While the Grand Canyon is one of the world’s best-known must-see destinations, there is also plenty to experience. Here are 10 things to do in the park – ordered from easiest to most difficult.
1. All aboard. The Grand Canyon Railway operates daily roundtrip service between Williams, Ariz., and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Passengers enjoy an old-fashioned western shootout, a 62-mile-long train ride across the Colorado Plateau and live musical entertainment. It’s easy, it’s fun and it’s appropriate for the whole family.
2. Search for one of the rarest birds in the world. The California condor was reintroduced to Northern Arizona in 1996. There are currently approximately 74 free-flying condors in Arizona, including eight that were hatched in the wild. The condor is the largest land-based bird in North America, with a wingspan of up to 9½ feet. It can weigh up to 22 pounds. These birds travel 100 miles or more per day searching for food while expending little energy.
3. Stargaze. The Grand Canyon is popular in the stargazing community, and amateur astronomers love to set up and share their telescopes. For close to 20 years the Grand Canyon’s annual Star Party, typically held in mid-June, has attracted those who want to search for planets, star clusters, galaxies and nebulae.
4. Take a step back in time. The Hopi House & Gallery, designed by famed architect Mary Jane Colter, has been displaying and selling authentic Native American jewelry, rugs, pottery and basketry for more than 100 years.
Located next to El Tovar, the Hopi House was designed to resemble the traditional Hopi structures found in the region. Like many buildings in the Southwest located near train depots, the Hopi House was built with the intention of housing artists and providing them with an opportunity to sell their wares.
Throughout the Village are a variety of tours and activities. For example, visitors to the Grand Canyon can take a self-guided walking tour of the historic district. Interesting and historic sites within walking distance of Grand Canyon Village are the famed El Tovar Hotel, the Bright Angel History Room, Hopi House, Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio.
5. Hike the Rim Trail and bike the Greenway Trail. Easily accessed anywhere in Grand Canyon Village, the flat Rim Trail stretches from Pipe Creek Vista west to Hermits Rest, a distance of approximately 12 miles. Most of the trail is paved and there are various points where you can pick up the shuttle.
The Greenway Trail, especially on the Hermit Road which is closed to private vehicles except in winter, has been recently resurfaced and is a great stretch for both road and mountain bikes. The ride is 19 miles round trip from Grand Canyon Village.
6. Snap a shutter. The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most photographed entities, and every season has something different to offer both the amateur and professional photographer. During the late summer Northern Arizona experiences its “monsoon season” with thunderstorms creating dramatic shadows over the Grand Canyon. Free shuttles and the Sunset Tour are available for photographing sunsets along Hermits Road. Sunrise is often best captured from the Desert View Drive.
7. Climb the Watchtower. Building a structure that provides the widest possible view of the Grand Canyon yet harmonizes with its setting was architect Mary Colter's goal when the Santa Fe Railroad hired her in 1930 to design a gift shop and rest area at Desert View Point.
A replica of a prehistoric Indian tower, the Desert View Watchtower, was constructed in 1932 and opened in May 1933. It commands a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert to the east and the San Francisco Peaks to the south. This 70-foot tower is the highest point on the South Rim. The interior walls of the tower feature murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
8. Take a long-eared taxi to the Abyss. Three-hour mule train rides that follow a trail heading west through a forest of ponderosa pine, piñon pine and junipers to the Abyss Overlook at the rim of the Grand Canyon. There are also two-day rides that proceed all the way to the bottom of the canyon and include an overnight stay in a cabin at Phantom Ranch -- the lodging facility on the floor of the canyon -- as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
9. Hike to Phantom Ranch and back. But don’t do it in one day. Tucked beside Bright Angel Creek on the north side of the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch can only be reached by mule, foot or rafting the Colorado River. From the South Rim, the hike is 9½ miles on the Bright Angel Trail and seven miles on the South Kaibab Trail.
The difference in elevation between the rim and the floor of the canyon is about one mile. The ranch was also designed by Mary Colter and was completed in 1922. Overnight accommodations at Phantom Ranch consist of dormitory spaces and cabins. Reservations are accepted for stays up to 13 months in advance.
More information about Grand Canyon National Park can be obtained at www.nps.gov/grca or by calling (928) 638-7888.