The Grand Canyon doesn’t need much of an introduction.
The 277-mile-long geological marvel is one of the most famous places in the United States. The steep canyon walls layered with multicolored rock are instantly recognizable.
Yet no matter how many images you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, nothing can prepare you for the experience of seeing it in person. Standing at the rim of this mile-deep canyon, carved over millennia by the Colorado River, will leave you awe-struck.
However, planning your visit to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming.
Grand Canyon National Park covers 1,904 square miles and is spread out over a large, remote area of northern Arizona. The canyon is divided into four areas: the North Rim, South Rim, East Rim, and West Rim. Once you’ve decided to visit the Grand Canyon, it can be difficult to know where to start planning.
Unless you have a lot of time, the first thing to do is to select which area of the park you want to visit. There are advantage and disadvantages to each area. Here, we’re going to focus on the most popular and easily accessible rim, the South Rim.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is located off highway AZ-64 in the Kaibab National Forest, about 80 miles from Flagstaff and about 115 miles from Sedona. With part of the small town of Grand Canyon Village inside the park and shuttle bus services throughout, it’s easy to experience the South Rim in just a couple days.
Here’s your travel guide for what to do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Stop by the Grand Canyon Visitor Center
When you arrive, make sure your first stop is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. It’s a great way to orient yourself in the park area and learn information about the canyon’s history.
The center features maps, history displays, and video presentations to provide information on the story of the Grand Canyon. There are rangers on hand that give presentations and will answer any questions you might have.
There’s a park store, bike rental shop, and cafe nearby as well. Plus, it’s just a short walk from there over to Mather Point, a great spot to enjoy some canyon views.
The Visitor Center is located at S Entrance Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023. Opening hours vary by season.
There are many hiking trails to choose from around the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
The trail that’s right for you will depend on what kind of hiker you are. If you’re very experienced you might want to hike all the way to the bottom (but you’ll have to wait until the next day to hike back up to the top).
If you’re not looking for anything too intense, a stroll along the rim will probably do. From the visitor center, it’s an easy walk along the Rim Trail to Mather Point. For a moderate hike that will take you below the rim, make your way to Bright Angel Trail over by the Bright Angel Lodge.
There are several lookout points along the South Rim and many of them have some kind of trail you can hike along. Just keep in mind that it will take longer to hike back up than it takes to hike down and the high elevation can make it more difficult.
Time one of your hikes with the early morning or late afternoon to see the shadows move across the rocks. For an even lovelier view, have a stroll around sunrise or sunset.
If you have any questions about the trails, just ask a park ranger!
Visit Hermits Rest
From the shuttle stop near the Bright Angel Trailhead, hop on the free westbound shuttle to the South Rim’s Hermits Rest.
There are eight lookout points along the way to Hermits Rest: Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, and Pima Point.
Some points are close enough to walk between, while some generally require hopping back on the shuttle. Each point offers its own unique view of the canyon and river, and some feature memorials and historical information as well.
Use the information pamphlets and tips from the driver to select which points you’d like to visit.
Wherever you stop along the way, make sure to find your way to the end of the line and visit Hermits Rest, a National Historic Landmark.
Hermits Rest was designed by Mary Colter and built in 1914 as a stopping place for travelers and is famous for its architecture. The site remains traveler-friendly and has food, picnic tables, a shop, and other services. A rough and unmaintained hiking trail continues westward for experienced desert hikers as well.
Hermits Rest is a great, historical sight to see during your time at the South Rim.
Go Out to Desert View
To get out to Desert View, you’ll have to hope in the car and drive. The drive from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View is about 35 minutes, and it could be longer depending on if there’s any traffic or road construction, but there are plenty of interesting pit stops along the way.
To get to the watchtower, you’ll head east on Desert View Drive toward AZ-64. this road will take you all the way there. Note that Desert View Drive and AZ-64 are the same road in this area.
Along Desert View Drive and the highway there are several lookout points where you can stop to enjoy the canyon views. A couple good ones to stop at are Grandview Point and Moran Point.
Just a few miles before the watchtower you’ll find the Tusayan Museum and Ruin. The museum features Native American exhibits and artifacts that are 2,000-4,000 years old. The ruins are from an ancestral Puebloan village, where you can catch a glimpse of daily life 800 years ago. There is a short trail, about .1 mile, around the ruins. It’s well worth a visit while you’re in the area.
The Tusayan Museum and Ruin are located off Desert View Drive. When you’re driving from Grand Canyon Village, you’ll find them on the right side of the highway. Opening hours may vary by season.
