Absolutely spectacular! We created this checklist of our favorite Top 10 Things To Do at the Grand Canyon during our personal family vacation last summer. The Grand Canyon is truly a wonder of the world. Below I share the activities and hikes that made up our basic itinerary. We spent 2 nights on the Rim and then 1 night in the Canyon at Phantom Ranch and enjoyed every second of this amazing National Park Adventure.
Top 10 Things To Do at the Grand Canyon
In no particular order, check out our list of favorite activities and hikes from our vacation at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We did all of the below items on this list during our Grand Canyon vacation. We were basically there 3 full days. Most of these activities were done in 2 days with the extra full day including our hike down the South Kaibab trail into the Canyon, our overnight stay at Phantom Ranch, and then climbing out of the Canyon on Bright Angel Trail. We spent all kinds of extra time meandering the Rim Trail, enjoying views, and poking about and exploring the historic buildings but I figured we’d share the highlights and MUST DO attractions with everyone.
Tip: We used the free buses to travel between many of the points along the rim near the Visitor Center and to get access to the South Kaibab Trailhead for our hikes. However, you’ll want to take your own car out to the Desert View Watch Tower so you can travel at your own pace and schedule since it’s a 22 mile drive in each direction.
Here’s a free pocket map to the Grand Canyon South Rim that you can easily print from the National Parks website.
Watch the Free Movie at the Visitor Center
When you first arrive at the park, pop into the main visitor center to catch your first view of the Canyon, grab some maps, and watch the free movie about the Grand Canyon to give everyone in the family a little more background info on your adventure!
Walk the South Rim Trail of Time (Beginner hike – Paved, flat and basic!)
Learn about all the various layers of rock on this trail of time as you walk a path that explains over 1 billion years of the canyons rock layers! It’s an easy walk -paved, flat, and full of gorgeous views from the Rim. For those just stopping by for a few hours, a rim walk gives you a great taste of the canyon.
We walked from Verkamps Visitor Center (near Bright Angel) all the way to the Geology Museum and the took a bus back to the Bright Angel area where were spending the night and dining.
You can walk from the Yavapai Geology museum, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss (1,840 million years old) or begin east of Verkamp’s Visitor Center, walking forward in time from 1,840 million years ago toward the youngest rock in the Grand Canyon, Kaibab Limestone (270 million years old).
Hike a portion of the South Kaibab Trail
Note: The South Kaibab Trail is Steep & more Challenging than the Rim Trail or Easy Bright Angel Trail. But the views and vistas are absolutely worth it. My 10 and 12 year old children hiked this perfectly fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it for my 70 year old Mom who isn’t stable when hiking on uneven surfaces.
This trail is my most favorite trail at the Grand Canyon. It’s incredibly scenic with extraordinary vistas. Without going too far, your able to get a magnificent views that that far surpass those on the Bright Angel Trail. The views from both Ooh Ahh Point and especially Cedar Ridge feel like 360 degree views at the hike takes you OUT into the Canyon so you are surrounded by beauty everywhere.
Options for a small day hike on the South Kaibab include hiking to either of these 2 spots. Ooh Ahh point comes first and if you are feeling energetic continue on to Cedar Ridge.
Ooh Aah Point – Round trip is 1.8 miles.
This is a fantastic spot to view sunrise. We arrived here in time to watch the sunrise on our hike down to Phantom Ranch. We also hiked down South Kaibab for a roundtrip hike to Ooh Aah Point and back to the rim the day before our big hike just to give the kids a feel for our hike, the views, and make them more comfortable with the experience.
Cedar Ridge – Round trip 3 miles
You’ll pass Ooh Aah Point if you continue on to Cedar Ridge. There’s a pretty crazy awesome 360 degree view from this vantage point as there is a giant trail that juts out at the Cedar Ridge point. Cedar Ridge has pit toilets too if you need to use them!
Look at this view from Cedar Ridge!
