The first time you see the mighty Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, it’ll straight up take your breath away. One of the best ways to enhance your experience is to embark on one of the many amazing things to do in the Grand Canyon.
I remember waking up before dawn to first lay eyes on the Grand Canyon. I remember briskly walking towards the famous Imperial Point for sunrise.
The scene was mesmerizing. Shadows dancing across the canyon, the echo of an eagle screaming in the distance, and literally zero people around.
It. Blew. My. Mind. To. Pieces.
One of the best Grand Canyon activities is to catch a sunrise at a quiet overlook. Far from the crowds.
If you’re looking to visit the Grand Canyon without the crowds. You’ve come to the right place.
Sure, this list of Grand Canyon must-see highlights certainly includes some crowded places. But I’ll let you in on a little secret.
The early bird, gets the epic. Meaning, if you wake up before dawn for some of the most popular things to do in the Grand Canyon, you’ll have the place to yourself.
Here are a few Grand Canyon activities you can’t miss.
About this Guide to Things to Do in the Grand Canyon
When it comes to finding the best things to do in the Grand Canyon, you’ll be prepared once you’ve read through this guide. Here’s what you’ll find inside:
- Amazing Grand Canyon activities to add to your bucket list
- Info on where to stay in the Grand Canyon including camping and lodging in the park
- When is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon?
- Practical info to plan your visit like a local, not a tourist
- Additional Grand Canyon National Park planning resources
The Best Things to Do in the Grand Canyon
Let’s dive right in with this list of mega-epic things to do in the Grand Canyon. This list covers everything from leisurely overlooks to multi-day hiking adventures.
1. Experience The Desert View Drive
A scenic drive across the Grand Canyon is the perfect way to get an introduction to the best it has to offer.
The Desert View Drive is a 25-mile long ride that starts at the Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) and hits up some of the most phenomenal viewpoints like Navajo Point (epic views of the Big Bend and Colorado River), Moran Point (for all the colors), and the ever-famous Grandview Point (one of the most popular Grand Canyon attractions.)
Pro Tip: The best views are on the left, so I recommend driving down to the end of the trail and going slowly on the way back. Drive out in the dark for sunrise to beat the crowds.
2. Catch The Sunset Of Your Life
They say no visit to the Grand Canyon is ever really complete unless you witness a sunset here.
Yes, they’re that epic – even in bad weather(!!) -, and yes, you should definitely hang around long enough to experience at least one of them. Here are some of the coolest spots in Grand Canyon to catch a sunset:
- Grandview Point: Set a 25-minute drive on Desert View Road and provides a grandiose view of the light shifting onto the canyon walls.
- Hopi Point: An epic 180-degree view of the canyon where you’ll get to see a rainbow of colors both on the rocks and on the sky.
- Lipan Point: Offers jaw-dropping vistas of the canyon and the San Francisco Peaks paired with views of the Painted Desert far off into the horizon.
- Pima Point: Your go-to spot where you’re most likely to beat the crowds for sunset and get a more secluded experience with views of the Colorado River down below.
3. Or Beat The Crowds And Opt For Sunrise Instead
Sunsets are extremely popular in the Grand Canyon. If you’d rather have a quiet experience, opt for sunrise instead.
The entire canyon is an absolute treat to see as the sun begins to hit the walls, so you’re in for the view of your life regardless of where you are.
If you want a specific place for sunrise, though, here are my recommendations:
- South Rim: An absolute must is Moran Point, one of the best Grand Canyon viewpoints. It provides an astonishing view of the Hakatai Rapids and sedimentary rocks where the light reflects on and creates moving images against the striking colors.
- North Rim: If you’re visiting the North Rim, Point Imperial is hands-down the most epic sunrise spot in the Grand Canyon. This viewpoint stands at 8,803 feet above sea level, making it the highest point of the entire national park, and provides the best view of the Grand Canyon. What’s best? It’s what I’d call a secret gem and you’re very much likely to get it entirely to yourself.
Pro Tip: Bring layers! At this altitude, it’s chilly in the mornings.
4. Go On An Epic Hike
Hiking is arguably one of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon and is an ideal way to truly soak its epicness in.
With over 50 trails to choose from, deciding where to hike can be a bit overwhelming. One thing to keep in mind when taking your pick is the location of your trail.
The South Rim is the most popular area and not ideal if you’re not too keen on big crowds.
For a more secluded experience, hikes along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is an infinitely better option.
Pro Tip: The north and south rim are separated by a 4 hours drive along a windy dirt road. Plan to spend the night at the north rim if you’re coming to visit – trust me it’s worth it.
Here are some of the best hikes in the North and South Rim:
Bright Angel Point (North Rim): If you’re in the mood to go absolutely gaga when you realize the actual size of the Grand Canyon, taking a hike to Bright Angel Point on the North Rim will not disappoint.
