You'll find lots to see and do on this side of Grand Canyon National Park. Scenic drives and rim trails parallel the rim for long distances, providing countless inspiring panoramas of the depths. And if you decide to head down into the Canyon itself, half a dozen trails will take you there. Historic structures atop the rim have lots of character and some offer exhibits. Ranger programs through the day and in the evening inform and entertain. When it's time to take a break from sightseeing, you'll find many lodging, camping, dining, and shopping options.
Highways provide year-round access to the South Rim at two entrances. The main South Entrance near Grand Canyon Village lies just an hour north of I-40 at Williams via AZ 64 or 1.5 hours northwest of Flagstaff via US 180 and AZ 64. If you can arrive here before 8 a.m., you'll be glad you did. You'll not only save a possible hour or two of waiting in line, but you'll likely get a parking spot at Mather Point for the short stroll to Grand Canyon Visitor Center's orientation panels and information desk. Try to avoid arriving at the South Entrance at mid-day (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) or late afternoon, as they're the busiest times. The largest crowds converge during the Easter, Memorial Day, and July 4th holidays.
The East Entrance near Desert View is about 1.5 hours north of Flagstaff via US 89 and AZ 64. If you're driving a loop out of Flagstaff or Williams, it's easiest to arrive at the East Entrance (lines tend to be shorter here), see the South Rim, and exit at the South Entrance.
Parking may be your first thought upon arrival, but don't believe those horror stories! The Guide newspaper given at entrance stations shows the main parking areas, where you'll have a far better chance of snagging a spot than at the very crowded Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Bright Angel Lodge areas. Once you've found a space, you can walk or take the free Village Shuttle to get around. Drivers with large rigs should head for Lot E near the Backcountry Information Center for day visits or to their campground if staying overnight.
Walking, especially on the very scenic Rim Trail, is the most enjoyable way of seeing the sights here. Cycling is another option, though it's restricted to roads and bike paths. A few segments of the Greenway Trail, designed for non-motorized travel, have been completed in the Village, and the branch from Tusayan is in the works.
Grand Canyon Visitor Center
This visitor center complex, a 300-yard stroll south of Mather Point, makes a good place to start your visit. Because it's designed as part of the public transport system, there's no parking here. You can take the Village Shuttle, walk via the Rim Trail, or cycle. The Village Shuttle stops on the west side of the Plaza and the Kaibab Trail Shuttle on the east side. Despite the name, there's no view here! You have to walk over to Mather Point to see the Canyon.
Large outdoor panels have maps, sightseeing destinations, hiking possibilities, lodging, campgrounds, and other helpful information. You can also check listings of ranger-guided rim walks, Canyon hikes, talks, family activities, photography workshops, and evening presentations. The outdoor lights stay on until 9 p.m. Step inside the Visitor Center (928/638-7888, www.nps.gov/grca, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, until 6 p.m. summer) for the information desk and some exhibits. Kids 4–14 can sign up to learn skills in the Junior Ranger Program, which is also available at Yavapai Observation Station and Tusayan Museum.
The Grand Canyon Association's Books & More, on the south side of the Plaza, features a great selection of Canyon-related books, including ones for kids, plus topo maps, posters, videos, slides, and postcards.
The panorama here is the first view of the Grand Canyon for many visitors. Walk north 300 yards from Grand Canyon Visitor Center or walk east 2.5 miles on the Rim Trail from Grand Canyon Village. Below Mather Point (elev. 7,120 feet) lie Pipe Creek Canyon, the Inner Gorge of the Colorado River, and countless buttes, temples, and points eroded from the rims. Stephen Mather served as the first director of the National Park Service and was in office when the Grand Canyon joined the national park system on February 26, 1919.
People of all ages enjoy a walk along this scenic trail, which offers views from many different vantage points and connects the main points of interest in the Grand Canyon Village area. Pick up brochures for the trail at the Visitor Center or along the trail. Shuttle buses stop at both ends of the trail and at many places along the way.
The popular 2.5-mile section east from Bright Angel Lodge to Mather Point is paved and nearly level, taking 45–90 minutes each way. You'll pass El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House, and Yavapai Observation Station in addition to many viewpoints. At Mather Point, you can take a short stroll south to Grand Canyon Visitor Center or continue east on the Rim Trail for another 1.3 miles one way, also paved and nearly level, to Pipe Creek Vista on Desert View Drive.
Heading west from Bright Angel Lodge, the trail is paved but narrow with some steep sections and stairs to Trailview Overlook, then level to Maricopa Point, a total of 1.4 miles and 30–60 minutes one way. A narrow, largely unpaved section of the Rim Trail continues west 6.7 miles from Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest, at the end of Hermit Road, taking 3–4 hours one way; the last 1.5 miles are paved as part of the Greenway Trail system and open to cyclists.
