What to See at the Grand Canyon: 8 Coolest Attractions & Viewpoints
Your ultimate guide to the Grand Canyon’s biggest draws.
by Brendon Keefe
Not your average giant hole in the desert
You may be thinking, “What is there to see at the Grand Canyon, really? I know it’s famous and all, but at the end of the day it’s just a giant hole in the desert, right?” Wrong. So sweet, so innocent, but so, so wrong. We tapped our go-to Grand Canyon expert, Tour Director Tyson, to help us show you why.
Tyson leads EF Ultimate Break’s US National Parks tour, and he’s trekked all over America’s most stunning landscapes. Tyson provided us his eight favorite Grand Canyon highlights—the can’t-miss attractions and scenic viewpoints—whether it’s your first time visiting or your 10th. But why stop there? Our US National Parks adventure doesn’t just include the Grand Canyon, but also Zion and Bryce Canyon with stops in Sedona and Las Vegas, to boot. All in one meticulously planned itinerary—flights, hotels, and a rockstar Tour Director (like Tyson!) fully included.
Mather Point lookout | © Tomasz Wozniak/Shutterstock
1. Mather Point
This is where anticipation meets reality. Being the closest major viewpoint to the South Rim’s entrance and visitor’s center, Mather Point often serves as the setting for that indescribable moment when a visitor first gazes upon the Grand Canyon with their own eyes. The extensive viewing area offers a first glimpse at some well-known Grand Canyon attractions—like the park’s most popular long-distance trail, “The Bright Angel Trail,” and the 6,071-foot summit of the O’Neill Butte. Food for thought: What’s cooler? The view of the O’Neill Butte, or its namesake? Captain Buckey O’Neill (1860 – 1898) was an Arizona based sheriff, politician, newspaper editor, miner, and gambler who served in President Roosevelt’s famous “Rough Riders” Volunteer Cavalry. We have our thoughts on the matter, but Tour Director Tyson thinks (and we agree) you would do yourself a favor to visit and judge for yourself!
"Ohh Ahh Point" along the South Kaibab Trail | © Travelvolvo/Shutterstock
2. The South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trail is a bit of a challenge, yet well worth the effort. The six-and-a-half-miles are riddled with Grand Canyon sightseeing highlights and provide visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the canyon and the Colorado River from below the rim. As hikers make their way down into the two-billion-years-in-the-making natural wonder, many take a moment to consider they are following a path forged by the Colorado River itself. The winding trail hits you with one breathtaking view after another, including the appropriately named “Ooh Ahh Point,” where we imagine hikers, while gazing into the endless void below, might wonder how far down they could make it if they had two billion years!
Skeleton Point | © N Mrtgh/Shutterstock
3. Skeleton Point
Named after an unfortunate barren of mules who had a particularly bad day, Skeleton Point is the reward waiting at the end of the South Kaibab Trail, and is a worthwhile addition to any Grand Canyon itinerary. Our Tour Director Tyson encourages his groups to really embrace this moment. Stop, take a deep breath, and use all of one’s senses to truly experience what makes this setting so surreal. If you follow his advice you’ll see, and hear why, as Skeleton Point offers an incredible 360-degree view of the canyon and a unique opportunity to hear the turbulent Colorado River below as it continues its age-old struggle against the earth. Don’t forget: as incomprehensibly expansive as the Grand Canyon seems today, it’s still a work-in-progress!
Pro-Tip: If you’re seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time on our US National Parks tour, we understand the temptation to actively gush over everything you’re experiencing with all your new travel BFFs. But remember: you’ll have plenty of time to reminisce afterwards. So don’t be afraid to put your phones away while you’re at the canyon and really be in the moment. (Okay, take your pictures, obviously—but you can wait a few hours to post them!)
Footpath along the Bright Angel Trail | © Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock
4. Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular hiking trail on the South Rim, and for good reason. It offers several potential routes that make it perfect for novice and expert hikers alike. This trail is like the South Kaibab Trail in that hikers can make their way below the canyon’s rim, but it’s unique in that it follows along the Bright Angel Fault. As a result, visitors find themselves surrounded by the fault’s massive walls for the earlier portion of their journey. About three miles in, just as you might start to wonder if you’ve gotten lost in a giant cavernous maze, you’ll turn a corner and get hit in the gut by one of the most incredible direct views of the canyon that can be found anywhere in the park. We thought about including a pun here about angels and counting your blessings with this view, but decided to spare you the cringe. You’re welcome.
Pro-Tip: If you are feeling overwhelmed by the idea of deciding which of the countless amazing hikes or trails is best for you, you’re not alone! Our US National Parks trip is great for all activity levels—and your Tour Director can help you decide which trails are best for you if you have limitations.
