What do you want to see most in the Grand Canyon?
1. Canyon Views Without Crowds
Quiet trail – South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge
Looking for a 3-mile, moderate day hike on a maintained trail but would rather skip the traffic on Bright Angel? Head down the South Kaibab Trail to the scenic precipice of Cedar Ridge. The sprawling view here includes the twisting path of the Bright Angle Trail as it descends into the canyon’s inner gorge through a section called the Devil’s Corkscrew.
2. Go Deep Inside the Canyon
How hard do you want to work?
The farther the better – Indian Garden
Get a dawn start for an overnight trip or a long, 9-mile roundtrip day hike (don’t do this in the summer) to Indian Garden, a beautiful riparian area populated by cottonwood trees that you reach via the Bright Angel Trail in the South Rim. If you are planning a backcountry camping trip you do need to get permits in advance. Water is available at Indian Garden, but be sure to bring a lot of water with you. You’ll find a ranger station, toilets and emergency phone here.
Go even farther! Make it to the bottom of the canyon like this family did on a 5-day adventure.
I love steep difficult trails – Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Spring
This 4.4-mile roundtrip difficult hike leads to Santa Maria Spring, which sits 1,600 feet into the canyon. The unmaintained trail is steeper and rockier than Bright Angel or South Kaibab, so be sure you are an experienced hiker. Enjoy the solitude as you sit on one of the benches by the stone shelter and enjoy lunch before ascending back to the rim. Water at Santa Maria must be treated before you drink it, so bring your water filter or water treatment pills.
3. Easy Walks to Gorgeous Views on the South Rim
Culture or nature?
Lookouts Galore – The Rim Trail
The Rim Trail on the South Rim is a good option for novice hikers and families as the path stays fairly level as it follows the rim’s edge for about 13 miles from South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest. Most of the trail is paved. The three-mile section from Powell Point to Monument Creek is dirt, but the Greenway Trail from Monument Creek to Hermits Rest is a 2.8-mile paved, multi-use trail that is handicap accessible and bike friendly. When you get tired, hop on the park shuttle at any of the many stops along the way.
Architecture – Historic Landmark Section of Rim Trail
If you are more interested in architecture than exercise, stroll a section of the South Rim’s historic district along the Rim Trail to uncover some of the park’s early landmarks. Start with the Bright Angel Lodge, designed by visionary architect Mary Colter. Go inside the lodge to see the Fred Harvey History Room, a free exhibit detailing the history of Fred Harvey Company, Colter’s employer, and its famous “Harvey Girls,” 100,000 of whom served as waitresses in Harvey restaurants across the southwest. Outside, don’t miss the oldest structure in the south rim, Red Horse Cabin, that today serves as one of the lodge’s guest suites.
Continue to the Rim Trail from there where you will reach Lookout Studio, a 1914 building designed by Colter to blend into its surroundings. Next, explore Kolb Studio built in 1904 where early canyon explorers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb developed and sold photographs to tourists. Continue east on the Rim Trail to El Tovar Hotel built in 1905 by architect Charles Whittlesey whose vision was to create a hotel that was a cross between a Swiss chalet and Norwegian villa, with a nod to the southwest. Lastly, walk on the trail to get to the Hopi House, also designed by Colter who drew inspiration from typical adobe pueblos used by the Hopi Indians of Old Oraibi. A large number of Native American arts and crafts are sold here.
4. Moderate Hikes to Outstanding Picnic Spots
How far do you want to hike?
3 miles – Bright Angel Trail to Mile-and-A-Half Resthouse
This popular 3-mile roundtrip hike enables you to see the inside of the Grand Canyon without fully committing to going all the way down to the river and back. Pack a picnic and eat lunch at the halfway point, finding shade in the shelter. There are pit toilet restrooms and a drinking water filling station here. Keep your eyes peeled for condors that often ride the thermals here. You’ll catch great views of Indian Garden from here.
6 miles – Horseshoe Mesa
To start this 6-mile roundtrip hike, you will head to Grandview Point and then down the steep Grandview Trail, arriving first at the Coconino Saddle at mile 1.1, a scenic gully with wonderful views of the Hance Creek Valley to the east. Continue descending to the top of Horseshoe Mesa for rooftop views into the canyon. Explore Cave of the Domes (ask a ranger for its location), scout around for old tools from the canyon’s mining days (but don’t touch- they’re protected as archaeological resources) or relax on the smooth slickrock with a picnic lunch. Keep in mind this trail is dangerous in winter with hard ice forming on potentially hazardous sections. Crampons are mandatory.