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Living on the Edge—South Rim of the Grand Canyon

- Nick

The South Rim is the most popular part of the Grand Canyon; it is far easier to visit and has more attractions than the North Rim. Being about 1,000 feet lower than the North Rim, the South Rim is hotter and more arid.

There are several lodges, the most famous of which is the El Tovar Hotel. Built in 1905, the hotel is one of the oldest National Park hotels, and is one of the first lodges to be built in the rustic style that is now the standard for the national parks… not to say that the El Tovar is by any means standard! The hotel itself is only 20 feet from the rim, and there is a lovely promenade that overlooks the canyon. There are several other available accommodations, some historic cabins, some lodges along the rim, some further into the woods, and even further still you’ll find campgrounds. If you want a canyon view, your best bet is to book well in advance.

The activities at the South Rim are far more varied than at the North. The famous mule rides operate similarly to their North Rim counterparts: for those who want a shorter trip, there are short rides along the rim such as the Abyss Overlook, which provides an uninhibited view of the canyon’s majesty.

For those who want a trip that’s a little more robust, however, there is also the mule ride into the canyon to historic Phantom Ranch. These are overnight trips to the bottom of the canyon and back, so booking in advance is required. Unlike the North Rim, there is no age restriction, although you must be at least 55 inches tall. Phantom Ranch’s sleeping accommodations consist of cabins and dormitory-style spaces with several bunk beds inside. But mules aren’t the only way to travel, there are numerous trails to hike, both on the rim and down into the canyon.

The South Rim Trail, as the name suggests, stays up on the rim of the canyon and very accessible. This trail can be crowded during the summer, but it’s worth it: the scenes are spectacular, and there are so many to look at. For easy on/off transportation, there are free shuttle buses that regularly stop throughout the trail.

At sunset, being outdoors provides the best pictures as the colors and shadows change with the setting sun.

Eleven PM is the hour when, all the park lights turned off, you are treated to a crystal-clear panorama of the night sky. As in the North Rim, it’s a good idea to bring a flashlight for nighttime walks and Ranger-led programs.

But with all there is to do, the most remarkable moments are the simplest. Stop by Hermit’s Rest on the West end of the Rim Trail and you’ll often find Native American interpreters demonstrating weaving or giving talks on their culture.

Take a trip to the Eastern end of the park to the Desert View Tower at dawn.

Watch the sun come up over the Painted Desert and then look to the West to see the clouds lift up out of the depths of the canyon. Few people are at this point at this hour and it’s possible to have it all to yourself. It’s not to be missed.

Just like its northern companion, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is truly a spectacle to behold. Theodore Roosevelt was right in calling it “the one great sight which every American should see.”


Click here to visit the Grand Canyon South Rim website.

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