Guided trips to the inner canyon  include mule tours, backpacking trips, and commercial river trips. Mule trips to Phantom Ranch are scheduled year-round. The commercial rafting season runs April-October. The best times for backpacking are spring and fall, although during winter, when both rims may be covered with snow, inner canyon temperatures average 50-60°F—great hiking weather.
Mule trips to the inner canyon originate from either rim. The Phantom Ranch Mule Tour  (303/297-2757 or 888/297-2757, daily year-round, $482 pp one night, $674 two nights, reduced rates for a second person), departing from the South Rim, is the only mule trip with an overnight in the canyon. Reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance. Tours fill up quickly, but last-minute cancellations are possible, and you can add your name to the waiting list at one of the transportation desks, located in the South Rim lodges or at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. The waiting list is shortest in winter, when cancellations are most likely.
The Phantom Ranch mule tour includes one night in the canyon, but you can arrange for a second night, which gives you more time to explore the lovely environs of Phantom Ranch. Even if you only spend a single night at Phantom Ranch , you can experience a lot of the canyon on a mule trip: history, scenery, camaraderie, and dramatic vistas from the canyon’s two most popular trails, Bright Angel  and South Kaibab .
On the North Rim, full-day mule trips are run by Grand Canyon Trail Rides  (P.O. Box 128, Tropic, UT 84776, 435/679-8665, www.canyonrides.com , mid-May-mid-Oct., $125 pp includes lunch) and head into the canyon via the North Kaibab Trail . They go as far as Roaring Springs but not to the river.
A guided river trip through the canyon is the experience of a lifetime, combining jaw-dropping scenery with camaraderie and relaxation. Typically, you’ll spend 4-8 hours on the river each day, with the rest of the time for hiking and exploring, or relaxing along the water’s edge. All the clichés you’ve heard are true: It is like entering another world, and time does lose its meaning.
Ten days will feel like 10 hours—you won’t believe the trip is over so quickly. Luckily, 10 days will also feel like 10 months because you’ve packed each one with so many experiences: great hikes, good food, gorgeous views, lots of white-water thrills, and plenty of peaceful moments. Be kind and give yourself at least a day or two to transition back to civilization.
Many commercial outfitters  include a few focused trips each season. Some trips feature more hiking; some showcase professional geologists, photographers, historians, or other experts who share their knowledge and skills. And if you can get together a large enough group to charter a trip, you may be able to suggest your own theme, such as rock-climbing or archaeology.
One of the first choices you’ll need to make when planning a trip is—to paraphrase Shakespeare—whether to motor or not to motor. Nonmotorized trips on paddle rafts, oar rafts, and wooden dories are slower and quieter—because there are no motors—and more exciting, because you sit closer to the water and may be one of the paddlers. On the other hand, motorized trips on large rafts demand less effort from passengers, offer a greater sense of safety, and allow you cover more canyon miles in a shorter period of time.
Some commercial outfitters have age limits, particularly on longer, more challenging trips. River trips are physically active, and you need to consider any health issues or limitations. You’ll find a host of helpful information on outfitters’ websites, and they are happy to discuss any particular concerns you might have. Being in good physical condition will help make your experience more enjoyable, but most outfitters are willing to work with people whose abilities are limited. The crew isn’t there to act as personal valets, but they will do their utmost to make sure you are safe and having a great time. Crew members are professional, caring, experienced, and well-versed in canyon geology and natural history. (But don’t fall for the story about the rock beavers.)
Reservations are required for trips, which can fill up to a year in advance. It’s possible to get on a trip on fairly short notice, however, as cancellations do occur. Prices start around $300 per day. This may seem like a lot of money, even for a guided trip, but it’s actually quite a bargain when you consider that meals and gear are included, and the experience you’ll have is priceless.
If time or money are issues, you can sign on for a half-length trip. Upper-canyon trips from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch (about 90 miles) feature stunning scenery and milder rapids. They are generally a day shorter than lower-canyon trips (about 130 miles), which navigate the river’s biggest rapids.
If you leave a river trip at Phantom Ranch, you’ll have to hike out of the canyon—more than nine miles and 8,000 feet of elevation. Conversely, if you join a river trip halfway, you’ll have to hike down to Phantom Ranch to meet the rest of your group. Either way, you can arrange ahead of time for a mule duffel service to transport your gear.
Commercial trips are scheduled April-October, with peak months being June-August. Discounts are sometimes available for early spring or late fall trips, when storms or cold spells are more likely: Bring fleece and rain gear. During the summer, when temperatures in the canyon soar past 100°F, the Colorado River remains a chilly 45-55°F, and splashing through rapids is welcome refreshment. Another way to beat the heat and relentless sun is to soak a cotton hat, shirt, bandana, or sarong in the Colorado’s cool water, then covering exposed skin. Camp shoes—a pair of flip-flops or clogs—feel great after a long day of hiking.
If you bring your lucky Bears cap or wear your favorite prescription sunglasses, be sure they’re attached with a clip or retainer before you go bouncing through the rapids. And no matter what type or length of trip you choose, bring plenty of sunscreen and moisturizing lotion, especially if you plan to paddle.
If you’ve never backpacked before, it’s a good idea to make your first overnight hike to the inner canyon  with a guide and other travelers. Not only will you be safer, you’ll also learn much more about the canyon’s flora, fauna, and geology, enriching your experience as you gain new skills.
The wide array of offerings from Grand Canyon Field Institute (GCFI, 928/638-2485 or 866/471-4435, gcfi [at] grandcanyon [dot] org, www.grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute ) includes guided backpacking expeditions. Backpacking trips range 2-5 nights and cover a variety of topics such as basic wilderness skills, photography, or geology. Participants must be age 18 or older and able to carry a pack weighing 30-50 pounds, although occasional mule-assisted trips are offered. As a nonprofit organization and park partner, GCFI also leads service trips, such as archaeological surveys or an inventory of water sources in a particular section of the canyon.
Another nonprofit organization with a long history of promoting lifetime learning, though now with a new name, is Road Scholar (11 Ave. de Layfayette, Boston, MA, 02111, 800/454-5798, www.elderhostel.org ). Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar features a number of Grand Canyon trips, including a six-day rim-to-rim backpack with a layover in the Phantom Ranch area and a couple of white-water expeditions.
More than 20 concessionaires hold permits to lead backpacking trips within the canyon, from nationally known, focused organizations such as National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to regional guide services such as Discovery Treks (480/247-9266 or 888/256-8731, www.discoverytreks.com ) and local companies like Grand Canyon Hikes (928/779-1614 or 877/506-6233, www.grandcanyonhikes.com ). Look for guides with Grand Canyon experience, wilderness first aid certification, and wilderness first responder (WFR) training, and don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials from past clients.
If you’re impatiently waiting for a river trip or trying to learn more about backpacking, check out the park’s wealth of online multimedia offerings (www.nps.gov/grca ). You can go on a virtual raft trip down the Colorado River, explore inner canyon sites on an interactive map, or listen to podcasts about current backcountry conditions.