The Insider’s Guide to the Grand Canyon
Views and views and views for days.
June 9, 2021
As travel fiends, we at The Edit are huge fans of Wildsam Field Guides. Perfectly pocket-sized, exquisitely written and beautifully illustrated, each book is a wanderer’s dream guide to cities, regions, and national parks across the United States. Packed to the gills with essential info on everything from the best spots to grab a bite and crash for the night to riveting histories and traditions as told by locals and experts, these adorable handbooks will be in our bags when we hit the road for our much-anticipated cross-country journeys this summer.
To satiate our growing wanderlust, the editors at Wildsam pulled a few of their favorite spots from their guide to one of the most ancient and majestic spots on planet Earth: the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon: The Ages At Work by Wildsam, $20. wildsam.com
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The Grand Canyon has long baffled and challenged onlookers’ ability to define and describe. Dumbfounded Spanish explorers stood at Desert View in 1540, lamely comparing the epic scale with “the Tower of Seville.” Early American frontiersmen saw the place as a surreal horror show. Later came Clarence Dutton, poetic-minded geologist, to extol an “innovative” landscape, a new kind of beauty. Teddy Roosevelt stood at the South Rim to celebrate a patriotic crown jewel. Mary Colter, the park’s signature architect, combined ancient history and modern tourism in a vision of rustic romance. The great writer Walker Percy argued that jaded modern eyes, awash in iconic images, don’t see the real-life canyon at all.
A brave hiker takes in the stunning views from Cape Final on the North Rim of the park.Loreah Winlow for outdoorproject.com
Today’s South Rim stirs one of the world’s most cosmopolitan scenes, where a casual eavesdrop can take in both Mandarin and Navajo. Some peer into this great laboratory of erosion and see God, others geology; at least a few feel the two playing together.
What could the Grand Canyon mean to a world hungry for common purpose and shared beacons? In a word, it’s profound. In your moment here, do as the Pollocks did and gaze. Watch dawn from the South Rim. Light wakes up distant cliff walls. The breaking day pours into unfathomable space, an expanse that challenges the mind. Just look. — The Editors at Wildsam
What to See
The South Rim: Desert View Watchtower
This ragged cylinder, 70 feet tall, stands 25 rim-edge miles east of Grand Canyon Village. The 1932 tower exhibits architect Mary Jane Colter’s refined rusticity–see also Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Lodge–and interpretation of Indigenous architecture. (It is, essentially, a riff on Ancestral Puebloan lookouts.) Four Native artists contributed interior murals; most famously, Fred Kabotie painted the Hopi Snake Legend.
The Desert View Watchtower looms over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The North Rim: Point Imperial
The Kaibab Plateau’s East Rim is often neglected. Check it out before sunset, as the Vermilion and Echo cliffs glow incandescent. Stroll for the best view from the Point Imperial parking area.
The Eastern Canyon: Little Colorado River Gorge
It’s tempting to hustle up Highway 64 en route to the national park’s east entrance. But take time for this spectacular overlook near milepost 286. Far below convoluted cliff edges, the Little Colorado winds towards its hidden junction with the big river.
What to Do
South Rim: Star Gazing
Regular ranger-led talks and June’s epic eight-day Star Party elevate ground-level gazers into epically dark skies–darker after recent lighting retrofits.
The view from Cape Final.Wayne Hsieh
North Rim: Cape Final
The end of the world, in the best possible way. Stroll casually through open ponderosa pines, knee-high grasses and blooming lupines. Then it all drops away: leaving the canyon, the distant Painted Desert and an eternity of sky.
Western Canyon: Black Canyon Water Trail
Rent a craft from Desert Adventures in Boulder City, or hike the 5-mile Arizona Hot Springs loop, starting in slot canyons, continuing along the shore. Bring a swimsuit for hot-spring dips, but be aware of flash flood and amoeba risks–don’t stick your face in the water. If you’re camping, seek dispersed sites along the shore.
Where to Stay
Enchantment, Sedona, AZ: The plush desert spread allies with respected Grand Canyon tours.
Bright Angel Lodge, South Rim: Mary Colter-designed, haute-woodsy retreats, yards from the edge.
Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim: An architectural landmark boasts arguably the best deck-chair vista.
Grand Canyon Lodge guests take in the jaw-dropping views of the North Rim on the hotel’s observation deck. The hotel was built by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in the 1930s.Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park