The Grand Canyon South Rim is one of the most popular destinations in the world. There are roughly 50 named points throughout the South Rim with incredible, unobstructed views of the canyon. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, we decided to spend time exploring this incredible National Park. Having only experienced the park from an airplane window, we were excited to finally see it in person.
Having only one day to explore the park, we were able to pack in a lot of amazing views. In this post, I will walk you through all we were able to see and do. Additionally, I’ll share helpful information we learned along the way that will help plan your trip to the Grand Canyon.
Visit the Grand Canyon National Parks website for the most up to date info
The Road to the Grand Canyon South Rim
We flew to Las Vegas from Cleveland, a roughly four-hour flight, to catch a special concert by our favorite band. Not interested in spending much time in Las Vegas, we debated over some parks to visit. Spending some time in nature is something we felt would balance the chaos of Sin City.
We finally landed on visiting the Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, a roughly 4-hour drive from Las Vegas. We debated about visiting the West Rim which is only 2-hours away, but it’s not part of the National Park so we chose the South Rim.
So, after our flight, we picked up a rental car and drove four hours back East to visit The Grand Canyon South Rim! Yes, it’s a lot of driving and travel but we are used to this on our trips. We added some stops on Route 66, lunch with family, and a detour to Hoover Dam along the way.
Where we stayed
We stayed just 15 minutes outside of the park entrance at a Holiday Inn Express. We’re normally into more boutique and unique hotels but we wanted to save some money since we splurged on the hotel in Vegas, a new boutique styled hotel that was part of the venue our favorite band 311 was going to play.
The Holiday Inn Express was actually a really nice hotel with a comfortable bed, spacious room, and free breakfast. Sometimes that’s all you need when you plan to be outdoors exploring and you couldn’t beat the location outside of staying in Grand Canyon Village, which we would have done if we weren’t in Vegas, too.
Note: I tried really hard to recall and make sure each image accurately represents each point we stopped at. Some points were close together and have some similar views so it was tricky.
The First Awe-Struck Views Of The Grand Canyon
As we got into our hotel later in the evening we didn’t go to the park until the next morning. We missed the sunrise to sleep in a little more and as we planned to catch it the next day before we left back to Las Vegas. Excitedly, we get into the car and head to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to park our car and get started on our adventure.
Our first stop on the Grand Canyon South Rim was Mather Point, the closest point to the Visitor Center and parking lots. We hurriedly power walked to the point as we could tell we were close, both excited to finally see this canyon we’ve only ever seen by flying over. Our first impression was one of awestruck. The enormous views were almost hard to digest, layers upon layers, so much depth that it was hard for my eyes to really see it. In fact, my very first impression was that this looks fake, like a painted backdrop. Don’t worry, though, this impression disappeared shortly after we adjusted to the landscape, but the awe and amazement never really went away.
The viewpoint is rather large and has a few layers of height allowing everyone to get an incredible view. Don’t just stand in one spot, though, walk around as the views will be different from every vantage point.
Construction and Shuttlebusses
We decided to start our journey heading west of Mather Point taking us all the way to Hermit’s Rest. I had a huge list of points we should stop at, however, we decided to skip several that felt repetitive. There was a lot of construction going on and we learned the hard way that we could not just drive to the points.
So, we returned to the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center bus station and hopped on the bus heading west. We ended up taking two different bus lines along the way but don’t worry there is plenty of signage, pamphlets, and helpful bus drivers along the way to direct you where to go.
If you want to take an “I’m on the edge of a canyon” photo, make sure the location is actually not on the edge and there is another level shortly below. Use the angle you take your photograph to achieve the look that the subject is on the edge. Falling over the edge is never worth the photo-op, be safe!
Love National Parks in the Southwest? Me, too! Check out my post on A Perfect Day in Joshua Tree National Park for more National Park goodness.
With a promontory jutting out 100 feet, Maricopa Point provides stunning 180° views of the canyon and Colorado River. To the west are remains of the Orphan Lode Mine, to the east you can view Battleship.
Looking over the west edge you can see the Orphan Lode Mine remains. The mine originally operated from 1891 to 1967 mining for copper than uranium ore. The park acquired the property in 1987, finally beginning major environmental restoration in 2008.
With a brief 10-minute walk through pine-covered woods gives you access to the next stop on the route, Powell Point. A large granite memorial stands for John Wesley Powell commemorating two of his groundbreaking expeditions along the Colorado River. You’ll have similar views to Maricopa Point here, the difference being the canyon towards the west will be more visible.
Tip: If you’re using the shuttle buses (which I highly recommend) note that the eastbound buses do not stop at Powell Point so be sure and stop here on your way west!
Hopi Point is the northernmost point along the west rim bus route. This is also where you’ll see a lot more of the western Grand Canyon. The fenced-in viewing area is next to the road and gives you views all the way to Havasupai Point. You’ll also see Salt Creek and Monument Creek both joining the Colorado River with a series of rapids.
Across the south rim from Hopi Point, you’ll see a group of prominent mesas named after Egyptian figures Isis, Horus, and Osiris Temples. This is also one of the most popular locations to watch the sunset due to the wide, unobstructed views.
