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Favorite things to do in Grand Canyon National Park

What can we say about the Grand Canyon? It's a canyon, it's grand, and it's mythical. You gotta see it! How you see the Grand Canyon is up to you. Below are a few of our tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park, including our suggestions of things to do and see at the Grand Canyon. For more detail download our free DetourOn Roadbook.


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Shuttle information

Things to do - South Rim

Where to camp - South Rim

Things to do - North Rim

Where to camp - North Rim

greyscale ridgelines
Sunset at the Grand Canyon - no filter

Important Grand Canyon Shuttle Information - South Rim

The Grand Canyon shuttle system is a free courtesy service provided by the National Park Service in an effort to reduce congestion at the South Rim. Certain routes require the use of a shuttle while others are optional. We highly recommend use of all shuttle services in the park so you don't have to deal with parking. There is a large parking lot at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (Mather Point), which is the hub for three of the four shuttles routes.

If you take the shuttle, you should familiarize yourself with all the shuttle stops and info before heading out. Here are the most important things to know about the Grand Canyon shuttle system:

  • All shuttles look the same on the outside. They are only designated by color on the map and at shuttle stops. The route name is written on the front and the side of the shuttle bus.

  • You can enter the park with your private vehicle. You can drive anywhere in the park with the exception of two routes: Yaki Rd (served by the Kaibab shuttle) and Hermit Rd (served by the Hermit shuttle)

  • You can get on and off the shuttle at each stop as many times as you'd like while in the park.

  • There are FOUR shuttle routes:

  • Tusayan Route (Purple). Optional route between the town of Tusayan and Mather Point Visitor Center during summer months only. You must show a valid park pass to the driver prior to boarding. You can park your vehicle and obtain a park pass at the IMAX Theater, which is also the shuttle stop in Tusayan.

  • Village Route (Blue). Optional route, available year-round, which connects the visitor center with the park hotels, campgrounds, and supermarket (Market Plaza).

  • Kaibab Route (Orange)

  • Eastbound from the visitor center. This route is in service year-round and offers the only motorized access to South Kaibab Trailhead (private vehicles are not allowed to the road to the trailhead)

  • Westbound from the visitor center. This shuttle travels between the visitor center and Yavapai Geology Museum

  • Hermit Route (Red) - Hermit Rd follows the West Rim Trail along some of the most outstanding views of the Grand Canyon. Each year, between March 1-November 30, you can only access Hermit Road and its viewpoints by this free shuttle, commercial tour, on foot, or by bicycle. The shuttle makes 9 stops on its way to Hermit Rest, but note that on the return trip, the shuttle only stops at 4 out of the 9 overlooks (Hermits Rest, Pima, Mohave, and Powell Points). Round trip on the shuttle takes about 80 minutes (without getting off the bus).

Check out the park website for more details about the Grand Canyon Shuttle.

three pictures of people boarding passenger buses
Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttles

Things to do at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Visit viewpoints, hike, bike, visit historic buildings, take a helicopter ride. The South Rim has something for everyone.


Quick stops along the South Rim

According to the park website, 90% of all Grand Canyon visitors see it from the South Rim. If you want to feel alone at any of the viewpoints, visit at sunrise. During the day, expect crowds wherever you go. That being said, you must visit such viewpoints as Hopi Point and Powell Point along the West Rim Trail. Of course, if you park at Mather Point, you might as well take a few minutes to walk to the view. If you're driving in or out from the east, be sure to stop at Desert View.


Hike or bike the rim

If you can't get enough of the Grand Canyon views, a great way to spend the day is to walk or bike from Mather Point all the way to Hermit Rest. On the way, you should visit the Yavapai Geology Museum, the historic El Tovar Hotel, and Kolb Studio. When you've had enough, take a shuttle back to the Village. You can rent bikes outside the visitor center at Mather Point.

canyon views from sunglasses
Sunglasses view from the Grand Canyon South Rim

Day hike into the canyon

Day hikes in the Grand Canyon are either very easy (if you stay on the rim) or very strenuous (if you descend into the canyon). For a moderate option, many visitors choose to hike a few miles into the canyon just to see what it's like. This is a great option, but you must know that if you turn around before the final viewpoint, all you get is just a hike. Views from the the trail are mostly blocked by the winding canyon walls. You cannot see the river until the final destination.

