Being one of the most remarkable natural wonders in the world, the Grand Canyon is on just about everyone’s USA bucket list — and for good reason!
This was a big one I was looking to check off in 2015 and my SXSW road trip was the perfect time to fit it in. Watching the sunset the evening I arrived, I learned that 90% of the park’s visitors come only to Mather Point.
Taking the last right turn before the main parking lot seemed to be a best kept secret.
Of course, the 25 mile drive to Desert View Watchtower is no grand secret, but compared to the swarms of spring breakers at Mather Point, I couldn’t believe how many barrierless, empty roadside pullovers I passed the second day, how much the scaling views changed throughout the drive and how there were really less than a third of the visitors at the end of the trail.
^ Only car.
The drive to Desert View Watchtower was about an hour each way including multiple pit stops for roadside snaps, and also just stopping to enjoy the view at quieter spots along the road. About half way, there is a left turn for Grandview Point, the southernmost point on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Here, there is a proper hiking trailhead, restrooms and a more formal vantage point, about 5 minutes driving off the main route.
Desert View Watchtower has ample parking, multiple vantage points, a gift shop and place for snacks and an elevated view inside the tower. If a less crowded Grand Canyon experience is what you’re after, the drive to Desert View Watchtower should definitely be on the list during your visit!
Yaki Point, Desert View Drive
Grandview Point + Trailhead, Desert View Drive
Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon
OTHER GRAND CANYON TIPS TO KNOW
Best Time of Day to Visit
- If you only have a couple hours to spend, visit as close to sunset as possible. The scenery changes more dramatically around the golden hour than it does all day.
- One week entry is $25 per vehicle. To be expected because of the remote location, the price of food in the canyon is jacked up and not very fresh. Pre-made sandwiches range $9-13, waters $2-3 and CLIF Bars and snacks are around $5. Bringing your own water and portable water treatment for hiking is advised.
Where to Stay
- Hotels in Grand Canyon Village are also expectedly pricy for the quality. I figured I would drive out of the village but ended up booking a same-day deal on Priceline for $190 to stay at the Canyon Plaza Resort. (This is an average rate for them but it was during spring break so prices were higher.) The room was large but but mediocre, simply a safe place to sleep within 10 minutes of the park entrance. From curb appeal alone, nearby Grand Hotel appeared to be the nicest in the area. Within the park proper, Xanterra runs multiple beautiful properties that are usually booked a few months in advance. The drive from the village into the South Rim is only about 20 minutes, so staying in the Village still keeps you close. For rooms < $100/night, an hour south to Flagstaff will put you in another developed town to explore with a proper hotel area.
Where to Eat
- El Tovar is the only fine dining option in the area and generally requires reservations more than a month in advance. Be sure to ask for a window seat at booking if there are spots available! Just outside of the park entrance there is a strip of restaurants and fast food places nearby the hotels, and a cute Stage Shop with gift trinkets and a small cafe.
What to Do
- Aside from hiking and camping, non-park official activities that caught my eye were Helicopter Rides over the park, National Geographic’s Explore the Canyon IMAX Movie and Mule Rides to the canyon floor. NPS has tons of free ranger events and hike tours supported by your entrance fee. I’d love to go back with my little sisters in the future to camp, stargaze and do the helicopter rides.