10 stops on a Grand Canyon National Park road trip

From iconic sunrises and sunsets to historic villages and scenic hikes, the largest canyon in the country is a bucket list road trip destination

Photo: Alexandra Charitan

If someone asked you to picture a national park, there’s a high probability the image conjured up would be Arizona’s Grand Canyon. President Theodore Roosevelt described it as “the one great sight every American should see” and declared it a national monument in 1908. National park status was granted in 1919, protecting one of the largest canyons in the world. From watching the sunrise color the canyon walls to hiking a mile down to the Colorado River, a visit to Grand Canyon National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Here are 10 must-see stops on a road trip to the Grand Canyon.

the entrance to the grand canyon visitor center under blue skies

1. Grand Canyon Visitor Center

Grand Canyon National Park is divided into two main regions: the South Rim and the North Rim, with a 200-mile, 5-hour drive between them. Additionally, there are vista points and activities available at Grand Canyon West and East, although these are outside the national park boundaries. 

The South Rim is the most well-known and popular access point, with extensive facilities including the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center, historic sites and museums, accommodations, and restaurants open year round. If this is your first time to the Grand Canyon, this is where you’ll want to start.

people stand on a rock outcropping overlooking the grand canyon
Photo: Alexandra Charitan

2. Mather Point

The best spots for sunrise viewing and photography are at Mather Point, Yavapai Point, or Hopi Point. Predawn temperatures can be cold, so be sure to dress warm for sunrise, even in summer. Mather Point, named for Stephen Tyng Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, is located just a short walk from the visitor center; this is where most people get their first glimpse of the canyon and it’s the most accessible viewpoint, so claim your viewing spot early.

a sweeping view of the grand canyon
Photo: Alexandra Charitan

3. Rim Trail

From South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest, the Rim Trail is a mostly flat, paved trail that runs 13 miles in all. The most popular (and crowded) section is between Grand Canyon Village and the main visitor center. If you want to experience a leisurely hike with smaller crowds, head out west from Bright Angel Trailhead or east from Mather Point. Be aware that parts of the trail have no guardrail; keep a close eye on small children and skip the risky photo ops.

4. Grand Canyon Village Historic District

The Grand Canyon Village Historic District is the main area for dining, shopping, shuttle buses, and the Bright Angel Trailhead. Don’t miss out on exploring the beautiful historic buildings from the early 20th century, including El Tovar Hotel, the Lookout Studio, the Hopi House, and the Railway Depot. Take time to view the historical interiors and learn about the history of humans in the Grand Canyon, from Ancestral Puebloans to pioneering photographers.

5. El Tovar Hotel

Built in 1903, El Tovar Hotel is the most upscale lodging option within the park. It’s located right on the rim and directly next to the Grand Canyon Railway Depot. If you’re looking for the ultimate national park lodge experience, El Tovar is worth the splurge.

Related These 20 National Park Service lodges showcase ‘parkitecture’ at its finest

a rock arch with the words "hermits rest" and a bell

6. Hermits Rest

The 7-mile-long Hermit Road includes nine overlooks that are easily accessible by hopping off and back on the frequent shuttle buses. Highlights include Hopi, Maricopa, and Pima points. Spend some time at Hermits Rest to explore the historic building and enjoy a refreshment before returning back to the Village. You can also hike or bike along the Rim Trail to enjoy the viewpoints: Trailview Overlook and Maricopa Point are just a half mile from Bright Angel Trailhead in the village.

7. Yavapai Museum of Geology

What better way to learn about geology than through 3D displays and interpretive exhibits at the Yavapai Museum of Geology, all backed with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon itself? Walk the Rim Trail between Yavapai Point and Verkamp’s Visitor Center in the Historic District (1.4 miles), taking in the Trail of Time exhibits along the way.

a stone tower is perched on a cliff overlooking the grand canyon

8. Desert View Watchtower

Perhaps the most iconic structure in the Grand Canyon is the Desert View Watchtower, designed by the architect Mary Jane Colter in 1932. Climbing to the incredible observation room at the top allows visitors to see up to 100 miles into the horizon. Located more than 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, Desert View is a great pit stop on your drive in or out of the park through the East Entrance.

a waterfall off a red rock cliff plunges into a blue pool

9. Havasupai Falls

If you’ve seen photos of a waterfall descending out of glowing orange sandstone cliffs into a pool of unbelievably turquoise water, and were hoping to get to visit it in person—unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Although Havasupai Falls is in the Grand Canyon, this natural wonder is part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and only accessible by permitted hike with an overnight campground or lodge (expected to open in July 2023) reservation. Permits are extremely popular and difficult to attain. Check here for reservations and information.

a large wooden sign in front of a campground featuring a cutout of fred flintstone pointing to a yellow sign with the letters "yabba-dabba-doo welcome"
Photo: Alexandra Charitan

10. Bedrock City at Raptor Ranch

Roadside attraction fans can take a collective sigh of relief: The new owners of the Flintstones-themed Bedrock City—located less than 30 miles south of the Grand Canyon National Park’s visitor center—have decided to keep it open indefinitely. Now operating alongside Raptor Ranch, a birds-of-prey attraction, Bedrock City is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, 7 days a week. Take a break from the sweeping canyon views to ride a dinosaur slide and channel your inner Pebbles and Bam Bam at the park (and adjacent campground) dotted with colorful concrete structures from the iconic 1970s cartoon.

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