The hike starts at Grand Canyon Lodge and provides several sweeping views along the way, but the real star of the show is the 280-degree view of the Grand Canyon that will greet you when you make it to the end of the trail.
Distance: 0.9 miles
Approx. Time: 45 minutes
The Trail Of Time (South Rim): An interactive trail and one of the best Grand Canyon activities if you want to get to learn about the geological history behind the area.
The trail starts at Yavapai Geology Museum, which is another Grand Canyon must-see if you want to learn more about the millions of years that back up the site.
Distance: 2.8 miles
Aprox. time: 1.5 hours
South Kaibab Trail (South Rim to North Rim): Now, now, if you’re up for the real deal and to do one of the biggest bucket list hikes in the United States, the South Kaibab Trail is a must.
The trail is also known as the Rim-To-Rim hike, starting in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and ending at the North Rim Visitor Center.
Typically, it takes three nights to finish the entire trail and you’ll need advanced backpacking permits to complete it.
There’s also the option to do the trail partially as it’s popular for day hikers, but the further you go, the smaller the crowds get and it’s definitely a backpacking adventure you should attempt if you’d like to experience what hiking in the desert is really like.
Distance: 19.3 miles
Approximate Time: 2 days one way recommended.
Pro Tip: You’ll have to book a shuttle, or hike back the way you came if you do the entire trail.
Cape Royal (North Rim): Cape Royal is one of the most accessible hikes on the North Rim if you’re up for an easy hike that’ll reward you with some seriously astonishing views.
As you go, you’ll be greeted with several outlooks of the canyon as well as barrier-free vistas where you can stand close to the edge if you dare.
Difficulty: Easy, partially paved for accessibility
Distance: 2 miles
Approx time: 1 hour
Cape Final (North Rim): Cape Final is a short trail but one of the best hikes on the North Rim if you’re looking for barrier-free and secluded views.
This point is certainly a Grand Canyon must-see attraction.
As you make your way down to Cape Final, you’ll be greeted with several vantage points that offer some of the quietest views of the Grand Canyon.
Distance: 4 miles
Approximate Time: 2 hours
Pro Tip: There is a single backcountry campsite at Cape Final. It’s a tough permit to snag, so do your homework beforehand. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have the entire place to yourself for the night. WOWZA!
5. See The Grand Canyon From Up Above
There’s something magical about standing in front of the Grand Canyon and realizing how mighty it actually is.
If you want to take that high to the next level (no pun intended here!), you can actually do it by booking a helicopter tour above the Grand Canyon.
Most helicopter tours start from Las Vegas, but there are a couple of companies that fly in from the West Rim.
6. Raft the Grand Canyon
One of the best ways to have an adventure in the Grand Canyon is to go on a rafting trip. Guided trips are available (as are self-guided permits if you’re an advanced rafter).
People flock from all over the world to raft the Grand Canyon. Although much of the water is calm, there are several difficult, world-renowned obstacles to navigate.
Rafting trips range from 6 days to 12 days with a few options to raft by Horseshoe Bend for a half-day or full-day.
Prices vary but include all fees, meals, and transportation throughout your trip.
7. Check Out a Waterfall
Did you know that the Grand Canyon has a series of underground springs that often spew out of the cliffside as waterfalls. These unique Grand Canyon waterfalls are considered sacred by the Hopi, Navajo, Paiute, and Hualapai tribes.
Havasu Falls is arguably the most famous, but you can hike or raft to a variety of waterfalls such as Mooney Falls, Elves Chasm, Navajo Falls.
Some require multi-day intense hiking to reach, but it’s oh-so-worth-it!
8. Backpack in the Grand Canyon
Wanna go on an overnight adventure in the Grand Canyon? Snag a permit for one of the many backpacking routes in the Grand Canyon.
There are several amazing routes for beginners and advanced backpackers alike. A few of the more popular backpacking routes include:
- Havasu Falls
- The Rim to Rim hike
- South Kaibab to Bright Angel Loop
- Cape Final
Pro Tip: Plan ahead. Backpacking permits can be tough to snag, especially during the busy season from spring to fall. Submit your permit the day they are available. Keep in mind, most of the permits are a lottery system.
9. Ride a Donkey
Don’t want to hike to the bottom of the canyon? Jump on a mule. This traditional way of traveling through the canyons takes you back in time.
You can ride mules to various canyon vistas or down to the bottom of the canyon and stay at the famous Phantom Ranch.
Prices vary, but range between $150 – $250 plus overnight fees. Times vary between 2 hours and overnight trips.
10. Camp along the Rim of the Grand Canyon
There is a super-secret spot along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A rugged, 4WD road requiring a high-clearance vehicle brings you to a secluded spot where you’ll be greeted with solitude and sweeping views.
