I’ve partnered with Hotels.com to share some of my favorite things to do in Grand Canyon that allow for safe travel and proper physical distancing.
The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s natural wonders and a major bucket list item for most travelers.
The Grand Canyon South Rim is the most frequently visited part of the Grand Canyon. It is chosen most by first-time visitors for its beautiful views, epic overlooks, once in a lifetime hikes, mule rides, the hop on hop off bus, and family-oriented activities. The South Rim also has plenty of lodging, restaurants, and ranger stations.
The first view for many of the Grand Canyon is the South Rim as they take in the towering cliffs of colorful rock layers and deep to the bottom and the Colorado River.
The South Rim is open year-round and is located at 7,000′ above sea level. The North Rim area has fewer amenities and overlooks, and requires more time driving to overlooks. While both are worth a visit, this article is focused on how to have a perfect experience exploring the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Best View of the Grand Canyon
The typical visitor sadly only takes a brief look into the Grand Canyon and heads off to their next road trip stop. According to the National Park Services at the Grand Canyon, the typical stay lasts from five to seven hours and the average time spent looking at the canyon is 17 minutes. This means most of the travel along the south rim is by car.
The Grand Canyon is worth a few days, so at minimum, you can see a sunset, sunrise, take a short hike, and stay at one of the historic lodges in the park.
If you haven’t already booked your family-friendly hotel for the Grand Canyon, I suggest choosing a hotel inside the park and near the rim, especially if it’s a first-time visit. There are numerous hotels, resorts, lodges, inns, camping sites in or near the South Rim.
Where is the Grand Canyon? Grand Canyon National Park is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and is located in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada.
4 Ways to Experience the Best View of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon South Rim Free Shuttle
One of the best ways to see the amazing overlooks and viewpoints is to take the free shuttle. There are several loops you can choose from. The two most popular are the red route and the orange route.
Whether you have booked lodging in the park and visiting for several days or you are simply stopping by to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the shuttles are the best way to see the overlooks in a quick amount of time.
The scenic Hermit Road Route (Red Route) operates from 5 am until one hour after sunset. Cars are not permitted on the route, so the shuttle is the only way to see all of the viewpoints. This is a seven-mile, 75-minute round-trip ride (without getting off the bus).
Tip: The Abyss Overlook is a must. If you have limited time, this is a stop you want to make sure to see up close! So, get off the shuttle at this stop.
Kaibab Rim Route – Eastbound (Orange Route) between the Visitor Center and the South Kaibab Trailhead, operates from 5 am until one hour after sunset each day. This is a 30-minute round-trip ride.
Tip: Yaki Point is an excellent place to view the sunrise and sunset.
For up to date information on the Grand Canyon free shuttles: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm
The Abyss Overlook is a must! Abyss provides an almost vertical view down into the canyon and is one of the must overlooks to experience in the Grand Canyon. As shared above, it is a stop on the Hermit’s Rest Shuttle, which is a free shuttle loop to many overlooks and viewpoints.
It isn’t far from Hermit’s Rest and it’s possible to walk to this overlook but be aware that Hermit’s Rest Road is not accessible by car year-round, so check the schedule before your visit.
If you are only able to view the Grand Canyon by car, the best options for overlooks are Desert View/East Rim Drive which can be driven by private vehicle any time of year.
Tip: There are rangers along the rim who are there to share information about the canyon, hikes, trails, history, flora, fauna and answer any questions you might have. Take time to seek one out to learn some fun history and facts about the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Hikes
One of the best ways to experience the Grand Canyon is a hike from the south rim on Bright Angel Trail. The National Park Service (NPS) considers this the safest trail in Grand Canyon National Park. The trail descends to the Colorado river and there is an elevation change from rim to river of 4460 feet. Keep this in mind as you hike! Down is easier and faster! Plan for your hike up to take at least 1.5 times longer than the hike down.
Historic Phantom Ranch is located at the bottom of the canyon and a bucket list adventure for many. Be aware that the average time to walk to Phantom Ranch and the river at the bottom of the canyon is 4-6 hours and average hiking time up to the rim is 6-10 hours.
If you are hoping to visit Phantom Ranch for a meal or overnight, reservations are required and are made through Xanterra via an on-line lottery that is available up to 15 months in advance.
Tip: Even if you don’t plan to do the entire hike, do not start it without plenty of water and a few snacks.
Before You Head on Any Grand Canyon Hike:
It’s important to prepare properly for hiking in the Grand Canyon. There are hundreds of canyon rescues that take place each year and the vast majority are in response to visitors who’ve entered the canyon without basic supplies. Before you start on a hike in the canyon, the National Park Service recommends checking the weather forecast and leaving an itinerary with friends. Be sure to bring the following for a hike:
• At least two liters of water
• Food such as protein bars and salty snacks
• Hiking poles or staff Appropriate footwear (no heels of any type or flip flops)
• A hat and sunglasses
• A map or trail guide
• A flashlight or headlamp
• A whistle for emergencies
• A small first aid kit with ointments and bandages for blisters.
Phantom Ranch Grand Canyon
Phantom Ranch is a lodge inside Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. It sits at the bottom of Grand Canyon, on the east side of Bright Angel Creek and offers a view many don’t see — one where you can look up from the bottom of the canyon!
Phantom Ranch is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River.
