Driving to the Grand Canyon South Rim
Why the South Rim ? First of all we are in April and the Grand Canyon North Rim apparently gets a fair amount of snow during the North American winter months. Therefore, we decided to visit the South Rim, where according to the Grand Canyon website the South Rim “features the vast, expansive views most often seen in magazines, websites, Facebook and on TV”. That’s what we were here to see.
We leave the hostel around 9am and decide to take highway 180, through the Coconino Forest. There are three different ways of driving from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon South Rim entrance. We wanted to make sure we saw as much different scenery as we could so we planned to drive a clockwise loop. Take a look at the map below for the different driving routes to the Grand Canyon South Rim’s entrance point.
The view is totally different here; no more desert views. We are driving through the Coconino National Forest. There are no coconut trees here but a thick forest of pine trees which is a weird feeling when you think you are in a desert. When you look at the rear view mirror, all you can see are the snowy mountains tops of Humphrey Peaks. It took us about 1.5 hrs to drive from Flagstaff to the entrance of the Grand Canyon South Rim. The anticipation level is high. Make sure you stop at the many gift stores on the highway approaching the Grand Canyon as they are filled with great local art and an array of different pieces of desert life. There is one particular gift shop attached to a gas station that has typical Highway 66 souvenirs. We must of spent at least one hour shopping around the store! It is also possible to buy your Grand Canyon National Park pass ($30US) at this gift shop, but you can buy it at the entrance of the park as well, we decided to wait. After the gift shop, we stopped at the IMAX theatre at the National Geographic Visitor Center on the way, to watch the 34 minutes movie called “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets”. It was a nice introduction to what we were about to witness and it gave us a great explanation of this big slice of history. I absolutely recommend stopping by and watching the movie before going to see the actual Grand Canyon. It is possible to find 2/1 coupons at the gas station or gift shops, or you can also book your tickets online and get 20% off your entry . It came up to about $10US each person and it was well worth the price. After that, we drove to the entrance of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is about 10 minutes. We bought our park pass at the gate, figuring we were here to visit many National Parks so why not keep it simple and buy it all at once. If you are planning on visiting more than one National Park on your trip, it might be worth buying the “America the beautiful ” annual pass, which is $80US in total and allows you to visit any of the National Parks in the USA for a full year. What a steal!
One of the 7 wonders of the world
Once you get to the Grand Canyon, park the car at one of the many designated parking areas, and start walking along the Rim Trail. Make sure you bring water, sunscreen and a hat. The weather here is incredibly hot and probably very different than what you are used to, especially if you are Canadian!
There are also free shuttles that bring you around the rim of the Grand Canyon if you don’t feel like walking in the heat; they come every 10 minutes and they stop at all the viewpoints. It is not recommended to drive around the Grand Canyon’ South Rim since there is only one road and a lot of tourists stopping; hello the waste of time. Use your legs and exercise, it will feel good after all the driving. Any view along the rim trail is beautiful and the walk is easy and not too crowded. At some point on the trail, you will come across the geology museum which is also the a visitor center. It has plenty of really awesome free information; I absolutely recommend it. There are also some Parks and Recreation staff on site that can answer any of your questions and tell you some stories about the Grand Canyon. Did you know that the Colorado River that runs through the canyon is know to be one of the most notoriously dangerous river to travel on? Also, did I mention that the museum is free to enter?
After spending about 3 hours walking around and admiring the view, we decided to get back to the car and drive to Grand Canyon Village, which is not even 10 minutes drive down the road. I would recommend taking the shuttle to go to the village instead of driving because there is very limited parking there, like barely none. There are restaurants and hotels in the village but not much else to see. If you need a bite to eat this is a good place to stop as there is not much going on when you drive out of the Grand Canyon site. Be prepared to pay tourist prices. We saw may elks on the drive to the village which was nice, right by the side of the road. This was by far the best day ever, and it was only the first check out of our bucket list road trip.
As we drove away from Grand Canyon Village, we came across many viewpoints and decided to stop at the Desert View Watchtower. The sun was starting to go down and we were anxious to get back on the road but we couldn’t say no to one last beautiful view of the Grand Canyon. The Desert View Watchtower, which is also known as the Indian Watchtower at Desert View, is a 70-foot (21 m)-high stone building with amazing views. According to Wikipedia, the four-story structure, completed in 1932, was designed by American architect Mary Colter. It is possible to walk up the many stairs of the tower but be careful, the site closes at 5pm so make sure you give yourself enough time to visit this beautiful piece of history!
After visiting the tower, we decided to drive back to Flagstaff on highway 64. For most of the drive back, you are on a single lane road along the rim of the Grand Canyon and the views are really amazing. The trip back to our hostel took us just under two hours and it was an easy drive with a beautiful desert sunset to enjoy. It’s crazy to think that this morning we were driving through a pine tree forest with snowy mountain peaks in our rear view mirror and this evening we are driving through the desert with a canyon beside us. This was only the first check out of our bucket list road trip and tomorrow was about to be a day filled with many more dreamy destinations. Check out what we did on Day 3 of our road trip of a lifetime.