A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size and spectacular vistas. The canyon is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep.
The Grand Canyon is relatively young geologically. Most scientists believe the river began its work of erosion about six million years ago. Coupled with the downward cutting of the river has been a general rising of the Colorado Plateau, which has added its effect to the action of the river. Although the canyon itself is of comparatively recent origin, the rocks exposed in its walls are not. Most of the strata were originally deposited as marine sediment, indicating that for long periods of time the canyon area was the floor of a shallow sea.
Grand Canyon is unmatched throughout the world for its overwhelming size and intricate colors. Geologically it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are beautifully preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent. Also known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is the most impressive examples of erosion found anywhere.
Grand Canyon was largely unknown until after the Civil War. In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran with a thirst for science and adventure, made a pioneering journey through the canyon on the Colorado River. He accomplished this with nine men in four small wooden boats. Although only six men completed the journey, his party was, as far as we know, the first ever to make such a trip.
In the late 19th Century there was interest in the region because of its promise of mineral resources, mainly copper and asbestos. The first pioneer settlements along the rim came in the 1880s. Early residents soon discovered that tourism was destined to be more profitable than mining, and by the turn of the century Grand Canyon was a well known tourist destination. Many of the early tourist accommodations were not much different than the mining camps from which they developed. Most visitors made the grueling trip from nearby towns to the South Rim by stagecoach.
In 1901 the railroad was extended from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim, and the development of formal tourist facilities increased dramatically. By 1905 the El Tovar Hotel stood where it does today, a world class hotel on the canyon’s edge. The Fred Harvey Company, known throughout the west for hospitality and fine food, continued to develop facilities at Grand Canyon, including Phantom Ranch, built in the Inner Canyon in 1922.
Although first afforded Federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve and later as a National Monument, Grand Canyon did not achieve national park status until 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service. Today Grand Canyon National Park receives about five million visitors each year.
The Grand Canyon has been home to Native Americans for thousands of years. About 10,000 years ago, paleo-hunters were known to have hunted big game throughout the area. More recently, hunter-gathers lived in the area until about 1000 BC. Archaeological findings, such as pottery found in the canyon, have been carbon dated to 4000 years ago.
In the 1300s, the Cerbat (ancestors of today’s Havasupai and Hualapai Tribes) people moved in along with the Southern Paiutes. A century later would see the Navajo and the Dine (relatives of the Apache) people settling in and around the canyon. Today, the Navajo’s reservation is located along the eastern section of the Grand Canyon. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon choose to visit the South Rim National Park area. There are some lodging facilities inside the park however there are few options and they book far in advance. The best lodging options when visiting the Grand Canyon is to consider staying in Tusayan, AZ (2 miles from the park entrance). Other options include Williams, AZ (50 miles south of the park entrance along I-40) or in Flagstaff (80 miles from the park entrance).
Unlike the South and North Rim, the West Rim of the Grand Canyon is not administered by the National Park Service. The West Rim is owned and operated by The Hualapai Indian Tribe. The Tribe is enlarging its amenities and services to attract a greater number of tourists. It is the home of the Skywalk attraction where tourists can walk out over the canyon with a see-through surface beneath them. The West Rim is closer to Las Vegas and is over an 8 hour round trip drive from the South Rim Park area.
Operating Hours & Seasons
The South Rim: Open All Year. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All visitor services: camping, lodging, and restaurants are available year round. Reservations are strongly recommended during the busy summer season. Some facilities are closed during the winter. The North Rim is only open from Mid May to Mid October.
The average distance across the canyon “as the condor flies” is ten miles (16 km). However, traveling from the North Rim to the South Rim requires a five-hour drive of 215 miles (345 km).
If you are only staying in the Grand Canyon South Rim area for one night, we do not suggest attempting to do any excursion that takes you to the Colorado River. For any of these adventures a minimum of two nights at the South Rim is recommended due to the travel times to and from the bottom of the canyon and the fact that you need at least a day exploring the South Rim area. If this is your first time to the Grand Canyon, we highly suggest you explore the South Rim National Park for up to a full day through a wonderful Guided Van Tour or on your own. Keep in mind that parking can be very difficult in the park and a guided van tour has many benefits to you and your traveling companions. You may also consider a helicopter flight over the canyon as this is truly awe-inspiring and a must do experience without a long commitment in time.
Arizona Time Information
Arizona (and the Grand Canyon National Park) is on Mountain Standard Time year round and does not observe Daylight Savings. This fact may cause confusion if you travel from a state bordering Arizona. From spring to early autumn, Arizona is on the same time zone as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. During late autumn and winter, Arizona is on the same time as Salt Lake City and Denver. The Navajo Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona is the exception to this fact as they do observe Daylight Savings Time.
Distances from Grand Canyon
Flagstaff – 30 miles (50 minutes)
Flagstaff – 80 miles (75 minutes)
Phoenix – 210 miles (3.2 hours)
Sedona – 115 miles (2 hours)
Las Vegas – 277 miles (4.3 hours)
Page (Lake Powell) – 140 miles (2.5 hours)
Monument Valley – 175 miles (3 hours)
Albuquerque – 415 miles (6 hours)
Bryce Canyon National Park – 288 miles
Zion National Park – 282 miles (5 hours)
Los Angeles – 492 miles (7 hours)
Salt Lake City – 513 miles (8 hours)
From Phoenix: Take Interstate 17 North to Flagstaff. Take I-40 west for approximately 30 miles to Highway 64 (Exit 165, just east of Williams). Head north on Highway 64 directly to the South Rim (approximately 60 miles)
OPTION 1 -Take I-40 west for approximately 30 miles to Highway 64 (Exit 165, just east of Williams). Head north on Highway 64 directly to the South Rim (approximately 60 miles)
OPTION 2 – Travel north on Humphreys Street to Columbus Avenue, turn left. Columbus Avenue becomes Highway 180. Take Highway 180 west to Highway 64 (approximately 55 miles), turn right (north). Head north on Highway 64 directly to the South Rim (approximately 30 miles)
From Los Angeles: Take I-10 East toward Phoenix. Take Highway 101 North/East to I-17 North (toward Flagstaff). Take exit 298 and turn left onto State Route 179. Travel on Highway 179 State Route 89A.
• Sedona, Arizona
• Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona – Designated as one of the “50 Most Scenic Drives in America”
• Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona)
• Jerome, Arizona (historic copper mining town)
• Old Town Cottonwood
• Tuzigoot National Monument in Cottonwood
• Montezuma’s Castle National Monument (Camp Verde, AZ)
• Wupatki National Monument
• Sunset Crater National Monument
• Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)
• Monument Valley
• Hopi Indian Reservation
• Havasupai Falls
• Grand Canyon Caverns
• Historic Route 66
• Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff)
• Historic towns of Flagstaff and Prescott
• Painted Desert
• Meteor Crater