A Practical Guide to the Grand Canyon for Your Phoenix Day Trip

Grand Canyon by Knycx Journeying The gasp moment as the helicopter entered Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Grand Canyon stretches 446 kilometers long and 29 kilometers wide, with a depth of 1.8 kilometers that compares to no other in the world. While the Grand Canyon is technically neither the biggest, the longest, nor the deepest canyon in the world, it is the grandest when we consider the size, depth, and colorful rocks combined. The spectacle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the United States, and one of the Wonders of the world.

It’s a huge undertaking to visit all the highlights in one go. Grand Canyon National Park is located in northern Arizona, and it’s the most convenient to go there from Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona. In this post, I am going to focus on the information about the South Rim within the National Park. If you are interested to know a little bit more about the other parts of the Grand Canyon, like the Grand Canyon West, check out:  Beyond Las Vegas Strip: to Grand Canyon West, so you have information about what to expect when you are planning your journey.

Gand Canyon

Why Grand Canyon?

To be honest, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder in the world that requires no explanation for you to be there and see it for yourself. However, allow me to paint a picture of the amazing canyon: a world-class spectacle with an overwhelming size that for sure will take your breath away from every angle as you are looking at it. The intricate layers of rocks, colorful landscapes, and azure Colorado River that flows subtly at the bottom of the canyon create a unique and stunning scenery that you will never forget. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

I have been to a few other canyons like the Kings Canyon in Australia, and the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa, they are both magnificent, and they have some interesting characteristics, like the ripples on the rocks of Kings Canyon was really fascinating. But still, the Grand Canyon is a trademark that comes to everyone’s mind whenever we are talking about the word, “Canyon”. Besides, the Grand Canyon is a well-developed tourist attraction, making it a breeze for tourists to visit there from all over the world, and to do things around. The national park is only a few hour’s drives from Phoenix, and Flagstaff, AZ has an international airport that is only 1.5 hours away from the South Rim. The national park has tourist facilities that fit different types of visitors. No matter if you are looking for an active adventure or a relaxed travel experience, a luxury resort or a good-value lodge, a 1-day excursion, or a week-long road trip, the Canyon has something to offer.

Lastly, there are just so many things to see and do to keep you occupied, the only problem you will have is too little time. There are numerous hiking trails and campsites in the national park with different levels of difficulty for all sorts of travelers. For a more “fancy” experience, take a helicopter or a scenic airplane ride if you want to view the Canyon from the sky, or hop on an expedition cruise if you want to see it from below. For a more “active” choice, go river rafting or rock climbing and get closer to the wilderness. After all, these, take an excursion or carry on your road trip to the many landmarks and iconic locations like the Grand Canyon West, and  Grand Canyon; the Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Valley, and Lake Powell, or even the Zion National Park and Bryce. I guess what I am saying is, that the possibility is endless and no matter what activities you ended up choosing, you will only feel that one trip is not enough.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

Grand Canyon 101

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USAI think the first thing you should know about the Grand Canyon is that the Canyon lies within the southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau, and it only covers a portion of the entire desert region with an area of over 336,000 square kilometers in four states of the US: Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. The high desert is nicknamed the “Red Rock Country”, featuring all sorts of red rock formations and landscapes like domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, river narrows, (of course) canyons, and so many more. Therefore, you may have seen a lot of pictures of this area without knowing that a lot of these places aren’t actually situated in the Grand Canyon that we all know and love. In fact, the Colorado Plateau has the highest concentration of National Parks in the US and there are nine: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Petrified Forest. Some famous spots like the Horseshoe Bend and the Antelope Canyon are located near the town of Page in Arizona, often referred to as the “East Rim” of the Grand Canyon; The Wave, Arizona, is a sandstone rock formation at the border of Arizona and Utah, on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness; the Monument Valley is a region located at the border of Utah and Arizona that’s an approximate 4-hour drive away from the Grand Canyon National Park.

So what’s the Grand Canyon National Park? The national park is an area of roughly 5,000 square kilometers in northern Arizona, which contains a number of the Kaibab National Forest, Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, the Hualapai Indian Reservation, the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and the Navajo Nation. The main areas of the park are the North Rim and the South Rim, looking at each other across the canyon. The only way to go from one side to the other is to drive around the canyon, and they are 340 kilometers away from each other. That’s why the South Rim accounts for over 90% of park visitation because it’s closer to Phoenix.

The national park was established in 1919, welcoming 6 million visitors (the second most visited in the United States) each year. In 1979, the park was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gand Canyon

Grand Canyon, do you know?

For a place with such enormous scale and size, of course, it is filled with trivia and fun facts that tourists may or may not know. I am always open to learning more, so you are welcome to contribute your “Grand Canyon, do you know” by commenting below, I will be checking and including them if I found your entry interesting!

Size: While the Grand Canyon is not the biggest national park in the country, it’s among one of the biggest with an area of 5,000 square kilometers. Just how big it is? Death Valley National Park is about 13,000 square kilometers, and Yellowstone National Park is about 9,000 square kilometers; but considering the other parks, Zion National Park is merely 600 square kilometers, 9 times smaller than Grand Canyon National Park. In fact, the Grand Canyon is bigger than a state: Rhode Island is just around 3,000 square kilometers.

