The Grand Canyon, a gorge of the Colorado River, is often considered one of the Wonders of the World and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The creation of the park was an early success of the conservation movement, with the Grand Canyon National Park Act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on 26 February 1919. This may have helped thwart proposals to build a dam the Colorado River within its boundaries. Today the park receives more than six million visitors annually, which is the second highest count of all American national parks (after Great Smoky Mountains National Park).
South Rim Desert View Drive
The Desert View Drive follows the top of the South Rim, with many lookouts and vantage points over the Grand Canyon. Duck on a Rock apparently resembles… a duck on a rock. Or maybe it used to; its bill weathered away long ago and it’s hard to visualize the rock as a duck.
Further along the road, Grandview Point (which is the trailhead for a trail into the canyon) is a popular vantage point. It offers sweeping views of Grand Canyon, including several bends of the Colorado River to the east.
Next is Lipan Point, one of the highest points on the Grand Canyon South Rim. The most vertiginous lookout, it offers arguably the most spectacular views. The partly-fenced lookout is perched above a sheer cliff, with panoramic vistas to the west and views north up the Colorado River: “some of the widest and most expansive canyon views along the South Rim, as well as the longest perspective of the Colorado River” (NPS).
The last vantage point is the Desert Watchtower (or the Indian Watchtower at Desert View). The 70-foot / 21m high tower was completed in 1932, and was designed (at considerable cost) to look like a much older building. Although the tower was closed for renovations, there are also great Grand Canyon views from here.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon
There are many hiking trails at both the South Rim and North Rim – many of them are very strenous, and there are lots of options for multi-day hikes.
The South Rim is easier to reach, and has many easy and challenging hikes (all distances are based on a round-trip).
|South Rim Trail||0.3 mi / 0.5km to 13 mi / 21km||Easy||Paved trail has 14 sections connected by shuttle bus|
|Ooh-Aah Point||1.8 mi / 2.9km||Easy||Spectacular view from South Kaibab Trail|
|Shoshone Point||2.1 mi / 3.4km||Easy||Easy, level hike to fairly quiet viewpoint with great views|
|Skeleton Point||6 mi / 9.6km||Moderate||First view of river From South Kaibab Trail|
|Grandview Trail||6.4 mi / 10.3km||Hard||Very steep trail down to Horseshoe Mesa|
|Hermit Trail||7 mi / 11.2km||Hard||Unmaintained steep trail to Dripping Springs|
|Bright Angel Trail||12 mi / 19km||Hard||Descends steeply to Colorado River via Indian Garden|
|South Kaibab Trail||14 mi / 23km||Hard||Descends steeply to Colorado River & Phantom Ranch|
|South Rim to River Loop||19 mi / 31km||Hard||Combines Bright Angel & South Kaibab trails|
The North Rim also has a broad selection of hikes – although unlike the South Rim these are generally inaccessible in winter.
|Roosevelt Point Trail||0.2 mi / 0.3km||Easy||Short, secluded woodland loop with spectacular views.|
|Bright Angel Point Trail||0.5 mi / 0.8km||Easy||Out-and-back trail to a spectacular viewpoint|
|Cape Royal Trail||0.6 mi /1.1km||Easy||Views of canyon, Angels Window, and the Colorado River|
|Cliff Springs Trail||1 mi / 1.6km||Easy||Descends a forested ravine to a spring|
|Cocino Overlook||1.5mi / 2.4km||Easy||Viewpoint along North Kaibab Trail (Bright Angel Point is better)|
|Transept Trail||3 mi / 4.8km||Easy||Follows the canyon rim from North Rim Campground to Lodge|
|Bridle Trail||3.2 mi / 5.1km||Easy||North Kaibab trailhead to Lodge. Follows road. No views|
|Cape Final Trail||4 mi / 6.4km||Easy||View of canyon|
|Uncle Jim Trail||5 mi / 8km||Moderate||Views ovr the canyon and North Kaibab Trail switchbacks|
|Roaring Springs||9.4 mi / 15km||Hard||Spring-fed river along North Kaibab Trail. Steep descent|
|Ken Patrick Trail||10 mi / 16km||Moderate||Views from Point Imperial|
|Widforss Trail||10 mi / 16km||Moderate||Forest and canyon scenery.|
|North Kaibab Trail||28 mi / 45km||V Hard||North Rim down to Colorado River (and back). 1,800m descent|
The “classic” Grand Canyon hike is the Rim to River to Rim, which can be from the South Rim to North Rim (the harder option) via the Colorado River or North Rim to South Rim. There are shuttle services (such as the Kaibab Lodge Rim to Rim Shuttle and Trans Canyon Shuttle) that can transport you between the South Rim and North Rim – or if you’re super-fit you could walk back the same way.
