Last updated on July 29, 2023 by Wandering our World
As far as holes in the ground go, both the Grand Canyon and Copper Canyon are pretty impressive. In fact, they are so impressive that one of these two canyons constantly features on lists of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World”— and it’s actually the smaller of the two.
That’s because as grand as the Grand Canyon is, the Copper Canyon is both deeper and longer and just as impressive. But which one should you visit?
Located in the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre, Copper Canyon is one of Mexico’s most visited tourist attractions. It’s actually a series of six canyons which cut through the Sierra Madre Occidental in north-western Mexico. Together, the six canyons are several times larger than the Grand Canyon, and at their deepest, they are over a mile deep.
The Grand Canyon is located in north-western Arizona and needs little introduction. Grand Canyon National Park receives over five million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited tourist attractions in the US.
As a single canyon, it’s larger than each of the six canyons at Copper Canyon, and it is 277 miles (446 kilometers) long, up to 18 miles (29 kilometers) wide, and also reaches a depth of over a mile.
Without a doubt, Copper Canyon and the Grand Canyon are two of the world’s most impressive ditches, but it can still be hard to decide which one to visit.
That where we can help! Read on as we show you which is better for hiking, stargazing, wildlife, photography and lots more.
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Has The Best Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Wildlife?
- Which Is Best For Photography?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Better For Stargazing?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Grand Canyon: Getting There
On the whole, the Grand Canyon is somewhat more accessible than Copper Canyon. However, the journey to Copper Canyon is rewarding in itself and should not be dismissed because it requires a little more effort to reach.
To fly to the Grand Canyon, there are two main options: Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) and Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas.
The airport in Phoenix is a little closer than the Vegas option, but the Vegas option gives you the choice to enjoy a few nights in Sin City too.
From Phoenix, the drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim is about 230 miles and would take roughly three and a half hours. Whereas the drive from the international airport in Vegas to the South Rim would take closer to four and a half hours.
However, from Vegas, you can also head to the Grand Canyon’s West Rim, which is the second-most-visited area of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon’s West Rim is located on Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands and is not actually a part of the Grand Canyon National Park, but it offers plenty of activities for tourists.
Copper Canyon: Getting There
The best way to get to the Copper Canyon in Mexico is by train. The Copper Canyon is located deep within the state of Chihuahua, and you can either drive, take a bus, or take the only passenger train in Mexico, El Chepe.
The train is a wonderful, relaxing experience that will give you great views en route, directly from your seat.
The train line has two terminals, one to the west of the canyons, at Los Mochis, and one to the east, at Chihuahua City. The majority of tourists to the Copper Canyon fly into Los Mochis and begin the train ride there. It is also possible to travel in the opposite direction and start in Chihuahua City.
Valle del Fuerte Federal International Airport (LMM), commonly known as Los Mochis Airport, only receives domestic flights, so you may need to transit via Tijuana, Monterrey, Guadalajara, or Mexico City.
Alternatively, if you plan to make the journey to Copper Canyon in the opposite direction, Roberto Fierro Villalobos International Airport (CUU) in Chihuahua City may be a little easier for international travellers to reach as you can connect via either Denver or Dallas.
Which Has The Best Hiking?
Hiking in both areas will afford dramatic views across miles of breath-taking scenery, but if you are looking for a hiking vacation, which type of hiking you plan to do will have a bearing on which location is best for you.
For those looking to set up camp and hit the trails as and when they please, you may prefer the Grand Canyon, as hiking in the Copper Canyon region is mainly done on organized tours with a local guide.
Hiking in an organized group with a local guide is the preferred way to hike in Copper Canyon, as the trails are not very well marked and the maps are not 100% accurate.
The best trails in Copper Canyon are also multi-day hikes. The hikes from Cusarare to Divisadero and from Batopilas to Urique are popular routes, and both will take three or four days to complete, with stunning views and huge waterfalls along the way.
The Grand Canyon is better suited to people looking for independent hiking at their own pace or for those who prefer single-day hikes.
The Grand Canyon has both single-day and multi-day treks, and you have a lot more freedom to pick and choose your routes and start times. You also have more choice in terms of the difficulty of the hikes, with many easy day hikes available.
If you are looking for an epic multi-day hike in the Grand Canyon, the best trail is the epic Rim-To-Rim Trail. This breath-taking—both literally and figuratively—24-mile trail takes in both the North Rim and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and takes most people two days.
