Top experiences to take in the vast grandeur of Grand Canyon South Rim

We got good advice from a friend who lives in New York to fly to Phoenix (instead of Vegas) for a road trip to Grand Canyon South Rim. And apart from that useful tip to shape your itinerary to one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, this post will answer queries on best viewpoints at the south rim of Grand Canyon, how best to plan your one day trip to Grand Canyon and also on Grand Canyon bike tours.

But first, why was flying to Phoenix from San Francisco good advice, you may ask? Well, it made us stop overnight in Sedona and see its stunning red rocky mountains. The Sedona stopover turned out to be worth for all that we had been told. And the drive from Sedona to Grand Canyon via Flagstaff – considered one of the 10 most scenic drives in USA –  was beautiful.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
One of the 7 natural wonders of the world!

Back to our trip to the majestic natural wonder that is Grand Canyon.

With more than 200 miles in length and over a mile deep, it is difficult to comprehend the vastness of Grand Canyon even when you are standing at the rim and looking all around you.

The Grand Canyon bike tour, gazing at the star-studded night and the dawn chase for the sunrise towards the East Rim were our top experiences.

A quick stop at the Grand Canyon Village

We reached Grand Canyon South Rim in the afternoon. Thankfully, no long lines at the entrance point (I am told the entry points can get choked in peak season). But soon enough, we saw road signs stating ‘work in progress’ on the main road which did slow down the traffic.

We reached the Grand Canyon Village and got parking easily at the village. The first stop was the Information Center, excellent to get quick information on transportation inside the Canyon, hikes, what to do inside the Canyon in a couple of hours or half a day. 

I knew from prior research that even the shortest hike – the popular Bright Angel hike – was too much for my 7-year-old daughter. So we wondered how to go to the best viewpoints at the Grand Canyon South Rim.

There are distinct colour-coded shuttle buses running on different routes that take you to various scenic points across the South Rim. Instead of taking a shuttle bus, we opted for a more active way to see the South Rim.

There are only a few scenic points that you can drive to. Which is a boon in disguise, because it ensures traffic doesn’t choke up the roads around Grand Canyon South Rim (unlike our experience in and around Yosemite village).

Bike the Grand Canyon south rim for the best viewpoints

Biking the south rim has to be the best way to see Grand Canyon up close (besides hiking of course which as a family we decided not to). And this works well even if you are on a one day trip to Grand Canyon. After having done the Hermit Road Tour offered by Bright Angel company, I can say this is amongst the best Grand Canyon bike tours on offer.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
You do get off the bike at various scenic points.

Bright Angel Tour & Cafe is right at Mather Point in the Grand Canyon Village. We quickly signed up for their 3-hour Grand Canyon bike tour that was to start in 1/2 hour – enough time to grab a quick snack at the cafe. I then selected a cool blue bike for my height. And my husband got a tandem bike with 2 seats so that my daughter could enjoy this adventure with him. All the bikes were loaded behind a van that took the group to a starting point. A brief set of rules and we were all set for our biking adventure!

The Hermit Road Tour takes you through paved roads and some roads that are closed to public traffic. It is easy to bike this 5.5 miles journey and I would recommend it for anyone, from 3 year old kids to elders. They even have trolleys that can be attached to parents’ bikes for babies/toddlers to sit behind. At certain points, public shuttles do go on the same road and you need to be careful, move on the right side and let them pass. 

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
The layered sediments at the Grand Canyon. Can you imagine that river bed is a mile deep?

Experiencing the South Rim from the best viewpoints is not the only adventure we had, although that was the main attraction. The guide also talked about local flora and fauna, how the Canyon was formed and some funny incidents of people taking photos around the rim.

Did you know that ravens are one of the most intelligent birds on the planet, or that the California condor is the largest flying bird in North America?

One of the most interesting points at South Rim is the Hopi Point. Although you can see the various segments that were deposited at different times and formed the distinct layers throughout the Canyon, things get even more amazing at Hopi. An information board at Hopi Point explains all the amazing details about the layers, time zones they were formed.

The lowest layer formed about 1.7 billion years old (yeah, that’s correct!) and named Vishnu Schist lies exposed at a lookout from Hopi Point.

We took the private van back to the Village from Hermits Rest which is located at the western end of the Hermit Road. Hermits Rest has a snack bar and gift shop featuring Native American handicrafts and other park souvenirs.

Don’t miss the sunset and the star-studded night

Everyone is curious to know the best viewpoints of Grand Canyon South Rim for both sunrise and sunsets.

Hopi and Pima points (on the red route shuttle) and Yavapai Point (you can walk or drive to this or take the orange route shuttle to this Point) are listed as the best for watching a sunset at the Information Center.

The sunset was quite late in early June when we visited, and we didn’t want to miss our dinner reservation. So we came back from Hopi Point which was part of our bike tour. But not all was lost since our lodge El Tovar – the first hotel to be built in 1905 – is right at the Canyon. It was nice to see the sunset from the comfort of the hotel porch. 

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
Stay overnight for a breathtaking view of the star-studded sky. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

But this sunset paled in comparison when I went out much later in the night to see the starry sky. It is difficult to describe the feelings that soared through me with the breathtaking grandeur Milky Way on display. I can only imagine what it would be like to drive to a point far away from the Grand Canyon Village / Lodges with no lights and just sit under the canopy of a star-studded black canvas.

The long day had exhausted us and we were ready to hit the bed for an early wake-up so a drive far away was out of the question.

Watching the dawn break over the South Rim

Many people do a day trip to Grand Canyon and if you have time constraints, it can’t be helped. But I would say watching the night give away to dawn and then the sunrise at the Grand Canyon South Rim was amongst my most cherished memories of the US west coast trip. Such places remind you that you cannot take for granted the miracle that the dawn brings every day. 