Tip: Remember it can take some people twice as long to climb up as it takes to go down. I will say that I think it all depends on your fitness level, we actually climbed up from Ooh Aah Point faster than it took us to climb down to it!
You can download a free Grand Canyon online trip planner that lists all the various hikes, distances, facilities, and safety information.
Grab an Ice Cream Cone at the Bright Angel Fountain
Along the South Rim walk and just outside the Bright Angel Lodge is a cute little ice cream shop. Grab a refreshing ice cream cone while you enjoys views along the rim trail or treat yourself after your big hike is finished! We ate here on our first day while enjoying the views of the Grand Canyon and immediately after climbing up 11 miles from the Colorado River!
Visit the Desert View Watchtower
It’s about a 22 mile ride from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to this incredible viewpoint. You’ll be able to see for what feels like hundreds of miles along with catching lots of views of the Colorado River. On a clear day, they say you really can see well over 100 miles! Architect Mary Colter designed the Desert View Watchtower in 1932 in the style of Ancestral Puebloan towers. Climb the watch tower and soak up the history. Climb 85 steps for a 360° view from the observation deck 70 ft (21 m) above. It’s awesome!
During your drive out to the Desert View Watchtower you can pull over the car to enjoy various stunning and gorgeous vistas. We took a bunch of quick 5 minute stops during our ride to appreciate the scenery and take photos of the Grand Canyon. Every angle always seems more magnificent than the next!
Visit the Tusayan Museum
During our ride out to Desert View Watchtower, we stopped to see these ancient ruins that are only 3 miles west of Desert View. There’s a very short walking trail that you can loop around to see what remains of this Ancestral Puebloan village. At one point this was a thriving community over 2,000-4,000 years ago that made pottery, arrowheads and other household artifacts. You can check out some of these artifacts that still survive today in the museum too.
Depending on your mood and interest in history, this can easily be a quick visit and is worth the stop on your way out to Desert View. We probably spent 20 minutes here enjoying the ruins and tiny museum collection.
Collect Stamps for Your National Parks Passport
Many of the various view points and museums along the entire South Rim offer unique stamps for the National Park Passports. My kids loved visited all the various locations to grab stamps from each point we visited from the Tusayan Museum to the Desert Watchtower to Bright Angel Lodge and more!
Grab Breakfast at El Tovar
The El Tovar hotel is the Grand Canyon’s oldest, most historic, and most expensive hotel and restaurant. It first opened it’s doors in 1905! Presidents have stayed here and the lobby is rustic and feels like a throwback to a stay at the Grand Canyon in the early 1900’s! The food is fabulous & the view off the deck is amazing. A great way to maximize your budget but to also experience dining at the El Tovar is to dine there for breakfast. We devoured the most amazing delicious breakfast at El Tovar. Our early bird family didn’t have a reservation, but since we wake up at the crack of dawn and were still on East Coast time, we arrived right when the restaurant opened and had no problem getting in to dine.
The food was wonderful, gluten free pancakes were available for my 10 year old son with celiac, and the breakfast prices were affordable relative to their other meals.
Visit the Yavapi Geology Museum
You’ll catch a glimpse of the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch campground area from this vantage point and of course can enjoy all the geological information and exhibits in the museum. You could also start or finish your Trail of Time Rim walk from this location. Remember to bring those passports so you can collect stamps at all the locations!
There’s no better view of the Milky Way than at the Grand Canyon. It’s crazy stunning at night. The Grand Canyon has very little light pollution and is a Dark Sky park so I promise you’ll be WOWED by the stars if it’s a clear evening. You can read more about the Grand Canyon Night Skies here.
Bonus: Stay at Phantom Ranch
If time allows, an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch is an absolute lifetime bucket list adventure. Hike to the Colorado River from the Rim on the South Kaibab Trail which is 8 miles to Phantom Ranch, then stay overnight in a cabin at Phantom Ranch before climbing back out of the Canyon the next day which is 11 miles up Bright Angel Trail from Phantom Ranch. Our stay at Phantom Ranch and this round trip hike was the absolute highlight of our vacation!