There are few sights that will truly take your breath away, but your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon will be one of them. No photos or videos will do it justice. There is something awe inspiring to stand on the rim, the canyon floor hidden over a mile below, the opposite rim 18 miles across. You can easily see the Grand Canyon’s South Rim in two days, it’s a perfect introduction to this national park.
The park is broken up by the South Rim, accessible from Flagstaff, Arizona, Grand Canyon West, most easily reached from Las Vegas, and the North Rim. The South Rim is the busiest, and offers the most amenities.
How to Get There
The South Rim is accessible from the south and east entrances, both close to Flagstaff. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Oasis, an RV park and glampground, about 45 minutes from the east entrance. We were able to drive up after work for evening hikes and picnics.
Arriving through the east gate will help you avoid entrance lines, plus the drive is beautiful. Before the park entrance, stop at the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park for great views and local artisan boothes. They sell Navajo pottery, hand made jewery and more. These stands, and others like them along the east gate entrance road, have far better prices than you’ll find in brick-and-mortar stores.
Where to Stay In the Park
The South Rim has several hotels and lodges, along with RV and tent camping options we’ll discuss here.
The largest campground on the South Rim, Mather accomodates tent camping and smaller RVs. It’s surrounded by pine trees throughout. The campground has mulitiple bathrooms, with the showers and laundry located at Camper Services.
Showers are available at $2.50 per 5 minutes. The machines only accept quarters. Be sure to check the shower and laundry hours. During our last visit in September 2022, they closed at 4pm.
The only full hook-up RV park in Grand Canyon, Trailer Village books out quickly! They accomodate rigs up to 50 feet, and you’ll often see elk.
Both Mather and Trailer Village are by the Marketplace, offering a full grocery store, post office, and restaurant.
As it’s name suggests, it’s more desert like than the rest of the park, with scrubby pines and small bushes. While the other two campgrounds tend to fill up quickly, Desert View will often have openings a month or two out. It’s 24 miles from Grand Canyon Village, right by the east gate. It’s primarily for tent camping. They do they allow rigs up to 30 feet, but there are no hookups. The campground has bathrooms only, no showers.
What to Do on the South Rim
Most people tend to spend a day or two at the Grand Canyon. This is a two day itineary, keeping in mind either one could be turned into multi-day trips.
The Rim Trail spans 13 miles along the canyon rim, but can be done in smaller sections. It’s paved most of the way, and is wheelchair or stroller accessible from South Kaibab Trailhead to Grand Canyon Village. After the village, the trail narrows considerably on its way to Hermit’s Point.
It’s a great trail for the views, even if you’re afraid of heights! It’s also a less strenuous option, with little elevation change. Take the trail from Mather Point to Grand Canyon Village for a flat, 2.2 mile trip. The shuttle has multiple pick up points, if you don’t want to hike back.
Grand Canyon Village
The Village is home to the lodges, restaurants, shops and art galleries. Be sure to explore this historic town! It began in 1901 and blossomed with the El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House and Verkamp’s. These buildings are still in operation today. The El Tovar’s restaurant is a great place to enjoy lunch, the walls decorated with sand art and murals, and views of the canyon beyond. The Hopi House is my personal favorite, built in a traditional pueblo style. It’s a Native America art gallery, focusing on local artisans.
From March 1 to November 1, Hermit Road is only accessible via park shuttles. The shuttles are free and run from the Village to Hermit’s Rest, with stops at 9 viewpoints along the way. The drive itself is scenic, and without getting off at any viewpoints it’s 80 minutes round-trip ride.
The Rim Trail runs alongside Hermit Road, making it easy to hike a portion and shuttle the rest. There are some great views of Bright Angel Trail winding below, from the Rim Trail. The final shuttle stop is at Hermit’s Rest, a historic building built to look like a miner’s cabin. It houses a giftshop and snack bar.
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel descends from the village to the canyon floor. Hiking it can be a full or multi-day activity, depending how far down you plan to go. It’s only 0.3 roundtrip to the first tunnel, or 3 miles roundtrip to the first resthouse. The trail continues to multiple points, until reaching the bottom of the canyon. The roundtrip from rim to base and back is 16 miles!
The trail is typically only 4 feet wide and has no guardrails. Honestly, it terrified me! Hikers must also share the trail with the mule teams, who have right of way.
Have you read Brighty of the Grand Canyon? It’s a classic book I re-read right before our first trip here, about a real burro that lived in the canyon around the turn of the last century. Read it for some Grand Canyon history, and maybe a little courage to try Bright Angel trail!
Desert View Drive
It’s 23 miles from the Village to Desert View, and unlike Hermit Road, it’s open to all traffic. There are multiple pulloffs and viewpoints along the way. Some of the best nightsky viewing is along Desert View, away from the village lights.
Grandview Point has panoramic views and is the starting point for Grandview Trail. We didn’t attemp this one, it’s rated strenuous and is not maintained by the park service.
The Tusayan Pueblo Site is on this drive, although it’s closed until 2023.
Najavo Point has excellent views of the canyon, and also looking back to Desert View.
Desert View is the final destination, with a trading post, ranger center, market, and gas. Some of the services only run during summer, so be sure to check the NPS site. The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 and dominates the landscape. There are multiple view points around the tower, and it’s one of the best spots to find a quiet ledge to yourself.
Sunset at Lipan Point
Close out the second day at one of the best sunset viewpoints on the South Rim. Lipan Point has a small parking lot and can fill up near sundown. Arrive a bit early, enjoy a picnic or glass of wine on the rocks, and wait for the show. We caught the sunset at several points from Desert View to the village, and Lipan is the most spectacular.
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