Epic Nature and Culture Make Grand Canyon West the Ultimate Summer Adventure
Here’s how to spend a perfect 24 hours in the West’s most stunning and accessible destination.
When it comes to tourist destinations that actually live up to the hype, the Grand Canyon is at the top of the list. Spanning over 1,900 square miles, this geological phenomenon intersected by the Colorado River is a must-see in the desert Southwest. And its most spectacular region is located at Grand Canyon West outside Peach Springs, Arizona, just a two hour drive from Las Vegas, making it an exceptionally accessible destination. With magnificent landscapes, multiple ways of accessing its grandeur, and a rich Indigenous history, it’s the ideal road trip for both the adventurous and culturally curious.
To experience Grand Canyon West firsthand, I recently made the trip myself, flying into Las Vegas and driving two hours east along a wildflower-lined highway into western Arizona. Soon, the road gives way to oversize Joshua trees, and opens up onto the expanse of the world’s most famous geological marvels.
Situated at 4,000 feet above sea level, this stunning area is home to unparalleled beauty in the high desert, and is a microclimate all on its own. Upon entering, you’ll see swaths of oversize Joshua trees, desert willows, mezcal agaves, and piñon pines, the latter of which the Hualapai Tribe derived its name from, translating to “people of the tall pine.”
The Hualapai have resided in this region for thousands of years, and continue to be land stewards to this day. Exploring the breathtaking views at sites like Eagle Point and Guano Point, it’s easy to see why this land is sacred to its people.
On my visit I was fortunate to be led by Loretta Jackson, Ambassador Department Supervisor at Grand Canyon West, who shared the cultural and historical context, adding a rich layer to any visit. Jackson’s life’s work has included pushing for land rights, language preservation, and environmental stewardship on an intertribal level both locally with the Hualapai and surrounding Southwestern tribes as well as nationally. “The one takeaway I hope people have is understanding the culture,” says Jackson, emphasizing that Grand Canyon West is operated separately from the National Park Service. “We have to reinforce our traditions so that we can continue being a unique group which is the Hualapai People.”
Here’s how to enjoy a perfect day exploring Grand Canyon West, all while tapping into its unique history.
Walk the Sky
Walking atop a cantilevered 10-foot wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge, the Skywalk gives you a clear view 4,000 feet to the magnificent Canyon floor below and affords visitors some of the most awe-inspiring views in the area. But don’t rush through the experience at Eagle Point, or you might miss the rock formation of the bird that gives this spot its name. As you’ll see in the cultural exhibit leading up to the Skywalk, it’s an important part of the Hualapai creation myth. Don’t miss the self-guided tour of the Native American Village that features various Southwestern tribal housing styles from Navajo hogans and sweat lodges to Hualapai wikiups.
You’ll begin to question yourself anxiously ascending each of the seven flights to the zipline platform, but the views from the top alone are worth the $45 ticket price. Racing down the 3,200 feet of zip line will definitely get your adrenaline rushing as you zip 500 feet above side canyons and ochre terrain. Be sure to bring a camera with a neck strap to snap selfies, or purchase one of their lanyards in the shop so that you can go hands-free as you soar at 40 mph through this spectacular landmark.
Run the River
Make a reservation with Hualapai River Runners to take one- and two-day rafting trips out of Peach Springs, giving travelers a way to bathe in the beauty of the sacred canyon from within. (Bonus tip: The one day rafting trip is the only one available on the Colorado River!) Regardless of which trip you choose, the guides offer local expertise on geology and wildlife, giving a uniquely immersive perspective on this magical corner of the West.
Hover in a Heli
If there ever were a spot to splurge on a helicopter tour, this would be it. While the ride through the canyon may be a quick 15 minutes, every second is memorable. If the quick lift isn’t enough, you can also opt to fly down 3,500 feet to the Canyon floor, where you’ll disembark for a ride in a pontoon boat on the Colorado River. Once you’ve taken it all in, hop back in the heli to the top of the rim.
For exceptional views of the canyon, make sure to dine at the Sky View Restaurant, a sit-down restaurant offering American cuisine with vegetarian options, beer and wine, and a kids menu. And at Gwe Ma’jo at Hualapai Point, you can sample local favorites like hearty Hualapai stew, which is made with pine nuts, squash, corn, purple potatoes, and savory beef served with a piece of fry bread. There are also soft drinks and refreshments on offer. Before heading out, pop into the Hwal’bay Trading Post across the way to peruse locally made handicrafts, as well as other native-inspired wares.
Stay the Night
Get a taste of the Old West at Hualapai Point, designed to mimic the mining towns that once populated this area of Arizona. At The Cabins at Grand Canyon West, you’ll find 30 cozy yet rustic rooms that are an ideal spot to rest your head after a day of adventuring. Each comes with a microwave and fridge, but you’ll want to bring your own dinner on site, as the kitchen at Gwe Ma’jo, as well as the rest of the town, closes at 4 p.m. Watch the sunrise from your porch while sipping your morning coffee before heading off for a day of adventure, or heading back home.