The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located entirely in northern Arizona and is one of the great tourist attractions in the United States. The massive canyon encompasses several distinct areas, most famous of which is Grand Canyon National Park , a United States National Park. The national park is itself divided into two main areas: the remote North Rim and the more accessible (and therefore more crowded) South Rim. In addition, the southwestern end of the canyon is located within the borders of two Indian reservations: the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the Hualapai Indian Reservation (also known as Grand Canyon West). All of the sections of the canyon offer amenities for visitors, but the national park, and in particular the South Rim, is by far the most popular destination and the best equipped to handle the millions of yearly visitors.
The Canyon is an overwhelming experience, and nothing can prepare a visitor for the sight. The Grand Canyon is a massive canyon carved over several million years by the Colorado River. Grand Canyon National Park boasts an elevation change of nearly 7,000 feet (2130 m) from Point Imperial (at nearly 9,000 feet or 2740 m) to the banks of Lake Mead (at just over 2,000 feet or 610 m). The canyon itself is, from rim to river over a mile (1610 m) deep. In spots the rock layers exposed in the canyon display over two billion years of geologic history.
The park was founded as Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and became a national park in 1919. Today the park contains over 1.2 million acres (490,000 ha), slightly less than the entire state of Delaware, and in 2004 received more than 4.3 million visitors.
Throughout the past century, hundreds of authors have attempted to depict the enormous landscape that is Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, words most often fail to invoke the sense of awe and wonder that many visitors experience. Edward Abbey, a noted Southwest author, once penned: "Those who love it call it the canyon. The canyon. As if there were no other topographic feature on the face of the Earth".
There are, of course, other canyons on the planet. Some are longer, others wider, and even some that are deeper. Canyon visitors are often surprised to learn that Grand Canyon sets no records for sheer size. It is, however, simply regarded by most as the "grandest" canyon of them all.
Geologically, the canyon extends from Lee's Ferry near the Arizona/Utah border to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, a distance of 277 mi (445 km). It ranges in width from about a quarter mile to over 18 mi (29 km) wide. In places the canyon is over a mile deep.
However, it is not the statistics that define this landscape as "grand", but rather a combination of factors. The desert environment and a lack of herbaceous ground cover reveal a geologic story that is unparalleled. Surprisingly, the rock layers displayed at Grand Canyon show little sign of wear. The layers have been preserved almost perfectly, as though they were layers in a cake. Nowhere else on Earth displays so many volumes of the planet's history in such pristine condition.
The resulting landscape provides visitors with some of the most magnificent and unsurpassed vistas on the planet.
Flora and fauna
Arguably, the most famous animal in the park is the rare California Condor. They can occasionally be seen flying near Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Common bird life includes Canyon Wrens, Stellar's Jays (with their peaked caps), swallows, hummingbirds, and the playful and entertaining Raven.
Mule Deer are common. Some of the largest Elk in North America can be found in the national park, and in the adjacent Kaibab National Forest. Desert Big Horn Sheep are also seen on occasion, mainly in the inner canyon.
You'll often spot Coyote no matter where you are in the park, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear them sing. Other predators are Mountain Lions and Bobcat. Black Bears are rare, and they generally stay away from the inhabited areas.
Some of the smaller creatures that can be found in the inhabited areas of the park are the Ringtail (called a cat, but not in the cat family), which like to live in the rafters of some of the historic buildings on the rim. They are quick and stealthy, but they often forget how visible that tail is, and you'll see it hanging out over a beam.
A favorite with visitors is the Abert's Squirrel with their tufted ears. Other varieties of squirrels and chipmunks are also popular. They seem tame and like to beg for food behind the Bright Angel Lodge, near the Ice Cream fountain. But heed the warnings and resist the urge. One of the most common injuries in the park are squirrel bites.
You might also see the common Striped Skunk, and if lucky, you might even see the rarer Western Spotted Skunk (usually at lower elevations). Skunks here are also habituated to humans and may seem tame, but they will react as all skunks do, so don't come up on them suddenly!
For the reptile family, there are variety of small lizards, and a few snakes. The most striking (in more ways than one) is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake; with its reddish (almost pink) coloring it neatly blends into the rocky terrain of the canyon. They are interesting to see as long as it is at a safe distance. Rattlesnakes are MORE afraid of you than you are of them. If given the chance, they will avoid any contact with humans. Most rattlesnake victims are young males that are chasing or trying to capture a snake.
