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Best Things To Do at Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)

Grand Canyon - Hermit Road

There’s nothing like your first visit to Grand Canyon National Park — and the first time you look over the rim — it’s simply awe-inspiring! The extraordinary combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate this canyon, which is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Without question, the Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s national parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 national parks — and Grand Canyon National Park is one place you have to see! Whether you’re more comfortable exploring the canyon from the rim, or want to take a more adventurous route on foot, by bike, or on the back of a mule, I’ve been to Grand Canyon National Park many times — so I’m ready to help! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Grand Canyon National Park!

Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail

Walking or Hiking

The Rim Trail

Going on a hike is a wonderful way to experience the Grand Canyon National Park’s rich natural beauty and immense size. The Rim Trail is perfect for quiet views of the inner canyon and for visitors who desire an easy hike. The Rim Trail stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest, a distance of about thirteen miles — and most of the trail is paved. Between Pipe Creek Vista and Bright Angel Lodge only a few short sections of the trail have grades that exceed accessibility standards. West of Bright Angel Lodge, the Rim Trail narrows and climbs the Bright Angel Fault to viewpoints along Hermit Road. Between Powell Point and Monument Creek Vista the trail is a three foot wide dirt trail. The section of the Rim Trail between Monument Creek Vista and Hermits Rest is also known as the Hermit Road Greenway Trail and provides three miles of paved greenway trail provide additional views for cyclists and hikers.

Walk the Trail of Time

Grand Canyon - Yavapai Geology Museum

Start at the Yavapai Museum of Geology and finish up at the Verkamps Visitor Center — a 1.2 mile stroll along the canyon rim. The path contains information about the canyon’s geologic history, and samples from each layer of the canyon.

Day Hikes: Exploring the Canyon on Foot

Day hikes are by far the most popular type of trip into the Grand Canyon. A down-and-back excursion lets you commit to traveling only as far as you think you can handle, and it allows for carrying less of a load to weigh you down.

One of the most popular day hikes in Grand Canyon National Park is the 9-mile round-trip on the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and back. If you go, you must bring enough food and water — and sunscreen — to last the day. Because this hike starts by descending into the canyon — the easy part comes first. You’ll start at an elevation of 6,860 feet and drop to 3,800 feet — a hike that will take you 5-6 hours when taking plenty of breaks.

Overnight Backpacking

Grand Canyon - Phantom Ranch

Spending the night is the best way to experience Grand Canyon National Park. You can take more time to enjoy the scenery — and travel farther to see more of it. Traveling to the bottom of the canyon in one day, camping at the bottom, and coming up the next day is the best way to see the Colorado River. Most people can’t make it to the river and back in one day. The walk to Phantom Ranch is approximately 7.5 miles down the South Kaibab Trail (4-5 hours) or 10 miles on the Bright Angel Trail (4-6 hours). A good rule of thumb is for every hour it takes to hike down, it will take two to hike up.

Bicycling

Bicycling is a great way to experience the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park. And bicycles are allowed on all paved and unpaved roads on the South Rim. Cyclists can enjoy approximately 13 miles of roads and Greenway Trails that allow for more intimate explorations along the rim. If you get tired, load your bike on one of the park’s bicycle-friendly shuttle buses – there is a bus stop every one-half to one-mile along the 13 mile-stretch.

Scenic Hermit Road follows the canyon rim for seven miles and is one of the best places in the park for cycling. Most of the year, private vehicle restrictions eliminate most traffic. The Hermit Road Greenway Trail, between Monument Creek Vista and Hermits Rest, provides a 2.8-mile bicycle path away from the road and, in places, along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Don’t have a bike with you? Rent one from Bright Angel Bicycles, next to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Bright Angel Bicycles provides rentals and guided bicycle tours between mid-March and October 31.

There is also a small coffee bar and café with a grab & go menu targeted toward hikers, bikers and pedestrians. The café is open year-round.

Tour the Scenic Hermit Road (also known as West Rim Drive)

Hermit Road is a scenic route along the west end of Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim which follows the rim for seven miles out to Hermits Rest. Access this popular route by using the free park shuttle, or travel on foot, by bicycle, or commercial bus tour. Along the canyon rim are nine designated viewpoints where the free Hermits Rest Route shuttle bus stops.

Free shuttle bus service runs from March 1 through Nov. 30. During this time, the road is closed to private vehicles. Besides the main road, there is a designated greenway for travel by foot or bicycle. Commercial bus tours, jeep tours, and van tours, are also available.

