Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon: 10 Top Attractions, Best Tours, and Where to Stay on the South Rim

The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most famous and awe-inspiring natural attractions and has been a road destination for generations. The North Rim and South Rim are accessible from opposite sides of the canyon, but most people visit the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The North Rim is closed for the winter, but the South Rim is open year-round and easily accessible from destinations such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Sedona, and Williams. The main entry point to this section of the park is the south entrance, where the main visitor center is located. It is also possible to enter from the east at the Desert View Entrance, but for most people this is a less convenient option.

To explore the park by road, there are two options from the South Entrance Visitor Center. Hermit Road heads west, past the small resort area of ​​Grand Canyon Village, more commonly known as the Village, with numerous lookout points. This road is open to private vehicles from December 1 to the end of February, but outside of these dates you must use the park shuttle buses. The other option, accessible to cars any time of the year, is the Desert View Drive, which heads east from the Visitor Center for 14 miles to the Desert View Watchtower. Both of these drives are fantastic and offer different perspectives of the canyon.

Several tours offer unique ways to experience the Grand Canyon, from helicopter rides to whitewater rafting. Some start right at the Grand Canyon, others depart from nearby cities, such as Las Vegas. There is some accommodation in the village’s national park, which is managed by a park concessionaire. Just outside the south entrance is the small town of Tusayan, with a much wider variety of chain hotels, restaurants, and other amenities.

Read also:Best Things to Do at the Grand Canyon

10 top attractions along the South Rim

1 Visitor Center and Mather Point Overlook

Mather Point Overlook | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you are entering the park at the South Entrance, from the direction of Williams, it is best to go straight to the Visitor Centre. A few displays give a brief overview of the park and a bit about its history. Park staff are available to answer questions and provide information on hikes and attractions. From the visitor center, a short trail leads to Mather Point Overlook, where a number of great viewing areas are located on a peninsula jutting into the canyon, offering great views of the Grand Canyon’s dramatic scenery.

2 Rim Trail

Rim Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Rim Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Rim Trail is a mostly paved hiking trail that follows the rim of the Grand Canyon for eight miles from South Kaibab Trailhead , east of the Visitor Center, to Hermit’s Rest , at the far west end of Hermit Road. This nearly level trail, with a mix of sun and shade from scattered trees, is one of the most beautiful hikes in North America, with fantastic views the entire length of the trail. You can access it in front of the visitor center at Mather Point, in the village, or from one of the scenic stops along Hermit Road. If you’re short on time and only interested in a short walk, a good option is the section from Mather Point, west to Yavapai Point and the Geological Museum.

3 Geological Museum

Geological Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Geological Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of the most interesting and informative exhibits in Grand Canyon National Park is the Geological Museum. The site for this museum was chosen by a group of high-profile geologists in the 1920s because the views here were most representative of the canyon’s geology. The museum describes in detail the layers of the rocks visible when you look out of the long wall of windows. Huge diagrams describe the formation of the canyon, from the swelling of the rocks to the erosive force of the waters that run deep through the canyon.

From the windows you can see the hiking trails below, including a beautiful view of the route to Plateau Point, a branch of the Bright Angel Trail, and a side trail that leads to the Colorado River.

4 Hermit Road Drive

Hermit Road Drive | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Hermit Road Drive | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Hermit Road is a seven-kilometer drive along the rim of the canyon, with numerous viewpoints. This is the most popular route in the park. If you are visiting between the beginning of December and the end of February, you can do this drive in your own vehicle. From March 1 to November 30, you must use the park shuttle buses, which run every 10 to 15 minutes and stop at 9 o’clock. All viewpoints along this route offer fantastic views. While it may be the source of some debate, some of the best views can be had from Maricopa Point , Hopi Point , The Abyss , and Pima Point . If you’re short on time, you might want to skip the last stop, Hermit’s Rest.

