For most people, a visit to the Grand Canyon is to the south rim
rather than the remote north rim
, approaching either along US 180
from Flagstaff and the south or AZ 64
from Williams and the west. Both routes cross the largely flat Coconino Plateau
which is characterized by typical mountain scenery of broad meadows and pine forests, giving no hint of the great abyss over the horizon. The busy village of Tusayan
is located two miles south of the park boundary; it has an airport, shops, hotels
, an IMAX cinema and a large, cheapish RV site. Basic, primitive camping is allowed free in the neighboring Kaibab National Forest
- closest location to town is along FR 302, on the southeast side of Tusayan, where overnight stays are permitted once a quarter of a mile from the highway. Another suitable track is FR 328, just north of the village.
Approach to the Canyon
Tusayan is the location for the proposed car-park that may one day mark the limit of approach to the canyon for private vehicles, when visitors will be transported further by either an electric bus system or a light railway. Once past the town and past the national park entrance station, the canyon is hidden from view by a gradual incline until only a few yards away. The road divides just before the edge - to the west is the main visitor area and various viewpoints quite close together while to the east, AZ 64 continues through the pine forest alongside the canyon rim for 30 miles with fewer viewpoints further apart, before leaving the park, descending back into desert lands of the Navajo Indian Reservation and joining US 89 at Cameron.
South Rim Grand Canyon Viewpoints
- full descriptions and photographs of 20 overlooks along the canyon edge.
Grand Canyon Village
The usual place to see the canyon for the first time is either at Mather Point
or Yavapai Point
to the west; the latter has more parking and slightly better views. Around the next bend there is the equivalent of a small town, spread out over several miles of the forest, with a hospital, railway station
(terminus of old-style steam rides from Williams, complete with staff in period costume), shops, restaurants, six lodges, a trailer village and a campground
. The village also contains several historic sites such as hotels and artists' studios built early this century.
The Western Rim
The scenic drive (Hermit Road
, formerly the West Rim Drive) continues several miles further but it becomes narrow and has limited parking so entry is closed to private vehicles during the day in peak season and free shuttle buses are provided instead. Another half dozen viewpoints may be visited, including Pima Point
& Hopi Point
, and all are linked by a rim trail making it possible to walk between selected points before resuming the shuttle, which is rather slow and bumpy, taking about 70 minutes (excluding stops) for the round trip. The road ends at the most westerly viewpoint of Hermits Rest
where several trails descend into the canyon including to Dripping Spring
and Hermit Creek
, while for the more adventurous, starting at Grand Canyon Village is a rough track leading south into the forest that soon turns west and passes various other remote viewpoints and trailheads, eventually entering the backcountry of the Havasupai Indian Reservation
. The most popular hiking path into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail
, beginning near the railway station. All the other south rim routes are rather more strenuous and much less-frequented - see the South Rim hiking index
The Eastern Rim
The Desert View Drive
(AZ 64; also known as the East Rim Drive) passes through thick ponderosa pine forest with only occasional glimpses of the canyon, though the rim is never very far away. Stopping places include Yaki Point
after 1 mile; this is near the South Kaibab
trailhead and is a popular place for sunset watching, and the aptly named Grandview Point
after 12 miles.
Yaki Point has recently been closed to all private vehicles to help reduce overcrowding and now access is by shuttle bus or on foot. The final viewpoint along the drive (Desert View
) is one of the best in the whole park - from a high promontory just before the east entrance station, a huge area of the Grand Canyon stretches out below; the main ravine to the north and west, the Little Colorado Gorge
in the east - a very steep and narrow side canyon cutting into a flat plateau, and the colorful Painted Desert in the northeast. This one of the few south rim overlooks from which the Colorado itself can be glimpsed; the contrast between the greenery alongside the river and the stark reddish rocks is quite striking. But nine miles of the river are in full view from remote Comanche Point
, reached by a 6 mile hike. There is another cluster of buildings at Desert View including the last gas station for a while and The Watchtower, a 20 meter high stone tower built in 1932 which is just visible from Cape Royal on the north rim
, 9 miles away. Nearby, on the south side of the road, the Tusayan Ruins & Museum
has the remains of a 12th century Anasazi settlement containing circular kivas and square houses, though the site is not particularly impressive as the remaining walls are only one foot high.
Perhaps more than any other national park in America, the Grand Canyon contains a huge variety of spectacular but largely hidden and inaccessible places - waterfalls, deep pools, narrow ravines, and oases - that cannot be reached by the casual tourist. Many of the wonderful side-canyons, with their associated photogenic features require a day or more traveling on foot from the canyon rim or complicated journeys involving boat trips down the Colorado to reach them. It is perhaps comforting to think that no matter how crowded and over-developed the South Rim overlooks become, most of the canyon will remain empty and essentially unvisited.
South Rim Hotels
The nearest chain hotels to the South Rim are in the village of Tusayan
, 2 miles south of the national park entrance station along AZ 64.