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Grand Canyon: Choose your own adventure

A four-hour trip on Maverick Helicopters offers stunning views of the Grand Canyon and the lights on the Las Vegas Strip — especially at sunset.
A four-hour trip on Maverick Helicopters offers stunning views of the Grand Canyon and the lights on the Las Vegas Strip — especially at sunset.(Maverick Helicopters/Chris Neill/Focal Plane Imagery)

The Grand Canyon is a must-do — but how to do it is completely up to you, from taking a helicopter over it to hiking around it. Choose your own Grand Canyon adventure.

On your feet

There are tons of options here. The Rim Trail is the most popular and easiest hike via the South Rim. Start at Pipe Creek Vista, which is a few miles east of Grand Canyon Village, and you have the option of hiking 12 miles across the entire trail or taking a free shuttle bus through it. Make sure to stop at Maricopa Point and Hopi Point, which are stunning. More experienced hikers may opt for the North Rim (closed during the winter) via the North Kaibab Trail. It’s 14 miles to the Colorado River, and you can stay at the Bright Angel Campground. Or, try the 4-mile round-trip trek starting at North Kaibab’s trailhead to the Supai Tunnel (a shorter version of the North Rim), which is still difficult but has fabulous views.

On the water

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Between May and September, you can opt to take a boat on the Colorado River. These aren’t quick trips — most last about a week, and cover at least 90 miles. You’ll sit in a group boat, and while you don’t need prior rafting experience, there tends to be an age minimum depending on the touring company (12 and up is standard). You don’t need to be a pro in the water, but you should be physically fit: There is usually hiking involved. On these tours, you’ll get to see all parts of the canyon, from top to bottom. In the evenings, you’ll camp under the stars (there’s little rain and no mosquitoes here) and you’ll eat communal meals. Prices start at around $2,200 for the shorter (six-day trips) and can exceed $4,000 for the two-week trips.

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On a mule

Descend into the canyon on a mule. Longer trips (three hours for $90) will take you through the North Kaibab trail and into the Supai Tunnel; overnight rides get you to the bottom of the canyon, while shorter treks ($45) go through the Kaibab Forest and along the southern canyon rim. You don’t need to know how to ride a mule before you embark (this would obviously deter most visitors). A mule whisperer (a.k.a. professional mule guide) will be with you at all times, and the mules are very well-behaved.

By helicopter

Grab a glass of champagne and fly from the Las Vegas Strip over Lake Mead and Hoover Dam before landing 3,500 feet within the Grand Canyon. You’ll even get to see an extinct volcano. The best time to go is at sunset (prices start at $469 per person for the four-hour flight via Maverick Helicopters), where the views of the canyon are stunning, and the lights on the Strip will be transforming.

Via the Skywalk

About 4,000 feet above the canyon is the Skywalk, a semicircular bridge that allows you to walk 70-feet on a glass floor over the canyon. It’s just outside the park on Hualapai tribal lands, and it’s a huge tourism spot despite the inconvenient location (it’s a long drive from the South Rim and North Rim, and is four hours from the Grand Canyon Village).

Through the railway

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It’s an iconic Old West experience (be prepared for a staged train robbery on board). You’d start at the Williams Depot in Williams, Ariz., before departing for the Grand Canyon, stopping at various overlooks; round trip is eight hours. Visitors can sit in the narrated motor coach for a more in-depth experience.


Danielle Braff can be reached at daniellebraff@gmail.com.