Scenic Driving Overview: Grand Canyon National Park

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Grand Canyon Highlights

  • Hermit Road on the South Rim is one of the most well-known drives in the park. There are ten canyon overlooks in this eight-mile stretch of road, which was built in 1912 by the Santa Fe Company as a scenic tour route. Due to traffic congestion March through November, the route is closed to private autos, but a free shuttle service is available and stops at all overlooks. About five miles west of Hermit Road Junction is the Abyss, one of the most awe-inspiring stops on Hermit Road. Here you will see the 3,000 foot sheer drop to the Tonto Platform, a terrace of sandstone layers, and several sandstone columns including the largest, called the Monument.
  • Desert View Drive is a 25-mile journey from Desert View, just outside the park's east entrance, to Grand Canyon Village. This is the only scenic road open to private cars year-round. In 1932, the Desert View watchtower was built, and once you stop here while on the Desert View Drive, you will see why it is a favorite stop. Go to the roof of the tower to see spectacular views at over 7,500 feet above sea level. The watchtower also features Native American art and the ground and second floors feature works by regional artists as well as souvenirs and crafts.
  • The North Rim features a 23-mile drive to Cape Royal featuring one of the best views in the canyon, especially at sunset. Be sure to stop at Angel's Window, where you will have a view of the Colorado River. Near the Walhalla overlook are the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan structure.
  • If you want to leave the pavement and see more of the park by way of the backroads, you may want to try a jeep tour. Rides are rough, so those with back problems should not participate. Grand Canyon Jeep Tours and Safaris offers one- to 4.5- hour tours within the park. Marvelous Marv's Private Grand Canyon Tours is another option.
  • Highway 67 in the North Rim is open May to October. This paved, narrow two-lane road rises 1,400 feet in elevation. Continue north to Jacob Lake and Marble Canyon.
  • Most visitors to Grand Canyon National Park get caught in terrible traffic by entering the park through the south entrance. You may avoid some of this congestion by entering by the east entrance.

There are many overlooks accessible by car that offer spectacular views of the canyon. If you're a dedicated scenic driver, head to the South Rim while you have a chance. Because of of severe overcowding, the park has switched over to a mass transit system.

East Rim Drive (Highway 64) follows the canyon rim for 26 miles east of Grand Canyon Village to Desert View (the east entrance to the park). The East Rim Drive is open to private vehicles throughout the year. The West Rim Drive follows the rim for eight miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. West Rim Drive is closed to private automobiles from late May through September. At that time of year the park runs a free shuttle bus to provide transportation to overlooks on West Rim Drive.

The isolated North Rim will remain a great destination for private automobiles. It's a long go, but with country like this, getting there is half the fun. The North Rim is 1,000 feet higher and much moister. Warm air carrying moisture rises from the canyon floor. When it reaches the cooler air above the high North Rim, it dumps its load of precipitation. An average of 28 inches of rain fall here per year. And, oh yeah, 140 inches of snow. Because of all the white stuff, the North Rim is closed for most part between October and May. But when you can get through, the pristine landscape and isolation are worth it. There are four main overlooks in the North Rim developed area: Point Imperial, Cape Royal, Bright Angel Point, and Point Sublime. If you really want to get away from it all, venture over to the tiny outpost of Tuweep, reachable by dirt road. Tuweep is little more than a trailhead, but it makes for a great driving adventure.

The Colorado River, which is responsible for the existence of Grand Canyon, lies at the bottom of the canyon, 5,000 feet below the rim. Because of the enormous depth of Grand Canyon, the river is visible only from certain viewpoints. It is possible to drive to the Colorado River at Lees Ferry (near Marble Canyon, Arizona)—a two-and-a-half-hour drive (one way) from the South Rim. Lees Ferry marks the official beginning of Grand Canyon, and the canyon is only a few hundred feet deep at this point.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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