A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the National Park Service’s most popular destinations, few places evoke the imagination like the Grand Canyon. Since Theodore Roosevelt, first among the nation’s conservationist presidents, declared that every American should see the Grand Canyon, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s population has: Its first year of existence in 1919 brought 37,745 visitors, and well more than 205 million people have visited in the years since.
Don’t ask Yelp. One-star reviewers say: “hmmm…..nothing here but desiccated bone dry just like California drought. I saw the pictures and glorious reviews and thought maybe I’ll give it a try. There is nothing there! It looks like California’s drought that I am dreading of. Easy place to commit murder.”
Another says: “ehh. i’ve seen better. big woop."
Best of all: “Whoopity do, Grand Canyon. You are a giant hole in the ground. You were caused be [sic] erosion. You don’t have roller coasters or dippin’ dots. Jeeesh. Can you say ‘overrated?’”
Thank you, internet. We’ve put your condemnations in our comment box.
If there is a legitimate criticism about a natural landmark that is visible from space, it’s that the scale of geologic time doesn’t consider the limitations of vehicular or bipedal travel. The Colorado River has carved into the Colorado plateau for millions and millions of years—what difference does a day make?
Turns out a day accounts for about half of the travel time required to get to the park’s best destinations. Undeterred, we are contractually obliged to bring you a one week itinerary, whether you want it or not. The Grand Canyon’s story is one of millions of years of geologic time. Thanks to the erosive power of the Colorado, hundreds of miles and a day of travel time separates the North and South rims, and one of the West’s iconic waterfalls is another day of travel to reach. For that reason, we give you three two-day adventure bundles for you to mix and match as you see fit.
And just so you know, internet, the Canyon Village Market Place and Deli in Canyon Village called. They wanted you to know they have Dippin’ Dots.
Easily accessible, you could spend an entire day driving between canyon overlooks, shopping, and eating. The South Rim is easier to get to, and it’s well developed. Notables include Desert View, which has a watchtower to climb, Grandview Point, which is great for sunrises, Yavapai Point (Yavapai Geology Museum), and the Abyss, which features the South Rim’s greatest vertical drop at 3,000 feet of uninterrupted cliff face. See our park guide for a complete list.
If this is your ideal, Mather Campground is the best place to stay in the Grand Canyon if you can reserve a campsite far enough in advance. Close to Grand Canyon Village and easy to access, it’s one of the park’s most popular campgrounds. Alternatives on the South Rim are far away or difficult to get to or both. Four miles south of the South Rim and outside of the park, Ten-X Campground is a first-come, first-served campground alternative. Another is Desert View Campground, positioned at the South Rim’s easterly extremity.
For a true adventure, you have options. First, the Hermit Trail is a true backcountry adventure, complete with concierge service. Its 20 miles to the river are unmaintained, un-muled, and therefore typically untraveled. Plus, when you get your permit, you get a special code to pass through an access gate and park your car at the trailhead. Also consider Monument Creek or Granite Rapid. Both require more than 9 miles of hiking, a permit from the National Park Service, and a strong constitution, but you won’t find a more intimate experience of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River—especially at Granite Rapid, which cozies up to the riverbank.
Havasu Falls is one of the West’s most iconic waterfalls, and the journey merits mention of its own. Travel to the falls is a 10-mile trek that descends 2,000 feet, making the journey impractical for day hiking. Once there, however, the canyon is full of riverine oases that create a stark contrast to the surrounding desert. If you have an extra day, extend your journey to Mooney and Beaver Falls, an additional 9 miles and 1,600 feet into the canyon.
You won’t regret it.
Higher in elevation and closed during the winter months, in comparison to its southerly companion the North Rim is an experience more remote and off the beaten path. That can have its charm when the rim isn’t shrouded in clouds. Reserve a campsite at the only campground managed by the National Park Service, the North Rim Campground, if you like.
A day at the overlooks is great. But the best campgrounds are out on the rim. They’re also the most difficult to reserve. There isn’t a more intimate rim experience than the one at Cape Final. With just one backcountry campsite, you’ll have the entire rim to yourself. Access is easy, just over 4 miles round trip through undulating canyon forest. Thunderstorms may make the stay especially exciting. And the views—oh, the views.
Other hikes to consider: The North Kaibab Trail is considered by some to be the most beautiful in the park. Cliff Springs Trail has Native American ruins and pictographs. The Widforss Trail has a self-guided interpretive tour of old-growth forest.