On a long weekend trip to Las Vegas, we decided to detour to Grand Canyon National Park for a day. So, after a four-hour flight from Cleveland to Las Vegas, we got a rental and started our four-hour drive back east to the park. We had a few stops in Arizona along Route 66 and to visit family and then made it to our hotel later that evening.
We stayed outside of the park at a Holiday Inn Express to save a little on this trip. It roughly a 15-minute drive to the park entrance where we paid our park fee and headed on our way to our first canyon views. We parked our rental at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and booked it along the path to the closest point as we were both eager to just see the canyon finally.
The only words I have for that first view is surreal. It’s absolutely surreal. I’ve flown over the canyons many times and it looks incredible from the sky but standing at the edge is a whole other story. It almost doesn’t look real as at some points it’s hard to tell the depth because there’s just so much that it comes off looking like a painting or a backdrop to a movie set. But it’s real, it’s huge, and it’s breathtaking.
This is the first stop of the day and the most crowded as I assume everyone was excited to just get there and see their first view. Mather Point has a nice, gated point with varying levels of height so a large group of people could all get a great view. The view here is great and varied with a lot of depth. You can see the neighboring point from the left and a tree coated canyon wall and rock formations on the right. Take a few moments here and let it all soak in before you take your journey further.
We decided to start our journey heading west of Mather Point all the way to Hermits Rest. I made a huge list of stops we should see but as we were on our way we felt some points may feel a little redundant as they were so close to other points or they didn’t have anything that we could tell that really stood out to make the point feel different. After all, we only had one day so we had to make the most of our time.
After making the error of assuming we could drive west and hit up these points and meeting a lot of roads blocked for construction we realized utilizing the free shuttle bus system was the best route for us to go. We went back to the GCNP Visitor center bus station area and hopped on the bus heading west. We’d have to hop on two different bus lines along the way and there are plenty of signage, pamphlets, and helpful bus drivers along the way to help you figure out where to go.
Maricopa offers 180° views of the canyon with very few obstructions.
A brief walk from Maricopa Point you can take instead of waiting for the shuttle is Powell Point. This is a unique stop and should definitely make it on your list of points to visit. Sweeping panoramic views await you as does shaded rest, the historic Orphan Mine, a rock structure that you can fake “I’m on the edge!” photos (see above – there’s another ledge right below here so it only looks dangerous, but still use caution as even a fall from a foot or two can really hurt you) and a memorial dedicated to John Wesley Powell who led groundbreaking expeditions of the Colorado River in the late 1800’s.
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!
The fourth stop on the shuttle bus red route is Hopi Point. This is the northernmost spot on this part of the south rim and you’ll start to see much more of the western Grand Canyon here. This is one of the most popular spots to catch a sunset due to having such unobstructed views.
We stopped here but didn’t really take many photographs.
This is the final point before reaching Hermit’s Rest on the West Rim Drive trail using the shuttle buses.
This is the final turn around stop on the West Rim Drive where you’ll find restrooms, and supposedly a gift store and cafe – although 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. This spot seems to be a rest stop for not only visitors but bus drivers as well. Take a breather before heading back east and take a picture under the Hermit’s Rest sign arch for a nice souvenir.
At this point, we took the return route on the Red Route to the Blue Route 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. The shuttle bus driver recommended us visiting another point further east that we could drive to so after a minute of deliberation we hopped in our car and drove east to Desert View to catch the 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. We wanted to stop but we were also on a mission to see the sunset so we kept traveling only having to stop once for some Elk that wanted to cross the street (and stare us down!). I wasn’t able to get a good photo quick enough but it was pretty cool seeing some wildlife other than the squirrel we saw earlier in the day who was not afraid of people.
For some reason, we thought there wouldn’t be a huge crowd because we had to drive roughly 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon National Park visitor center but we weren’t the only ones with sunset views in mind as we just barely were able to squeeze in and get a view. I was happy I had on a fleece jacket and brought a scarf, hat, and gloves with me as the sun dropped so did the temperature.
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 landscape and a peek of the Colorado River.
Well, turns out that after I began to edit my images and took advantage of the Dehaze feature (Camera Raw, Lightroom…) it helped pull the color of the skies out and I got the image below. Still not as intense as some sunsets I’ve seen photos of but a beautiful result nonetheless.
Overall it was an incredible trip and worth all of the travel to get there. We started our day casually as we’re not morning people but we also planned to catch a sunrise before heading back to Las Vegas the next day so we weren’t concerned with fitting it in this day. Hope these photographs help plan as I know I Googled pictures of all the points like crazy before going.
Some other helpful information
What I Wore + Packed
We knew we weren’t going to be doing any super strenuous hiking and most of our journey would be taking a bus or car to various points that had minimal walking to get to so we dressed accordingly. I recommend considering what you plan on doing when you plan your attire. Here’s what I wore and packed for the day:
- Denim Jacket with a t-shirt layered over a cami tank
- Black Leggings with wool socks & hiking boots
- Large brimmed hat with big sunnies
- Packable Day Pack with water, snacks, large blanket scarf, gloves, sunscreen and extra camera gear as I didn’t bring my camera bag and carried the camera
Shuttle Bus Information
Village Shuttle Bus Route (aka the 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 (aka the 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. There will be park guides and helpful staff to explain which routes you need to go on. For our journey, we took the Blue Route on Village Loop Drive transferring onto the Red Route on Hermits Road using the Hermits Rest Route Transfer.
- Many roads are closed to private vehicles during shuttle bus operation – be sure to read up so you don’t make the mistake we did in thinking we could drive to different points (and subsequently drive in circles till we realized we cannot)
- 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.
*Note: Photography is matched to the points as best as I could remember. Some photos may have been taken near the point on the Rim Trail. All give you a good, rough idea of what the area looks like.