The Greatest Show on Earth

Grand Canyon Trail

For 277 miles, the Grand Canyon astounds with red cliffs towering above the Colorado River. But there’s much more to the place than its epic walls. From sunrises and sunsets to awe-inspiring history and legendary characters, the journey through the canyon will change your life.

Lees Ferry

Mile 0

Lees Ferry

Lees Ferry is the put-in for floating the 226 miles of canyon below (including beneath Navajo Bridge, seen here) on trips ranging from seven to 25 days. You can either apply for a self-guided permit (the success rate is roughly 27 percent) or join one of the canyon’s 16 commercial outfitters (ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 per person; oars.com or azraft.com).

Roaring 20s

Mile 20

Roaring 20s

Much of the river is actually pretty placid for vast stretches through Grand Canyon National Park. The Roaring 20s are the exception. On the canyon’s one-to-ten scale—one being a small riffle and ten being a giant drop—are seven exhilarating rapids rated above five.

Redwall Cavern

Mile 33

Redwall Cavern

From the outside, rafters might easily dismiss this scoop at the base of the canyon’s wall. But upon entering, the cavern opens up into a limestone amphitheater. Here, stratified walls studded with marine fossils arch overhead, and a sandy beach carpets the cave’s base.

The Fighter

Legends of the Canyon

The Fighter

Before her death last November, Katie Lee spent half a century working to restore Glen Canyon, a lost place that was even more astounding than the Grand.

Nankoweap

Mile 52

Nankoweap

The Nankoweap granaries, which date to A.D. 1,100, look like square windows cut into the side of Marble Canyon. Ancestral Puebloans stored grains here to keep them dry and safe from pests. The granaries can be accessed via a half-mile scramble from the beach or from the Nankoweap Trail, a difficult two-day trek with steep drops, thorny brush, and little shade.

Legends of the Canyon: The Boatmaker

The Confluence

Mile 61

The Confluence

The meeting of the Little Colorado and Colorado is sacred to many Native American tribes. For years, a developer worked to build a 1.4-mile tram that would shuttle up to 10,000 daily visitors into the canyon. Activists in the Navajo Nation, however, were determined to defeat it.

The Disappearance of Boyd Moore

Mile 65

The Disappearance of Boyd Moore

In 1955, 22-year-old Boyd Moore tried to cross the Colorado was never seen again. His story is just one of many in the classic Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. The book is far from the only one worth reading about the canyon.

Upper Granite Gorge

Mile 77

Upper Granite Gorge

More than 40 identified rock layers in the mile-high canyon walls recount a deep history of the planet—for those who know how to read it. Upper Granite Gorge, for instance, was formed some 55 million years ago. The geology of Grand Canyon also creates wild rock formations and rowdy rapids—like the Grapevine (mile 81) and Zoroaster Canyon (mile 84).

The Night Sky

The Storyteller

Legends of the Canyon

The Storyteller

The canyon has been occupied by Native peoples for centuries—but that history is too often overlooked, says archaeologist Jason Nez

Ribbon Falls

Mile 88

Ribbon Falls

The 100-foot waterfall is known as the “emergence place” from which the Zuni Tribe originated. While the Zuni are now based in New Mexico, they maintain strong ties to the canyon. “Every water source is sacred,” says Kenny Bowekaty, an archaeologist with the Pueblo of Zuni. Trouble in the Canyon: Though mining is banned in the park, the recent decision to re-open Canyon Mine, six miles south of the park, has caused controversy and efforts to thwart the mine.

See the Grand Canyon (Without a Boat)

Mile 88

See the Grand Canyon (Without a Boat)

Just because you didn’t land a private permit to float the Colorado doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy its 40 layers of mind-jarring beauty. With a little planning and insider information, you can dodge the millions of visitors and enjoy some peace, quiet, and remarkable views by foot.

Granite Rapid

Mile 94

Granite Rapid

It’s not just the float that makes the canyon so special—it’s the views from camp as well.

