Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West, captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration, preservation and exploitation.
We’ve all seen images of the canyon in print and on-screen, but there is nothing like arriving at the edge and taking it all in – the immensity, the depth, the light. Descend into the canyon depths, amble along the rim or simply relax at an outcrop – you'll find your own favorite Grand Canyon vista. Though views from both rims are equally stunning, the South Rim boasts many more official and dramatic overlooks. One of the most beautiful in its simplicity, however, is the view that whispers from the Grand Canyon Lodge's patio on the canyon's quieter north side.
Hiking an Inverted Mountain
You don't have to be a hard-core hiking enthusiast to taste the park's inner-canyon splendor. Even a short dip below the rim gives a stunning appreciation for its magnificent scale and awesome silence; descend deeper for a closer look at a mind-boggling record of geologic time. The park's raw desert climate and challenging terrain demand a slower, quieter pace, and that's just perfect, because it's exactly that pace that is best for experiencing the Grand Canyon in all its multisensory glory.
Native American and Pioneer History
Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries, and its pioneer history is full of wild and eccentric characters who wrangled this intimidating expanse for profit and adventure. Their stories echo in the weathered trails they built to access terraced fields; the iconic mule-train traditions that lured 19th-century tourists; and the stone and timber buildings constructed by the railroads in their effort to codify the romance of the American Southwest. Ranger talks and South Rim museums explore the park's native history, showcase indigenous dwellings and crafts, and tell inspiring tales of intrepid entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and pioneer tourists.
Two Billion Years of Rocks
One look at the reds, rusts and oranges of the canyon walls and the park's spires and buttes, and you can't help but wonder about the hows and whys of the canyon's formation. Luckily for laypeople with rock-related questions, the South Rim has answers, primarily at Yavapai Point and Geology Museum and the Trail of Time installation, and both rims offer geology talks and walks given by the park’s knowledgeable rangers. For a more DIY experience, hike into the canyon with a careful eye for fossilized marine creatures, animal tracks and ferns.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Grand Canyon National Park.
In 1905 Ellsworth and Emery Kolb built a small photography studio on the edge of the rim, which has since been expanded and now holds a bookstore and a museum. An original Kolb brothers 1911 silent film runs continuously, and shows incredible footage of their early explorations of the Colorado River, and the museum displays mementos and photographs from their careers. In January and February, the NPS offers tours of their original Craftsman home, in a lower level of the studio. The brothers arrived at the canyon from Pennsylvania in 1902 and made a living photographing parties descending the Bright Angel Trail. Because there was not enough water on the rim to process the film, they had to run 4.5 miles down the trail to a spring at Indian Garden, develop the film and race back up in order to have the pictures ready when the party returned. By 1924 the Kolbs' dynamic and conflicting personalities challenged their business relationship, and they flipped a coin to decide who got to stay to run the photography business at Grand Canyon. Ellsworth lost and headed to California, and Emery remained until his death in 1976, at the age of 95.
The marvelously worn winding staircase of Mary Colter's 70ft stone tower, built in 1932, leads to one of the highest spots on the rim. From here, slats in the tower wall offer unparalleled views of not only the canyon and a long swath of the Colorado River, but also the San Francisco Peaks, the Navajo Reservation and the Painted Desert. Hopi artist Fred Kabotie's murals depicting Hopi origin stories grace the interior walls of the 1st floor. On the way up look for an unmarked door on the left; you can wander outside onto a rooftop patio here – a nice spot to relax with a sandwich. Outside the watchtower, a bronze plaque marks the spot as a National Historic Landmark. Just below the rim is the site of the 1956 TWA plane crash that killed 128 people and marked the beginning of modern regulations in air safety. To find a quiet view away from the crowds, take the furthest left paved path from the parking lot to the tower and wander off among the desert scrub. There's a small market and snack bar next door, as well as toilets and a year-round gas station.
