Carved by the Colorado River snaking through northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon National Park's mile-deep, 277-mile-long chasm reveals nature's sheer force with its towering buttes, pinnacles and mesas. Rippling rock faces glow at sunrise and sunset while the life cycle of tiny ant lions and 1,000-pound elks keeps turning against a two billion-year backdrop. It's humbling. Whether you choose the accessibility of the South Rim's 25-mile Desert View Drive or the wild solitude of the North Rim (open May to October), the seventh natural wonder is just that -- wonderful.
The canyon views are always astonishing on day hikes like the popular, well-graded Rim Trail and Bright Angel Trail, and the more challenging North Kaibab Trail. Backcountry hikers explore the solitude and silence of the Inner Canyon. Or tackle the Colorado River's foaming rapids on a rafting trip. Closed to most vehicles in summer, cyclists rule on Hermit Road. Plan carefully, as distances are immense and most activities require pre-booking.
Stop at the South Rim Visitor Center to learn about the free Ranger Programs, such as full moon walks and geology talks. The Grand Canyon Field Institute runs expert guided tours from backcountry hiking to rafting and family walks. If you don't fancy hiking, befriend a mule for a guided half-day trek to Uncle Jim Point or an overnight ride to Phantom Ranch. Helicopter rides, based outside of the park, afford a bird's-eye perspective.
Camping and Dining
Whether you want a luxurious, historic hunting-lodge or a campground by the Colorado River, you'll need to book up to 12 months ahead in summer. South Rim has the most overnight options. A prime picnic spot is Vista Encantada but to try the best pies in Arizona call into the Pine Country Restaurant in Williams. See the canyon change colors like a mood ring as you tuck into a juicy buffalo steak on the North Rim.