For moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life, here are tours that will immerse you in the miracle of Grand Canyon.
A scene from the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation captured a classic cinematic moment as Chevy Chase races to the rim of Grand Canyon, joins his wife, peers across the void, and a moment later races back to his car.
While few visits are that brief, in some ways it mirrors reality. Rumor has it some visitors will spend 20 minutes observing the Grand Canyon before retreating to a gift shop for an hour. Although good news for merchants, the timeline shortchanges visitors who may not appreciate they’re at the doorstep of one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Sure, it can take some tech-focused guests time to adjust, but the key to getting the most out of a visit is simply recognizing Grand Canyon isn’t virtual reality. It is reality. Larger-than-life reality. For moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life, here are tours that will immerse you in the miracle of the Grand Canyon.
For the morning tour, you’ll have to be ready to go 30 minutes before sunrise, which, depending on the season, could be as early as 4:30 a.m. (summertime) or as late as 7 a.m. (winter). Sunset tours likewise require setting out 30 minutes in advance.
On board the 90-minute bus tours, en route west to Hopi Point or nearby overlooks, guides steep passengers in information about the canyon’s natural history.
Visitors have been known to burst into tears when they approach the Grand Canyon for the very first time, but even longtime visitors display a similar reaction as they watch the soft glow of daybreak or fiery finish to the day. Enhancing the canyon’s majesty, hues of pink, red, orange and blue accent formations highlighted by sun and shadow.
While Sunrise/Sunset tours are technically motorcoach tours, variations offered throughout the day highlight far-flung areas of the canyon (while also allowing you to sleep in).
Especially popular with passengers arriving on a one-day visit via the Grand Canyon Railway (see below), the Desert View Tour offers a generous four hours to appreciate the park. Covering 52 miles on a round trip to the East Rim, you’ll take in views of the Colorado River from spectacular viewpoints and, ultimately, Desert View where Mary J. Colter’s Hopi-inspired stone Watchtower is one of the canyon’s iconic landmarks. Climb to the top for spectacular vistas.
Heading as far west as possible by road, the guided tour to Hermits Rest is a 16-mile round trip that follows the wagon road taken by tourists in carriages more than a century ago. Revealing the width and breadth of pioneering architect Mary J. Colter’s influence (she was considered “The Architect of the Southwest”), Hermits Rest is the bookend of her dramatic Watchtower. Designed as if it was the refuge of a lone prospector, the rustic outpost opened in 1914, after Colter supervised its construction.
Can’t decide on just one tour? Choose Desert View and then add a Hermits Rest, Sunrise, or Sunset Tour at a special price combination.
Having taken two round trips, I place the Grand Canyon Railway among my favorite American experiences. With stations at Grand Canyon National Park and 65 miles south in Williams, Ariz., the thrill of riding across the Colorado Plateau to see a landscape viewable only by train is unforgettable. Add singing cowboys, Pullman cars, luxury dome cars, and luxury parlor cars and you have to ask, “How could they make this any better?”
Here’s how: By having a motorcoach greet you at the Grand Canyon station to whisk you away on either a 1.5-hour Grand Tour (with lunch) or a 1.5-hour Freedom Tour (without) — each exclusive to rail passengers. Either way, stepping off a vintage railcar and being chauffeured to some of the South Rim’s most spectacular overlooks is a great way to spend the day.
New for spring 2017 is the Arizona Sunset Tour. Combining a delicious Arizona Room lunch and a two-hour Hermits Rest sunset tour, this new tour has limited availability. Grand Canyon Railway passengers should book this tour as far in advance as possible to ensure they maximize their Grand Canyon experience.
Mules and the Grand Canyon are inseparable, making this experience perhaps one of the most desired of all tours. Guided rides have attracted visitors for well more than a century, captivating guests who see a new perspective with every step while also marveling at the mule’s strength (they are three times stronger than a horse), its vision (mules can actually see their back legs), and its sure-footedness (their feet are about as wide as dinner plates).
Some riders are content to get in some saddle time on the Canyon Vistas Rim Ride on the perimeter of the East Rim, a three-hour experience (including two hours in the saddle) with wranglers offering lessons in geologic formations, human history, how the canyon was created, and more. Others make this the adventure of a lifetime as they ride clear to the canyon floor, a vertical mile beneath the rim, for an evening or two at the renowned Phantom Ranch. The Overnight Rides to Phantom Ranch down the Bright Angel Trail take nearly six hours, including rest stops. Reservations are required for mule rides and riders must weigh less than 200 pounds for the Phantom Ranch ride and 225 pounds for the Canyon Vistas.
For a unique way to experience the park, helicopter tours and river rafting trips are also available from several concessioners.
For more information, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.