Overlooks and Points, Grand Canyon National Park
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon will spend a mere few hours in the National Park and will be content to view the massive chasm from one of the scenic viewpoints provided. If your time is short, the park has made it possible to get not only a great view of the canyon, but many of them. You can do a scenic drive along the South Rim and take in as many as you have time for. Which is best? You'll have to decide that for yourself. The truth is, they are all great and to really appreciate all of them in the best light would take a few days in itself. The key is to be there very early morning or evening to see the canyon when it turns fiery hues of red. Plan on coming mid-day for just an hour or so en route to some place else? Don't. You'll be cheating yourself out of a beautiful sight.
It is worth the trip to drive the 23 mile length of Desert View Drive east from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View. Along the road you will pass several excellent viewpoints including Grandview Point, Moran Point and Lipan Point, pictured here.
At Grandview Point you can view the canyon as the Spanish first did in 1540 from the highest point on the south rim at 7400 feet. You can also stretch your legs for awhile and walk a portion of the Grandview Trail which begins here.
There are several picnic areas along Desert View Drive and you can visit Tusayan Ruin which is a small 12th century pueblo. There is a museum here displaying Anasazi artifacts.
Yavapai Point is close to the main tourist centre on the South Rim at Grand Canyon Village. From here you can stare down 4500 feet to the Colorado River snaking its way along the bottom of canyon. The North Rim visitor centre is almost directly across the 10-mile wide canyon at this point. The North Rim is actually higher with a 5400 foot drop to the river, giving the Grand Canyon an average depth of almost 1-mile. It sure makes for some great views. As the sun was setting in the west, most of our evening pictures were taken looking eastward along the Canyon.
It takes some effort to get to Yaki Point since it is only accessible by shuttle bus. We first drove to Mather Point, parked there and then walked to the Visitor's Center where we caught the shuttle to Yaki Point.
There are great views here to the east of Vishnu's Temple and Wotan's Throne and also a good view looking down onto the South Kaibab Trail and the Tonto Trail.
Two miles into your hike along the Hermits Rest Route, you will come to Powell Point. There are spectacular views here as well as a memorial to John Wesley Powell.
In 1869, Powell led the first expedition to explore the length of the canyon along with nine boatmen. They travelled in wooden boats over raging rapids, capsizing often and losing much of their food rations along the way. Powell emerged at the Virgin River over three months later and minus three men whose lives were lost during the ordeal. Powell provided invaluable information about one of the last uncharted areas of the US.
This is the first overlook after the lesser-used East Entrance on Hwy 64 from Cameron, and my recommendation for your initial GASP! at the canyon. This entrance is best if coming from Page, Moab, Monument Valley or Mesa Verde, or up from Flagstaff on 89 if intending to visit Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments along the way. It has a visitor center, the only gas station within the park, gift and general stores, and a snack bar for refueling before exploring the overlooks along the 25 miles of road to Grand Canyon Village.
Mary Colter’s historic watchtower is here as well, and free to climb for all-directions panoramas. More about Mary in another review.
A nice bonus is that Desert View Drive can be very busy, and coming in this entrance allows you to make right-hand turns into overlook lots instead of against traffic.
If you’re interested in Wupatki and Sunset, see these links:
If you’re a camper without reservations at Mather, Desert View Campground is first-come, first- served (seasonal) so see if you can snag a spot here. Morning is best for scouting out campers who look to be packing up.
Download this brochure about Desert View before you go:
This is one of the more far reaching views along the east end of the south rim; like in you can see about 15 miles in panorama. The point is named after landscape painter, Thomas Moran, who first came here is 1873, and led to the more famed beauty of the canyon. The Coronado Butte is the white limestone rock in the front ridge ,and it covers some of the view area with its impressive eroded formations. The canyon below is called Red Canyon because of the deep red/orange layers of rick in the tributary are seen at the bottom.
“You can’t imagine what it cost to make it look this old.”
Mary Colter, on being chided for the grunginess of her new building
Once upon a time, an eccentric Canadian by the name of Louis Boucher staked a claim about eight miles west of where Grand Canyon Village is today. This Louis was an enterprising individual; an aspiring-but-failed prospector responsible for blazing some of the earliest trails within that part of the canyon, and establishing a rough camp several miles below the rim at Dripping Springs. He was also employed as a guide for another of the pioneer settlers, Capt. John Hance. Maintaining a solitary existence at his outpost for 20 years, he was nicknamed “The Hermit” by the Santa Fe Railroad’s land development company when they bought him out in 1909.
The railroad improved a a rough, 19th-century horse trail, and went about constructing a posh “glamping” facility between the rim and the Colorado River for early, affluent visitors; complete with mule train rides, tram and automobile service, and a chef. No MREs for those folks, no sir! The carriage path from the village to the head of the trail was surfaced, and now all that was needed was a reception and refreshment station for tourists arriving by the Harvey Company’s horse-drawn touring buses.
And so here’s our Mary again. The Harvey Company tasked her with creating this facility at the same time (1914) as Lookout Studio, and in true Colter fashion she incorporated local culture and history into her design. The trail and guest facility having already been named Hermit Trail and Hermit Camp, respectively, for the former resident, she envisioned the sort of place that since-romanticized recluse may have constructed for himself.
Like Lookout, Hermit’s Rest is a deliberately tumble-down affair of rough-cut stone and uneven roof lines which harmonize with its surroundings. It is set into a man-made hill amid trees and foliage, and virtually invisible until you round a curve in the path leading down from the bus turnaround area to the rim. A covered porch supported by massive logs graces the rim-side terrace, and inside is an enormous fireplace alcove that’s still used on chilly winter days. Mary was so determined to give her fairy-tale hermitage the illusion of age that she had the stonework hand-rubbed with soot, and was rumored to have draped spiderwebs into dark corners.