Featured Trip: US National Parks
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Gaze into the great void of the Grand Canyon. Hit the lowest (and hottest) point in North America: Death Valley. Stroll over the rock bridges and under the archways at Bryce Canyon. And trek the out-of-this-world terrain of Zion. Oh, and did we mention the sightseeing day in Las Vegas?
Northwestern view from Mohave Point | © Maurizio de Mattei/Shutterstock
5. Mohave Point
Tour Director Tyson recommends a Mohave Point sunset as the perfect way to cap off a day of sightseeing at the Grand Canyon. Mohave Point is yet another fantastic viewing area to take in the canyon’s many distinctive features, including what is known as “The Abyss,” a one-mile vertical indentation into the canyon wall. This viewing area is a noted favorite among artists, who often draw inspiration from the wonderfully peculiar way in which the sunlight interacts with the one-of-a-kind rock formation as it rises and sets. Of course, if you’re not an especially skilled artist, snapping a picture is just as effective at capturing the beauty found here—just be sure to arrive early if you’re hoping to get a good view of the famous sunset. It gets crowded!
Fun Fact: While the Colorado River is primarily responsible for forming the Grand Canyon’s shape and features, it had some help. Geologists note “The Abyss” is unique in that it was primarily formed over time by gravity’s constant pull on the rock. Yeah science!
Grand Canyon Skywalk (not included in EF Ultimate Break's national parks tour) | © Jake C/Unsplash
6. Grand Canyon Skywalk
This one is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a daredevil who is looking for things to do at the Grand Canyon, the people of the Hualapi Tribe might have just what you are looking for. In March of 2007, they opened their newly constructed 70-foot glass skywalk to the public, and it didn’t take long for this one-of-a-kind attraction to establish itself as a favorite among tourists. Those brave (or insane) souls who choose to add this to their Grand Canyon itinerary will be “rewarded” with a stomach-churning view of the 4,000-foot vertical drop into the canyon directly below, with nothing but an invisible slate of glass stopping you from gaining a whole new appreciation of Tom Petty’s hit song “Free Fallin’.” Complete the loop and your adrenaline should fuel you through any hikes you have planned for the rest of the day.
A Kaibab Squirrel enjoying the sun | © Lauren Newman Photos/Shutterstock
7. Unparalleled Biodiversity
If a love of natural beauty is what you came to see at the Grand Canyon, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that the nature isn’t limited to massive rock formations and endless canyons. Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most biodiverse spots on earth! It boasts five whole ecosystems hosting over 11,000 different species of plants, animals, and insects. At least 13 of these species can’t be found anywhere else in the world, including our favorite, a little cutie called the Kaibab Squirrel. The importance of ongoing efforts to strengthen conservation measures cannot be understated, as 82 of the species found at the Grand Canyon are special status species. We recommend taking a little time to familiarize yourself with some of the wildlife before you visit, as attempting to identify all the plants, animals, and birds you’ll spot along the way can be just as exhilarating as gazing down into the 6,093-foot canyon itself!
Navajo jewelry | © Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock
8. Authentic Native American Trading Posts
The Grand Canyon has been a sacred site for Native Americans long before Europeans ever set foot in North America. For thousands of years the Pueblo people considered it a holy site and made pilgrimages here, and many even built settlements within the canyon itself. It’s no wonder that their presence and influence is still inextricably connected to the Grand Canyon today. A popular activity for those who have gotten their fill of hiking and adventure is to cool off in some of the Grand Canyon’s famous trading posts. Shoppers will be treated to a beautiful selection of authentic Native American art and jewelry. We think this is the best way to take a piece of the Grand Canyon home with you after your visit!
If you’re still not convinced that a trip to the Grand Canyon is for you, we may have to escalate this matter by putting you in touch with Tour Director Tyson directly. Or, maybe it’s just that you’re looking for a little R&R after a stressful year, in which case our Sun and Sand collection of trips would be more up your alley. No matter what type of getaway you’re after, EF Ultimate Break makes it simple, stress-free, and affordable. Our trips are designed specifically for 18–29-year-old travelers, with everything included from flights and hotels to daily breakfasts—and a fabulous Tour Director like Tyson with you the whole time. Let us worry about the logistics, so you can dedicate all your energy to having the time of your life.
by Brendon Keefe
Brendon is a Trip Consultant with EF Ultimate Break. Born and raised on Cape Cod, Brendon’s passions include cheering for Boston sports teams, obsessing over Star Wars, and maintaining his perfect attendance at happy hour events. His favorite country to visit is Tanzania.
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