As perhaps one of the most notable destinations in Arizona, the Grand Canyon sees approximately 6 million visitors each year. That many people can’t be wrong about their choice in a vacation spot, so what does make the canyon so special? Between the near perfect weather year-round, beautiful rock formations (some of which are over 2 billion years old), and millions of years missing in geological history in what’s known as the “Great Unconformity”, it is no wonder the canyon is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. If you’re booking a trip to the Grand Canyon you’re bound to be awestruck but beware, you won’t be able to see the entire canyon in one day… fear not, you will still have an incredible adventure!
To wrap one’s head around the exact size of the Grand Canyon is a tough thing to do if you haven’t visited the canyon before. To give you an idea of the size, from the east boundary (near the Arizona/Utah border) to the west boundary (near the Arizona/Nevada borer) the main canyon covers 277 miles (446 kilometers), and at some points is even 18 miles (29 kilometers) wide. Due to its sheer size, the entirety of the canyon can only be seen at once from space or in satellite images. Since Arizona is well known for its arid desert climate and accompanying lack of water, it often comes as a surprise to first time visitors that the Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years by primarily water and ice. The Colorado River flows right through the center of the canyon; the river’s constant powerful flow, continental drift, volcanic activity, and other geological conditions, slowly eroded the rock over time to form the canyon as it sits today. The water which is ever evolving the canyon is also what provides almost half of the City of Phoenix’s water supply, channeled to the Valley of the Sun through a system of open air canals and aqueducts throughout the State of Arizona.
With so much land to cover and so many things to see and experience, there are many ways to get the most out of your trip to the canyon. Having grown up in Arizona, I’ve experienced what the canyon has to offer many times over the years. I’ve taken a road-trip to the South Rim, a Westwind Adventure Tour to the west rim (my personal favorite – more about that later), hiked around the canyon to the north, visited the iconic Horseshoe Bend, and more. There is no wrong way to experience the canyon, it is just important to be aware of the different experiences. Between the airport, roads, railroad station located at the South rim, and its year-round access, it is easy to see why this happens to be the most popular area attracting 90% of tourists annually. Westwind Air Service offers scenic narrated overflight tours for a quick 3 hour taste of the canyon. If you’d prefer a longer experience, the South Rim Signature Tour is another option which is the aerial tour + a ground tour of the Grand Canyon National Park, Historic Village, Hopi House, El Tovar Lounge, and shops, and concludes with a scenic 1 hour flight back to Phoenix. For those more adventurous travelers, an 8-hour guided hiking tour along the canyon ridgeline, and lunch in a scenic meadow is sure to be the highlight of your vacation.
Outside of the iconic South Rim and all it has to offer, there are plenty of incredible rock formations and things to do elsewhere. In fact, well known formations and attractions like the Skywalk, a horseshoe shaped glass walkway thousands of feet above the canyon floor, are located at the west area of the main canyon, also where the Adventure tour previously mentioned visits. The other common location, the North rim, is only a mere 10 horizontal miles away from the South rim but due to the terrain and 1,000 foot elevation difference, is only accessible to hikers who traverse over 20 miles of trails, or motorists who drive over 220 miles around the canyon or in other words, a 5 hour drive. Since the weather at the North Rim is vastly different than the South, the North is only open to visitors each year from May 15th-October 15th.
Grand Canyon West is also open 365 days a year with one big difference; the West attractions sit on Hualapai native land. This means the Hualapai (WALL-uh-pie), the "People of the Tall Pines", offer a variety of more unique visitor services like the infamous Skywalk. One of these services is the much more immersive experience of the Westwind Adventure Tour (ADV). This unique luxury tour is possible since the West portion of the canyon is not controlled by the US National Park Service. Through a partnership with the tribe and businesses on the West rim, Westwind’s ADV tour allows guest to take a narrated 75-minute flight to the West Rim, and transfer from the airplane directly to a helicopter. The helicopter will take you on a 10-minute flight to the floor of the canyon, giving you a true appreciation of the sheer size of the canyon. This is also the only opportunity in the entire canyon to visit the bottom of the canyon which doesn’t require a long hike or mule ride. A short ride in a pontoon boat is a fan favorite since the smooth, relaxing trip on the Colorado River lets guests relax and enjoy looking up at the walls of the canyon. From the pontoon boat, millions of years of geological history are visible and many different beautiful rock layers can be seen. After the boat ride at the bottom of the canyon, the helicopter flies guests back up to experience a much different perspective… from the glass floored Skywalk 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor. After experiencing the euphoric “floating” sensation many people get on the Skywalk at Eagle point, and then Guano point where lunch is provided. Walking paths, scenic photo spots, and Native American live performances allow for great pictures and fun, after which guests are flown back to Phoenix.
There’s no doubt the Grand Canyon has much to offer everyone. With some proper planning and a realistic idea about the distance between attractions, the Canyon can provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No matter how many times I re-visit the Canyon, it remains one of my favorite places to go frequent with family, friends, or even by myself, as a quick day trip. Of course you can drive, hike, or ride a train to the Canyon, but personally I prefer the comfort of flying in a private plane and being home in time for dinner. Regardless of your method of travel, or which rim you visit, you will undoubtedly have a great time. We hope to see you there!