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Ranger Programs & Organized Tours

The park offers a host of seasonal ranger programs. A typical schedule includes daily guided hikes and walks, kids' programs, and discussions of geology, native plant and animal species, and natural and cultural history. Evening programs are offered nightly, year-round on the South Rim. All programs are free and open to everyone; just show up at the meeting places, which are scattered around the park (overlooks, trail heads, archaeological sites, and so on). For an up-to-date schedule, consult the park's newspaper, The Guide, or stop in at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the South Rim, or at the North Rim Visitor Center.

Bus Tours

Of the many private companies that offer bus tours, Xanterra presents the largest number of options. Among the tour choices are Desert View Tour (East Rim) and Hermits Rest Tour ($45 and $26, respectively, for adults; free for those 15 and under), sunset tours ($21), sunrise tours ($21) to one of several rim stops, and all-day outings that combine Desert View Drive with any other tour ($58). Unlike the free shuttles, these buses run on natural gas and Xanterra's drivers narrate the tours. Though they mean well and offer some valuable information, these guides were not hired for their command of natural science and history but rather for their educational entertainment. For advance reservations, call tel. 888/297-2757, or visit www.grandcanyonlodges.com. Once at the canyon, visit the transportation desks at Yavapai, Maswik, or Bright Angel lodges, or call tel. 928/638-2631, ext. 6015, to make reservations.

Open Road Tours (tel. 855/563-8830; www.openroadtoursusa.com) offers 1-day guided tours to the Grand Canyon's East Rim and Cameron Trading Post departing from Flagstaff at 9:30am and returning by 5:30pm. The cost is $95 for adults, $55 for children 11 and under.

Air Tours

A handful of companies, all based at Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan, offer scenic airplane or helicopter rides over the canyon. With hundreds of thousands of people taking air tours over the canyon every year, the flights, which generate a great deal of noise in parts of the park and have raised safety concerns following a few crashes over the years, have become a politically charged issue. The use of quieter technology is being considered.

For many vacationers, however, the question is not whether to fly, but whether to take an airplane or a helicopter. The airplane flights, by and large, last longer and cost less. Most airplane tours remain airborne for 40 to 50 minutes and cost about $145 per person; most helicopter tours fly for 25 to 50 minutes, and range from $175 to $260. The planes also cover more ground, crossing the canyon near Hermits Rest and returning along the East Rim, near Desert View. The shorter helicopter tours, meanwhile, usually fly out and back in the same corridor near Hermits Rest (though some do go for the full loop). The helicopters cruise lower -- just above the rim. And while they're not immune to an occasional bump, they tend to be smoother. (Tip: Whether you take an airplane or a helicopter, go early in the day for a smoother flight.)

The following companies offer air tours originating from Tusayan: Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters (tel. 800/528-2418; www.papillon.com); Maverick Helicopters (tel. 800/962-3869; www.maverickhelicopter.com); Grand Canyon Airlines (tel. 866/235-9422; www.grandcanyonairlines.com); and Scenic Airlines (tel. 800/634-6801; www.scenic.com). Some of these companies also offer longer, more expensive tours that combine flights with short river cruises and lunch.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.