And now, the second in our Friday How To Series: How to make the most of a day trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Jay and I met through Grand Canyon Semester, a college program where we spent 3 months studying all aspects of the canyon from geology to park management. We even lived in the park for a month rafting the Colorado River and backpacking on the North Rim. So of course we would encourage you to explore the whole park, not just the popular and easily accessible South Rim. The Canyon is also amazing in all seasons from different spots. That said, recently we went to the South Rim for a short visit and since the majority of visitors spend only a few hours there, we thought we could offer some advice.
- Enter or exit from the east through Desert View. The Eastern entrance (closest town is Cameron) gives you an entirely different view along the South Rim. You can see more and the Desert View overlook provides the best view of the Colorado River as it makes an unexplained 90 degree turn here. This view overlooks a lot of critical archaeological sites as well.
- Stock up on food and gas in Flagstaff or Williams — the food options in Grand Canyon NP and Tusayan are very limited and not worth the wait time. The only good food exceptions are breakfast at the El Tovar lodge (try the pecan french toast!) overlooking the South Rim or Navajo Tacos at the Cameron Trading Post near the Eastern entrance to the GCNP (note: the tacos are huge, get one to share).
- Park at either the Canyon View visitor’s center or Shrine of Ages (both accessible from the main drive and well signed). They both usually have parking available and are good stops on the free shuttle that loops around the park. Shrine of Ages is set back from the rim of the canyon, but it has a nice paved path through the pine forest to the rim trail. I suggest this for first timers, it is fun to walk up to the canyon edge in a natural, uncrowded setting.
- Hike at least 10 minutes below the rim of the canyon. Two recommended trails are Hermit Trail (on the western most edge of the Canyon) or Hance Trail (near Desert View on the Eastern edge); both of these trails are less popular, but incredibly scenic. For any hiking in the canyon, make sure to have sturdy footwear and bring at least one bottle of water.
- In the historic section, we recommend Kolb Studio and the El Tovar Lodge. Both are worth a quick look. Most of the other buildings along the rim are less interesting, more touristy, and are just basically a waste of time.
With that advice I hope you can make your trip to the Grand Canyon worth the price of admission ($27 per car). Of course you can always invest in an Annual Pass and see several of our nation’s most beautiful places.