scenic route to the east of Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim which follows the rim for 25 miles (40 km) out to the Desert View Watchtower and East Entrance. Along the way, six developed canyon viewpoints, four picnic areas, and five unmarked pullouts are accessible with private vehicles, in addition to the Tusayan Ruin and Museum.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open during the summer month—it will reopen from May 15, 2016, to Oct 15, 2016. The park is open to snowshoers and cross-country skiers with a day pass in the winter months, but it is closed to vehicles.
There are benefits to visiting this side of the park by car in the summer. It is only visited by 10% of the total number of canyon tourists, so you are guaranteed a quieter experience. It is also close to Bryce Canyon and Zion National parks, so if you are visiting these, you can easily see some of the Grand Canyon's North Rim too.
Famous lookouts on the North Rim include Bright Angel Point. From Bright Angel, there is a wheelchair accessible path that leads to Grand Canyon Lodge, which features spectacular views of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. Other lookouts are Port Imperial and Cape Royal, visiting these two views will take about half a day driving. Port Royal offers spectacular views of the canyon's geology, and Cape Royal is a great place to catch the sunset or sunrise.
Again, it is worth looking at the National Parks website for practical information about visiting the North Rim of The Grand Canyon. See the link below.
A worthwhile trip for those who enjoy the road less traveled, the North Rim, or "other side" of the Grand Canyon is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors. There is only one lodge, the Grand Canyon Lodge (managed by Forever Resorts) and one developed campground on the North Rim.
2. Hike and Get Up-Close and Personal
Hiking in the Grand Canyon can involve taking a relatively easy path, or embarking on a much more challenging route. It is worth bearing in mind that the weather can change quickly with searing temperatures in the summer and ice and snow in the winter. Always carry plenty of water and snacks, and be aware that the paths can be steep and take longer to hike than you may expect.
There are a number of trails you can hike from the South Rim of varying difficulty. If you want an gentle walk with some great views, the South Rim trail is ideal. This is about 12 miles long, but level, there are also many shuttle bus stops along this route, so anytime you can cheat!
If you want something a little more challenging, the Bright Angel trail, that starts near Bright Angel Point, is ideal if you want to venture into the canyon, but not too far. This path is still steep and you will have to watch out for the mule trains coming up or down the path. Popular half-way points are Plateau Point and Indian Gardens.
South Kaibab is a more challenging hike; it is up to 6 miles (round trip) in length, but it is steep! This is considered a great hike for seeing relatively spectacular views in a short time.
The Hermit Trail is steeper and less well maintained than the South Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel trail. The path starts at Hermit's Rest and from here you can visit Santa Maria springs, about a 5-mile round trip, or Dripping Springs, a 6.5-mile round trip. Please note that water from springs must be treated before you can take a drink.
The Grandview Trail is considered one of the most beautiful and rewarding trails in the park, but it is also very steep and not as well maintained as the other trails. You can go to Coconino Saddle, a 2-mile round trip, and Horseshoe Mesa a 6.5-mile round trip.
It is also possible to hike down to the canyon floor and stay at Phantom Ranch, before coming back to the rim the following day. This is very popular, so make sure you book well in advance. Trying to hike to the canyon floor and back again in one day is not recommended.
Some shorter trails go along the North Rim and offer stunning views over the canyon. They also give a good insight into the forested areas of the northern section of the park.
There is only one trail that goes down to the canyon floor from the North Rim, the North Kaibab trail. The longest recommended day hike from the start of the trail is to Roaring Springs. This is a 7-8 hour hike and quite strenuous. There are some other good half-way points on this trail that will offer excellent canyon views. The distance from the North Rim to the Colorado River and back is a whopping 26 miles, so please don't attempt to hike there and back in a day.
If you are planning to tie in your visit with a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, please see the link to The National Geographic website below, they have an excellent itinerary of these two parks, plus the North Rim with lots of great ideas for walks along the way.
Discover the geological treasures of the American Southwest, exploring Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
3. Ride a Mule for a Unique Take on the Canyon
A mule ride is an ideal way to see a bit more than you might be able to when hiking. It is worth bearing in mind that riding isn't effort-free! Your thighs will feel the burn, and you will be saddle-sore after a whole day riding. The mules are very well-trained pack animals, though, and will be easy enough to manage. The wrangler that takes you out will team you up with a mule based on your riding experience, so you will have a gentle animal if you don't have much experience.
There is a range of rides available from a level trip around the South Rim to a two-day ride to the canyon floor with an overnight stay at Phantom's Lodge.
Mule rides are very popular, and it is well worth booking them in advance.
Xanterra is the name of the company that offers mule trips on the South Rim. From here you can choose from a number of different experiences. They offer a choice of three rides: the Canyon Vista trip, a three-hour ride along the canyon rim that has spectacular viewpoints, and one and two-night rides down to Phantom Ranch and back up to the rim. These longer rides come with accommodations: a steak supper, a hearty breakfast, and, of course, a truly unique experience.
There are regular opportunities to stop and take pictures, and the wrangler will make sure you and your mule have a very good time.
Rides can be booked up to 13 months in advance, and they are very popular, so do book at the earliest opportunity.
It is worth noting that there are some guidelines that you must follow. Riders must be at least 4'7", and must weigh no more than 200 pounds. Please visit Xanterra for further information.
For the more adventurous visitor, looking to create a true lifetime memory, why not take a mule ride down into the Grand Canyon or perhaps along the rim. Take one of two guided rides using a time-honored method of canyon transportation: the sure-footed mule.
Canyon Trail Rides offer mule trips for the North Rim of The Grand Canyon. They offer three excursions, a rim ride that lasts one hour, a half-day trip to Uncle Jim's Point, and the only trip that goes into the canyon from this side, the half-day trip to the Supai Tunnel. These rides are only available from May through to September, due to the park being closed for the winter months.
This is a unique and spectacular way to experience the beautiful wildlife and scenery on offer on this side of The Grand Canyon. Again, there are age and weight restrictions for these mule rides. Check out the link below for further information.
For a day of fun and excitement, come out and ride a mule. All rides are with experienced guides and our mules are selected for their gentle temperaments; trail-wise and sure-footed.
We hope you've been inspired by our round-up of three ways to explore the Grand Canyon. Whether you choose to experience this majestic landscape by mule, by car, or by foot, we trust you will have an exciting and fulfilling experience.
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