For millions of years, the Colorado River has carved its way through the Colorado Plateau, forming this expansive, awe-inspiring landscape that we call the Grand Canyon. And it certainly is grand. Words cannot describe what it is like to gaze across the Grand Canyon for the first time.
On a visit to the Grand Canyon, there is more to do than just look out over the canyon from the Visitor Center. Walk along the rim, watch the sunrise, take a helicopter flight, tour the viewpoints by bicycle, or hike below the rim.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most accessible and most popular section of the canyon to visit. This article focuses on the best things to do in the Grand Canyon on the South Rim. At the end of the article, we give you itinerary ideas and tips to help you have the best experience.
Facts About the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. It is estimated that the Colorado River has been at work for 5 to 6 million years, carving out the canyon.
The Grand Canyon officially became a national park on February 26, 1919.
The Grand Canyon is the second most visited park in the United States. Great Smoky Mountain National Park comes in first place, with 11.3 million visitors in 2017 (by comparison, the Grand Canyon only saw a mere 6.2 million visitors).
Park Fees and Hours of Operation
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open 24 hours 365 days a year.
The entrance fee is $35 and is valid for 7 days. This fee also includes the visit to the North Rim.
If you plan to visit the North Rim, you should be aware that it is only open from mid-May through mid-October. The road to the North Rim is closed in the winter due to snow. You can check conditions on the official National Park Service website. If you plan to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim, it takes roughly 4 to 5 hours.
How to Get to the South Rim
You can get to the South Rim by car, bus, train, plane, helicopter, or on a tour.
Most people get to the Grand Canyon by car, usually on a road trip through the American Southwest. Here are the driving distances and times from nearby destinations:
- Phoenix: 230 miles, 3.5 hours
- Las Vegas: 280 miles, 4.5 hours
- Page, Arizona: 133 miles, 2.5 hours
- Flagstaff, Arizona: 80 miles, 1.5 hours
- Monument Valley: 176 miles, 3 hours
- Zion National Park: 240 miles, 4.25 hours
By plane or helicopter, you can fly into Tusayan airport. Tusayan is a small town that is located 15 minutes south of the Grand Canyon Village by car. It is possible to book a tour from Las Vegas where you fly into Tusayan and then tour the Grand Canyon on foot or by helicopter.
There are options to take a bus or a train to the Grand Canyon. Click here to learn more.
Map of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Best Things to do in the Grand Canyon
Here are some of the best ways to experience the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Visit the South Rim Viewpoints
There are dozens of viewpoints along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Each one of these viewpoints offers a spectacular view, but some viewpoints are just better than others. Some offer panoramic vistas, some are less crowded, and some make fantastic sunrise and sunset destinations.
There are three sections to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: Desert View Road, Grand Canyon Village, and Hermit Road. Each of these sections offers a slightly different experience, and if you have the time, it is worth it to spend some time in each spot.
Here are some photos from our favorite viewpoints.
Bike Along Hermit Road
Hermit Road is 7 miles long. It starts at the Grand Canyon Village and ends at Hermit’s Rest.
You can visit the viewpoints along Hermit Road by shuttle (from March 1 to November 30), by car (only between December 1 and February 28), by foot, or by bike.
Out of these options, touring Hermit Road by bicycle sounds like the most fun. Plus, this is one of the best family friendly things to do in the Grand Canyon. You can visit the viewpoints on your own schedule, without hopping from shuttle from shuttle or dealing with finding a parking spot. And it’s much quicker than walking the entire 7 miles.
Bright Angel Bicycles has a package where you can rent bicycles for one day. With their Hermit Shuttle Package, you cycle from Hopi Point to Hermit’s Rest. A shuttle transports you back to the Grand Canyon Village so you do not have to bike 14 miles round trip. This is a great option for families with kids and those who do not want a long bike trip.
Walk the South Rim Trail
The South Rim trail is a flat, mostly paved trail that heads along the edge of the rim. It is 13 miles (21 km) long, stretching from Hermit’s Rest to the South Kaibab trailhead.
Of course, you don’t have to walk all 13 miles. You can pick a small section of the trail to walk, using the Grand Canyon shuttle to hop your way along the South Rim Trail.
Learn more here.
Hike Below the Rim
One of the best ways to experience the Grand Canyon is to hike below the rim. There are several options to do this from the South Rim.
Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail is a very popular trail. It’s easily accessible, starting right in the Grand Canyon Village. This trail starts on the rim and ends at the Bright Angel Campground near the Colorado River. It is 9.5 miles long and descends 4380 feet.
