The Grand Canyon has been on my list for as long as I can remember, the first time I planed to go there, we were going to do a helicopter trip into the canyon from Vegas, however on the day it got cancelled due to bad weather and it was our last day there, so we missed out. Since then I have been able to see the west, north and south rim of the canyon.
The west rim
I ended up being back in Vegas two years later and decided to go for round two of the helicopter from Vegas. The west rim is the closest edge to Vegas so it makes it a good day trip. After driving to the Helicopter airport by coach you will jump in a helicopter and take flight over the Grand Canyon area. The flight followed the Colorado river and over the famous Hoover dam before coming into the Canyon. We could also see the sky deck where you can step out over the Canyon edge. The west rim of the canyon is set within the dessert so it's surrounds are beautifully barren and sparse. It has a very different look and feel to the others parts of the Canyon. Due to it's location, it is also very hot at this end of the Canyon in summer months, so I found flying over this section a really great option. Seeing the Hoover dam and Colorado river from above was also a highlight. The pilot also provides a lot of information about the area which was really great.
The south rim
Arguably the most famous part of the Grand Canyon is the south rim. This side of the Canyon has more life and greenery compared to the west rim however it is a relatively dry landscape. We were staying in Page, so it was a little bit of a drive down. Your best option is to stay in Flagstaff. The drive in takes you though a number of parking pull ins that are right on the Canyon edge, so you can see the Canyon without leaving your car! With the Colorado river winding right below you, it's an incredible view that is very easily accessed. There is a large visitor centre (which actually had a huge wild moose out the front when I was there!) that has all the information that you could need on what you can do. You can also hire bikes here as there is a bike rack through the park next to the Canyon. While it looked like a nice ride, you are not really experiencing what the Canyon has to offer. There are hikes for all levels and lengths. We opted for a hike down into the Canyon, as I wanted to get immersed in it to really feel the scale. This hike goes all the way to the Colorado river, however it is only possible to get one way in a day, so you need to organize a night down at the village and hike out the following day. When I come back, this is something I would really like to do, stay with a Native Indian village down in the Canyon.
As we didn't have this planned or enough time for it, we opted to walk down as far as we could in order to still get back up before sundown. It was a challenging and rewarding hike. We left in the afternoon when it was slightly cooler. The track sharply zig zags down the cliff edge and the dirt track changes colors with the layers of the Canyon. From really bright reds to pure white, it is fascinating seeing all of the canyon's earthly layers up close. I am not sure which is harder, the down or the up! The down is tough on the legs, you will feel it in your knees especially. If you don't have the greatest knees I would recommend walking sticks. The up is really a heart pumper! You will need your cardiovascular fitness on the way up, so make sure you allow plenty of time for rests on the way back up. What's great is the atmosphere on the track, everyone is very friendly and cheering each other on to get up and down the track, this was one of the things I will treasure most about my trips to the Canyon.
The north rim
Everyone always talks about the south rim, saying it's better then the north, so I almost didn't go to the north. However we had enough days to do both, so we did. I am just so glad that we did! I actually preferred it, the view is more spectacular, there are less crowds and the drive in is just amazing! You go through huge towering forests, then large meadows filled with deer and bison, to arrive at the cutest visitor centre/ lodge ever! A beautiful huge wooden log lodge over looking the amazing canyon. The whole time driving in I couldn't believe that we were near the canyon, everything is so green right to the edge. This side of the Canyon is the highest of all the rims and is quite cooler in climate.
While the south rim has a great buzz of energy and a social atmosphere, the north is more subdued, wild and raw. There are a number of very short and flat walks (stroller/ wheelchair accessible) that are extremely rewarding. Views and cliff edges that take your breath away - quiet literally! This is place to really feel the expanse and variety of the Canyon with very little to no hiking required. If you are traveling with kids or grandparents this is definitely my pick. You can also stay is cute lodges up on the rim which is a great option as the road in from Page makes for a long day to do as a day trip (especially if you stay of sunset like we did)! There are also a number of challenging hikes down into the Canyon on the north rim and in order to be able to do them you are best staying in the national park to have a full day.
Located just outside of Page is the horseshoe bend. This is on the east side of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado river. Like the pictures you see of it, it's even more stunning in person. There are no railings or barriers of any kind so you can face your height fears and get right on the edge! It's scary and exhilarating! We weren't able to get there for sunset which was a shame as it's the best time to see it. It's a short 30min walk from where you park, so the access it's really good. The most disappointing thing is the atmosphere here. There are bus loads of tourists coming through making it extremely crowded. However what the real issue is, is that unfortunately people just aren't that nice there! Everywhere else in the Canyon the atmosphere is really friendly and caring of one another, as I guess you are around other like minded adventurous people. As this place has become the place for people to 'get that postcard picture' more than it is to experience where you are, people are rude, pushy and selfish. I almost got pushed of the edge a number of times by people who wanted to stand where I was! I couldn't believe it! I also got a camera pushed into the side of my face! Besides all of this, if you are in the area I wouldn't want you to be discouraged from going, but have this expectation and try your best to steer clear of the obnoxious tourists!
Each part of the Canyon is unique and stunning for every different reasons, and I hope this information has helped you work out what kind of experience you are looking for to find the perfect place. If nothing else I hope it has made you consider seeing more of the Canyon then just one spot!
I know that I definitely will be back to explore more of the Canyon. I would love to hike down into the local villages in the Canyon and spend some nights down there. I would also love to go see the Havasu falls, if you don't know what this is - Google it!