While it is possible to complete in one day, most prefer to take their time to enjoy the awe-inspiring arid landscape and spend a night at the Phantom Ranch along the way.
For shorter treks, the Grandview Trail, coming in at a little over twelve miles, is arduous but rewarding. One of the highlights along the way is the Last Chance Mine, a disused copper mine which was one of the few at the Grand Canyon that was relatively profitable.
The six-mile South Kaibab Trail and the nine-mile Widforss Trail are considered two of the best single-day hikes, too. Both will require you to take water with you, and the Widforss Trail is one of the trails that offers its walkers the most shade.
Which Is Better For Activities?
If you are looking for more than simply having your breath taken away by the scenery and the hiking trails, then you will be pleased to know there are options in both Copper Canyon and the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon: The Activities
For the Grand Canyon, the national park area is more about the scenery and the hiking, but you have a few options for other activities too.
Both the North Rim and the South Rim have visitor centers to explore, and the South Rim also has a few other activities.
From the South Rim, you can also join rafting trips—both smooth water and white water. Although, the white-water rafting is done over multiple days and requires booking well in advance.
There are also options to cycle or to enjoy the park’s scenery from the back of a mule. The mule rides are offered year-round on the South Rim, and you can opt for the Canyon Vistas Ride, which takes three hours and travels along the canyon rim, or the overnight rides, which go to the bottom of the canyon and stay overnight at the Phantom Ranch.
For more thrills and spills, you should head to the West Rim, which lies outside the national park. Grand Canyon West is a tribal enterprise of the sovereign Indian nation of the Hualapai Tribe, “The People of the Tall Pines.” Grand Canyon West is the closest area to Las Vegas and receives many visitors on day trips.
There, you can enjoy the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a 10-foot-wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge extending out over the rim of the Grand Canyon, giving you a clear view 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor below.
Also at Grand Canyon West, you can zip over the canyon on the zip line or ride the Colorado River rapids on a raft.
The zip line has a kilometer of line, and you’ll soar 500 feet above the floor of a side canyon, reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
And for the ultimate view over the Grand Canyon, why not take a helicopter ride? You can even book a helicopter tour that includes champagne and a light picnic on a private plateau of the canyon floor!
Copper Canyon: The Activities
Not to be outdone, Copper Canyon also has a few activities to keep thrill-seekers happy.
The Copper Canyon Adventure Park is home to various adrenaline-inducing attractions, including the Zip Rider, a via ferrata, and an aerial tram.
Zip Rider is one of the world’s longest zip lines, with two and a half kilometers of line that drops almost half a kilometer along the way. The highest recorded speed on the zip line is a whopping 84 miles per hour!
The area surrounding Copper Canyon is also very popular with keen mountain bikers. The town of Creel is about 15 miles away from the canyons and hosts a unique national cycling festival and race series every year in July.
The area’s diverse terrain, combined with the town’s elevation of 2,300 meters, ensures plenty of excellent downhill trails, as well as world-class technical single-track, winding back roads, and challenging long climbs through rocky desert landscapes.
Which Is Better For Wildlife?
The Grand Canyon and Copper Canyon are both blessed with impressive flora and fauna.
Grand Canyon: Wildlife
Grand Canyon National Park is home to a staggering 373 species of birds, 89 mammals, 47 reptiles, 9 amphibians, and 17 fish species.
Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are also seen in the park, as are the imposing-yet-impressive Rocky Mountain elk.
You should also keep an eye in the sky for California condors and peregrine falcons, and there’s even a small chance of spotting a golden eagle soaring through the sky.
Copper Canyon: Wildlife
Copper Canyon’s wide variation in elevation results in two distinct climatic zones, with sub-tropical forests in the valleys and a cool alpine climate in the highlands.
The wild topography and these distinct climatic zones have resulted in an amazing array of flora and fauna in the canyons. The forests are home to twenty-three species of pine and two hundred species of oak trees!
Among the wild animals in the Copper Canyon area are black bears, pumas, otters, snakes, and white-tailed deer. The canyons are also home to over 300 species of birds, and in the winter, more birds visit as they migrate from colder regions.
Which Is Best For Photography?
Both the Grand Canyon and Copper Canyon will provide ample opportunities for epic landscape photography.
There’s also the chance of spotting some impressive and interesting wildlife to photograph, while the absence of light pollution makes both locations good places to take photos of the night sky too.
In terms of landscape photography alone, it’s hard to split the two into a winner and a loser. There’s definitely no loser, and you won’t be disappointed with the vistas in either location.
