The number of zones to explore in and around the Grand Canyon can be daunting – where do you even start? We wanted to help you make that decision with a few of our favorite go-to spots to check out the next time you’re in the area.
There are plenty of trails on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim with killer views, but the Cape Final Trail is one of the best we’ve done. As part of a full day’s exploration of the Cape Royal Road that offers tons of prime overlooks, the Cape Final Trail will not disappoint.
It starts out with a bit of elevation gain and loss as the trail traverses the branch of the rim that comprises Cape Final. You’ll see a few tantalizing views on the left as the end of the trail approaches. With a short rock scramble up to the end of the point, the entire 180-degree vista of the canyon comes into view. There are a bunch of rocks to climb with varying degrees of vertigo potential, and the photo opportunities are endless. If you’re a risk-taker, there is one designated backcountry campsite right at the edge of the rim–not for sleepwalkers!
Recommended pack: Sira 45
South Kaibab and Bright Angel are popular trails of the South Rim, but we recommend opting for Grandview Trail. The views from this eastern route are on point! Grandview is every bit as spectacular as the Grand Canyon Village area, plus the fact that you don’t have to hike as far or as deep to get a glimpse of the Colorado River and the canyon’s bottom-most rock layers. On Grandview, you won’t have to push aside as many people or any mule traffic. It is a far-less maintained trail that offers a bit of rough terrain if you’re up for something a little less manicured.
Any distance of an out and back on Grandview is worth it if you ask us – go as far as you feel fit. Ultimately you’ll want to make it to the tip of Horseshoe Mesa for the views up and down the canyon and of the river at the bottom. A good option for those without much time is to go 1.1 miles to Coconino Saddle. Past this point the trail gets a bit more difficult. Horseshoe Mesa is 3 miles one way, and to get all the way to the end of the mesa is another mile or so of easy trail.
Recommended pack: Siro 50
Ken Patrick is perhaps the least-traveled trail on the already quiet North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park. Most people are just out for short and easy hikes that pack in a lot of canyon views, and if this sounds like you, then take Ken Patrick Trail off your list immediately. However, if you’re after alone time on a long and pleasant hike, then Ken Patrick is perfect.
On a map, the route looks a bit contrived because it connects points that can easily be driven to, but the seldom-seen terrain in between is what you are after. Views of the canyon are limited to either end of the trail and one spot in the middle, but the variety of vegetation in between makes for an excellent tour of the Kaibab Plateau environment. You’ll see stands of old-growth ponderosa, dense groves of mixed conifer, montane meadows, burned areas, and thickets of regenerating aspen.
This trail gets pretty deep into the woods and far from help, so you should be prepared with first aid and keep safety in mind. Summer brings monsoons, and the many exposed burn areas along the way are not safe during lightning storms, so avoid this trail on summer afternoons if possible.
Recommended pack: Reva 45
If you can get a spot, Mather is the best place to camp in Grand Canyon National Park, hands down. During the busy season of March 1 to November 30 all sites are reservation only, and sites can be reserved up to six months in advance. This is a major advantage to those who can plan ahead, but last-minute campers will have to try their luck at the more rustic and peripherally located first-come, first served sites at Desert View Campground.
Mather is preferred for its shady and relatively large sites, better amenities, location within Grand Canyon Village, proximity to the canyon rim and hiking trails, and free shuttle service that connects all other routes within the park. A walk or bike ride of only a mile on paved paths leads to viewpoints along the Rim Trail. Other conveniences include a general store, post office, bank, and coffee shop right outside the campground on Market Plaza Road.
Recommended tent: Outback 4
One drawback to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is the lack of manageable day hikes. The Rim Trail is nice for strolling along the canyon’s edge, but gazing up from below the rim typically requires a committing plunge down Bright Angel or South Kaibab, and the difficulty deters many would-be day hikers. The hike to Dripping Springs, however, is a manageable distance for less experienced hikers and families. It does still require a lot of switchbacks through the canyon’s upper rock layers, but they are less steep than on other trails.
The way to Dripping Springs begins on the Hermit Trail at Hermit’s Rest. The trail descends into a side canyon of the Grand Canyon, where the panorama is a bit narrower than from the South Rim’s main trails, but the views are still far from disappointing. The spring itself is the destination of this out-and-back adventure. Dripping Springs are a year-round water source where groundwater trickles out of sandstone in a small drainage in the rim, then drips down a tall streaked wall to the canyon floor. This is one of several water sources in the Grand Canyon that are vital to the desert ecosystem and that have been precious to Native American inhabitants for generations.
Recommended trekking poles: Range 2.0
This list of hot spots has just a few of our favorite go-tos. There are of course countless other campsites, hikes, and strolls around this giant whole in the ground – we suggest you get out there and find some gems of your own!