The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the territory visitors to the National Park typically explore the most – about nearly 90% of visitors to the Grand Canyon confine their visit to this rim alone. A vast, breathtaking stretch of land, the South Rim features – among many other things – the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, a number of geological points of note, famed nature-inspired structures by the architect Mary Colter, hiking trails and camping sites, the Yavapai Observation Station, and the nearby town of Tusayan. Unlike the North Rim, the South Rim is open year-round.
South Rim History and Background Information
Although the Grand Canyon was designated as a National Monument in the late nineteenth century, it did not become a National Park until 1919. About five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, the majority of whom visit the South Rim exclusively. Today the South Rim is home to 7 National Historic Landmarks and 2 National Historic Districts, among dozens of observation points, hiking trails, campsites, and more.
What’s at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
The South Rim is one of the major points of departure for any number of tours, whether you’re interested in river rafting excursions, bus tours, horseback rides, or many other popular touring options. Because the main local road (Arizona Route 64) runs parallel to the Canyon for a good distance, it’s also easier for visitors to explore the territory solo without the need for guides or tours.
There are about 50 distinct viewpoints along the South Rim; the South Rim Drive passes right near about 20 of them. Six of those 20 require a bit of hiking from the road to reach. Some of the most popular points include (from West to East):
- Pima Point
- Hopi Point
- Powell Point
- Yavapai Point
- Mather Point
- Yaki Point
- Shoshone Point
- Grandview Point
- Moran Point
- Lipan Point
- Navajo Point
- Desert View Point
Yaki and Yavapai Points are probably the best vantage points near the junction with US Route 180. Mather Point is usually one of the first places where visitors get to view the canyon due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. Grandview Point, Moran Point, and Desert View Point are easily accessible along the East Rim Drive, and have much to offer aspiring photographers and avid sightseers. In particular, Desert View Watchtower (found at Desert View Point) is an essential stop for photography buffs—this Mary Colter-designed structure is the highest point along the South Rim, meaning it offers unparalleled views of Grand Canyon National Park in all directions. Zuni and Papago Points are excellent destinations as well, although they do require a little bit of moderate hiking to reach.
At the western edge of the South Rim you will find the popular Hermits Rest attraction. This memorable building is one of the famous architect Mary Colter’s several Grand Canyon National Park designs. Built in 1914, Hermits Rest was constructed out of stone and wood and designed to blend into the natural surroundings of the canyon cliffside. Today, in addition to being one of the South Rim’s most beloved spots for photos, Hermits Rest contains a snack bar, picnic area, and a gift shop.
There are also a wide variety of shops that visitors can scour for souvenirs, like Market Plaza, Kolb Studio, El Tovar Gift Shop, and more. Market Plaza is probably the most popular, but those looking for unique pieces of art and other artisan craftwork may favor the shops and studios run by local Native Americans.
The Tusayan Ruin is especially attractive for history buffs, who will find the remains of an ancient Puebloan village fascinating. There is a flat, short trail that winds around the ruins that allows for comprehensive views of the site, so it’s worth the brief (0.10 mile) walk. The trail also features a number of signs that point out particular sites of interest in the ruins, like the ancient “kiva” (ceremonial room) that is still visible today. Visitors who love this part of the South Rim experience will want to make sure they stop by the Tusayan Bookstore as well!
The Yavapai Museum of Geology boasts a beautiful interior, with engaging geological exhibits that showcase the unique beauty of the Grand Canyon and its environs. There is another bookstore here, as well, for interested visitors to pursue the subject further. Another great souvenir opportunity!
Tips for Visiting the South Rim
- A number of the best attractions that are still considered part of the Grand Canyon experience are a significant distance apart (up to 200 miles), so driving is going to occupy a serious amount of your time.
- Snag a map at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center to help you plan which viewpoints along the South Rim you most want to reach.
- Keep in mind that some viewpoints are only accessible via a hike, and hiking distances and difficulties vary pretty significantly throughout the South Rim area.
- Yavapai has excellent views AND good parking, making it a preferable first viewpoint.
- The nearest hotels to the South Rim are found in the Grand Canyon Village and nearby Tusayan.