Just past the museum you’ll come to Desert View, home to Desert View Watchtower, Desert View Point, and various shops and services.
Inside the watchtower, also designed by Mary Colter, you’ll find information stations, demonstrations, and a shop. A spiral staircase leads to the top floor of this 70-foot tower, designed to look like an ancient Pueblo watchtower. Follow the steps for more wonderful canyon views.
Desert View is located off AZ-64. You’ll turn left off the highway when coming from Grand Canyon Village. Opening hours may vary by season.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon
When you visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon you can stay either inside or outside the park.
The town of Grand Canyon Village includes areas both inside and outside the park. Outside the park, there are several hotels along highway AZ-64 near the Grand Canyon Airport. There are also more accommodations farther down the highway in the town of Williams.
For staying inside the park, you can stay at a hotel, lodge or campsite.
There are a few famous hotels right along the rim of the canyon, such as El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge. Accommodation prices vary, but at these well-known lodges, the prices can be steep.
There are also a few campsites where you can stay in either in an RV or a tent, depending on the site. There’s Trailer Village RV Park and Mather Campground, for instance. Camping, of course, will be a far more budget-friendly option. (Just keep in mind that it gets very hot at the canyon in the summer and very cold in the winter.)
Whichever you choose, just make sure to book far in advance! Accommodations at the Grand Canyon book up quickly. If you plan to visit during a busy time, like the summer, make your reservations as far ahead as you can (like, many months beforehand).
How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Get Around the Area
The most convenient way to get to the Grand Canyon is by car. All the activity at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is centered around Grand Canyon Village.
Grand Canyon Village is located off AZ-64. The main interstate highway through this area is the I-40. If you’re coming from south of the park, you’ll get on AZ-64 from Interstate 40. Another way to access this highway is off US-89 N, which you might use if you’ve been driving along historic Route 66.
Along AZ-64, you’ll pass through the South Entrance Station. This is where you enter Grand Canyon National Park. The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per individual. The individual fee only applies if you’re entering on foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, or Grand Canyon Railway (more on the train below). The vehicle entrance fee covers all the people in your vehicle (or motorcycle). The entrance fee gets you a seven-day pass to Grand Canyon National Park.
Once you’re inside the park at Grand Canyon Village, you can either continue to drive or use the shuttle buses.
Depending on the season, free shuttle buses run every 10-15 minutes during the day. Once you find a spot to park, it’s easy to leave your car there and shuttle around as needed.
Parking around the South Rim can get difficult when it’s busy, so the shuttle buses are a convenient option. You can get more information about current shuttle schedules once inside the park (another great reason to stop by the Visitor Center!). However, some destinations in the park are easiest to reach by car, like the Tusayan Museum and Desert View.
There is also a train that stops at the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The train runs daily year-round and the journey is two hours and 15 minutes each way.
The route only runs between Williams, which is just west of Flagstaff, and the South Rim. If you’re traveling with railway fans, this can also be a fun option. However, you’ll still need to get to Williams to catch the train, which you’ll have to do by car or bus.
Finally, there is also an airport nearby — Grand Canyon Airport. The airport is only open to private or charter aircrafts. The Grand Canyon National Park Airport is located about eight miles outside the park at 871 Liberator Dr, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023.
Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon
Here are just a few extra things to remember when visiting the Grand Canyon:
- Respect the wildlife. You will likely see elk roaming around. They’re used to people and may come near you, but it’s important to keep your distance.
- Stay hydrated! The canyon is located at a high elevation in the desert. It can get very hot and very dry, so remember to drink lots of water.
- Be patient. If you’re visiting during the summer or other busy time, it will be crowded. It’s easy to get frustrated sitting at a shuttle stop in 100 degree heat with a crowd of people, so just remember to keep your cool.
- Pay attention. Listen to your body and don’t try to do too much. Rest when you need it. Stop and enjoy the scenery around you. Enjoy the moment!
- Find more tips for visiting the Grand Canyon here.
The Grand Canyon is a magnificent place. Even if you’ve seen a thousand photos of it, you still can’t be prepared for the sight of the canyon as it stretches out before you. It may be one of the most popular attractions in the United States, but with some planning and patience, you’ll be able to enjoy this wonder of the world to its fullest. From Hermits Rest out to Desert View, there’s so much to enjoy at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Cheers!
Find more travel guides to help you plan your trip to Arizona here.