History and Stats
The Grand Canyon officially became a National Park on February 26, 1919, signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Though Theodore Roosevelt had given its status as a National Monument 1908, he was working as part of a long-going effort at preserving the park dating back to the 1880s, largely led by then-Senator Benjamin Harrison.
Roosevelt is well-known for his oratory skills, and had this to say of the Grand Canyon in 1903:
“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
The South Rim is home to multiple historical buildings, each featuring their own programming. History, Geology, Art, and more are all a part of the general curriculum. The South Rim offers something for everyone, including a functioning tourist rail line that was completed in 1901.
Date Founded: February 26, 1919; Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979
Size: 1,901.972sq Miles
Elevation: 7,400ft (Grandview Point)
Rainfall: 16in a year; 60in of snow
Visitors: Nearly 6 Million a year
Fees: Entrance Fees are on a weekly basis and range from $15 (single, bicycle or on foot) up to $30. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites.
“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is not only the home of the main offices, but it also bears the bulk of the tourism. There are multiple lodging options, restaurants, as well as a small village that houses facility and Park Service staff year-round. It is comprised of the main campus of the South Rim facilities and stretches west along a road that runs parallel to a hiking trail featuring several vistas.
The sprawling South Rim campus is a prime example of industrial tourism, as this side of the Grand Canyon shoulders the brunt of 6 million visitors a year. The facilities put great emphasis on accessibility and family-oriented educational programming. Multiple museums and exhibits detail the geologic and historical background of the park. It is also the starting point for hikes going down into the canyon itself.
The main Visitor Center (open 9-5) features an array of interactive exhibits and other educational displays and is well-staffed by several Rangers on hand to answer questions. Directly across from it is an expansive gift shop.
The Yavapai Geology Museum (open 8-7) delves into the geologic background of the Grand Canyon and features a spectacular view and detailed topographic displays. It is along the road to Hermit’s Point.
The Verkamp Visitor Center (open 8-7) is relatively new but is housed in one of the oldest buildings on the premises. It features the early pioneer and tourism history of the Grand Canyon, along with a bookstore. Guided Historical walks also begin here.
The Kolb Studio (open 8-6) is a restored family home and photographic museum that features art exhibits and early documentation of Grand Canyon explorations. It is also the starting point for both the Bright Angel Trail, which leads down into the Grand Canyon, as well as the trail to Hermit’s Point.
Backcountry Information Center (open 8-12, then 1-5) provides information on the backcountry of the park, as well as permits for access. Rangers are also on hand for a chat or a high-five.
One of the highlights of the South Rim is the western drive to Hermit’s Point is 8 miles which has several overlooks along the way, including Mohave Point, Hopi Point, and the Powell Memorial. From March to December, access to Hermit’s Rest is restricted to the free shuttle provided by the Park Service.
The campus of Grand Canyon Village itself is a small city and has all of the trappings of civilization. However, the hamlet of Tusayan (pop. 558) is a short drive South. There are multiple hotels, stores, and restaurants and the tourist town is adjacent to a small airfield.
There are multiple options to be had on the South Rim, as there is the Mather Campground, the Trailer Village and multiple hotel and lodge options on the main campus. The nearby village of Tusayan has several hotels. All are open year-round.
Additionally, free camping may be had in Kaibab National Forest.
Mather Campground includes accessible flush toilets, laundry and showers (for a fee) and can accommodate both tents and RVs (max. 30ft). Fires are permitted as well. Reservations are strongly recommended March through November and can be made here or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Site use is $18/night with a 7-day limit, though some discounts are offered with various ATB Passes. There are also group sites available for $50/night
Trailer Village can accommodate vehicles larger than 30′ and offers a variety of rates, some of which including meals at the Lodge. The Trailer Village is operated by Delaware North, not the NPS. More information can be found here.
There are multiple hotel booking options available, ranging in price and amenities. Some rooms are also pet-friendly. More information on hotel lodging can be found here.
Tusayan, roughly a 25-minute drive out of the main campus, also features hotels, shops and a variety of restaurants.
Camping in Kaibab National Forest is free within the Williams Ranger District, roughly an hour outside of Grand Canyon National Park. More information can be found here.
Newbie to Novice, or not at all, should you elect to stay in a hotel. There’s flush toilets, fresh water, and a full staff, and with a well-stocked market and multiple dining options just up the road, if you don’t feel like cooking, you don’t have to.
Laundry and showers are a huge boon to those on a long road trip, and Mather, though it can be crowded, can provide a nice change of pace from some of the rougher campgrounds in the area.
There is a vast catalog of options for visitors to the South Rim, ranging from Critter Talks, Guided Tours, and Geology talks. Full information can be found here.
The crowds at the South Rim are overwhelming, to say the least. The graffiti-laden ancient junipers, the trash in the parking lots and along the trails and the lemming-like quality of many of the tourists encouraged us to seek comparative solitude along the western road to take in the Yavapai Geology Museum and an abbreviated hike of the 8-mile trail to Hermit’s Point.
The Grand Canyon is beautiful, and while the South Rim valiantly attempts to offer something for everyone, it is still not for everyone. If we were to go back, it would likely be in the winter months.
Things we’d like to try next time
There is an entire battery of programming offered throughout the campus, and we always jump at the opportunity to hang out with Rangers. We probably could have used a beer, after navigating the masses, and the novelty of having a cold one a stone’s throw away from the Grand Canyon is demonstrably not lost on us. Additionally, we would love to hike Rim to Rim, visiting sites like Phantom Ranch, deep in the canyon. Camping at Tuweep, which requires a special permit (and vehicle, given the poor roads) would also be an amazing experience.
- While pets are allowed in Grand Canyon National Park, provided they are on leashes, they are not permitted near the rim. The South Rim offers kennel facilities.
- On average, 12 people die at the Grand Canyon per year. While some may fall to their death, much more common are hiking-related fatalities.
- If you write anything, especially “Kokopelli” on a juniper tree that’s likely almost as old as the United States, we encourage you to be one of those 2-3 persons a year that visit the bottom of the Grand Canyon at great velocity.
- When walking the Hermit’s Point trail, be aware of your surroundings, as you may find yourself face-to-face with a herd of elk. While seemingly docile, they have been known to charge hikers.
- Should you find an unconscious Cougar, do not attempt to resuscitate the animal using CPR. This might give you the plague. This is a true story.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Do you have a favorite rim? What was the worst thing you ever saw a tourist do in the Grand Canyon or any National Park? Did we leave anything out?
Read more about our experience at the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim here.