6 Best Summer Tours at Grand Canyon

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Let guides and rangers direct you to the must-see highlights

Posted by: Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim on June 15, 2018

Many visitors rely on the knowledge of guides and rangers to help make the most of their visit by guiding them through the natural world around them — especially during the peak summer season when the surge of visitors makes time management a must.

Even when seen on a 3 x 5-inch postcard, it’s easy to tell Grand Canyon is supernaturally large. So large that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the natural forces that created it, to know the best places to witness a sunrise, or where to see constellations painting the night sky in a wash of white stars.

This is why many visitors rely on the knowledge of guides and rangers to help make the most of their visit by guiding them through the natural world around them — especially during the peak summer season when the surge of visitors makes time management a must.

From tours for free to tours with a fee, here are five options that can enhance your Grand Canyon experience.

Sunrise from Bright Angel Lodge

1. Early to Rise

Guests who know that a few minutes of missed sleep will be more than compensated by a view they’ll remember for a lifetime don’t mind shaking themselves awake before daybreak. The Sunrise Tour that leads to, oh, what a beautiful morning begins boarding the bus 30 minutes before the sun appears, which can be as early as 4:30 a.m. in the summer or as late as 7 a.m. in the winter.

En route to a vista point along the South Rim, the driver will share insights into the canyon’s natural history. Soon you’ll make history yourself, knowing that of seven billion people in the world, you’re among a select few who will witness one of the most spectacular visions on earth: sunrise over Grand Canyon. (Hint: Prefer to sleep in? Catch the Sunset Tour instead.)

Junior Rangers

2. Outdoor Intelligence

Through a variety of tours and talks presented every summer day, park rangers, whose natural passion is natural science, explain Grand Canyon’s diverse beauty. Among the summertime selections are the Fossil Walk, which focuses on marine life that, believe it or not, thrived here 270 million years ago — long before the arrival of dinosaurs. The History Walk and Canyon Tales talks speak of human habitation from the Ancestral Puebloans who lived beside the rim to white settlers who, in the 1800s transformed Grand Canyon into a travel destination. And Geology Glimpse covers a semester’s worth of science as rangers use easy-to-understand terms to relate exactly why the canyon is so wide, so deep and, yes, so grand.

Mule Rides

3. Giddy-up and Go

In the Kolb Brothers Studio in the Historic Village, a vintage photograph shows former Rough Rider and President Teddy Roosevelt astride a mule as he ventures below the rim of Grand Canyon. More than a century later mules remain an indelible part of the national park’s identity.

Seemingly custom-designed for their role, mules are three times stronger than a horse, have a range of vision that enables them to see their back legs, and have the added assurance of feet that are as wide as a dinner plate. A variety of guided saddle-back tours are offered, from the Canyon Vistas Mules Ride to the ultimate experience: Overnight Rides to the canyon floor followed by an evening or two at the renowned Phantom Ranch.

4. Air Force

The first sight of Grand Canyon can be so overwhelming that many first-time visitors can’t see how it can get any better. But it can. And it does.

In addition to views from multiple vista points along the rim, take a short hike down the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail and you’ll catch ever-changing perspectives as you descend into the canyon. Conversely, from an airplane or a helicopter you can take in a bird’s-eye view that reveals an ever-expanding scope of this natural wonder. Soaring overhead in a plane outfitted with high wings and wide windows for better viewing, or speeding up to and then over the rim in a helicopter, you’ll see a whole new world below — unique views that magnify its immensity, unveil countless new angles for photographs, and inspire a sense of awe and wonder. For flight schedules and rates, visit aviation services Papillon or Maverick.

5. Two-Wheel It

The wide and level Rim Trail that parallels the road is great for walking, but it can also be great for riding. Bicycle tours offered by Bright Angel Bicycles include the Hermit Road Tour, a three-hour, 5.5-mile tour that begins just past a challenging incline. As you ride the trail, you’ll be tracing the path used by the canyon’s earliest pioneers — among the most scenic tours in the park. The Yaki Point Tour leaves from the Bright Angel Bicycle shop by the Visitor Center and rolls east to Yaki Point for ever-changing and always stunning views. On either tour, guides share information on Grand Canyon’s geology, botany, and human history.

6. Look Up

In the evening at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium by the Visitor Center, rangers host programs covering topics from geology, zoology, hydrology, ornithology, and astronomy — a topic perfectly suited to the setting as the last light of day fizzles into darkness. Talks such as Constellations Over The Canyon explore the beauty, mythology, and science of the constellations underneath one of the darkest night sky sanctuaries on Earth. Or meet at the McKee Amphitheater for Dark Night Skies, which explains how the park protects the fragile night skies.

Often local astronomy clubs will set up their telescopes and offer “star parties” so guests can witness guest planets, double stars, star clusters, constellations, nebulae, and distant galaxies.

How to Explore

Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides the premier in-park lodging, managing six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

Or consider the 10-day “Bryce, Zion & the Grand Canyon” tour from Holiday Vacations, one of America’s most reputable tour companies with more than 44 years of experience. As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, their packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, meals and must-see attractions. Expert tour directors handle all travel details, assuring you a carefree and memorable vacation. Visit HolidayVacations.com for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Written by: Gary McKechnie

The author of the best-selling Great American Motorcycle Tours, Gary McKechnie also wrote National Geographic’s USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks. He lectures on American travel and history aboard the ships of the Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea lines.


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