updated 5/6/2011 1:36:36 PM ET 2011-05-06T17:36:36

The world may chide America for its supersized ways, but when it comes to the Grand Canyon, the more-is-better approach is clearly the right way to go. Yves Rossy, a Swiss daredevil known as "JetMan" clearly agreed, given his grand plans to fly over the canyon in a jet-propelled wing suit.

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If strapping a jet engine to your back seems overly ambitious — as it did to JetMan, who abruptly canceled his flight citing lack of preparation — here are three more accessible alternative ways to experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon:

Slideshow: The Grand Canyon in Pictures

1. White-water rafting
Rafting the Colorado is an epic, adrenaline pumping adventure. The canyon’s true grandeur is best grasped looking up from the river, not down from the rim. Its human history comes alive in ruins, wrecks and rock art. You can hike to mystical grottos and waterfalls, explore ethereally lit slot canyons and view wildlife in its native habitat.

Commercial trips vary in length, from three days to three weeks. Motorized pontoon rafts are the most stable option. Oar boats are more exciting and common. A fun alternative is to float in a river dory, a small, elegant hard-shelled rowboat for four passengers. Still, if it’s thrills you’re after, book a trip in an inflatable raft, which has you, your shipmates and a guide paddling all at once.

At night you’ll be camping under stars on sandy beaches (gear provided). It’s not as primitive as it sounds — guides are legendary not only for their white-water acumen but also for their culinary skills.

Veteran river guides suggest you plan a trip in April or between mid-September and mid-October, when air temperatures are mild and rafters can tackle day hikes not possible in summer. Drawbacks of a spring or fall excursion include occasional storms, headwinds and shorter daylight hours. It takes about two or three weeks to run the entire 279 miles of river through the canyon. Shorter sections of around 100 miles take four to nine days.

2. Mule rides
If you want to see the inner canyon from the backside of a mule, you’ve got to commit to an overnight trip to the bottom. Otherwise there is a three-hour ride from Grand Canyon Village to the Abyss Overlook, the site of a 3,000-foot vertical drop beside Hermit Road.

Rides depart daily from the stone corral west of Bright Angel Lodge and wind over a mule trail through ponderosas, junipers and piñons. Overnight trips head 10 miles down via the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch and up eight miles on the South Kaibab Trail.

Riders must be at least four feet and seven inches tall, speak fluent English and weigh 200 pounds or less (225 pounds for a day trip). Wranglers won’t let you saddle up unless you wear a hat tied to your head (April to October), a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.

To book a mule trip more than 24 hours and up to 13 months in advance, contact Xanterra. If you get to the park without a reservation, stop by the Bright Angel Lodge transportation desk and see what’s available. If it’s all booked, sign the waiting list, show up at 6:15 a.m. the following day and hope for a cancellation. Or make tracks to the other side of the canyon: mule rides on the North Rim are usually available the day before the trip.

3. Mountain biking
Mountain bikers have limited options inside the park, as bicycles are only allowed on roads and the Greenway Trail (this will evolve as the Greenway Plan develops). Hermit Road offers a scenic ride west to Hermits Rest, about 16 miles round-trip from the village. Keep in mind that shuttles ply this road every 10 to 15 minutes between March and November. They are not permitted to pass bicyclists, so you’ll have to pull over each time one drives by. The rest of the year, traffic is minimal, making this a very pleasant ride.

Grand Canyon shuttle buses have racks that can hold up to three bikes. Alternatively, you could ride out to the East Entrance along Desert View Dr, a 50-mile round-trip from the village. The route is largely shuttle-free but sees a lot of car traffic in summer.

Just off Desert View Drive, the one-mile dirt road to Shoshone Point is an easy, nearly level ride that ends at this secluded panoramic vista, one of the few places to escape South Rim crowds. The Greenway Trail, running between Canyon View Information Plaza and Grand Canyon Village, is open to cyclists but is shared with pedestrians and wheelchairs. Bright Angel Bicycle Rentals began renting bicycles inside the park in 2010.

