What to Expect When You Get To the Grand Canyon South Rim
Nothing prepares you for the experience of approaching the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time.
No matter how many times you’ve seen it in photographs, this natural wonder is so impressive in scale that it will leave you open-mouthed with awe. The craggy red rock, the yawning chasms and the interplay of shadow and light will hypnotize you as you gaze into its depths.
The South Rim is a great place to start when exploring the canyon, as it is the most accessible part of the park and it is open all year. There are a couple of different routes to approach – but if you are arriving via Williams, Arizona, your journey will include part of the old Route 66.
Here are some important things to know before you get to the Grand Canyon South Rim.
It Will Be Busy
The South Rim is the most-visited area of the Grand Canyon, so be prepared to encounter a few crowds when you arrive. There’s plenty of good reasons why this area is so popular – it’s incredibly beautiful, it’s more centrally located and it offers more choice when it comes to tours and activities. It’s considered to be the “True Grand Canyon” and it features the most famous views you’ve probably seen in TV and movies.
Plan to arrive as early as you can – by 9am if possible. This will allow you to find a parking spot by the Visitor Center before it gets too busy. The crowds are at their peak in the summer, but there can even be large crowds in the winter as well.
If you plan to stay at the South Rim overnight, you’ll have to book accommodation well in advance. Many of the hotels and campsites in the area will be booked up at least a year in advance. If you aren’t able to book that far in advance, we recommend simply taking a day trip to the South Rim and staying somewhere else.
Don’t Miss Grand Canyon Village
Be sure to leave some time in your trip to explore the sights of Grand Canyon Village, a historic settlement that dates back to the completion of the Santa Fe Railroad from Williams, Arizona in 1901. The village itself is a designated National Historic Landmark District and strolling through its well-preserved streets feels like stepping back in time.
Check out the traditional crafts at the Hopi House, visit the Lookout Studio to see Grand-Canyon inspired artwork and see the Grand Canyon Railway Depot.
Explore Desert View Drive
The most popular scenic route, Desert View Drive connects some of the most breathtaking viewpoints of the canyon. It begins around one mile east of Grand Canyon Village and ends near the park’s eastern entrance at Desert View.
The journey is about 25 miles long will take around four hours, including time to stop along the way and enjoy the sights. Don’t rush this journey, as there is so much to enjoy along the way! You’ll see a number of fascinating highlights, including Moran Point, Grandview Point and Yaki Point. The route also passes the Tusayan Ruin, the remains of a small village where ancient Puebloan people once lived.
When you reach the end of the Desert View Drive, you’ll see the spectacular Desert View Watchtower. Designed by architect Mary Coulter in 1932 to blend into the landscape, it’s a popular photo opportunity. You can climb the 85 steps to the top and enjoy a 360 degree view of the canyon.
Watch Out For Snow
If you are visiting the South Rim in the winter – be prepared for cooler temperatures. You might not associate the Grand Canyon with snow, but roads along the South Rim can close in the winter due to icy, snowy conditions.
If you are planning a self-drive trip, make sure that you keep an eye on the weather forecast and the road closure announcements from the National Park Service. (Plus, don’t forget to bring along winter boots with plenty of grip!)
On the plus side, seeing the Grand Canyon covered in a dusting of snow is a truly unforgettable experience.
Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles during the peak summer season March – Nov. During this time NPS operate a free shuttle service (approx every 15-30mins) from the Village to Hermits Rest (7 miles/11km).
If you are looking for a more active way to explore this section, you can also hike or bike (reservations essential) to many panoramic viewpoints.
Don’t forget to take water and food with you as there are limited facilities along the route.
It’s a Good Idea to Have a Plan
Since this is one of the most crowded areas of the Canyon, it’s better to arrive with a plan so that you are focused when you arrive and can make the most of your time there. This is why it’s advantageous to listen to the GyPSy Guide commentary on your way there.
By the time you arrive, you’ll know how to avoid the most typical tourist mistakes and you’ll have a better appreciation of what you are looking at. There are around 50 viewpoints and landmarks along the South Rim and around 20 of them are easily accessible by vehicle. The audio guide allows you to explore them at your own pace while enjoying interesting and informative stories.
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