Oh Say, Can You See? Grand Canyon’s Best Views
The park’s favorite overlooks reveal a new perspective around every bend
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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