Yavapai Point and Yavapai Observation Station
Set on the brink of the Canyon with one of the best panoramas on the South Rim, this spot is a great place to take in the sunrises and sunsets. Panels inside the station (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. in summer) identify the many buttes, temples, points, and tributary canyons. You'll see the trail out to Plateau Point, Bright Angel Trail winding down to the river, the footbridge spanning the river at the base of the South Kaibab Trail, Boaters Beach (look for parked rafts), Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Canyon. Besides the views, you can examine geology exhibits and peruse the bookstore. Parking is difficult here—a walk along the Rim Trail is the best way to come. It's also a stop on the Village Shuttle.
MARY COLTER, ARCHITECT OF THE SOUTHWEST
In an early 20th-century world dominated by male architects, Mary Colter (1869-1958) succeeded in designing many of the Grand Canyon National Park's most notable structures. After her father died in 1886, her mother gave Colter permission to attend the California School of Design in San Francisco to learn skills to support the remaining members of the family. Upon graduation, Colter moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and began teaching mechanical drawing. She later applied for work with the Fred Harvey Company and, in 1901, obtained a contract to decorate the Indian Building—a new museum and sales gallery of Native American crafts between the Alvarado Hotel and the railroad depot in Albuquerque. Her association with the Fred Harvey Company eventually spanned more than 40 years.
Colter's keen interest and research in Native American architecture led to a remarkable series of buildings along the Grand Canyon's South Rim, beginning with the Hopi House that opened in 1905. She used Southwestern themes and simple designs with careful attention to detail—interiors had to have just the right colors and furnishings, for example. So much thought went into the design of the buildings that each tells a story about its history or setting. Colter gave the stone Lookout Studio, perched on the Canyon rim, a jagged roof to blend into the scenery; it opened in 1914. In the same year she completed Hermit's Rest at the end of Hermit Road; its Great Fireplace and cozy interior seem much like a place that a hermit prospector would inhabit. She had workmen smear soot on the new fireplace to enhance the atmosphere and to give the building a "lived-in look." Colter's work also extended to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where in 1922 she designed the stone lodge and four cabins of Phantom Ranch. In 1932 she finished the Desert View Watchtower using a variety of prehistoric and modern Native American themes; it's the most intriguing of her buildings. After settling on a watchtower patterned after those of the Four Corners region, Colter wrote, "First and most important was to design a building that would…create no discordant note against the time eroded walls of this promontory." She not only designed the 1935 Bright Angel Lodge, intended to provide accommodations for tourists with moderate incomes, but she also incorporated into it the 1890s Buckey O'Neill Cabin and Red Horse Station. Without her interest in these historic structures, they would have been torn down. She also designed the unusual geologic fireplace in the lodge's History Room.
La Posada Hotel, which opened in 1930 beside the railroad tracks in downtown Winslow, might be her most exotic commission—a fantasy of arches, halls, and gardens in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. La Posada nearly suffered demolition, the fate of the Alvarado Hotel, but it has been saved and restored; Winslow visitors are welcome to tour the public areas. Train travelers at Union Station in Los Angeles, built in 1939, can admire an interior design that brings a Southwestern style into the geometry of Art Deco. Colter enjoyed her professional life—she never married and was reportedly rarely at home. Only in recent times has the public taken note of Colter's work. Perhaps her position as "house architect" on a relatively small number of major buildings, some in remote areas, led to her relative obscurity. That's changed now, with books, exhibits, and documentaries out on her life. Five Colter structures have become National Historic Landmarks.
Verkamp's Visitor Center
Just east past Hopi House, the long-running business that once sold Native American crafts and Canyon souvenirs here has become a visitor center. John Verkamp first opened a curio shop in of a tent in 1898, but found business too slow. He returned in 1905 and built on the present site.
Architect Mary Colter patterned this unusual building, opened in 1905, after pueblo structures in the Hopi village of Old Oraibi. It has a stone and adobe exterior, thatched ceilings, and corner fireplaces. Hopi helped in the construction, lived on the upper floors, worked as craftsmen, displayed their work, and performed nightly dances. Today Hopi House (928/638-3458 gallery, free) has an outstanding collection of Native American art and crafts for sale. Both floors have a wide variety, but climb to the upper floor to see the best work. It's near the Canyon rim just east of El Tovar Hotel, and open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily in summer and 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily in winter.
El Tovar Hotel
Architect Charles Wittlesey designed the 1905 log and stone building as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian hunting lodge. Despite the remote location, many people of the time hailed it as the most luxurious hotel west of the Mississippi. Mary Colter had a hand in the interior design. Step inside the lobby to get a feel for this old hotel. You might enjoy a meal here too.