This story, Three alternative ways to see the Grand Canyon, originally appeared on

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Photos: America's national parks

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  1. Acadia

    Acadia National Park in Maine boasts the highest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and was the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Visitors beware: temperatures can vary 40 degrees -- from 45 degrees to 85 degrees in the summer and from 30 degrees to 70 degrees in the spring and fall. (Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rocky Mountain

    Bear Lake, with mountainside aspens changing colors in mid-autumn, is one of the popular attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Badlands

    The climate in South Dakota's Badlands National Park is extreme. Temperatures range from minus 40 degrees in the dead of winter to 116 degrees in the height of summer. Visitors are drawn to the park's rugged beauty as well as the area's rich fossil beds. (Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Yosemite

    One of the nation's first wilderness parks, Yosemite is known for its waterfalls, scenic valleys, meadows and giant sequoias. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. North Cascades National Park

    The North Cascades National Park complex offers something for everyone: Monstrous peaks, deep valleys, hundreds of glaciers and phenominal waterfalls. The complex includes the park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Zion

    This spectacular corner of southern Utah is a masterpiece of towering cliffs, deep red canyons, mesas, buttes and massive monoliths. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Redwood

    Created in 1968, Redwood National Park is located in Northern California. Today, visitors to the national park can enjoy the massive trees as well as an array of wildlife. (David Gotisha / Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Joshua Tree

    Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California. The area was made a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Great Smoky Mountains

    Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can expect mild winters and hot, humid summers, though temperatures can differ drastically as the park's elevation ranges from 800 feet to more than 6,600 feet. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Arches

    More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, many of them recognizable worldwide, are preserved in Utah's Arches National Park. Temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and can drop to below freezing in the winter. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Grand Teton

    The Snake River flows through Grand Teton National Park, and the jagged Teton Range rises above the sage-covered valley floor. Daytime temperatures during summer months are frequently in the 70s and 80s, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. (Anthony P. Bolante / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Haleakala

    Visitors watch the sun rise at 10,000 feet in Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii. If weather permits, visitors at the top of the mountain can see three other Hawaiian islands. (The Washington Post via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most recognizable national park. Nearly 5 million visitors view the mile-deep gorge every year, formed in part by erosion from the Colorado River. The North and South rims are separated by a 10-mile-wide canyon. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Yellowstone

    Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, was established in 1872. The park spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk live in the park. It is well known for Old Faithful and other geothermal features. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mount Rainier

    Glaciers. Rainforests. Hiking trails. Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington state, offers incredible scenery and a diverse ecology. The park aims to be carbon neutral by 2016. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Hawaii Volcanoes

    Two of the world's most active volcanoes can be found within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In 1980, the national park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve; in 1987, it was added as a World Heritage Site. (David Jordan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Everglades

    Everglades National Park covers the nation's largest subtropical wilderness. It is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors to the park can camp, boat, hike and find many other ways to enjoy the outdoors. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Glacier

    A view from atop the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail in Glacier National Park. With more than 700 miles of trails the park is known for its glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and beautiful lakes. (Matt McKnight / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bryce Canyon

    Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its distinctive geological structures called "hoodoos." (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crater Lake

    The brilliant blue Crater Lake, located in southern Oregon, was formed when Mount Mazama, standing at 12,000 feet, collapsed 7,700 years ago after a massive eruption. Crater Lake is one of the world's deepest lakes at 1,943 feet. (David Gotisha / Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Olympic

    Washington state's Olympic National Park offers visitors beaches on the Pacific Ocean, glacier-capped mountain peaks and everything in between. Keep the weather in mind when visiting, though, as roads and facilities can be affected by wind, rain and snow any time of year. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sequoia and Kings Canyon

    A woman stands among a grove of a Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park in Central California. The trees, which are native to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, are the world's largest by volume, reaching heights of 275 feet and a ground level girth of 109 feet. The oldest known Giant Sequoia based on its ring count is 3,500 years old. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Denali

    Alaska's Denali National Park spans 6 million acres and includes the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak. Many park visitors try to catch a glimpse of the "big five" -- moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bear. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Kenai Fjords National Park

    The National Park Service considers the 8.2-mile round-trip on Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park to be strenuous, saying hikers gain about 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile. (National Park Service via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Death Valley

    California's Death Valley encompasses more than 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness. In 1849, a group of gold rush pioneers entered the Valley, thinking it was a shortcut to California. After barely surviving the trek across the area, they named the spot "Death Valley." In the 1880s, native peoples were pushed out by mining companies who sought the riches of gold, silver, and borax. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Wind Cave

    Bison graze in Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Millions of bison were slaughtered by white hunters who pushed them to near-extinction by the late 1800s. Recovery programs have brought the bison numbers up to nearly 250,000. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Canyonlands

    The Lower Basins Zone is outlined by the white rim edge as seen from the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shenandoah

    Fall colors blanket the Shenandoah National Park, drawing tourists to Skyline Drive to view the scenery. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images
    Above: Slideshow (28) America's national parks
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    Stephen Saks / Lonely Planet Images
    Slideshow (18) America’s lesser-known national parks


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