10 Places to Visit in Grand Canyon National Park!
Check out my blog post on What to Bring When Visiting A National Park !!
History of the Grand Canyon
"It's all about the layers!" The Grand Canyon displays 20 layers of visible rock in a one mile deep canyon! That is the equivalent to almost 15 football fields! Astonishingly, the oldest rock in the Grand Canyon is called Vishnu schist and is 1.8 billion years old. That is millions of years before dinosaurs even existed!! The bottom layers consist of Igneous rocks, which are formed by cooled liquid magma and Metamorphic rocks, which are formed by heat and pressure. The top layers are Sedimentary rocks, which are made by sediment, such as limestone, sandstone or shale, hardened into rocks by loss of water. The canyon was formed when the Colorado River cut through the plateau revealing layers of colorful rock. I's just amazing what time and pressure can create!
Archeologists have discovered artifacts in the canyon dating back as far as 11,000 years BC, proving that people have lived in this area for a very long time. Currently, eleven Native American Indian tribes live in this region, which include the, Havasupai, Navajo, and Zuni, to name a few.
Where & When to Go
Wondering which rim to visit? The Grand Canyon has a few visitor centers located at two separate rims, the North and South Rim. I have not visited the North Rim for the reason that many of the roads are closed during the winter season, and all food and lodging is closed from October 15th through May 15th. However, I have visited the South Rim twice and was not disappointed.
The South Rim boasts two visitor centers. To the far west, is Verkamp's visitor center near The Village, the other is the most frequently visited, Grand Canyon Visitor Center near Mather Point. To the far East is the Desert View Area and Facility, which has many services. I highly recommend visiting the entire South Rim to get many different perspectives of the plateau and visit the stunning and iconic Desert View Watchtower at the Desert View Area.
Almost 6 million people from around the world visit the Grand Canyon yearly!!!! Although that is a staggering amount of people visiting, there are no reservations needed to enter this national park. However, there is a $35 car entrance fee to visit the Grand Canyon. Furthermore, exploring this park during the summer months (peak season) can be trying with the amount of people visiting. Fortunately, there are free shuttles, which stop every 10 - 15 minutes, near the major sites and parking lots to assist you in getting around the park. Simply park in one spot and let the shuttles take you everywhere you want to go. (See the park shuttle map below)
My family and I first visited the Grand Canyon in January of 2018. Although somewhat colder this time of year, there were not too many people visiting since it is not peak season. We stayed at the nearby Grand Hotel, which is only one mile from the South Rim entrance and located in the town of Tusayan. The hotel has a cozy, lodge vibe and was clean and convenient. I highly recommend this hotel for its proximity and charm. Because we were so close to the canyon, we were able to visit the park at dusk the day we arrived, and again at dawn the next day to witness amazing colorful hues in the sky, above the already picturesque canyon. The natural lighting as the sun is rising and setting imparts a mystical quality to the canyon at these special times of day.
Our second visit was in March of 2023, and, once again, no crowds! In addition, the temperature was a pleasant 60°. This visit included the (not to be missed) Desert Watchtower. See below for more information on this idyllic location. While I would recommend visiting in non-peak season, going whenever is convenient to you sometimes cannot be avoided. Therefore, just keep in mind that scarce parking and crowds may be a inevitable on your trip to the Grand Canyon. During this visit, we stayed in Page, Arizona near Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, which is only a 2.5 hour drive from the Grand Canyon. Read my blog post about Horseshoe Bend here and Antelope Canyon here.
You'll love this poster if you are a National Park traveler!!!!
Where to Hike
There are many options for hiking. You can choose the easy and mostly paved Rim Trail (1 to 1.5 miles) or choose one of the moderate to difficult hikes in the canyon. The Rim Trail runs along the rim of the canyon and it stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest, approximately 13 miles. This trail is mostly flat with a few inclines and shaded areas to rest. We started our journey by parking near Mather Point, visited the Grand Canyon Visitor center to discuss our plans with a park ranger and then headed out on the Rim Trail.
Mather Point was our first stop along the Rim Trail, which is a convenient 5 minute walk from the visitor center. Mather Point is a jaw dropping and expansive view of the Grand Canyon. You can see for miles on a clear day in all directions, including down to the rushing Colorado River below. This is where my family and I came at dawn and dusk to get the best photos. Because this area is so wide and spacious the colors of the sky are always changing at sunrise and sunset.
Walking westward, you will come to many other overlooks, such as Yavapai Point, where there is an observation room along with information about the Grand Canyon and how it was formed. Remember, at any time you can get on a shuttle to shorten your walk!
Two miles later we came to Trailview Overlook with stunning views of the canyon and our next hike, Bright Angel Trail.
Mules available for a ride with an advance reservation and an image of Mountain Chickadees.
At Bright Angel Trail, which is a popular hike into the Grand Canyon, you can walk down scenic switchbacks, which were made many years ago and used by the Native Americans that once roamed this area. (There is also an option to ride mules on this trail down into the canyon. Check here for more information) This path is steep and strenuous on the way back up, because of the elevation, making it difficult to breathe. However, several positives about this trail is that it has is a lot of shade, rest stops with toilets, and drinking water at certain mile markers. Knowing that we would have to ascend the steep trail, we stopped at the 1 1/2 mile rest-house to turn around. At 1,120 feet in elevation change and 3 miles roundtrip, this hike took nearly 3 hours to hike, and might I add, a very good workout on your quads and glutes. Our impatient teenage children got tired of our breaks on the way back up, so they were able to finish this trail in a little over 2 hours. There is another rest-house at the 3 mile marker and 2120 feet elevation change if you are a little more adventurous than we are. Once done with this hike, we rested at the top near the Rim Trail where you can find many benches to relax and enjoy a packed lunch. I almost always bring a sack lunch for us to enjoy in the fresh air and regain our energy for the rest of the day without having to leave the park. Nevertheless, there are a few snack stands and restaurants in the Grand Canyon, if you prefer to not bring your own food.
