Words (and even pictures) simply can't do Grand Canyon National Park justice, it's truly something you have to see to believe. Officially named a National Park in 1919, the Grand Canyon has stunned almost 5 million visitors ever since. The massive canyon was formed by erosion from the Colorado River after the plateau was lifted up by seismic activity, revealing rock that's over a billion years old. Whether you're just soaking up the sweeping views from the top, or hiking or riding a mule into its depths, it's one of America's most iconic parks for a reason.
Some tips for visiting the Grand Canyon: -The most common mistake made when visiting the Grand Canyon is to just take some pictures at one overlook and then call it a day. Take the time to visit a few scenic viewpoints to fully appreciate it, book a tour, or, better yet, take a hike. The Kaibob Trail, the Rim Trail, and Grandview Trail all offer short routes and stunning views. -The Grand Canyon has super well-thought-out public transportation and shuttle service, so take advantage because it saves on gas and keeps you from getting stuck in traffic and stressing about parking! -Plan ahead! The park is a super popular destination pretty much all year round. Make reservations and book tours as far in advance as possible. Cancellations do happen, though, so if you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, keep in mind that the best time to check for last-minute openings is about 2 days in advance.
Generally accepted to be less crowded than the South Rim, the North Rim offers a nice visitor center and the Bright Angel Trailhead, which is less than a mile out and back. It takes you to the gorgeous Bright Angel Point, offering panoramic views of the canyon. There are several other hikes and overlooks to be found on this side of the canyon as well, so schedule plenty of time for exploring.
Part of what makes the Desert View Watchtower look so cool is the crumbling base and random windows, but it was intentionally designed to look that way. No detail was left unnoticed by early 20th century architect Mary Colter (one of the few rad lady architects of her time). Colter designed a lot of the buildings in Grand Canyon National Park, like Hermit's Rest Snack Bar and Bright Angel Lodge. All of her designs combine traditional Southwest architectural styles, like Spanish Colonial and Mission with rustic and Native American elements, today we call her designs "Santa Fe style".
Architecturally, the interior is incredibly detailed, with multiple staircases and varied levels that allow you to see all the way to the top from the bottom floor. The windows have reflectoscopes, which are like little windows that enhance the colors and tones of the landscapes you view through them. You don't realize how much of a difference the reflectoscope makes until you look through it!
The interior first floor of the tower, known as the "kiva room," is now a gift shop, and you can head to the top of the tower to check out the observation deck, which offers stunning views of the Eastern part of the South Rim of the canyon. It's conveniently located on a promontory on the edge of the Grand Canyon, so it's perfectly located for mind-blowing scenery. There's something special about viewing the natural wonder from atop a watchtower that blends history and cultures in a way that's totally unique to the Grand Canyon!
The view from Moran Point on the South Rim is pretty popular, and with good reason: you can really sense the vastness of the place, and get great views of the colors of sediment in the rock, and the play of light and shadow on the canyon is pretty inspiring. You can glance 8 miles across the canyon to the North Rim's Point Royal, and marvel at how, because of the canyon, it's a 215-mile journey to reach it on the road.
Grandview Point is the southernmost point on the canyon, and the furthest from the river, so the views here are a little more unique. Pro tip: here you'll find the Grandview Trail. Hike a short ways down the trail for even better views of the Grand Canyon that aren't obstructed by trees!
The South Rim is the most popular place in the entire Grand Canyon, but it's because it's super easy to access, and it has the most amenities. Oh, and the view is pretty epic, too! It gets really crowded at sunrise and sunset, but it's worth it to see the entire canyon lit up at its colorful best!
Yavapai Point is the lookout that is the furthest north on the South Rim, and is the closest to the Colorado River, which offers a different view. It's a quick walk west from Mather Point, although parking here is a little more cramped.
A lot of the dining spots in the Grand Canyon are notorious for being a little pricey and occasionally mediocre, but the Arizona Room is a solid choice for lunch or dinner. The steakhouse-esque menu features lots of local twists on classic staples: ingredients like prickly pear, agave, green chile, native squash, bison and cornmeal are incorporated into the dishes.
If you think the Grand Canyon looks impressive from the overlooks, just wait until you see it from the air...because it's impossible to really see how massive it is unless you've got a perfect vantage point. Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters offers helicopter tours that range from half an hour to four hours or more, plus jeep excursions, river rafting trips, bus tours, and more.
The famously beautiful Havasu Falls is located just outside the park, and if you're up for the hike, it's well worth the trip. You'll have to hike for about 14 hours from the parking lot, and it'll cost about $35 to enter the Havasupai Reservation but it's worth it to see the electric blue water against the red rocks. Mooney Falls is also a quick hike from here, so take your time and spend at least a few days exploring. TIP: Bring water! There's some at the campsite, but it's always better to be safe. And you can hire a pack mule to help carry your things if you need.
The adorable little Pine Country Restaurant is old-school through and through, from the pie case and the menu of classic favorites (think "chicken and steak dinners") to the gift shop and incredibly warm service. Seriously, though, save room for pie.
It's nice to leave the park and its never-ending parade of lodge dining rooms and find some local gems, too. Red Raven is a great option for lunch or dinner if you're craving something a little funkier. They offer dishes like ginger beef salad, brochette of lamb, fruit and cheese plates, and more that are a lot more exciting than the mostly old-school park options.
Whether all that hiking has you craving a big steak dinner that won't disappoint, or you just want to unwind with a beer at the bar and watch something on their big TVs, the Canyon Star Steakhouse and Saloon can accommodate. Plus, the stools in the saloon are made from authentic mule runner saddles!
Elves Chasm is a magical grotto that's only reachable via a tour that includes a hike, and then by rafting down the Colorado River, but it's easily the coolest and best-kept secret in the Grand Canyon.
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon: Spring and summer are easily the most busy times to visit the Grand Canyon, and summer means often-intense heat and afternoon thunderstorms. The North Rim closes in the winter, and it does occasionally snow here, but crowds thin out a bit. Fall is also a great time to visit, when the temperatures start to cool off, even though it might still be crowded.