The view from the Bright Angel Trail
Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail
The National Park service discourages people from hiking from the rim to the Colorado River and back to the rim in one day. Over 200 people are rescued every year due to fatigue and heat exhaustion.
You can hike a portion of the Bright Angel Trail and still have a great experience. Here are 4 day hike options.
1.5 Mile Resthouse: Distance: 3 miles round-trip. You will rapidly descend from the rim on a switchback trail. The view is good, but honestly, it’s not spectacular. Much of the Bright Angel Trail descends through a canyon, so you don’t get those sweeping views like you get from the rim. This hike is more about the experience going below the rim than having a stunning view.
3 Mile Resthouse: 6 miles round-trip. Descend further into the canyon. The views do not change much from the 1.5 Mile Resthouse hike.
Indian Garden: 9 miles round-trip. Just past 3 Mile Resthouse, the trail “levels out.” You are still walking downhill, but at a lower grade than on the first part of this hike. Indian Garden is a small campground with water. The NPS website recommends going no farther than this point in the summer.
Plateau Point: 12 miles round-trip. At Indian Garden, you can take the trail to Plateau Point for a stunning view over the Colorado River.
Visit the national park website for more information on these hikes.
South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trail also starts on the rim and ends at the Colorado River. It is shorter and steeper than the Bright Angel Trail (it’s 7 miles long with 4800 feet of elevation loss). It is also more spectacular, in my opinion. There is a lot more exposure on the trail, which gives you expansive, jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon.
To get here, you will need to take the Grand Canyon shuttle or walk the rim trail to the South Kaibab trailhead.
Here are day hike ideas for the South Kaibab Trail.
Ooh Aah Point: 1.8 miles round trip. Amazing viewpoint! Tyler and I were here at sunrise and this is one of my favorite spots in the Grand Canyon. It’s a very steep descent to get here (and a hefty climb back up to the rim later in the day) but it’s worth it for this view.
Cedar Ridge: 3 miles round-trip. Enjoy more everchanging views as you descend farther into the canyon.
Skeleton Point: 6 miles round trip. Just past Skeleton Point you get your first view of the Colorado River. The NPS website recommends going no farther than this point as a day hike. From here, it’s still a very long ways to go until you reach the Colorado River.
Visit the national park website for more information on these hikes.
South Rim to Colorado River to South Rim
In Two Days
You can connect the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail into one epic hike. Most people will hike down one trail to the Colorado River, spend the night at Phantom Ranch or camp at Bright Angel Campground, and hike up the other trail on day two. In order to do this, you need two days and a permit to camp or very good luck (and advance planning) to get a reservation at Phantom Ranch.
In One Day
Even though the National Park Service discourages it, it is possible to hike from the South Rim to the South Rim in one day. But this is not a decision to be made lightly.
The entire round-trip hike is 16.5 miles with a massive descent at the beginning and nearly a mile of elevation gain at the end. So far, this is the most challenging day hike that we have done (even more difficult than Half Dome in July). This is a long hike with a huge amount of elevation changes. During the summer months, this becomes a very dangerous hike.
Tyler and I did this hike in December. It was a very pleasant 52°F, perfect weather for hiking. We did not have to battle soaring temperatures which made this much more enjoyable.
I would only attempt this hike if you are very fit and have lots of hiking experience. This is not a hike for newbie hikers and weekend warriors. You should be able to easily walk 10 miles while wearing a backpack, preferably in very hilly terrain.
Ride a Mule into the Grand Canyon
If hiking is not your thing, you can ride a mule into the canyon. Xanterra offers mule trips on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is an extremely popular thing to do and tickets are offered by lottery. Learn more here.
Watch the Grand Canyon IMAX Movie
This is a great, low-key activity to add to your list of things to do. In the IMAX theater in the Visitor Center, you can watch 34-minute movie about the Grand Canyon. It’s not quite as thrilling as seeing the Grand Canyon from the viewpoints or hiking below the rim, but this makes a great midday activity to do during the summer, since you can escape the heat in the air-conditioned theater.
Learn more here.
Take a Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon
A Grand Canyon helicopter tour can be a thrilling way to experience the awe-inspiring views and stunning beauty that the Grand Canyon has to offer. This allows you to see parts of the Grand Canyon that you cannot see from the South Rim viewpoints.
You can take your pick from several flight options that leave right from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Yavapai Museum of Geology
Learn about the history and formation of the Grand Canyon in this museum which is located in the historic Yavapai Observation Station. It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so it makes a nice activity to do midday. Plus, you can enjoy another stunning view across the Grand Canyon from the large picture windows.
