The Grand Canyon South Rim often gets a bad rap for being over-crowded, especially during summer at the height of the tourist season. As a former tour guide at the Grand Canyon South Rim, I’m here to share a few secrets about how avoid the crowds. None of these ridiculous amounts of driving or hiking into the backcountry either!
Viewpoints beyond Grand Canyon Village and Mather Point
These are by far the most crowded areas of the South Rim! The thing is, most people have little knowledge that there is anything beyond these places worth seeing. Because Mather Point is so popular, I have even had people ask me directions on how to get there when they are already standing at a spectacular view! In fact, along the Desert View Drive there are a handful of viewpoints that are (to varying degrees) less crowded than the Village or Mather. Grandview Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, and Navajo Point all offer absolutely killer views that are just as good as what you’ll see among the crowds. Grandview Point is definitely the most popular of these, but definitely has lulls throughout the day. For the others, any one location will occasionally be busy for maybe an hour or so, but allow for some time to hang around, and you’ll inevitably find yourself with some quiet time with the view.
Walk the Rim Trail for More Than a Short Distance
The Rim Trail runs next to the South Rim for 11 miles near the Grand Canyon Village. It many places it is paved and is ADA accessible, so it is smooth and easy to use for almost all people. It’s busiest stretches are as it runs through the Village itself, and where it passes major viewpoints such as Yavapai Point and Hopi Point. If you are willing to walk for even a half mile if either direction beyond the viewpoints, you will almost certainly find yourself in a crowd free zone. There are tons of killer views of the Canyon from these stretches, so you aren’t getting jipped on scenery either. You don’t have to limit yourself to the sections right next to the Village either. For instance, try riding the Red Route bus along Hermit Road out to Mohave Point. It’s a great viewpoint, but usually less crowded than nearby Hopi, and then you can walk a relatively flat but scenic 1 mile stretch of unpaved trail over to The Abyss. Once here, you can pick up the shuttle bus again. This just one of many configurations you could do with the Rim Trail, utilizing the shuttle bus.
Another short but sweet and quiet walk is the 1 mile piece from Pima Point to Hermit’s Rest. And if you are a habitual walker or avid hiker, you could break off a bigger piece of the Rim Trail, perhaps even doing the 7 mile walk from the Village all the way out to Hermit’s Rest. You of course can ride the Red shuttle back to the Village once completing the walk, or even bailing early at one of the many bus stops along the way.
Walk to Shoshone Point
I might someday regret giving out info on this gem, but I wouldn’t say it’s a secret either. Shoshone Point is a killer view only accessible by a relatively flat one mile dirt road. The catch is that you have to walk the road to get there, unless you’ve booked an event with NPS at the picnic area out at the vista. Most days, you will have company at Shoshone, but it definitely won’t a crowd, and there is plenty of room to roam around and find your private space. Going early in the morning or around sunset usually cuts down on the chance of having company, and having some patience and willingness to hang around usually results in some solitude.
Location Beta: the parking lot for Shoshone Point is along the East Rim Drive (Highway 64), about 1 mile east of the junction for the South Kaibab Trailhead. The parking lot is signed, but is quite obvious along the north side of the highway.
Do a Short Hike Down a Less-Popular trail
Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail are the two super popular trails that head down into the depths of Grand Canyon near Grand Canyon Village. These are called the “Corridor Trails”. Part of their popularity is location (near the most crowded part of the park), and part is their design (big, wide, and smooth). However, you may also consider hiking two other trails that also go down into the Canyon that are less crowded. Hermit Trail and Grandview Trail, called the “Threshold Trails”. They are less crowded for a reason. They are generally narrower, steeper, and more rugged, yet still doable as long as you are not terrified of hiking and are willing to do a little exercise. The key is to not bite off more than you can chew.
Hermit Trail: From Hermit’s Rest (the start of the trail), the best dayhike destination is Santa Maria Spring which is about 2 miles down, and another two miles back up. The hike down will be deceptively easy, if not a bit hard on the knees as you drop steadily down hill. At Santa Maria Spring, there is a rest house with shade, a marvelous view up and down Hermit Basin, and yes, a spring. NPS has installed a trough to collect the spring water, although it is recommended that you purify the spring water before drinking. The hike back up is a workout, climbing 2,000 vertical feet, so make sure you do some exercise prior to your trip so you are in reasonable shape.
Grandview Trail: The most common way to dayhike the Grandview Trail is to go the 3.5 miles down to Horseshoe Mesa, check out Cave of the Domes, perhaps go to the end of the Mesa, and come back up. Let me tell you, that is a tough dayhike, with a BIG hill to climb on the way out! If you enjoy long, tough dayhikes, I highly recommend it. For the more casual visitor, consider going about a mile down the Grandview Trail, and there is a wonderful outcropping of tan sandstone boulders that make for a great place to enjoy the view. It’s easy to get to, yet is far enough along the trail to avoid the crowds! You’ll have an short uphill hike back up that is doable for just about anyone, just expect to get a little sweaty.
Explore off-trail along the Rim
This option is only for those comfortable with advanced hiking skills such as route-finding. Hiking off-trail along the rim can be dangerous with the 500 foot cliffs nearby, and also comes with the risk of getting lost. Therefore, if you have the requisite skills to read a topographic map and pick your way safely through the forest, this option is definitely for you! This perhaps the best crowd buster because it is less “avoiding” the crowds and more ditching them altogether! You could do something simple, such as setting out from a popular place like Hermit’s Rest or Desert View Point and making your way literally along the edge. Another way is to park along the East Rim Drive and set out through the forest toward Zuni Point and any of the other undeveloped points along the rim. In many places the road comes within a mile or even half a mile of some awesome but unpopulated locations. Learn how to explore off-trail at the South Rim, and I will guarantee that you will never again think of the Grand Canyon South Rim as crowded.
In my opinion, these are the best and easiest ways to avoid South Rim crowds without having to travel to really remote locations. Just pick out the option that best fits your style! Please also remember that sometimes you have be patient and wait for a temporary crowd to disperse, or you might have to ride a crowded bus to reach the end goal. But if you follow my tips, and come prepared with patience and little determination, you too can find solitude at the Grand Canyon South Rim.
For a look at some of the off-the-beaten-path Canyon destinations for expert adventurers only, have a look at 7 Beautiful but Potentially Deadly Grand Canyon Spots You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of