Walk about 1 mile along the mostly level and shaded dirt road to marvelously uncrowded Shoshone Point, a rocky promontory with some of the canyon’s best views. Just before reaching the canyon rim, there's a grassy area with picnic tables and grills (advanced permit from NPS required). If you come for sunset, bring a flashlight for the walk back to your car. This viewpoint is unmarked; look for the small dirt parking lot about 1.2 miles east of Yaki Point.
This outdoor interpretative display traces the history of the canyon's formation – each meter equals one million years of geologic history, for a total of about 2.1 billion years in just over a mile. Begin with the canyon's oldest rocks and walk forward in time from Verkamp's east to the Yavapai Geology Museum, or do the reverse. Rock samples from within the canyon line the trail, and specially positioned metal cylinders allow you to view these rocks on the far canyon wall.
Commissioned by the Fred Harvey Company and designed by Mary Colter in 1913, this low-flung stone building is the South Rim's westernmost scenic overlook (note that the overlook remains open when the building closes). It houses a small gift shop and a walk-up window, with sandwiches, ice cream and snacks, and there are restrooms. In the back, past the bustle of visitors, you'll find a lovely picnic area in the desert scrub, quiet views and the Hermit Trailhead. Hermits Rest is named after Louis Boucher (aka ‘the Hermit’), who came to the canyon from Canada in 1889 with hopes of finding his fortune as a prospector. Boucher lived at Dripping Springs, several miles below the rim, for 20 years, and offered tourists guided trips to his home and orchards there. He never did strike it rich, and eventually sold the upper portions of his trail to the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey Company, and moved to Utah. In 1913 the railway also completed the 8.5-mile trail from the rim down to Hermit Camp. A predecessor to Phantom Ranch 10 years later, Hermit Camp, which closed in 1930, offered intrepid travelers tent cabins, restrooms, showers and meals. Colter’s beautiful stone-and-wood shelter offered tourists a place to freshen up before descending by mule into the canyon or after the arduous journey back to the rim.
A 1-mile spur off Desert View Dr leads to a spectacular national park highlight. Here, in 1897, pioneer miner Pete Berry built the Grandview Hotel; credited as the first Grand Canyon tourist destination, it operated until 1908. The arrival of the railroad in 1901 and the completion of El Tovar in 1903 shifted the canyon's tourist hub westward, and the Grandview Hotel was eventually dismantled. Today's Grandview Trail cuts steeply into the canyon from the overlook. The trail, well worth a few minutes' descent, roughly follows an old Native American route that Berry and Ralph Cameron used to access their copper, gold and silver mines.
Lipan Point offers expansive panoramas and views of both the Colorado River and the Unkar Delta, the seasonal home of the Ancestral Puebloan people from about AD850 to AD1200 (it is today an active archaeological site). Easily accessible by car, this is an excellent perch for sunset. For those particularly interested in the park's geology, Lipan Point is one of the few places where you can clearly see the tilting layered rocks that form the Grand Canyon Supergroup. The trailhead for the Tanner Trail sits just before the car park.
Spectacular Hopi Point juts further into the canyon than any other South Rim overlook, offering magnificent east–west views, making it an excellent choice for dawn and dusk. During the summer peak, however, there can be more than 1000 people waiting for shuttle pick-up after sunset; consider wandering 0.3 miles east along the dirt Rim Trail to Powell Point, which also offers spectacular sunsets and is often less crowded. This is one of two overlooks on Hermit Rd that has toilets; the second is 5.8 miles west at Hermits Rest.
With river views and an excellent panorama of the canyon's geologic history, this is one of the park's most striking and dramatic overlooks. A placard on the canyon edge identifies the layered paleozoic rocks, the Grand Canyon Supergroup and Vishnu Basement Rocks clearly visible on the horizon. Moran Point is named after Thomas Moran, the landscape painter who spent just about every winter at the canyon from 1899 to 1920 and whose romantically dramatic work was instrumental in securing the canyon's national-park status.