Groups traveling to the Grand Canyon can expect to see spectacular scenery, brilliant sunrises and sunsets, scurrying wildlife and a multitude of vegetation. Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, is one of the most impressive examples of erosion to be found anywhere with massive vistas providing breathtaking views.
But there is more to do than meets the eye. Options include hiking, live entertainment, wildlife experiences, delicious dining, a nostalgic railroad, flights and rafting. There is truly something for everyone at the Grand Canyon. Most services are found outside the South Rim.
Consider stopping at the IMAX Theatre and National Geographic’s Visitors Center in the town of Tusayan before entering the canyon. View The Hidden Secrets, a 34-minute film that penetrates the innermost depths of the Grand Canyon. Opening with the beginning of man’s fragile kinship with this twisting 277-mile phenomenon, the film focuses on the relentless quest to conquer it.
The Grand Canyon Visitor Center, located on the South Rim by Mather Point, provides visitors with information about the national park and features a large bookstore. Indoor exhibits include interpretive trip planners, The Canyon World in the new Science On a Sphere Theater®, and exhibit cubes displaying items from the park’s natural and cultural history collections. There is also a 20-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, in the Visitor Center theater. It’s just a short walk to Mather Point for an unforgettable view of the canyon.
Active groups may consider hiking the canyon. Hiking along the rim is a leisurely activity enjoyed by many. The Greenway Trail provides visitors of all physical capabilities a scenic walk. The first phase of the trail, linking the core Canyon Village area with the popular Mather viewpoint, was recently completed. The Greenway Trail is a work in progress and will be extended to provide even greater access to the rim.
Hikes below the rim, however, require preparation as they are more difficult. Day hikers often choose a portion of the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. No permits are required.
There is no better way to view the canyon than from the air. Numerous helicopter and airplane tours are available. Sail over the canyon for a bird’s-eye view of the ever-changing landscapes, temples, buttes and gorges, in light and in shadow. And in the depths of it all, one mile below, is the mighty Colorado River.
Papillion Helicopters is one of the oldest and largest helicopter touring companies in the world, offering a variety of tours from the Grand Canyon Airport. Choose from helicopter air-only flights or landing tours, airplane tours, combo tours, all-day excursions or a stunning flight to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the Havasupai Village. Soar above the North Rim and see the Dragon Corridor.
Grand Canyon Airlines has been flying visitors over the canyon since 1927. View the South and North Rims on-air only flights or visit Monument Valley and Rainbow Bridge on combination all-day excursions.
Consider experiencing the national park and Kaibab National Forest aboard an open-air, four-wheel-drive vehicle while learning about the early settlers, the cowboys, native people and wildlife. Pink Jeep Tours Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon Jeep Tours both offer tours to the best viewpoints at the South Rim, with guides providing facts about the history, geology, flora and fauna of the area.
After the sun goes down, several dining options are available. Fine dining can be found at the El Tovar Dining Room, located inside the park on the rim. Enjoy delicious food, friendly service and a rustic atmosphere. The Big E Steakhouse offers entertainment as well as great food. Named after Elling “Big E” Halvorson, who came to the Grand Canyon in 1963 and whose leadership has been instrumental in the development of many services, the Big E has live entertainment, a giant video wall and music into the night. The Wild West Revue & Medicine Show is a high-energy, multi-media adventure that’s fun for all ages. The sassy Madame de Murska and her group of world-class performers dazzle with show-stopping songs, fantastic tap dancing, magic tricks and gorgeous costumes.
Those with a full day to spare can kick back and relax on a smooth-water raft trip. Departing on motorized, 15- to 22-passenger river rafts at the base of the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., the journey covers 200 million years in a 15.5-mile river float through the most spectacular scenery of the mighty Colorado River. This placid ribbon of water leads to historic Lee’s Ferry, where the rafting experience ends.
Just one hour south of the Grand Canyon along Interstate 40 sits the Route 66 town of Williams, home to the Historic 1908 Grand Canyon Railway and Depot, including steam locomotive display, gift shop and a Wild West show. Groups can board the train to the Grand Canyon and relive the romance of the Old West aboard five distinct classes of service, including restored 1923 Harriman coach cars.
Also in Williams, Bearizona Drive-Thru Wildlife Park is another group-friendly experience. From the comfort and safety of the motorcoach, drive through the park for up-close-and-personal encounters with many different animals, from majestic bison and nimble bighorn sheep to stealthy wolves and adorable bear cubs, all in a natural environment.
So, next time a trip to the Grand Canyon is on the horizon, consider adding an extra night to fully experience all the area has to offer.
−By Sue Arko