Just a few things left to pack before we’re heading to the Grand Canyon South Rim and our Bright Angel Trail hiking trip. We’re looking forward to some well-needed relaxation and to visit some of our favorite spots again. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a reputation of being one of the more developed and “touristy” spots in all of the National Park Service.
Yet if you know where you’re heading, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the canyon and escape the crowds. Today we’re posting our list of must-see spots on the Grand Canyon South Rim. We hope it helps inspire an upcoming #parkchasing trip, or a repeat adventure to one of our favorite spots in the NPS.
What you’ll find below:
- Our must-see spots on the South Rim, sorted geographically from West to East.
- Favorite viewpoints of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim.
- Day hiking options for all skill levels.
- Historical points of interest.
- Tips and tricks on how to avoid the crowds.
13 Must See Spots on the Grand Canyon South Rim
1. Hermit’s Rest Fireplace
Built in 1914 by famous Grand Canyon architect Mary Colter, Hermit’s Rest should be on everyone’s South Rim checklist. It’s also the westernmost stopping point of the park shuttle, which makes a great departure point if you plan to hike the Rim Trail back to Grand Canyon Village.
Colter designed Hermit’s Rest to closely match the natural exterior features of the canyon. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. Inside the stone structure you’ll find a stunning arched alcove with a stone fireplace. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s worth stopping in to appreciate Colter’s efforts to combine both function and the landscape of the Grand Canyon.
2. Mohave, Powell & Hopi Points
Moving to the east along Hermit Road and the Rim Trail, you’ll find three canyon overlooks. Mohave, Powell, and Hopi Points continue to rank among the best of all the overlooks, and they tend to be less heavily trafficked than some of the viewing areas closer to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center.
Mohave Point has great sunset views whereas Powell Point has better eastern exposure for sunrises. Hopi Point juts out farther into the canyon than any other spot on the South Rim and has great views for both. Mohave and Powell Points tend to be less popular than Hopi Point, so if crowds are an issue at one, simply hike the Rim Trail to one of the other nearby overlooks.
3. Bright Angel Trail Tunnel
While hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon may not be for everyone, there are still options to get a sense of what inner canyon hiking is like. Near the Village/Hermit’s Rest bus transfer you’ll find the trailhead for Bright Angel Trail. It’s one of the most popular corridor routes to the bottom of the canyon and Phantom Ranch. It’s also a great option to try out some inner canyon hiking.
At 0.36 miles from the trailhead, you’ll find the Bright Angel Trail Tunnel. It’s a popular spot turn-around spot for anyone wanting to step off the South Rim, but not necessarily venture to the bottom. It’s also great for families with children and anyone with mobility issues who might shy away from a longer hike.
4. Kolb Studio
Just a short distance from the Bright Angel Trailhead you’ll spot Kolb Studio hanging precariously close to the edge of canyon. In operation from 1904 to 1976, Kolb Studio was the product of entrepreneurial brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. After documenting their rafting trip through the canyon, the Kolb brothers established a photography studio to capture and sell photos of tourists and pioneers entering the canyon.
Today the studio hosts a permanent exhibit about the Kolb family and early canyon settlers. It also has one of the largest exhibits of art in the park. Shop the curio and art studio and appreciate the pioneering spirit of Ellsworth and Emery Kolb.
5. The Thomas Moran Painting in the El Tovar Hotel
Another hidden gem we plan to revisit on the South Rim can be found hanging in the lobby of the famous El Tovar Hotel. Above the main entrance doors you’ll find an original Thomas Moran landscape of the Grand Canyon.
Those familiar with the history of the National Park Service know how influential Thomas Moran’s paintings became in the efforts to protect our national parks. He was commissioned to paint landscapes of the Grand Canyon and returned to the area throughout his life. Take a few minutes to admire and appreciate his work and the historic lobby of the El Tovar.
6. Grand Canyon Railway at the Train Depot
If you’re lucky enough to catch the train schedules at the right time, you’ll want to stop for a few photographs of the Grand Canyon Railway as it arrives or departs from the Grand Canyon Train Depot. Constructed in 1909, it was built just a few hundred feet from the El Tovar Hotel and the South Rim of the canyon to easily transport tourists to a luxury Grand Canyon experience.
Today the Grand Canyon Railway trips run from near Flagstaff about 2 1/2 hours to the South Rim. While we haven’t taken the train trip ourselves, we did enjoy viewing the historic Pullman railcars (and remembering our visit to Pullman National Monument in Chicago!)
