9 Things You Didn’t Know About the Grand Canyon

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I am really excited to spotlight the Grand Canyon as my Featured Travel Destination for the month of March. It’s been a while since I wrote extensively about a national park, and the Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, so it’s about time we give it some love.

More than four million people visit each year, making it the second most-visited national park in America, behind only Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

As with the 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Yellowstone post, you may already know some of these items, but hopefully you’ll pick up a few new facts.

1 Members of one Native American tribe still live inside the canyon
The Havasupai (which means “people of the blue-green waters”) have a reservation that borders Grand Canyon National Park. Their village is located near Havasu Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River that often sees flash floods.

Outside visitors are welcome, but you’ll have to be truly committed. It’s a minimum 8-mile hike from the nearest road into the Supai village, and you’ll pay an entry fee of $35 per person. Here’s more official info on the Havasupai.

grand canyon

2 There’s more than 1 billion years worth of rock exposed at the canyon
If you hike down into the canyon, you’ll walk past more than 1 billion years of rock. The canyon itself was supposedly formed between 5 and 17 million years ago. Either way you look at it, that’s seriously ancient. The canyon is 277 miles long, a mile deep, and 18 miles across at its widest point.

3 You can’t buy bottled water in the park
The Canyon has gone green! As of March 10, 2012, the Canyon officially eliminated the sale of water in disposable containers. This decision came after a study determined that 20 percent of the park’s waste came from plastic water bottles.

So what’s a thirsty hiker to do at the Grand Canyon? The park has free water stations throughout, so bring your own water container and fill it up as much and as often as you like.

4 It snows – sometimes a lot
The picture of the Grand Canyon most people have is that of a hot, dry place, but the North Rim, which sits 1,000 feet higher than the South, sees colder temperatures and plenty of snow in the winter months.

Sometimes, the main road to the canyon on the northern side will have to be closed due to inclement weather. I visited in late May and found snow on the ground. Not a ton, but enough for a snowball fight!

snowball fight grand canyon

5 It takes five hours to drive from one side of the canyon to the other
Thankfully, nobody has yet built a bridge across the canyon, so even though the North Rim and South Rim are only about 10 miles apart straight across, you have to drive all the way around the canyon to get from one side to the other.

That’s a 215-mile, five-hour drive. Most people don’t bother to visit both rims of the canyon since it’s such a long trek. If you like, you can take the Transcanyon Shuttle, the daily bus that travels from the North Rim to the South Rim and back once a day. Round-trip cost is $150 per person.

6 Lots of people die there
“Lots” is a relative term, but there are plenty of stories of people dying at the Grand Canyon – enough that some books have been written on the subject. In 2009, 12 people died there – one from a heart attack, one from suicide, and 10 from accidents. That was a fairly typical year.

Approximately 53 people fell to their deaths from the canyon rims from 1925 to 2005, with another 48 deaths inside the canyon. On rare occasions, people have even driven their vehicles straight into the canyon off the South Rim, Thelma and Louise style. People also have to be rescued on occasion. The last time I visited, I witnessed some sort of helicopter airlift out of the canyon. I don’t know if it was a person or supplies, but something was being transported out.

 grand canyon helicopter

7 The Canyon was unknown to Europeans until 1540
It’s believed that Spanish explorers and soldiers, traveling with Hopi guides, reached the canyon in 1540. The next contact with the site from Europeans didn’t come until 1776, and then not until the 1820s. It’s hard to believe that this massive American treasure was virtually unknown and unexplored by non-Native Americans just 200 years ago.

8 You can hike from one side to the other
The South Kaibab Trail is the one path that goes down into the canyon, crosses the Colorado River and comes back up the other side. It’s a 21-mile hike, which means that you’ll have to camp within the canyon overnight to complete it. And temperatures inside the canyon can be up to 30 degrees hotter than at the rim. Definitely not a trip for beginners!

grand canyon top

9 There’s an official Grand Canyon webcam
Check it out here, but you’re not going to see much happening. It’s a view looking north from the South Rim at Yavapai Point. On a clear day, the visibility is 225 miles. The webcam also provides weather information like temperature, wind speed, humidity and precipitation.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

36 comments on “9 Things You Didn’t Know About the Grand Canyon

  1. Yay! Thanks for this. My husband and I just yesterday received word that we were granted permits to backpack rim to rim this summer… in July! It’s gonna be hot, but we are so excited.

    • Cool! July will be rough temperature-wise, but I’m sure you will prepare adequately. That will be an awesome experience to read about!

    • I read that sometimes the GPS (and cell phones) don’t work there. I don’t remember having any problems on the north rim.

    • True, most people don’t leave enough time, probably because they don’t realize how much there is to do besides just looking down!

  2. Love the Grand Canyon and love this post! It actually snowed in the canyon…. shortly before I arrived. It also melted shortly before I arrived 🙁 The whole group of Grand-Zion-Bryce apparently welcomed winter with snowy days in early-or-so October this year. I saw the north rim from the road, on the way to Page, and I wished I was able to spend time there as well, but loved the south rim 🙂
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Video of the Week: Sunset Over Sedona, Arizona

    • I had a signal part of the time with Verizon, but part of the time I didn’t. I wouldn’t count on a reliable connection while there.

  3. I can’t believe I finally made it to the Grand Canyon! Had a great time there on last Friday & couldn’t believe how incredibly beautiful it is! Absolutely breath-taking! I was also amazed at how close people stand to the edge! I love adventure as well as the next person, however, be sensible!!!

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