Grand Canyon’s Top 10 Adventures

Top 10 Grand Canyon Adventures

Published: March 10, 2020

List of top 10 canyon adventures

With so many ways to explore on foot (including mule!), on water, or by Jeep, there is truly no wrong way to adventure at Grand Canyon. From mellow and scenic hikes to heart pumping whitewater rafting trips, you can find the best adventure for you by using the Guru’s Top 10 Adventures Guide. Explore all of your adventure options and then use the Guru’s Trip Planning Tools to plan the perfect trip to Grand Canyon.

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1. Grand Canyon Rafting

From mellow one day float trips to week-long wilderness whitewater adventures rafting the Grand Canyon has it all for boating enthusiasts. Regardless of which rafting adventure you choose you’ll enjoy the refreshing chill of the Colorado River and have access to some incredible Grand Canyon locations that you can only see via boat.

  • Go on a leisurely float down the river- Although Grand Canyon is known for its thrilling whitewater rafting trips, the Colorado River also offers up a scenic smooth water float just upriver from the park for families and people who want a more relaxing experience. Gaze up at the canyon walls high above you as you float through world-famous Horseshoe Bend.
  • Experience one day of whitewater adventure- Get your adrenaline fix with the only one-day whitewater rafting trip through Grand Canyon. Rafting adventures are run by the Hualapai Tribe in western Grand Canyon and even include a helicopter ride up to the rim at the end of the trip. Be ready for a full day on the water and possible cancelations if summer monsoons close the road.
  • Embark on a rafting expedition- Running the Grand is one of the world’s premier whitewater trips. Exciting rapids, amazing views and a truly remote wilderness experience make this an adventure you will never forget. Running from three days to two weeks, raft guides offer several trip options all of which include gourmet meals, awe inspiring hikes and access to remote canyon locations. If you want to run the Grand Canyon on your own, you can sign up for the national park’s weighted lottery and cross your fingers.

2. Grand Canyon Hiking

Hiking the Grand Canyon is an activity almost anyone will enjoy. From a short stroll along the rim to an all-day inner canyon adventure, hiking is one of the best ways to experience Grand Canyon. If you want more than a day below the rim, grab your backpack and set off on a multi-day trip through remote side canyons. Local hiking guides will take you on both day and overnight trips so you have an area expert teaching you about the canyon along the way.

  • Hike the most popular trails- The corridor trails are the Bright Angel, South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails. Popular year round, these are the most heavily used national park trails leading into Grand Canyon. The South Rim’s Rim Trail is a mostly paved 13-mile long trail that offer incredible views from the top of the canyon and is conveniently connected to the park’s free shuttle buses.
  • Set out on a day hike- The canyon’s South Rim has the easiest access to trailheads for day hikes, but there are many other great hiking trails throughout Grand Canyon. Read more about Grand Canyon’s hundreds of miles of hiking trails to find the right one for you.
  • Explore more on a backpacking trip- Grand Canyon has some of the best backpacking in the world where you can explore colorful side canyons, swim under remote waterfalls, and sleep out under the stars. The South Rim is open all year but backpacks off the North Rim are closed in the winter due to snow fall. Read more about how to get a backpacking permit and plan your Grand Canyon backpacking trip.
  • Spend a few days at Havasu Falls- There are no roads to Havasu Falls so hiking is your only option to access the area’s spectacular turquoise waterfalls, unless you happen to grab one of the occasional helicopter flights. Located on the Havasupai Reservation deep within western Grand Canyon this is a must-see destination for the adventurous traveler. The area boasts five incredible turquoise waterfalls set amongst the red rocks and you can spend your days hiking or just relaxing along the creek.
  • Get into true Grand Canyon wilderness- If you are an experienced hiker and prefer to get away from the crowds, there are hundreds of miles of lightly traveled trails and backcountry routes throughout Grand Canyon to explore. Backpacking Grand Canyon trails outside the corridor requires a lot more preparation because trails are rougher and steeper and water is scarce. But with the right planning, you’ll be rewarded with both beauty and solitude in a true desert wilderness. Learn more about wilderness trips.

3. Grand Canyon Camping

Grand Canyon is a great place to camp! Camping at the Grand Canyon offers several developed campgrounds on both the North and South Rims of the national park that offer everything from basic campsites to full hookups for RVs and trailers. Most campgrounds need to be reserved in advance but there are also some great campsites along the rim that don’t require permits and offer a lot of solitude if you have a high clearance vehicle and some extra time to explore.

