Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
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Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Two billion years in one glance: the ultimate trip back in time.

Rock of Ages

Want something to talk about back home? Try hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. Nothing beats walking 10 miles through 2 billion years of geological history: The rocks, the rapids, the blisters!


Grand Canyon, copyright Grand Canyon Railway

On the other hand, if knees and lungs of steel don't run in the family, confine your activities to the rim. The South Rim, Grand Canyon's most visited section, is laced with "cliffhanging" trails that can be driven, hiked, or biked.

Either way, be prepared for crowds. The southern section of the park is mobbed in summer. You'll be jockeying with the masses for a viewpoint parking spot and competing for a foothold on trails with other hikers -- and mules.

The Lazy Way

Okay, so your kids' definition of exercise is channel surfing. Then they'll love being rim rats for a day.

Head first for the Yavapai Observation Station in the Grand Canyon Village. You can enjoy the breathtaking buttes and tributary canyons from behind glass windows, without worrying about anyone falling off the side. What's more, the canyon's geological features are identified on panels near the viewing points, so the kids won't miss a thing!

Then, pick one of two Rim Drives, to tour by car or bike:


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  • Desert View Drive. The 46-mile roundtrip route to the park's east entrance is an absolute must. At Yaki Point, check out the glorious, unobstructed views of the canyon and its distinctive buttes or "temples."
  • At Watchtower, the highest point on the South Rim, you'll get a 360-degree view of the Vermilion Cliffs, San Francisco Peaks, Painted Desert, and Colorado River. The tower has an authentic kiva (a ceremonial room, decorated with murals) as well as a gas station, snack bar, and rest room.
  • On your way, take a tour of the Tusayan Ruin and Museum, where you'll view a small, 12th-century Ancestral Pueblo and learn how the neighboring Hopi continue a similar lifestyle today.
  • Hermits Road and Nature Trail. On this 16-mile roundtrip route, you'll see 8 popular viewpoints, including Abyss, where the Great Mohave Wall plunges 3,000 feet, creating a breathtaking view of the Colorado River.

Getting Sweaty


Grand Canyon, copyright www.gcnpf.org

If your hearts are set on hiking into the canyon, be forewarned: It'll be a long, hard and thirsty day. And you won't be able to do it roundtrip (that's a two-day gig).

Remember, these treks require good physical conditioning. On the park's hot, dusty trails, everyone has to pull their own weight. Pooping out is not allowed.

  • The Bright Angel Trail. This 30-mile trail is one of two "superhighways" of the Grand Canyon. Originally an Indian trail used by the Havasupai Indians ("People of the blue-green water") to commute between the South Rim and Indian Gardens, Bright Angel Trail's upper section is nice and wide with long switchbacks and some incredible views. It also has a rare commodity -- shade -- as well as water and rest areas at the 1.5- and 3-mile points.
  • The 9.2-mile roundtrip to Indian Gardens, a small oasis situated 3,000 feet below the rim, makes a great day hike. Going down is a cinch. The trek back up is strenuous, so allow twice as long for your return trip.
  • Before heading down the canyon, check out Kolb Studio, at the Bright Angel trailhead. This photography studio, built and run by Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, displayed canyon photographs taken by the brothers during the first-ever Colorado river-running trip.
  • South Kaibab Trail. This alternate superhighway begins at Yaki Point and follows a ridge that offers extensive views of the canyon. Points of interest include Cedar Ridge, a sensible target for a half-day trip, O'Neill Butte, and The Tip Off, where canyon walls are shades of red and purple.

Mule View

Want to see the canyon floor but don't have the physical strength to make the trek? Try going by mule. Mule trips are so popular, there are usually more animals than humans on the trails.

To qualify for a mule trip, you must be in good shape, weigh under 200 pounds, and be taller than 4 feet, 7 inches. Advance reservations are essential.

  • Overnight to Phantom Ranch. One of the canyon's loveliest spots, Phantom Ranch is located more than 4,000 feet below the rim. The ride down takes 5.5 hours; the trip back up is 4.5 hours. Riders spend the night in ranch cabins and awaken to a home cooked breakfast. (Tip: Mule rides are a great way to get into the Ranch, which is booked up one year in advance. The park reserves more beds for mule riders than hikers.)
  • Day trip to Plateau Point. These popular treks descend 3,200 feet to the Tonto Platform and Plateau Point, where you can see the Colorado River 1,320 feet below. Allow seven hours roundtrip.

Northern Exposure

Want to see the canyon without the crowds? Head to the pine-forested North Rim. Located 200 miles from the South Rim by car, the North Rim is higher in elevation and cooler temperature-wise; it also gets more rain and snow, which makes it ideal in the winter for snow shoeing and cross-country skiing.