We ended up here in the middle of a heavy storm that had us aborting our early-morning hike halfway through, and spent a pleasant hour drying out, drinking hot chocolate, and chatting with a couple of mutually-stranded photographers. On our 2001 trip, we cooled our heels with ice cream here after our 8-mile hike from the village. It is my personal favorite of the canyon's Colter buildings, and I’m frankly baffled when I read reviews ranting about of everything from the view to the limited offerings from the snack bar. Sniffed one former visitor, “…it was, well, nothing really. A bus stop, restrooms, the unavoidable giftstore…”
Sounds like somebody didn’t do their homework.
It is the first view of the canyon coming form the east, and 4 miles from the park entrance. This is a different scene that some other overlooks along the way. It is more of the desert scene, and called painted desert. A good portion of the panorama is on a Painted Desert view on the east side. The Desert View area has a gas station, bookstore, shop, restaurant, campground, and ranger station, all close to the Watchtower monument.
This used to be the first place to be developed for tourists back in 1895, and even then had a hotel. The overlook is one mile down a road, and is the highest point on the South Rim at 7,399 feet. The horseshoe shaped mesa sticking out with scrub trees and shrubs is between two creeks that feed into the Colorado, which is 4 miles away form the viewing point.
This 25-mile scenic route from the east entrance to Grand Canyon Village, the main Visitor Center or Market Plaza includes 5 major overlooks which are only accessible by private vehicle, bus tour or bike as the free park shuttles don’t venture out this far. Those overlooks are Desert View, Navajo, Lipan, Moran and Grandview points, and all offer excellent viewing. There is parking at each - although smaller lots may be full during busy times - and Desert View/Grandview have restroom facilities. Unfortunately none of the overlooks are fully handicap accessible although a nice look may be had from the car at all but Grandview or the walkways at Desert View.
If you’re without a vehicle, see this web page for tour info; bookings available at Bright Angel, Yavapai and Maswik lodge info desks:
Yaki point and Pipe Creek Vista are the 5th and 6th overlooks along the way but Yaki is only accessible on foot, bike or park shuttle, and although you can drive to Pipe Creek, we walked to that one on the Rim Trail.
The north unit of the park has a scenic drive which encompasses a number of overlooks ranging from short walks or longer hikes. It starts at the the park entrance, and involves considerable backtracking so it totals 46 miles if you do it all start to finish, and another 6 miles if beginning/ending at the lodge/visitor center area. I’ve included a small capture of the route in my photos above, and there’s a better map here:
The most easily visited overlooks are Point Imperial, Walhalla Overlook, Roosevelt Point and Cape Royal, and Vista Encantada picnic area makes an excellent spot for lunch from your cooler. This can take a good chunk of a day, and there are no facilities along the way (except restrooms at Point imperial) so come prepared with what you’ll need for the trip, and make sure you have a full gas tank.
I know that I advised hitting the Visitor Center first but if you intend to do this drive on the same day you arrive, then head directly off on Cape Royal Road after passing through the entrance station to save a few miles and a little time. You’ll be given a park brochure with info and a map at the entry station where you buy/show your pass.
Walking distances and description of the paths/trails along the route are found here:
More references here:
This small-ish stone hut might be nearly everyone’s favorite of Mary Colter’s park creations for its picturesque, seemingly precarious roost on the very brink of the canyon. Built in 1914, it was a fireplace lounge, souvenir shop and observation facility where tourists could watch mules plod more intrepid visitors up and down Bright Angel Trail through a high-power telescope. Dramatic views of the canyon from large windows, a second-floor balcony and multi-level terraces made for very nice photo-ops…and very purposely interfered with business at the Kolb brothers' studio next door.
It is again one of Mary’s perfect imperfections: a quiet, Pueblo-style construct of beams and rubble which so nearly match the shapes and colors of its surroundings that it’s nearly invisible but for some bright blue trim, and a jarringly white roof which rather spoils the effect.
While no longer a place to while away a rainy day by the fire, you can still watch the hikers and mules through the balcony telescopes, and take too many snaps from the terrace. Souvenirs? Yep, they're still here too.
Lookout is on the National Register of Historic places - as it should be.
One of the few enclosed platforms overlooking the canyon is located at Yavapi Point, and it is also the location of a small museum with a number of exhibits giving a very brief glimpse of the history of the area and what is known about the Canyon.
To the east of the overlook, there is a walkway down to a rough overlook that is outdoors.
Restroom facilities and a small bookstore are also located at this facility.
Parking is extremely limited here, so I would suggest either taking the shuttle bus to get here, or walking along the rim trail from Mather Point or from the Park Headquarters area.
While there isn't much at this location except a wide spot in the road and a stone wall, it does mark the beginning of the paved section of the Rim Trail.
There are no restrooms here.
Shuttle buses stop at this location only going westbound.
While the view from here of the Canyon is impressive, it's also about the same as just about any other location on the south rim of the canyon.
As with many locations, you will find that there are signs indicating the names of the various significant canyon features.
From here you can see the South Kaibob Trail headed down the side of the canyon near Yaki Point, and the various rock formations on Yaki Point. You have to look closely though and somewhat know what you are looking for. There are some places where the trail blends in with the side of the canyon fairly well.
One of the problems with this location is that it is located at the edge of the canyon on a recessed spot rather than on one of the points that sticks out into the canyon. This means that a lot of a potentially spectacular view is blocked by Mather Point to the west and Yaki Point to the east.