13 Off-the-Beaten Path Grand Canyon Adventures

Epic hiking, spectacular views, majestic wildlife and even a ghost or two are part of the Grand Canyon’s adventurous allure.

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November 05, 2019
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Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Madison Kirkman Photography

Photo By: Madison Kirkman Photography

Photo By: Madison Kirkman Photography

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Bureau of Land Management

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Services

Photo By: Petrified Forest National Park

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Photo By: Grand Canyon National Park Service

Powell Point, Grand Canyon - South Rim

Choose your own Grand Canyon adventure. You can get in shape on scenic hiking trails, go whitewater rafting, observe local wildlife, delve into the history and ghost stories of this definitive American landmark, create a photography portfolio and so much more. The Grand Canyon sits on an area which is 1,902 square miles and a mile deep and almost as big as the state of Delaware. The south rim (pictured) is the most visited section due to its location and accessibility. But Grand Canyon West, which is outside the national park on the Hualapi reservation, and the north rim are less crowded. All three locations offer plenty of off-the-beaten-path activities for the adventurous explorer but so does the eastern border of the park along highway 89 if you are traveling from the north to south rim. Here are some possible itineraries to consider as you plot your adventure.

Guano Point, Grand Canyon West

Located off of historic Route 66, you begin your journey to the west rim in Peach Springs, Arizona and follow Diamond Creek Road to Hualapi Ranch, which is the hub of the park. Guano Point (pictured), the former hub of a mining operation, offers spectacular views of sheer rock walls towering over the Colorado River below. If you are feeling particularly fearless, you can test your nerves on the only zip line in the Grand Canyon.

Skywalk, Grand Canyon West

One of the most thrilling attractions at the west rim is the Skywalk Glass Bridge, an architectural wonder with a horseshoe design and a glass floor that extends 70 feet out over the canyon edge at Eagle Point. Even though the Skywalk looks lightweight, it was designed to support 70 fully loaded 747 passenger jets. If you want an even better view of the area, book a helicopter tour. Outdoor enthusiasts who want a more “hands on” experience with Grand Canyon west can take a whitewater rafting trip.

Hualapai Ranch, Grand Canyon West

Unless you are camping, lodging choices are going to be limited and Hualapai Ranch (pictured) is your best bet for a cabin. Private cars are prohibited without a permit but shuttles will take you to the main sites. Hualapai Ranch is a family-friendly spot offering wagon rides, roping exhibitions and other activities but seasoned hikers will want to venture out into the wild and explore places like Havasu Canyon, a visually spectacular mixture of red rock cliffs and turquoise pools fed by several waterfalls. Grand Canyon Caverns in nearby Peach Springs is rumored to be haunted and features a ghost walk. You can also spend the night there in their bunk house village and dine 210 feet underground in the Grotto restaurant.

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Cape Royal, Grand Canyon - North Rim

Less crowded than the south rim due to its remote location and shorter season (it is closed from mid-October to mid-May), the north rim is the place to go for hikes with spectacular views or more private walks through wilderness areas. One of the most grandiose views of the Grand Canyon can be accessed on the Cape Royal Trail (pictured) which is an easy walk and less than a mile round trip. Cape Final Trail (4 miles round trip) is also recommended for its combination of shady forest paths and awesome peak views.

Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon - North Rim

Among the more difficult and challenging trails in the north rim are the Ken Patrick Trail and the North Kaibab Trail (make sure you bring water as none is available along the trails). The former is a one way 10-mile hike with spectacular scenic overlooks (you can set up a pre-arranged ride for return). North Kaibab Trail, a 14-mile trek, passes through every ecosystem in the park from desert vegetation to redwall limestone formations. A favorite spot for a four day camping expedition (permits required) is the lush oasis of Tapeats Creek (pictured) with its waterfalls and swimming holes. You can access it from the Bill Hall trailhead at Monument Point.

