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.