The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is Outdoor adventure central. What the mind, heart and feet can conceive, outdoor-oriented visitors to the Canyon can readily achieve. Few places on Earth offer the combination of indescribable views, high-intensity hands-on thrills, and a world-renowned menu of outdoor options.
Behind the lens…
To begin, make sure you have plenty of battery power in your camera or device. You’ll find your finger has a life of its own, and you’ll wind up the day with dozens or more fabulous images of this natural wonder of the world.
The first stop in your photo excursion will likely be the iconic Mather Point, a Kaibab limestone peninsula located a literal stones’ throw from the new rim-side amphitheater, and the South Rim Visitor Center itself. If you arrive before mid-morning or after mid-afternoon, the sun will be low enough to cast broadening shadows over the rugged cliffs and spires of the Canyon, providing a particularly impressive 3-D effect across your entire field of view.
Be sure to bring your wide angle lens and a tripod so you can capture the most beautiful stars and night sky views over the Canyon. Without saying you know you need to capture those iconic sunset and sunrise photos as well.
The birding at the Canyon is difficult to exaggerate. In 2014 the Grand Canyon was designated as a Globally Important Bird Area. Global sites are the highest priority for conservation actions and support species of conservation concern. The Grand Canyon has played important roles for birds such as the endangered California condor, threatened Mexican spotted owl, peregrine falcon and the pinyon jays. With over 379 species of birds recorded in the Grand Canyon you are sure to spot a favorite.
Those who wish to meet the outdoors on their own two feet will find a hiker’s field of dreams right here. Legacy trails – maintained by the Park Service – include the Bright Angel (9 miles to the Bright Angel Campground), the South Kaibab (7 miles), the North Kaibab (14 miles), and the 13-mile paved Rim Trail that brings the Canyon’s edge right next to those with mobility issues.
In all, 358 miles of trail have been established in the Park, 126 of which are maintained. Those not maintained can be a bit challenging to follow for the inexperienced hiker. Please be sure to check with a visitor center for detailed maps and conditions before heading out for any hike. Trail adventures that are overnight will require permits.
Rock-climbing is available right in the center of the Canyon at Zoroaster Temple and Mt. Hayden, though climbers are urged to be in touch with the Back Country office before beginning their ascent.
Those looking for guided or interpretive information should check out the free daily list of Ranger Programs offered by the National Park Service. Another great resource is the Grand Canyon Field Institute which offers several classes and trips throughout the fall including on-demand Family Hiking Adventures.
Adventurers wishing to cover more ground in less time can do so with their own bike or a rental from Bright Angel Bicycles and Café at Mather Point. With approximately 20 miles of Greenway trails to travel, including a newly-paved 6 mile section reaching all the way to Tusayan and a nearly equal inventory of roadside miles, the Canyon cyclist is afforded a trip through nature unavailable to the motorized visitor.
If you’re into the details of the view you see before you, you might appreciate the in-depth information you will receive on either of the Canyon’s guided Jeep tours. The highly-visible Pink Jeep Tours begin their excursions from the IMAX Theater, well-covered with a convertible top to fend off those rare instances of inclement weather. Trips of 2-3 hours in length leave frequently, staying on the smoother pavement as they pursue their destinations. Off-road tours are the specialty of Grand Canyon Jeep Tours and Safaris, and their rugged-looking vehicles reflect that focus. Tours here are from 1 ½ to 4 ½ hours long, encompassing the Rim Trail, Indian paintings, the sunset, an 80’ fire lookout tower, and wildlife photo “expedition”.
If your vision of transport in the rugged reaches of the Grand Canyon tends more toward 4 legs than 2 wheels, mule rides are available through the Park concessionaire Xanterra. These are shorter rides through the forest near the rim, and are available most of the year. The “regular” mule ride goes from the rim down the Bright Angel trail, and across the river to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon. That ride regularly includes dinner, overnight lodging and breakfast at Phantom. This requires reservations often a year or more in advance. The popularity of the rides can be measured in the number of riders and the advanced reservations required.
Horseback rides are available through the forest to the south of the Canyon, with Apache Stables offering guided, campfire and horse-drawn wagon rides. Kids are welcome. You provide the picnic goodies, Apache will bring the fire.
Adventures from Above…
For those who like their excitement in the upper decibel range, the ultimate in outdoor awe is now offered locally – a tandem skydive from 15,000 feet above Tusayan with views of the Grand Canyon itself. The adventure is offered by Paragon Skydive, an experienced skydiving company with over 20,000 jumps under its collective belt.
For those of you that want to stay inside an aircraft the South Rim offers daily helicopter and airplane tours.
There are calm water 1 day adventures and 1 to 3 week whitewater rafting opportunities a few hours north of the South Rim that run through November.
Where to stay
For the true outdoor adventurer there are hundreds of camping and RV sites. Those interested in more glamorous accommodations have hotel options both in the Grand Canyon and in Tusayan located just 1.5 miles from the South Rim Entrance Station.
Want more information to make your next Outdoor Adventure Grand visit www.GrandCanyonCVB.org.
H Mike Sheehan
Mike has been a Freelance and Speechwriter since 1962. He’s written for Tucson Citizen, The Writ, Maricopa Lawyer and Downtown Illustrated. He also wrote “Dogs in the Hot Moon Lt T.I. Sheehan and the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862”. Mike now calls the Grand Canyon his home. He has worked for the Grand Canyon Association and currently works for the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Please stop by the office and say hello when you visit!