Elk Grazing in the Grand Canyon

Over 91 species of mammals make their home in the Grand Canyon and you will probably encounter some of them in the north and south rim (please don’t feed or approach them). The most commonly observed animals are mule deer, elk (pictured), bighorn sheep, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, wild turkeys and collared lizards. If your interests veer more toward the folklore and legends of the Grand Canyon, ghost tours are offered occasionally and include stories about The Wandering Woman (sometimes seen on the Transept Trail) and Rees B. Griffiths, a trail foreman who was killed in a blast excavation and is said to haunt the North Kaibab Trail.

Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona

If you plan to visit the south rim from the north rim, you will be traveling along Highway 89 toward Page, Arizona. The Vermilion Cliffs Monument (pictured) with its sinuous slot canyons and colorful sandstone formations like The Wave and Buckskin Gulch is highly recommended but you must apply for a permit via a daily lottery/walk-in system to enter. Equally stunning and less restrictive for visiting is the famous Antelope Canyon outside Page which is a true geological wonder. Located on Navajo Indian Tribal lands, tours can be booked through the local operators.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon

Page, Arizona is a hub for water-related actives. At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is northeast of the city, boat rides, fishing and water sports like skiing are offered on Lake Powell. Visitors interested in taking longer, overnight rafting trips should head south from Page to Lees Ferry where you can explore the wilds of the Colorado River (pictured).

The Painted Desert, East End of the Grand Canyon National Park

As you drive south on Highway 89 toward the south rim entrance, you will pass through Tuba City, Arizona where you can immerse yourself in Native American culture and history at the Navajo Interactive Museum or take a guided tour of Hopi and Navajo lands and see petroglyphs and other amazing sights among the mesas. The biggest attraction here is The Painted Desert (pictured) with its seemingly endless expanse of red, orange and pink hills, buttes and landscapes. It is part of the Petrified Forest National Park.

El Tovar Hotel in Winter, Grand Canyon - South Rim

Compared to other tourist destinations in the Grand Canyon, the south rim offers the widest variety of activities and sights. In addition to guided bus tours and numerous hiking trails, you can also rent bicycles, take a horseback tour and even travel to the bottom of the canyon on a mule. History buffs will love the many famous landmarks such as Hermit’s Rest (a 1914 miner’s cabin), Hopi House (designed by architect Mary Jane Colter in 1905) and the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower circa 1932, the highest point on the south rim. Make sure you visit the El Tovar Hotel (pictured), the grand jewel of historic park lodges, which was built in 1905 and is said to be haunted by the ghost of hotel chain owner Fred Harvey.

Vishnu Temple, Grand Canyon - South Rim

The Grand Canyon is the ultimate photo op and the south rim is famous for its many scenic views. But you have to break away from the tourist throngs to get the best shots. Shoshone Point offers more than 180-degree views of the canyon and is usually deserted because the turnoff is unmarked. The one-mile trail begins behind a walk around metal gate at the end of a dirt parking lot off Desert View Drive (approximately 1.3 miles east of Yaki Point). Hopi Point offers unobstructed views of the famous stone temple rock formations like Vishnu Temple (pictured) and is an easy two-mile walk from the beginning of Hermit Road. (You can also view Vishnu Temple from Cape Royal at the north rim.) Go at sunset during the off season (late fall-early spring) and it will be less crowded.

Mohave Point, Grand Canyon - South Rim

Hiking in the south rim offers fewer beginner-friendly trails than the north rim so you need to be an experienced hiker to tackle some of the paths. But it is worth the effort for the amazing views. The Bright Angel Trail takes you through a desert landscape to a natural spring (boil before drinking) and waterfalls but it is a 9.2-mile roundtrip trek over rough terrain. Grandview Trail affords dazzling views of the Cave of Domes and Horseshoe Mesa but it is a punishing 6.4-roundtrip-journey. Even though the Rim Trail is 12 miles long, it is one of the more moderate paths and takes you to Mohave Point (pictured), one of the most popular scenic viewpoints. Remember to take water and avoid selfies on the rim!

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