Depth: The Grand Canyon is not the deepest canyon in the world. Most tourists usually enter the park on the top of the Canyon, meaning that they look down into the canyon and the Colorado River. It’s possible to descend to the bottom of the canyon, but how long does it take? The canyon is a mile deep (1.6 kilometers) and to get to the bottom from the South Rim, it takes most hikers about 4 to 5 hours via either the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

The number of visitors: The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, with an estimated 5.9 million people visiting the Canyon every year, just behind the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

Climate: The temperature difference at the top of the bottom of the canyon can be as huge as 25 degrees. The canyon can get incredibly hot during summer, and the temperature drops below zero during winter, with a layer of ice covering the top of the canyon. 

Landscape: The canyon is carved by natural forces for tens of millions of years and apart from the colorful layers of rocks that visitors can appreciate on the cliff, it has over 1,000 caves with only 335 of them recorded, and only one of all these caves are opened to the public. 

As mentioned earlier, the visitor centers in the South Rim and the North Rim are about 320 kilometers apart. About 90% of the visitors enter the Canyon from the South due to its proximity to Phoenix. It takes about 5 hours to drive around the canyon to reach the North Rim from the South.

There is a village in the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai Indian Reserve is located at the base with a population of slightly over 200 people. It’s the most remote community in the mainland United States and it’s disconnected from the main road – mails are delivered by mules.

The flora and fauna in the Grand Canyon are diverse, there are 90 mammals, 250 birds, 25 reptiles, and 5 amphibians who call this place home – but you will find it interesting that the most dangerous animal in the Canyon is the rock squirrel. Every year, dozens of tourists got bitten by this small animal for trying to feed them. You will see signs warning hikers not to feed any animals in the Canyon. 

Going to Grand Canyon

The easiest way to enter the Canyon is from the South Rim from Phoenix via the Arizona State Route 64. You could either go by driving a car or join a local tour that departs from Phoenix. The journey takes about 4 hours and if you have more time, there are a few pit stops along the way that are worth exploring. For example, Sedona and Flagstaff, AZ. Interstate 40  also connects to the South Rim. 

To visit the North Rim, take off from Utah or Colorado and drive along U.S. Route 89.

Grand Canyon, other Highlights

It’s a huge undertaking to visit all the places in the area, one of the best ways to go from one place to another is probably self-driving, which you can visit these places at your own pace. Joining a local tour is another great option because it takes your mind off planning, and seeking directions; simply sit back and take in the incredible views of the Canyon. It’s also possible to take some much-needed rest in the car as you go from place to place. Outside the Grand Canyon National Park, don’t forget to explore these places in the area. My recommendations are: 

  • The Wave, Arizona. It is a unique sandstone formation with colorful and undulating forms of rocks. It is a popular photo spot among hikers and photographers.
  • Horseshoe bend is an epic sight that is always referred to as the “East Rim of the Grand Canyon”, the steep, dramatic incised meander of the Colorado River is one of the most featured or photographed spots.
  • Antelope Valley is another most featured and photographed spot located in Navajo, very close to the Wave. It is a slot canyon with beams of lights passing through the cracks that look angelic and unforgettable. 
  • Monument Valley is a classic location at the border of Arizona and Utah. The cluster of sandstone buttes (reaching over 300 meters in height!) is frequently featured by the media.  
  • Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir that is an excellent location for all sorts of family outdoor activities like fishing, camping, or rafting.
  • Grand Canyon West is a great excursion from Las Vegas as it’s only a few hours away. The village features a Skywalk, a U-shaped glass bridge, that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon. If you would like to know a little bit more about the travel itinerary to Grand Canyon West from Las Vegas, check out:  Beyond Las Vegas Strip: to Grand Canyon West.

Grand Canyon South Rim from Phoenix

So – most people went to Grand Canyon as a spin-off episode while they were visiting Las Vegas. From Phoenix, visitors get to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Gand Canyon - HelicopterThere is a lot to see and do in the national park. Bright Angel Trail is for sure one of the best hiking trails in the national park that leads from the top of the Canyon at Grand Canyon Village to the bottom. The trail is about 16 kilometers long but doesn’t underestimate the energy you need to complete the trail as it has an elevation change of 1,340 meters! The trail is a zig-zag as you get lower and it takes about 5 hours to walk from one end to the other. The trail offers a great view of the Canyon (and it’s so big and difficult to ignore). 

To appreciate the Canyon is a little bit better from a different perspective. I recommend hopping on a helicopter which is one of the best experiences that I have ever had. I joined a local tour and the driver picked us up early in the morning at 6 am. We stopped by Sedona and then we went straight to the airport for our helicopter ride.

As the helicopter took off, the trees and roads became so tiny. As we entered the Grand Canyon, every passenger just gasped in amazement. That was a definitive moment when I truly got a sense of how big the Canyon is. I visited the national park in December so that I could get to see the canyon covered with a layer of ice.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

Above the ground, the scale of the Canyon may have confused you because a rock may look tiny, but it’s the size of the football court!

The sky was clear, and I got a good look at the entire ground. The horizon made me appreciate the wonder of nature from a completely different perspective. Above the ground, the scale of the Canyon may have confused you because a rock may look tiny, but it’s the size of the football court! It was spectacular. The white of the ice, red of the rocks, and the blue of the Colorado River combined to form the best scenery in the mighty nature. I used up my phone’s battery right before I leave… 

The helicopter ride was about an hour for about US$200 – I reckon it is a good value compared to other places as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Helicopter ride covers:

Gand Canyon - HelicopterMarble Canyon, Pointe Imperial, Little Colorado River, the Dragon Corridor, and, of course, the North Rim

(They were also selling a DVD of the helicopter ride recordings, but Nah… I would never see it at home)

Reviews of Helicopter on TripAdvisor: Mavericks Helicopter



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