Great Grand Canyon Tours
For moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life, here are tours that will immerse you in the miracle of Grand Canyon.
A scene from the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation captured a classic cinematic moment as Chevy Chase races to the rim of Grand Canyon, joins his wife, peers across the void, and a moment later races back to his car.
While few visits are that brief, in some ways it mirrors reality. Rumor has it some visitors will spend 20 minutes observing the Grand Canyon before retreating to a gift shop for an hour. Although good news for merchants, the timeline shortchanges visitors who may not appreciate they’re at the doorstep of one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Sure, it can take some tech-focused guests time to adjust, but the key to getting the most out of a visit is simply recognizing Grand Canyon isn’t virtual reality. It is reality. Larger-than-life reality. For moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life, here are tours that will immerse you in the miracle of the Grand Canyon.
Sunrise or Sunset
For the morning tour, you’ll have to be ready to go 30 minutes before sunrise, which, depending on the season, could be as early as 4:30 a.m. (summertime) or as late as 7 a.m. (winter). Sunset tours likewise require setting out 30 minutes in advance.
On board the 90-minute bus tours, en route west to Hopi Point or nearby overlooks, guides steep passengers in information about the canyon’s natural history.
Visitors have been known to burst into tears when they approach the Grand Canyon for the very first time, but even longtime visitors display a similar reaction as they watch the soft glow of daybreak or fiery finish to the day. Enhancing the canyon’s majesty, hues of pink, red, orange and blue accent formations highlighted by sun and shadow.
While Sunrise/Sunset tours are technically motorcoach tours, variations offered throughout the day highlight far-flung areas of the canyon (while also allowing you to sleep in).
Especially popular with passengers arriving on a one-day visit via the Grand Canyon Railway, the Desert View Tour offers a generous four hours to appreciate the park. Covering 52 miles on a round trip to the East Rim, you’ll take in views of the Colorado River from spectacular viewpoints and, ultimately, Desert View where Mary J. Colter’s Hopi-inspired stone Watchtower is one of the canyon’s iconic landmarks. Climb to the top for spectacular vistas.
Heading as far west as possible by road, the guided tour to Hermits Rest is a 16-mile round trip that follows the wagon road taken by tourists in carriages more than a century ago. Revealing the width and breadth of pioneering architect Mary J. Colter’s influence (she was considered “The Architect of the Southwest”), Hermits Rest is the bookend of her dramatic Watchtower. Designed as if it was the refuge of a lone prospector, the rustic outpost opened in 1914, after Colter supervised its construction.
Can’t decide on just one tour? Choose Desert View and then add a Hermits Rest, Sunrise, or Sunset Tour at a special price combination.
If you only take one helicopter ride in your lifetime, Grand Canyon is a great place to do it. The sensation of speeding over the land, approaching the rim, and then slipping past the edge in a straight shot toward the opposite side sparks an instant surge of adrenalin paired with an overwhelming sense of awe.
The flight also offers a lesson in perspective. Taking in a Cinemascope view of the canyon as you fly across at roughly 100 miles per hour, you would assume it would take just seconds to arrive at the other side. Actually, the canyon is so wide, the crossing can take 10 minutes or more. Further illustrating the point are views of the Colorado River, which appears like a squirt gun stream a mile below. Unforgettable.
A number of companies offer helicopter tours departing from either Las Vegas or the South Rim.
Mules and the Grand Canyon are inseparable, making this experience perhaps one of the most desired of all tours. Guided rides have attracted visitors for well more than a century, captivating guests who see a new perspective with every step while also marveling at the mule’s strength (they are three times stronger than a horse), its vision (mules can actually see their back legs), and its sure-footedness (their feet are about as wide as dinner plates).
Some riders are content to get in some saddle time on the Canyon Vistas Rim Ride on the perimeter of the East Rim, a three-hour experience (including two hours in the saddle)
with wranglers offering lessons in geologic formations, human history, how the canyon was created, and more. Others make this the adventure of a lifetime as they ride clear to the canyon floor, a vertical mile beneath the rim, for an evening or two at the renowned Phantom Ranch. The Overnight Rides to Phantom Ranch down the Bright Angel Trail take nearly six hours, including rest stops. Reservations are required for mule rides and riders must weigh less than 200 pounds for the Phantom Ranch ride and 225 pounds for the Canyon Vistas.
Just as the railroad reveals a land few others see, a rafting trip opens a window on a seldom-seen perspective of the Grand Canyon; one that is, in effect, a reverse view of the natural wonder. That’s enough to place the day-long Canyon River Adventure on the Colorado River among the park’s most desired tours. In addition, three- to 18-day professionally guided rafting trips are available from a number of companies. Camping on a sandbar, taking photos of waterfalls and surreal rock formations, savoring long stretches of a gently flowing river while anticipating the rocketing blasts of whitewater ahead is a sensation relatively few people experience.
But you can do all of this and more when you join any of the Grand Canyon’s unforgettable tours.
How to Explore
There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic train to Grand Canyon. Travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. The Grand Canyon Railway has been departing daily from Williams, Ariz., since 1901. Spend a night in Williams next door to the train depot at the AAA Three Diamond Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Just walking distance from quaint downtown Williams and Route 66, the modern hotel has a grand lobby, indoor pool and hot tub as well as Spenser’s Pub with its handcrafted 19th-century bar. Packages with train travel and overnight stays in Grand Canyon National Park and Williams are available. Visit TheTrain.com for more information.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.