Looking to plan a trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon? The Grand Canyon is one of those places that you always hear that you just HAVE to visit in person to appreciate the grandeur.
Well, no doubt, after finally checking the Grand Canyon off of our family bucket list, we walked away with so much appreciation for this incredible place. It is truly a sight to see and without proper planning, you could totally miss some of the most unique features of the Grand Canyon.
Read on to learn more about some of our favorite things that we did on our visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so you can make the most of every minute when you go!
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Where is the Grand Canyon?
I’m not gonna lie…I wasn’t actually sure what state the Grand Canyon was in. Over in the eastern part of the U.S., everything just seems “out west” to us! So in case you are wondering, the Grand Canyon itself is located in the northwestern part of Arizona but is very close to the borders of Utah and Nevada.
About Grand Canyon National Park
With 6.4 million visitors in 2018, the Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited National Park in the United States.
Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument in 1909. However, the Grand Canyon didn’t officially become a National Park until 1919 when a bill was passed and signed by President Woodrow Wilson.
South Rim vs. North Rim
The Grand Canyon National Park has two parts: the South Rim and the North Rim.
Depending on your itinerary, many people will fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix and head up to the South Rim. The South Rim is by far the most visited part of the Grand Canyon.
If you wish to see both the North and South Rims, it is about a 4-5 hour drive between the two.
The North Rim’s peak season is May 15 – Oct 15. If you travel outside of that window then you may run into road closures and limited programs. Be sure to check the nps.gov site for up to date closures and information.
While there are SO many different ways to see the Grand Canyon on a trip out west, be sure to do plenty of research to decide if you will be going to the South Rim or the North Rim (or both?!?).
For us, we ended up only going to the South Rim so we will be covering the Grand Canyon South Rim extensively in this article!
Planning for a Trip to the Grand Canyon
It’s always good to be prepared and have a plan of attack before you get there. Here are several travel guides that we found to be VERY helpful as we mapped out our itinerary.
How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
As we started researching, there are SO many ways to get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Two of the most popular that we came across were from Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Las Vegas Itinerary
Many people will start in Las Vegas and drive up making a stop at Hoover Dam and several other places along the way to the Grand Canyon. You can then head on up to Page, AZ to see Antelope Canyons and then Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. That itinerary will get you back to your starting point, Las Vegas.
Other itineraries may include flying into Phoenix and driving up to the Grand Canyon and also exploring more of the surrounding areas like Sedona, Flagstaff, and Page (Antelope Canyon). There are also plenty of other places to explore in the lower part of Arizona as well, like the Petrified Forest National Park, Sunset Crater Volcano and even the Meteor Crater in Winslow.
Train or Helicopter?
You can also ride the Grand Canyon Train out of Williams, AZ. Or take a helicopter ride to see the Grand Canyon from a different perspective.
There are so many ways to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon. Pick a starting point and start mapping out all of your must sees!
Hours of Operation & Park Entrance Fees
The Grand Canyon South Rim is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year!
Whether you are staying in the Grand Canyon or on the outskirts, to access the park via car, you will have to pass through a toll booth to pay the entrance fees.
Ranging anywhere from $20 (for individual permit) to $35 (for a vehicle and all passengers) for 7 days and includes both the South Rim and the North Rim. Be sure to read more about your options at the nps.gov website before you head that way.
There are also several annual pass options that may be worth looking into if you plan to visit any other parks with entrance fees. (America the Beautiful Pass, Military Pass, etc.)
*TIP! And if you happen to have a student in the 4th grade, your student is eligible for the “Every Kid Outdoors” 4th Grade Pass that will get you and your family into most National Parks for free! (Read more here!)
Best Times to Visit the South Rim
The best times to visit the Grand Canyon South Rim are during the months of March through May and September through November. If you visit during these times, you will be more likely to have cooler temperatures and thinner crowds.
If you do plan to visit during the summer months, be ready for higher crowd levels as well as warmer temperatures as this is the most popular time to visit the South Rim.
And if you go during the winter months, you will have better lodging availability. Be sure to plan ahead for visiting the Grand Canyon during winter and be prepared for cold weather and possible snow!
Where to Stay
Lodging inside the Grand Canyon National Park often gets booked up during the peak seasons. Several lodges are actually within walking distance of the South Rim.
The lodging inside the park includes the Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, the Maswik Lodge and the Yavapai Lodge. Try to book your reservations 4-6 months in advance if interested in some of these options.
There are also a few hotels in the Tusayan area. From there it is about a 15 minute drive to the South Rim (7 miles south of the Grand Canyon Village).
The Grand Hotel, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western Canyon Squire Inn are several options. Read more about all of the options at the Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau.
And if you are more of the camping type, there are several options for camping inside the park. Check out the different campground options at the South Rim on the nps.gov website.
Things to Do at the South Rim Grand Canyon Visitor Center
Upon arriving at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the first things you will want to do is stop by the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center, located at the South Entrance Road.