Watch Sunrise and Sunset over the Grand Canyon
From one of many viewpoints, watch as the sun rises over the Grand Canyon, lighting it up in warm hues of reds, pinks, and oranges. Or, at the end of the day, behold the view as the sun descends toward the horizon, washing the canyon in warm light and making it glow just before nightfall.
It may be tough to roll out of bed early, but you will share the view with just a handful of other visitors. At sunset, expect to share the view with large crowds of people.
As far as picking the best viewpoints, they are all wonderful. We drove along Hermit Road at sunrise and all of the viewpoints were phenomenal.
Hopi Point, Yavapai Point, Mather Point, and Mohave Point are all popular. I think that Ooh Aah Point is gorgeous at sunrise. At sunset, if you want to get away from the crowds, try Shoshone Point (the view may not be quite as stunning as Yavapai or Hopi but the hike to get here will keep the viewpoint quiet) or one of the other viewpoints on Desert View Road.
Take a look at our post on the Grand Canyon viewpoints for more ideas.
Sample Itineraries for the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon on a Day Trip
If you just have a few hours to spend in the Grand Canyon (for example, if you are visiting the canyon on road trip from Page, Arizona to Las Vegas), you can see a few viewpoints and do a short hike.
If you will be driving down Desert View Road, it’s worth making a stop at several of these viewpoints. Desert View and Grand View Point are wonderful. Park in the Visitor Center and use the shuttle to get around. From here, you can either walk part of the South Rim Trail or hike below the rim. I recommend the 2-mile round trip hike to Ooh Aah Point.
1 Day in the Grand Canyon
Roll out of bed early, take the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead, and hike out to Ooh Aah Point. Go at sunrise or a little later. Having some daylight will make it safer to hike down the trail (bring a headlamp if you want to get to Ooh Aah Point right at sunrise). By doing this first thing in the day, you can hike with low traffic on the trail and before it really starts to heat up. Turn around at Ooh Aah Point or keep going until you reach Cedar Point or Skeleton Point.
With the rest of your time in the morning (if you only hiked to Ooh Aah Point), visit the viewpoints near the Grand Canyon Village. Have lunch in the Village. Spend the afternoon cycling along the viewpoints on Hermit Road, or watch the IMAX movie and visit the Geology Museum. Have dinner in the Village. End with sunset views over the Grand Canyon.
2 Days in the Grand Canyon
Follow our 1 day in the Grand Canyon. On your second day, you can visit the viewpoints along Desert View Road, hike part of the Bright Angel Trail, and/or take a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon.
For an epic 2-day adventure, hike the Grand Canyon South Rim to South Rim. On day 1, hike the South Kaibab trail to the Bright Angel Campground. Camp here overnight (a permit is required) or stay at the Phantom Ranch Lodge (reservations need to be made well in advance). On day 2, hike up the Bright Angel Trail.
Or, if you are super fit, have lots of hiking experience, and like the idea of doing it all in one day, hike both trails in one day. This is best done from October through April, when temperatures in the canyon aren’t sweltering.
3 Days in the Grand Canyon
With 3 days in the Grand Canyon, you can do almost everything on this list. Take your time, savor the views, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
When to Go
The Grand Canyon can be visited year round. Peak season is during the summer months and during the holiday seasons of Easter and Christmas. During these times, expect large crowds, traffic jams to enter the park, and hotels booked to capacity.
Spring and fall are great times to visit the park. The weather is pleasant and the park isn’t overly crowded.
From June through September, expect hot conditions and large crowds.
Winter is the off-season. Crowds will be low, but so will the temperatures. Snow is a possibility, but that will only make the Grand Canyon look more magical.
Desert View Point
Where to Stay
There are five hotels located in the Grand Canyon Village (El Tovar, Thunderbird Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, and Maswick Lodge). Staying here gives you the advantage of easy access to the shuttles, short walks to several of the viewpoints, and no hassles driving into and out the park every day. However, the hotels get mediocre reviews and many people say they are expensive for what you get.
Click here to view the lodges and get updated pricing. These hotels fill up very far in advance. Make your reservations 4 – 6 months in advance.
You also have the option to stay in Tusayan. From Tusayan, it is a 15-minute drive into the park. There are several hotels to choose from as well as some restaurants.
We stayed at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan. It is the highest rated hotel in the area. The hotel looks impressive from the outside and the lobby is very nice but the rooms are nothing special. On Booking.com it is listed as a 5-star hotel but it looks and feels a lot more like a 3 to 4 star hotel. However, the rooms are clean and quiet and fit our needs.
If you are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and have any questions, comment below!
More Information for Your Trip to the Grand Canyon:
Here are the links to our other articles about the Grand Canyon, with some more ideas about what to do in the area.
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