Rather leave the driving to someone else so you can enjoy the scenery? Opt for a bus or van tour of the Grand Canyon with Xanterra South Rim (www.grandcanyonlodges.com; tel. 888/297-2757, 303/297-2757 outside the U.S., 928/638-2631 for same-day reservations). To book these, call the numbers listed, or stop by the transportation desks at Bright Angel, Maswik, or Yavapai lodges in Grand Canyon Village. You’ll pay $27.50 for a 1 1/2-hour sunrise or sunset tour, $36 for a Hermit’s Rest tour, $65 for a Desert View tour, or $80 for a combination of any two tours.
Trail Rides by Mule & Horse
Mule rides into the canyon have been popular since the beginning of the 20th century, when the Bright Angel Trail was a toll road. After looking at the steep drop-offs and narrow path of the Bright Angel Trail, you might decide this isn’t exactly the place to trust your life to a mule. Never fear: Wranglers will quickly reassure that you they haven’t lost a rider yet. Three-hour mule rides meander along the Rim through the forest to eventually arrive at the Abyss, a spectacular viewpoint along Hermit Road. Overnight mule trips go all the way down to the canyon floor at Phantom Ranch, where cabins and dormitories are available. From November to March, a 2-night Phantom Ranch trip is offered; other times of year, you’ll ride down one day and back up the next. Mule trips range from $143 for the 3-hour ride, to $600 for an overnight ride, to $863 for the 2-night ride. Couples get discounts on overnight rides. Riders must be at least 9 years old; weigh less than 200 pounds fully dressed; be at least 4 feet, 7 inches tall; and speak and understand English fluently. Pregnant women are not allowed. Especially in summer, these rides often book up 6 months or more in advance (you can make reservations up to 13 months ahead). For more information or to make a reservation, contact Xanterra Parks & Resorts (www.grandcanyonlodges.com; tel. 888/297-2757 or 303/297-2757). For last-minute bookings (up to 5 days ahead of your desired date), contact Xanterra South Rim at its Arizona phone number (tel. 928/638-2631) on the remote chance that there’s space available. If you arrive at the canyon without a reservation, stop by the Bright Angel Transportation Desk and put your name on the next day’s waiting list. Hey, you never know.
For more casual horseback riding outside of the Canyon, head to Apache Stables (www.apachestables.com; tel. 928/638-2891), located outside the park a mile north of Tusayan on Moqui Drive. A 1-hour ride costs $52.50, a 2-hour ride is $92.50. There are also wagon rides and campfire rides (be sure to bring something to cook over the fire). The stables are closed in winter.
The Grand Canyon Railway
In the early 20th century, most visitors to the Grand Canyon arrived by train, and it’s still possible to travel to the canyon along the steel rails. The Grand Canyon Railway (www.thetrain.com; tel. 800/843-8724 or 303/843-8724) runs from Williams to Grand Canyon Village, using either diesel engines or, occasionally, early-20th-century steam engines (they now run on waste vegetable oil). Trains depart from the Williams Depot, housed in the historic 1908 Fray Marcos Hotel, which also has a railroad museum, gift shop, and cafe. (Grand Canyon Railway also operates the adjacent Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.) At Grand Canyon Village, trains stop at the 1910 log railway terminal in front of El Tovar Hotel.
There are four classes of service to choose from: coach, first class, observation dome (upstairs in the dome car), and luxury parlor class. Actors posing as cowboys provide entertainment aboard the train. It’s 8-hours round-trip, including a 3 1/4- to 3 3/4-hour layover at the canyon. Round-trip fares (not including tax or the national park entrance fee) range from $67 to $219 for adults, $25.50 to $120 for children 2 to 12.
Not only is this a fun, scenic trip, it also avoids the traffic congestion and parking problems in Grand Canyon Village. When booking your train trip, you can also book a bus tour in the park, which will help you make the most of your limited time on the Rim. Or, if you want, book a room/train package so you can stay overnight in the park.
Tip for families: In November, December, and January, the railway runs a Polar Express service to “the North Pole,” complete with a visit from Santa.
Any number of interpretive programs are scheduled throughout the year at various South Rim locations. Ranger-led walks explore different aspects of the canyon, from nature hikes to fossil trips to guided tours of the Tusayan Ruin; rangers also give geology talks, lecture on the cultural and natural resources of the canyon, and hold stargazing gatherings. Many programs are held at Mather Point Amphitheater and the Shrine of the Ages. Consult your copy of The Guide for information on times and meeting points.
