Grand Canyon National Park, considered one of the Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has many spectacular lookouts and challenging hikes into the canyon

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 Trail0.3 mi / 0.5km to 13 mi / 21km EasyPaved trail has 14 sections connected by shuttle bus
Ooh-Aah Point1.8 mi / 2.9kmEasySpectacular view from South Kaibab Trail
Shoshone Point2.1 mi / 3.4kmEasyEasy, level hike to fairly quiet viewpoint with great views
Skeleton Point6 mi / 9.6kmModerateFirst view of river From South Kaibab Trail
Grandview Trail6.4 mi / 10.3kmHardVery steep trail down to Horseshoe Mesa
Hermit Trail7 mi / 11.2kmHardUnmaintained steep trail to Dripping Springs
Bright Angel Trail12 mi / 19kmHardDescends steeply to Colorado River via Indian Garden
South Kaibab Trail14 mi / 23kmHardDescends steeply to Colorado River & Phantom Ranch
South Rim to River Loop19 mi / 31kmHardCombines 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 Trail0.2 mi / 0.3kmEasyShort, secluded woodland loop with spectacular views.
Bright Angel Point Trail0.5 mi / 0.8km EasyOut-and-back trail to a spectacular viewpoint
Cape Royal Trail0.6 mi /1.1kmEasyViews of canyon, Angels Window, and the Colorado River
Cliff Springs Trail1 mi / 1.6kmEasyDescends a forested ravine to a spring
Cocino Overlook1.5mi / 2.4kmEasyViewpoint along North Kaibab Trail (Bright Angel Point is better)
Transept Trail3 mi / 4.8kmEasyFollows the canyon rim from North Rim Campground to Lodge
Bridle Trail3.2 mi / 5.1kmEasyNorth Kaibab trailhead to Lodge. Follows road. No views
Cape Final Trail4 mi / 6.4kmEasyView of canyon
Uncle Jim Trail5 mi / 8kmModerateViews ovr the canyon and North Kaibab Trail switchbacks
Roaring Springs9.4 mi / 15kmHardSpring-fed river along North Kaibab Trail. Steep descent
Ken Patrick Trail10 mi / 16kmModerateViews from Point Imperial
Widforss Trail10 mi / 16kmModerateForest and canyon scenery.
North Kaibab Trail28 mi / 45kmV HardNorth 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 / 36.7km5,065 ft / 1545mWater & campsite on ascentMap
North Rim to South Rim (South Kaibab Trail)20.3 mi / 32.8km5,270 ft / 1,605mNo water or camping on ascentMap
South Rim (Bright Angel Trail) to North Rim23.1 mi / 36.7km6,465 ft / 1,970m2 campgrounds & water on ascentMap
South Rim (South Kaibab Trail) to North Rim20.4 mi / 32.9km6,190 ft / 1,185m2 campgrounds & water on ascentMap
South Rim to River – South Kaibab Trail14.3 mi / 23.0km4,875 ft / 1,485mNo waterMap
South Rim to River – Bright Angel Trail15.3 mi / 24.6km4,480 ft / 1,365mReturn same way. Water available.Map
South Rim to River to South Rim Loop19.2 mi / 30.9km5,125 ft / 1,562mReturn via Bright Angel TrailMap

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.

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Sunrise from Shoshone Point

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.

028A6591 LR Grand Canyon National Park

Transept Trail to Bright Angel Point

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.

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North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls

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.

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South Rim to River

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.

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