Tour Desert View Drive (Hwy 64 – also known as East Rim Drive)

This 25 mile road leaves Grand Canyon Village, then travels east to Desert View. You can drive your private vehicle, or take a commercial bus tour, a jeep tour, or van tour. View the Colorado River at Moran, Lipan and Desert View Points. You may exit or enter the park on the eastern end at Desert View. (via Arizona Highways 64 and 89)

Explore Desert View Point

Grand Canyon - Watchtower

Climb to the top of a 70 ft. tall stone Watchtower for a panoramic view extending more than 100 miles on a clear day. Designed in 1932 by Mary Colter, the historic Watchtower is a replica of prehistoric towers found on the Colorado Plateau. There is also a general store, deli, seasonal campground, and gas station.

Experience Desert View’s Cultural Demonstration Program

At Desert View, you can interact with tribal artisans from Grand Canyon’s traditionally associated tribes – where they share their history and crafts. Jewelers, silversmiths, weavers, potters, sculptors, and a variety of other artisans are present throughout the year. The demonstrations are free and take place in the historic Watchtower on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Tusayan Ruin

is the remains of a small Ancestral Puebloan village located 3 miles west of Desert View.
The Tusayan Ruins — also known as the Tusayan Pueblo — is an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site within Grand Canyon National Park. Many consider it to be one of the major archeological sites in Arizona. The site comprises a small, u-shaped pueblo featuring a living area, storage rooms, and a kiva.

Tusayan Museum

Grand Canyon - Tusaynan Museum

This interactive facility contains a variety of exhibits designed to enhance visitors’ understanding of the unique human history of the Grand Canyon National Park area. The museum provides interesting displays — including artifacts dating back to 4,000 years. Admission is free. Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. There are also daily ranger-led tours of the ruins.

Explore the Grand Canyon on the back of a Mule

South Rim Mule Trips

Grand Canyon - Mule Trip

For the more adventurous visitor looking to create the memory of a lifetime, take a mule ride along the rim or perhaps down into the Grand Canyon itself. Horses may be iconic to the American West, but the equine of choice at Grand Canyon has long been its hybrid relative, the mule. These animals have the sure-footedness of a burro along with the larger size and strength of a horse. They have been carrying canyon visitors since the late 1800s. In fact, more than 600,000 people have taken Grand Canyon mule rides since they were first offered in 1887.

There is no Grand Canyon National Park adventure more rewarding or more unique than a mule ride. The overnight rides take you deep into the canyon, where you can stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. If you think the view from the rim takes your breath away, wait until you experience the Grand Canyon from within.

Canyon Vistas Mule Ride

If you only have a short time to visit the South Rim, but are still looking for some adventure, take the Canyon Vistas Rim Ride. The ride doesn’t take you into the canyon itself, but the views along the way are stunning. Grand Canyon mule riders can take in the breathtaking vistas of Grand Canyon National Park while traveling along the rim of the canyon.

Whitewater and Smooth-water Raft Trips on the Colorado River

Sit back, relax, listen and learn as you learn the story behind the scenery of one of America’s great rivers. Here, canyon walls rise a thousand feet into the sky. Mysterious messages have been carved into stone by the Ancient Ones. And, look skyward for eagles, herons, and maybe even a California condor as you drift on the crystal clear water, carried by the gentle current of the Colorado River.

Grand Canyon - Whitewater

Ask any of the 22,000 Colorado River runners who brave the Grand Canyon white water river rafting trips each year to describe the experience — and you’re likely to hear that it is “the trip of a lifetime.” Whitewater trips through Grand Canyon last from 3 days to 21 days and require reservations made well in advance.

Or, you can experience the thrill of a 15.5-mile smooth water float trip down the Colorado River, through Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Any lodge within the park may arrange half-day and all-day smooth water trips from Glen Canyon Dam. Excursions include transportation from the lodges.

Photographing the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States and is a favorite destination of many photographers. Although there are endless amazing photographic opportunities at Grand Canyon National Park, once you spend a little time at the rim, and you soon realize why most viewpoints are the best places to view and photograph the canyon. The overlooks are at places where the rocks jut out into the canyon, providing the best views.

Here are some of my favorite places to make lasting images…

  • Yaki Point – Best to shoot here at dawn.
  • Mather Point – The classic Grand Canyon view, and for good reason.
  • Mohave Point – A spectacular view of the river looking west.
  • Hopi Point – Another classic South Rim overlook with expansive views both east and west.
  • Desert View Point – The Watchtower with the river below and the Palisades of the Desert in the background. Makes a great sunset shot.

Attend Free Ranger Programs

Grand Canyon National Park offers one of the most extensive ranger programs in the National Park Service system. Learn more about Grand Canyon nature, science, history and culture with a park ranger as your guide.