See the Grand Canyon by Mule
One of the most popular Grand Canyon activities is the 3-hour mule ride to the abyss overlook on the south rim. The ride takes you through Kaibab National Forest to the overlook and back. This is a fun ride and a definite Grand Canyon iconic experience.
The rides are led by geared up cowboys who share lots of great information about the Canyon, flora, fauna and history of the area. You do not descend below the rim of the canyon on this ride.
They also have a 5.5-hour ride to the bottom of the canyon and a ride to Phantom Ranch.
4 More Ways to Experience the Grand Canyon from Skywalk, Water, Air and Train
Helicopter Rides in the Grand Canyon
If you are in Las Vegas and don’t have time to drive to the Grand Canyon, a helicopter tour from Las Vegas to the South Rim area is well worth it. Papillon and Maverick are the two main outfitters offering helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon. These tours last between seven and nine hours and include flying though the most dramatic portions of the Grand Canyon.
If you are at the South Rim, a helicopter ride will add an extra thrill and unparalleled views to your Grand Canyon experience. The most popular trip is a 30-minute trip that flies to the North Rim and back. The flight is through the spectacular Dragon Corridor which is the widest and deepest section of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Rafting Trips
There are two main sections of the canyon to raft through and trips can last from three to 18 days.
The Upper Canyon starts at mile 0 at Lees Ferry and runs to about mile 89. Rafting this section allows you to see the Canyon walls rise above you as you make your way downstream. The upper canyon is known for its incredible geology and Native American history.
The Lower Canyon starts around river mile 89 and ends at mile 225. The lower canyon rafting trip has bigger whitewater rapids as you move through the Colorado River and it’s a deeper section of Grand Canyon.
Top outfitters for a Grand Canyon rafting trip include Arizona Raft Adventures, Canyoneers, Grand Canyon Expeditions, and Wilderness River Adventures.
The rafting season through Grand Canyon National Park tends to operate from April through October.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon glass bridge also known as the Skywalk is located 4,757′ above the floor on the west rim on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
This 10-foot wide platform, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Yep, as you walk, you can look down and see right through the glass platform for 4,000 feet to the floor of the Canyon below.
While there, you can visit the restaurant, take a self-guided tour through this authentic village that depicts when Hualapai, Navajo, Plains, Hopi, Havasupai, and other Indian tribes who originally roamed this area. There are also performances including music and dances by the Hualapai Tribe throughout the day.
Grand Canyon skywalk price & tickets: Admission Ticket to West Rim is $39 and it’s additional $20 for the Grand Canyon Skywalk
Train to Grand Canyon National Park
The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily from Williams, Arizona and travels 65 miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes each way. The train’s current schedule departs daily at 9:30 a.m. It arrives at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at 11:45 a.m. to the Grand Canyon Depot which was built in 1910.
During the train ride there is beautiful scenery and some entertainment from authentic Old West characters and musicians. You’ll then have about 3 hours to explore the canyon, historic buildings, exhibits and overlooks. The train departs the canyon at 3:30 p.m. and arrives back to Williams at 5:45 p.m.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon South Rim offers lodging in the park with epic views and just steps from the canyon itself as well as the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch and in nearby towns.
Grand Canyon lodging ranges from rustic lodges, historic hotels, RV parks, camping, cabins and budget motels. There are options for all types of budgets and experiences.
There are 6 historic Lodges to in the Grand Canyon at the South Rim including The El Tovar, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Maswik Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. They are operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
Historic Phantom Ranch, located at the button of the Grand Canyon, is an ultimate experience for those seeking a true adventure. Phantom Ranch is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River.
Lodging options near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
• Tusayan is the closest town to the South Rim (7 miles)
• Williams is the starting point for the Grand Canyon Railroad & on route 66 (60 miles) and home of the Grand Canyon Hotel.
• Kingmanis located on historic Route 66 (172 miles)
• Flagstaff has a great historic downtown and observatory (80 miles)
• Las Vegas is doable in a day trip (280 miles)
10 Fun Facts about the Grand Canyon
1. The Grand Canyon is around 6000 (1800 metres) feet deep.
2. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometres) in length. At its widest point the Grand Canyon stretches 18 miles (29 kilometres) across. At its narrowest point it stretches 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) across.
3. The Hopi Tribe considers the Grand Canyon a gateway to the afterlife.
4. There are an estimated 1,000 caves within the canyon, but only 335 have been recorded and only one cave is open to the public which is Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa.
5. There is a town located in the Canyon and with a population of 208, Supai Village is the most remote community in the continental United States.
6. The elevation of the South Rim is around 7,000 feet (2133m) above seal level.
7. The Grand Canyon records some of the cleanest air in the United States.
8. An estimated 5.9 million people visit the Grand Canyon a year, making it the second most popular national park (Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee are #1).
9. Grand Canyon National Park ia a World Heritage Site.
10. There is only one way to cross the Colorado River by automobile at the Grand Canyon, and that is 137 miles South Rim Village (at Marble Canyon, AZ) via the Navajo Bridge, a few miles downstream from Lees Ferry, where the Canyon is only 400 feet wide.
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
If you do decide to travel at this time, here are a few recommendations:
- Wear a face mask.
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis.
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses and Grand Canyon Travel alerts..
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.