The final point along the western rim drive on the Grand Canyon South Rim is Pima Point. However, the end of the shuttlebus journey takes you a mile and half further down the road to Hermit’s Rest. At Hermit’s Rest, you can use the restroom, shop the gift shop, or grab a bite at the cafe on site.
While at Pima Point, you can see parts of the Hermit Trail that zig-zags down the Cope Butte. You also get views of Granite Rapids, The Aligator, and views of the Ninety-Four Mile Creek to name a few.
Tip: This is the final point reaching Hermit’s Rest on the West Rim Drive trail using shuttle busses.
Hermit’s Rest is the last stop and turnaround on the West Rim Drive. You’ll find restrooms, a gift store, and a cafe. However, we didn’t walk far enough into the stop to see these things.
There were some decent views but nothing much like the previous spots. Take a breather before heading back east and take a picture under the Hermit’s Rest sign arch for a nice souvenir.
A change of plans
Taking the return bus on the Red and Blue Routes dropping us off back at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
We were going to visit Yaki Point to catch what we hope would be a spectacular sunset but unfortunately, the point was closed.
Our bus driver recommended us visiting another point further east so we debated for a minute and drove east. We made our way to Desert View to catch a Grand Canyon sunset.
Desert Point View
We started to make our way east on Desert View Drive with minimal traffic along the way. We passed several points after Yaki that were accessible with your own vehicle: Grandview, Moran, Lipan, and Navajo Points.
While we’d love to have stopped at all the points, we had limited time to catch the sun. On the drive, we had to stop letting a few giant Elk cross the street, one even stared us down. It was so cool to see wildlife other than a squirrel we saw earlier in the day.
Incredible sunset views
Assuming there wouldn’t be a large crowd, we were surprised to see it was packed. We had to squeeze our way in to get a good spot to view the sunset. Happy I brought a fleece jacket and scarf as it got very chilly as the sun began to set.
Well, the sun did set and it was slightly disappointing as there was a haze in the sky that made everything seem less intense. The views, however, were spectacular. The setting sun continuously changed the colors of the canyon.
There was the giant Desert View Tower (which just closed for the day as we got there) and some of the best views we saw of the canyon with varied landscapes and a peek of the Colorado River. A perfect spot to end our long day exploring the Grand Canyon.
Utilizing the Dehaze feature in Lightroom I was able to tone down the hazy atmosphere in the sky to reveal the sunset we couldn’t see with our bare eyes.
Overall, this was an incredible trip and I’ll never forget those first views of the Grand Canyon. I would love to come back someday to explore more of the park as we only saw a tiny fraction of it and there are endless opportunities to see some of the most spectacular views, explore the North Rim, and maybe actually hike a trail!
What to Know About the South Rim
- Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
- The entrance fee is $35 per car, valid for 7 days. You can purchase your pass online now
- You will be, on average, 7000 feet above sea level which can make walking strenuous
- Expect the South Rim of the park to be the busiest due to it being so accessible
- There is a free shuttle bus system, see more info below
- For more detailed and up to date information check out the Grand Canyon’s page on the National Park Service’s website
What to wear & Bring
When visiting the park you’ll want to consider the level of activity, the season, and the weather when you dress. I would consider packing a few options so you can wear layers if needed.
Coming out west from Ohio during late winter means we’re still prepared for cooler weather, also the cooler weather doesn’t really affect us as much as it may affect someone coming from the West Coast.
Here’s what I wore and packed on our day trip to the canyon:
- Denim jacket, long-sleeved t-shirt over a tank top
- Unlined black leggings, wool socks and hiking boots with a good tread
- Large brimmed hat, sunglasses
Packed some extra items in my day pack:
- Blanket scarf
- Water bottles & Snacks
- Extra camera gear to avoid carrying a second bag
Shuttle Bus Information
Village Shuttle Bus Route (Blue Route)
- Roughly a 50-minute round-trip if you do not stop and look
- Westbound hits four points of interest before transferring you to the Hermits Rest Route (aka the Red Route) – Market Plaza Westbound, Shrine of the Ages, Train Depot, Bright Angel Lodge
- Eastbound hits eight points of interest before returning you to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center – Maswik Lodge, Backcountry Information Center, Center Road, Village East, Shrine of the Ages, Mather Campground, Trailer Village, Market Plaza Eastbound and finally back to the GC Visitor Center
Hermit Road Shuttle Bus Route (Red Route)
- Roughly 80 minute round trip if you do not stop and look
- Westbound hits nine overlooks – Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, and finally Hermits Rest.
- Eastbound return route only stops at 4 overlooks – Hermits Rest, Pima Point, Mohave Point, and Powell Point.
- Hopi Point has toilets
- Hermits Rest has a snack bar, toilets, water, and a gift shop
Some key things to know
- There are four shuttle bus systems taking guests around The Grand Canyon National Park.
- Many roads are closed to private vehicles during shuttle bus operation
- Don’t count on phone service. It may work, it may not – but do not depend on it.
- Leave it better than you found it, or at the very least clean up after yourself