Do not feed the animals. It is unhealthy for them, and may be unhealthy for you. A seemingly tame squirrel might bite you--they carry plague, rabies, etc. A deer or elk can charge at you without warning. If the animal is aware of your presence, you're too close.
Temperatures and weather within the park vary greatly by location. Temperatures on the North Rim are often 20-30°F (11-16°C) cooler than at the river. This is a land of extremes. It can be snowing at the rim, while others are comfortable sunbathing at the river. Conversely, it can be cool and comfortable at the rim in the summer, while temperatures at the river exceed 120°F (49°C). It is not unusual for local canyon guides to encounter neophyte hikers in desperate shape. Some die. An unusual number of fatalities occur among young people who overestimate their abilities.
(Average Elevation 7000 ft / 2133 m)
(Average Elevation 8000 ft / 2438 m)
Inner Canyon - River Level
(Average Elevation 2100 ft / 640 m)
The majority of visitors to the South Rim of the park arrive from the south on Arizona Route 64 (AZ 64) (conjoined with US highway 180). Alternately, one can enter the south rim from the east on AZ64.
For the south entrance: from Flagstaff, you can take US Route 180 (US 180) northwest to Valle where it joins with AZ 64, and continue north to the south rim; or take I-40 west toward Williams to the junction with AZ 64 and continue north to the south rim. Both routes are approximately 80 mi (129 km). The approx 60 mi (97 km) on US 180 is a narrow 2-lane mountain road through a heavily forested area. The I-40 west is a wide multi-lane interstate for approx 20 mi (32 km), to AZ 64 which is a slightly wider, less mountainous 2-lane highway, and the recommended route during winter weather. There are two lanes at this entrance reserved for pass and prepaid entrance fees (now lanes 1 and 4), which can be pre-purchased outside of the park at the National Geographic Theater/Visitor Center.
For the east entrance, take US 89 south from Page, AZ or north from Flagstaff to the junction with AZ 64 at Cameron. It is approx 25 mi (40 km) from the junction to the east entrance of the park, and approx 25 mi (40 km) from the east entrance to the south rim village area.
Visitors to the North Rim use ALT US 89 to AZ 67 (closed in winter). While the average distance across the canyon is only ten miles, there are no roads, meaning the trip by car is a five-hour drive of 215 miles (345 km).
Many Grand Canyon visitors fly into one of two metropolitan airports located within half a day's drive of the South Rim:
Flagstaff's Pulliam Field (FLG) is the nearest commercial airport to the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN) is located just outside of the South Rim entrance in the town of Tusayan; it is primarily utilized by companies who provide Grand Canyon air tours and private aircraft.
There are currently no commercial bus lines offering transportation to either rim, but several tour companies offer guided tours originating in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other locations, either directly to the South Rim or that include the South Rim as part of an itinerary, and a few offer tours which include a visit to the North Rim. There is a small shuttle service, Arizona Shuttle Service, which does carry passengers and luggage from the Flagstaff Amtrak station. The tickets for this shuttle may also be purchased from Amtrak.
The Grand Canyon Railway operates a train ride from the town of Williams to the Grand Canyon Village (travel time is 2.5 hours in each direction). The terminus at Grand Canyon Village is within walking distance of some accommodations. The train features a historic steam locomotive during the summer season, restored Pullman cars, and a staged old west style shootout. However, the Grand Canyon is not visible from the train. It is simply another option for traveling to the canyon, and takes about twice as long as driving to the canyon.
Amtrak's Southwest Chief, with trains operating daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, stops at Williams Junction, with connections to the Grand Canyon Railway.
All private vehicles entering the Grand Canyon must pay a $25 entrance fee, which is good for seven days. Individuals on foot or on a bike must pay a $12 entrance fee, also good for seven days. Exceptions: those holding an Annual Pass ($80, valid for one year), Senior Pass ($10, valid for life, available to US citizens 62 and older) or an Access Pass (free, available only to citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are medically determined to be blind or permanently disabled). Note: An Access Pass can only be obtained in person by showing proof of medically determined permanent disability, or eligibility for receiving benefits under federal law.
Several viewpoints and trailheads in the park have limited or no parking and must be reached using the park shuttle system. The National Park Service runs an extensive shuttle service on the South Rim  with three interlocking routes. The service is free, and generally runs from before sunrise until after sunset, depending on the route. Service is more frequent from May through September and includes additional routes. In addition, during the summer the park service operates a shuttle from Tusayan into the park.