5 Bright Angel Hiking Trail

Bright Angel Hiking Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Bright Angel Hiking Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The most popular hike in the park is the Bright Angel Hike, which departs from the village, where the shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest begins. This is a long hike, but many people choose to walk a short distance down the trail to get a feel for the hike. The full route, round trip to Bright Angel Campground, is 19 miles and takes two days. Many serious hikers choose to head to the Indian Garden Campground, a trek that is about 9 km long and takes between six and nine hours. Be aware that this involves a strenuous hike with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. However, for a short sample of the trail, the Upper Tunnel is only 0.4 miles round trip and takes less than 30 minutes, and the Lower Tunnel is 2.7 kilometers and takes between 1 and 2 hours. This hike hugs the walls of the canyon, with sheer cliffs and sharp drops of the trail’s outer portion. It is not suitable for anyone with a serious fear of heights. Some sections of the trail are shaded and may be covered in snow or ice, even when conditions are warm and dry at the top.

6 Desert View Drive

Moran Point on Desert View Drive | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Moran Point on Desert View Drive | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

While most people tend to gravitate towards Hermit Road, the 22-mile Desert View Drive is equally if not more beautiful. One of the main differences is the view of the Colorado River, which is much more visible from some of the stops along this ride than on the route further west. Here you can see white water rapids and long, wide stretches of the river meandering through the gorge in the distance.

There are fewer stops on this route, but all are worth taking the time to enjoy the views. Moran Point is definitely a highlight, with a beautiful view of the Colorado River from the east side of the parking lot and a myriad of different colors visible in the rock walls across the canyon. Lipan Point has more beautiful views to the Colorado, but is also a notable location for bird watchers. This is the most direct route across the gorge for migratory birds, which use this narrower section on their flight path.

Grandview Point is one of the highest viewpoints on the South Rim. From the lookout point, the Grandview hiking trail descends in a steep drop and quickly disappears from view. This is a strenuous hike on an unmaintained trail and best suited for serious hikers. The track conditions here are more difficult than Bright Angel; slippery in spring and hot in summer.

From Navajo Point , the last stop before Desert View Watchtower, the watchtower is visible on the right and can be a good photo opportunity if you have a long lens. The last stop is Desert View , with the lookout tower standing proudly on the cliff’s edge, and it’s definitely a highlight on this drive. Also found along Desert View Drive is the Tusayan Museum and Ruin . The museum itself is quite small, with information about the people who lived in this area and a short path that led through the ruins and a closer look at the dwellings.

7 Desert View Watchtower

Desert View Watchtower | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Desert View Watchtower | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Desert View is the first stop in the park if you come from the east and enter the park through the Desert View Entrance. This is a full-service stop with a shop, trading post, and campground, but the main attraction is the famous Indian Watchtower.

Despite its appearance, the 70-foot tower is not an old, crumbling stone ruin. Built in 1932, it is one of four buildings in the park designed by Mary Jane Colter, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure was designed to look like an Anasazi watchtower, and great attention was paid to detail when creating it. The tower is built around a concrete and steel structure, but the stone exterior, with uneven roof lines, creates a dramatic effect as it blends in with the surrounding colours. The interior walls, visible on every level from the circular balconies and stairs, are covered in what appear to be petroglyphs and ancient artwork. There is an open air observation deck on the second level and an enclosed observation deck on the top floor,

8 Game viewing

Elk at Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Elk at Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

While most people don’t come to the Grand Canyon for wildlife viewing, it’s more than likely that you’ll see at least some wildlife as you drive through the park. One of the usual suspects that can often be spotted along the Rim Trail is moose. Though less likely to see them, mountain lions live in the park’s forests, and signs along Desert View Drive advise drivers to keep an eye out for them along the way. Also found in the park are bighorn sheep; hog nosed skunk; mule deer; Arizona’s state mammal, ringtail; and many other smaller critters, including the Kaibab squirrel.

9 Lookout Studio en de Kolb Gallery

Lookout studio | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Lookout studio | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

In the village, the Lookout Studio and the Kolb Gallery both line the canyon wall. The Lookout Studio is housed in one of the Mary Jane Colter buildings found throughout the park, with a traditional stone design that resembles a ruin. The studio sells souvenirs and trinkets, but also has two outdoor viewing decks that overlook the Grand Canyon. Just a short walk west from here is the Kolb Gallery, in a dark brown, wooden structure. This historic Victorian home was built in 1905 and belonged to the Kolb brothers, who were early adventurers in the park. Today, the building serves as an art gallery, with changing exhibits, a small shop selling books and information about the life of the Kolbs. The Kolb Gallery is near the start of the Bright Angel Trail.