This is a great place to familiarize yourself to the area.
Get a Pocket Map
Be sure to pick-up a Pocket Map of the South Rim while you are there as well! (Or click here to access it from the NPS website.)
Become a Junior Ranger!
Be sure to grab the Junior Ranger book at the visitor center so your kids can earn the Grand Canyon Junior Ranger badge.
Most of the requirements can be completed by doing many of the activities right around the visitor center. And it is a fun keepsake to take home!
Attend a Park Ranger Program
Check on the posted schedule for the Park Ranger Programs. (Or you can check the nps website.)
We went to the “Critter Chat” and learned about some of the wildlife in the area. (Side note…did you know that the squirrel is the most dangerous animal at the Grand Canyon?)
Get a “Passport to Your National Parks” Cancellation Stamp
And of course, get your cancellation for your ‘Passport to Your National Parks’ passport book!
You can also find out what locations to visit to get specific Passport cancellations. (We got 6 out of the 7 stamps while there!)
Plan a Hike and Talk to a Park Ranger
Also, you can inquire more about any trails or hikes that you were planning to take while there. The Park Rangers are at the desk to answer any questions.
And there are also plenty of signs posted to read more about the area trails. (Along with how many sandwiches you need for each hike!)
Watch a Grand Canyon Movie
They also have a great film, “Grand Canyon: a Journey of Wonder,” in the theater that plays every 30 minutes or so. There is a countdown above the theater door so you know when the next showing starts.
The film was very informative and gave us plenty more info to think about while we were there. It was also a great place to take a break and get out of the heat if needed!
There is also an 8 minute presentation called “The Canyon World” that was projected onto a giant globe, which was pretty cool, too!
Get a Souvenir
Another place to check out right across from the Visitor Center is the Grand Canyon Conservancy Park Store.
This is a great place to check out some souvenirs.
Take Your First Look at the Grand Canyon
Once you are ready to venture to the rim and take your first peek at the Grand Canyon, head down the clearly marked walkways.
It was pretty surreal to take our first look at the Grand Canyon. It just didn’t even seem real. After taking it in for a few minutes, we spotted Mather Point and decided to head that way.
This is a very popular overlook of the Grand Canyon and often the first look at the Grand Canyon for many (us included!). It is named after Stephen Tyng Mather who helped lay the foundation of the National Park Service. I would say that’s pretty cool to have a Grand Canyon overlook named after you.
This is a beautiful overlook of the Grand Canyon. And also a great place to take your first family picture to document it!
Ride the Grand Canyon Shuttle Buses
After you are ready to move on from the Visitor Center area, you can make your way to the Shuttle Bus pickup area.
(Don’t mind that guy, he was just protesting a restaurant…)
The Shuttle Buses were a little intimidating at first, but once you figure out their path and the stops they make, it’s actually pretty easy. They have signs posted to help you figure out which bus route you want to take. You can also read online on the National Park Service website (Link: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm) beforehand to map out your plan of attack!
(Tip – The Pocket Map is also super helpful for navigating the Bus Routes. Be sure to grab one at the Visitor’s Center if you didn’t get one when you went through the Park Entrance Booth.)
Visit the Grand Canyon Village
The next area that we explored was the area called “The Village” which has restaurants, shopping, lodging and many more spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.
While you definitely can walk down the South Rim Trail from the Visitor Center, we actually jumped aboard the Shuttle Bus and hopped off near the Hopi House.
The Hopi House
This unique house is actually a Natural Historic Landmark.
We enjoyed reading the history. And it had some really interesting souvenirs (many made by Native Americans). We had a fun time exploring in the Hopi House and we even found a new friend along the way.
Verkamp’s Visitor Center
Right next door, you will find the Verkamp’s Visitor Center where you can also get another Passport Cancellation! It also has some fantastic exhibits as well!
El Tovar Hotel, Lodges & California Condor!
Once you mosey on down the rim trail a little more, you will pass the El Tovar Hotel and some of the lodges.
Along this path, we actually lucked out and got to see a California Condor perched out on one of the cliffs, which we of course sat and watched for a little bit!
There are also some great signs in this area to read all about the California Condor. The story of saving this nearly extinct bird is pretty incredible. So keep your eyes peeled for one – it definitely is a treat!
There are also a ton of great photo opportunities along the way as well.
Bright Angel Lodge
Once we made it to the Bright Angel Lodge, we grabbed some ice cream and coffee at the little ice cream shop and sat and enjoyed the view for a bit!
We then headed inside the lodge to check out the gift shop and took a peek at the beautiful architecture!
It’s really pretty and worth just walking in to take a quick peek!
Next we stopped by the Lookout Studio which looks like it is part of the Grand Canyon. It was actually constructed from Kaibab Limestone that was locally quarried to build this beautiful architectural building.
Even upon entering, you will find a little encouragement posted on the outside of the building.
After checking out some of the souvenirs, be sure to head outside and explore a little bit!
