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Two scenic drives – South Rim Road and North Rim Road – are packed with vista points and unforgettable photo ops of the nearly vertical canyon walls. It’s not just the scale of the canyon that makes the view extraordinary. The walls are composed of some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth, with strata (layers of sedimentary rock) that are also stunning. Don’t miss Painted Wall on the canyon’s north side. Its lighter colored streaks stretching across the rock face almost resemble the river below.

Hikes down into the inner canyon and to the river follow unmarked, unmaintained trails and are extremely strenuous (permits are required for any inner canyon activities), so most hikers will want to stick to the canyon rim. This is where the most breathtaking views can be found after all. From the South Rim, the easy Cedar Point Nature Trail features guideposts highlighting local plant life and ends with two scenic overlooks, while the more strenuous Oak Flat Loop Trail dips below the rim of the canyon for a glimpse into the depths. The North Rim’s Chasm View Nature Trail is a short, moderate hike that rewards you with some of the park’s best views of Painted Wall.

You can also drive the extremely steep East Portal Road (closed in winter), following hairpin turns to the river itself. Trout fishermen will want to spend some time here fishing the designated Gold Medal & Wild Trout Water. No matter how you choose to explore, keep an eye out for wildlife – from marmot and chipmunks to elk and bighorn sheep. The park is designated an international Dark Sky Park, so come back to visit at night or plan a camping trip. You can stargaze on your own or check the park’s schedule for guided astronomy talks and other events.

Aerial view of Asheville, North Carolina
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