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.
Above: Canyon view from Desert View
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. Unless you have a lot of time, the first thing to do is to select which area of the park you want to visit. Here, let’s focus on the most popular and easily accessible rim, the South Rim.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is located off Highway 64 in the Kaibab National Forest, about 80 miles from Flagstaff. With 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.
From Hermit’s Rest to Desert View Watchtower, here’s your travel guide for how to spend your time at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Above: Grand Canyon Visitor Center
Stop by the Visitor Center
When you arrive, make your first stop a trip to 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.
Above: Hiking along the Bright Angel Trail
Go for a Hike
There are many hiking trails to choose from around the 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.
Above: Entranceway to Hermits Rest
Get Out to Hermits Rest
From the shuttle stop near the Bright Angel Trailhead, hop on the westbound shuttle to 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.
Above: Inside Hermits Rest
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.
Above: Desert View Watchtower
Visit Desert View
To get out to Desert View, you’ll have to drive, 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 Highway 64. There are a few more lookout points, such as 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 the ruins are from an ancestral Puebloan village.
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.
Above: The Tusayan Museum
Where to Stay
When you visit the South Rim you can stay either inside or outside the park. There are various accommodations in nearby towns just outside the park. For staying inside the park, you can stay at a lodge or camp, either in an RV or a tent, depending on the site. Whichever you choose, just make sure to book far in advance! Accommodations book up quickly.
Above: An elk grazing near the Bright Angel Trailhead
When visiting the Grand Canyon, you will need your own car. However, once you’re inside the park at Grand Canyon Village, you don’t really need to drive around much. 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.
Above: Canyon view from Mather Point
Tips for Traveling
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!