June 2023 – We visited the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in our RV travels this year in part because we’d never really gotten to know the place, despite several previous trips. Our hope was that on this visit we would spend more time, be less rushed, and come away feeling a bond to it that had been lacking before. By the time we left 10 days later, we’d fulfilled that dream in spades. This post shares our tips for finding peace and quiet at this busy place and suggests some lesser known overlooks that are worth seeing!
In the past, like everyone else, we had zipped to the rim, dodging the crowds as we went, peered over the edge in a few places, been awe-struck by every view, and left.
This time, for some reason, there were very few crowds. Perhaps it was the colder than normal spring season. Perhaps it was the impact of inflation keeping travelers at home. Or perhaps it was just our own personal timing.
After a few days, we realized that we kept going into Grand Canyon National Park at odd and unpopular hours, and maybe that was the reason it was quiet!
We’d arrive at Grand Canyon at 5:30 in the afternoon, just in time to find a spot to watch the sunset, and shortly after the crowds had left! There was no line at the entrance gate, plenty of parking spaces anywhere we wanted to park, and only a few people milling around. Perfect!
We also visited the park in the early morning.
There would be a peace and calm in the air at this magical hour as only a handful of people strolled around. They’d be quietly enjoying the views while sipping their morning coffee, and some would be walking their dogs.
Everyone was very friendly, and for the first time I can remember at any National Park in the last ten years, we heard as much or more American accented English as we did all the other languages of the world. That was very heartwarming. It’s wonderful to see Americans enjoying the National Parks.
We also found the South Rim to be extremely dog friendly.
We came away feeling that this would be a fantastic place for a week-long family vacation. A lot of families pack several National Parks into one trip, but if you stay in the Trailer Village RV Park (full hookups and big-rig friendly) or at Mather Campground (dry camping for RVs under 27-30 feet), both of which are inside the Park and close to the rim, you’ve got a home base right by some of the best views in the world as well as paved bike trails that go all through the woods and take you to the hotel and concession hubs and out to the rim too.
The shuttle buses are frequent so you don’t have to drive anywhere, and if you stay long enough, you can take your time exploring each viewpoint or historical building, come back to camp to rest and regroup, and not wind up with that massive National Park Overload that hits all of us when we try to see too much in too short a time.
It also dawned on us after we’d watched the arrival of the train one day that the train (which is many cars long) brings thousands of people to the heart of Grand Canyon Village every day, just as the Santa Fe Railroad magnates had originally intended. It arrives in the late morning, and all those people descend on the park in one fell swoop. However, it also leaves every afternoon and whisks them all away.
Each time we went to Grand Canyon at midday, it was quite busy. Not packed, by any stretch of the imagination, but much busier than in the early mornings and late afternoons.
So, we’d suggest that if you want to have an intimate Grand Canyon experience that is similar to what you find at the North Rim all day long (the North Rim gets only 10% of the traffic that the South Rim does), then do your sightseeing at the South Rim around breakfast time and/or cocktail hour! Or better yet, for sunrise and sunset.
Another trick is to visit some of the lesser known overlooks. Not all of them appear on the map that the National Park Service provides, and that’s what keeps the crowds in check.
One of the lesser known and more remote overlooks is Shoshone Point which is on the eastbound road to Desert View. You can get a detailed map at the entrance station or Visitors Centers if you ask. The best thing about this overlook for anyone with a dog is that there is a one mile long hike along a flat forest road through beautiful ponderosa pine woods to get there. Buddy loved it.
The Shoshone Point overlook isn’t very big and there aren’t any railings. We did find we needed to scramble over various rocks to get ourselves situated to enjoy the view, however. We watched the sunset with about 8 other people.
There are some lovely trees, and it’s a great place to get a Grand Canyon portrait of yourself and your family. We did, and so did everyone else!
Grandview Point overlook appears on the map the National Park Service provides, but we found it a frustrating place to visit at sunset. Perhaps at another time of day it would be different. The actual overlook is tiny, and the narrow trail around the edge is off-camber and includes some awkward maneuvers over the rocks.
It started to rain just as we arrived, making the rocks quite slick, and at that very moment two backcountry tours showed up in huge oversized off-road vehicles: Buck Wild Tours and Pink Jeep Tours.
Suddenly, an overlook that could comfortably hold 10 people all together had about 35 people squeezed in, all of them rushing to see and do everything they wanted to before their tour vehicle left for the next stop.
We still enjoyed ourselves there, but finding a place to stand among all those excited and pushy people was a challenge!
The storm clouds and mist more than made up for the various inconveniences, though, and the drama out in the Canyon was a sight to see.
There are free shuttle buses as well as parking areas for most of the overlooks at Grand Canyon’s South Rim. However, Yaki Point is a little different because the ONLY way to get there is either by shuttle bus or by your own two feet. Cars are not allowed on the access road that goes to Yaki Point from the eastbound road to Desert View.
Since dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses, we opted to park at an overlook nearby slightly west of Yaki Point and hike about 1.5 miles through the woods to get to it. Of course, Buddy was all over that!!
The storminess we’d seen the day before at Grandview Point was lingering and we saw some fabulous crepuscular rays as the sun went down.