|North Rim to South Rim (Bright Angel Trail)||22.8 mi / 36.7km||5,065 ft / 1545m||Water & campsite on ascent||Map|
|North Rim to South Rim (South Kaibab Trail)||20.3 mi / 32.8km||5,270 ft / 1,605m||No water or camping on ascent||Map|
|South Rim (Bright Angel Trail) to North Rim||23.1 mi / 36.7km||6,465 ft / 1,970m||2 campgrounds & water on ascent||Map|
|South Rim (South Kaibab Trail) to North Rim||20.4 mi / 32.9km||6,190 ft / 1,185m||2 campgrounds & water on ascent||Map|
|South Rim to River – South Kaibab Trail||14.3 mi / 23.0km||4,875 ft / 1,485m||No water||Map|
|South Rim to River – Bright Angel Trail||15.3 mi / 24.6km||4,480 ft / 1,365m||Return same way. Water available.||Map|
|South Rim to River to South Rim Loop||19.2 mi / 30.9km||5,125 ft / 1,562m||Return via Bright Angel Trail||Map|
The easiest hikes are at the South Rim, where the 13 mile (21 km) mostly paved South Rim Trail stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest. Most of the trail is paved and can be done as multiple short sections, using the shuttle bus which runs between all the trailheads.
The “classic” Grand Canyon hike is the Rim to River to Rim, which can be from the South Rim down to the Colorado River returning the same way, or from the South Rim to the North Rim (or vice versa). There are shuttle services (such as the Kaibab Lodge Rim to Rim Shuttle and Trans Canyon Shuttle) that can transport you between the South Rim and North Rim – or if you’re super-fit you walk back the same way.
A short and easy hike that leads to an interesting rock formation and a spectacular viewpoint over the Grand Canyon. You’ve got a good chance of having this vantage point to yourself – especially if you go at sunrise.
Distance: 2.2mi / 3.5km return. Allow 1 hour.
Stunning Grand Canyon views from the Transept Trail and Bright Angel Point Trail from the North Kaibab trailhead on the North Rim. The trail starts (or passes) the North Rim Lodge and gets very busy in the peak months – try and visit towards the start of Spring or end of Fall.
Distance: 5mi / 8.2km return. Allow 2-3 hours.
A challenging day-hike from the Grand Canyon North Rim down the North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls. Stunning views and some incredible trail construction along the way to the picturesque waterfall. Ribbon Falls is about halfway to the Colorado river by distance, but about 75% of the vertical drop.
Distance: 17.5mi / 28.2km return. Allow full day.
A demanding return trip from the Grand Canyon South Rim down to the Colorado River, descending via the South Kaibab Trail and returning via the Bright Angel Trail. (It’s much easier to each the Colorado River from the South Rim then the North Rim)
Distance: 19mi / 31km loop. Full day or overnight.
Getting to Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon is situated in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada, between Lake Powell and Lake Mead. On one side is the South Rim, which is the most developed and popular access point; it’s a 90 minute drive from Flagstaff (Arizona) and is accessible via the Desert View East Entrance (Cameron) and the South Entrance in Tusayan. Flagstaff is also the closest airport. The closes international airports are Phoenix in Arizona (230mi / 370km or a 3.5 hour drive) and Las Vegas in Nevada (275mi / 44km or a five hour drive).
On the other side is the much less busy North Rim, with the entrance located 30mi / 48km south of Jacob Lake (Arizon) on Highway 67. It’s a 265mi / 425km or 3.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. Access is not possible in winter.
It’s about a five-hour drive to get from the North Rim Village to the South Rim Village.
Accommodation in the Grand Canyon
There is accommodation within the Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim, which is within the Grand Canyon National Park – this provides easy access to the many trailheads and lookouts. The Grand Canyon National Park Lodges has a hotel and a number of lodges and cabins.
If the Grand Canyon Village accommodation is booked out, the closest town is Tusayan, located just outside the national park entrance and home to the Grand Canyon National Airport. In the peak season (March – September) the National Park Service operates a regular “Tusayan Shuttle” which take guests directly to the main Visitor Center. For something a little different, Unique Sky Domes offers accommodation in domes abut 30min from the Grand Canyon entry gate.
There’s a lot less options at the North Rim, which is also less busy than the South Rim – you can stay within the park at the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim (the only developed lodging within the National Park’s North Rim boundaries). Accommodation should be booked as much in advance as possible, and the lodge is open from mid-May to mid-October. Just outside the park is Kaibab Lodge, which stays open until the end of November, unless snow storms close the road earlier.
If you’re hiking (or doing a mule ride) down to the Colorado River from either the South Rim or North Rim, you can stay at the Phantom Ranch, which is the only lodging below the canyon rim. Securing a booking can be challenging, with a lottery system used to allocate spots.
When to visit the Grand Canyon
You can visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon year-round, with the weather considered to be its best between April and June (when rainfall is lowest and temperatures have not yet reached summer highs). I’d recommend November to February when there’s a good chance of snow and the cooler temperatures makes the longer hikes much safer. Avoid June-September when the park gets extremely crowded over the summer holidays and temperatures are highest.
The North Rim is 1,000 feet (335m) higher in elevation, and is closed due to snow from late November to mid May (with full services only available between mid May and mid October). The cooler temperatures make the North Rim a better choice in Summer, with the best time being August to October.
Temperatures increase as you descend into the Inner Canyon, which needs to be taken into account if hiking from the rim down to the Colorado River.