Bright Angel Lodge
A popular gathering point for Canyon visitors, this 1935 lodge has a lot of character. Besides the lobby, be sure to see the Bright Angel History Room (free) with displays about the Harvey girls and early tourism. Mary Colter designed the "geological fireplace" with the same rock layers as in the Canyon itself. Also step into the coffee house/lounge to check out murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie; commissioned in 1958, one of them pokes fun at tourists and another at Hopis doing a poor imitation of a Navajo dance. Outside on the Canyon rim behind the lodge, you can often see an endangered California condor gliding on its nine-foot wingspan.
The inspiration and materials of this 1914 Mary Colter building came from the Grand Canyon itself. Early visitors could relax by the fireplace in the lounge, purchase souvenirs and postcards in the art room, or gaze into the Canyon depths with a high-power telescope. It's open today with a gift shop and viewing platform. The studio stands on the Canyon's edge, just west of Bright Angel Lodge.
Perched on the rim near Lookout Studio and the Bright Angel Trailhead, this building began in 1904 as a photo studio of the Kolb brothers. Emery Kolb expanded and operated it until his death in 1976 at the age of 95, enthralling Canyon visitors with movies he and his brother Ellsworth took on a 1911–12 river-running expedition. The auditorium where Emery showed his long-running film now hosts visiting art exhibitions. You can see some of the Kolb brothers' old photos and movie clips in an exhibit or purchase the show on DVD or VHS at the Grand Canyon Association's bookstore here. The studio (928/638-2771, free) is open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, extended to 7 p.m. in summer.
Tusayan Bike Trails
South Rim Day Hikes
Some of the Inner Canyon trails offer excellent day hiking in their upper sections. Or you can choose from a handful of easier trails atop the rim. You don't need a permit for any of these as long as they're done as a day hike. Water and sun protection are two of the keys to happiness when hiking. Also, allow twice as much time to climb back out as you spent descending! Summer heat bakes the Inner Canyon, so it's best to time your hiking then for early or late in the day and take a siesta in a shady spot when the sun is at its fiercest. In winter, you'll find instep crampons useful if snow or ice covers the trails. Rangers warn, like a mantra, not to try to hike to the river and back in one day. Such a trip can be deadly in the warmer months, and utterly exhausting the rest of the year.
For a brief run-down on all of the Grand Canyon's major trails, head over to Inner Canyon Hiking.
You'll enjoy fine views all along the way. Most people walk short sections in the Grand Canyon Village area, but you could hike the trail's entire length and make a day of it. Shuttles connect each end of the trail with Grand Canyon Village. The eastern section between Pipe Creek Vista and Bright Angel Lodge is paved and nearly level for its 3.8-mile length. West from Bright Angel Lodge, the trail narrows and has some steep sections and stairs; the pavement runs out at Maricopa Point after 1.4 miles, then it's another 6.7 miles to Hermits Rest.
Bright Angel Trail Day Hike to Indian Garden
This well-graded trail is one of the few to have drinking water along its length; be sure to carry water for the dry stretches, however. Indian Garden, where Havasupai once farmed, has a ranger station, shaded picnic tables, year-round water, toilet, and a campground.
For a shorter hike, Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse offers a shade shelter, seasonal water, toilet, and emergency phone; the 3-mile roundtrip drops 1,131 feet and takes 2–4 hours. Or you could continue to Three Mile Resthouse, which provides a shade shelter with seasonal water and emergency phone; it's 6 miles roundtrip with a 2,112-foot descent and takes 4–6 hours.
Plateau Point, perched 1,300 feet directly above the swirling Colorado River, has a wonderful 360-degree panorama of the Canyon. From Indian Garden, follow a gentle side trail across the shadeless Tonto Platform to the point. This very strenuous day hike from the rim is 12.2 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of 3,195 feet; allow 8–12 hours.
Hermit Trail Day Hike to Santa Maria Spring
You'll get a very different perspective of the Grand Canyon from the Hermit, which switchbacks into a major tributary canyon. Santa Maria Spring is a cool spot with a stone shelter and toilet. Carry water for the entire trip as this spring and Dripping Springs offer only a tiny flow, which would need treating.
If you'd like a shorter hike, consider turning around at Waldron Basin, 3 miles and 0.75–1.5 hours roundtrip with an elevation change of 1,240 feet.
Also in the area, Dripping Springs adds moisture to a shady alcove that's 7 miles and 6–9 hours roundtrip. Descend the Hermit Trail for 2 miles, dropping 1,440 feet, then turn left 1.5 miles on Dripping Springs Trail, climbing 400 feet. Keep left where the Boucher Trail turns north from Dripping Springs Trail.
South Kaibab Trail Day Hike to Cedar Ridge
Cedar Ridge features great panoramas. You can go on your own or join a ranger-led hike. There's no drinking water on this trail; bring extra, as you may well wish to go farther than you had planned!
Ooh Aah Point will give you an introduction to the South Kaibab in 1.5 miles and 1–2 hours roundtrip with an elevation change of 780 feet.
