“You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.” – John Wesley Powell
Located in northwestern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder every American should see. Widely considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the canyon, formed by millions of years of erosion, wind, rain and the Colorado River, stretches an impressive 227 miles long and averages over ten miles wide. The Canyon’s inner-depths expose the Earth’s history with rocks dating back 250 million years to 2 billion years old. One famous quote described the Grand Canyon as the basement of history.
Originally home to Native Americans, the Grand Canyon is now one of America’s premier National Parks and a popular destination for hiking, rafting, climbing and canyoneering. Though widely visited, the canyon has several places where crowds are thin and it’s possible to feel completely secluded. Sitting on the rim of the canyon at sunset as the sky turns from blue to orange to deep red, it’s impossible not to contemplate the meaning of life and the vast amount of space directly in front of you.
Experiencing the Grand Canyon’s Natural Grandeur
The South Rim
The most popular way to experience the Grand Canyon is to visit the South Rim and peer out over the Bright Angel Trail leading down the canyon’s wall to Phantom Ranch thousands of feet below. Each year millions of visitors spend time on the South Rim walking along paved paths, snapping photos during the sunrise and sunset and camping in designated campgrounds. If you go, make sure to secure campsite reservations ahead of time and plan ahead when it comes to meals. There isn’t a large store on the South Rim and cafeteria food can be expensive.
Hiking and Backpacking
One of the best ways to experience the Grand Canyon’s natural wonder is to hike down into the canyon and spend a night below the rim. There are several campsites for backpackers heading down from both the North and South Rim, but they fill up quickly so make sure to reserve a spot early. One of the most popular destinations is the Bright Angel Trail leading down into the canyon from the South Rim. Crowds can form in the mid to late morning so start early and avoid the day hikers. Plan on camping at Indian Gardens half way down or Phantom Ranch, located just across the Colorado River at the Canyon’s bottom.
The Grand Canyon might be known for its impressive grandeur from the canyon’s rim, but the real gem of the Grand Canyon lies nearly a mile below the surface. The Colorado River, flowing out of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, cuts through the canyon featuring some of the world’s best rapids and riverside scenery. Multiple outfitters offer a wide variety of trips, but whatever you do, don’t plan on taking a motorized boat. Instead opt for an oar boat or paddleboat and spend at least seven days on the river. Just about every rafter at the end of their trip say the river will stay with them forever.