Millions of visitors have stepped up to its edge and gazed into its mile-deep abyss, spellbound by its vibrant reds, spectacular sunsets and towering rock formations. But the Grand Canyon, one of America’s most celebrated national parks, moves each of us uniquely.
Here are five definitive Grand Canyon experiences, whether you’re visiting for the first time, reacquainting yourself with its majesty or introducing your family to its timeless grandeur:
1. Arrive by Rail
Climb aboard the Grand Canyon Railway for a scenic ride past prairies to a spectacular view of the South Rim. “We back you right into the depot here,” says Bernie Hiemenz, train conductor. “Get off, and you’re about a couple hundred feet from the rim.”
2. Engage Your Senses
Once there, you’ll get a chance to soak in the views and peaceful atmosphere so quiet you can hear the rapids of the Colorado River a mile below. It is said that there are no bad views of the Grand Canyon. “I have seen people break down in tears when they see Grand Canyon,” says Emily Davis, park ranger. “They look out at this landscape, and they don’t have words for it.”
3. Relive History
America’s past comes alive in historic Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. El Tovar Hotel, a AAA Three Diamond property that was built in 1905 with local limestone and Oregon pine, offers 78 unique rooms and suites and dining overlooking the rim. Wander around Lookout Studio (1914), one of four buildings in the park designed by the inventive, early 20th-century architect Mary Jane Colter. Colter’s Lookout Studio, Hopi House and Hermit’s Rest are famous South Rim examples of Colter’s signature rustic style of using native rocks that imitate the region’s indigenous structures and blend in with the environment.
4. Take to the Sky
To fully grasp the size and splendor of the canyon, view it from a helicopter. “Via aircraft or helicopter is the only way to really get a grasp of the size of the Grand Canyon,” says Michael Pope, helicopter pilot. Experience the inside of the canyon with mule trips, guided hikes and rafting excursions on the Colorado River.
5. Celebrate the Centennial
There’s no better time to visit the natural wonder: This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. Celebrate in the American Southwest.