10 Best Things to Do at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon as a whole is a world-renowned attraction, but once here you'll get a feel for things and begin to break the National Park and area into specific interests. After exploring the South Village and its historic hotels, hike the Rim Trail or motor on the Rim Drive out to Desert View and the Watchtower, a destination worth the 25-mile drive that affords views of the Colorado River as it enters the park's eastern boundary. Give yourself enough time to stop at Tusayan Museum and Ruins to learn about the human history of Grand Canyon National Park and the ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians who called this area home centuries ago. For the truly adventurous, hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon via Bright Angel or Kaibab trails and stay at Phantom Ranch for an experience only a fraction of the park's 5-million annual visitors enjoy. If you stay in Williams an hour south of the park, consider taking the historic Grand Canyon Railway train that ends at the historic depot just south of El Tovar Hotel.

10 Bearizona
Bearizona Wildlife Park is a 160 acre outdoor zoo featuring animals native to the Grand Canyon area. Visitors drive through 2-miles of ponderosa forest where they view in a natural habitat animals including wolves, big horn sheep and, of course, black bears. At Fort Bearizona, guests walk through 20-acres of exhibits featuring smaller animals such as porcupines, skunks, raptors, prairie dogs and foxes. A snack bar, gift shop and restrooms are available at the fort, as are naturalist who can explain the fauna of the area. Walls and natural-looking exhibit cliffs use 150 tons of recycled metal, and rainwater is collected on site. The park is about an hour south of Grand Canyon National Park in Williams, just off of I-40. (928.635.2289)

9 Mather Point
Set just inside the south entrance to the park, Mather Point often serves as introduction to the Canyon. First-time visitors are struck by the scale and immensity of the chasm, and some have even been known to fall to their knees and weep, overwhelmed by the spectacle. Named for an early director of the national park, the overlook affords views of one-quarter of the entire Canyon. Often crowded throughout the day, Mather Point also offers terrific sunset vistas. In addition, it's close to Canyon View Information Plaza, the source for Grand Canyon guides and details. (928-638-7888)

8 Tusayan Museum and Ruins
Thanks to detailed exhibits, artifacts, and scale models, this museum instructs visitors about Native Americans who once inhabited the Grand Canyon area. Hopi and Anasazi tribes are provided the most attention, especially given the adjacent Anasazi ruins, which date from the 12th century. They're accessible via an easy trail that winds through a small complex that housed approximately 30 people. The pueblo structure was built using limestone blocks and included spaces for living, storage, and ceremony. Rangers lead tours daily, but most folks opt for self-guided excursions. (928-638-7968)

7 Yavapai Point and Observation Station
From this observation point, visitors can take in the depths of the Canyon, including Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. The North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails are visible as well, and sunsets are a particular visual treat as colors shift and transform. The observation station features a museum with exhibits about the geology of the Canyon and the local fossil record. Plus, expansive windows offer views from inside, while a bookstore sells park-related items and rangers are available to field questions and lead guided walks. (928-638-7888)

6 Lipan Point
Many visitors claim that Lipan Point offers one of the most spectacular Canyon vistas in the entire park. Westward views seem to stretch outward forever, and Canyon walls present a tapestry of colors and textures. The Colorado River cuts through the deepest part of the Canyon near here, and sunset views are incredible as well. Far below the rim, cradled by the river, is the Unkar Delta, a rich alluvial accumulation that supported the farming efforts of early Native Americans. (928-638-7888)

5 Grand Canyon Railway
Travel to the Grand Canyon as early tourists did, on the Grand Canyon Railway. Each day, the train departs from Williams and arrives in Grand Canyon Village 2ΒΌ hours later. Then, visitors have 3 hours to explore the national park before heading back to the depot. En route, passengers are regaled with story and song while being mesmerized by the gorgeous scenery. Refreshments are also provided (according to the package purchased). Depending on the season, engines are either steam- or diesel-powered; individual cars are refurbished 1920s models. A great adventure for children and railroad buffs and an ideal way to visit the Canyon without the encumbrance of a car. (928-773-1976, 800-843-8724)

