by Matt, Updated Oct 2021
You know the Grand Canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world and one of America’s most iconic sites.
But what can you actually do there? Actually, A LOT.
Keep on reading for ideas for your next trip to the Grand Canyon. Please note, this article is for things to do at the SOUTH RIM of the Grand Canyon. If you’re thinking about visiting the North Rim (good choice!), see our North Rim article.
1. Look into the canyon from Mather Point
There are many viewpoints to see the Grand Canyon, but this is the most popular. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but Mather is located near the main Visitor Center, and it has a decorative walkway leading to the viewpoint.
It’s quite an experience — especially if you’ve never seen the canyon before!!!
2. Stop in at the Visitor Center
Mather Point is located right by the visitor center, so stop in while you’re there. Here you can ask a ranger questions, find out when and where the ranger programs are, look at exhibits, get your passport book stamped, and buy merchandise.
You can also drop in the Park Store while you’re there to buy some merchandise.
3. Walk the Rim Trail
The Rim Trail is a paved path that goes for many miles along the edge of the Canyon, connecting viewpoints.
You don’t have to walk the full trail; you can walk along any section and turn around or catch a shuttle bus.
Read our article Hiking in the Grand Canyon: what you need to know for more detailed information about hiking in the Grand Canyon.
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4. Visit the Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village is like taking a trip back in time.
Most of the buildings were built in the early 1900s. There are many cool buildings in the Village, such as the El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodges, as well as the Hopi House and Verkamps gift shops, and lookout buildings such as Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio (both were former photography studios).
The Grand Canyon train brings passengers from Williams, AZ daily, and the mule barn is also near the old-timey village.
- A great resource when booking lodging, flights, and rental cars is booking.com. We personally use them and have found great deals.
5. Ride a mule
Speaking of mules, riding one at the Grand Canyon is one of the best things to do!!
At the South Rim, they offer rides along the rim or all the way to the bottom. Book early! To learn more, see our article Grand Canyon Mule Rides: what you need to know.
6. Visit Hermit’s Rest
This building was designed by Mary Jane Colter and her inspiration was a loner named Luis Boucher.
Boucher was a prospector in the area and was well-known for being alone. So he got the nickname “hermit.”
The building was designed to look like it was thrown together without much planning. It sits at the end of Hermit’s Rest Drive. It provides great views of the canyon, and it has a gift shop and cafe inside.
7. Look at the Colorado River from Desert Watchtower
This is another building designed by Mary Jane Colter and was modeled on Native American design.
It’s located at the end of Desert View Drive, near the East Entrance.
Inside it has a Kiva Room and an observation deck.
The lookouts provide some of the best views of the Colorado River from the rim of the canyon. While there, you can learn about the tragic airplane crash that happened in 1956 nearby.
8. Ride bicycles
If riding a mule isn’t your thing, rent a bike from Bright Angel Bicycles and ride around the forested area at the top of the canyon.
Or better yet, ride them on Hermit’s Rest road for views of the canyon.
We didn’t have the time to do this last time, but we saw many people riding around the Village on bikes and it looked awesome! We will definitely do this next time.
9. Eat at El Tovar or Fred Harvey Burger
El Tovar is a lodge hotel built by the Santa Fe railroad in 1904. It’s also a fine dining establishment, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make reservations ahead of time!
This was a highlight for us last time we visited.
For less formal dining, try Fred Harvey Burger. Fred Harvey was famous for creating the first-ever chain restaurant.
His goal was to serve fresh, consistent food to travelers. The Fred Harvey company once owned nearly all the concessions at the Canyon.
It was bought out and eventually became Xanterra, which still operates the Fred Harvey restaurant today.
You’re never very far from good food at the Grand Canyon. See our article The best places to eat at the Grand Canyon: Your food guide for the South Rim for more information.
10. Hike into the canyon
There are two main trails that lead into the canyon: the Bright Angel and the South Kaibab trails.
Both of these go all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. However, DON’T plan on going down and back in one day. The park recommends only hiking 1 to 1.5 miles down, then turning around.
We highly recommend hiking into the canyon if you’re able, but we also highly recommend preparing before you go.
If you do hike into the canyon, you need to be prepared. See our article Hiking into the Grand Canyon: What you need to know (hikes, tips, gear)
11. Watch a sunrise or sunset
The Grand Canyon is famous for its sunrises and sunsets.
Keep in mind that Arizona doesn’t do daylight saving time. This means that during the summer, the sunsets are just after dinner time, which makes them very doable.
Popular spots for sunset are Yavapai Point, Mather Point, Yaki Point, and Hopi Point.
Sunrises, however, are EARLY. But the benefit is you’ll have few crowds.
See our Grand Canyon Travel Guide for the best sunset and sunrise spots! Our travel guides will give you a daily (yet flexible) step-by-step itinerary. We will get you to all the best spots at the right time in order for you to make the most of your vacation. They even come with an audio guide to tell you interesting stories and history of the park.
12. Learn about the canyon at Yavapai Geology Museum
This is another quaint old building on the Grand Canyon rim. It was built in the 1930s and was the first building solely dedicated to teaching about the canyon.
You can learn about the geology of the canyon while looking at the canyon through the windows!
13. See real Native American ruins at the Tusayan Ruins and Museum
Located on Desert View Drive, this site contains the remains of a small Ancestral Puebloan village. See artifacts thousands of years old or listen to a ranger program.
14. Ride a train
The Grand Canyon Railroad begins in Williams, AZ, and ends in the Grand Canyon village. The ride takes about an hour, and they provide entertainment and food.
This could be a really great adventure to add to your Grand Canyon experience. But keep in mind due to the departure and return times you can’t see a sunrise or sunset.
- Have you discovered you want to visit the Grand Canyon? Book your reservations now using booking.com!
15. Junior Ranger Program!
This one is for the kids (old and young :)! Every national park has a Junior Ranger booklet the kids can complete. Each booklet is geared to their age and has fun activities like spotting wildlife and learning about science and history.
The best part: it’s FREE!
I made the video below with my kids to explain the Grand Canyon Junior Ranger program. It’s something you can show your kids to get excited about the trip!
16. Book a tour
There are all kinds of tours you can book for the Grand Canyon: helicopter, jeep, ATV, and river rafting.
These tours either provide a different view of the canyon than the usual rim view, or they provide you with a knowledgeable guide to tell you about the canyon.
However, guided tours are typically fairly expensive, especially if you have a family. But what if you could have a guided tour for a fraction of the cost?
That’s what we offer: we give you a daily step-by-step itinerary, so you know where to go and when, AND we provide a 3-hour audio guide to tell you all about the park. And it works for a trip up to 3 days long!
Even better, the whole thing costs less than it would cost you for one person for a group tour for one day.
We also have travel guides to Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon as well as other locations too. Check them out now!
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