Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon: Things to Know about Visiting this Natural Wonder

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time was an experience I will never forget. It was my first trip to Arizona, and naturally I was visiting the state’s best known national park and landmark.

I was in awe, at a total loss for words. No pictures, no video recordings can ever prepare you for the first glimpse of it.

Grand Canyon South Rim 1

With its diverse rock layers, each a different color, as you look deeper into it, takes your breath away. It stretches on for miles and you can see all the way to the other side, the sheer size of it leaving you speechless. It seems impossible to fathom that a river carved it all. Here, in the desert of Northern Arizona, the rocks leave a valuable geologic record of what was going on over 500 million years ago on Earth.

It seems to stretch as far as you can see. What you don’t realize is that you are not looking at only one canyon. The Grand Canyon comprises thousands of miles of smaller canyons, mesas, volcanoes and a web of drainage that connects it to the rest of the world. And all of seems inaccessible, except for birds.

Grand Canyon South Rim 2

Then you notice the trails leading into the depths of it, and you feel you need to walk on them it, at least for a short distance, to feel you are part of this wonder of the world. You hike a few steps on the closest trail, most likely the Bright Angel Trail. After the first switchback, you realize it is descending so fast, it will be hard to get back out. So, you turn around and promise yourself that you will make it to the bottom one day. Just not today.

Grand Canyon South Rim 3

If you want to hike down to the bottom, you’ll find a few trails, and even mules to carry your packs. Or you can ride the mules into the canyon. Stay overnight in the campground on the bottom, or at least take a long break before hiking back out. But for now, enjoy the scenery from the top, eye level with the birds.

Geology of the Grand Canyon

An easy way to learn about the geology of the Grand Canyon is to walk the Trail of Time on South Rim of the most popular National Park in Arizona. Here, you’ll see the timeline of its formation, along with the specific rocks on each layer.

I all started about two billion years ago, when the first layers of igneous and metamorphic rocks formed in the inner gorge. Layers upon layers of sedimentary rocks were deposited over these first rocks for over a billion years.

Later, between 70 and 30 million years ago, the entire region was uplifted, forming the Colorado Plateau.

The result of all this is the layers and the height of the canyon. But it was all flat until about 5-6 million years ago, until the Colorado River carved its way through it. Its tributaries, including the Little Colorado River, helped widen it.

All this didn’t stop, though; The same forces of nature still work in deepening and widening the Grand Canyon.

Indigenous People of the Grand Canyon

Human history in and around the Grand Canyon stretches back at least 13,000 years. The Ancestral Puebloan people lived in and around the canyon for thousands of years, leaving behind their cliff dwellings and artifacts.

Their descendants and several other modern tribes still live in and around the Grand Canyon. They have cultural ties to the area, their myths and legends filled with stories about this wonder of the world.

Eleven modern tribes have historic connections to the lands and resources within the Grand Canyon National Park. Some still live in and around the Canyon.

One such modern-day tribe is the Havasupai, who still live on the bottom of the Canyon and considers themselves the guardians of the sacred ground of the Grand Canyon system. You won’t find a road to their village; If you want to visit their land, you’ll have to hike eight-miles into the Canyon.

The Hualapai also live in and around the canyon, offering visits to their land through Grand Canyon West. They not only live here, but connect their emergence into this world to the Grand Canyon.

The Hopi, who now live on the Hopi Mesas miles away from the Canyon, also have strong ties to it. Some Hopi clans (matrilineal family groups) consider their place of emergence into this world a site in the Grand Canyon known as sipapuni, a geologic dome built up from mineral deposits at the bottom of the Canyon.

The emergence place of the Zuni, now living in western New Mexico, is also in the Grand Canyon, according to their mythology.

Other tribes with connections to the Grand Canyon include the Paiute, Diné (Navajo), Yavapai and White Mountain Apache, who inhabited the area in and around the Grand Canyon before being forced into reservations. They all have different names for the Grand Canyon, and consider it sacred land.

When you visit, remember this, respect the views of those who live in and around this marvel of the world. Chances are, once you see the Grand Canyon, you might consider it sacred land, for your own reasons.

Grand Canyon South Rim 4

The Grand Canyon National Park

Given its beauty, geological and historical significance, you would have thought that the Grand Canyon was the first National Park in the US. It wasn’t so easy though. The first bill to establish the Grand Canyon National Park was indeed introduced in 1882. However, it took until 1919 (February 26th) to actually designate it as such. Miners opposed the bill since they wanted to get to the copper, zinc, and silver at the bottom. Developers wanted to build a railroad on the bottom of the Canyon, so they fought against the bill as well.

After much debate, we have one of the natural wonders of the world designated as a National Park in Arizona and as such, protected from developers. For now at least.

Sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim

Tips for Visiting the South Rim

The South Rim is the only side close enough to Phoenix to make it a day trip destination from the capital city of Arizona. And although it can be visited in one day, it offers a better experience as an overnight trip. Plenty of hotels, historical and modern, and camp sites offer overnight amenities in the park.

The first time I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, I was visiting it as an out-of-state tourist, over twenty years ago. While it seemed a bit crowded, we were able to enjoy it. Now we live so close we can see it multiple times a year if we want to. Unfortunately, we have seen too much development around it over time.

Now, there are moments when I get to the South Rim, to the Visitor Center and I want to run. There are so many people, I cannot get to the Canyon for a glimpse. But if you take some time, you can still get away from the crowds and have a moment to enjoy your surroundings. The view itself never loses its magic.