  • Spend the night in a campground- Grand Canyon National Park has a few developed campgrounds with modern facilities including restrooms with running water, picnic tables and fire pits/BBQs. The largest campground is on the South Rim (Mather Campground), but there are also campgrounds on the North Rim and in other parts of the canyon. Because most national park campsites have to be reserved six months in advance, nearby National Forest and Tribal Land campgrounds offer great options for the more spontaneous traveler. 
  • Stay comfortable in an RV- The only campground with hookups is located on Grand Canyon’s South Rim, right inside Grand Canyon Village. Trailer Village is a great place to park your RV, trailer or camper van and then hop on and off the park’s free shuttle buses to explore the scenic overlooks and trails. Booking up to 18 months in advance, this is a fun option for families who want to rent an RV to explore the West.
  • See the stars while backcountry car camping- If you’re up for a bigger adventure, you can find a campsite to yourself at the edge of the canyon if you have high clearance and are willing to drive a bit. The North Rim has many incredibly scenic disperse campsites throughout the Kaibab National Forest and there are several designated backcountry campsites with a view near the South Bass trailhead (learn more about backcountry permits here). Build a campfire, cook some s’mores and fall asleep under a river of stars.
  • Car camp nearby in the National Forest- Grand Canyon is surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest where you can disperse camp without a permit. This is a great option for campers on a budget or who can’t get a developed campground reservation. There are tons of dirt roads near the national park that you can drive down and find a comfortable campsite. Learn more about USFS camping options.

4. Grand Canyon Rock Climbing

It’s no Yosemite but Grand Canyon still has some incredible rock climbing available. Although there are rocks everywhere you look, most of it is chaucy (not very stable) so choose your routes carefully. Whether you climb right off the South Rim or hike down to remote routes at the bottom of the canyon, Grand Canyon climbing is definitely an adventure.

  • Do some bouldering- There’s some good bouldering available near the South Rim but if you’re willing to hike long distances with your crash pad you’ll find many more spots along the canyon floor and side canyons. 
  • Sport climb for some epic views- Hanging off the edge of Grand Canyon lets you truly feel the thrill of thousands of feet of rock below you. You’ll find several sport climbing routes along the South Rim, most of which are found near the Bright Angel trailhead and along Desert View Drive
  • Multi-day trade routes- For more experienced climbers there are multi-pitch trade routes deep within the canyon and almost certainly some first ascents available for the taking. Just be selective when climbing in the canyon as it’s mostly made up of soft sedimentary rock. 

5. Grand Canyon Canyoneering

With its endless slot and side canyons, technical canyoneering at the Grand Canyon has taken off in recent years. Requiring both proper equipment and physical fitness, exploring some of the park’s lesser known canyons will give you access to the heart of Grand Canyon.

  • Rappel down a slot canyon- While the popularity of Garden Creek can’t be denied because of its easy access (right off Bright Angel Trail), access to most of Grand Canyon’s slots requires overnight backpacking, pack rafts, and extended hiking in rugged and extreme conditions. It is imperative that you bring the right equipment (enough rope!), check in your pack raft at the Backcountry Office, and don’t place bolts but use clean anchors instead.

6. Tuweep Grand Canyon

In the far western Grand Canyon (off the North Rim) is a seldom visited area called Tuweep (also known as Toroweap). From Kanab, UT, several hours of driving down a rough dirt road will lead you to a rustic campground, a rugged trail to the Colorado River, a small ranger station, and a lot of solitude. This is an area best enjoyed during the cooler seasons for travelers who are not on a tight schedule.

  • Travel to Tuweep- This location requires some advance planning to access but it is worth it to take in view of the 3,000ft vertical drop to the Colorado River below. Reserve your campsite with a backcountry permit three months in advance, stock up on supplies (bring extras in case you encounter trouble along the road!), and then head out for one the canyon’s best driving adventures.

7. Grand Canyon Caves

Most people don’t know that the Grand Canyon’s limestone rock layers are full of caves. While most of them are not closed to the public, there are a few fun caves to explore.

  • Get a guide at Grand Canyon Caverns- If exploring a cave on your own doesn’t sound like your cup of tea try Grand Canyon Caverns, located outside of the park near Seligman, AZ. Cavern tours begin with an elevator ride 21 stories down and they offer several guided tour options that will take you through the largest cave in the area. Learn more.
  • Explore the Cave of the Domes- Cave of the Domes off Horseshoe Mesa is one of the only publicly accessible caves in the park. Grandview Trail is strenuous and once you’re on the mesa there are no signs pointing you to the cave so you’ll have to do some advance research to find it. Bring a good headlamp, extra batteries and a sense of adventure to explore inside the rocks of Grand Canyon.

8. Grand Canyon Mule Rides

Looking for a more historic way to travel through the canyon? Grand Canyon mule rides will transport you back to the days of the Wild West to get you to some of the best views in the park. 

