For some, the majesty of the Grand Canyon can be a bit overwhelming for the first-time visitor. Nothing can really prepare you for this fascinating 277-mile long and 18-mile wide natural wonder where the passage of time is not measured in years but centuries.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the entire area has been designated as a national park since 1919 and clocks a whopping five million visitors a year. Sightseeing at the canyon is divided broadly into zones which are the South Rim, Grand Canyon West, Grand Canyon East and the North Rim. Of these, the South Rim which is about a five-hour drive from Las Vegas, is popularly considered to be the best in terms of its awe-inspiring views and wondrous sights. Yet, there are a number of ways you can enjoy the canyon; read on to find out more.
1. Begin with the views at Mather Point
Close to the entrance and visitor centre is the amazing Mather Point where you can experience the true essence of the canyon. Named after Stephen Tyng Mather, it’s a great starting point for a first-time visitor, where you can view the entire expanse of the exposed rocks along with its array of colours. A favourite with photographers, the area turns into a marvellous spectacle just before sunset and sunrise as the dancing shades of green, orange, red and brown come alive. It is also a great place to rejuvenate and makes for a wonderful picnic spot.
From here you can also gaze at the North Rim which is a drive of over 200 miles away. Keep your eyes open for native animal and bird species such as the endangered California condor. The largest flying birds in North America, they were almost extinct by the ’70s, but with restoration efforts, their numbers have increased and now are an integral part of the Canyon ecosystem.
2. Visit Bright Angel Lodge
The historic Bright Angel Lodge is a well-known landmark within the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Designed by the legendary Mary Jane Cotler, this started as a cabin and several tents way back in 1896. This lodge is significant in that it houses some of the oldest buildings of the canyon as well as two unique fireplaces built ingeniously using the rock that is found in the Grand Canyon. With brightly painted doors and windows, the lodge is a popular place to stop by, have a break at the restaurant and shop at the gift shop.
There is a small section that has several exhibits relating to Mary Cotler and the objects used in the yesteryears within the lodge. Closeby there’s also a lookout studio that was built using quarried Kaibab limestone but such is the similarity, it actually looks like an extension of the Grand Canyon itself. Here you’ll find a small balcony – a mesmerising observation point which offers stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape.
3. Enjoy a Mule Ride
If you are the more adventurous kind, try exploring the rim trail on a mule. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can choose to take an overnight ride to the Phantom Ranch or opt for the shorter Canyon Vistas Mule Ride. Irrespective of what you choose, the rides on these thoroughly trained sure-footed mules within the canyon are truly rewarding experiences. Most rides start at the historic Bright Angel Lodge and need to be booked in advance. The overnight mule ride covers a trail of about ten miles along the inner gorge moving onto the suspension bridge on the Colorado river and then the Bright Angel Canyon. The 7.3-mile return trail the next day is via the Kaibab trail and offers incredible views as well. The Canyon Vistas Mule Ride covers four miles east of the historic Grand Canyon village and can be completed in around two to three hours.
4. Ride the Grand Canyon Railway
In operation since 1901, the historic Canyon train rides start at Williams, Arizona and traverse up to the South Rim. The 65 mile one-way journey takes a little over two hours and is a wonderful way to experience another fascinating aspect of the Grand Canyon – the flora and fauna. There are multiple packages that you can choose from depending on the amount of time you have on your hands. (The packages can be customised too.) The journey itself is an experience of a lifetime that is made memorable with plenty of live performances and role plays, giving you the chance to step back in time and relive the days of the yore.
5. Experience the thrills of a Helicopter or River rafting
A regal way to witness a 360-degree view of the Grand Canyon is to take a helicopter ride. Lasting from half an hour to a whole day, there are numerous options available through which you can experience the beauty of this natural wonder from above. Alternatively, if you want to get your adrenaline really pumping, take a white-water rafting trip across the Colorado river. The journey is both exhilarating as well as insightful as you rush past the rapids while watching the multifarious rock formations. There are numerous companies offering multi-day rafting trips along with camping so make sure you do your research.