As one of the original seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon really needs no introduction. It’s lure is natural and it draws visitors from all over the world. Anyone who hasn’t seen it in person will always wonder “can a gash in the earth really be so big?” And, of course, the answer is yes.
It is big, it is beautiful, and it will amaze kids and adults of all ages. (Okay, so maybe yearlings will be immune to the grandeur, but they will beam with pride in later years upon their return visit to know they had already been there.) How big is it really? It’s 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, though the average width between the north and south rims is around 10 miles. At it’s deepest, from rim to river a stone would fall 6,093 feet before splashing into the Colorado River—a sparkling silver sliver that in many ways is the cause for the canyon to exist in the first place.
While the native Pueblo people have known of and inhabited in and around the Grand Canyon for thousands of years, the first European, García López de Cárdenas of Spain, came across it in 1540 and never ventured down to the river. It wasn’t visited by Europeans again for 200 years. But in 1776 European and American exploration of the area ramped up and Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell made the first river expedition through the canyon in 1869. Then in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon which led to Federal protection in 1908 as a US Monument and then as a National Park in 1919.
The majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon hit the South Rim. Lodging options near the South Rim range from the half dozen or so lodges that are actually in the park along with an RV park and a few campgrounds. Beyond the park there are hotel and motel options in the nearby towns of Tusayan (7 miles from the park), Valle (30 miles), Red Lake (43 miles), Williams (60 miles), and the nearest city is Flagstaff (80 miles).
Even with all of these options, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible, especially for lodging in the park. There is also a smaller and slightly less crowded portion of the national park on the North Rim where there is only one lodge and one campground. Outside of the park on the north side there are just a handful of hotels and motels along the road to the park
The closest towns, which have some lodging are Fredonia in Arizona (77 miles) and Kanab, Utah (84 miles). There are also a few established campgrounds on the north and south side of the canyon and there is also the option of dispersed camping in the Kaibab National Forest for completely self-sufficient travellers.
There are so many ways to enjoy the Grand Canyon, even as a multi-generational family. Here’s a quick breakdown:
While the North Rim is primarily a self-drive (or road bike) area, the South Rim offers a shuttle system and has a number of bike specific pathways which help alleviate traffic during the peak season. Two of the four shuttles run all year and some areas are only accessible by shuttle, especially during the peak season of March through November. There’s even a shuttle that comes into the park from Tusayan to serve those lodging options.