7. Trail of Time
Moving east towards the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, the next stop we recommend on the South Rim is the Trail of Time. A self-guided section of the Rim Trail between Verkamp’s Visitor Center and Yavapai Point, the Trail of Time details the geological history of the Grand Canyon. Every meter of the trail is marked with a brass marker, signifying a million years of geologic history. During the walk, as the geology of the canyon changes, samples of the different rocks found in the canyon lay beside the trail.
There are also viewing scopes along the trail pointed directly at the rocks in the canyon, allowing you an up-close view of the geology of the park.
8. Elk viewing
Depending on the time of year you visit the Grand Canyon South Rim, it may be possible to see a roaming herd of elk grazing throughout the village. The elk enjoy the ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forests around the campground and visitor centers of the South Rim. They can be more aggressive and dangerous than other elk, particularly when near a source of water.
When viewing elk, be sure to follow National Park etiquette and park regulations. Watch from at least 100 feet (two bus lengths) away and monitor their behavior at all times.
9. Yavapai Point & Yavapai Museum of Geology
As you move east towards the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center along the Rim Trail, you’ll meet the Yavapai Point overlook and the Yavapai Museum of Geology. On days when the weather may be less cooperative, the Yavapai Museum might be your best spot for viewing the canyon while staying warm and dry. The large picture windows look out across to the North Rim providing a panoramic (and indoor view).
The geology museum is open daily and showcases exhibits on the history, ecology, and geology of the Grand Canyon. The museum also has ranger-led programming perfect for any Junior Rangers in your group.
10. Mather Point
A visit to the Grand Canyon South Rim wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Mather Point. Preferably at sunset. Mather Point is located directly behind the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and one of the most popular viewing areas in the entire park. It can be crowded during the busy travel season, so we recommend arriving 30-45 minutes before sunrise/sunset if you plan for an unobstructed photograph.
11. Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center
Before or after your visit to Mather Point, be sure to stop in the Grand Canyon main visitor’s center (8 AM to 6 PM). The exhibits are primarily located under covered awnings outside, so you’re able to view them before and after hours when the largest crowds will be long gone.
Be sure to collect your national park passport stamp in the nearby bookstore and stop in for the Junior Ranger program booklet while you’re there.
12. Moran Point
As you move east away from the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, you’ll find that view points of the canyon begin to thin out. Just before you reach Desert View Watch Tower, be sure to pull into the parking area for Moran Point, one of our favorite view points on all of the Grand Canyon South Rim.
The point is named for painter Thomas Moran (see #5) and has broad sweeping views of the North Rim and Red Canyon below.
13. Desert View Watchtower
Our final (and easternmost) stop on the Grand Canyon South Rim is Desert View Watchtower. Another structure designed by Grand Canyon architect Mary Colter. The watch tower is a favorite destination of almost every Grand Canyon visitor we know that stops there. Spend a few minutes looking at the canyon views from the base of the tower, and then take the time to climb the 85 stairs to the watchtower viewing deck. The
How to Avoid the Crowds near the Grand Canyon South Rim
One of the biggest complaints we hear about Grand Canyon National Park are the crowds. With more than 6 million visitors every year, Grand Canyon always ranks high among the most visited national parks. We did follow advice from rangers and fellow Park Chasers that helped us enjoy the park despite the crowds.
- Stay in the park. Relatively few people stay within the park boundaries, most travel from the surrounding gateway communities or as far as Las Vegas. By staying inside the park, you’ll avoid the commuting traffic.
- Start the day early. We know it’s hard on vacation, but we recommend visiting the busier stops at Grand Canyon National Park as early in the day as possible. Wake up for sunrise and start the day from there.
- Travel September to May. The busy summer months of June, July and August have peak tourist numbers. The shoulder seasons (April, May, September & October) make for much cooler weather and fewer visitors. Winter months can also be a good time to visit, although some of the amenities may be closed for the season.
- Avoid the restaurants and gift shops. To us, spending midday, waiting in line in a tourist shopping trap can otherwise be sold as one of Dante’s circles of hell. As weird as it may seem, a lot of the tourists at the Grand Canyon spend their time in a restaurant or a gift shop and not out on the trail. Pack lunches and save gift store purchases to the morning or evening. Spend that time out on the trails where you’ll see fewer visitors.
- Stay for sunset & stars. Grand Canyon was named an International Dark Sky Park in 2019. Well known for it’s stunning sunsets and outstanding stargazing, one of the best ways to enjoy the park without the crowds is to stay after dark.