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Your bucket list isn’t complete until you visit the Grand Canyon. This big hole in the earth is so much more — it’s not named one of the seven wonders of the natural world for nothing.
There are tons of activities here to delight the entire family, including all ages and physical ability levels. Adrenaline junkies will find no shortage of ways to test their mettle, man versus nature style. Those with more introspective, artistic or spiritual proclivities will delight in the gorgeous and inspiring scenery, including ample locations for private meditations.
Are you ready to plan your trip? Here are eight must-see ideas for what to do at the Grand Canyon.
1. Hike Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel is the Grand Canyon’s most popular trail for several reasons. Although challenging in parts, it’s accessible to nearly anyone, thanks to the wide lanes that keep you from getting too perilously close to the edge. Looking into the abyss is enough to give the most sure-footed a touch of vertigo, but you’ll find small rock barriers along much of the descent to keep you on course.
Best of all, you can go short or long — although you should not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day. Each year, 11 people die in the Grand Canyon, often from heat exhaustion. Fortunately, you’ll find ample turnaround checkpoints along the descent, including the first tunnel, which only takes 20 minutes to reach.
Please bring plenty of water, especially if you’re from the east coast or Pacific Northwest, where hiking means shade cover. You won’t find much of that in the Canyon, and the sun can dehydrate you in a jiffy.
2. Get Vertigo on the Skywalk
Are you afraid of heights? If you want a safe adrenaline rush, add the Skywalk to your what to do at the Grand Canyon itinerary. You’ll experience what it’s like to be a bird, soaring 4,000 feet above the canyon floor while looking through the bottom of the glass walkway.
Please don’t worry about the glass breaking. This structure is sturdy enough to support 70 fully loaded 747 passenger jets. However, you won’t be the first person to hustle back to good, old-fashioned land once you get a glimpse of the vertigo-inducing view.
3. Brave the Rapids on the Colorado River
The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon, and it’s known for its rapids. The Grand Canyon uses a one to ten rating scale instead of the traditional five, with most waters falling between two and six. However, there are plenty of rough spots to elevate your heart rate and test your skills.
You can recreate part of the journey of John Wesley Powell, the man credited with first exploring this mighty river. Most reservations include several nights of camping, so book your trip early to ensure a slot.
4. Get Spiritual at Havasu Falls
If there were a contest for the most beautiful place on earth, Havasu Falls would easily break the top five if not come home with the prize. The waters here are so pristine you can drink from them, and the Havasupai tribe limits visitor traffic and places strict restrictions on human activities to keep it that way.
If you’re brave, climb down to the bottom of Mooney Falls, which requires you to descend a chain fastened to the rock cliff. Otherwise, kick back and relax in one of the many pools that form natural spas near the main falls. The tribe closed visitor traffic during the pandemic but intends to reopen in 2023, so get your reservations early — as much as a year in advance.
5. Count Elk From the Porch of Your North Rim Cabin
If relaxation is the name of your game, the North Rim should be your summer getaway spot. Although it’s only open late April through September, you’ll find plenty to do hiking the many trails in the warm season — and you won’t get nearly as sweaty as you will in other locations.
The North Rim features hotel-style lodging, but for the ultimate experience, spring for one of their many guest cabins. You can sit on your porch in the evening playing cards with the family and counting the multiple elk who stroll by. There is also a campground available for those who prefer to rough it.
6. Ride a Mule Into the Abyss
Have you ever ridden a mule? These creatures are more sure-footed than horses, making them the ideal way to descend the Bright Angel trail if you don’t want to use your two feet.
Riding these beauties is a blast, but there is a weight limit. Those over 200 pounds will have to find an alternative means to take in the spectacular vista.
7. Take a Helicopter Tour for a Bird’s Eye View
One way to skip the mule ride weight limit is to hop aboard a bird. You’ll find plenty of helicopter tours where you can get the most stunning aerial photographs.
Be ready with the scrapbook when folks ask what you did at the Grand Canyon. Your guide will fill you in on area lore, letting you spread the educational love.
8. Enjoy Fine Dining at El Tovar
All that outdoor adventuring helps you work up a powerful appetite. You’ll be in good company when you dine at El Tovar. Previous attendees have included President Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Paul McCartney.
You can feel good about your order. The Restaurant at El Tovar is a green-certified establishment. Although breakfast, lunch and the lounge allow casual dress, you’ll want to bring one nice outfit among your shorts and boots if you plan to make dinner reservations.
What to Do at the Grand Canyon
Did you think this destination was little more than a pretty hole in the ground? Think again. You can plan the adventure of a lifetime when you know what to do at the Grand Canyon.
Consider the above suggestions when making your itinerary. There’s so much to do at the Grand Canyon, you might decide this bucket list item warrants more than one trip.