Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States, and one of the most beloved national parks in Arizona thanks to its otherworldly landscape; archaeological artifacts left behind by Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and other tribes; and adventure activities, such as rafting on the Colorado River, hiking, and driving and aerial tours. In 2017, it received more than six million visitors for the first time.
This year, Grand Canyon National Park is celebrating another major milestone—its 100th anniversary. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, conservationists, including presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt, worked to implement protections that would limit commercial and industrial development of the site and maintain its natural beauty. Then, on February 26, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that officially created Grand Canyon National Park (the country’s 17th), preserving it for generations to come. Ever since, it’s been a sought-after destination for families, adventure enthusiasts, and other travelers from around the world.
While any time is a great time to explore the Grand Canyon, this year’s centennial celebration brings special events, festivities, and travel deals that you won’t want to miss, whether you’re planning to focus on the park itself or incorporate a visit into a broader Arizona itinerary. Here are a few highlights.
Take part in special events all year
Throughout 2019, visitors to the Grand Canyon and destinations across Arizona can explore exhibits, watch demonstrations, and participate in events that examine the natural wonder’s environment and provide insight into the cultural traditions of the communities that have lived in and around the canyon. The Founder’s Day Centennial Celebration takes place at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on February 26, but the festivities will continue all year: Join the Grand Canyon Conservency for an evening of stories in Phoenix in April, attend the Grand Canyon Centennial Star Party in June, or—if you can’t make it to Arizona—peruse the online “100 Years of Grand” project that highlights thousands of archival photographs and documents. Check out Grand Canyon National Park’s schedule for a full view of 2019 centennial events.
And that’s on top of all the park’s classics that can be experienced every year, like a free tour of the 800-year-old Tusayan Pueblo Ruin. The village, which was built around 1185 C.E. by ancestral Puebloans, is one of 4,000 archaeological sites recorded within Grand Canyon National Park. For a more intimate experience, join a park ranger walk-and-talk on topics such as plant life or the history of the canyon’s human inhabitants. Those who are up for a physical challenge can climb 85 stairs to the top of Desert View Watchtower for jaw-dropping views.
Travel by historic rail
Visitors with a penchant for train travel can explore the Grand Canyon by rail with Grand Canyon Railway’s one- or two-night Centennial Getaway Packages, which include an exclusive 30 percent discount on train fare; overnights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel; breakfast and dinner at its Grand Depot Café; a lively Wild West Show, complete with a mock altercation between the fictitious Cataract Creek Gang and the town marshal; and the 130-mile round-trip rail journey between Williams Depot (in Williams, Arizona) and the Grand Canyon.
Wake up near the spectacular South Rim
From March 1 through December 31, 2019, visitors can take advantage of Grand Canyon National Park Lodges’ centennial offers at four of the organization’s accommodations: Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, and Maswik Lodge. All are located inside the park and within a quarter-mile of the stunning South Rim. Breakfast at the lodges’ restaurants, parking, guided motorcoach sightseeing tours, and a 20 percent discount at parent company Xanterra’s souvenir gift shops are included.
Forge through the canyon on foot
If you really want to experience the canyon’s complex terrain, you’ll have to set out on foot. Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) offers multi- and single-day hiking, backpacking, and cycling tours in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah, and to celebrate the park’s centennial, the company is offering 20 percent off any standard, noncustomizable Grand Canyon tour for groups of four or more throughout 2019.
Accommodation options on multiday tours include backcountry camping and overnights at the park’s historic Phantom Ranch, both of which require lengthy permit processes and can sell out up to a year in advance. A major perk of traveling with AOA: It significantly reduces the stress of acquiring essential reservations for these sites and others throughout the park.
Explore by land and by air from Sedona
Located in the heart of Sedona’s Red Rock Country, roughly 110 miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, L’Auberge de Sedona is the closest luxury resort to the canyon. It is offering a three-night Grand Canyon Centennial Celebration Package (from $2,500 for three nights, based on double occupancy) with highlights such as three nights in one of the resort’s Vista or Spa Cottages; a scenic flight to and above the Grand Canyon aboard a Cessna aircraft with Westwind Air Service; and a guided drive around the park with Pink Jeep Tours, complete with lunch on the canyon’s rim. The package is available to book through April 30, for travel by August 31.
Taste your way through an Arizona-inspired menu in Scottsdale
In celebration of not only Grand Canyon National Park’s anniversary but also Arizona’s statehood celebration month in February, Kitchen West Restaurant at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch is serving up a new, monthly Five C’s Supper Series (from $85 per person). Each of the three-course, family-style dinners (held on February 21, March 28, April 25, May 30, and June 20 in 2019) will pay homage to one of Arizona’s five famous features and economic drivers—copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate—through edible interpretations by executive chef Rick Dupere. Sample menu items include a pecan tart with cotton-candy grape sorbet—a nod to the state’s cotton industry—and a cucumber, currant tomato, caviar, and lime salad that celebrates Arizona citrus. Dishes are served alongside wines from Arizona vineyards; reservations are required.
Toast the centennial in Scottsdale—and make a contribution
Although it’s roughly 225 miles south of the Grand Canyon, Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale is offering a Grand Canyon Centennial Package of its own (from $209 per night) that includes two welcome cocktails, complimentary fitness classes, and more. (Book the package with promo code “PKGgrand” for stays now through December 31, 2019.)
All resort guests can give back by heading to its bar, too. In honor of one of the Grand Canyon’s celebrated explorers—soldier and botanist Joseph Christmas Ives—mixologists at bar/restaurant Hearth ’61 created the Bold Botanist cocktail, made with Tanqueray (containing juniper, which thrives in the Grand Canyon), lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, mint, and angostura bitters; the restaurant will donate one dollar from the proceeds of each drink sold to Grand Canyon National Park.
>>Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Grand Canyon National Park
Lindsay Lambert Day