At 277 miles (445 kilometres) long and 6,000 feet (1,828 metres) deep, the Grand Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is justifiably considered one of the greatest natural wonders in the world.
Nothing can quite prepare you for a visit to the Grand Canyon, its sheer scale is staggering. Its size and range mean that the canyon's climate, flora and fauna are hugely diverse, while right at the bottom snakes the Colorado River, appearing small and ineffectual against the immensity of the landscape it created.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon at sunset
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon South Rim
The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon. It's easily reached by car along Highway 64, by the daily Grand Canyon train from Williams, or by flying into Grand Canyon Airport. The little town of Tusayan lies just outside the national park and this is where the region's less expensive hotels are located, along with the Grand Canyon Imax Theatre.
Inside the park, visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the free shuttle buses that transport passengers to all the main sites. Two highly recommended complimentary scenic tours are to Hermits Rest, which stops at nine viewpoints, and the Kaibab Rim Route. If you're driving, Desert View Drive is a 25-mile stretch of road running along the South Rim offering excellent vistas of the Colorado River.
There is a wide variety of walking trails ranging from short and easy to long and strenuous. The more popular walks are the Bright Angel Trail and part of the South Kaibab Trail.
There are many other activities to take part in too; you can hire a bicycle and explore at your leisure, join an adrenaline-fuelled white water rafting trip on the Colorado River, or even trek by mule to the floor of the canyon for lunch or an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch.
If you can, try to get an aerial perspective of the canyon, by taking a plane or helicopter flight, to fully appreciate its vast scale.
Grand Canyon West Rim
The West Rim is easily accessed from Las Vegas, either by road through Joshua tree-studded desert scenery, or from the air. Helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft deliver a bird's eye view, while there is also the opportunity to visit the Hualapai Native American site where you can try the Skywalk, a glass-floored platform that juts out a mile or so above the canyon floor.
Solomon Temple & Desert Palisades, Grand Canyon National Park
Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim
Grand Canyon North Rim
The least visited, most difficult part of the canyon to get to, the North Rim is located on the Kaibab Plateau some 8,000-9,000 feet (2,438-2,743 metres) above sea level. This part of the canyon is perfect for visitors who wish to escape the crowds. It can only be reached from mid-May until mid-October due to winter snowfalls blocking the access route.
Although it's 10 miles (16 kilometres) as the crow flies between the canyon's north and south rims, they are, in fact, 215 miles (346 kilometres) apart by road. The North Rim therefore remains largely in its natural state and, although visitor amenities are very limited, for many it offers the most authentic experience.
There are many excellent walking trails of varying length and difficulty, and wildlife to look out for includes deer, coyotes and even mountain lions.
The only accommodation here is Grand Canyon Lodge, which needs to be booked well in advance.
Walking at the Canyon
Do be aware that the elevation of the top of the canyon (7,000-9,000 feet; 2,133-2,743 metres) can make you feel tired very quickly. If you plan to hike, take plenty of water with you. It is not advisable to walk down into the canyon, but there are plenty of rim walks to enjoy.