Really, How Big is the Grand Canyon?

Superlatives such as the largest, deepest, widest, and even most beautiful could all apply to the Grand Canyon. But how big is it really?  

First of all, the Grand Canyon is bigger than two states in the United States: Rhode Island and Delaware. In fact, Grand Canyon National Park alone is larger than Rhode Island, and there are other areas of the Grand Canyon Region that are not included. A large portion of the southern section is part of the Hualapai Indian Reservation, and smaller portions of the area are within the Navajo Reservation and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

But “how big” is still a relative term. For some lucky individuals flying to Phoenix or Las Vegas, they may get to see some of the Grand Canyon from the air. This might give a good perspective of how vast the region is. Other visitors choose to take a scenic flight over the Grand Canyon, which involves a smaller aircraft that flies lower and affords incredible views. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and well worth the effort. There are also helicopter flights over sections of the Grand Canyon that are an exhilarating and beautiful way to experience its beauty. From the air, whether in an airplane or helicopter, you can gain a broad perspective of the size of the canyon.

But from the ground, it can seem almost impossibly large. Early visitors, before transportation and technology were advanced, found the enormous chasm to be an arduous barrier. Indeed, if one were to walk up to the edge and look across the formidable distance, it might seem a sheer impossibility to proceed. Whether 100 years ago or today, many who visit would feel that the enormous canyon is simply not crossable. 

There are a good number of people each year who hike “rim to rim” and can attest to the width of the canyon. Some of these hikers will hike from the rim, down to the bottom, staying overnight at Phantom Ranch along the river, before ascending back to the top. Others will take the more challenging version of the “rim to rim” hike without the overnight stay. Most will hike from the North Rim to the South Rim or from the South Rim to the North Rim. A few will go down and back from the same rim. There are also a good number each year who start this adventure and do not finish. One problem is that the way down is much easier, so it is not so easy to simply turn around and head back to the top of the rim. If you were to ask any of these hikers about the size of the Grand Canyon, you might receive a different response than from those that have flown over on a scenic flight. It is daunting to try to hike into a portion of the canyon, but the lessons it teaches can be impactful. 

The distance, as the crow flies, from Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim to the Lodge on the North Rim is only about ten miles, but a drive from one to the other requires about 5 hours to circumnavigate the canyon. That will give drivers a healthy feel of just how large it is and how far it is to “drive around the canyon.”

The canyon also changes the weather. The lowest part of the canyon is about 2,000 feet (600m) in elevation, while the highest part is about 8,00 feet (2,400m) high. With the drastic change in elevation, along with the huge span of the canyon and steep walls that disrupt the wind patterns, the canyon stirs up the weather patterns that pass along the western United States. It changes wind, precipitation, and temperature. 

The vastness of the Grand Canyon can be felt from standing along the rim. Even if there are other people around you, it can still feel like you are tiny and alone. It seems that the view never ends and that you almost could not reach the distant parts seen by the eye. About 90% of the visitors to Grand Canyon National Park visit the South Rim. Since only about 10% of park visitors will experience the North Rim, that is an area to explore if you want to feel a bit more away from the crowds and capture views from less busy areas. The North Rim is open from May to October. There are other areas of the National Park that are much less visited, and many even need a backcountry permit, allowing truly adventurous explorers to get away and enjoy the canyon’s natural beauty. 

Another section, called Toroweap (or Tuweep), will give visitors one of the best ways to experience how deep the canyon is. This is an area of sheer drop off. The cliffs are about 3,000 feet (915m) straight down to the river. This area is accessible only by private vehicle and requires driving 4×4 over a bumpy dirt road. For those anxious to see this unique section, it is important to be prepared and ready for the harsh conditions necessary to arrive there. 

Can you float? Another way to glimpse the size of the Grand Canyon and see its beauty from another angle is to enjoy a raft trip down the Colorado River. There are easy float trips of just a few hours, longer trips of a few days, or even an extensive 2-week trip that explores the length of the canyon. The longer trips include rapids that vary in size and degree by section and by season. 

In the summer of 1869, John Wesley Powell gathered 10 men and 4 boats to brave the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This historic expedition paved the way for future explorers. Today, visitors can choose the length and level they wish to experience and enjoy a well-planned trip to appreciate the canyon’s natural wonders. 

Speaking of the river, one way to measure the Grand Canyon is by the length of the portion of the Colorado River that flows from the easternmost to western-most ends of the Canyon, which is 277 miles. Officially, the Canyon begins in the east from Lee’s Ferry, just below Glen Canyon Dam (which forms Lake Powell), and ends at Grand Walsh Cliff at Lake Mead.

Here are some fun facts that may give you some idea of “How Big is the Grand Canyon”:

  • Four Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other could fit inside.
  • 22 Statues of Liberties stacked on top of each other could fit inside.
  • Approximately 1.5 million Pyramids of Giza could fit inside.
  • As many as 5,000 individual canyons form the full Grand Canyon.
  • The length of the Colorado River inside the canyon is 277 miles.
  • There are over 400 miles of hiking trails.
  • The widest point is 18 miles across from rim to rim.
  • Grand Canyon National Park is 1,902 square miles (4,931 km).
  • The Colorado River runs about 16,000-21,000 cfs (cubic feet per second).
  • Rim to Floor Depth: 5,000 feet (1,524m)
  • Rim Temperature Avg: Summer 80°F (25°C), Winter 50°F (10°C)
  • Inside Canyon Temperature Avg: Summer 100°F (38°C), Winter 60°F (16°C)

How much time do I need to see the Grand Canyon? This is an excellent question. Obviously, from much of the information about how large it is, it would take a significant amount of time to see most of the area. However, and this is a big however, the biggest gap to bridge is between seeing some of it and not seeing it all. In other words, it is important to get there and see it in person. As many, many visitors will attest to, once you stand on the rim and witness the miraculous view with your own eyes, you will be thrilled to capture the sight for the first time. Pictures are good, and descriptions are informative, but there is nothing like the feeling of standing on the rim and gazing out over the majesty of nature of the Grand Canyon.

The view, feeling, and experience will be different each time a person visits. The weather, temperature, time of day, season, and other factors will all influence the visit. The canyon can seem quite different from morning to afternoon to evening. It can look quite different from March to August to November. It can look completely different draped in fog, or clouds, or bright sunlight. But the canyon does not disappoint. It begs the visitor to return and see yet another display, another side of its personality, at another time. The Grand Canyon captivates. It mesmerizes. It promises. It imprints. It awaits you.

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