It has some pretty incredible viewing opportunities.
The next stop was the Historic Kolb Studio which was a photographic studio created by the Kolb brothers.
It is also a gift shop and another place to get a Passport cancellation.
Besides being a gift shop and more beautiful views, you can also see some of the equipment that the Kolb brothers used in their filming endeavors.
Hike on the Bright Angel Trail
Right next to the Kolb Studio is where you will find the Bright Angel Trailhead.
Even if you don’t plan to do any serious hiking, be sure to walk just a little ways on the trail for a little different perspective. It really is a beautiful trail!
We ended up hiking for a couple of hours and then turned around at one of the suggested stopping points.
If you do plan to do some serious hiking, be sure to plan accordingly as this is a pretty legit hike. Do your homework and read up on the different hiking options at the Grand Canyon.
(And make sure you have enough sandwiches.)
Visit the Mule Barn
As you are wrapping up your exploration of the Village area, you can also take a little walk across the street to see the Mule Barn which houses the mules that trek on the Grand Canyon Trail.
We saw them hanging out around the barn later in the day after they had returned from their day’s journey. We thought it would be really cool to come back one day and do a mule ride into the Grand Canyon! Maybe next time!
There is also a great informational sign about the mules right next to the Bright Angel Trailhead. We were surprised to learn that most of the mules come from our home state, Tennessee!
The Grand Canyon Railway Train Depot
Also in the same vicinity is where the Grand Canyon Railway stops at the Train Depot. We took a few minutes to check it out and take a quick picture! (No stowaways though!)
The Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon Village area. Although we didn’t do it this go around, it does look like a fun experience! Read more about the logistics here.
Yavapai Point and Geology Museum
If you are looking for some more in-depth information about the geology of the Grand Canyon, be sure to stop by the Yavapai Geology Museum.
The displays are very informative not to mention it has the most amazing windows for viewing the Grand Canyon.
If you have time, hop aboard a Shuttle Bus for the Hermit’s Rest Route (located near the Bright Angel Trailhead). If the line is pretty long for the shuttle bus, you can always take a little hike on the Rim Trail to get to the first shuttle stop, Trailview Overlook, and hop aboard there instead.
There are several more points (Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, Pima Point, etc.) along the Hermit’s Rest route with many that offer exceptional views of the Colorado River.
You definitely could spend a ton of time hopping off at each point, however we chose to just pick a couple and then head on to Hermit’s Rest.
Once you arrive at Hermit’s Rest, this unique rock sign will greet you.
Head on inside and grab some coffee or ice cream and look around. It is a very unique building. Hermit’s Rest was started in 1914 and was the stop you would make after an 8 mile buggy ride.
It was a sweet place to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the Grand Canyon.
On the opposite end of the park, you will find the Desert View Watchtower near the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance.
The Desert View Watchtower is a National Historic Landmark that you can walk inside and see all of the amazing artwork and architectural features.
The kids loved exploring the inside of this unique building.
There are also some great viewing areas to see a good view of the Colorado River.
Visit the Tusayan Museum and Ruin
The Tusayan Museum is a great place to take a peek inside the lives of the ancient Puebloan people. The museum itself has a great display of artifacts to learn more about their daily lives as well as what the agriculture looked like in that day.
There is also a short path you can walk around to see the remains of the pueblo.
Look for Wildlife
Besides keeping an eye out for the California Condors as we already mentioned, there are definitely plenty of other critters and creatures to look for!
The first night that we arrived at the Grand Canyon, there were a ton of Elk grazing alongside the road. We loved looking for these beautiful creatures while we explored in the area.
Another animal to keep an eye out for is the Mule Deer. We saw some grazing along some of the Shuttle Bus routes several times.
And of course, be sure to watch out for the most dangerous animal in the Grand Canyon. The SQUIRRELS! Not even kidding…they really are the most dangerous as they can carry the plague! Also, there were a handful of them that were a little too friendly for my liking. So be sure to watch out for those guys!
Watch the Sunrise and Sunset over the Grand Canyon
If time allows, be sure to see either a sunrise or a sunset (or both!)
We saw the sunset at Yavapai Point one night and it was pretty amazing.
And then we saw the sunrise one morning at Mather Point which was also spectacular.
While there are definitely plenty of places to view the sunrise or sunset, be sure to check the nps.gov website for more suggested locations and updated times!
Bring a Water Bottle for the Water Refill Stations!
Another great tip is to make sure you bring your own water bottle or hydration backpack. There were plenty of water refill stations that you can enjoy clean Grand Canyon spring water! (And help reduce unnecessary waste, as well!)
There are SO many ways to experience the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Be sure to take your time and make the most of your experience!
After spending several days there, we no doubt have a greater appreciation for one of the seven natural wonders of the world. You just have to see it to understand the grandeur of a place as magnificent as the Grand Canyon.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s words still ring true today…
In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.-President Theodore Roosevelt
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