After our much needed rest, we decided to walk on level ground for a little while and meandered to Maricopa Point. This point, which is named after the Native American Indian tribe from South-Central Arizona, the Maricopa Indians, is not to be missed. Maricopa Point has an expansive panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. This was the perfect spot to climb aboard the free shuttle and get a scenic drive back to our starting point. Once back at the lot where we parked our car, we decided that there was no better way to finish our trip than to witness the spectacular sunset at Mather Point. I've witnessed many gorgeous sunsets in my lifetime, but being able to see a multi-hued sunset over this landscape does not compare to any other. When you visit make sure you at least soak in the grandeur of this canyon during a sunrise or sunset, you won't regret it.
After a long and invigorating day of hiking, we headed back to our hotel to change and get back in the car to eat at We Cook Pizza & Pasta. Conveniently, this restaurant is only a few minutes drive down the road and nothing tastes better than pizza and salad after a great day of hiking. The food was delicious and the service was great. If you are staying in Tusayan or leaving the Grand Canyon from the South, I highly recommend stopping here for a delicious lunch or dinner.
Now, for our next visit to the Grand Canyon, we explored the South Rim to the far East.
While visiting Page, Arizona to see the stunning Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, we decided the Grand Canyon was definitely worth a second visit. The Grand Canyon was only 100 minutes away, so we made a pit stop on our way down to Phoenix, AZ, (3.5 hours away).
Along the way to the South Rim, heading to its furthest eastern point, we got our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. The Little Colorado River is a tributary of the Colorado River and home to the smaller-scale Grand Canyon called The Little Colorado River Gorge. This gorge is located on US-64, just 30 minutes before the entrance of the Grand Canyon. There are two viewpoints which you can easily access from the road, which are owned by the Navajo National Parks and Recreation. Both viewpoints have a large parking lot, restrooms, and stalls built for Native Americans to sell their handmade goods. Sometimes there is a $5 charge to utilize the parking lot, however, when we went, there was no charge.
The view here is spectacular, especially of the Little Colorado River, which looks like flowing chocolate lava. I had wanted a Native American souvenir and, as luck would have it, there were a few stalls open with Navajo indians selling handmade jelwelry, tomahawks, and pottery. The Little Colorado River Gorge was like an appetizer to the main entree, the Grand Canyon. I was excited to see the breathtaking sights of the canyon once again.
At last, we made it to the extraordinary area called Desert View Point, and home to the iconic column, the Desert Watchtower, a must see for any visitor. Located here is an entrance station where a park ranger will collect a $35 fee for you to enter the park. Ask the park ranger for a map to easily find the multitude of lookout points along the way. The Desert Watchtower was built in 1932, and designed by architect Mary Colter. It is acknowledged as a National Historic Landmark. Mary Colter's design was influenced by the Ancestral Puebloan people that lived in this area. Also, the tower was styled similarly to the towers found at Hovenweep and the Round Tower in Mesa Verde.
You can find a gift shop, chairs to rest, and when available, the opportunity to explore the upper rooms of the watchtower. Thankfully, the upper rooms were open when we visited.. Only 25 people were allowed at a time to enter this area and was monitored by a park employee. The Watchtower allows you to see expansive arial views of the Grand Canyon. At this viewpoint, you can see the changeover from the narrow Marble Canyon to the vast Grand Canyon. The greatest aspect of this tower was the art decorating the inside. There are four levels with stairs spiralling up to each floor. Each floor is decorated with petroglyphs, paintings and much more, which represent the Native American Indian tribes that dwell in the Southwest. In all, this tower was a colorful delight to see.
Outside the tower is the picturesque Grand Canyon!!! This aerial tower offers sweeping views of the surrounding canyon, which never gets old for me to see. The walls of the canyon are such a unique and amazing depiction of the Earth beneath us.
At Desert View you can utilize the facilities located here, such as, restrooms, snack bar, trading post and souvenir shop. Once you've spent enough time seeing everything in this location, head west towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Along the way stop at one or more of the viewpoints along the 22 mile road to your destination.
We stopped shortly after Desert View to view the vistas at Navajo Point. From here you can observe the majestic Grand Canyon and the surrounding sacred plateaus that are still home to several native tribes. This area is a great destination for great sunset views without the crowds.
How To Spend Your Time
Ride the Shuttle Buses for FREE!
From March through November the Hermits Route (red) runs from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to Hermits Rest ( 7 miles) and stops at 9 fantastic viewpoints.
Only 1 - 2 hours to Visit. Where to go?
Walk the Rim Trail, which is only 1- 1.5 miles and ride the Kaibab/Rim (orange) route shuttle.
This shuttle is a figure 8 loop and provides transportation from the Visitor Center Shuttle Bus Terminal to 5 points of view.
Half a Day to Visit. Where to go?
Walk the Rim Trail.
Ride the Hermits Rest Route shuttle (red).
Drive to Desert View Watchtower.
One Full Day to visit. Where to go?
Walk the Rim Trail.
Ride the Hermits Rest Route shuttle (red).
Hike the Bright Angel Trail to first marker.
Visit the visitor centers and park museums.
*This post contains affiliate links, so I can earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on my site at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate and Viator Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You can read my full disclaimer here.
I love this gadget for taking pictures or videos with both of us in the frame. No need for anyone to take pictures for you. Just place your phone on the tripod, pair your phone with the bluetooth remote clicker and snap away.