Colorado River Runner, Grand Canyon
Top 10 Grand Canyon 10 Best
Temple of Zoroaster, Grand Canyon
During the entire summer season of 1899, a total of 900 tourists visited the Grand Canyon AZ. Today, Grand Canyon National Park receives nearly 20,000 visitors each summer day.


Georgie Clark (or Georgie White) first ran the Colorado River in 1946. She later became the first woman outfitter and called her Grand Canyon expeditions, "Royal River Rats." Georgie became legendary for both her fearlessness and the striking leopard-print swimsuits she sported. Life Magazine, as well as vast numbers of newspapers, wrote about her raft trips and she was a guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

"Many people think of the Grand Canyon as a place which, once seen, does not need to be revisited. Never was there a greater mistake, for its resources are inexhaustible."
George Wharton James

"The Hopis and the
Zunis believe that the Grand Canyon is the place of emergence for their tribes."

Phyllis Yoyetewa, Grand Canyon Park Ranger and Hopi Tribe member

Colorado River, Grand Canyon

On March 9th, 1922, Horace Albright wrote to Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service, to ask that a second trail into the Grand Canyon be built. This would bypass the Bright Angel Trail which was a toll road at that time. Albright's idea was adopted and by 1925 the South Kaibab Trail was completed.

Desert Bighorn Sheep, Grand Canyon

Where there is woodland habitat, Desert Bighorn Sheep may be sighted at any time of year along the Grand Canyon Rim. In summer they don't wander far from a dependable water source.

Inner Gorge and Zoroaster Temple, Grand Canyon When you look into the Grand Canyon's Inner Gorge, you will notice that it is composed of dark rock, which is called Vishnu Schist. the Vishnu Schist was formed 2 billion years ago at the base of a 30,000 foot high mountain range. That mountain range towered then as high as the Himalayas and Mount Everest do today.

Canyon Bookshelf

My all-time favorite book of the Grand Canyon. A very well written tale of how the author leaves the modern world behind and rejuvenates his spirit as he discovers a world of endless detail, grandeur and life. We may never walk the remote Grand Canyon paths that Fletcher did but The Man Who Walked Through Time makes us feel like we did. Unforgettable.

With a large number of beautiful, high-quality color photographs, this guide is as browsable as the best coffee table books but also supplies travelers with maps, travel tips, and extensive listings for lodging, camping, and sightseeing.


Any list of the best things to see at Grand Canyon, the best things to do at Grand Canyon, the best places to visit at Grand Canyon will be very personal, especially for such an astonishing place. Still, we hope you will find the views and information in this list useful. Click here for a Guide to the Best Grand Canyon view points.

What to do at the Grand Canyon:

Best Grand Canyon Day Hiker's Trail: Kaibab Trail

A view from the Kaibab Trail A view from the Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

One of the challenges to appreciating the Grand Canyon is that its vastness can make the canyon difficult to relate to. The stunning scale can leave an impression of unreality, or even flatness. To cure this, try a short walk down one of the Canyon's trails. It takes only a little effort to gain a personal sense of ‹to feel‹ the astounding size and vertical character of the great gorge. So, at the very top of the list of what to do at Grand canyon is to see the Canyon from below the rim.

There are two main trails that descend into Grand Canyon; the Bright Angel Trail and the Kaibab Trail. Probably 95%, or more, of day hikers take the Bright Angel Trail because its trailhead is conveniently located in Grand Canyon Village.

Kaibab Trail, one of 10 best things to do at Grand Canyon National Park

Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

The Kaibab Trail was built in the 1920's and is designed to provide maximum exposure to the elements. This makes it It an excellent choice in winter, when most Grand Canyon trails are coated with snow and ice. The other side of this coin, though, is that the Kaibab Trail is the wrong route to take to ascend out of the canyon in warmer months. The Kaibab Trail begins on Yaki Point, which juts out into the Grand Canyon. One of the benefits of this placement is that after hiking down some switchbacks for just a short distance Canyon explorers are rewarded with sensational views of the Canyon's interior.

