Begin at the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village, taking a day to get used to the elevation and acquaint yourself with the canyon. Check in at the Bright Angel Lodge Transportation Desk to confirm your mule tour reservations and schedule an orientation session that afternoon. In the meantime, take in a ranger program or nature walk. If you plan to hike into the canyon rather than ride a mule, loosen up with a walk along the Rim Trail. The section from the village to Mather Point doubles as a sightseeing excursion. You’ll intersect with the path to Mather Circle and Shrine of the Ages, where many ranger programs are held. You can even travel through time with the trailside geology displays. At Yavapai Observation Station and the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and its surrounding plaza, you can learn more about the geological layers you’ll be passing through when you make your descent into the canyon. Enjoy sunset colors on the walk back to the village.
Have a hearty breakfast before meeting your mule and the rest of the riders at the Old Stone Corral near the Bright Angel Trailhead. As you enter the first tunnel on Bright Angel Trail, look up to the left at the pictographs on the cliff wall. You’re descending a route used for centuries by Havasupai Indians before it was adapted as a toll “road” by prospector and politician Ralph Cameron in the late 1800s. The trail is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Midday, you’ll have a chance to dismount, stretch your legs, and eat a sack lunch at Indian Garden, where Cameron maintained a tourist camp. Bright Angel Trail gets more scenic with every hoofbeat as you follow Garden Creek deeper into the canyon, arriving at Phantom Ranch in the afternoon. You can stretch saddle-sore legs with a stroll around the historic stone-and-wood cabins designed by architect Mary Colter, or a walk to the Ancestral Puebloan ruin near the campground. If you’re feeling more energetic, hike a mile or two up the Clear Creek Trail for fabulous views of Phantom Ranch and the Inner Gorge. Or spend the rest of the day drinking lemonade and writing postcards. Dinner at the canteen is steak, stew, or a veggie alternative.
After a flapjack breakfast at Phantom Ranch, you’ll saddle up for the trip out of the canyon. Mule trips ascend the South Kaibab Trail, traversing colorful Cedar Ridge before topping out on Yaki Point at midday, where a waiting bus returns you to the village. After lunch, rent a bike or take the Hermit Road shuttle to explore the West Rim. From the Trailview Overlook, you can see parts of the Bright Angel Trail you traveled the day before. Other overlooks offer distinct perspectives, from the wide panorama at Hopi Point to the sheer drop down from The Abyss. You can leave the shuttle to hike along sections of the Rim Trail, or find a perch to watch the play of light and shadow. Pick out a spot for sunset before heading back to the village for dinner, or come prepared with sandwiches from the General Store deli to eat at the best table in the house—the edge of the canyon.
Make your last morning in Grand Canyon Village special. You could ride the early shuttle to Yaki Point and watch the sunrise, have a leisurely breakfast at historic El Tovar Lodge, or take in a ranger program. Order a box lunch from one of the lodges or pack a picnic from the deli to take with you as you explore the East Rim on Desert View Drive. Beginning just south of Mather Point, Highway 64 travels miles to Desert View. Stop at Grandview Point to gaze down at Horseshoe Mesa, then continue to Tusayan Ruin. You can take a self-guided tour of this 800-year-old dwelling, or look around the adjacent museum and bookstore while you wait for the next ranger-guided tour. You’ll want at least an hour at Desert View to enjoy the views of the eastern canyon and explore Mary Colter’s fabulous Watchtower. If you haven’t packed a picnic, try to save your appetite for the Cameron Trading Post, 30 miles away on the Navajo Reservation. En route, you’ll follow the edge of the Little Colorado River Gorge, a major canyon tributary. You can spend the night at the trading post’s comfortable motel or drive up to Page, arriving in time to watch the sun set over Lake Powell.
Start your day in Page with a smooth-water float from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, a scenic voyage on the Colorado River between gorgeously colored sandstone cliffs. Canyon Discoveries will shuttle you back to Page, where you can begin the three-hour drive to the North Rim. As you descend toward Marble Canyon on U.S. 89A, stop at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Visitors Center. Here, you can walk across the Colorado River on the historic Navajo Bridge. As you drive toward Jacob Lake, look south for glimpses of the canyon, a dark gash across the broad Marble Platform. The Vermilion Cliffs rise above you on the north. The road quickly ascends the Kaibab Plateau. From Jacob Lake, it’s a scenic 50 miles to the North Rim, passing through ponderosa forest and aspen-lined meadows. Watch the sunset from the tip of Bright Angel Point or, if you’ve made reservations, from the expansive dining-room windows at Grand Canyon Lodge.
Get up early for sunrise at Point Imperial. You can spend several hours exploring sights along the Cape Royal Road as it winds to the end of the Walhalla Plateau. Take time for a hike to Cape Final, about two hours, or the Cliff Spring Trail, less than an hour. Stop at Walhalla Overlook to learn more about the Ancestral Puebloans who once called the canyon home. Cape Royal, where you can gaze through Angel’s Window or look down on Wotans Throne, is a lovely picnic spot. Return to the lodge for a ranger program or a stroll through the ponderosas on the Transept Trail. Toast your last canyon sunset from the lodge’s veranda, watching as lights from Grand Canyon Village begin to twinkle across the canyon, 10 miles away.
If you don’t need an early start on the long return to back civilization, you could begin your last day at Grand Canyon with a hike, heading partway down the North Kaibab Trail or getting a fresh canyon perspective from the rim-side Widforss Trail. Or you could drive the back roads to Jacob Lake, exploring shady forest byways as you plan your next canyon visit. Because this is when it hits you: Even though you’ve toured the national park from rim to river, west to east, and north to south, there’s so much more you want to see. Maybe you could call in sick?
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Grand Canyon.