For a greater challenge, you can continue past Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point, a 6-mile, 4–6-hour roundtrip with an elevation change of 2,040 feet; be sure to get a very early start in summer.
Strong hikers enjoy continuing down to the Tonto Trail (4.4 miles from the rim), turning left 4.1 miles on the gently rolling Tonto to Indian Garden, then heading 4.6 miles up the Bright Angel Trail. Elevation change is about 3,000 feet. In summer, the Tonto Trail gets very hot, but a crack-of-dawn start will get you to the oasis at Indian Garden before the worst of the heat hits. The park's shuttles connect the trailheads for this 13.1-mile hike.
Grandview Trail Day Hike to Horseshoe Mesa
Miners improved an old Indian route in 1892 so they could bring out high-grade copper ore from Horseshoe Mesa. Mining ceased in 1907, but mine shafts, machinery, and ruins of buildings remain. You could also continue to Cave of the Domes, a limestone cavern on the west side of the mesa with some passages to explore; take the trail fork that goes west of the butte atop the mesa. Be sure to carry plenty of water and pace yourself for the stiff climb back to the rim.
To get a feel for this steep trail and its fine views, you can head down to Coconino Saddle, a 1.5-mile roundtrip with a 1,600-foot drop; allow 1–2 hours.
You'll escape the crowds on this trail in the Kaibab National Forest. It's a good choice for families. From Grandview Lookout Tower, the trail goes northeast, then loops back via the Arizona Trail. A spur trail leads to Grand Canyon viewpoints.
Arizona Trail in the Kaibab's Tusayan Ranger District
Whether you're setting out for a few hours or a few months, the Arizona Trail offers scenic hiking and mountain biking. The first mile southeast from Grandview Lookout Tower has interpretive signs about mistletoe. The trail heads generally south and downhill in three segments from the lookout to the south boundary of the Tusayan Ranger District. The 9.4-mile Coconino Rim Trail segment follows the top of 500-foot cliffs southeast of Grandview Lookout; views of the Painted Desert appear after about three miles, expect some steep sections and switchbacks. The mostly level 8.3-mile Russell Wash segment farther south crosses the transition from ponderosa forest in the north to pinyon pine and juniper in the south. The 4.6-mile Moqui Stage segment follows the old stagecoach route, used 1892–1901, from Moqui Stage Station to the south forest boundary.
Red Butte Trail
Few people know about this mountain south of Tusayan, despite the good trail and fine views. It's a remnant of the red-colored Moenkopi Formation, protected from erosion by a thick lava cap. Atop the 7,326-foot summit, you can visit the lookout tower for the best 360-degree panorama. The large meadows just to the north hosted Grand Canyon's original airport; a bit farther north stands the green tower of an uranium mine, currently inactive due to low ore prices. A long section of the North Rim rises farther to the north, Grandview Lookout Tower can just be seen on the wooded ridge to the northeast, and the San Francisco Peaks and Volcanic Field lie to the south. As on all trails in the Southwest, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
Mule and Horse Rides
Sure-footed mules have carried prospectors and tourists in and out of the Canyon for more than a century. These large animals, a crossbreed of female horses and male donkeys, depart daily year-round on day and overnight trips. Although easier than hiking, a mule ride should still be considered strenuous—you need to be able to sit in the saddle for long hours and control your mount. These trips are definitely not for those afraid of heights or large animals.
Three-hour day trips head out to Abyss Overlook; weight limit for these is 225 lbs. (102 kg.).
Reservations should be made 9–12 months (up to 23 months) in advance for summer and holidays. Also be sure to claim your reservation at least one hour before departure. Without a reservation, there's a chance of getting on via the waiting list, especially off-season; register in person between 6 and 10 a.m. the day before you want to go.
For information and reservations less than two days in advance, see the Bright Angel Lodge Transportation Desk (928/638-3283). To make reservations more than two days in advance, contact Xanterra South Rim (6312 S. Fiddlers Green Circle, Suite 600N, Greenwood Village, CO 80111, 888/297-2757 or 303/297-2757 advance reservations up to 23 months, 928/638-2631 same-day reservations, fax 303/297-3175, or online at www.grandcanyonlodges.com).
Enforced requirements for riders include good health, weight 200 pounds/91 kg or less (225 pounds/102 kg on Abyss Overlook ride), fluency in English, and a height of at least four feet seven inches (138 cm). No pregnant women are allowed. A broad-rimmed hat, tied under the chin, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes (no open-toed footwear) are necessary. Don't bring bags, purses, canteen, or backpacks, but you can carry a camera or binoculars. A bota (water carrier), which ties on the saddle horn, is supplied.
Apache Stables (just outside the South Entrance, 928/638-2891, www.apachestables.com) runs trail and wagon rides through the forest near the South Rim, March–Oct.
On to Hermit Road