Fans of National Lampoon’s Vacation may remember that Clark Griswold got his fill of the Grand Canyon in mere minutes before piling the family back in the car and heading on to Walley World. After all, how long does it take to gaze at a big hole in the ground? Well, much longer, as we found out, especially if you’re into sunsets, sunrises, hiking, history, and everything in between. If you’re not quite up for the two-day trek to the bottom and back, there are still a number of rim trails, museums, and overlooks just waiting to be explored. For all of you who choose to stay at the top, but wonder how to fill your time, here are 5 easy things to do at the Grand Canyon.
(Click on the map for a bigger view.)
1. Hike the Rim Trail on Hermit Road
A great way to hike the rim trails while avoiding some of the crowds is to pick up the shuttle bus at the Village Route Transfer Point on the western side of the South Rim (where the red and blue lines meet on the map). Ride it all the way up to Hermits Rest or get off mid-way at the Abyss or Mojave Point. From there, start hiking back toward Hopi Point, Powell Point, and Maricopa Point. If you get tired, each overlook is a shuttle stop and most are less than a mile apart. The trails west of Hopi Point are unpaved, and you might just have them to yourself!
2. Yavapai Point Observation Station and Geology Museum
As if the glass walls of the Yavapai Museum of Geology aren’t enough of a draw, interpretive signs under the windows explain what you’re looking at and why the Grand Canyon is there in the first place. In the center of the room is a giant, topographic 3-D model of the canyon, and on the walls are more exhibits explaining everything from erosion to rock formation. There’s also a nice little gift shop in back.
3. Sunset at Mather Point
One of the most popular overlooks in the park, Mather Point is a crowd-pleaser for good reason. It’s close to the main parking areas and the Visitor Center, but most of all, its jutting-out, fenced-in vantage point affords spectacular views of the canyon, especially at sunset.
4. Tusayan Museum and Ruin
Follow Desert View Drive toward the eastern end of the park, and you’ll come upon the Tusayan Museum and Ruin, an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site that was occupied for about 20 years, starting around 1185.
The museum and gift shop describe the lives of the people who lived here. Ranger-guided tours are available in summer and fall, though a self-guided tour along the mostly flat, .1 mile trail takes less than a half hour.
5. Desert View Watchtower
It might look ancient, but the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower is really a carefully planned lookout from 1932 that was built to mimic the architectural style of the native Anasazis. With a concrete foundation and a hidden steel framework, the tower sits on a promontory, offering panoramic views of the eastern end of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
Attached to the tower at ground level is a large, round observation room with a log ceiling and flagstone floor. Windows look out over the rim, while an outdoor viewing area sits on top.
Once inside the tower, spiral stairs lead first to a dimly-lit room with plaster walls, small windows, and circular balconies, featuring paintings of petroglyphs and images from Hopi mythology. Above this level is an enclosed observation area with plate glass windows.
If you have a car, the Watchtower, especially, is worth the 30-minute drive. If not, the park’s fleet of shuttle buses will get you as far as Hermits Rest to the west (red line on map) and Yaki Point to the east (orange line on map). All of these places are easily visited over a two-day period.
If you need more help planning your visit, Lonely Planet makes a nice guide to the Grand Canyon, whether you’re there for just a day or much longer.
To see where we went after the Grand Canyon, click here for a photographic tour of the amazing Antelope Canyon and here to learn about the Top 5 Family Hikes in Zion National Park.