Horse and mule riders are required to follow a number of rules and restrictions while in the park, and must get a permit from the park service to keep animals in the park overnight.
From Mar-Nov the West Rim Drive is not accessible to most private vehicles (handicap vehicles may request a variance at the entry gate). The park service runs a shuttle during this time. The shuttles are frequent but long lines form during the busy summer months.
There are several other viewpoints along the road between Hermit's Rest and Grand Canyon Village (West Rim) or Desert View and the village (East Rim).
Located only 10mi from the South Rim by air, the North Rim is a 215mi (346km), 5-hr drive from Grand Canyon Village. At 8,000ft (2,440m) the elevation of the North Rim is approximately 1,000ft (305m) higher than the South Rim, and as a result features more coniferous trees and cooler temperatures. The roads to the North Rim are open only during the summer (from approx 15 May to the first fall snow fall), while the in-park facilities usually close by 15 Oct, regardless of the weather. With far fewer visitors, this area can be a great place to enjoy the peace and majesty of the canyon. The main viewpoints are Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal (where the Colorado River can be seen), and Point Imperial (the highest viewpoint in the park).
Havasupai Indian Reservation
A popular destination in the canyon lies southwest of the park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation . Havasupai can be loosely translated as "People of the Blue-Green Water". Entry into this remote portion of the canyon requires a $35 per person entry fee (plus an additional $17 per person/night to stay in the campground). Those venturing into Havasu Canyon are greeted by spectacular world class waterfalls. Although the Havasupai Reservation is somewhat impacted (trashy), the incredible canyon below the Supai Village is worth the visit. Access to Havasu Canyon is from Hualapai Hilltop north of Peach Springs. Visitors must park at Hualapai Hilltop and hike, ride, or fly to Supai near the waterfalls. It is an eight mile hike or horseback ride to Supai Village, and not typically a day hike. Helicopter transportation to and from the village is available on a first come basis four days a week. An extremely rustic lodge is the only public accommodation available in Supai. A large mile long campground is located two miles down canyon between Havasu and Mooney Falls. This campground can be extremely crowded in the summer months; advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Hualapai Indian Reservation (Grand Canyon West)
The Hualapai Reservation borders Lake Mead NRA to the West, and Grand Canyon National Park to the North and East. Tribal head quarters are located in the impoverished town of Peach Springs. The Grand Canyon Resort Corporation  is a collection of tourist enterprises wholly owned by the tribe. Activities include motorized rafting trips on last few miles of white water in the canyon, and pontoon boat rides on the smooth waters of Lake Mead. In addition, Grand Canyon West (located in the remote Northwest corner of the reservation) is a collection of viewpoints overlooking the last few miles of Grand Canyon and the stagnant waters of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Mead. The Hualapai have partnered with dozens of commercial tour operators from the Las Vegas area, and a tour package purchase (ranging from $29-109 per person) is required for entry to the Grand Canyon West area. Literally hundreds of helicopter flights ferry passengers from the "West Rim" to a multitude of landing zones near the lake shore.
At Eagle Point, the Grand Canyon Skywalk (a glass bottomed walkway extending over the rim) is now completed. Access to this part of the canyon is rather difficult, requiring a drive of approximately 10 miles on a dirt road ("Diamond Bar Road")(pickup truck recommended, no sports cars) after the town of Dolan Springs, Arizona. Fees within this portion of the reservation are $29.95 per person for access to two viewpoints, while those wishing to visit viewpoints and walk on the Skywalk must purchase the "Legacy Gold" package for $83.95 per person (with taxes). Note that photographs may not be taken from the Skywalk but can be purchased for $30 per photograph, or $100 for all photographs taken(as of Oct 2011).
Hiking in the Grand Canyon is unlike anywhere else on Earth - trails range in difficulty from fifteen minute loops to multi-week treks, and all offer spectacular views. In addition, there are numerous unmaintained trails throughout the park for the more adventurous. For individuals who prefer guided hikes a variety of outfitters offer options. Note that while most canyon hikes entail significant elevation change, less-strenuous hiking options include nature walks along the rim trail which offer great views without requiring much exertion.
All hikers should take trail warnings extremely seriously. Temperatures in the canyon may vary by 50-70 °F depending on elevation and time of day, and unlike most places, the most challenging portion of a hike in the Grand Canyon will always be the end, meaning that if you run out of water you will get heat stroke, and if you get too tired you will be unable to get back to the trailhead. Carry more liquid than you think you'll need, and know your limits. It is far too easy to overextend yourself hiking in the canyon, and each year over 250 people require rescue due to underestimating the heat and difficulty. Also be aware that trails may be icy during the winter - if you have crampons for your shoes or hiking poles you should bring them or consider purchasing them from a local shop.
