By Foot, Bus, Mule, and Bike
Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim
on April 5, 2016
The Sunset Tour is equally spectacular. The waning light creates a riot of colors over the canyon.
Of the record 5 million visitors who landed at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim in 2015, only an estimated 10 percent set foot into the canyon. And a mere 1 percent made the trek to Phantom Ranch, a mile below the rim on the canyon’s floor.
But you don’t have to be an avid hiker to drink in the wonders of this wondrous place. There are a number of options for experiencing the Grand Canyon. Here are some best bets.
The Grand Canyon’s Historic Village District, site of iconic buildings including El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, and Hopi House gift shop, among others, has some of the best – and most easily accessible – canyon views. Pick up the free Grand Canyon Village Historic District Walking Tour Guide at any transportation desk to learn about the fascinating human history in the Village.
The paved Rim Trail winds along the canyon’s edge with places to comfortably view the chasm along the way. The village segment is the most popular part of the 14-mile Rim Trail, which begins at the South Kaibab Trailhead and winds west to Hermit’s Rest. Free park shuttles will ferry you to different parts of the trail.
Also in the Historic Village is the Trail of Time, a paved, interpretive geological path that starts at the Yavapai Geology Museum and ends .71 miles beyond near Verkamp’s Visitor Center in the Village. The trail traces 1.2 billion years of canyon development with samples of the oldest “basement” rocks, to the relatively young (270 million years old) cap rocks. Continue beyond Verkamp’s for another 2.4 miles to Maricopa Point, and you’ll have figuratively stepped back in time 4.6 billion years to Earth’s creation.
For a taste of hiking below the rim, nothing beats the Bright Angel Trail, which winds down from the west end of the Historic Village District. A relatively gentle descent with numerous switchbacks, it’s the most trafficked trail in the canyon and is ideal for even novice hikers, since there’s drinking water (not available during the winter) and restroom facilities at several points. But hikers should always carry water and plenty of salty snacks while hiking on any trail in Grand Canyon. The trail ultimately leads to Phantom Ranch, 11 miles away. But shorter stints include hikes to Mile-and-a-Half Rest House, Three-Mile Rest House, and Indian Garden.
For more ambitious hikers, the steeper South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge is a scenic 3-mile round-trip jaunt. If you’re up for more, continue beyond Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point. There’s no water on this route, so be sure to carry your own.
Park Service rangers also lead interpretive walks. Check the daily roster for schedules. And in September 2016, the non-profit Grand Canyon Association Field Institute is slated to begin specialized three-hour guided hikes limited to 10 participants.
A relaxing way to view the canyon is via a Xanterra Parks & Resorts narrated bus tour along the South Rim. Children 16 and under ride free when accompanied by an adult.
The two-hour Hermits Rest Tour travels 8 miles along the canyon’s west rim to a stone building designed by Mary Colter and constructed in 1914. With its cavernous fireplace, some original furnishings, and a broad porch with canyon views, it’s one of the canyon’s most unusual structures.
The Desert View Tour takes 3 hours and 45 minutes and ventures 52 miles along the canyon’s east rim. Scenic viewpoint stops include one at the Watchtower, also designed by Mary Colter, a stone fortress-like structure built in 1932 to resemble an ancient Indian lookout. Climb to the top for spectacular views.
Watching day break over the canyon is an unforgettable experience and one that can be had on the Sunrise Tour. It takes in Palisades of the Desert, colorful cliffs that border the Colorado River.
The Sunset Tour is equally spectacular. The waning light creates a riot of colors over the canyon. A bonus: No two sunsets are alike.
The Grand Canyon mule rides have been an iconic way to see the canyon since their inception in the late 1800s. Riders have two options.
The Canyon Vistas ride is a three-hour experience (including two hours in the saddle) that winds along a rim-top trail, each turn revealing another heart-stopping vista. This is the perfect ride for beginners, and fun for experienced riders as well.
The ride to Phantom Ranch, nestled a vertical mile beneath the rim on the canyon floor, is a bucket-list adventure. The 11-mile ride to the ranch takes about six hours, including rest stops. The ride out the next morning is via a shorter, but steeper, 7.5-mile trail. Guests sleep in comfy cabins and indulge in a hearty dinner and breakfast as part of the fare.
For more information, visit grandcanyonlodges.com/things-to-do/mule-trips.
This relatively new way to experience the canyon began when Bright Angel Bikes set up shop in 2012 near the park’s main visitor center near Mather Point.
They rent both hybrid bikes and road bikes for guided or do-it-yourself tours. They also operate a shuttle for cyclists who prefer to do a one-way ride. A series of Greenway Trails that are closed to motor vehicles make cycling here a breeze.
Another popular option is the Hermit Road Tour, in which cyclists are shuttled to Hopi Point for a 5.5-mile mostly downhill guided trip by bike. Hermit Road is closed to private vehicle traffic most of the year and hosts some of the park’s most scenic vistas, making the route an excellent choice. For more information, visit bikegrandcanyon.com.
For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.