Grand Canyon Skywalk Guide

Tourists stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon overlooking the Skywalk.
Tourists stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon overlooking the Skywalk. - Photo Flickr / Veselina Dzhingarova

Our Grand Canyon Skywalk guide is a must read if you are considering taking the once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk amongst the clouds, and experience the splendor at West rim. Imagine a platform (a glass bridge) that allows tourists a breathtaking glimpse of magnificent views above and below the Grand Canyon. It’s real and waiting for you.

This amazing glass bridge known as the Skywalk, is an inverted U-shaped pedestrian cantilever bridge with a transparent glass platform for a walkway. It is located on the western edge of the canyon near the Colorado River, and is suspended high above the renowned river at 1,450 meters (or 4,770 feet), with a vertical drop between 150 to 240 meters, or 500 to 800 feet. So how did this feat of modern engineering come to be?

The History of The Skywalk

The impressive man-made monument was the brainchild of Las Vegas businessman David Jin. The idea came in 1996, when Jin was working with the Hualapai Nation and was handling tourism plans within the Grand Canyon. The vision, a platform that extends out and into the West Rim edge of the canyon, allowing visitors to peer into the canyon below and gain more impressive vantage points.

Mr. Jin, owner of tourism company Oriental Travel and Tours then made his intentions known to the Hualapai Tribe. He approached the tribe with the idea of building a walkway from which visitors and tourists can walk around and see the canyon in an entirely different perspective. The structure would also attract more visitors to the canyon, bringing in revenue for the tribal people.

Grand Canyon Skywalk At A Glance:

  • Walk 70 feet past the edge of the Grand Canyon wall
  • Stand 4,000 feet above the Colorado River
  • Personal belongings, including cameras are not allowed on the bridge.
  • Helicopter and Boat tours also available at the West Rim
  • 2 Hour Drive from Las Vegas
  • Grand Canyon West Rim tours from Las Vegas return around 6:30PM

The Hualapai Nation ultimately agreed to the proposal, which was precipitated by several important agreements. David Jin will build the Skywalk with his own money, then in time the tribe will have the rights to the tourist structure. Mr. Jin signed an ownership to control and handle all Skywalk and Visitor Center affairs for 25 years, allowing him to recoup the costs that went into the Skywalk’s construction. After that, all the rights will be handed over to the native tribe.

With the agreement complete, David turned to architect Mark Ross Johnson for help. The initial design of a rectangular walkway was changed into a curved design, and has long since evolved to one of the most recognized structures in the world.

The Skywalk officially opened in March 2007 with the help of famous figures Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, former astronaut, and John Herrington. Buzz Aldrin was quoted as saying, “It was a wonderful experience, not quite exactly floating on air, but with a vision and a hope for its potential in the future”. Others remarked on how the glass was so clear it really felt like walking on clouds.

Accessibility, Policies and Facts

Tourists can make their way to visit the Skywalk via Highway 93 or from Las Vegas, Nevada. A tour package can be easily purchased from a reputable tour company in Las Vegas, with each package including shuttle bus transportation, terminal parking, access to the Hualapai Ranch and some scenic views of the Grand Canyon West. The 14km road is now paved and open for everyone who wishes to pass by this entrance. Visitors may not carry personal cameras while in the Skywalk vicinity, and will have to buy the photographs taken there. All other personal items must be stored in lockers before stepping foot on the horseshoe-shaped bridge.

Skywalk Construction

The Skywalk has to be completely safe for visitors, so it was designed to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake within 50 miles. It can hold a live load of 100 pound weight per square foot, with wind and seismic forces included in the equation. Two mass dampers installed in the outer beam and another one in the inner beam significantly reduce the footfall vibration of tourists walking around in it. The Skywalk can hold up to 822 people weighing 200 lbs each, but they only allow a maximum 120 people at any one time. The foundation is so strong that it can support 71, fully-loaded 747 planes, or approximately 71 million pounds of weight.

It weighs just a little bit above a million pounds, and approximately 1.6 millions pounds if you count everything, including the counterweights. The assembly took place on the canyon wall and moved by a jack and roll rig. The entire process took 2 days to be completed. The masterpiece cost around $30 million and took around four years to be completed. The companies that took part of this construction were Lochsa Engineering, MRJ Architects, Crux Subsurface Inc., DJ Scheffler Inc, and Executive Construction Management. Geologist John Peck and P.E. Aaron Hastings also helped with the development.

All in all, the Skywalk houses some impressive dimensions. The width is 20 meters, or 65 feet wide. The length measures 21 meters, or 70 feet if taken from the canyon wall’s side closest pole support. The bridge box beams that support the arch are held by eight box posts, each of them in turn having four posts located on the visitor’s center side. The box posts are further strengthened by large concrete footings, held by the canyon’s bedrock with industrial-grade, high-quality steel threaded rock anchors in a DYWIDAG (or Doo-Wee-Dag) configuration embedded deep into the rock face.

The deck measures 3.1 meters, or 10.2 feet and it is made of Saint-Gobain Diamant iron glass interlayered with DuPoint SentryGlas. The glass sidings are made of the same type of glass material, but because it needs to be curved to follow the walkway’s curve, the engineers made use of lesser layers. The sidings themselves have a height of 1.57 meters, or 5.2 feet, and are created to withstand high wind pressures.

The Future of Grand Canyon Skywalk

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is catalyst to a much larger plan to develop and introduce some luxuries and amenities at the Grand Canyon West Rim. The vision of a Grand Canyon Complex for the future includes a casino, restaurants, gift shops, a movie theater, a museum and a VIP lounge, among other things. Further additions would be in the form of golf courses, hotels and inns, and a cable car that would ferry visitors down from the rim to the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk enjoys an attendance of around 350,000 visitors per year, with the Hualapai Tribe handling all operations. The historical monument is currently active and is open to the public 365 days a year. It has already hosted around 2 million tourists since the time it officially opened in 2007.