Top things to do in Grand Canyon: Best Guide & Tips

There are few things more iconic of the American West than the Grand Canyon. This “hole in the ground” in Arizona is a bucket list item for millions and is one of the most visited parks in the US; Over 5 million people a year visit the canyon. The canyon is a unique combination of colors and rock formations as it twists and winds 277 miles of river through the heart of Arizona. It spreads up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. The South Rim is open all year while the North Rim is open for the season, but there’s plenty to do and experience no matter the season and we’re going to give you the highlights so you can plan your trip and make your adventure the best it can be!

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”

– George Will

Top Things to do in Grand Canyon

The South Rim

The South Rim of the park is by far the most visited, partly because it has most of the tourist attractions. That’s not to say they are hokey and you shouldn’t visit them though! Located on the South Rim in ​Grand Canyon Village, is a wonderful collection of attractions divided up into 3 main districts.

The first contains the Visitor Center and Mather Point, where most visitors park and get their first peek at Grand Canyon and to get on the park’s free shuttle buses.

The second district is the Market Plaza which contains a general store, a bank and a US Post Office.

The third zone is right next door; The Historic District, where the Grand Canyon Village started 120 years ago, is where the railroad depot is located, as well as the historic lodges and livery operation. The South area also boasts several nature preserves

On the edge of grand canyon
On the edge of Grand Canyon South Rim

The North Rim

The North Rim is definitely the more vacation oriented of the ridges. Packed with acclaimed lodging and tasty restaurants, these attractions are open May 15 through Oct. 15. Yet despite having fantastic accommodations, only 10% of the Grand Canyon visitors actually visit the “other side” of the canyon.

Overall, this end of the canyon rises up 8000 feet and provides a great view for visitors at the Grand Canyon Lodge. Not into modern amenities? There is also a National Park Service campground available for reservations in season.

The North Side is prone to snowfall in winter, which is why it’s the seasonally closed side of the park. The actual canyon itself hosts a flight of stairs that leads up to the front entrance of the rustic North Rim Visitor Center which is adjacent to Grand Canyon Lodge.

According to the National Park’s Service, the hike across the canyon from South Rim to North Rim is 21 miles but if you plan on driving, pack a book; the South Rim to the North Rim by car is a 4.5 hour drive of 220 miles to go around the whole canyon!

But once you get there the Visitor Center is filled with information on the canyon’s formation as well as interpretive ranger programs, public restrooms, and outdoor exhibits. Plan your trip according to the season; the Center is only open May 15 through October 15 from 8 am to 6 pm daily.

grand canyon north rim
The Grand Canyon North Rim. Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Historic Desert View

Also, open all year, the Desert View is a little settlement located 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. Here, the Colorado River makes a sharp turn to the north, giving way to the Painted Desert which leads out to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations. Designed by Mary Colter, the historic Desert View Watchtower is located here and allows viewers to see over 100 miles in some cases! While lodging is not available at Desert View, there is a first come first serve option for people camping overnight in a campground located near the local general store.

Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower, Arizona
Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower, Arizona

Tours By Horse or Mule

Mules have been a favorite way to navigate the canyon since pioneer days and now provide a unique experience to see one of the wonders of the natural world. You can take them from either the North or the South Rim, the North Ridge rides are seasonal while the South offers them year-round.

If you opt for the South, make sure to put in your reservations early because South Rim Mule rides may be booked 15 months in advance! A few things to keep in mind – riders must be at least 9 years of age and 4’ 9” tall. You also have to weigh less than 225 lbs fully dressed and children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

horse and mule tours grand canyon
Horse and mule tours in Grand Canyon. Photo by Mark Zimmerman on Unsplash

The Skywalk at Eagle Point

Looking to cap off your trip with some adrenaline rushed and cool photos? The Skywalk near Eagle point, a natural rock formation that looks like an eagle, is a 10-foot wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge extending 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon.

This specially designed glass platform lets you look down over 4,000 feet to the floor of the Canyon below. It’s actually an engineering marvel that offers unparalleled views of one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders. In fact, it is designed to hold seventy fully loaded 747 passenger jets stacked on top of each other.

Skywalk in West Rim of Grand Canyon
Skywalk in West Rim of Grand Canyon. Photo by Justin Wang on Unsplash

Bright Angel Trail

If you’re into hiking, then one of the best trails in Grand Canyon for hiking is the Bright Angel Trail that begins just west of Bright Angel Lodge in South Rim. The trail is actually 9.5 miles one way all the way to the campground that is at the bottom of the canyon! It takes more than a day to hike that far so you have to plan to camp overnight. Many casualties have occurred from people trying to hike it in a single day, especially in summer. Don’t do it! The heat can seriously dehydrate you and there is not much shade along the way. For more information on hiking this trail, check out this guide put together by NPS.

Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail in South Rim

Are You Ready for The Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon is so much more than a hole in the ground. It’s a part of our history, a natural landmark that has served mankind’s curiosity and sense of wonder since the dawn of the Age of Man. It’s a place where we are reminded of how small we are in the big picture and how timeless such a natural phenomenon actually is.

If you plan a trip, make sure you block out quite a bit of time. And if they sell oxygen in a can at the gift shop, grab a six-pack because it’s going to take your breath away.

Sunset at south rim grand canyon
Sunset at south rim grand canyon
Sunset at south rim grand canyon
Sunset at south rim grand canyon
colorado river flowing at bottom of grand canyon
Colorado river flowing at bottom of Grand Canyon
Crowds at Grand Canyon South Rim
Don’t expect solitude in Grand Canyon, especially in South Rim. It is one of the most visited parks in the US!

If you’re planning a visit to Grand Canyon, check out some of our other posts to help you plan your visit.

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Shirish & Olya

Originally from different parts of the world, Shirish & Olya are a married couple based in San Francisco who share a passion for travel, outdoors and landscape photography. In summer of 2019, they hit the road in an RV visiting 19 national parks in US and Canada covering over 10K miles. This trip inspired them to create Outdoorsome, that they built on the road, as a way to help others discover new places around the world.

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