A visit to northwest Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park in autumn or spring affords amazing scenery and views into an abyss in the earth’s crust without summer crowds.
Accessible by plane from Flagstaff and Phoenix, Arizona, or Las Vegas, Nevada, the Grand Canyon features a magnificent array of rock layers, buttes, and side canyons in shades of orange, red, purple, and tawny beige. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, two billion years of the earth’s interior is exposed in this grandest of canyons.
The Grand Canyon is one mile deep, 277 miles long, and averages 10 miles in width. With more than a million acres of land, Grand Canyon National Park includes ponderosa pines, juniper, several varieties of hawks, California condor, and bighorn sheep. Enter the Grand Canyon by train from nearby Williams, Arizona; by tour bus from Flagstaff or Phoenix, Arizona; or by car to the canyon’s popular South Rim or less traveled North Rim.
Grand Canyon South Rim’s Overlooks, Museum, Music, and Art
Open year-round near the park’s south entrance, the South Rim’s Canyon View Information Plaza is a logical first stop for information on hiking, programs, maps, and weather. Free shuttle buses frequently run from the plaza area to overlooks along the South Rim. Nearby, Yavapai, Mather, and Yaki Points offer panoramic views and observation stations as well as geological displays.
Near the park’s east entrance, the Tusayan Museum traces the development of the canyon’s Native American culture, including exhibits and displays. Adjacent Tusayan Ruin is a prehistoric pueblo inhabited by two generations of Anasazi. Further east, Desert View Watchtower, modeled after ancient Puebloan architecture, affords magnificent vistas of the river, canyon, Painted Desert, and Kaibab National Forest.
Arts and culture flourish at the Grand Canyon. Take in a music concert each September during the Grand Canyon Music Festival. The 3-week series of evening concerts are held indoors at the Shrine of the Ages auditorium. Art exhibits change every three months at the historic Kolb Studio, focusing on art related to the canon.
Hiking at and into the Grand Canyon
Spring and fall are the best time of year for extended hikes around the Grand Canyon when temperatures aren’t too hot. In autumn, watch for several varieties of hawks migrating through the park on their way south. Hikes range from the easy South Rim trails to steeper Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail down to the Colorado River.
Appreciate the Grand Canyon’s magnitude and antiquity by hiking or taking a mule-back trip to the bottom of the canyon. Temperatures in the inner canyon are usually 20 degrees warmer than the rim, so spring and fall are ideal times to take this trek. Descending gradually into the canyon affords up-close views of rock layers and the geological story they tell. Take a whitewater river trip down the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry.
Grand Canyon North Rim’s Views, Hikes, and Programs
215 miles and 5 hours by car from the South Rim, the less-visited, higher North Rim is accessible by road via the north entrance. Winter snows usually close the road into the North Rim. Views from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim differ considerably from the South Rim. The North Rim Visitor Center features exhibits, activities, and programs.
Bright Angel Point affords spectacular views of the Grand Canyon on the North Rim, as do Point Imperial and Cape Royal. Take the North Kaibab Trail into the canyon to Roaring Springs. Bright Angel Point Trail, an easy self-guided hike, leads to canyon views. Mule-back trips range from one-hour trips along the North Rim to excursions into the canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park Lodging and Dining
Choose from three historic hotels and four motel-style lodges at Grand Canyon National Park. El Tovar Hotel, known as the architectural crown jewel of the Grand Canyon, offers the canyon’s most deluxe accommodations. Commanding the South Rim, El Tovar affords spectacular views of the canyon. Bright Angel Lodge, designed by architect Mary Jane Colter, is named for a dramatic thunderbird hanging above the mantelpiece of the lobby’s huge fireplace.
Kachina, Thunderbird, Maswik, and Yavapai Lodges offer more modern accommodations on the South Rim. The North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, originally designed by the same architect as Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel, offers commanding vistas of the canyon. Phantom Ranch, another of Colter’s designs, offers the only lodging on the canyon’s floor.
Dining options at Grand Canyon National Park range from fine dining to snack bars. The El Tovar Dining Room affords an extensive menu, service in the tradition of the celebrated Harvey Girls. Bright Angel Lodge’s Restaurant and Arizona Room, the Yavapai Canyon Café, Maswik, and Desert View Cafeterias offer more dining options on the South Rim. The Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room is an elegant experience on the North Rim.
Visiting Grand Canyon National Park in spring or fall allows travelers to take in its enormity, geological wonders, unique plants, and animals without crowds. Hiking, touring, museum-going and rafting are a few of the activities available.