Remember going down is much easier than climbing back up to the rim at the end of the day! Take plenty of water and salty snacks with you. Trekking poles really help to take some weight off your knees on the way down - and to lean on during breaks on your way up.

Below are the options for day-hiking at the South Rim. All of them are extremely strenuous if you hike all the way to the final viewpoints.

  • Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point - Probably the most popular trail in the park. It is only 6 miles down to Plateau Point, but almost a mile of elevation change, which you must climb back up at the end of the day. Most visitors prudently decide to turn around about half-way through, but if you're feeling up to it, the reward at Plateau Point is worth the effort!

  • South Kaibab Trail to Tip-Off Point - Probably the second most popular trail in the park. Again, it's only 5 miles down to Tip Off Point, but almost a mile of elevation change. Consider yourself warned: The view at Tip Off is so breathtaking that it's psychologically challenging to tell yourself to turn around and hike back uphill.

  • South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail - Only attempt this in cooler weather, and if you're absolutely in love with hiking and with the Grand Canyon! Total distance with detours to Tip Off and Plateau Points comes to 17 miles and a mile of elevation change! The 4.4-mile section of the Tonto Plateau connecting the two trails has plenty of tiring uphills and downhills. It offers very little shade and no views of the river, which could be disappointing to some. Arriving at the Bright Angel Trail is rewarding in and of itself. Take a quick nap under the shade of cottonwood trees at Indian Garden, refill your water, and hike back up to the rim in the cooler evening temperatures.

  • Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa - This is a less traveled alternative to the popular trails that descend into the canyon. Similar to the other trails, it's a short distance (only 3 miles) to a beautiful viewpoint, but it comes with a significant elevation change.

  • Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Spring - Another less traveled alternative to a more isolated view of the canyon. Again, it's just about 3 steep miles to your turnaround point. Go to the trail junction with Santa Maria Spring, but then stay on the main trail for a few more minutes. Don't lose hope. That view is coming!

dirt path with canyon views
Small section of the Bright Angel Trail near the Colorado River

Other activities

Take a 20-minute scenic helicopter flight. Flights depart from the small airport in Tusayan near the South Rim and fly over the Grand Canyon to the North Rim and back. I recommend reserving your seat at least a week in advance.

If you're tired of walking, try riding a mule on the canyon rim. The South Rim offers 2-hour rides, which you must reserve months in advance. The Grand Canyon does not offer any rides that descend into the canyon and back in one day.

As for whitewater rafting, you'd have to reserve your multi-day trip years in advance!

All overnight trips under the rims require permits from the Backcountry Office. If you do not get your permits in advance, you can walk into the backcountry office when you're at the Grand Canyon and ask what, if anything, is available. Whatever it is, make sure to plan ahead and prepare. Ask about water sources and make sure you have a backup water filtration method.

trail switchbacks
Famous switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail - look closely to see the 1.5 and 3-Mile Resthouses

Camping in or around the South Rim

There's only one ideal place to camp at the South Rim: Mather Campground. Treat all other campgrounds outside the park as backup.


Mather Campground

The only campground at the South Rim. It's a beautiful and spacious campground with lots of sites. The check-in process for last-minute spots is a bit tedious so I highly recommend making advance reservations. It will simply save you time when you arrive to claim to your site.

Mather Campground is open year-round. It offers potable water, coin-operated hot showers, flush toilets, and fairly good cell phone reception. It is also a 15-minute walk to the rim and a 5-minute walk to Market Plaza for groceries, bank, and anything else you may need.


