An unforgettable view. To see the Grand Canyon for the first time is an experience few people will forget. The canyon vista — with its incomprehensible size, deep color, and rich display of rock layers — is unmatched by any natural display on Earth. But while the rock formations may seem arid and lifeless, the Grand Canyon is home to an astounding variety of creatures. In its mile-deep plunge, the Grand Canyon’s terrain ranges from conifer forest to desert, with river niches in between.
These different habitats allow a great diversity of wildlife to live throughout the canyon. Looking down from the rim, you might spot a bighorn sheep casually walking up a nearly vertical grade or a chuckwalla lizard basking in the sun. At the bottom, you might catch a glimpse of the Colorado River as it rushes along the canyon floor.
The canyon is a monument to its own creation, owed mostly to the mighty Colorado River. Flowing from the Rocky Mountains to the gulf of California, the Colorado River is the carving force behind this 277-mile-long chasm. This water source is also the lifeline for the many animals that live at the base of the Canyon. From there, you can follow the 6,000-foot walls as they rise from the water, a visual chronology of the six million years it took to form the canyon.
From forest above to desert below, the Grand Canyon is made up of environments of the most extreme nature, and both resident animals and visiting humans must adapt to them. Above the canyon, floor birds and bighorn sheep enjoy life on the literal edge as sheer cliffs drop thousands of feet below. Several thousand feet down, Gila monsters hunt for Gambel’s quail nests in order to devour the eggs. Walking the canyon can be more demanding for humans than wildlife, since most visitors have never experienced this kind of dry, thin air, high altitude, and frightening vertical drop. A hike down the rocky steeps is not as easy as it looks from the top. While the rock face is a little more than one vertical mile, the walk is seven miles long.
Switchback trails take the sting out of the slope, but they lengthen the distance to your destination. Add to this a starting elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level on the North Rim (7,000 on the South Rim), and your heart might start racing rather quickly — especially on your return ascent. If you make it to the canyon floor and the river, you are still about 2,500 feet above sea level.
Water is essential — and scarce. Even though the Colorado River can flush thousands of cubic feet of water per second through the canyon, not a drop is potable. The Grand Canyon National Park Service provides water stations during the summer, but recommends that hikers take at least a gallon of water on a day hike, since the dry Arizona air can quickly draw moisture out of a body.
ALONG DESERT VIEW ROAD:
Typically the most popular, first-time views of Grand Canyon occur at either Mather Point or Yavapai Point. Mather Point is situated at just over 7,000 feet elevation and is named after the park's first superintendent, Stephen Mather. Visitors will be awe-struck by the view before them. Far below your view is Phantom Ranch, at the canyon's base.
Yavapai Point affords panoramic views of Havasupai Point to the west and Desert View to the east. If the stunning views aren't enough, enjoy a ranger talk and/or walk beginning at this point each day. Be sure to enjoy the interpretation provided by Yavapai Observation Station, including three-dimensional geological displays, photographs, and interpretive panels which allow park visitors to see and understand the intriguing geologic story the Grand Canyon has to tell. Gain a better understanding about the canyon's exposed rock layers, the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the carving of the Grand Canyon.
To see this spectacular vantage of the Grand Canyon, leave Grand Canyon Village and follow the canyon rim east for 26 miles to Desert View, which is situated at the East Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Along the way be sure to stop and take in the sights and views at the following overlooks.
During peak tourism season, the Yaki Point Road and Kaibab Trail Parking Lot are closed to private vehicle traffic. Access is by shuttle bus only. At Yaki Point, enjoy yet another stunning panoramic view of the Grand Canyon from the south rim.
Well the name certainly says it all when it comes to this must-see sight. Situated at just below 7,500 feet, this is probably the most grand view of Grand Canyon. You'll see prominent buttes including Rama Shrine, Krishna Shine, Vishnu Shrine and Shiva Temple, and you'll glimpse a tiny stretch of the Colorado River far below as well.
Named for famous painter Thomas Moran, the views from this overlook will not disappoint. Enjoy views of the expansion Grand Canyon, which are directly south of Cape Royal, situated on the North Rim.
This sight is accessed by taking a short spur road about a mile north of the main scenic drive along the South Rim. This vantage offers almost a 360-degree panorama.
Desert View Watchtower.
Constructed in 1932 as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower, the Desert View Watchtower commands a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert to the east and the San Francisco Peaks to the south. Mary Colter's goal was to build a tower that would provide the widest view possible of Grand Canyon while keeping harmony with its natural surroundings. She succeeded. The Watchtower first opened in 1933 and is at the eastern-most point of the Grand Canyon's South Rim. The watchtower is made of stone, and Colter's masonry mastery creates a visual depth that is unmatched. This seventy-foot tower is the highest point on the South Rim and its interior walls of the tower feature murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
GRAND CANYON VILLAGE
El Tovar Hotel.
This is the premier lodging option on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, and given its history, it's a sight to see. Built in 1905 and renovated a few years ago, the El Tovar is perched on the rim offering grand views and elegant charm. The historic hotel features a fine dining room (open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), lounge and curio shop with newsstand. El Tovar offers its guests Concierge, turn-down and room service, and is a Registered National Historic Landmark. Stop in to take a step back in time while marveling at this historic hotel.
ALONG WEST END OF SOUTH RIM:
Visitors can choose among nine overlooks to take in the various breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon while traveling the west end of the South Rim on Hermit's Road. Most of the Hermit's Road experience is due to its historic significance. The road was designed in 1934-35 by the Bureau of Public Roads, and the National Park Service. (From March through November, this road can be accessed by shuttle bus only). Visitors can easily take in the stunning vistas this road affords access to. Exceptional sights to include while enjoying the shuttle along Hermit's Road include Hopi, Maricopa and Pima points. A highlight will be taking in The Abyss, which drops some 3,000 feet. There is no better name for this vantage! From the Abyss, visitors can see the Tonto Plateau, as well as the Colorado River, far below.
ALONG NORTH RIM:
There are two sights along the North Rim that should absolutely be included on your Grand Canyon North Rim travel itinerary: Cape Royal and Point Imperial. Cape Royal is situated at almost 8,000 feet and is the southernmost vantage on the North Rim. Cape Royal is spectacular and provides the closest thing to a total panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. Point Imperial
GRAND CANYON WEST
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is not located near the South or North Rim. Rather, it is located at Grand Canyon West, an area owned by the Hualapai Tribe. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped walkway that extends almost 70 feet out into the Grand Canyon. Visitors on the Skywalk, which has a clear, 4-inch-thick glass bottom, peer over the railing, or down through their stance to see the Canyon and all of its 4,000 feet of vertical abyss. Click here to learn more about the Grand Canyon Skywalk and its location.
Havasu Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world. Ask anyone who has been there, or look at a photo of video of the waterfall and surrounding area and it's likely you'll believe it's one of the most beautiful images to behold in the United State. The blue-green, 100-foot-high waterfall plunges into a series of pools, which make for phenomenal swimming holes. NOTE: Great experiences come to those willing to hike… and sometimes long distances. Havasu Falls is enjoyed following a 10-mile hike from the trailhead, situated on Hualapai Hilltop. But non-hikers don't fret: you can opt for a guided horseback ride, or a mule trip, arranged with the tribe on the Hualapai Reservation. To get to the trailhead to Havasu Falls, plus three other waterfalls, it's a little more than a 60-mile drive north of Historic Route 66.
is the highest overlook in the Grand Canyon, situated at almost 9,000 feet! It's yet one more spectacular view for visitors to see.