Usually, I write about hiking. Long hikes to awesome views and pretty places all over the US. However, when I’m traveling, I don’t always hike. Sometimes, the best views are to be seen without hiking, and this can be terrific for those who either can’t hike or don’t want to. Today I’d like to tell you about some viewpoints that take very little walking to get to. Many (if not all) of them are wheelchair accessible, although stairs may need to be descended to get to some parts of some of the viewpoints. These viewpoints are all located on the very edge of the Grand Canyon, and can be accessed via shuttle buses. They all also offer outstanding views of the Grand Canyon itself, and, if you’re disappointed about not having to walk very far to get to the viewpoints, the Rim Trail will take you between the viewpoints. So, when visiting these sites, you can decide how far you really want to hike!
To access most of these viewpoints, you will need to take one of the free park shuttle buses to the viewpoints themselves. The only exception to this is Mather Point, where you could just as easily park in the Visitor Center parking lot and walk to the viewpoint. The shuttles run from March through November; at other times of the year you can drive to the viewpoints. More information about the shuttles can be found at http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm. Alternatively, you could walk between the viewpoints on the Rim Trail, which runs from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. Or you can take the shuttle to a viewpoint, walk to the next viewpoint, and then take the shuttle to the next viewpoint. I’ve done this many times, and it can be very nice to stretch your legs and see whatever views you get from the trail. Mileages between different viewpoints can be found on the transit map located on the page that I linked to above as well as in the park newspaper.
As I mentioned above, many of the viewpoints that I describe in this post are handicap accessible. I do not have specific accessibility information on most of the viewpoints, but even if the viewpoint itself is not wheelchair accessible, you may be able to see outstanding views from the parking lots, which have ramps and are handicap-friendly. For example, the view from the sidewalk in the parking lot of Hopi Point is very, very nice (I don’t recall if this specific viewpoint is wheelchair accessible). The free park shuttle buses are all wheelchair accessible (I’ve actually seen people in wheelchairs getting on and off of the buses). Alternatively, those who are handicapped can get an Accessibility Pass that will allow them to drive to the viewpoints that normally would be closed to vehicle traffic. More information can be found at http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm.
The distances to the viewpoints themselves vary. Some are ¼ to ½ a mile stroll; others are simply down a set of stairs or a ramp from the parking area. None of them require a lot of walking. I am going to begin at the east end of the shuttle system—Yaki Point—and work my way over to the west end of the shuttle system—the end of the Hermits Rest Road. There may be some viewpoints that I have left out because it’s been a while since I visited them, especially in the Grand Canyon Village area.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best places in the Grand Canyon to watch the sunrise. It’s beautiful at any time of day because you can look both up and down the canyon, but something about its being exposed to the canyon makes the sunrise stunning. I personally watched the sunrise here, and it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The sunset would also probably be exquisite from this point, although I don’t recall doing it myself. Oh, and by the way, the best time to see the sunrise/sunset is about an hour before the posted time, as the sun is actually rising or setting. This is especially true of the sunset; stick around a little after the sunrise to get the early morning glow on the canyon. So now you’ve got your “Grand Canyon tip” for the day :-). The hike from the parking area isn’t very far, but, unfortunately, a set of stairs must be descended, so it is not currently wheelchair accessible. To get to the point, take the Kaibab (orange) bus route from the visitor center transit station to its second and last stop. From here, the bus goes directly back to the visitor center without stopping.
One of the best things about this viewpoint is that you don’t have to take a shuttle bus to get to it. Park at the visitor center and walk down the wide sidewalks towards the canyon rim. There are no signs pointing you in this direction, so just head behind the buildings generally in the direction of the canyon. When you hit the rim trail, turn left and walk down to Mather Point. Here there are nice views of canyon, both up and down, which makes it popular with those who want to see the sunrise and sunset. I watched the sunrise here once many years ago, and it made an impression on me I never forgot. There are no river views at the point. I’d guess the trail from the visitor center to be around ½ or a little less one way. There are also some other viewpoints in the area, but it’s been a while since I visited them. You could probably find quite a bit to do just by walking the rim trail in the visitor center area.
The Trailview Overlook is the first stop on the Hermits Rest Route (red). Private vehicles are not allowed on the Hermits Rest Road from March to November. (All of the rest of the viewpoints mentioned in this post are on this road, in east-to-west order, as if you were riding the shuttle bus. First would come the Trailview Overlook stop, then the stop for Maricopa Point, etc.) This viewpoint has one of the most pathetic views on the road, in my opinion. You get a very nice view of Bright Angel Trail, but otherwise it is not very exciting, as you are looking down into the side canyon where the Bright Angel Trail is. You can also see the lodges in Grand Canyon Village across the side canyon. If you’re strapped for time, this is a good one to skip.
Of the viewpoints on the Hermits Rest Road, this is the first with nice views of the canyon. It gets better than this, but the views are nice enough. One special thing about this viewpoint is that you can see some of the old mining operations that were once used to mine copper and uranium, among other metals and minerals. The park is currently trying to bury the mining remains that were once on the rim of the canyon (pity…there was a nice ore-carrying machine that I enjoyed walking past along the rim trail), so that mars the view a bit. It’s still nice, however, and as I said, the mining stuff in the canyon below the point is cool. If you don’t have much time, though, keep going down to the next point, which offers better views of the canyon. A short (¼ mile) trail leads down to Maricopa Point itself.