Ten-X Campground

South of Tusayan is the next best camping location for the South Rim, Ten-X Campground. Sites are spacious and quiet, surrounded by tall ponderosa pines. The downside is limited amenities - no water and pit toilets only - and proximity to the park.


Private Campgrounds

Grand Canyon Camper Village, at the town of Tusayan, is close to the park entrance and offers potable water, flush toilets, and showers. The campgrounds at Valle are a bit farther away and offer similar amenities. The downside to all campgrounds is that they are expensive, their locations are not very pretty to look at, and individual campsites have little privacy. There are many campgrounds around Flagstaff and Williams but they are too far away for us to mention in this post.

river flowing through canyon with views as far as you can see
Desert View of the Colorado River at sunset

Things to do at the Grand Canyon North Rim

Due to its higher elevation, remoteness, and ruggedness, there's a bit less to do on the North Rim than the South Rim. But that's exactly its allure! I definitely recommend making a detour to the North Rim if you have the time.

Note: The North Rim is only open during the summer months!


Short stops

Visit the historic Grand Canyon Lodge, walk out to Bright Angel Point for the grandest view of the canyon, and take a very short easy hike out to Cape Royal at sunset. You can also reserve a mule ride along the rim or down to Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail.


Day hike North Kaibab Trail

For those with excess energy and good fitness, hike to Roaring Springs. Similar to the South Rim hikes, this trail is deceivingly strenuous. You'll descend the 5 miles to the spring fairly easily, but then you'll have to retrace your steps back to the rim.


Other worthwhile stops on the way to North Rim

Everyone should spend some time at the often overlooked Marble Canyon. In season, eat fruit right off the trees from the orchard at Lonely Dell Ranch. If you're an avid hiker, you won't be disappointed by the strenuous Spencer Trail day hike. Otherwise, just stand at the banks of the Colorado River, admire its strength, and watch boats launch for their multi-day expeditions through the Grand Canyon.

Number one thing to do if you have a high-clearance 4WD: Drive out to Toroweap!

3 stone cabins under towering cliffs
Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Camping in or around the North Rim

Your choice of campground on the North Rim depends on the places you visit on your trip. For instance, if you plan to hike to Roaring Springs, then you should stay as close to the trailhead as possible so you can start hiking early. But if you only visit for a few hours, you may want to stay along Hwy 89A to reduce your drive time the following day.


North Rim Campground

The only campground at the North Rim. It's a beautiful and spacious campground, but sites are limited. Book early! Remember, this is only open in summertime. The North Rim Campground has potable water, coin-operated hot showers, and flush toilets. No cell phone reception.


Forest Service Campgrounds

Not to be mistaken with the private campgrounds nearby! Although Jacob Lake Campground sits directly on Hwy 89A, you don't realize it. It's a beautiful quiet campground, open only in summer, but it's prone to thunderstorms. Demotte Campground is half-way between the highway and the North Rim. It's very small so you'll be lucky to get a spot here. Both campgrounds have potable water and pit toilets, but no showers and no cell phone reception.


Other camping options near the North Rim

If you did not reserve a campground and the options above are full, then your other options are Kaibab Lodge and Jacob Lake Lodge. These are private campgrounds and they are more expensive. Though they offer such amenities as wifi and hot showers, they don't always work as well as you hope. Look into camping at Marble Canyon if that's where your travels take you.

trail along a canyon under sheer cliffs leading to a metal bridge
North Kaibab Trail near the bottom of the Grand Canyon

You might be wondering why we haven't mentioned Grand Canyon West or Havasupai. This is because these locations are not part of the National Park System. Here is a separate post we wrote about visiting Havasupai.


Conclusion

Grand Canyon National Park is a year-round destination with breathtaking panoramic views. Don't forget to reserve your camping and/or backpacking gear rental with us.

Try planning your next trip to Grand Canyon using DetourOn! You can edit this template and download the free roadbook. If you'd like more information on any of the destinations mentioned please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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