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Research

23
Hours of Research
21
Articles Reviewed
17205
Reviews Compiled

Contributors

Mackenzie Nia
Lead Writer
Pouya Nia
Photographer

Best Places to Hike, Play, and Stay in Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)

Published
December 27, 2019

The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is a geological wonder located in northern Arizona that attracts visitors from all around the world. Known for its dramatic and breathtaking canyon views, the beauty of the Grand Canyon can be seen from just about anywhere in the South Rim, including designated lookout points, hikes, museums, and even hotels. Admission to Grand Canyon National Park costs $35* for one vehicle for 7 days, or you can get in with your America the Beautiful Pass, which will give you access to any National Park Service location for $80* annually. According to just about every reputable source we found online and our own personal fieldwork, we created this guide on the best places to hike, play, and stay in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

*Prices at time of publication

Research

23
Hours of Research
21
Articles Reviewed 
17205
Reviews Compiled

Contributors

Mackenzie Nia
Lead Writer
Pouya Nia
Photographer

Places to Eat

Places to Hike

About

Bright Angel Trail is a steep and majestic hike that descends down into the Grand Canyon through a series of drastic switchbacks. While Bright Angel Trail does take you down pretty far, it doesn’t take you all the way to the bottom of the canyon, making it a more realistic day hike. Bright Angel Trail clocks in at 12 miles round trip, but many hikers will complete smaller portions of this hike which can be easily compartmentalized due to the rest houses at both 1.5 and 3 miles. With its sweeping views and steep descent into the Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Trail provides unparalleled views, but you’ll have to work for them!

The Research

We gathered data on hikes in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, including compiling online ratings and reading existing articles about the park. Out of the trails that the Grand Canyon National Park website labels as “steep”, Bright Angel Trail was mentioned the most in online articles, much more than any other trails in this category. We also learned that this trail has a few rest stops along the way that easily allows a hiker to truncate their time on this trail, making it accessible to hikers who don’t want to complete the full 12 miles. These rest stops also have water which is a luxury on a long hike! All of our data seemed to point to Bright Angel Trail for this category so we decided to check it out.

Our Experience

We were a bit unprepared for our hike at Bright Angel Trail since there was an unexpected snow storm a few days prior. The trail was open, but it was completely covered in snow and we did not have the proper shoes to safely descend into the canyon. We hiked a few switchbacks and the view was incredible, offering a different perspective than the viewpoints we saw earlier in the day. The portion of the trail was truly grand, and it was evident why Bright Angel Trail was so highly recommended in articles written about the Grand Canyon. We look forward to hiking the full trail during our next visit!

Tips & Recommendations

Check the weather and trail conditions before hiking Bright Angel Trail. Make sure you have the correct shoes if you are hiking in the snow, and don’t attempt this trail if it’s icy. Especially in the summer months, bring plenty of water and snacks.

The Competition

The main competitor to Bright Angel Trail is South Kaibab Trail, a 6 mile hike that also goes into the canyon, which means it’s also very steep. South Kaibab Trail is a great option if you are looking for a shorter hike than Bright Angel, but it doesn’t have water or rest stops along the trail.

About

On paper, the Rim Trail might seem pretty daunting. Stretching 13 miles each way, you might be wondering why the Rim Trail is classified as an easy hike. As its name indicates, the Rim Trail is a paved trail that follows the edge of the rim from South Kaibab Trailhead (a few miles east of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center) all the way to Hermit’s Rest (the western limits of the South Rim). Technically, you can walk this entire trail, but most visitors choose a portion of it as a way to enjoy the view and visit different areas in the park. Many of the parks museums and attractions, like the Yavapai Geology Museum, Hopi House, and Kolb Studio are all accessible from the Rim Trail.

The Research

Before we looked at any reviews, we read existing articles written about the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. After reading online articles about Grand Canyon National Park, we noticed that the Rim Trail was mentioned the most out of any other trail or activity inside the park. We were intrigued by its blatant popularity, and learned the interesting setup of this trail—that it is meant to be broken down into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Our Experience

We hopped on and off the Rim Trail many times during our time the South Rim, especially since a lot of the places we visited, like Mather Point and Yavapai Geology Museum, were all accessible from the trail. The best part of the Rim Trail is that you always have a view of the Canyon, but the perspective changes as you progress. The trail was a bit slippery for us since it had just snowed, but the Rim Trail is paved, flat, and easily walkable during a majority of the year.

Tips & Recommendations

Check out this brochure from the National Park Service about the Rim Trail. It shows the distance in miles between the different stops, and whether or not there is a shuttle stop in that area. Visitors can use this to plan which parts of the trail they want to explore. For example, if a visitor wanted to walk from Mather Point to Hopi Point, they can add up the distances and determine that this would be a 4.8 mile walk. Additionally, they could see that there is a shuttle there that could take them back to their starting point if desired.

The Competition

The Rim Trail is the only trail that doesn’t actually go into the canyon, so there’s really nothing like it in the park. In reality, I’d say the main competition for the Rim Trail is the shuttle! Both the Rim Trail and the shuttle are connected to the main areas of the park. While the shuttle will probably get you to your destination faster, the Rim Trail allows you to bask in the gorgeous views as you go from destination to destination.

About

Mather Point is arguably the most popular place to visit in the South Rim in the Grand Canyon, and with good reason. Not only is it centrally located in the park, but it also has one of the most panoramic views out of all the viewpoints that we saw. Since Mather Point is about a 5 minute walk from the visitor center and main parking lot, this is the go-to spot for people who only have a short amount of time to visit the park, yet still want the iconic views that the Grand Canyon is known for. Essentially, Mather Point is a platform that jets out into the canyon which is what allows visitors to get a panoramic view.

The Research

There are a LOT of lookout points in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, so we had our work cut out for us here. In the articles we read about the Grand Canyon, there were an array of lookout points that were all mentioned nearly the same amount of times, and all of the reviews are spectacular because, let’s be honest, there isn’t really a bad view of the Grand Canyon. Regardless, we were determined to find the best view, so we visited a few of the top mentioned viewpoints and accessed them based on ease of access and scope of view.  

Our Experience

Mather Point was one of our many stops of the Rim Trail that day. As we approached the stairs to this lookout point, there were some National Park Service workers shoveling snow off the stairs, which we really appreciated! Even though this is the busiest viewpoint that we visited, it didn’t take away from the grandeur that we felt looking into the canyon, which was especially magical with the fresh snow.

Tips & Recommendations

Don’t be scared away by the crowds here! The view was still very enjoyable even though it was busy. If you want to get some good pictures, just be patient and wait for a clearing. If you want to avoid crowds, you may want to try another viewpoint, like Moran Point, or visit early in the morning.

The Competition

Moran Point was mentioned more than Mather Point in articles written about the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, but the lookout point doesn’t protrude into the canyon which means you simply don’t get as great of a view as you do at Mather Point. Also, this is on the eastern side of the park, so you’ll have to drive about 30 minutes from Grand Canyon Village to get to this viewpoint if you aren’t already going over to Desert View.

Places to Play

About

Desert View Watertower is a breathtaking structure designed by Mary Colter, who gained inspiration from the ancestral Puebloan People of the Colorado Plateau. The design of Desert View Watertower is meant to blend in with its environment, not knowing exactly where the tower ends and the earth starts. Today, Desert View Watertower is still open, but functions as a gift shop, museum, and a lookout point. Guests can climb the spiraling staircase to the top of Desert View Watchtower to look out the 360, panoramic windows and even use the binoculars to view the canyon.

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The Research

Desert View Watchtower quickly rose as a top contender for our guide after reading articles about the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, and we became even more eager to visit when we saw pictures of it. Also, there aren’t many activities or hikes on the eastern side of the park, so there weren’t as many options to explore on this side of the park.

