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Many visitors arrive at the rim, snap a selfie and call it an afternoon, but there’s really no good way to fully experience the National Grand Canyon Park in a single day. Instead, give yourself a little time to really soak up its sublime beauty with these recommendations for hikes around various parts of its 1,904 square miles of awesomeness—with or without a backpack and tent. Each of these suggested stays takes into account how much time you have, and whether you want things easy, rugged or in between. And remember, because of the Grand Canyon’s popularity, accommodations, guided tours and rafting expeditions fill up quickly in summer, so book early.

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Mather Point, just behind the huge Visitor Center on the South Rim, offers a jaw-dropping view ten miles across the monumental slash in the earth’s crust that exposes 258-million-year-old limestone walls several thousand feet deep. Take the shuttle to Hermits Rest, or walk ¾ of a mile on the Rim Trail to Yavapai Point. If you have more time, the rocky trail continues another seven miles, with a new vista at each step.

Sunsets at any of these spots are spectacular, as is the view from Cape Royal, a four-hour drive to the North Rim, where knowledgeable visitors go to escape the South Rim crowds.  The Cape Royal Trail is an easy one-hour round trip hike on a mostly flat, paved trail, with views of the canyon and the Colorado River far below. The Roosevelt Point Trail is even shorter, and opens from shaded woodland to wide-open vistas.

Rangers also lead day hikes and shorter walks on the South Rim year-round, and on the North Rim between mid-May and mid-October, when it’s open to visitors. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some of the 500-ish bison who roam the North Rim.

While there are water stations sprinkled throughout the park, they are miles apart and some are not available year-round, so you should be prepared with a full canteen.  And sturdy shoes.  And sunscreen.

Avoid parking by leaving your car at Tusayan, a small town seven miles south of Grand Canyon Village, and take the free shuttle to the Visitor Center, which runs every 20 minutes during summer.  Or, take the Grand Canyon Railway, between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim.  It’s a scenic two-hour ride each way, but gives you just under four hours to inhale the views inside the park.

The premier place to stay inside the park is at the historic 78-room El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim. Since its 1905 debut it has hosted such legendary people as Albert Einstein and Sir Paul McCartney.

Skywalk glass observation

The Skywalk at Eagle Point is a marvel of engineering, a steel and glass semi-circle cantilevering out from the rim of the West Canyon, nearly a mile above the canyon floor.  Although it’s said to be strong enough to support the weight of a few dozen Boeing 747s, it’s still smart to hold onto the railings while you look out over the side or down through the glass floor. The small museum at the entrance focuses on the local Hualapai and Havasupai tribes who have lived in the canyon for thousands of years.

Day-trips on the Colorado River happen in motorized pontoon boats that includes family-friendly rapids and a hike into picturesque Travertine Canyon Falls. The two-day weekend trip adds overnight camping at Spencer Canyon.

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Experienced backpackers carrying their own gear share the popular —and difficult—Bright Angel Trail with pack mules toting supplies for the less hardy. It’s a nine-mile slog along steep switchbacks to the canyon floor, with a 4,300-foot elevation change. Tour operators such as Wildland Trekking, offer 3-4 day trips, including camping gear, meals and guided day hikes to waterfalls and scenic overlooks.

Havasu Falls

Another option is to hike the 10-plus miles into Havasu Canyon, one of more than 600 side canyons, with Arizona Outdoor Adventures.  You’ll spend four days swimming in the blue-green pools below Navajo Falls and Havasu Falls, two of four major waterfalls in the Canyon, and taking day hikes through lush cottonwoods and fording creeks to branches of the Colorado River. Havasu Falls is a marvel, tumbling 100-feet down a pink-orange cliff wall into multiple hot tub-sized plunge pools. Havasu Canyon is just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon Nation Park, within the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The hike in and out passes a village of farms, cattle and horses.

The bucket-list Grand Canyon trip is two weeks paddling the 188-mile full-length of the Colorado River, through heart-stopping whitewater rapids, hiking into side canyons, and camping out along the river. Most canyoneers opt for the seven-day portion between Lees Ferry and Phantom Ranch, which includes 19 major rapids.  OARS offers trips from 4 to 15 days, and each overnight is accompanied by a brilliant canopy of stars and planets, far from civilization’s light pollution.

Tagged: Arizona

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is

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