5 Fantastic Experiences at the Grand Canyon

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Interested in taking a trip to the Grand Canyon? Check out these five experiences to help you plan the trip of a lifetime.
By: Gary McKechnie

The Grand Canyon is a common addition to travel plans; one of the few places in America that every American wants to visit. The best time to go is when you have abundant time to see it—at least three days, or possibly more. But if your travel time is tight, consider these five activities you can experience in just one very full day.

1 . VISIT THE VISITOR CENTER

The perfect place to begin your visit, it offers a sneak preview of the experiences that lie ahead. It’s where you’ll find bicycle rentals, park transportation, small restaurants, exhibits and one of the best introductory films at any national park, the Discovery Channel’s Grand Canyon – A Journey of Wonder, which is a powerful film on the history, geology and sheer natural beauty of Grand Canyon. After the movie, you’re just a few minutes’ walk to Mather Point, where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the canyon. But now you get to see its actual size.

2. WALK THE RIM TRAIL

The Rim Trail stretches nearly 10 miles, but even on a short walk you’ll have plenty of time to explore the canyonside trail within the Historic Village, which is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of fellow travelers as well as shops, restaurants and overlooks. And just beyond the entrance to the Bright Angel Trail at the west end of the village, you can board a free shuttle to any of overlook points between the Historic Village and Hermits Rest at the end of the trail—with each and every curve and point revealing a new and unique view of the canyon.

3. VISIT THE TUSAYAN RUINS…AND BEYOND

Long before there was a national park (or the United States), Ancestral Puebloans had established dozens of communities around the canyon, one of which was located about 20 miles east of the Historic Village. The excavation of a Native American village revealed the foundations of homes and kivas that are approximately 1,000 years old. And in the small museum you’ll see tools, jewelry, art and artifacts that were unearthed here. From here, it’s another few miles east to the Desert View Watchtower, which was designed in 1932 by Mary Colter, the woman considered the “Architect of the Southwest.” Head to the top of the tower and savor one of the most spectacular views of Grand Canyon.

4. WALK THE BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL

Hiking is one of the peak experiences of Grand Canyon, and a short walk below the rim should be enough to give you a glimpse of its rugged beauty from another angle. You’ll find the trailhead at the west end of the Historic Village. But before you start hiking down, make sure you have a pole or walking stick for support, sturdy shoes (no high heels, please) and some water and snacks just in case you end up walking farther than you expect. After you walk through the first tunnel, look up and to the left and you’ll see what most visitors miss: Native American pictographs that are 1,000 years old. Just go as far as your ability and fitness allows, but be realistic—it’s simple walking down, but it’s a strenuous walk back to the rim.

5. VISIT THE HOPI HOUSE

In the center of the Historic Village is one of the most visually appealing structures in the American Southwest. It’s the Hopi House, and it was designed in 1905 by Mary Colter of Desert Watchtower fame. Hopi House was originally a house where Native American artisans lived and worked, creating crafts and arts for visitors. No one lives there today, but it’s one of the best places in America to find certified handmade Native American merchandise—exquisite paintings, pottery and jewelry.

BONUS : DINE AT THE HISTORIC EL TOVAR

A signature experience for breakfast, lunch or dinner, a meal in one of the world’s most recognized restaurants is something you’ll remember forever. The dining room, naturally, features Native American paintings and décor while the superb menu features locally sourced ingredients. The setting, just steps from the South Rim, makes this a uniquely American dining experience.

HOW TO EXPLORE

Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides premier in-park lodging, managing six distinct historic lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours.

Gary McKechnie is author of the best-selling Great American Motorcycle Tours. He also wrote National Geographic’s USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks. He lectures on American travel and history aboard the ships of the Cunard, Seabourn and Silversea lines.