The Perfect Trip Through Arizona’s Grand Canyon Country
The definitive guide to experiencing Arizona's stunning canyons for yourself.
From the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon to the sparkling turquoise waters of Lake Powell, Northern Arizona delights solo travelers, couples and families alike. The best part? The mild year-round weather makes it the perfect escape from those brutal northern winters.
Knowing where and how to travel across Northern Arizona’s nearly 400 miles (east to west) can feel daunting to even the savviest road-tripper. To help break it down, here are some of the region’s best and must-see sights.
Gateway to the Grand Canyon
Start your journey in iconic Williams. This small town with a big heart is known as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon," but don't be fooled into thinking that's all it is. Nestled in Arizona Pine Country, Williams is a charming escape brimming with things to see and do. In the words of local historian Jim Harvey, "Williams is the real thing."
Route 66 history buffs can get their kicks along the storied highway's best-preserved stretch, reveling in a slice of midcentury Americana with soda fountains, neon lights, classic cars and quirky vintage shops.
Be sure to take the whole family when you visit the nearby Bearizona Wildlife Park, where you can get up close and personal with the animals from the safety of your car. Get to know majestic bison, rugged mountain goats and the whimsical black bears that are the park's namesake. Guided bus tours are also available, offering a windowless view of the animals. Regular feedings make sure all the creatures get nice and close.
And those of you looking to de-stress with a few rounds of golf will find the perfect sanctuary in the lush, pine-rimmed championship course at Elephant Rocks Golf Course.
When you're done soaking up all the fun, hop aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, departing daily from downtown Williams. Since 1901 this train has transported travelers on an enchanted journey to the heart of one of the seven natural wonders of the world—the one and only Grand Canyon National Park. Step into the past in one of the train's lovingly restored passenger cars and witness authentic characters and musicians who bring the Old West to life. The good-for-nothing Cataract Creek Gang has even been known to rob a train or two as it makes its way to the canyon.
The Grand Canyon's most famous views
With more than five million visitors a year, Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim is the most visited side of the canyon, and it's easy to see why. You may already know that watching the sunset over the rim is considered a must—one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But do you know that the South Rim has multiple viewpoints from which you can view the canyon?
Near the train station, both Kolb and Lookout studios offer scenic vistas. Or, dine at one of El Tovar Hotel's restaurants and enjoy your view with a good meal. Mather Point and the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum are notable sights toward the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, on the opposite end of the rim.
When you're ready to get a closer look, hike the Bright Angel trail or take a traditional mule ride down to the Colorado River and watch the climate, wildlife and topography change with the elevation. Other options include mountain biking, horseback riding, Jeep tours, white water rafting trips and even skydiving for you daredevils out there. See "Awesome Grand Canyon Fun for Families" for even more ideas for an adventuresome good time.
Tip: Summer at the South Rim can be jam-packed, with large crowds and full parking lots. Our best advice is to arrive at the entrance gate before 9 a.m. You can avoid the long gate lines entirely by parking in the nearby town of Tusayan and riding the free shuttle, which drops you off at the visitor center.
Soar above, or raft below, the canyon on the West Rim
Four hours west, via I-40 and thru the towns of Williams and Kingman, you’ll find Grand Canyon West, a separate park owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. This side of the canyon is known for the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that juts out nearly 69 feet over the canyon, allowing visitors to stare straight down into the depths for a unique view.
Keep the adrenaline going with a one- or two-day rafting trip with Hualapai River Runners on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Along with thrilling whitewater rapids, the trips come complete with hiking at Travertine Cavern Falls, local wildlife viewing, lunch along the banks of the river and an exciting helicopter ride from the river up to Grand Canyon West. Or, instead of going deeper into the canyon, go higher and soar 500 feet above a spectacular side canyon on a zipline.
Because the Hualapai Tribe operates Grand Canyon West, you'll get the chance to learn about the traditions of the canyon's first human inhabitants. Sample dishes inspired by the Hualapai, such as pan-seared quail with roasted squash and prickly pear gastrique; watch gorgeous traditional dances; and pick up a beautiful piece of Hualapai art to remember your trip.
Tribal lands and Arizona's other grand canyons
Though not as grand in name as the Grand Canyon, the canyons in northeastern Arizona are still noteworthy—and just as spectacular. Set up base camp in Page, and make sure your phone has enough battery life for all the pictures you'll take. From there, it's just a short drive to the sapphire skies and red rocks of magnificent Lake Powell. Relax lakeside before hiking to the incredibly photogenic (and Instagram-famous) Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River just south of town.
While in Page, you're practically at the Navajo Nation's doorstep. Tag along on a guided trip through some of the sacred sites on their land, including Antelope Canyon and Canyon De Chelly. Not only will you see the gorgeous views and awe-inspiring landscape, but you'll also come to understand why the Navajo people revere this land, and no doubt, you'll come to respect it, too. Head to Tuba City and visit the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum. Created with the help of leading Navajo scholars, the museum provides an extraordinary look at the Navajo people's society, accomplishments and historic contributions
Explore more than canyons, with a dash of history
Arizona's stunningly beautiful canyons were formed over millions of years. Still, there's one geological feature just outside Flagstaff that was created in an instant.
Fifty-thousand years ago, a meteorite crashed into Earth, leaving a massive crater in its aftermath. Meteor Crater, the cavernous one-mile-wide hole that remains, is the best-preserved meteorite crater in the world. Today, visitors can take a guided tour or walk a self-guided trail to learn about this natural wonder.
Whatever your dream Northern Arizona vacation looks like, the wild red canyons, towering pines and glittering blue waters await you.
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