Nothing can prepare you for your first view of the Grand Canyon. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen or documentaries you’ve watched, the immense scale of this place needs to be seen in 3D, not on paper or a screen.
The Grand Canyon overwhelms everyone. I can’t imagine anyone not being impressed by it. It’s spectacular, its dimensions are mind-boggling. Really, it’s almost impossible to grasp the sheer size of this thing. This is a canyon that’s 277 river miles (446 kilometers) long, 18 miles (29 kilometers) wide at its widest point, and a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep.
It’s the obvious centerpiece of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, which encompasses a section of the Colorado River and both the North and South Rims. Often considered to be one of the Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which indicates its awesome significance to the world and humankind.
Almost six million people visit the park each year, making it the second most-visited of all national parks in America. Only Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee receives more annual visitors.
Best of Grand Canyon National Park
Note that these main attractions, overlooks and hikes in Grand Canyon National Park are limited to the South Rim only. (I haven’t visited the North Rim yet, so can’t give you guys personal recommendations for that area.) You should be able to cover all these places and highlights in two jam-packed days.
Grand Canyon National Park Highlights
There’s really only one main attraction in this huge park: the Grand Canyon itself. One of the world’s most famous landscapes, this gigantic scar in the earth’s surface is something everyone should (try to) see in their life. The entire South Rim, which is the main tourist area in Grand Canyon National Park, is lined with scenic lookouts and trailheads. Besides the Grand Canyon, the park’s centerpiece and one highlight, there are a number of smaller places of interest as well.
- Verkamp’s Visitor Center
- Yavapai Geology Museum
- Desert View Drive
- Desert View Watchtower
- Lookout Studio and Kolb Gallery
- Phantom Ranch
Best South Rim Overlooks
Numerous overlooks line the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. When you walk the Rim Trail or drive Desert View Drive, you’ll pass pretty much all of them. Although all are a little bit different and worth stopping at, there are a few that you really should not miss.
- Mather Point
- Yavapai Point
- Trailview Overlook
- Hopi Point
- Mojave Point
Desert View Drive
- Grandview Point
- Moran Point
- Lipan Point
- Navajo Point
- Desert View
The only way to really experience the Grand Canyon is hiking. There’s really no other way to fully grasp the scale of this place. You can only truly appreciate and respect this monument of nature if you’ve spent a few hours laboring your way back to the South Rim on a steep dirt trail.
If you have two days to spend on the South Rim, I recommend you do the following two hikes in Grand Canyon National Park. Both hikes, if done completely, are quite long. Starting early in the morning is always a good idea. Note, though, that you can make both hikes as long as you want.
- Rim Trail (13-mile (21-kilometer) walk along the South Rim, offering epic views of the Grand Canyon)
- Bright Angel Trail (12-mile (19.3-kilometer) hike down into the canyon, essential to fully understand what this place is about)
How Much Time Do You Need?
Some people might say that once you’ve seen the Grand Canyon from one of the viewpoints, there’s nothing left to do. That, of course, is blatantly not true. Grand Canyon National Park is massive and offers a wide range of things to do, from helicopter flights and mule rides to overnight hikes into the canyon and scenic drives.
Although it’s possible to visit the park in just one afternoon, visiting a couple of viewpoints and leaving again in the evening, I strongly recommend that you spend at least two full days and two nights there. This allows you to do the two hikes highlighted above, as well as catching both a sunset and sunrise, which are by far the most spectacular times of day at the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park Map (South Rim)
This detailed map highlights the two hikes I recommend, the Rim Trail and the Bright Angel Trail, as well as the scenic Desert View Drive. They’re outlined respectively in blue, red and yellow. The green icons point out the three main places on the South Rim where you can get information, snacks, parking, drinking water and so on.
Location: Northwestern Arizona, United States
Nearest Towns: Tusayan and, further to the south, Flagstaff, Arizona
Area: 1,902 square miles (4,926 square kilometers)
Features: One of the world’s largest canyons, wildlife, overlooks, historic sites
Main Attractions: Rim Trail, Desert View Drive, Yavapai Geology Museum, Bright Angel Trail, Desert View Watchtower, Mather Point Overlook
Main Activities: Hiking, whitewater rafting, camping, sunrise and sunset watching, stargazing, wildlife watching, photography
Suggested Stay: 2 days, 2 nights
More Information: National Park Service
Nearby National Parks
Other Canyon Parks
Grand Canyon National Park Photos
Visit my national parks photography portfolio for a bunch of awesome photos of Grand Canyon National Park.