Three Offbeat Trips to Ditch the Grand Canyon Crowds

Credit: Whit Richardson / Getty Images

By Foot: The Remote North Rim
Ninety percent of the 5 million tourists who visit the Grand Canyon each year end up on the South Rim. Which means that the North Rim's Thunder River–Deer Creek Trail, a 30-mile loop that the Park Service calls "something close to canyon perfection," is almost always deserted. And the trail lives up to the billing. In addition to eluding the crowds, it passes two of the most spectacular waterfalls in the canyon, Deer Creek and Thunder Spring, which after a rain roar like a fire hose from a cleft in the sandstone. To get top-to-bottom and back up again, you'll need three or four days — and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. But the reward is a night camped along the shores of the Colorado River and utter solitude for the entire trip. The trudge up to the rim is not for the unprepared: At 6,500 vertical feet, it's more than most 14ers. But the resulting high is a feeling you can get only from climbing out of the Grand Canyon all by yourself.

By Car: The Big Loop
The Southwest's most epic road trip is a 600-mile jaunt around the entirety of the Grand Canyon, a route that conveniently hits Zion National Park, Grand Staircase–Escalante monument, Glen Canyon Dam, and Lake Havasu. Beginning and ending in Las Vegas, the trip will take about four days, and you'll have enough time to stop for hiking at the North Rim, gawking at tourists at the South Rim, and a night at Amangiri resort, near Page, Arizona, where you can get a sky-deck room and sleep under the stars in the comfort of a king-size bed. Before heading back to Vegas via the Hoover Dam, turn off Highway 89 a few miles north of Flagstaff. There's an 800-foot-high volcano with a perfectly cylindrical cone and lava flow spilling out of its northern flank. Locally it's known as "Shit Pot Crater," and you can slide down its volcanic pebbles like snow. It's the sort of detour that makes sense only on a wayward road trip.


By Boat: The Mighty Colorado
Floating the 277-mile length of the canyon, the most dramatic way to experience its sandstone walls, takes about three weeks. But you don't need to quit your job to get the experience. OARS offers a seven-day guided trip that starts at Phantom Ranch, midway down the river, and covers nearly all the highlights, including 150-foot Deer Creek Falls, the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River, and the infamous Lava Falls rapid. To start the trip, you'll hike from the South Rim to the bottom of the canyon, where the dories, carrying a full kitchen and stocked bar, are waiting. Instead of 21 glorious days of beach camping, Dutch-oven feasting, and slot-canyon hiking, it's only seven. But with a trip-ending helicopter ride direct to Las Vegas, in no way does the shortened float lack in adrenaline.