This post is part of Just Ahead’s Grand Canyon Trip Planner—our guide to what you need to know to plan your trip to Grand Canyon National Park. Click here to see the complete series, and be sure to download our Just Ahead smartphone audio tour of Grand Canyon before you head to the park.
During the many days of field research we put into creating our Just Ahead guide to Grand Canyon National Park, we came to acquire some definite favorite places in the park, and we discovered a few overlooked gems along the way. Here’s our personal guide to the best things to do at the Grand Canyon.
The Don’t-Miss Things to Do in Grand Canyon
Drive Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive is the one rim road that you can drive year-round. It links superb viewpoints such as Lipan Point and Navajo Point with man-made fascinations such as the 12th-century Tusayan Ruins and the 20th-century marvel, Desert View Watchtower—the seven-story stone edifice designed by fabled architect Mary Jane Colter. It’s a great drive, and Just Ahead will guide you every step of the way.
Walk the Rim Trail
When you want to stretch your legs, the two words you’ll want to remember are “Rim Trail.” Extending roughly 13 miles from the South Kaibab trailhead in the east to Hermits Rest in the west, this walkway is mostly flat and paved. But if you get tired of hoofing it, you’re never far from one of the stops for Grand Canyon National Park’s free shuttle buses.
Catch Sunrise at Hopi Point
While the Grand Canyon is a spectacular sight any time of day, sunrise bathes the canyon walls in a cool light that brings out the greens of the piñon pine and juniper trees just below the canyon rim, along with blue shadows that add a distinct sense of depth to the scene. Our favorite spot for sunrise in Grand Canyon is Hopi Point, which is on Hermit Road and the Rim Trail.
Catch Sunset at Navajo Point
Sunset brings a warmer lighting palette that amplifies the reds and oranges in the canyon walls and rims the clouds overhead in a golden glow laced with the pinks and purples of twilight. Our favorite spot for sunset in Grand Canyon is Navajo Point on Desert View Road—it’s the highest overlook in the park (7,500 feet) and often less crowded than other viewpoints.
Take a Geology Walk
Perhaps the biggest problem with the Grand Canyon is its overwhelming scale—both its physical size and its geological timeline. You can attempt to comprehend the latter by walking the new 2.8-mile Trail of Time, located between the excellent Yavapai Point Geology Museum and the Verkamps Visitor Center, where every stride takes you back (or forward, if you start from Verkamps) in the Grand Canyon’s long and colorful history.
Grand Canyon Overlooked Gems That You Shouldn’t Overlook
The North Rim
Considered the “connoisseur’s Grand Canyon,” only 10 percent of Grand Canyon National Park’s 5 million annual visitors see the canyon from the unique perspective of its North Rim. At an elevation of 8,500 feet, about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, this side offers a cooler subalpine climate that supports grassy meadows filled with wildflowers, plus pine forests, elk, the endangered California condor, and the unusual black-and-white tufted-ear Kaibab squirrel. It’s also the site of the dramatic Grand Canyon Lodge. Be sure to wander through the lobby and enjoy the stunning views from its outdoor patio.
In addition to Desert View Watchtower, the legendary architect Mary Jane Colter designed and supervised construction of the oversized faux miner’s cabin known as Hermits Rest, where her obsessive attention to detail had workmen rubbing soot into the stonework of the 12-foot fireplace and putting cobwebs into corners to give it that lived-in look. She was obsessive about detail, and we are the beneficiaries of this remarkable refuge that stands at the end of Hermit Road on the South Rim.
The Night Sky
One view of the Grand Canyon that very few people get to see is the extraordinarily dark night sky. Hang out after most visitors have headed for the exits; then look up after the sun’s gone down. You’ll be rewarded with the sight of more stars than you knew existed. The Milky Way is so bright it casts its own shadows on a moonless night. Also be sure to check at any park visitor center for details on their ranger-led astronomy programs.
And If You Have a Little More Time…
Take a Mule Ride
Riding a mule into the depths of the Grand Canyon is one of the park’s great traditions. The sure-footed beasts take you into the world below the rim, sparing you the leg power it takes to walk down steep canyon trails. The rides are very popular. For information on South Rim mule trips, click here. For North Rim mule rides, click here.
Watch an IMAX Movie
For a perspective on the Grand Canyon you’re very unlikely to get on your own, check out the giant-screen IMAX film called Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets at the Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitor Center in the town of Tusayan, just south of the park’s South Entrance. The park shuttle stops there. For more information, click here.
For more trip-planning information, see our posts on Grand Canyon lodging and Grand Canyon camping. To make the most of your visit to Grand Canyon National Park, don’t forget the most useful resource you can bring along—the Just Ahead app. Just Ahead turns your smartphone into an audio tour guide that will guide you to the park and all of its best landmarks. It’s the best way to get the most from your visit. Click here to try Just Ahead for free.