After touring the Desert View Watchtower and Desert View Historic District, and stopping at all of the scenic overlooks and roadside pullouts on the 25 mile drive along Desert View Drive, we headed over to the Grand Canyon Village Historic District.
Grand Canyon Village is the center of activity and the transportation hub for the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From the village, Hermit Road stretches west for seven miles and Desert View Drive stretches east for 25 miles. Both roads are dotted with stunning scenic viewpoints.
Within Grand Canyon Village, there are three main areas of interest:
- The Visitor Center and Mather Point boasts stunning views of Grand Canyon, four large parking areas, and the main transit center for the park’s free shuttle buses.
- Market Plaza contains the park’s business center with a general store, deli, coffee counter, bank, laundry, and US Post Office, as well as the cafeteria, gift shop, and lobby of Yavapai Lodge.
- The Historic District features the railroad depot, original lodges, and historic buildings from the pioneer days. Several of the buildings date from the early 1900s, including Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and Hopi House.
As you drive through the park, you’ll also find the Shrine of Ages, a non-denominational religious facility, and the Grand Canyon National Park Headquarters, where you can stop to get park information, speak to a ranger, and find restrooms. This is a great alternative to the main visitor center because it’s pretty much always empty!
Here are 11 things to do in Grand Canyon Village:
01. Grand Canyon Visitor Center
When entering Grand Canyon National Park through the South Entrance Station, the Visitor Center should be your very first stop. Here you can get information about the park, scenic overlooks, attractions and activities, hiking trails, and the free shuttle bus system. You can also pick up park maps and watch the 20 minute movie Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder.
02. Mather Point
Located directly behind the main South Rim Visitor Center, Mather Point is an easily accessible Grand Canyon overlook with scenic vistas stretching ten miles across the canyon to the North Rim and reaching one mile down to the powerful Colorado River. Because it is so close to the Visitor Center, Mather Point is one of the most popular and most crowded scenic viewpoints in Grand Canyon National Park. It is often the first stop along the South Rim for families like ours, who can’t wait to see the spectacular, colorful Grand Canyon and visible layers of Kaibab Limestone, Coconino Sandstone, and Vishnu Schist.
03. Yavapai Lodge
Surrounded by Pinyon and Juniper woodlands, Yavapai Lodge is the largest lodging complex, with the most affordable prices, in Grand Canyon National Park. It is also the closest lodge to the popular Mather Point and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. The lodge offers guests a grab-and-go coffee shop, a souvenir and gift shop, a cafeteria-style restaurant, and a tavern with a full bar, local beers, and wine.
04. Verkamp’s Visitor Center And Museum
Verkamp’s Visitor Center and Museum is Grand Canyon National Park’s newest Visitor Center in one of its oldest buildings. For more than a century, it was a curio shop and family home and today it is a park museum and gift shop. Verkamp’s has museum-quality exhibits about the history of Grand Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon Community — documenting what it was like to live and work on the edge of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A walking history timeline on the floor leads visitors through the exhibits on a tour of the important moments in local, national and international history.
05. Hopi House
Hopi House, located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, was commissioned in 1904 and built in 1905 by the Fred Harvey Company as a market for Native American crafts, made by artisans on the site. Modeled after the 10,000 year-old pueblo dwellings of the Hopi village in Old Oraibi, Arizona, Hopi House is the first of eight projects at Grand Canyon designed by architect Mary Colter.
06. El Tovar Historic Hotel
El Tovar Hotel opened its doors in 1905 and has since been celebrated as Grand Canyon’s showcase lodge. It sits only 20 feet from the South Rim edge of Grand Canyon. Today, El Tovar is widely considered the crown jewel of Historic National Park Lodges and features a fine dining room, lounge, gift shop, and newsstand, as well as full bell service, a lobby concierge, and in-room dining.