So stay overnight and if you plan ahead (6-12 months in advance), you can get a spot in one of the national park lodges inside the Canyon. It is then easy to spend a night gazing at the stars or wake up before dawn to take in the sunrise or do both!

Yapavai, Hopi and Navajo / Desert points (you need a car to drive to Navajo and Desert View Points, no shuttle goes there) are the best viewpoints for watching sunrise at the Grand Canyon South Rim.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
No, this was not at sunset time!
Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
A sunrise at the Grand Canyon is worth the early wake-up.

Since we had a car, we drove towards Desert View Point. Dawn was already breaking out and it seemed the trees on the side of the rim were lit up with a reddish / orange backdrop. We stopped at various points on this road to see the sky change from a fiery red to a paler orange and yellow. It was a cloudy morning and that added to the riot of colours in the sky.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
The cloudy morning made the sky look soft.

Desert View Point is towards East Rim and seeing the Colorado river snake through the vast Canyon that morning was spectacular. There is a Watch Tower built at this point. Although this is a modern structure built of concrete and steel, there is a veneer of native stone applied by the architect to create the desired effect of a structure rising from the Canyon.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
The ancient-looking Watch Tower at Desert Viewpoint.

Stay and food recommendations inside the Grand Canyon national park

Like I mentioned before, if you plan well in advance, you can book a room in one of the many lodges inside the Grand Canyon national park. Maswik Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge and the El Tovar Hotel.

There is Tusayan village right outside the national park that provides accommodation and camping options across all budgets, most of the hotels / motels would be about a mile from the South Rim entrance.

We were lucky to get a room at El Tovar Hotel. This historic hotel is located on the rim of the Grand Canyon and as I mentioned before, this amazing location offers a comfortable viewing of the sunset and the starry night.

The room is however, not what you would expect for the dollars you are splurging on it. The air-conditioning  seems to be as ancient as the hotel building and makes quite a rattle. With an extra bed put in the room for our 7-year old daughter, there wasn’t any space left to move around. The bathroom is clean and provides hot water but again, dont expect any luxury. In our case, I think it was a case a over-expectation because the room is pricey. But the location, the food and the service all make the stay worthwhile.

Best viewpoints south rim grand canyon, one day trip to grand canyon, grand canyon bike tours, where to stay in grand canyon
We really enjoyed our meals at the El Tovar dining room.

Even if you are not staying at this hotel, I highly recommend a dinner here (you definitely need a table reservation for dinner). It is the best meal offered for miles around. The breakfast choices and taste is spot on as well. Check this page for other dining options at Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik lodge, and a few others inside the South Rim.

More resources for planning a visit to Grand Canyon:

National Park Service | Grand Canyon

National Park Foundation | Grand Canyon

 


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Planning to visit one of the 7 natural wonders of the world? This post will answer queries on best viewpoints at the south rim of Grand Canyon, how best to plan your one day trip to Grand Canyon and also on Grand Canyon bike tours. #grandcanyon #grandcanyonnationalpark #grandcanyonsouthrim #usa         Planning to visit one of the 7 natural wonders of the world? This post will answer queries on best viewpoints at the south rim of Grand Canyon, how best to plan your one day trip to Grand Canyon and also on Grand Canyon bike tours. #grandcanyon #grandcanyonnationalpark #grandcanyonsouthrim #usa

 


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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

22 thoughts

  1. My favorite blogger!! The place is soooo amazing – no words can’t be added to it! I’m just intrigue about what the El Travo Hotel’s look like – from the bedroom to the rooftop (if there’s any). Will you write about this hotel? is your kid with you when traveling there?

  2. I’d take the same boat tour as what you did. Having such an interesting journey definitely makes more happiness to an itchy feet. Love the sunset although only a glimpse of the color has been shown, but never thought of how the sunrise captures such a beauty. I should head on and check the price of the hotel, I wonder what food would you recommend from them?

  3. I remember visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time. I was so awe struck! It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can’t believe it’s only 3.5 hrs away from where I live.

  4. Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to the Grand Canyon. We used to live in Phoenix and logged over 500 hikes in the Grand Canyon alone during our years there. I’d say we spent more time hiking all the trails of the GC than anywhere else in Arizona.

  5. This is Grand Canyon unveiled from a fresh perspective. Have been the some years back on a short day trip from Vegas. However your idea about a road trip from Phoenix sounds really good. The biking to get to various vantage view points too sounds like an amazing way to explore nature’s wonder. The sunset looks really spectacular. Hope to follow this path the next time we are in those parts.

    1. All basis local knowledge, Sandy. Sedona itself turned out to be a fab stop. And the biking tour in Grand Canyon was good fun too. I just keep wondering how a helicopter ride would have been.

  6. The Grand Canyon really is spectacular isn’t it!! I had no idea you could take a bike tour around the south rim, that sounds like a great way to see a lot in a short time, and avoiding hiking which I’m not a fan of. Being the early bird planner really does pay off here, that sunrise is incredible!!

    1. Spectacular is an understatement. We decided not to splurge on the helicopter ride here 🙂 I recommend the biking tour to everyone now. Different from hiking, which I would like to do someday (the shortest one!).

  7. Wondering are there many people at the viewpoints for watching the sunsets and sunrises?!
    I would like to watch them in silence to get completely immersed into the nature.

    1. Photo credit says sourced from Pixabay. I wish I had the equipment and the skills to do that kind of a shot. But I assure you that there were millions of stars that I did see with my naked eye.

  8. Ah I love the Grand Canyon, it really takes you back when you look out at it. We were a bunch of lads all on a holiday and it shut us all up as we just admired it for an hour solid before venturing down. You’ve got some gorgeous shots of sunset, definitely jealous of those!

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