Visiting the Grand Canyon: Safe and Socially-Distant Ways to Experience It All
Going crazy from COVID? We get it. If you’re dying to get out of the house and boost your spirits, there’s no safer place to go than into the wild. The Grand Canyon National Park is just a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas and a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix. Though the park is nestled deep in the Kaibab Forest, there are dozens of nearby hotels available to visitors, many of which rest right on the canyon’s edge. You’ll also find restaurants, museums, art galleries, and shops.
If you’re planning to visit the Grand Canyon National Park, there is no shortage of activities nearby, all of which offer unique sightseeing opportunities and outdoor adventure you simply can’t experience anywhere else. Check out our list of can’t-miss tours and excursions waiting for you at the Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
How many breathtaking aerial views of the Grand Canyon National Park have you seen on social media, in nature documentaries, and in books and magazines? Probably thousands. How many have you seen with your own eyes?
You can experience bird’s-eye views of the canyon walls and the Colorado River (and capture professional-looking pictures of your own) on a Grand Canyon helicopter tour. These once-in-a-lifetime excursions offer you views you simply can’t replicate from the ground. Papillon Grand Canyon helicopters operate a variety of helicopter tours that traverse both the South and North Rims, featuring individual headset narration of the famous natural rock formations you’ll pass. In order to maintain the peaceful nature of the park, Papillon’s helicopter fleet uses noise-reduction technology; they even offer a more eco-friendly tour option to minimize their presence in the area.
For even more incredible photo opportunities, you can upgrade your helicopter experience to include a Grand Canyon driving tour aboard a customized Hummer vehicle. If you’re not ready for the adrenaline rush of a helicopter, or you have a larger party, Papillon also offers Grand Canyon airplane tours, which can also be combined with a Hummer tour experience.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters operates in full compliance with COVID-19 safety restrictions . All aircraft are sanitized between tours for passenger safety.
Buck Wild Hummer Tours
Some of the South Rim’s most recognizable landmarks are scattered along the rim over the course of a few miles. If you’re not in the mood for a hike, you can still see them all aboard a hummer tour. Buck Wild Hummer Tours offers a variety of ground tours using repurposed military humvees. These comfy and spacious vehicles are built for sightseeing with plush seating, massive viewing windows, and even offer heating and blankets in the colder months! Operated by a seasoned professional, you’ll traverse the canyon rim to several scenic destinations, with stops for photos at each. Often, guides will actually seek out more secluded areas, so your group can avoid crowded spots.
The size of these vehicles makes a Hummer tour the perfect adventure for families and groups. One of the most popular tours (and rightfully so) is the Signature Sunset tour, which sets off right as the sun reaches the horizon across the canyon walls. You can even add a helicopter tour or airplane flight to your Hummer tour package to create the ultimate sightseeing experience.
In accordance to COVID-19 restrictions, Buck Wild Hummer Tours can currently accommodate up to 9 passengers per vehicle. Passengers will have their temperatures checked before boarding and must wear masks while inside the vehicle. Masks may be removed during photo stops with appropriate social distancing. Masks can be provided to passengers without one.
Walks, Hikes, and Biking
Let’s get the first and most popular question out of the way: Yes, it is possible to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. Should you do it? Only if you’re an extremely experienced and prepared hiker. About 250 people are rescued each year while hiking in the canyon, and be assured that you do not want to be one of them. Don’t get discouraged - there are plenty of alternative trails and day hikes that are significantly safer and offer equally beautiful views.
Grand Canyon trails like the Rim Trail, Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Hermit Trail, and Grandview Trail offer hikers a variety of scenic regions to explore, with paths ranging in difficulty from 5-12 miles roundtrip. While these trails are not as daunting as hiking down to the Colorado River, it is still of utmost importance that hikers are prepared with plentiful water and food, appropriate clothing and footwear, as well as sun protection. Browse some hiking tips for full recommendations of what to expect on each trail. If you don’t feel ready to hike the Grand Canyon alone, there are also guided Grand Canyon hikes available.
Backcountry hiking is also a possibility at the canyon once a backcountry permit is procured through the National Park Service. Backcountry hiking is meant for dedicated and experienced hikers: you’ll be subject to extreme heat and cold, virtually no natural potable water, and complete isolation.
Additionally, local shops like Bright Angel Bicycles rent bikes and motorized e-bikes for visitor use while exploring the canyon. You can traverse the 13-mile bike trail start to finish, or load your rented bicycle onto the park’s shuttle and reach different lookout points faster. Bicycling at the national park is an awesome way to see the area’s sights and still get your blood moving.
In the early days of Grand Canyon visitation, the only way to traverse the area was by mule. As crazy as that sounds, it’s actually still an option today - and a wildly popular one. Since 1887, tourists have clamored for the opportunity to explore the South Rim’s terrain on the back of a mule, and today these mule tours are often booked out up to 15 months in advance.