WE SEE SUNRISE – AT LAST
It’s not too hard to make an appointment with Nature to see a sunset at Grand Canyon. You’re awake and the only compromise you might have to make is that it occurs right at Beer-Thirty and/or dinnertime.
However, sunrise is a totally different story because it involves getting out of a warm bed, driving somewhere in the cold and dark, and standing at the Rim shivering while you wait for the sun to rise. We kept putting it off, but finally got ourselves motivated at 4:00 in the morning to head out to the Rim Trail at Mather Point.
Wow, did we get lucky that morning! The storm clouds were still lingering, and they put on quite a show.
Mather Point is a popular place for both sunrise and sunset, and there were quite a few other people who’d dragged themselves out from under their warm covers to go shiver on the edge of this massive chasm.
There were several little groups of people all along the rim, and when I stepped back, I saw two more familiar figures taking in the show.
In the end, I estimated at least 100 people had come to Mather Point that morning to witness the sunrise.
The brilliant clouds finally gave up their pre-dawn color, and then we had a few minutes’ wait for the sun to creep above the horizon.
Some stragglers came running to the edge from their hastily parked cars, still zipping up their jackets and messing with their phones, only to realize when they got out to the rim that it was almost over!
Then Poof! — then sun was up!
Everyone at the Rim was enraptured by the whole show and kept their eyes (and cell phones) glued to the spectacle. No one said a thing. it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Well, there was ONE person who wasn’t watching…
As you head east out of Grand Canyon National Park, the very last overlook is Desert View. This is a big area with a gift shop and Mary Colter’s famous Desert View Watchtower.
We drove out to Desert View at oh-dark-thirty on our last morning on the way out of the Park so we could catch the sunrise, and there were only three people there with us. It wasn’t nearly as special a sunrise as we’d had at Mather Point, but it was still lovely and still very exciting to be there for it.
We enjoyed our visit to Grand Canyon’s South Rim this year so much we revised our previous opinion of the North vs. South Rims. When we first visited the North Rim many years ago, we nicknamed it “Grand Canyon’s Better Half” because it was so much more intimate, historic and authentic feeling than what we had seen of the South Rim on short visits at that point. However that’s not really true. Both rims are well worth seeing, and neither one is superior to the other. They’re just different.
The North Rim is 1,000’ higher, more remote and takes a lot longer to get to from any major freeways. It has a fabulous historic lodge, restaurant and campground right on the Rim, and most of the visitors are from the neighboring states. The South Rim is much more commercial, much busier, and plays host to far more international visitors, but we discovered you can avoid the chaos, and even share the experience with your pup if you like, if you plan your visit carefully.
Interestingly, the last time we visited the North Rim (2019), we had a hard time finding parking at the central area near the Lodge, whereas this year at the South Rim we had no trouble at all anywhere. The North Rim doesn’t allow dogs on any trails, even the main paved trail, whereas the South Rim is a dog mecca along the entire 5+ mile long paved Rim Trail. Yet we never saw any dog poop and heard only one dog bark, and he was well controlled by his owner.
The views are comparable on both rims, but the distances between the overlooks are much shorter at the South Rim than at the North Rim.
In some ways, choosing which one to visit — if you plan to visit only one — may come down to which rim currently has a large active fire burning. Both rims have frequent fires that are deliberately set by the US Forest Service, and they last for months, creating haze across the views, a brown tinge to the sky at the horizon, and the smell of smoke in the air.
The clearest skies are during the winter and early spring when the previous year’s fires are fully extinguished by snowfall and the new fires haven’t started yet.
It’s chilly at that time of year (the South Rim is at 7,000’ elevation and the North Rim is at 8,000’ elevation), but the clear air makes the views even more stunning, and of course you’ll be ahead of the summer crowds.
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More info about Grand Canyon National Park:
Grand Canyon National Park – National Park Service (NPS) Official Web Page
RV Parks and Campgrounds In and Near the Park – NPS Official Web Page
Trailer Village RV Park – Big rig friendly with hookups inside the Park near Mather Point
Mather Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups inside the Park near Grand Canyon Village
Desert View Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups inside the Park near Desert View
Ten-X Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups outside the Park 10 miles from Grand Canyon Village
Grand Canyon Camper Village – Big Rig friendly with hookups outside the Park 9 miles from Grand Canyon Village
We heard a rumor from a local resident that a very large RV park is planned and has been approved for the town of Tusayan about 10 miles south of Grand Canyon Village. However, it is just a rumor as of the summer of 2023.
All of our blog posts about the Grand Canyon:
- Grand Canyon – A Winter Wonderland with Snow!
- Grand Canyon History: A Navajo & A Mule Link Us to the Past
- Grand Canyon South Rim RV Trip – Views, Views, VIEWS!!
- Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Breathtaking Bright Angel Point!
- Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Its Better Half?
- Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Magnificent & Intimate by Day or Night!
- Point Sublime – A Wild Ride to a Stunning Overlook in Grand Canyon!
- Saddle Mountain Overlook – A Different View of the Grand Canyon!
- Timp Point – A Private View of Grand Canyon’s Majesty
- Williams, Arizona – Home of the Grand Canyon Railway!
- Index of links to all the National Parks, National Monuments and World Heritage Sites we’ve visited!
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