The Grand Canyon Field Institute
If you’re the active type or want more of an educational experience, consider a trip with the Grand Canyon Field Institute (www.grandcanyon.org/classes-tours; tel. 866/471-4435 or 928/638-2485). Co-sponsored by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Association, the Field Institute schedules a wide variety of guided educational trips, such as challenging backpacking trips through the canyon (some for women only) and programs lasting anywhere from a day to more than a week. Subjects covered include wilderness studies, geology, natural history, human history, photography, and art.
To explore parts of Grand Canyon National Park that most visitors never see, contact Grand Canyon Jeep Tours & Safaris (www.grandcanyonjeeptours.com; tel. 800/320-5337 or 928/638-5337), which offers three different tours visiting the park and the adjacent Kaibab National Forest. Prices range from $79 to $95 for adults and $69 to $80 for children.
Rafting the Colorado River
Ever since John Wesley Powell proved it was possible to travel by boat down the tumultuous Colorado, running the big river has beckoned adventurers. Today, anyone from grade-schoolers to grandmothers can join the ranks of those who’ve made the run. However, be prepared for some of the most furious white water in the world.
Numerous companies offer trips through various sections of the canyon. You can spend as little as half a day on the Colorado (downstream from Glen Canyon Dam) or more than 2 weeks. You can go down the river in a huge motorized rubber raft (the quickest and noisiest way to see the entire canyon), a paddle- or oar-powered raft (more thrills and, if you have to help paddle, more of a workout), or a wooden dory (the biggest thrill of all). In a motorized raft, you can travel from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead in 8 days; if you opt for a dory or an oar- or paddle-powered raft, expect to spend 5 to 6 days getting from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, or 7 to 9 days from Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek, just above Lake Mead. You can also hike in or out of Phantom Ranch for a combination rafting-and-hiking adventure. Aside from the half-day trips near Glen Canyon Dam, any Grand Canyon rafting trip will involve lots of monster rapids.
Most trips start from Lees Ferry near Page and Lake Powell. The main rafting season is April through October, but some companies operate year-round. Rafting trips tend to book up more than a year in advance; some companies begin taking reservations as early as January for the following year’s trips. A few rafting trips charge as little as $250 per day, but most fall in the $300 to $350 per day range; rates depend on the length of the trip and the type of boat used.
The following companies are well established in guiding visitors down the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon:
* Arizona Raft Adventures, 4050 E. Huntington Rd., Flagstaff (www.azraft.com; tel. 800/786-7238 or 928/526-8200); 6- to 16-day motor, oar, and paddle trips. Although this is not one of the larger companies operating on the river, it offers lots of different trips, including some focusing on natural history and others that double as yoga workshops. They also do trips in paddle rafts that allow you to help navigate and provide the power while shooting the canyon’s rapids.
* Canyoneers, P.O. Box 2997, Flagstaff (www.canyoneers.com; tel. 800/525-0924 or 928/526-0924); 3- to 10-day motorized-raft trips and 6- to 14-day oar-powered trips. Way back in 1938, this was the first company to take paying customers down the Colorado, and Canyoneers is still one of the top companies on the river.
* Grand Canyon Expeditions Company, P.O. Box O, Kanab, Utah (www.gcex.com; tel. 800/544-2691 or 435/644-2691); 8- and 9-day motorized trips and 14- and 16-day dory trips. If you’ve got the time, these dory trips are a fine homage to John Wesley Powell’s expedition 150 years ago; they’re among the most thrilling adventures in the world.
* Grand Canyon Whitewater, 1000 N. Humphreys St. Suite 202, Flagstaff (www.grandcanyonwhitewater.com; tel. 800/343-3121 or 928/779-2979); 4- to 8-day motorized-raft trips and 5- to 13-day oar trips.
* Hatch River Expeditions, 5348 E. Burris Lane, Flagstaff (www.hatchriverexpeditions.com; tel. 800/856-8966 or 928/526-4700); 4- to 8-day motorized trips and 6-, 7-, and 12-day oar trips. All of this company’s trips, except their upper-canyon expedition, end with a helicopter flight out of the canyon. In business since 1929, Hatch River claims to be the oldest commercial rafting company in the U.S. With so much experience, you can count on Hatch to provide a great trip.
* Outdoors Unlimited, 6900 Townsend Winona Rd., Flagstaff (www.outdoorsunlimited.com; tel. 800/637-7238); 5- to 15-day oar and paddle trips. This company has been taking people through the canyon for more than 40 years and usually sends them home very happy.
* Wilderness River Adventures, P.O. Box 717, Page (www.riveradventures.com; tel. 800/992-8022); 3- to 8-day motorized-raft trips and 5- to 14-day oar trips. The 4-day trips (actually 3[bf]1/2 days) involve hiking out from Phantom Ranch. This is one of the bigger companies operating on the canyon, offering a wide variety of trips—it’s a good place to start if you’re not sure what type of trip you want to do.
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.