Oh Say, Can You See? Grand Canyon’s Best Views

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The park’s favorite overlooks reveal a new perspective around every bend

Posted by: Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim on November 5, 2018

With a rich assortment of views and a variety of depths, Grandview Point is the perfect place to flip your photo settings to panorama and capture the widespread beauty and diversity of the Grand Canyon.

Measured by river course, the Grand Canyon runs 277 miles from east to west. But since it’s bordered by rims to the north and south, that distance doubles to include 544 miles of canyon overlooks that change with every step. If you stopped every hundred yards and spent a single minute soaking in the different perspectives, you’d be here more than two months just to take it all in.

Here’s a more sensible approach: Follow our insider advice for where to find the most popular overlooks.

Grand Canyon

South Rim

Powell Point

Start by heading west of the Historic Village for a view from Powell Point. Although the Western Rim access road is only open to private vehicles between December and February, the rest of the year low-emission shuttle buses ferry park visitors to Powell Point on their way to the farthest point, Hermits Rest. During the ride, drivers share stories about the canyon’s geological and manmade history — part of which touches on the man whose name was affixed to this point in honor of his tremendous drive, courage, and determination.

A veteran of the Civil War, John Wesley Powell lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the nation’s greatest explorers. In 1869 he led an expedition of the first U.S. citizens to navigate the then-untouched Colorado River and returned for a second expedition in 1872. After his photographs and stories reached the public, Grand Canyon went from a fantastic mystery to a must-see destination. A monument honoring Powell and his fellow explorers is at this point, which is where Grand Canyon National Park was dedicated in 1920.

The Abyss

A fine example of truth in advertising, at The Abyss you can peer over the rim to see… nothing. This magnificent indentation three stops from Powell Point encapsulates the geological drama of the Grand Canyon. From over the rim, a sheer drop of roughly 3,000 feet descends all the way down to the Tonto Platform, a wide sandstone terrace about two-thirds of the way down to the canyon floor. A view of the Colorado River enhances the beauty of this magnificent overlook.

Pima Point

The second to the last stop on the bus route, Pima Point juts out into the canyon to provide a wonderful vantage point to observe shadows that change with the passing of the sun. Below, colorful rock layers turn back the clock as each contrasting layer reveals the passage of hundreds of thousands of years until they land at the canyon floor. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy what many visitors believe are the most spectacular views of the fast-flowing Colorado River — the steady stream that helped create the Grand Canyon. On the horizon, look for the Great Scenic Divide to the west, the Powell Plateau and Bright Angel Canyon to the east, Hermit Creek to the west, and Ninetyfour Mile Creek on the north.

Looking off Hermits Rest

Hermits Rest

The circa 1914 Mary Colter-designed domicile for a fictional hermit is one of the highlights of the overlook at the western terminus of the Rim Trail. The other is the overlook itself.

It only takes a little imagination to picture this scene in the 1890s when an actual prospector with a strong desire for privacy had staked out a claim at this remote location. While the views over the rim may not be as dramatic as those at the canyon’s widest points, a quiet walkway near the rim leads to a picnic area that’s perfect for dining al fresco. You can also spend some time relaxing inside Colter’s artificially antiquated home and in the gift shop/snack bar.

East Rim

Grandview Point

Just east of the Visitor Center on Desert View Road, Grandview Point has a gift for revealing the canyon’s immense magnitude through a collection of several lookout points. Each reveals a different perspective as you explore this popular stop.

One of the most popular sights from Grandview Point is The Duck, a rock formation that looks like, well… a duck. With a rich assortment of views and a variety of depths, this is the perfect place to flip your photo settings to panorama and capture the widespread beauty and diversity of the Grand Canyon. For an added attraction, arrive a little before sunrise or a little before sunset and take in the dramatically changing colors.

Lipan Point

Many visitors agree that if your goal is to see the Colorado River from above, Lipan Point is the place to do it. Far below, the red river snakes through six million years of geology with wonderful views of the Colorado magnified when seen through binoculars. Another factor that makes this one of the park’s most popular overlooks is the swirl of variegated colors that pop and crackle.

SR Watchtower with Dead Tree and Canyon

Desert View/Watchtower

One measure of Mary Colter’s genius is that two of her structures — Hermits Rest to the west and the Watchtower to the east — bookend the South Rim’s widespread overlooks.

At the Watchtower, Colter celebrates Native American artistry with paintings, tilework, and imagery that look as if they’d been here for centuries. The visuals follow you up a circular staircase to the observation deck atop the 70-foot tower, which reveals what may be the most commanding views of the Grand Canyon. Unlike the plentiful south-north views, here the perspective is more linear as your eye tracks the path of the Colorado River as well as mile after incredible mile of unobstructed and magnificent emptiness. So astounding are the views that many visitors spend several hours here.

While this may be just one canyon, the views you’ll find are endless.

How to Explore

The best way to savor a signature dish at Grand Canyon is to spend a night or longer at one of the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, the premier in-park lodging with six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

Or consider the 10-day “Bryce, Zion & the Grand Canyon” tour from Holiday Vacations, one of America’s most reputable tour companies with more than 45 years of experience. As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach, and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, their packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, meals, and must-see attractions. Expert tour directors handle all travel details, assuring you a carefree and memorable vacation. Visit HolidayVacations.com for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Written by: Gary McKechnie

The author of the best-selling Great American Motorcycle Tours, Gary McKechnie also wrote National Geographic’s USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks. He lectures on American travel and history aboard the ships of the Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea lines.

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SR Watchtower with Dead Tree and Canyon
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