10 IMAX-film op het National Geographic Visitor Center

IMAX Movie at the National Geographic Visitor Center | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
IMAX Movie at the National Geographic Visitor Center | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

In the town of Tusayan, just outside the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park, is one of the oldest IMAX Theaters in existence, and seeing a movie here is a longstanding tradition for families coming to the canyon. Canyon: The Movie (Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets), one of the longest-running IMAX films to be screened at the same location, is a 34-minute movie and begins in about the half hour mark. In addition to seeing the film, visitors can also get information about the park or grab a bite to eat at the on-site cafe.

Closest Attraction: Little Colorado River Overlook

Little Colorado River Scenic Overlook | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Little Colorado River Scenic Overlook | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

As you exit Grand Canyon National Park, on the east side of the South Rim, through the Desert View entrance, the first signposted panoramic lookout offers an incredible view of the Little Colorado River. This stop is in Navajo and in the parking lot Navajo artists sell handmade jewelry. A short walk along a wide path beyond the parking lot leads to two picnic tables and a lookout point (with handrails) with a direct view of part of the canyon. From the rim, the Little Colorado River is visible far below.

Where to stay in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Lodging | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Grand Canyon Lodging | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

There are four lodges near the village in Grand Canyon National Park, and they can only be booked through the park’s concessionaire. All other accommodations near the South Entrance are in the town of Tusayan, a five-minute drive from the park gate. Here you will find a variety of hotel options, along with restaurants that range from fast food chains to high-end eateries. Below are some highly rated hotel options in Tusayan:

  • Renovated from top to bottom in January 2016, the luxurious Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon offers well-appointed guestrooms with a rustic charm.
  • The Holiday Inn Express has been recently renovated and has large rooms with a microwave and refrigerator. A breakfast buffet is included in the room rate.
  • The only hotel in Tusayan that accepts pets (fees apply) is the Red Feather Lodge. This property consists of two buildings; one is a motel style with ramp areas, and the other is a traditional hotel with interior hallways. A free shuttle to and from the park is available from May to mid-September.
  • The Canyon Plaza Resort also offers a free shuttle service, with large rooms and an on-site restaurant.

All of these hotels offer seasonal outdoor pools and are close to each other and within walking distance of restaurants.

Recommended Grand Canyon Tours

Grand Canyon Train | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Grand Canyon Train | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon

To fully appreciate the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, take a 25-minute Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour and glide over the precipice to get a bird’s-eye view. These tours depart from the Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan, less than a 10-minute drive from the park’s south entrance. This flight takes you over the Dragon Corridor, the widest and deepest part of the canyon, and several other major attractions.

Grand Canyon Railway Adventure van Sedona

You can combine a luxury train ride through the desert with sightseeing in the Grand Canyon on a full-day tour of the Grand Canyon Railroad from Sedona. This tour departs from Sedona and travels through the high country of Arizona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where you will then have free time to explore and a guided rim tour. This is one of the easiest ways to see the Grand Canyon without car or parking hassles.

Grand Canyon White Water Rafting-trip vanuit Las Vegas

Raft 40 miles of the Colorado River on a one-day Grand Canyon White Water Rafting trip from Las Vegas. This is a 15-hour trip departing at 4 PM, with hotel pickup and drop-off, a van ride and short helicopter ride to the Colorado River, a full day of white water rafting through the Grand Canyon, and a return trip to Las Vegas .

South Rim Mule Rides

If you’re interested in descending the Grand Canyon but aren’t out and about, mule rides are offered year-round from the South Rim. The mules transport guests up the Bright Angel Trail on a 5.5-hour journey for an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch, then return the next day.

Read also:

Campgrounds in Sedona

Exploring Colorado

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