  • Ride a mule to Phantom Ranch- The South Rim offers half day mule rides along the canyon rim as well as the only overnight adventures down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Since this is one of the most sought-after mule rides in the world, you’ll have to enter the Phantom Ranch lottery for your overnight trip 14 months in advance.
  • Hop in the saddle on the North Rim- If you’re on the North Rim, you can choose between easier and scenic rides along the rim or take a fun half day trip into the canyon itself.
  • Enjoy a ride through the forest- If you can’t book a ride inside the park (you’ll likely end up on a waitlist if you didn’t book in advance) and still want to get in the saddle, there are other great mule ride options in the national forest near Tusyan, AZ.

9. Grand Canyon Jeep Adventures

There are hundreds of miles of 4x4 roads in and around Grand Canyon that vary from easy and mellow to downright treacherous. Whether you’re cruising through a ponderosa pine forest or crawling over hefty rocks to get to that most epic Grand Canyon view, exploring by 4x4 is a great Grand Canyon adventure.

  • Tour the canyon in a Jeep- If you’re into 4X4 vehicles and want a back roads adventure there are several Jeep tours offered both inside and outside Grand Canyon National Park. You can hop in a Jeep as far away as Las Vegas or Phoenix or as close as Tusayan (only 7 miles from the rim of the canyon) to explore the area’s 4x4 roads with a guide who will take you to the best views the canyon has to offer.
  • Rent your own 4x4- If you really want to get out into the wilderness, renting a 4wd vehicle will give you access to rarely visited viewpoints along the rim of the canyon that offer up a real adventure. Check out Point Sublime, South Bass or Tuweep (Toroweap) and be sure to have good maps, equipment and supplies since these places are far away from any help!

10. Grand Canyon Biking

Grand Canyon has some great options for bike riding adventures. Whether you’re cruising around Grand Canyon Village and the Rim Trail, bike touring along the area’s highways, exploring dirt roads in the national forest, or crushing some great single track, you’ll find great bike routes for everyone at Grand Canyon.

  • Rent a bike on the South Rim- Most people don’t bring their bikes with them on vacation but riding a bike is a great way to see the South Rim. Bike rentals are available at Mather Point and offer a good option to park your vehicle, be eco-friendly and avoid the sometimes-maddening traffic at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Bright Angel Bicycles also offers guided bikes rides and one-way shuttle service so you can truly enjoy your ride.
  • Stay in a hiker/biker campsite- If you’re touring the West on your bike and want to make a stop at the South or North Rim along your way, you can check into one of the first-come-first-serve hiker/biker sites at any of the national park campgrounds. From there it’s a short walk to get to a breathtaking Grand Canyon view.
  • Mountain bike the Rainbow Rim Trail- A little known single-track trail right at the edge of the canyon’s North Rim is an awesome way to explore the park. This trail is located in Kaibab National Forest along the canyon rim and is the only single-track bike trail with a view of Grand Canyon. You’ll need high clearance and a map to get to the trailhead, but it’s well worth the drive and most bikers bring some minimal camping gear and sleep out at one of the many scenic spots along the trail.

TWO BONUS GRAND CANYON ADVENTURES

11. Grand Canyon Cross Country Skiing

Sitting at 7,000 ft & 8,000ft above sea level, Grand Canyon can experience snowstorms from October to May. While a light storm can drop just enough snow for you to snap a few pictures before it melts, annual heavy storms shut down access to the North Rim for the winter. Cross country skiing is a fun way to cover some miles and get wintery views of the canyon along the way.

  • Ski the South Rim- The South Rim of the Grand Canyon can receive over a foot of snow in a good storm and if you happen to be around on a snowy winter day you'll wonder why there isn't a Nordic Center on the rim. Cross country skiing or snowshoeing is a unique way to enjoy the solitude the winter months, but snow does tend to melt off the South Rim fairly quick after a storm. Great trails to access include the Rim Trail (before it gets plowed in the morning), Shoshone Point or trails and roads in the nearby Kaibab National Forest.
  • Adventure out to the North Rim- The North Rim on the other hand usually gets a heavy snowpack due to its elevation of over 8,000 feet. The road to the North Rim (Hwy 67) closes after the first snow (usually sometime in later November) and does not open again until May 15th. While you can enjoy incredible peace and solitude by skiing around the closed gate during the winter months, you can only travel off of the road and won’t reach a canyon view since it’s 45 miles away.

12. Skydive Grand Canyon

Most people would say that skydiving is a thrilling adventure so matter where you are but being in freefall with a view of Grand Canyon below you might make this one of the best skydiving locations in the world.

  • Freefall with a canyon view- Only a few minutes’ drive from Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim, you’ll find the Tusayan/Grand Canyon Airport. Your skydiving adventure will begin with a scenic plane ride that will give you an incredible overhead view of the canyon before exiting the plane attached to your tandem skydiving instructor. Feel the thrill of free fall over the largest canyon in the world below you before you parachute safely back to Earth.

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