4 Phantom Ranch
Designed by Mary E.J. Colter and completed in 1922, this rustic complex sits at the bottom of the Canyon and features cabins and dorms of native stone and wood. The ranch is the only lodging available below the rim and requires reservations well in advance (often years!) for both beds and meals. Visitors are provided access only by hiking, mule rides, or rafting, and cabins are primarily reserved for riders while dorms are set aside for hikers. Shared baths and showers are the norm. A campground is also nearby for rugged individualists (requires a backcountry permit). Two breakfast seatings, bag lunches, and dinner seatings (one for steak, one for beef stew) are available daily. After dinner is served, the dining hall accommodates nightlifers who want a cold beer and a round of conversation. Widely reputed to be one of the best experiences in the National Park. (888-297-2757)

3 Hermit's Rest
Another architectural beauty designed by Mary E.J. Colter, this stone structure was built to resemble the naive efforts of a local prospector and is a tribute to reclusive 19th-century miner Louis Boucher. A massive stone fireplace, substantial wood furniture, and Native American textiles impart a natural, homey feel to the place, which serves (now as then) as a travelers' rest stop. Inside, you'll find a gift shop, refreshments for sale, and restrooms -- all frequently sought after in the Canyon area. (928-638-7888)

2 Desert View and Watchtower
Near the east entrance to the park the Watchtower is a stone edifice designed by Mary E.J. Colter and built in 1932. Rising 70 feet above the Canyon rim, the tower was intended to mirror ancient Native American architecture and accommodate early tourists. It affords incredible vistas of the Canyon, the Colorado River, the San Francisco Peaks, and the Painted Desert from roof-top observation points. The tower also boasts murals, recreations of Native American petroglyphs, a gift shop, and demonstrations of Hopi weaving. A must-stop while in the park. At this stop, you'll also find many traveler conveniences, including a restaurant, general store, and service station. (928-638-2736, 928-638-2360)

1 Grand Canyon Rim Drive
If you're looking for a circuit of the best sights and overlooks in the Park -- for photography or simply to commit to memory -- this is probably your best bet. West and East routes allow for great scenic views, although the East branch is much longer and offers greater sightseeing opportunities. Private vehicles are not allowed in the park, but shuttles offer an easy, affordable alternative. They also allow folks to get off the bus for up-close viewing. The 25-mile drive can be slow going, with other traffic and plenty of scenic stops; allow yourself enough time to accomplish what you'd like to do. (928-638-7888)


As 10Best's Southwestern USA Expert, Steve Larese continues to leave no rock or roadrunner unturned, while adding cuisine, shopping and other urban experiences to his repertoire of experiences.  He’s found laid-back sophistication in the smallest of communities and beauty at nearly every turn.  Larese has also spent years exploring New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos and the many ancient ruins left by their ancestors, photos of which can be found in his latest book, Southwest Reflections: Grand Canyon and Four Corners (Schiffer, 2012).

Read more about Steve Larese here.

Connect with Steve via: Blog | Google+

Maps and Directions

1
Bearizona 10Best List Arrow
Type: Adventure, Great Views, Outdoor Activities, Parks, Sightseeing, Tours and Excursions, Zoos
Neighborhood: Williams
2
Mather Point 10Best List Arrow
Type: Great Views
Neighborhood: South Rim
3
Tusayan Museum and Ruins 10Best List Arrow
Type: History Museums, Museums
Neighborhood: South Rim
4
Yavapai Point and Observation Station 10Best List Arrow
Type: Great Views, Parks, Sightseeing
Neighborhood: South Rim
5
Lipan Point 10Best List Arrow
Type: Great Views, Parks
Neighborhood: South Rim
6
Grand Canyon Railway 10Best List Arrow
Type: Great Views, Tours and Excursions
Neighborhood: WILLIAMS
7
Phantom Ranch 10Best List Arrow
Type: Farms / Ranches, Outdoor Activities
Neighborhood: South Rim
8
Hermit's Rest 10Best List Arrow
Type: Historic Sites
Neighborhood: South Rim
9
Desert View and Watchtower 10Best List Arrow
Type: Great Views, Parks, Sightseeing
Neighborhood: South Rim
10
Grand Canyon Rim Drive 10Best List Arrow
Type: Sightseeing, Tours and Excursions
Neighborhood: South Rim