A mile-deep gash in the rust-red surface of the earth, the Grand Canyon is often called one of the “seven natural wonders of the world.”
Carved by the mighty Colorado River for six million years, the canyon’s oldest rock—the exceptionally named Elves Chasm Pluton—lies at its lowest point, while newer sandstone sits on top. Hiking into the ravine is like traveling back in time for geology-loving visitors. And the park is rich with human history, too: It was the home of the ancestral Puebloan people, and the oldest found artifacts date back to the Paleo-Indian period roughly 12,000 years ago.
More recently, the Grand Canyon became a storied tourist attraction that boomed in popularity when the railroad arrived in 1901. The area was finally set aside as a national park in 1919 under President Woodrow Wilson. Today, eleven federally-recognized tribes have connections to this land, with the Southern Paiute, Hualapai, and Havasupai sharing boundaries with the park and offering nearby experiences in the canyon—like the hair-raising Skywalk on the Hualapai Reservation.
But whether you’re looking to leisurely cruise along the park’s scenic byways or trek down thousands of feet to camp along the river, one thing’s for certain–there’s nothing quite like the thrill of feasting your eyes on the Grand Canyon for the first (or fourth) time. The hardest part? Narrowing down how to spend your time, with so much on offer.
Read on for our expert tips on where to stay and what to see, for a standout Grand Canyon National Park visit.
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The best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park
With an elevation spanning 2,000 feet to 8,000 feet, Grand Canyon experiences a wide range of temperatures on any given day. Thus, the best season to visit greatly depends on what your top adventure priorities are.
If you’re planning to raft “the big ditch” with a guide, go between April and October for warm, sunny days that perfectly contrast the 50-degree Colorado River. Hoping to hike to the bottom and camp at Bright Angel? Don your favorite traction devices atop the canyon to crunch through seasonal ice and book a backcountry permit for late fall, winter, or early spring. Auto tourists who want to explore the canyon’s south rim by car can travel in virtually any season—just be prepared for crowds in summer months and occasional snow closures at the height of winter.
Lastly, a good rule of thumb for intrepid travelers hiking down into the canyon is that you’ll gain roughly 5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet you descend. Plan on it being 20 degrees warmer at the bottom of the canyon than it is at the rim. The National Park Service (NPS) does not recommend hiking to the bottom of the canyon during summer months, as temperatures at Phantom Ranch often surpass 100 degrees.
How to get there
If you’re planning to fly in, the closest major airports are Sky Harbor International in Phoenix and Harry Reid International in Las Vegas, but both are at least a three-hour drive away, and you’ll want to rent a car and crank up the tunes to brave the journey. Regional airports are freckled around the area, most notably in small-but-commercial Flagstaff and in charter-only Sedona and Tusayan. There’s also a vintage train service that runs daily from Williams, Arizona.