HomeBlogs Grand Canyon The road to the Grand Canyon from the south crosses a gently rising
plateau that gives no hint at what is about to unfold. You wonder if you
have made a wrong turn. All at once an immense gorge a mile deep and up
to 18 miles wide opens up. The scale is so vast that even from the best
vantage point only a fraction of the canyon's 277 miles can be seen.
five million people travel here each year; 90 percent first see the
canyon from the South Rim with its dramatic views into the deep inner
gorge of the Colorado River. So many feet have stepped cautiously to the
edge of major overlooks that in places the rock has been polished
smooth. But most of the park's 1,904 square miles are maintained as
wilderness. You can avoid crowds by hiking the park's many trails or
driving to the cool evergreen forests of the North Rim where people are
fewer and viewing is more leisurely.
The Grand Canyon boasts some
of the nation's cleanest air, with visibility averaging 90 to 110
miles. Increasingly, though, air pollution blurs vistas that once were
sharp and rich hued. Hazy days have become more common, with visibility
dropping as low as 40 miles. Haze from forest fires and pollen has
always been present, but the recent increase is traced to sources
outside the park, like copper smelters and urban areas in Arizona,
southern California, and even Mexico.
It's hard to look at the
canyon and not be curious about geology. Rock that dates back 1.8
billion years lies at the bottom. Exactly how the river formed the
canyon is still unclear, but geologists generally agree that most of the
cutting occurred within the last five million years.
How to Get There
Rim: From Flagstaff, Arizona (about 80 miles away), take US 180
skirting the San Francisco Peaks to South Rim entrance, or take US 89 to
Cameron, then Ariz. 64 with views of the Little Colorado River Gorge to
Desert View entrance.
North Rim: Take Ariz. 67 from Jacob Lake
through the Kaibab National Forest to North Rim entrance. The two rims
are 10 air miles apart but 215 miles by car, a 5-hour drive. Airports:
Grand Canyon near South Rim; Flagstaff; Las Vegas; Phoenix.
When to Go
Rim is open all year; North Rim facilities are closed from mid-October
to mid-May. Ariz. 67 usually closes due to deep snows late November to
mid-May. Hikers and mule riders to the inner canyon, where temperatures
reach 118°F, prefer spring and fall; the prime river season is April
through October. During summer on the South Rim, time your visit to
midweek, arriving early to avoid the crowds.
How to Visit
a 1-day visit to the South Rim take the Hermit Road west of the village
for classic views of the main canyon. The drive is closed to
automobiles March through November, but free buses take you to the
overlooks. The best second-day activity is the Desert View Drive tour
east of Mather Point for great views of the Colorado River and eastern
On a longer stay, take the North Rim's Cape Royal Road
for broad panoramic vistas. You may also enjoy a hike on a backcountry
trail; a mule ride down the Bright Angel Trail; a week-long raft trip
through the canyon on the Colorado River; and a scenic flight for a
bird's-eye view of the canyon. The mule and raft trips and backcountry
hikes require reservations far in advance.