The Tuweep Campground (permit required) has vault toilets and limited facilities. You cannot bring pets or pack animals.
11. Treat Yourself to a Glamping Adventure
Wanna go glamping? Then consider staying at one of the many amazing glamping options at the Grand Canyon.
Phantom Ranch is the most famous, located at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll need to hike or take a mule to the ranch. Plush overnight accommodations can be found at this semi-remote locale.
Or if you’d rather have a drive-up cabin, head to the North Rim Lodge. You’ll have sweeping views just outside of your cabin door near the Bright Angel Viewpoint.
Where To Stay in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon isn’t short of lodging options, most of which you’ll find in the South Rim. Keep in mind that it’s an extremely popular destination and I recommend booking your stay as far in advance as possible to ensure a spot.
Lodging in the South Rim
There are six hotels in total that serve the South Rim, including the Tovar Hotel, which just happens to be a National Landmark and still retains the same atmosphere from when it first opened back in the 18th century.
Phantom Ranch is another option and the only place to stay below the canyon rim. This is usually the go-to for those into adventure as it can only be reached on foot, by mule, or by rafting the Colorado River.
Another cool option if you’d rather have a more modern stay is Kachina Lodge, which is the newest lodge on the South Rim. The rooms are spacious and modern without necessarily detracting from the landscape around the hotel.
Lodging in the North Rim
The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodge inside the North Rim, so making a reservation far ahead is essential. The hotel provides comfortable cabins and guest rooms that overlook the canyon.
Camping on the South Rim
The South Rim is the most popular Grand Canyon camping area and provides spots to pitch your tent as well as developed campgrounds for vehicles.
Mather Campground is by far the most popular one, and reserving in advance is highly advised from May to November (winters work on a first-come, first-served basis).
Another cool option is Desert View Campground, which is the perfect place if you want to stay as close as possible to the rim.
This campground works on a first-come, first-served basis, so arrive early to ensure a spot.
Camping on the North Rim
The North Rim offers one campground with many campsites spread all over the area.
For me, the best camping spot on the North Rim is Cape Final. It takes a two-mile hike to get there and offers authentic camping in the desert as well as some of the most secluded views the Grand Canyon has to offer.
Do note that you’ll need to obtain a permit in advance to spend the night on Cape Final.
Other Awesome Things To Do Near The Grand Canyon
Havasupai: Havasupai is a little slice of paradise hidden away in the heart of the desert. If you’re lucky enough to snag a permit, you’re in for a real treat.
Think turquoise waterfalls flowing against orange canyon walls to get an idea of what Havasupai is like (but really, you have to see it with your own eyes to believe it!)
Horseshoe Bend: Once a hidden gem but now arguably one of the most photographed spots in Arizona, Horseshoe Bend is one of the coolest lookouts of the Colorado River that resembles its namesake.
This is one of the best things to do near the Grand Canyon, so make sure not to miss it if you have time!
When to Visit the Grand Canyon
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon really depends on what you want to do. If you’re planning on visiting the South Rim, then winter is the best time to beat the crowds.
The North Rim sits higher – and has cooler weather – and is only open from May 15th through October 15th.
If you’re planning on rafting, then late spring through early fall is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon.
For hiking, camping, and backpacking, visit during the spring or fall.
Summers can get dangerously hot (temps over 100-degrees) and the crowds are unreal.
Practical Info for Visiting the Grand Canyon
Be prepared for your Grand Canyon visit. Here is a look at a few quick tips to maximize your enjoyment of some of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon.
Plan ahead. This is one of the most crowded places in America. You’ll want to make all reservations for lodging, permits, and camping well in advance.
Day passes to the Grand Canyon are $30 per day. For a multi-day visit, or if you’re visiting other national parks in a 12 month period, consider getting the America the Beautiful Pass.
Get there early. Plan on arriving at the Grand Canyon before the sun rises. You’ll beat the crowds and have much more solitude.
Leave No Trace. Don’t forget to pick up after yourself. Even fruit peels, wrappers, and toilet paper need to be packed out. If you’re backpacking, plan on using WAG bags for the toilet.
Leave Fido at home. Dogs are not allowed in Grand Canyon National Park. Leaving your dog in the car is cruel and can kill them even in mild temperatures.
Overall, when it comes to finding the best things to do in the Grand Canyon you’ve got endless options to explore the magic of this unbelievable place.
Additional Resources for Visiting the Grand Canyon
- 11 Mega-Epic Grand Canyon Viewpoints
- The Cape Final Trail: The Grand Canyon’s Most Exclusive Campsite
- Can’t-Miss Grand Canyon North Rim Hikes
- Best Hikes in the Grand Canyon (coming soon)
- Cape Royal Grand Canyon (coming soon)