07. Lookout Studio
Built on a precipice west of the El Tovar Hotel in 1914 for the Santa Fe Railway, Lookout Studio was designed by Mary Colter as a place visitors could view and photograph the Grand Canyon from its edge. The comfortable rustic studio of stone and log timbers, also known as The Lookout, looks as if it grows right out of the South Canyon Rim.
08. Kolb Studio
Built in 1906 at the head of the Bright Angel Trial, Kolb Studio is the Victorian home and photography studio of the Kolb Brothers who created a thriving business selling photographs of the Grand Canyon. While the Fred Harvey Company tried to shut them down and the National Park Service tried to demolish the building, today Kolb Studio endures as a bookstore, gallery, and Grand Canyon information center.
09. Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail begins in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of the Grand Canyon at 6,850 feet elevation. It descends 4,380 feet with an average grade of 10%. At the trail’s end, the River Trail continues another 1.9 miles to the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch, totaling 10 miles.
Even if you’re a casual hiker, you’re visiting with family or inexperienced hikers, or you’re visiting Grand Canyon for only a short period of time, you need to put Bright Angel Trail on your list of things to do because you can just hike a small portion of it to see breathtaking views and an amazing rock tunnel.
10. Yavapai Point And The Yavapai Geology Museum
The Yavapai Point Overlook provides what many consider to be the best panoramic views of this part of the Grand Canyon South Rim. It is the northernmost overlook and the closest to the Colorado River, you you’ll enjoy unobstructed, magnificent views of canyon ridges and the river below.
The Yavapai Museum of Geology, also called the Yavapai Observation Station, sits one mile east of Grand Canyon Village’s Market Plaza on the edge of Grand Canyon’s South Rim and features breathtaking views of Grand Canyon, geologic displays, interpretive exhibits, and a bookstore with gifts and souvenirs.
11. Grand Canyon Railroad
Grand Canyon Railway provides a beautiful, historic 65 mile, 2 hour 15 minute train ride from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park with the help of authentic western characters and musicians who bring the Old West to life.
Quick Tips For Visiting Grand Canyon Village
While the General Store is the place to go for groceries, gifts, clothing, and souvenirs, the best part of the General Store is the deli/food counter inside. In the morning, it’s the fastest place to get coffee, hot chocolate and breakfast items, and the rest of the day, you can get pizzas, hot pretzels, sandwiches, salads, soups, and more. Carter loved getting a hot pizza each night for dinner!
Here are a few other quick dining options where you can skip some of the longer lines:
- Bright Angel Lodge near Lookout Studio has an ice cream counter that’s a perfect stop for an afternoon snack and consider packing a picnic to eat on the rim while taking in the incredible views.
- Canyon Coffee House at Bright Angel Lodge serves shade-grown organic coffee, espresso, or cappuccino and a selection of fresh continental breakfast items.
- Yavapai Tavern at Yavapai Lodge offering regional craft beers, specialty cocktails, and a pub-grub menu.
- The Cafe at Mather Point, located in the bike shop at the Visitor Center serves local coffee, fresh healthy salads, sandwiches, and bagels.
- The Maswik Food Court at Maswik Lodge has four individual food stations including a wide variety of breakfast selections, traditional home-style lunch and dinner entrées, grilled burgers, hot sandwiches and deli sandwiches.
Also, accept that it is going to be crowded and that a ton of other people are going to be trying to get the same photos you are. Be patient and wait for them to finish up and move on so you can get your shot, or walk a little further down the trail in either direction to find less crowded viewpoints.
If you rode the train in and don’t have a vehicle, or you just don’t want to deal with moving your car, consider renting bikes from the Bright Angel Bike Shop by the Visitor Center.
If you can’t find parking in the Grand Canyon Village Historic District, try parking at the Maswik Lodge. It’s a lot closer than you think!
Oh, and in the morning (8:00 am or 9:00 am in winter), you can watch the preparation of the mules for their trip into the canyon just west of Bright Angel Lodge — kids love this!