How To See the Grand Canyon: Outdoor Adventure Trip

Learn Popular Adventure Tours for the Grand Canyon: by Car, Foot, Mule, Air, Jeep or Boat

Grand canyon photo

The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular natural geological formations in the world. Words like stunning and breathtaking don't even begin to describe the view from the rim or the experience of cascading through the Canyon in a wooden boat or inflatable kayak. Describing a trip to this landmark destination could never do it justice, which is why it's on most people's "must-see-before-I-die" lists. Or if it's not, it should be.

But getting to the Grand Canyon is just the beginning. You'll have to decide how you want to experience this gorgeous, awe-inspiring landscape. Your adventure trip will no doubt depend on the number of days you're planning to spend in the vicinity. If you need help deciding how long you should stay and what you should do while you're there, you can read up on your viewing options below. The list of ways for how to see the Grand Canyon offers a variety of fun experiences.

  1. By Car. If time is limited, it's still worth the drive to head out to the rim of the Grand Canyon, even if it's just for a few minutes to stretch your legs. There are a plethora of observation points on both the North and South Rims open during the summer months, so where you go will depend on whatever is most convenient. However, the weather and time of year could also affect your trip.

    The South Rim is open all year long and has more lodgings, restaurants and shops than the North Rim. Since the North Rim is...well...North, it gets snow and more inclement weather than the South Rim, so it's only open from mid-May through mid-October. Lodgings and services near the North Rim are limited when the park is open, and non-existent when the park is closed for the winter. Visit the Grand Canyon's official website for more information and to check out things to do and see at both rims.

  2. By Foot. If you want to do a little more exploring than the lookouts afford, you should set out on foot. Even if you're not planning a full hike down to Phantom Ranch (at the bottom on the Grand Canyon), you can head part way down some of the trails. Start down the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim, one of the most popular trails. It's located just across from Bright Angel Lodge and offers you the opportunity to see the Canyon from below its walls. There are plenty of other trails as well. Determine your ability and the amount of time you want to spend hiking around.

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    If you're planning an overnight trip, you'll need to prepare ahead of time and book a reservation. Visit the overnight hiking page of the Grand Canyon's website to find out more. This type of trip would provide endless outdoor adventure.

    Remember that hiking in the desert can be dangerous. You'll be exposed to the hot sun, with little or no shade available on the trail (avoid hiking at the peak of the day, between 10am and 4pm); you'll need to carry enough water to avoid dehydration-at least ½ to 1 quart of water for every hour that you're walking in the heat-and actually drink it; you'll be hiking on steep, sometimes slippery terrain. Make sure to follow all the rules, regulations and suggestions surrounding desert hiking. It's easier than you think to become dehydrated or suffer from heat stroke when you're hiking in or around the Grand Canyon.

  3. By Mule. Picturesque postcards of this tourist destination often depict a pack of mules or burros carrying loads of people and supplies down steep trails onto the canyon floor. If you want to take a trip to the bottom, but aren't confident in your hiking ability, don't want to expend the energy or just want to partake in this unique experience, a trip on a mule could be a fun alternative.

    Mule trips down the Grand Canyon typically fill up quickly, so you'll need to plan early-typically 6 to 8 months in advance. You'll also have the option of going on a day trip or an overnight trip. Day trips usually last about seven hours and take you down the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and Plateau Point, where you'll have panoramic views of the Colorado River below. Overnight trips will pass through Indian Gardens, but continue down to Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Canyon. Phantom Ranch offers cabins with bunk beds and working toilets for visitors, as well as campsites for more adventurous folks. Where you stay will likely depend on your specific mule trip.

  4. By Air. You can tour the Grand Canyon by helicopter or small plane. Airplane trips typically leave from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley or Las Vegas and can last a few hours, a full day or overnight. Helicopter tours leave from Boulder City, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon West and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as well as from Flagstaff, Sedona and Phoenix.

    Helicopters and small planes offer magnificent views of the heart of the Grand Canyon. You'll be hovering between 5,000 vertical feet of Canyon wall on both sides, directly over the impressive Colorado River. These stunningly beautiful views from the air offer visitors a unique perspective.

    Some adventure trips also allow time for visitors to get out near the Canyon, in the Canyon or elsewhere to stretch their legs, take pictures and even shop. There are a plethora of options, so you'll have to do a little research about what's available. You can select which part of the Canyon to tour: from Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the lower half of the Grand Canyon to the North Canyon and the Painted Desert. You can decide whether you'd like to land on the Canyon floor near the Colorado River, at the South Rim, in a number of other locations or not at all. Take some time to research your choices to determine which trip is right for you.

  5. By Boat. You can see the Grand Canyon from the bottom up, on the Colorado River. Many visitors choose to raft the Colorado River. Trips typically start at Lee's Ferry and end at Diamond Creek or Lake Mead, but you can also meet trips along the way if you're so inclined. River trips will exchange passengers at locations like Phantom Ranch and Whitmore Wash, where you can hike and helicopter (respectively) in and out. You'll be able to select your trip based on the amount of time you have available.

    If your time is limited, you'll need to decide whether you'd rather see more of the Canyon, and book a trip with a motorized raft, or if you'd like the slower, more natural experience of a man-powered raft or dory (small wooden boat). The motorized rafts are really large, inflatable pontoons, which minimize the severity of the rapids and allow 18 passengers on board. This may be the ideal solution of you want to see the full Canyon in a few days, if you're not too keen on big whitewater and/or you don't want to spend a whole lot of money.

    If you have more time, or you're willing to spend more time seeing less of the Grand Canyon, a dory might be for you. Dories measure 16' 9" from stern to bow, carry 4 passengers and one guide and allow those passengers to really experience the river.

    A guide rows the boat and the passengers are able to relax during the calm stretches of the Colorado and participate in navigating through the rougher rapids (leaning and high-siding to help keep the boat upright). Rafting the entire Canyon in a dory takes anywhere from 15 to 19 days. If you're able to hike in or out at Phantom Ranch, you can join the tour for a 6 or 7 day trip. And if time is really of the essence, you can ride a helicopter in at Whitmore Wash for the final 3 days. The dory trips are more expensive than the motorized raft adventure tours, but if you have the time and are willing to pay a little extra, you'll more than make up the difference with a Grand Canyon experience that's impossible to beat.

  6. By Jeep. If you're not up for hiking, flying or mule-ing in the Grand Canyon, a Jeep tour is a great option. Imagine driving in an open Jeep along the rim of the Grand Canyon just as the sun is setting on the western horizon. By Jeep you can follow an 1800s stagecoach trail along the rim of the Canyon, venture into the Kaibab National Forest searching for wildlife or Indian paintings, or even combine a Jeep tour with a helicopter tour for the full Grand Canyon trip experience. Jeep tours are less time-consuming and less expensive than all of the other tour packages mentioned above. You won't make it down into the Grand Canyon, but you will head out into the wilderness along the rim for some spectacular views of the one of the most magnificent landscapes in the world.


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