But perhaps the Grand Canyon has more iconic shots to seek out, as it’s the better known of the two locations.
The Grand Canyon National Park has many known viewpoints and lookouts, and chances are, you will recognize these places from pictures you have seen in National Geographic or on computer screensavers.
That being said, Copper Canyon is much larger than the Grand Canyon and offers more varied landscapes to photograph.
Aside from the six canyons, you also have huge waterfalls, rivers, wildflowers, indigenous Tarahumara Indian tribes, and the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad to snap away at until your heart’s content. Or your battery dies…
You can also take a three-hour drive from Creel to Basaseachi National Park for epic waterfalls. The park is home to Basaseachic Falls, the second-tallest waterfall in Mexico, which drops just shy of 250 meters! There are various lookouts along the park’s hiking trails.
Which Is Best For Families?
While both locations offer stunning scenery and some fun-filled activities to enjoy, the Grand Canyon would probably be the better choice for families, especially if the children are still quite young.
Hiking in the Copper Canyon area is not ideal for families, but the train ride between Los Mochis and Chihuahua City is open to all.
The journey crosses some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain, hugging the edge of mountains and crossing deep ravines on narrow bridges. You can also get off the train at Divisadero station and hit the Copper Canyon Adventure Park.
There’s just a lot more going on for families at the Grand Canyon. The activity-rich West Rim is a great place for a day, and the South Rim is also great for families.
The visitor center in Grand Canyon Village is worth checking out, and then you have plenty of short and easy family-friendly trails to hike along to take in the epic scenery.
Which Is Better For Stargazing?
If you glance up at the night sky in either location, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the stars above. Both places are relatively free from light pollution, and you should get clear views of the skies as long as the weather and the clouds play ball.
The Grand Canyon was designated as an International Dark Sky Park back in 2016. This indicates the park has clear skies, is relatively free from light pollution, and that the park’s lighting points downward.
During the month of June each year, the Grand Canyon National Park hosts an annual Star Party, but you can enjoy the stars throughout the year if June doesn’t fit with your travel plans.
There are two excellent viewpoints for watching the night sky on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim: Yavapai Point and Lipan Point. The overlook at Yavapai Point is a short walk from Grand Canyon Village and is an easy place to set up a telescope and watch the stars. Lipan Point is known for its sparkling-clear views of the Milky Way and star constellations.
Even farther from the bright lights of cities, high in the Sierra Madre mountains, Copper Canyon also boasts clear night skies. If you are lucky with the weather, you can get to view meteorites, planets, and thousands of stars from Copper Canyon.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
The good news is that it is possible to visit either location at any time of the year. However, depending on your plans when you are there, there may be certain times of the year when the climate will suit you better.
For hiking in the Grand Canyon, the spring months from March to May and the autumn months from September to November are ideal, as the temperatures are not as high as during the summer.
Also, there will probably be fewer people visiting the park outside of the summer months. Be aware, however, that the North Rim is not open all year and is only open from mid-May to mid-October due to the possibility of snowy conditions making the trails more treacherous.
If you intend to hike down to the bottom of the canyon, you should also bear in mind that the summer temperatures at the bottom can get extremely hot, and precautions must be taken to avoid heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
For Copper Canyon, there is less of a temperature change throughout the year, but June and July can be very hot for trekking.
August sees the start of the rains, and the landscape will be fresh and green. It will be hot at the lower elevations, but at the upper areas, the refreshing daily showers will cool the air nicely.
Grand Canyon vs Copper Canyon: Which Is The Better Choice?
Picking out which one of these two spectacular locations is “the best” is nigh on impossible. In terms of the views alone, they both offer epic vistas across deep and impressive canyons, and neither will disappoint.
But the choice of which one to visit will probably not be about which one has the best views alone. The two locations have many similarities but are also quite different from each other.
If you are looking for an independent hiking vacation, you would probably prefer the Grand Canyon, as it offers the freedom to explore at your own pace.
Be aware that the park can get busy during certain times of the year, though, so if you prefer a less-crowded trail, Copper Canyon might just hit the spot.
Both locations have plenty of other activities to engage in too, such as rafting and cycling, although the Grand Canyon is possibly more ideal for families to visit. Whereas avid mountain bikers may just be feeling the pull of the more diverse terrain in Mexico.
Whichever of these fantastic destinations you choose to visit, you are sure to have a phenomenal time. Be prepared to have your breath taken away…