If you’re one of the lucky individuals who have the chance to ride a mule in the canyon, you’ll explore over 4 miles of South Rim territory led by an experienced and knowledgeable guide. During your 2-hour adventure, you’ll make multiple stops to take photos and learn more about the history of the area.
If the thought of riding into a deep canyon on muleback has you anxious, fear not. These docile mules have coursed these trails their entire lives; in fact, they literally steer themselves along the familiar paths. To ride a mule, riders must be at least 9 years old (all riders under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian), stand at least 57 inches tall, and be between 200-225 pounds depending on your tour type. It is also worth noting that mule tours are only offered in English.
Don’t wait until you’ve already arrived at the South Rim to try to book a mule tour. These excursions are possibly the canyon’s most high-demand activity for visitors from around the world, all of whom scramble for the chance to make their reservation. There is a waiting list for day-before cancellations, but your best bet is to play it safe and book a mule tour far in advance.
Book Your Mule Tour: (303) 297-2757; Toll-Free (888) 297-2757
Big E's Steakhouse & Saloon
For foodies and families alike, after a long day of exploring, there’s one restaurant you must make time for - Big E’s Steakhouse and Saloon. This Old West eatery isn’t a country-themed tourist attraction, it’s the real deal. Big E’s is family-owned by the Halvorsons, the patriarch of which was the innovator of the world-famous Grand Canyon helicopter tours in 1965.
Of course, the restaurant’s claim to fame are their succulent steaks coming from Harris Ranch - providing the West with the finest all-natural beef since the 1930s. Big E’s menu also includes a variety of bar-chic appetizers like jalapeno poppers and buffalo wings, soups and salads, and massive, meaty entrees. Indulge in prime rib, baby back ribs, the Arizona Ranch Burger, or the Elling’s Classic Half Chicken (named for the legendary Elling Halvorson himself). You’ll also find vegetarian options, a kid-friendly menu, and even a to-go menu - for the explorers who can’t sit still for long.
As its name suggests, Big E’s also includes a saloon featuring a full bar and specialty Wild West-themed cocktails like the Pecos Bill and the Sally Ann Thunder Whirlwind. The saloon offers plentiful outdoor patio seating, so you’re never too far from the surrounding nature.
In order to create a safe environment for guests, Big E’s employees wear masks at all times when in contact with diners, and have temperature checks before and after shifts. Tables, chairs, menus, and condiments are sanitized regularly and hand sanitizers are available for customer use at each table. Diners will be offered a personal bag to store their mask while dining. Parties of 11 or more will be socially distanced during their meal.
Big E’s Steakhouse is open 7 days a week from 3pm until 9pm.
Find Big E’s Steakhouse at: BLDG 395 State Route 64, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Grand Canyon Camping
You’d be hard-pressed to find a brighter night sky in the United States outside of the Grand Canyon National Park. If sleeping under the stars is your favorite type of vacation, then start planning your Grand Canyon camping trip now! There are multiple campsites surrounding the park, including Mather Campground and the North Rim Campground (which is closed from November 1 to May 14 annual due to snowfall), as well as Trailer Village - offering full hook-ups. These sites are based on reservations and fill up regularly, so book in advance to ensure your spot beneath the stars. Additionally, you can try your luck at the National Park Service’s Desert View Campground, which is a First-Come-First-Serve site.
Socially-Distanced Unique Getaways
The American Southwest is known around the world for its otherworldly landscapes and breathtaking desert expanses. Secluded from society and its bright lights, here is some of the purest desert nature and the brightest starscapes in the world - but seclusion doesn’t mean off-limits.
Scattered between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, Coral Dunes State Park, and the deserts of Kanab are some of the most unique overnight opportunities one could ask for - and perfectly Instagram-able. A simple search on AirBnb and you’ll find trendy tiny houses and glamping sites fit for a celebrity.
Built by ranchers and desert-dwelling locals, these adorable accommodations are modernized for comfort while maintaining plenty of rustic outdoorsy feel. Why waste your nights in a Strip hotel when you can cozy up in a renovated storage container - updated with full amenities like heat and air conditioning as well as a hot tub and rooftop stargazing deck! You can even find safari tents, yurts, and tipis large enough for groups (many of which even have king sized beds and WiFi).
Sterilized before and after guests in compliance with AirBnb’s COVID Safety Regulations, these tiny houses for rent and Southwest glamping sites are a perfect overnight stop for road trips to the national parks, or a perfect romantic getaway with a night sky you’ll never see again.
There’s a relatively-common - and kind of annoying - joke about visiting the Grand Canyon: Okay, I’m looking at it... now what? Realistically, there never has to be a dull moment in your visit. If you plan your activities and reserve your tours in advance, you can maximize your visit and create a truly