An excellent day hike goal is a flat area called Cedar Ridge which is 2.2 miles down from the trailhead. Cedar Ridge sits on rock that is called Hermit Shale and it provides specatacular vistas of the canyon in every direction. It is also a perfect spot to watch the effects of changing weather inside Grand Canyon.

O'Neill Butte on the Kaibab Trail
A view from the Kaibab Trail, one of 10 best things to see at Grand Canyon National Park
The Colorado River near the end of the Kaibab Trail, one of 10 best things to see and do at Grand Canyon National Park

If you continue on from Cedar Ridge, you will wind your way down O'Neill Butte. Bucky O'Neill contributed the famous Grand Canyon line about John Hance, "God made the Canyon, and John Hance the trails. Neither would be complete without the other." O'Neill was an Arizona author, newspaper editor, sheriff and mayor who later went off to be captain of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In 1899 he was killed in Cuba. O'Neill Butte is big and hikers will be on it long enough to reflect on the legendary pioneer's story. From Cedar Ridge it is another 3 miles to the junction with the Tonto Trail. From there another 2.25 miles takes you to to the Colorado River, near Phantom Ranch. The total distance is 6.7 miles with an elevation change of 4,780 feet.

Link: Grand Canyon Day Hikes

Learn more about Grand Canyon in Echoes Through Time: Grand Canyon

Best Grand Canyon Trail for Dramatic Views: Tonto Trail

Tonto Trail, one of 10 best views from inside the Grand Canyon

While most trails in Grand Canyon are meant for journeys to or from the Colorado River, the Tonto Trail has a different purpose. It hugs a broad shelf of rock called the Tonto Platform. For 70 miles the trail twists in and out of side canyons while staying more or less parallel to the river. For much of the distance the Tonto Trail maintains an elevation roughly midway between the river and the rim and provides incredible things to see. This is the key to its unforgettable views; it brings a sense of scale and perspective to the immense canyon interior. For the more casual hiker, the section of the Tonto that links the Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails is a great introduction to the inner canyon's charms (just don't forget water!).

For the serious backpacker, the Tonto can provide solitude as well as beauty. I have hiked substantial parts of the Tonto twice, in winter, and never met another hiker. The east end of the Tonto Trail begins along a beach by the mouth of Red Canyon on the Colorado River. Unfortunately for my little hiking party, the day we hiked down the Red Canyon Trail there had been a release of water from the dam upstream.

Both the beach and trailhead were submerged. It took us a fair bit of cross-country hiking before we could again pick up the trail. In this area the Tonto is pretty rudimentary anyway, more deserving of the term "route" than "trail," so we had quite an interesting day. Once we found the Tonto Trail we hiked as far as the junction with the Grandview Trail. The Grandview Trail offers its own magnificent sights, that we saw as we ascended. The entire experience was unforgettable. As an aside, for anyone hiking the canyon in winter, I strongly suggest bringing along some version of crampons as the trails can be real slick with ice.

Link: Grand Canyon Back Country Hikes

Best Grand Canyon Lodging: El Tovar Hotel

El Tovar Hotel, best hotel in Grand Canyon National Park, one of 10 best things to do at Grand Canyon National Park

The winner hands down here is the El Tovar, the king of Grand Canyon accommodations since 1905. Famous architecture, wonderful service, excellent dining and a location roughly 100 yards from the rim make the El Tovar one the Nation Park Systems' "Great Lodges." The building design has elements of a Swiss Chalet or Norwegian hunting lodge. When you enter, you first see an expansive, dim living room with comfortable seats all around, artwork and trophy animals on the walls and a fireplace in one corner. Beyond this is the registration desk, the dining room, sports bar, a staircase to the second floor lounge and more. The rooms are recently renovated and offer a gracious base from which to explore the park. In fact, just across the circular driveway from the El Tovar is the Hopi House, one of the most extraordinary gift shops ever built and a significant cultural site to the Hopi people.

