No matter what you've heard about its legendary beauty, the first time you peer over the edge of the Grand Canyon, you'll probably be amazed. Many visitors sum up the view from the rim with one word: Wow. An immense landscape spreads below your feet, dropping cliff by cliff into a winding, ragged gorge. In the distance, imposing walls and towers of stone rise to a green line of forest.
About 5 million visitors go to behold this Grand Canyon sight each year, the vast majority of them visiting the canyon's more popular South Rim. It's one of the most-visited natural wonders in the world. As incredible as the views are, as long as you stay above the rim, be prepared to deal with crowds. Those with the time and conditioning to venture below the rim, however, will receive a special treat.
The best strategy is to visit the park at the times of year when it won't be packed with sightseers and to explore the less-developed areas. Summer is Grand Canyon's peak season. Spring and fall see lighter crowds, especially in early March and late October. Even a winter visit is possible on the South Rim, though the snow may deter most travelers. To avoid crowds and to visit during pleasant weather, late spring and fall are good times to visit.
A visit to the more remote North Rim (usually open mid-May to October, depending on the snowfall) will help you avoid crowds. The northern route also gives you the opportunity to visit Pipe Spring National Monument, an early Mormon settlement near the border with Utah.
If you have to visit during the summer, reserve accommodations and specialty tours at least six to nine months in advance. If you're just visiting the Grand Canyon for a day, arrive early, as parking is limited.
Try to arrange a trip into the canyon, which is the best way to appreciate its size and topography. Options include hiking, riding a mule down from the top or passing through the canyon on a river excursion. A prime destination for overnight hikes is Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Reservation, with the option of a helicopter ride to the falls for the leg-weary. A neighboring tribe, the Hualapai, controls access to the West Rim and offers raft trips through the Canyon's western extremities.
Should you decide to stick to the topside, as most visitors do, you'll hardly be disappointed. The vistas from the rim are incomparable, especially at sunset.
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