Top 10 Things to Do in the Grand Canyon
It would be hard to fit all of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon into just one vacation. It would truly take more than a lifetime to see all that it has to offer. The unique red-rock formations, the beautiful Colorado River winding through the canyon walls, and the seemingly never-ending expanse. It will surely leave you breathless. I have created this list of things to do at the Grand Canyon to help you narrow down the must-see sites in the Grand Canyon. However, avoid the temptation to fill your days hopping from one place to another. Be sure to leave plenty of time in your agenda to just sit and soak in the beauty. Feeling inspired? Let’s get started.
#1 Drive in via Desert View
If you want to arrive at the Grand Canyon with the grandest view, then drive in from Flagstaff, Arizona via US 89 and enter via the Desert View entrance. This entrance has consistently ranked as the most impressive at the Grand Canyon. It is more remote and harder to get to, but you are less likely to be stuck behind other cars. You will enjoy an incredibly scenic route along US 89, through the National Forest, Painted Desert, and Navajo land.
#2 Desert View Watchtower
If you enter through the Desert View entrance, you will soon see the Desert View Watchtower. The Grand Canyon architect, Mary Colter, designed the Ancestral Puebloan-style watchtower in 1932. Inside, there is a spiral staircase lined with murals done by Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie. You can climb to the top of the tower to see the Colorado River, the Painted Desert, and out to the San Francisco Peaks. On weekends, there are cultural demonstrations featuring a member of the Navajo or Hopi tribes.
#3 Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village is the central part of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are many breathtaking viewpoints here, as well as places to eat and stay. The village is broken up into three areas: the Visitor Center, Market Plaza, and the Historic District. The Market Plaza has a restaurant, café, general store, and gift shops.
Stop in the Visitor Center to watch a 20-minute movie about the Grand Canyon. From there, Mather Point is just a 5-minute walk. Continue walking along the Rim Trail for about 15 minutes, then you will come to another incredible viewpoint, Yavapai Point. At Yavapai Point, you can visit the Yavapai Geology Museum to learn about the incredible geology of the Grand Canyon. If you continue to the Historic District, you will find Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio, Kolb Studio, and the popular Bright Angel Trailhead.
#4 Hermit Drive
Hermit Drive is a 7-mile drive that starts at the Grand Canyon Village. There are nine picturesque viewpoints along the way, including Powell Point, Hopi Point, and Mohave Point. If you would rather hike, then I would recommend taking the Rim Trail. However, if you want to drive, then Hermit Drive is a perfect way to see everything. From March to November Hermit Drive is closed to private vehicles, but there’s a free shuttle that departs just west of Bright Angel Lodge.
Hopi Point is a very popular viewpoint, so there are often crowds. It juts out further into the canyon than any other point in the South Rim, making it a great spot to view sunrises and sunsets. If you want less popular viewpoints, then check out Mohave or Powell Point. Mohave has terrific western exposure, making it perfect for sunsets. Powell Point has an amazing eastern exposure, making it great for sunrises.
#5 Rim Trail
The Rim Trail is a 12-mile trail that runs from the east of Grand Canyon village to the west of the village. It is one of the best ways to see all that the South Rim has to offer. Along this trail, you find the most popular attractions and viewpoints. The Rim Trail begins at Pipe Creek Vista and ends at Hermit’s Rest lookout point. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs on a paved road along the trail.
You can’t visit the Grand Canyon without doing a bit of hiking. The trails take you further into the canyon, so you gain a whole new perspective. Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail are the most famous trails at the Grand Canyon. If you are planning to do a one-day hike, then you will need to modify these trails because it is not recommended to attempt them in one day. If you want to extend your vacation to a four-day trip, then you can do an overnight hike on either of these trails. However, be sure to secure a backpacking permit and reserve a spot at the campground.
The difficulty of these hikes is deceptive because the downhill always belies how difficult the return trip will be. As you descend, be mindful of your energy level and water supply for the hike back up. It usually takes about twice as long to hike back uphill.
Bright Angel Trail
- The Bright Angel Trail starts at the Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) and takes you 4,366 feet down along a 16-mile trail to the Colorado River. According to the park rangers, Indian Garden is the limit for a one-day hike. It is about 4.5 miles to Indian Garden (9-miles roundtrip) where there is a reliable water supply and plenty of shade, tables, and benches. You can rest here and refuel before you make the trek back uphill.
South Kaibab Trail
- The South Kaibab Trail takes you 4,888 feet into the canyon in 12.4 miles. Bring water with you on the trail because there is no water available on the trail. The scenery is stunning from the start, but about one-mile into the trail is the Ooh Aah Point, which is a truly spectacular viewpoint. The next amazing viewpoint is Cedar Mesa, which has a toilet and space to relax. Most day hikers choose to turn around here. However, if you’re looking for a challenge, you could continue to Skeleton Point (6-mile roundtrip), which is the maximum recommended distance for a day hike.
No doubt seeing the canyon vistas from the top is nothing less than spectacular, but witnessing the canyon walls rise and fall from the river on a Grand Canyon raft trip provides another vantage point that is also breathtaking. There are Half-Day to 18-Day rafting, camping and hiking adventures that navigate the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Some begin at the South Rim with a hike down the bright angel trail (Lower Canyon), while others end with that same hike up the trail (Upper Canyon). Full and Western canyon trips avoid this hike altogether. You can learn more about the different rafting options offered in the Grand Canyon at Advantage Grand Canyon.
#8 Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is an actual desert oasis, complete with crystal blue water and a cascading waterfall. Set against the canyon backdrop, this is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking sights in the world. If you want to see Havasu Falls, then you must get a permit and spend the night camping. The hike to the falls is 10 miles and it is too difficult to complete in one day. However, the sheer beauty of the falls and the fun of swimming in them makes it entirely worth it!
#9 Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a 70-foot transparent bridge out over the canyon where you can look down at the canyon, which is 4,000 feet below you! Looking down through the clear glass is a dizzying experience. It’s a truly unique vantage point. Unfortunately, the Skywalk is not easy to get to from the typical tourist attractions. It is about a 4-hour drive from the Grand Canyon Village. So if you want to experience standing over the canyon, you should plan for a full-day adventure.
#10 North Rim
The North Rim is much less busy than the South Rim, it is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors. It is known for its rugged and isolated trails along with not having many facilities. If you want to escape the crowds and enjoy the road less traveled, then the North Rim is the place to go for you. There is only one lodge and one campground here, so be sure to book well in advance. Along the North Rim Scenic Drive, you will find Point Imperial and Cape Royal. Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet (2, 683 meters). It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. Cape Royal is a terrific spot for sunrises and sunsets because it has uninterrupted panoramic views. You will also see the Colorado River framed through the natural arch of Angel’s Window. You can also take a 0.5-mile round-trip trail that leads you out to Bright Angel Point. This trail is steep in places but provides dramatic views into Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons.
If you are staying in Arizona for a longer period of time then be sure to check out this Arizona bucket list for more ideas on the best things to do to ensure you have an amazing time on your trip!
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