Whitewater rafting expeditions depart daily during the summer months from Lee's Ferry. Commercial trips range from 3-18 days and cover from 87-300 mi. Trips book up fast so be sure to book your trip about a year in advance or you will have to get lucky with cancellations. The most popular section of river for the "true" Grand Canyon river experience lies between Lee's Ferry and Diamond Creek.
Private (non-commercial DIY) river permits are also available for river trips up to 30 days in length. The new Colorado River Management Plan  has changed a 12-20 year wait list to a new weighted lottery.
Airplane and helicopter tours are offered by providers outside of the south rim in Tusayan at the Grand Canyon Airport, and also from Las Vegas. Scenic flights are no longer allowed to fly below the rim within the national park. However, some helicopter flights land on the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Reservations within Grand Canyon (outside of the park boundaries).
All types of tourist trinkets relating to the Grand Canyon, native American Indians, and the American Southwest are available in shops in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. The South Rim is overflowing with shopping options. The North Rim has only one shop located at the North Rim Lodge.
Additional Cafeterias are located in the Maswik and Yavapai Lodges. There is a grocery deli at Market Plaza inside the grocery store, as well. Just outside the park, in the gateway community of Tusayan, are a number of dining selections.
There are a variety of hotels, lodges, and campgrounds both inside and outside of the park on both the North and South Rims. As lodging at the Canyon fills early and is fairly expensive, many visitors opt to base themselves just outside of the South Rim in Tusayan. For those willing to stay further from the park the cities of Williams or Flagstaff offer additional options.
The following lodges are located inside Grand Canyon National Park, reservations can be made by contacting Xanterra . If you want to try your luck with same-day reservations, call +1 928 638-2631.
Campgrounds are located at both the North and South Rims. Reservations are highly recommended, especially at the busier South Rim. Outside of the park, Kaibab National Forest has numerous undeveloped campsites and "at large" camping is allowed for up to 14 days. Due to extreme drought conditions, check for closures and camp fire restrictions.
Any camping below the rim in Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit . Permits must be obtained through the Backcountry Country Office (BCO) at Grand Canyon National Park. Permits are currently not available online or via telephone. They are only available in person, by fax or by mail. There is limited water available within the canyon, so backpackers should plan on carrying sufficient water with them. All backcountry users are asked to follow "Leave no Trace" principles.
Permits are limited to protect the canyon, and become available on the 1st day of the month, four months prior to the start month. Thus, a backcountry permit for any start date in May becomes available on 1 Jan. Space for the most popular areas, such as the Bright Angel Campground adjacent to Phantom Ranch, generally fill up by the requests received on first date they are opened to reservations. There are a limited number permits reserved for walk-in requests available on a first come, first served basis.
There are a number of outfitters that provide fully guided backpacking trips (including permits and gear) at Grand Canyon.
Hiking at the Grand Canyon often surprises people who attempt Inner Canyon trips. It can be hotter than you'd expect, colder than you'd expect, drier or wetter. A prepared hiker is better able to survive the extremes of the canyon. Even for short walks into the canyon keep in mind that it is a seducer: it seems easy hiking down into it but when you come back up you find that you have over-extended yourself. It's the opposite of climbing up a tall mountain, where you can stop and turn back when you get tired, knowing that the descent will be much easier.
In particular, do not attempt to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day. Hundreds of hikers each year have to be rescued from the Inner Canyon due to exhaustion and dehydration. While the temperature on the canyon rim is cool due to its elevation, below the rim it can be very hot. The vertical distance from the bottom back up to the rim is nearly a mile straight up (1.5km), in addition to the distance you travel horizontally. If you plan to go to the bottom of the canyon, spend the night (permit required), and take enough food, water, shelter, and other backcountry camping equipment to keep yourself safe and sound. If you don't have the equipment, don't go.
For an eye-opening look at the dangers of hiking in and around the canyon unprepared, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Thomas M. Myers (long time resident doctor at the south rim), and Michael P. Ghiglieri (biologist and river guide), describes the various ways in which visitors have lost their lives at the canyon. (ISBN 097009731X).
While literally getting out of the chasm may be the most difficult part of your visit, getting out of the national park is relatively easy.