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  • 7 Amazing Grand Canyon Adventures

    7 Amazing Grand Canyon Adventures

Don't miss these bucket list experiences at a Natural Wonder!

From hiking and mule riding to river floating and embarking on a historic train ride, adventurers can get their adrenaline flowing at this spectacular natural wonder.

This jagged 277-mile-long gorge carved by the Colorado River and reaching depths of a mile is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and the centerpiece of Grand Canyon National Park. You can explore its 1.2 million acres on foot, by bus or bike, on water, and even by mule. Book as far ahead as possible, since popular activities typically sell out months in advance. Here are seven options for enjoying the majesty of the Grand Canyon.

Overnight Mule Ride to Phantom Ranch

Descend on a Grand Canyon mule 10 miles from the South Rim to the canyon floor on the famed Bright Angel Trail, built and named by Ralph Cameron and originally a toll trail. Although it’s very narrow, mules have carried more than 500,000 visitors safely since they were first offered in 1887, the National Park Service says. About 5½ hours later, after a picnic lunch, arrive at Phantom Ranch, the only lodging below the canyon rim, in time to dig into a belt-busting dinner served family-style and sleep in a cabin on a bunk bed.

Riders must be at least 9 years old and weigh less than 200 pounds, fully dressed. These and other mule trips are so popular that savvy travelers often book a year in advance.

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Access to the park’s most popular hiking path is easy. The century-old trail starts in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and is not for those afraid of heights, although everyone from children to grandparents enjoy it. Most day trippers turn around (maybe after a picnic) at Indian Garden, about halfway down. A trip to the base and back up can take more than 10 hours, so the National Park Service discourages hiking down and back in the same day. Be sure to hydrate and eat frequently, especially salty snacks.

Though the trail has been temporarily closed during the winter season, it is scheduled to reopen on April 14, 2024. Those who wish to camp overnight will need a permit.

Canyon Vistas Mule Ride

Visitors can enjoy spectacular views from the back of a sure-footed mule while riding alongside the canyon’s rim. Guides leading the four-mile, three-hour trek on the East Rim trail will share information about the canyon’s history, rock formations, and more. Riders must be at least 9 years old and weigh less than 225 pounds, fully dressed.

Steam Engine Train

Grand Canyon Railway Express Tour

Pass prairie and ponderosa pine — and perhaps even an elk or two — on your way to the South Rim. Trains depart in the morning from Williams, Arizona, about 30 miles west of Flagstaff, and return in the early evening. Expect surprises from performers in authentic Wild West garb, who bring the life of the Old West alive, starting with a Wild West shootout at the 1908 Williams Depot prior to each morning’s departure. More Wild West entertainment aboard the train features strolling musicians who roam the train. Passengers have time to explore the South Rim and experience two century-old train depots.

If you’re staying on the South Rim, you can book van transport to Williams and ride back one way, or you can leave your car in Williams while staying at the park. Train buffs should look into consider rides featuring a Grand Canyon Railway vintage steam locomotive, now powered by eco-friendly waste vegetable oil.

Grand Canyon River Adventure

This one’s a daylong, multi-adventure outing. Fly in a plane to Page, Arizona, enjoying more views of the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell than you see on a typical helicopter tour. See stunning Antelope Canyon with a Native American guide. Then take a 15-mile “smooth water” float trip, suitable for children. A box lunch is included, and you’ll be driven back to the South Rim.

Sunrise and Sunset Bus Tours

Leave the driving to a knowledgeable tour guide on interpretive bus tours, which relieve visitors of the stress of driving and parking and show the canyon in a new light. Taking advantage of the spectacular sunrise and sunset hours, these and other tours are narrated by a driver who also provides information on Grand Canyon history and geology.

Road trip to Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Exploring by Car

For mile after mile of unfolding views, get in your car (or RV or motorcycle) and head east from the Historic Village where you’ll soon discover even more of the park at places like the Yavapai Geology Museum at Yavapai Point. Don’t miss the discovery Channel film, A Journey of Wonder, presented at the Visitor Center, followed by the historic Tusayan Museum and ruins, which include the remnants of homes and kivas created by Puebloan Indians 800 years ago. Roughly 25 miles from the Historic Village, Mary Colter’s 1932 masterpiece — the Watchtower at Desert View — gives you a heightened awareness of Grand Canyon’s majesty when viewed from the top of this classic 70-foot-high observation tower.

Written by Kitty Bean Yancey, a Washington, D.C.-based award-winning former USA TODAY travel writer. She freelances for publications including AARP Magazine and AAA publications.

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