Lobby of the El Tovar Hotel
Lobby of the El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon National Park

The Bright Angel Lodge
The Bright Angel Lodge. Grand Canyon National Park
Among the alternatives within the park to the El Tovar are several motels. The historic one is the Bright Angel Lodge, built in 1935 on the old site of the Bright Angel Camp and designed by master architect Mary Colter. The lodge is located just yards from the rim and is a hub of activity for visitors with its restaurant, coffee shop, gift shop, history room and information desk. If you would like to walk out of your room and be "at" Grand Canyon, the Bright Angel Lodge is just the ticket.

While there is nothing like staying in Grand Canyon National Park near the rim, there are alternatives nearby. Just two miles outside of the park boundaries on Highway 64 is the town of Tusayan. Our favorite motel/hotel there is the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn. The rooms are large and modern, the restaurant very nice and the two-lane bowling alley in the basement can be great source of amusement after a day at the Canyon.

Best Known Grand Canyon Ride: Mule Ride to Phantom Ranch

Panorama view from Lipan Point, best view point in Grand Canyon National Park, one of 10 best things to see at Grand Canyon National Park

The most celebrated way to get down to the Colorado River at Grand Canyon is by mule. The sound of mules on the Bright Angel Trail was made famous by the clippity-clopping beast in the Grand Canyon Suite and mulling is unlike any other form of transit. Stories of animals that prefer to view the Canyon from the very outer edge of the steep trail are legendary. Both day and overnight trips leave from the corral near Bright Angel Lodge. The day trips take riders out to Plateau Point on the Tonto Plateau, from where they can gaze down at the Colorado River. Overnight trips have Phantom Ranch as their destination and one should expect to spend about 10 hours in the saddle over the two days. Riders will be given lunch at Indian Gardens, with dinner at the Ranch, as well as breakfast there the next morning. Reservations are usually needed and should be made at least 6 months in advance. For more information contact Xanterra Central Reservations at: 1-888-297-2757 -OR- 1-303-297-2757 International Toll.

Best Grand Canyon Architecture: Desert View Watchtower

A view of Desert View Watchtower, best building in Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon has been gifted with more than its fair share of brilliant architecture; all of it courtesy of the Fred Harvey Company. How this happened is a fascinating story in itself. The Watchtower at Desert View is my choice for best architecture based on its distinctive design and the wonderful Hopi artwork by Fred Kabotie on its interior walls. Architect Mary Colter's work at Grand Canyon includes such striking buildings as Hermit's Rest, Phantom Ranch and the Lookout Studio, but the Watchtower is the most striking for its originality. For me, a visit to Grand Canyon is incomplete without seeing this masterwork.

A view of Desert View Watchtower, best building in Grand Canyon National Park

Learn more about The Watchtower and its architecture in Echoes Through Time: Grand Canyon

Best Grand Canyon Wildlife: Kaibab Squirrel

Kaibab Squirrel, Grand Canyon National Park

Among the vertebrate species that the Canyon hosts are: 355 bird, 89 mammal, 47 reptile, 9 amphibian, and 17 fish. Some of the larger wildlife residents are desert bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and the endangered California Condor. My vote for favorite animal, though, goes to a little fellow unique to the region; the Kaibab Squirrel. With his tasseled ears, this local variety of the Abert's Squirrel is always a hit. It makes its home in the Ponderosa Pine forests of both the North and South Rims, where it builds its nest from the tree's needles and twigs. Its favorite food is Ponderosa Pine cone seeds.

Link: More about the Kaibab Squirrel

Best Grand Canyon Artist: Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran, painter of the Grand Canyon

No painter has ever better captured the spectacle of the Grand Canyon and no artist was more important to the creation of Grand Canyon National Park than Thomas Moran. His swirling, dramatic depictions of the Canyon were influential in convincing the public of the Grand Canyon's value and need to be protected from unrestricted commercial development.