Walk the Trail of Time

But you do have to walk to enjoy it. If nothing more, just walk the rim trail, the Trail of Time. Even on the busiest day, you might find yourself alone on some stretches of it. Take a break at each of the educational stops, and learn about the ages and consistency of the rocks that make up the Grand Canyon.

Take the Shuttle Between Viewpoints

If you can’t walk, take the shuttle instead of driving. Free to ride, it runs on compressed gas, so it doesn’t pollute like your car would. Make sure you get off at the viewpoints. You can also walk between two or three viewpoints, combining short stretches of the trail with the convenience of the shuttle.

Personally, I always felt that we would miss something if we just rode the shuttle and stopped at each overlook. We dragged our kids, even when they were young, on the rim walk. They complained at times, but overall, they had a better time. On our last visit, we would have missed the deer grazing by the trail, if we didn’t walk.

Ride a Bicycle

You’ll find bicycle rentals at the Visitor Center, if you’d rather use those wheels than walk or ride a shuttle. It is a convenient way to enjoy the park, while stopping as often as you like.

Protect the Park

This natural wonder is fragile, and its National Park status protects it. Within the park’s boundaries, you’ll find environmentally friendly practices, making the Grand Canyon National Park a climate-friendly park.

However, just outside the park’s boundaries, we’ve seen seen too much development in the past two decades. A brand-new town was built just outside of the park’s boundaries, by the South Rim. Besides hotels and other amenities, it offers helicopter tours, and an I-Max movie theater to see the Canyon if you can’t make it a few more miles into the park. The problem is, the helicopter tours, and all sorts of other tourist traps are hurting the environment in the Canyon. If we want to keep it for the next generations, we need to take better care of it.

Opt to stay within the park’s boundaries, and take advantage of their environment-friendly practices, while remembering to be a sustainable traveler.

Tips for Visiting the North Rim

As convenient as it is to get to the South Rim, my family always enjoys the North Rim more. Mainly because of its remoteness, which generally means a fewer crowds. But visiting the North Rim is a bit harder.

The North Rim is Only Open Seasonally

Higher in elevation, the north Rim is only open from mid-May to the end of October. Make sure you check the exact dates before you go.

Book a Room Well in Advance

The North Rim is much farther from any of the main roads or highways; and it has fewer amenities. With only one lodge on the premises, hundreds of miles from the closest towns, you need to book well in advance. If you would rather camp, you’ll find a campground here, but you need to reserve a spot before you go.

If You Go

Expect big crowds if you go, no matter the season. It is the worst during the summer, but it might still be crowded in November, even on weekdays. Try to walk in the morning, if possible.

No matter how crowded it gets, if you walk the rim trail, you might find yourself alone on some stretches. Better yet, you can walk down a few meters either on the Bright Angel Trail or the Kaibab trail. You don’t need to go to the bottom to enjoy the feel of being in the Canyon.

You can take the shuttle at a few different points through the trail if you get too tired or the desert sun gets to you. Please remember to carry water and wear a hat if you walk any distance.

As spectacular as the South Rim is, our favorite side is the North Rim, mainly because it is more remote. That’s where the historic Grand Canyon Lodge is, and you can stay in small cabins in the forest surrounding the rim. To visit that side, you need to make a reservation well ahead.

Hope you get to go and see this Wonder of the World. Enjoy your time there, if you do.

Recommendations and resources

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Read about the Grand Canyon before visiting:

To learn more about the Grand Canyon before visiting, I recommend reading about it. I use the Lonely Planet guide books; they have been my go-to travel books for decades. They have a great reference book for the Grand Canyon called simply Grand Canyon National Park, and a Grand Canyon National Park Planning Map to accompany it: . If buying the book or the map through my links, a 10% discount will be automatically applied to your purchase (but if you don’t see the discount, use coupon code EMESEFROMM10)

Book your flight:

Unless you live in Arizona or nearby, you would probably fly to Phoenix and drive to the Grand Canyon from there. Before booking your flight, check several different sites to find the best deals. Unless you know what airline you are using use (and have a credit card with points from that airline), you could checkCheapOairandWayAway, my preferred sites, for deals.

Book your rental car:

When you land in Phoenix, you will probably rent a car to get to the Grand Canyon. To compare prices of different car rental companies,Discover Carsis a great place to start. Or, useRentalCars.com.

Book your accommodations:

You can useTrivagoto compare deals on hotels and alternative accommodations. Or, book a place throughBooking.com.

Visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

10 thoughts on “Grand Canyon: Things to Know about Visiting this Natural Wonder”

    1. If you go back, try to go mid-week, it is slightly less crowded. Or better yet, visit the North Rim. Glad you got to see it though, it is still as beautiful as it was in 1995. My first time was in 1992. Only the development around it changed. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  1. I visited the Grand Canyon but just for a few hours as part of a tour. I really want to go back and explore it more, especially the South Rim. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. Hi, Anisa, Glad you got to visit it even for a few hours. If you go back, try to go mid-week, and explore by yourself. Make it at least a full-day trip. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the easiest to access and for this reason is always more crowded. The North Rim is more spectacular in my opinion though. I love visiting both sides and like you, I’ve been there many times. You can ever get bored of this spectacular beauty. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Yes, I agree with you, I find the North Rim more spectacular. It is harder to access and you need to make reservations far ahead if you want to stay in the lodge, but it is well worth it. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

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