The Trailblazer

Legends of the Canyon

The Trailblazer

In 1869, John Wesley Powell led nine men and four boats on the first documented descent through the Grand Canyon. As is made clear in this excerpt from John F. Ross’s The Promise of the Grand Canyon (out July 2018 from Viking), it was a hell of a challenge.

Hermit Trail

Mile 95

Hermit Trail

This roughly nine-mile trail is rugged but offers spectacular crowd-free views (seen here). There’s designated camping at Hermit Creek or Hermit Rapids ($10 backcountry permit, plus $8 per person). Arizona Outback Adventures leads guided three-day backpacking trips (from $795 per person; aoa-adventures.com).

Running Rim to Rim to Rim

Mile 99

Running Rim to Rim to Rim

One of the craziest speed records in ultrarunning takes athletes from the top of the canyon, down to the bottom, and then all the way back up again—twice.

Elves Chasm

Mile 116

Elves Chasm

The Glen Canyon Dam feeds the Colorado from the frigid depths of Lake Powell, meaning the river’s temperature hovers at an unnatural 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Elves Chasm, an iconic side canyon, is home to more temperate waters. The mineral-rich flow creates surreal hanging gardens that drop into a deep-blue swimming hole.

Sponsor Content: In Current

The River Guides

Legends of the Canyon

The River Guides

Nikki and Colleen Cooley want to get more Native Americans working on their sacred rivers.

The Throne Room

Mile 136

The Throne Room

It’s a rough ten-mile hike from the North Rim to Deer Creek Canyon, but it’s worth it to see a water-filled enclave in a desert landscape. Get a backcountry permit, bring your own water, and climb behind the waterfall to the Throne Room, where flat rocks form chairs where you can sit.

Upset Rapid

Mile 150

Upset Rapid

Rated an eight on the canyon’s scale, Upset Rapid got its name during the 1923 Birdswell Expedition, organized to complete a new map of the canyon, when boatman Emery Kolb flipped his dory.

Havasu Falls

Mile 157

Havasu Falls

These stunning turquoise falls are central to the Havasupai Tribe, whose name means “people of the blue-green water.” They have been vocal advocates against the mining and development near the canyon. The falls can be accessed from the river or via land by reserving a spot through the Havasupai.

The Obsessive

Legends of the Canyon

The Obsessive

Harvey Butchart hiked more than 12,000 miles and made 28 first ascents, and yet almost no one outside the close-knit canyon community knows his name.

Lava Falls

Mile 179

Lava Falls

One of the most powerful rapids in the canyon has long thwarted those trying to run it—especially those trying to make it down in record time.

Diamond Creek

Mile 226

Diamond Creek

Though the canyon continues downstream to Grand Wash Cliffs, many float trips take out at Diamond Creek.

The Missing Couple

Legends of the Canyon

The Missing Couple

Glen and Bessie Hyde were floating the Colorado on their honeymoon when they went missing near mile 237. Their bodies have never been found, sparking conspiracies about what happened to them. Did they drown? Did Bessie kill Glen to escape the marriage? Even today, the mystery endures.

The Canyon's Clouds

Helicopter Alley

Mile 250

Helicopter Alley

Every day, more than 300 helicopters fly through the lower canyon from the Hualapai Reservation. Is Grand Canyon West turning into “Las Vegas East” and ruining the park’s wilderness? Or is it saving a Native American tribe?

The Rabblerouser

Legends of the Canyon

The Rabblerouser

Georgie White Clark trash-talked clients and fed them beans for dinner—but she also pioneered commercial rafting on the river

Credits

Photography by: Forest Woodward

Additional photography by: Jason Hatfield, Christoph Lischetzki/Alamy, Craig Lovell, David Marx, Peter McBride, Zak Podmore, Amy S. Martin, National Geographic Creative/Alamy, Historic photos courtesy of the Northern Arizona University Cline Library, Andrew Peacock/Tandem, and Brandon van Son/Tandem

Reporting by: Abigail Barronian, Anna Callaghan, Ula Chrobak, Joe Jackson, Brett Martin, Annette McGivney, Zak Podmore, Frederick Reimers

Videos by: Chris Harley, Harun Mehmedinovic, David Marx

Illustrated by: Brett Affrunti

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