Introducing Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)
If you don't mind bumping elbows with other travelers, you'll be fine on the South Rim. This is particularly true in summer when camera-toting day-trippers converge en masse, clogging its roads and easiest trails. Why is this rim so popular? Easy access is the most obvious reason: it's a mere 60 miles north of the I-40. Abundant infrastructure is another. This is where you'll find an entire village worth of lodging, restaurants, bookstores, libraries, a supermarket and a deli. Shuttles ply two scenic drives, and the flat and paved Rim Trail allows the mobility-impaired and stroller-pushing parents to take in the dramatic, sweeping canyon views.
If you want to venture into the inner gorge you'll have several trails to choose from – or you can just let a mule do the walking. Several museums and historic stone buildings illuminate the park's human history, and rangers lead a host of daily programs on subjects from geology to resurgent condors.
Though the accessibility of the South Rim means sharing your experience with others, there are many ways to commune with the canyon and its wildlife, and enjoy its sublime beauty, one on one. Escaping the crowds can be as easy as taking a day hike below the rim or merely tramping a hundred yards away from a scenic overlook.
Most visitors arrive via the South Entrance, 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff on Hwy 64/180. Avoid summer wait times of 30 minutes or more by prepaying your park ticket at the National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan, which allows you to cruise through in a special lane. Or arrive at the East Entrance instead. In summer, if you've bought your ticket or have a park pass, you can now hop on the park's Tusayan shuttle at the IMAX Theater in Tusayan and disembark at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
A few miles north of the South Entrance, Grand Canyon Village (or simply the Village) is the primary hub of activity. Here you'll find lodges, restaurants, two of the three developed campgrounds, a backcountry office, visitor center, medical clinic, bank, grocery store, shuttles and other services. Coin-operated showers and laundry facilities are located next to Mather Campground.
West of the Village, Hermit Rd follows the rim for 8 miles, ending at Hermits Rest. Seven pullouts along the way offer spectacular views; from those at Mohave and Hopi Points you can spot three Colorado River rapids. Interpretive signs explain the canyon's features and geology. From March to November the road is closed to private vehicles and accessible only by tour or free shuttle bus.
In the opposite direction, Desert View Dr meanders 25 miles to the East Entrance on Hwy 64, passing some of the park's finest viewpoints, picnic areas, the Tusayan Ruin & Museum and the Watchtower. A campground, snack bar, small information center and general store are in Desert View, right by the entrance. Also here is the park's only gas station, which offers 24-hour pay-at-the-pump service from April to September. Gas stations in Tusayan are closer to the Village and open year-round.