Thomas Moran first saw the Grand Canyon in 1873 in the company of John Wesley Powell, himself. By 1892 he was being sponsored by the Santa Fe Railway to create paintings of the Canyon and prints of his work were spread the world over. Moran's love for the Canyon was summed up in a letter: "Its tremendous architecture fills one with wonder and admiration, and its color, form and atmosphere are so ravishingly beautiful, that, however well traveled one may be, a new world is opened up to him when he gazes into the Grand Canyon of Arizona."

Thomas Moran passed away in 1926. Moran Point on the East Rim Drive is named for him.

Learn more about Grand Canyon art in Echoes Through Time: Grand Canyon

Best Way to Travel to Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway steam engine

The best way to arrive at Grand Canyon is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which departs from Williams, Arizona. It has been taking travelers to the Grand Canyon since 1901. The staff puts on shows for vistors, both at the station in Williams and on board the train. The train ride also gives you a chance to relax and absorb the country as you approach the Canyon.

Link: More about Grand Canyon Railway

Best Grand Canyon Surprise: Diamond Creek Road

Hualapai reservation, best kept secret at Grand Canyon

For hikers and backpackers there are numerous trails that wind their way down to the Colorado River. Exploring the Canyon on the Colorado River by boat is a memorable experience, too. But how about driving a car down to the bottom of Grand Canyon? The idea seems absurd given the nature of the trails and restrictions on vehicle use within Grand Canyon National Park. Here's a secret, though; it can be done.

The key is to realize that not all of Grand Canyon is in Grand Canyon National Park. There are significant areas that belong to Native American Tribes and these enclaves have their own rules and regulations. 108 miles of the Grand Canyon are in the Hualapai, or "People of the Tall Pines," reservation. Peach Springs, the capitol of the Hualapai Reservation, is located 54 miles east of Kingman, Arizona on old Route 66. There is a very nice tribal-owned motel there, the Hualapai Lodge (900 Route 66, Peach Springs, AZ 86434, (928) 769-2230 or (888) 255-9550).

Hualapai reservation, best kept secret at Grand Canyon

At the Hualapai Lodge you can purchase a permit to drive down Diamond Creek Road. This gravel road is the only place, anywhere in Grand Canyon, that a vehicle can make it down to the river. It follows the broad, normally dry, drainage of Peach Springs Canyon. Anyone who has ever walked up or down the steep, switch-backed trails that define most of Grand Canyon will be astonished at how gradually Peach Springs Canyon descends to the Colorado River. Along the way you meet up with babbling Diamond Creek. When you reach the river there is a camping spot and several picnic tables. Be sure to bring anything and everything you may need as there are no services after you leave Peach Springs.

Best Grand Canyon Activity: Learn about the Canyon

Cave, Grand Canyon National Park

When you are not out hiking, exploring or river rafting, the best thing to do at Grand Canyon is learn more about this wonder of the natural world. There is so much natural history, including geology, wildlife and native plants to discover. The Canyon is the transplanted home for California Condors, the world's largest bird. In season it is one of the best spots in North America to observe migrating hawks and eagles. Additionally there are fascinating stories of human involvement, from prehistoric peoples to eccentrics like pioneer John Hance, called the biggest liar at Grand Canyon.

A fine place to begin is the Canyon View Information Plaza across near Mather Point. The Canyon's ancient past is highlighted at the Tusuyan Museum on the East Rim Drive.

Winter, Grand Canyon National Park

To experience more, try the excellent ranger-guided walks. The current schedule and list of subjects is available from the National Park Service. The Grand Canyon Association and Grand Canyon Field Institute sponsor a wide-range of activities including lectures, classes and trips into the Canyon. The Grand Canyon Association also runs excellent book stores which specialize in Grand Canyon-related books and media. This includes Kolb Studio which also hosts art exhibitions.

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