Our Experience

This was our first stop of the day, so we were able to explore the watchtower before it got too crowded. As we made our way down to the watchtower, we were shocked to see the incredible view it had and that it was located right on the edge of the cliff. After enjoying the view outside the watchtower, we went inside the watchtower and started the climb, which actually wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Since the watchtower has a few levels, there are several places to rest along the way between levels. Once at the top, we enjoyed the view of the canyon from a perspective that we knew we would not be able to see anywhere else in the park.

Tips & Recommendations

Desert View Watchtower is about 30-45 minutes from Grand Canyon Village, so be prepared to make a bit of a trek out to the eastern extremities of the South Rim. There aren’t many other stops on this side of the park, but we still think that it’s worth the time driving here! Once at the Desert View Watchtower, be sure to explore the area in and around the watchtower since there are so many great views here. Not only is the view from the top of the watchtower unmatched, but there is also a great lookout point outside just below the watchtower.  

The Competition

The main competition for Desert View Watchtower for activities on the eastern side of the park (Desert View) is the Tusayan Ruin, the remains of a Puebloan village that has been preserved for viewing. While the Tusayan Ruin wasn’t mentioned as much or rated as highly as Desert View Watchtower, we still recommend visiting this unique piece of history if you have the time during your trip.

About

Yavapai Museum of Geology is a popular stop for visitors of the South Rim, especially due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and Mather Point. Located right on the edge of the canyon, Yavapai Geology Museum offers a stunning view of the canyon with its large, panoramic windows, and also has geological exhibits, a bookstore, and even ranger programs. At the Yavapai Geology Museum, guests can learn about how the Grand Canyon was formed, the details of its geological makeup, and browse a large topographic map of the entire Grand Canyon.

The Research

In all the articles we read about things to do in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Yavapai Geology Museum was the most mentioned activity. Grand Canyon National Park is a geological wonder, and we thought that Yavapai Geology Museum provides an essential educational element to anyone’s trip to this National Park— especially with the daily ranger programs for additional learning. In addition to being an excellent resource for learning, Yavapai Geology Museum is easily accessible by car, shuttle, or the Rim Trail. Since Yavapai Geology Museum has exceptional reviews, is easy to get to, has great views, and provides a unique educational opportunity, we were confident that it was a worthwhile activity to add to this guide.

Our Experience

This museum was incredible, and it was obvious to us almost immediately why Yavapai Geology Museum was a top choice form the data we collected. The thing that caught my attention first, other than the view, was the topographical map. The map is incredibly detailed, and allowed us to see all the places we had already visited in the park in relation to where we were. The exhibit was also very interesting and, in my opinion, is a must for anyone visiting the Grand Canyon.

Tips & Recommendations

If you are already visiting Mather Point, one of the most popular viewpoints in the park, Yavapai Museum of Geology is only a 0.7 mile walk down the Rim Trail. If you have time and the weather is nice, we’d recommend taking this route instead of driving. There is also a shuttle stop at both Mather Point and Yavapai Geology Museum, so you can always take the shuttle to the museum and take the Rim Trail back.

The Competition

The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is the main competition to the Yavapai Geology Museum because it too is a museum about the park. Since the Grand Canyon Visitor Center is very close to the main parking lot, it is usually one of the first places that park visitors go to. It is easily accessible and is a quick stop on the way to Mather Point—the most popular viewpoint in the park. However, the Grand Canyon Visitor Center focuses broadly on the whole park, unlike Yavapai that focuses specifically on geology, and doesn’t have the sweeping views that Yavapai does. If you have time, we’d recommend visiting both museums, but we think that Yavapai has more to offer.

About

Hopi House is a Puebloan building designed by Mary Coulter that was created to showcase Native American art in a building inspired by the Hopi people. This historic landmark is a two story building that acts as a museum, an art gallery, and a gift shop all in one. For those wanting to browse, Hopi House showcases various forms of Native American art which can offer insight into the Hopi culture. Most items are on sale inside Hopi House, so you can also purchase something if desired.

The Research

There are only a few activities on the western side on Grand Canyon Village, and according to our data, only two were strong enough to be considered for our guide. We liked that Hopi House was easy to get to by car or shuttle and also offers a unique cultural experience that many activities in the park do not.

Our Experience

As we approached Hopi House, we were immediately struck by the beautiful building. This was the second Mary Coulter building we visited that day and we were thoroughly impressed by her design once again. Once inside, we took our time exploring both levels of the Hopi House, marveling at the various forms of art, like tapestry weavings, jewelry, and paintings. We had a great time in Hopi House and enjoyed viewing the different types of art.

The Competition

Hermit’s Road is a 7-mile road (14 miles round trip) to a spot called Hermit’s Rest, which is the Western boundary of the South Rim that is accessible by car. This drive is known for its scenic views and for Hermit’s Rest—an old home designed by Mary Coulter. While the views on Hermit’s Road are impressive, the road is only accessible by shuttle during most of the year which means you cannot get out and enjoy the view at your leisure. If you have time, it’s definitely worth the trek out there, but keep in mind that you won’t have the freedom of your own car between March and November.

Places to Stay

About

El Tovar Hotel is a charming Swiss and Norwegian style, chalet-inspired hotel that opened in 1905 to attract wealthy and elite travelers. Today, El Tovar hotel hosts guests from all around the world and is even a National Historic Landmark. One of the best parts of this hotel is the location, as it is located right on the edge of the canyon and has wrap around porches that offer some of the best views in the park. El Tovar Hotel is also right off of the Rim Trail, so you can access various areas of the park easily on this paved path. Hopi House and Verkamp’s Visitor Center are just steps away from El Tovar Hotel, further broadening its appeal. With it’s fine dining restaurant and lounge, El Tovar Hotel has a variety of details that make it a special stay for guests. Standard rooms at El Tovar Hotel start at $259* but can go up to as much as $644* for suites with a view.

The Research

Surprisingly, all of the hotels inside the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park only have modest online reviews. While the online reviews of El Tovar Hotel were fine, they were not as strong as what we usually see at other destinations. Regardless, as we read reviews, there were no red flags that made us feel as though we could not recommend El Tovar Hotel to our readers. El Tovar Hotel was mentioned the most in articles written about the South Rim, and it also has the best location—affixed directly on the edge of the canyon. Compared to the other hotels in the park, El Tovar Hotel is moderately priced.

Our Experience

El Tovar Hotel felt like a giant cabin, and was cozy, charming, and inviting. In the lobby, there was a large fireplace roaring with many large chairs sitting around it. The deck outside had rocking chairs where in some areas you can see an incredible view of the canyon. While we didn’t stay here on this trip, it was evident that this hotel lived up to the data online.

The Competition

Yavapai Lodge is another good option for lodging in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and rooms here are generally cheaper than at El Tovar Hotel. However, El Tovar Hotel has a better location, has canyon views, and is overall a cozier hotel.

*Prices at time of publication

About

Tusayan is a small town located about 10 minutes from the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. If the hotels inside the park are out of your price range or booked, there are many hotels in Tusayan that can provide you quality lodging on a budget. The Holiday Inn Express is located right off the main road in Tusayan, making it a straight shot into the park. This hotel is large, spanning across multiple buildings, which means you are more likely to find availability here than other smaller hotels in the area. Unlike other similar hotels in Tusayan, the Holiday Inn Express serves a free hot breakfast which makes it easy for guests to start their morning and get into the park. The rooms are simple but nice, and have everything you need for an overnight stay. With rooms as low as $92* per night, it’s hard to go wrong here.

The Research

As we researched lodging in and around the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, it was evident that lodging in Tusayan, a small town located near the park entrance, has many hotels—most of which are less expensive than inside the park. Most of the hotels in Tusayan had rooms in a very similar price range, so we narrowed our search down to the hotels with the best reviews. With several hotels with high ratings and similar rooms, prices, and amenities, there was one item that made Holiday Inn Express stand out—free breakfast. According to our research, Holiday Inn Express was the only hotel out of our top choices that offered free breakfast to its guests. During an adventurous trip to Grand Canyon National Park, an easy, hearty breakfast is especially important.

Our Experience

We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express the night before our day in Grand Canyon National Park. Our check in process was fast and easy and we were given a map to our room, which was actually located in the building next door. Our room was exceptionally clean and had all the basic amenities for our overnight stay. The star of our experience at the Holiday Inn Express was the breakfast. We did not stay in the main building of this hotel, but our building had its own breakfast setup which meant that we didn’t have to make the trek over to the main building in the morning. Very convenient! Also, this was one of the best hot/continental breakfasts that we have ever had. Since it was a hot breakfast, they served items like eggs and sausages in addition to all of the typical continental breakfast items. However, our ultimate favorite was the pancake machine, which at the touch of a button dropped two dollops of pancake batter on a hot conveyer belt and dropped the fresh pancakes directly on your plate. We found this much easier to use and cleaner than the waffle machine that you usually find at hotel breakfasts. While it didn’t have as much character as the hotels inside the park, we had a great experience at the Holiday Inn Express and found that it was a good value.

Tips & Recommendations

Check the prices between the different types of rooms! When we booked our room, it was the same price for us to get a suite as is was to get a standard room. The suite allowed us to be in a smaller building and gave us extra room for our gear.

The Competition

Seven Mile Lodge had the best reviews out of any hotel in Tusayan, but according to their website, you cannot book a room ahead of time. Instead, you can call for a same-day booking or book a room when you arrive. We determined that this booking policy was not best for most people planning a trip, but if you don’t mind this spontaneity and risk, Seven Mile Lodge is a good option. Best Western and Red Feather Lodge are also great options with similar online ratings and price points as Holiday Inn Express. However, we did not see anything on their website about a free breakfast, which gave Holiday Inn Express a competitive edge.

*Price at time of publication

About

Mather Campground is one of two campgrounds located in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. This campground is located in the Grand Canyon Village, making it a great option for visitors who want to visit all the different hikes and museums in the park. Open year-round, Mather Campground has both tent and RV spots, grills, and restrooms. There is a general store that sells food, firewood, and other basic camping necessities, and also has showers and laundry available for a fee. Campsites at Mather Campground start at $18* per night.

The Research

There are only two major campgrounds in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, so our research was essentially a battle between the two. Mather Campground is open all year and is located in Grand Canyon Village, which are the two components that set it apart from Desert View Campground.  

Our Experience

Since there was a snow storm just a few days before our visit to Grand Canyon National Park, Mather Campground was still covered with snow, as you can see from our pictures. However, we found that the layout of the sites was organized and the amenities were pretty extensive for a basic campground. It’s not often that basic campgrounds have a store and laundry room!

Tips & Recommendations

If you are visiting between March and November, we recommend booking your campsite online to guarantee yourself a spot at Mather Campground. Since online reservations are not available December to February, so you may want to arrive early if you want a specific site. However, the winter months are not popular to camp in Grand Canyon National Park, so you might not end up competing with two many people for a site.

The Competition

Desert View Campground is also great, but it is located about 28 miles from Grand Canyon Village, which is where most of the activities in the part are located. However, if you are looking to camp in a more secluded and quiet area of the park, Desert View Campground may be a better option for you. Desert View Campground closes for the winter, so it will not be an option from mid-October to mid-April.

*Price at time of publication

Sources

Disclaimer

Contributors: Days Away destination guides are a compilation of research, data, judgement, opinion, and recommendations of our contributors, locals, and advisors. These parties hold zero responsibility for the happiness, success, dissatisfaction, hurt feelings, or any possible result due to their contributions to this guide.
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