Each year, our spring break road trip takes farther and farther away, which means longer drives — and because we’re limited by the kids’ school schedule, it also means fewer days of adventuring. This year, our trip included a visit to Kingman, Arizona, two and a half days at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim, two days in Holbrook, Arizona to explore Petrified Forest National Park, and visits to Meteor Crater, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas.
During our first half day in the Grand Canyon we visited Mather Point behind the South Rim Visitor Center. It is the center of the Grand Canyon South Rim experience. From here:
- You can venture west toward Grand Canyon Village and Hermit Road with nine spectacular designated viewpoints on the way to Hermit’s Rest.
- You can venture east on Desert View Drive, passing six canyon viewpoints, four picnic areas, five unmarked pullouts, and the Tusayan Ruins site on the way to the Desert View Watchtower.
Traveling on Hermit Road requires a ride on the free Shuttle Bus, hiking more than 7 miles along the Rim Trail, or a combination of the two. But on Desert View Drive you can take your own vehicle (and all your own stuff) for the 25 mile drive to the historic Watchtower. We chose to “do” the Desert View experience on our first day at Grand Canyon National Park to get acclimated to the elevation and the weather, and hike the South Rim Trail to Hermit’s Rest on our second day.
Our first full day at the Grand Canyon was a gorgeous, sunny day with clear blue skies and the viewpoints along Desert View Drive were beckoning, but we skipped them all and headed straight to the Desert View Watchtower because I wanted to get there before the crowds descended upon the building and scenic overlook. Then, when done at Desert View, we could take our time exploring the scenic viewpoints along Desert View Drive on our way back to Grand Canyon Village — opposite everyone else.
Visiting The Desert View Watchtower
Sitting at an elevation of 7,438 feet, Desert View Watchtower is a seven story, 70 foot tall stone tower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon within Grand Canyon National Park.
The Desert View Watchtower, also known as the Indian Watchtower at Desert View, first opened in 1932. Designed by architect Mary Colter, it reflects the architecture of the ancestral Puebloans in the Four Corners region and is the centerpiece of the Desert View Watchtower Historic District.
After eating a tailgate breakfast in the parking lot, we followed a short 0.25 mile path past historic buildings to the Watchtower, the rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Desert View Point Scenic Overlook.
After snapping about a hundred photos of the canyon below and the exterior of the Watchtower, we headed inside the historic building to checkout the Kiva Store on the first floor and climb the 85 step staircase to the top observation deck with incredible 360 degree views. On each level of the tower, you can see wall murals by Hopi Artist Fred Kabotie and historic artifacts.
The vistas from Desert View Point are breathtaking. You can see the Colorado River make a big bend to the north and the Painted Desert stretching toward the Navajo and Hopi Indian lands. On a clear day, the view extends more than 100 miles.
Desert View Watchtower Historic District
Desert View Watchtower was designated a National Historic Landmark as part of the Mary Jane Colter Buildings collective nomination in 1987. The nomination includes the Desert View Watchtower, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, and Hermit’s Rest.
The Watchtower is also part of the Desert View Watchtower Historic District, a designation made by the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
The Historic District includes several structures built and first used by the Fred Harvey Company, and later used by the National Park Service. One of the structures is the 1930 Desert View Caretaker’s Residence, the oldest in the area. The rustic stone and wood house, originally built as a rest stop for Harveycar tours along the canyon rim, was moved to its present location when the Watchtower was built.
Know Before You Go
- Desert View Point and the Desert View Watchtower are located at the end of Desert View Drive on Arizona State Route 64 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 86023.
- Desert View is open year-round and includes the historic Watchtower, the Desert View Trading Post gift shop, a General Store and Deli, a gas station, restrooms, and a seasonal campground open from mid-April to mid-October.
- The Watchtower stairs are open from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and the Kiva Shop is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- The small gift shop sells books, gifts, and souvenirs, and the lower inside the tower you’ll enjoy expansive views through large windows and be protected from the weather.
- While Hermit’s Rest Road is closed to visitor vehicles during the busy season, requiring you to ride the free shuttle to lookout points, Desert View Drive stays open, so you can drive your own vehicle from scenic viewpoint to scenic viewpoint, all the way out to the Tusayan Ruins and the Desert View Watchtower.
- The drive from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View Point is about 25-30 minutes if you don’t stop at all along the way. We drove straight to Desert View Point and worked our way back toward Grand Canyon Village, which worked great to beat the crowds.
- There are picnic tables with incredible views! Pack a picnic lunch or grab one at the deli.
- There are pressed penny machines at the General Store and the Trading Post.