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The Grand Canyon is a place you truly have to see to believe. Trying to picture a canyon 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep is not the same as seeing it in person. It’s awe-inspiring, to say the least! With so much land to explore, the options are pretty overwhelming! That’s why we developed a list of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon South Rim to aid in your planning.
One of the world’s seven natural wonders, Grand Canyon National Park is a special place that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. This immense natural landscape characterized by steep red rock cliffs carved by the Colorado River is full of hikes and adventures for all ages and fitness levels.
Grand Canyon South Rim: Why We Recommend this Side
The biggest challenge in planning a trip to the Grand Canyon often lies in figuring out which rim to visit – South, North, East, or West? Of course, if you have the time, see them all! But if you have to choose just one, the Grand Canyon South Rim is the most scenic and accessible. It’s also packed full of things to do and is where you’ll find most Grand Canyon lodging options.
9 Things to Do: Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon South Rim is open year-round. Still, the best time to visit tends to be late Spring and early Fall when the weather is most moderate and crowds are manageable.
1. Visit Grand Canyon Village
A great way to learn about the Grand Canyon and its history is to visit Grand Canyon Village. The area has many historic buildings, lodges, shops, and other points of interest for visitors.
The historic center is where you’ll find El Tovar, built in 1903, Bucky O’Neil Cabin, built in 1890, and Verkamp’s Curio, built in 1906. Grand Canyon Village is the gateway to the National Park, so it’s where you’ll start your Grand Canyon South Rim adventure.
2. Hike The Rim Trail
A visit to the Grand Canyon is not complete without at least one hike, and if you only have time for one, The Rim Trail is a fantastic option. It’s one of the most accessible and most popular trails on the South Rim. In addition, parts of the trail are wheelchair friendly.
The trail starts at Grand Canyon Village and ends at Hermits Rest. It’s relatively flat, so it’s a bit long at 12.6 miles, but it’s not a strenuous hike. Just be sure to put aside at least 4.5 hours to complete it, as you’ll be stopping to admire the views along the way. Many choose to complete just a mile or two before turning around, which is a worthwhile option if you’re short on time.
The trail is a mix of pavement and gravel, and it’s well-marked with signs so you won’t get lost. Along the way, you’ll see incredible views of the canyon and the Colorado River. On clear days, it’s said that you can see up to 40 miles away!
3. Take Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and Back
Another popular but more difficult South Rim hike is the Bright Angel Trail. Don’t let the easy start trick you into thinking it’s smooth sailing from there. It’s easy descending into the canyon, but the work lies in coming back out. Spectacular views and the chance to explore the canyon below the rim make an effort well worth it.
Begin this 9-mile round-trip hike with a descent into the canyon along a historic route once used by Native Americans, pioneers, and miners. Eventually, you’ll descend all the way down to the Indian Garden Campground and, along the way, see some of the most excellent views in the national park. Make sure to start early and bring lots of water. Then, put aside at least 5.5 hours to get the most out of it.
4. Go on a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
The views from the ground are amazing, but the views from above are next level. Indeed, taking a Helicopter Tour is one of the best things to do on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Several tour companies offer helicopter packages from the South Rim, including Maverick Helicopters, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, and Grand Canyon Helicopters.
There’s a range of tours available. Some are short, some are longer, and some include other add-ons like champagne on the canyon floor. A lot of ground is covered in a short time, so you’ll be able to see many areas that you would otherwise not see from the ground.
5. Take a Ride on the Grand Canyon Railway
Another fun thing to experience on a trip to the Grand Canyon is to ride the historic Grand Canyon Railway. The 65-mile journey travels between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon daily. Completed in 1901, the railway has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places, so the journey is a nostalgic one.
There are six different historic cars to choose from. Along the way, you’ll be entertained by western-style musicians and actors dressed up as cowboys and bandits. You’ll even witness a mock train robbery just like the ones from the olden days!
6. Check out the Incredible Views at Yavapai Point
The hike to get there is a bit difficult, but it’s not as long as some other scenic hikes. So when you arrive at Yavapai Point and see those views, you’ll have no regrets! The 3.8-mile walk starts at the Cottonwood Day Use Area. You’ll see views of Cottonwood Creek, Fireman’s Cove, and Pipeline Canyon.
At Yavapai Point, you’ll have some of the most stunning views over the Grand Canyon. Don’t forget to check out the Yavapai Museum of Geology to learn more about the natural vistas you’re admiring during your exploration of the South Rim.
7. Take a Breather and Enjoy the Scenery at Mather Point
If you’re searching for a viewpoint that doesn’t require a hike, Mather point requires minimal effort but offers big rewards.
Not far from the main visitor’s center, Mather’s Point is a short 15-minute walk. This 0.7-mile out-and-back trail is an easy excursion to some of the best views of the canyon. It sounds unbelievable, but you can see more than 60 miles west from this point!
You’ll also be able to spot the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch. Are you searching for the perfect place to catch sunrise or sunset? Mather Point is one of the best places on the South Rim to enjoy the colorful light shows at dusk and dawn.
8. Take On the South Kaibab Trail
The 7-mile South Kaibab Trail is challenging compared to most of the Grand Canyon South Rim trails, so make sure you have excellent hiking shoes, lots of water, and sun protection (there’s very little shade on the trail and no water points). Then, add another ten miles for the last leg of the journey up the Bright Angel Trail. The hike takes you from the South Rim down to the Colorado River and back up.
Yes, it sounds like a lot for one day, but you’ll see some incredible canyon and river views. Skeleton Point, Tipoff, Kaibab Suspension Bridge, and Garden Creek are some of the hike’s highlights. If this trail is too much for you in one day, there are some campgrounds along the way, including Bright Angel Campground and Indian Garden Campground. A stay at either of these will require planning and a backcountry permit.
9. Desert View Watchtower
The Desert Watchtower was constructed in 1932 by architect Mary Colter. Checking out the views from this tower is another one of the best things to do on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Today, this historic 70-foot monument towers over the Grand Canyon from a perch on the South Rim and can be seen from quite a distance.
The stone tower is a National Historic Landmark. Inside, you’ll find beautiful murals by well-known Hopi painter Fred Kabotie. The view from the top includes the Colorado River, Marble Canyon, and sweeping views across the greater Grand Canyon.
Consider Adding On a Visit to Zion National Park
Suppose you’re wondering what other national parks are worth visiting in the Southwest region of the United States. In that case, Zion National Park is 237 miles away from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The four-hour drive from Arizona to Utah is an incredible road trip. However, Zion is definitely worth the trip, known for its red canyon walls, beautiful trails, and stunning vistas.
Some of the top hikes in the park include Emerald Pools Trail, Angels Landing, Canyon Overlook Trail, Pa’rus Trail, and Watchman Trail. As far as lodging goes, check out this Zion National Park Lodging Guide and this Zion Glamping Round-Up for great ideas.