Cape Royal Scenic Drive offers some of the most amazing views of the North Rim. Along this paved road, visitors will encounter Point Imperial, the highest viewpoint from either rim, Vista Encantadora, Roosevelt Point, Walhalla Overlook, and Angel's Window, a huge natural arch.

Toroweap, or Tuweep, is located between the Pipe Mountains and Kanab Canyon about 140 miles west of the North Rim's Grand Canyon Lodge. At an elevation of 4,552 feet, Toroweap is famous for its sheer cliffs that drop almost 3,000 feet to the Colorado River below.

Dashboard

Type of trip: Outdoor, sightseeing, hiking

Best ages: All ages

Ideal trip length: 2 days minimum

Distance: Flagstaff (81 miles), Phoenix (230 miles), Las Vegas (280 miles)

Best time to go: Spring and fall, for good weather and smaller crowds

Weather: 65/27 degrees in fall, 70/39 spring

Lodging (South Rim): Rates range from $47 to $285/night double occupancy for in-park lodging. Book well in advance; rooms fill up fast. In Tusayan, 7 miles south of the Rim, rates range from $65 to $175.

Squirm factor: None

If You Go...

Grand Canyon National Park Headquarters and Information Off Hwy. 180/Hwy. 64 Phone: 928-638-7888

 
Lodging

  • Xanterra Parks & Resorts
    14001 E. Illiff, Ste. 600, Aurora, CO
    Phone: 303-297-2757

 

Canyon Walls,
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  • Campgrounds: Phone: 800-365-2267. 928-638-7851 and North Rim, at the North Kaibab Trailhead, 928-638-7888.

 
Transportation

Diesel, copyright
Grand Canyon Railway

  • Trans Canyon Shuttle
    Phone: 928-638-2820
    Note: A rim-to-rim shuttle service runs seasonally.
  • Grand Canyon Trail Rides
    Phone: 435-679-8665
    Note: Operates mule rides in the North Rim.

Grand Canyon Railway 1201 West Route 66, Suite 200, Flagstaff, AZ Phone: 800-THE-TRAIN Note: Steam engines operate Memorial Day weekend through September; vintage diesel locomotives pull the train the remainder of the year.

 

Side Trips

Williams, AZ

Young explorers will love a ride on the steam-powered Grand Canyon Railway at Williams, AZ, about 60 miles from the South Rim's Village Area. The train departs daily from the vintage 1908 Williams Depot station at 9:30 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m.

You'll have three hours to explore the Village Area before returning to Williams. Make sure to get to the depot early...you won't want to miss the continental breakfast and live Wild West shootout!

Williams' Historic District, with its rows of turn-of-the-century buildings, is a great place to spend the day. Stroll down Saloon Row to catch a glimpse of long-abandoned houses and Western saloons. Make sure to pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure at the Visitor's Center.

Williams is also home to the last stretch of historic Route 66, much of which has been replaced by Interstate 40. As you make your way down this mile-and-a-half piece of road, you'll pass decades-old service stations, glitzy neon motels, soda fountains, cafes, curio shops, and historic buildings. They're so well preserved; you can almost see 20's and 30's jalopies driving by. City of Williams/Forest Service Visitors Center, 200 West Railroad Ave., 800-863-0546.

 

The Inside Scoop

Favorite local spots: The Steakhouse at The Grand Canyon, off Hwy 64, in nearby Tusayan. Call 928-638-2780 for more information. For authentic western atmosphere, mouthwatering steaks, and BBQ ribs, slow-cooked over an open juniper wood fire.

Best souvenirs: The Animal Tracks Discover Box activity book teaches kids to identify critters by the traces they leave behind. It includes a kit of plastic casts to make their own tracks!

Traffic alert: Spring and summer are peak seasons, so expect crowds and congestion in the South Rim. Park the car and take the free shuttle. Shuttles operate in Grand Canyon Village and along Hermit Road.

Heat alert: Extreme heat and rugged terrain make hiking the Grand Canyon hazardous. To avoid trouble, know your limits when picking a trail. Canyon hiking is very different. Allow one-third of your time to hike in and two-thirds to hike out. Begin before 7 a.m. or after 4 p.m. And carry one gallon of water per person per day.

Annual events (Williams, AZ):

  • Fun Run, first weekend in May. Spend the weekend watching 1,000 classic and vintage automobiles cruise Route 66.
  • Fourth of July, annual celebration includes a parade, dancing, arts and crafts, children's activities, and a spectacular fireworks display.
  • Mountain Village Holiday, Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. William's annual Christmas celebration includes a lighting ceremony, parade, arts and crafts fair, and fireworks.

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