This is one of the very best viewpoints on the Hermits Rest Road. The canyon views are awesome, and there is even a kind of observation platform that you can climb up into. You can see both up and down the canyon here, although we found the views to the left to be the best. You can also see the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. The observation platform is a memorial to John Wesley Powell, who was an early explorer of the canyon. A paved trail leads ¼ mile or so to the memorial and the viewpoint beyond. One of my favorites. The Rim Trail is paved to Powell Point. After that overlook, it is dirt/gravel to Monument Creek Vista, where it becomes paved again to Hermits Rest. There are some nice views on the trail between Powell Point and Hopi Point, just before you reach Hopi Point.
Hopi Point also offers outstanding views of the canyon. An elongated viewing area gives you plenty of room to stand by the railing and look…and look…and look. You can see so much of the canyon, as well as down to the bottom to the river. It’s well worth doing, and is the only viewpoint along the Hermits Rest Road that has a primitive toilet. There’s only one, so the line can be long. However, it’s better than nothing. (More restrooms are located at Hermits Rest.) This is an easier one to access because the main part of the viewpoint is just below the parking lot. I highly recommend that you walk over to the left a bit from the main viewing area along the fence. The views there are outstanding. One of the very best on the route.
Ok, so I’m a stuck record…again, this is one of the very best overlooks on the Hermits Rest Road. If you can only do three stops, make them Powell Point, Hopi Point, and Mohave Point, and you’ll have seen the best of the best. Unlike some of the bus stops, from this point you can either keep going down the road to Hermits Rest, or you can go back to Grand Canyon Village. The bus stops at most of the overlooks only on the way to Hermits Rest, so if you want to go back to the Village without having to go all the way to Hermits Rest, you’ll have to do that at Powell Point, Mohave Point, or Pima Point. Otherwise, take a shuttle to one of these overviews, and then take another shuttle back to the Village. Anyway, from Mohave Point you can see the river very nicely (probably one of the best river views along the Hermits Rest Route—Pima Point also has a very nice river view) as well as more incredible canyon scenery. Again, this one is located not very far from the parking area. Highly recommended.
Supposedly, this stop has a 3,000-ft straight-down view into the canyon. To me, it seemed like a view into a side canyon, with quite a bit between you and the edge. In other words, it didn’t even half live up to what I thought it should have. The view from Pima Point had a more straight-down view into the canyon, and was far more interesting. If you’re going to skip a stop, this would be a good one not to see…I think even Trailview is more interesting than this one. A very short trail leads to the fence that overlooks the “drop-off”.
Pima Point has nice enough canyon views, as well as river views. It may not be quite as nice as some of the others, but it still gives you some great views of the canyon. Also, as I mentioned before, there are some nice, sheer cliffs to look down…if you like heights! By the time we get to this point, we’ve seen so much nice stuff that we really just want to get to Hermits Rest and then go back and eat lunch or something (we have a habit of doing the Hermits Rest Road in the morning for some reason). So, that could be biasing my opinion of the view. A very short trail leads to the viewing area; you can walk along the fence for a short while to the right, although you can go much, much farther along the fence at Hopi Point. This is the last viewpoint before Hermits Rest.
Ok, if you really want a disappointment…! Hermits Rest isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be (in my opinion…if you like gift shops, it might be more exciting to you). There is virtually no view here, although you can go beyond the gift shop and snack bar to the Hermit Trailhead, where the Hermit Trail goes down into the canyon. There are some interesting features at the end of the road, however. First, there is an archway with a huge bell in the middle of it. The arch has a metal sign on it that reads, “Hermits Rest”. We have a long-standing tradition of putting the youngest children up on their dad’s shoulders and getting a picture with the arch and bell in the background :-). Beyond the arch, and down the trail a few hundred feet, is the gift shop, with a fireplace designed by Mary Colter. Last time I was in there (May 2011), I thought the pickings were pretty slim in terms of gifts, but it wasn’t too bad. The snack bar only offers snacks, not meals, so be prepared for that. There was also a whole row of primitive restrooms over to the left if you are facing the archway. A water spicket was also over here, which was greatly appreciated! From here, it is not hard to catch a shuttle bus back to Grand Canyon Village.
The overlooks at Grand Canyon are a great way to experience it and to see the canyon first-hand. It’s one of those things that you could simply stare at for hours and never tire of the changing colors, shadows, and lighting. The viewpoints give you a chance to do just that, with changing vantage points, as well!
Round Trip Trail Length: Varies
Fees: $25 per private vehicle, good 7 days to visit both the North and South Rims. Interagency, Senior, Access, and Grand Canyon Annual Passes also accepted.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Monday Mon Sep 25 0%
Partly cloudy. Lows overnight in the low 30s.
Tuesday Tue Sep 26 0%
Mostly sunny early then becoming mostly cloudy later in the day. High near 65F. Winds E at 10 to 20 mph.
Wednesday Wed Sep 27 20%
Considerable cloudiness. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 62F. Winds E at 10 to 15 mph.
Thursday Thu Sep 28 0%
A mainly sunny sky. High 66F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.
Friday Fri Sep 29 0%
Sunny. High around 70F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph.