The rocks being exposed by the Colorado River are close to two
billion years old. The canyon is an erosional feature thought to
be around six million years old. During this time, the Colorado River
has managed to cut its channel at a rate that slightly exceeded
the uplift of the Colorado Plateau, allowing the river to function as a
warm knife slicing through butter. In a humid environment, the
river would have widened its flood plain in a manner similar to that to
the Mississippi River. Here, however, aridity has constrained river,
although the Colorado will continue its work of carving the plateau down
to sea level.
The geologic history of the Grand Canyon was largely unknown until after the
Civil War. John Wesley Powell, a Civil War veteran, made the first
complete navigation through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River with a team of ten riding in small wooden boats. Powell, who was one
armed, was quite an adventurer and was often tied to chair that was
anchored in his boat so that he could observe the Canyon and its
geology, even as they shot the rapids! Powell later became the
first director of the United States Geological Survey.
The Grand Canyon National Park encompasses both the North and South
Rims of the Canyon. If it is your first visit, we think you will
find the panoramic views from the South Rim to your liking. In addition,
there is a wider range of lodging available at and near the South Rim and more
vistas, as well as direct access to trails into the Canyon. Approximately
ninety-percent of those who visit select the South Rim as their
is a small airport (the Grand Canyon National Park Airport) at
Tusayan, however many visitors prefer to fly to Phoenix or Las
Vegas as part of their trip to the Grand Canyons. If you approach from the east
(from the direction of Albuquerque) consider driving highway 89 to 64
to enter the park. Selecting this route has the advantage of taking you
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a scenic volcanic landscape
that can be stunning at sunrise or sunset.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon (around 7,000 feet in elevation)
extends across many miles and touring by a vehicle is the easiest way to
see the areas that may be of interest to you, although there is a shuttle that
offers free service to several areas of the South Rim. Many
visitors start their tour of the South Rim from Mather Point (the first
overlook on the south entrance road), which is regarded by as the most
panoramic of the views from the South Rim. The Canyon View Information
Plaza is nearby and a good place gather more information about seeing
the park. When you arrive, be sure to grab a copy the free park
newspaper, "The Guide", which contains maps, act ivies, special programs and
current news about the park (there are special issues for the North and
Yavapi Point is just west of Mather Point and its observation
features geology displays, as well as outstanding views of the Colorado
River cutting away at the bottom of the Canyon. Desert View Drive
extends 25 miles to the east (to a place known as Desert View) and offers numerous
vistas where you can park and, then, view the Grand Canyon.
Be sure to take some time to hike along the approved paths on the
Canyon’s edge for a sense of the tranquility that can be found away from
the Grand Canyon Village and more popular overlooks. If you are in tip-
top shape, you might want to consider talking to the rangers about
hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. This is a rugged
outing and should only be undertaken by those in good shape and prepared
for a rigorous hike (bring plenty of water, wear good quality hiking
boots and have ample amounts of food, sunscreen and determination).
The North Rim is a five hour drive
(215 miles /346 kms) from the South Rim,
as the canyon between the two is a mile deep (1.6 km) and bisects the
two sections of the park. As noted previously, the North Rim is
less panoramic than the South Rim and access to overlooks is much more
limited. On the other hand, in some ways the North is more
beautiful and because the crowds are smaller, it is certainly more
peaceful. Due to its height (approximately 8,000 feet in
elevation) the North Rim has a shorter summer season than the South Rim
and is closed during Winter. One additional advantage of its
increased elevation is that the North Rim has more vegetation than the
The North Rim Visitor center, located on the Bright Angel Peninsula
is a good place to start your tour. Continue past the Visitor Center to
the Lodge for classic view of the Grand Canyon.
Nearby is a short trail that leads to spectacular views of Roaring
Springs and Bright Angel Canyons.
Port Imperial and Cape Royal can be reached by a short, but scenic,
winding drive and there is much to see along the way if you have the
desire to stop, look and walk a little. Point Imperial is the highest
point on the North Rim at 8800 feet and overlooks the
Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon.
The entrance fee to the park is $25 per private vehicle, $12 for
pedestrian or cyclist. Admission is for 7 days and includes both
the North and South Rims. Discounts are available for seniors
(aged 62 and older).
The South rim is open 365 days a year and visitor services, including camping,
lodging and places to eat, are available year round. The least
crowded time to visit is November through February, but winter weather here is not ideal. The elevation
at the South Rim is over 7000 ft (2134 meters) and visitors with respiratory of heart problems may experience difficulties. Walking at this elevation can be strenuous,
even for the healthy.
The south rim is often crowded and a free, voluntary, shuttle bus
system operates in the Grand Canyon Village area. The shuttles run
several routes and are a good way to get to several of the of the scenic
overlooks while saving fuel and gaining lots of convenience. Here
is a link to the
shuttle bus section of the park website.
The North Rim has a shorter season and visitor services are available
only from mid-May through mid-October. The elevation is over 8000 ft (2438 meters) and visitors with respiratory of heart
problems may experience difficulties. Walking at this elevation can be
strenuous. If you are a real outdoors person, you can use
the campsites in the park during the winter months, as long as you obtain a permit
through the park's
Backcountry Information Center ,
There are a number of activities not sponsored by the park that might be of interest to you. Helicopter
rides, river rafting and other adventures should be arranged
before you arrive at the park. Helicopter rides can be arranged
from nearby Tusayan, as well as Flagstaff and Las Vegas. River
Rafting can be arranged in Grand Canyon West, Flagstaff, Sedona, and
Kanab in Utah.
Camping comes in two flavors here. Information about developed
campgrounds (vehicles permitted) for the south Rim can be found
here. If you are interested in backpacking and camping within
the Canyon, see this link from the
Grand Canyon National Park website.
If you are interested in camping at the North Rim
Campground you can find more information on the facility, as well as
information about making reservations
here . As noted above, if you are interested in
backpacking and camping within the Canyon, see this link from the
Grand Canyon National Park website.
Spring and summer are the best times to visit the Grand Canyon.
During early spring you may run into some snow, sleet and cold
conditions on both the North and South Rims. Summer temperature on
the South Rim are usually pleasant, ranging from the 50s to the
low 80s, but the North Rim temperatures are always cooler due to its
elevation of 8,000 feet.
Temperatures in the Canyon can be extreme and temperatures along the river (5000 ft (1500 meters)) often exceed 105f in the summer,
so if you want to descend to the Colorado River, you might want to try
this in May or June, rather than July or August. Thunderstorms are common during July, August, and September.
Winter conditions can be extreme on the South Rim and you should be prepared for snow, ice, sleet and icy roads and trails,
along with possible road closures.
We have run into snow at the South Rim as early as October and as late
as May, even though it does not last long towards the end of spring.
The North Rim is closed from to the Public from the first heavy snow in November (date varies) or early December to
mid-May. In essence, the severity of the weather limits access to
the North rim from the end of October to mid-May , though the exact
dates will vary
based on the weather. We have found September to be exhilarating
at the North Rim, but if you are in the area and it is open, you should
stop an see it.
The nearest major airports to the Grand Canyon are in Phoenix,
Arizona (222 miles), Las Vegas, Nevada (269 miles) or Albuquerque, New
Mexico (405) miles).
at all possible, try and make a reservation in the Grand Canyon Village.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts offers seven different lodging
opportunities inside of the National Park. Take a look at
website for a review of inside-the-park lodging opportunities or
to make reservations online. Staying at the Grand Canyon Village is a
great choice for easy access to the Canyon.
Ranch, the only accommodation in the Canyon has
dorms for hikers and cabins for those who travel via the
mule ride into the depths of the Grand Canyon. The mule
rides are often booked up a year in advance, so if you would like to
take this adventure, think far in advance.
Other lodging with access to the South Rim is available in nearby Tusayan
(6 miles), Williams (60 mile), and Flagstaff (78 miles).
Food service is available at most of the lodges in the park and groceries are
available at the general store.
The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodging inside the Grand Canyon
National Park on the North Rim and is always booked in advance. If you hope to stay
there and want to find out about the hotel,
click for more information.
Other lodging is available at the Kaibab Lodge 18 miles north,
the Jacob Lake Inn 45 miles north, in Fredonia (77 miles) or at
When you are through visiting the park's South Rim, you could plan a
stop in Sedona (114 miles), a quiet town know for its delightful
scenery, relaxed atmosphere, new age orientation and numerous
interesting art galleries. The town's
website is quite helpful.
Petrified Forest National Park,
is 200 miles to the east, near the border with New Mexico.
the park is in the Painted Desert which provides a beautiful
background for the park's unusual petrified wood (trees that were once
buried in sediments whose chemical changed them into stone over time).
To the west of the Grand Canyon National Park is the
Canyon Railway, which operates out of Williams, Arizona, about 30 miles
west of flagstaff. The Railway operates a 65 mile trip
the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon that takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes each way.
If you or your kids like rail travel, this is something you should
Also to the west of the national park is Grand Canyon West, a part of
Hualapai Indian Reservation and the home of the SkyWalk, a
horseshoe-shaped, see-through-the-bottom, glass bridge extending 70 feet
beyond the rim of the Grand Canyon and 4,000 feet above its floor.
Grand Canyon West is not part of the National Park. A variety of activities are
provided (river rafting, helicopter rides that can land near the river,
hiking, etc.) and since this is closer to
Las Vegas than the national
park, it is becoming a popular location for those coming from that