Grand Canyon National Park
PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Grand Canyon National Park has long been a source of fascination and inspiration for travelers. Located 250 miles north of Phoenix, it attracts about five million visitors annually. The park offers a wide array of activities, ranging from rock climbing and fishing to aerial tours and hiking. There is something for everyone at this natural wonder.
Entrance fees: $20/vehicle for 7 days, or $10/individual for 7 days. Kids 15 and under are free.
Visitor centers: Canyon View Information Plaza and Desert View Information Center, both on the South Rim, are open year-round. North Rim Visitor Center is open from mid-May to mid-September.
Other services: Seven lodges and four campgrounds
- Mather Campground. Open year-round. Reservations recommended. 800-365-CAMP.
- North Rim Campground. Open mid-May to mid-September. Reservations required. 800-365-CAMP.
- Desert View Campground. Open mid-May to mid-September, First-come, first-served.
- Other lodging. Year-round; not all facilities open year-round. Reservations recommended. 888-297-2757.
For modern travelers, there are actually two Grand Canyons to be visited -- the South Rim and the North Rim. Although these two areas are less than a dozen miles apart, they are distinctly different. The North Rim, a thousand feet higher than the South Rim and more remote from major interstates and towns, is less crowded.
The South Rim, with an elevation of 7,000 feet and direct access from Interstate 40 and Flagstaff, can be congested, especially during tourist season. Roughly nine out of ten park visitors go to the South Rim, partly because the views there are thought to be better than those at the North Rim.
The true magnificence of the Grand Canyon takes all visitors by surprise. You approach the canyon from the south, across a gently rising plateau, or from the north across higher and wilder country. Nothing in the topography on either side gives you a hint of what is to soon unfold.
Suddenly you are there, standing on the rim of one of the most sublime and profound spectacles on this planet. The chasm is so vast and so deep that on first sight it looks as though the Earth has opened up to allow us to glimpse the secrets that lie at its greatest depths.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy the Grand Canyon, from descending to its bottom on the back of a mule to running the Colorado River on a raft. Go to the next page for some recreation tips.
Sightseeing at the Grand Canyon
The scale of the Grand Canyon is immense, and even from the best vantage points, only a small fraction of its 227 miles can be seen. Nobody has seen all of the Grand Canyon, despite the fact that millions of people from around the globe have visited.
Most visitors first view this truly unbelievable sight from the more accessible South Rim, which offers a stunning view into the deep inner gorge of the Colorado River. The vista is so dramatic that it can be overwhelming.
What you see extending for a mile down below your feet are millions of years of geologic history. Nowhere else on earth can you view such a complete record of the geologic workings of the planet laid out so clearly and orderly.
Grand Canyon Photo Opportunities
There are myriad places in Grand Canyon National Park where you can snap a perfect picture. Here are some ideas:
- The South Rim: The vast majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon view the park from this location. The South Rim extends for 60 miles along the canyon's edge and is open year-round.
- The North Rim: This view of the canyon is a thousand feet higher than the South Rim. Snows close the roads on the North Rim from early fall to early spring.
- Tuweep: In addition to the stunning views of the canyon from the northwest rim, this site is a prefect place to view the Kanab Plateau and the volcanic Pine/Uinkaret Mountains.
- The Yavapai Observation Station: Located at Yavapai Point, this site offers panoramic shots of the canyon, including the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.
Into the Canyon: By Foot or Muleback
For those who want a different perspective, three spectacular trails lead down into the canyon from both the North and South Rim. The popular Bright Angel Trail winds eight miles from the South Rim down to Phantom Ranch, a lodge and campground that is clustered among a glen of Fremont cottonwoods on the canyon floor.
An alternative is to try one of the famous Grand Canyon mule rides. As you journey down into the canyon on the back of your small but sturdy mule, you'll have plenty of time to observe a stunning variety of plant and animal life.
The canyon's great depth contains such a range of temperature and precipitation that the variety of local climates equals the natural scope of nearly the entire continent. The mules depart from the South Rim for both day trips and overnight pack trips to Phantom Ranch, where guests can stay in rustic cabins and dormitories. Plan up to 24 months ahead -- available spots fill quickly.
Running the Colorado River: Raft and Dory Trips
While reservations are required months in advance, rafting trips down the Colorado River are another means of getting deep into the Grand Canyon. These expeditions vary in length from about three days by motorized raft, to 18 days or more by non-motorized devices, which are similar to those used by John Wesley Powell -- the first modern explorer and U.S. Army surveyor -- whose journals are still used as guides by modern river runners.
Offered by a number of river trip companies, trips cover long, quiet stretches of deep water through the heart of the canyon, with stops for overnight camping at several scenic or unusual sights, plus day hikes to ruins, waterfalls, side canyons, and tributary streams. The river journey is broken by more than 140 major rapids. At least two of these are hand-clenching, jaw-wrenching swirls of cascading water and thunderous waves that are rated 10, on a scale of 1-10.
Now that you know what types of activities are available in the Grand Canyon, we'll switch gears and tell you how this geological marvel was formed. The history of the Grand Canyon is covered on the next page.
History: How the Grand Canyon Was Formed
In the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River has cut through the accumulated layers of the earth's surface to reach what Norman MacLean dubbed "the basement of time." A billion years of history can be seen at a glance, from the Precambrian bedrock at the distant river's edge to fossilized sand dunes only a million years old at the rim.
Some of the earth's oldest rock lies at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Thousands of feet thick, the rock is made up of sediments. About 300 million years after it formed, monumental geologic forces lifted the rock back up into a great range of mountains that may have been six miles high, or about the height of the Himalayas.
Over time, the mountains eroded into a plain. About one billion years ago, that plain was raised into a second mountain range. These mountains were also worn away by millions of years of rain, wind and frost.
During later ages, the entire region sank beneath an inland sea, with primitive shellfish fossilizing in sea bottoms that eventually hardened to shale. Eons later, the region rose again as a high plateau; the former sea bottom was now on top and the ancient rocks below.
This is when the Colorado River went to work, first cutting into the upper layers about six million years ago. Carving inch by inch over the millennia, the river finally reached the oldest rocks nearly a mile below the surface.
Grand Canyon History: Inhabitants and Exploration
People lived in the canyon centuries ago, but the first Europeans to explore the area were 13 members of Coronado's expedition, who arrived around 1540. One wrote a letter of disgust because his expedition had encountered an unbridgeable barrier to further exploration of the Grand Canyon. In the 1850s, the U.S. Army sent a surveying party into the area, and in 1869, John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Major, became the first modern explorer in the canyon's history.
Powell set out with a small party in four boats to explore as much of the length of the Colorado River and the canyon as he could. It was an exciting journey that cost the Major two of his boats. But he proved that the canyon could be explored.
Accounts of his bold river run were widely published, leading to an increased public interest in the Southwest. By the 1880s, a prospector named John Hance, who was known for his quick wit and tall tales, had begun leading sightseeing parties into the canyon.
Hance's legacy lives on today. The Grand Canyon, with its rich geological history and its stunning views, is one of the world's most popular sightseeing destinations.
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