Grand Canyon - Ranger Program

Ranger programs offer guided hikes, where you will learn about the wild inhabitants who survive in this place of extreme changes in elevation, exposure, and climate. Join a ranger to discover stories of humankind’s enduring relationship with the canyon, or to hear captivating stories about diverse human connections. Learn how the Grand Canyon was formed while exploring Yavapai Geology Museum. Or, enjoy special events and evening programs during the summer in a beautiful auditorium or outdoor amphitheater — like star walks, night hikes, cemetery tours, and more.

There are too many programs to list — and they are always changing, so check the South Rim Village or the South Rim Desert View Ranger Program schedule once you arrive.

Stop by a Visitor Center, Historic Home or Museum

And don’t forget the Visitor Centers, historic homes and museums that house exhibits and provide all the park information you’ll need for your stay at Grand Canyon National Park, including the film: Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, that’s shown in the theater at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

Grand Canyon National Park

Click here to see the Grand Canyon National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our national parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob and the National Park Poster Project

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Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along America’s Atlantic coastline. This 47,000-acre recreation area — primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island — features woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks such as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the United States’ East Coast. Among the wildlife are moose, bear, whales and seabirds. The bayside town of Bar Harbor, with restaurants and shops, is a popular gateway. And each year, more than 3.5 million people explore seven peaks above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Acadia is great park the whole family can enjoy! I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Acadia National Park!

Explore Mount Desert Island

The majority of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island. The island offers an endless array of activities for everyone including a visit to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff. Here, the mountains truly meet the sea and you can enjoy one of the most spectacular settings on the entire East Coast. With its beautiful coastal scenery, the island is a great location for hiking or ocean kayaking. Bar Harbor, the largest town on Mount Desert Island is often thought of as synonymous with the Park. But visitors can also stay in charming Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Otter Creek, Seal Harbor or Somesville.

Drive the Park Loop Road

Park Loop Road
The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the best way to navigate through Acadia National Park. The loop begins near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center on the north side of the island in Bar Harbor. It connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests and rocky shores — making exploration easy. Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff and other popular sites and trails can be reached from the road. 20 miles of the Park Loop Road is one way. But there is a two way section that begins near Wildwood Stables — perfect for taking in the magnificent views.

Hike, Bike & Ride the Carriage Roads

Carriage Roads
This 57-mile long network of paved paths created and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. provides hikers, bikers, inline skaters, horse riders, and horse-drawn carriages a unique way to visit Acadia National Park. Over the course of the 27-year project, Rockefeller designed the paths to highlight the best scenery in the park — circling around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Mount Desert Island. The Carriage Roads are off-limits to motor vehicles. During the winter months, some of these allow for cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling.

Explore Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond
When you think of the most idyllic spot in Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond with its pristine calm waters surrounded by lush, majestic mountains in all directions usually comes to mind. The Jordan Pond Nature Trail — an easy stroll through the evergreens — and the Jordan Pond Shore Trail — a more difficult trek along the rocky coast — spill out to the picturesque and pleasant respite of Jordan Pond. Regardless of your route, at the end you’ll find crystal-clear waters that mirror the surrounding mountains. Swimming is not allowed, but non-motorized boats such as canoes and kayaks are permitted.

Hike Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain — at 1530 feet — is not only is it the tallest mountain in the park, but it’s the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. It’s also the first point of the United States to greet the rising sun — a spectacular sight to see. Largely composed of pink granite, it’s covered with spruce and pitch pine forests, tiny sub alpine plants, short gnarled trees and wild blueberries. You can hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or drive the narrow 3.5-mile access road. The only attraction that can be reached by car, Cadillac Mountain tends to draw large crowds. There are several observation areas along the way — perfect for taking in the views before you reach the top.

Enjoy Sand Beach

Sand Beach
On the east side of Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is nestled between two walls of solid pink granite and surrounded by towering evergreens. With 290 yards of shoreline, Sand Beach is the most popular beach in the park because the views are outstanding. And, you can hike up the Great Head Trail for an even better vantage point. The beach is largely comprised of sand and shell fragments created by the pounding surf. The waterline can vary quite a bit because of the difference between high and low tide.

Visit Otter Cliff

Otter Cliff
One of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard, Otter Cliff is a classic stop along the Park Look Road. The famous 110 foot high granite precipice is one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands. In the summer, you may see adventurous rock climbers working their way up the granite cliffs and whale pods spouting off shore. In the fall, large flocks of ducks congregate here in the waves before migrating south for the winter.

Experience Thunder Hole

Feel and hear the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores at this small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks. At the end of this inlet is a semi-submerged cave where the waves rush in and air and water is forced out like a clap of thunder. Water can spray as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! To catch the big boom, there’s an element of luck, as well as timing. The best time to visit is when the tides are changing. From here, you can also take in the views — Schoodic Peninsula in the distance, Sand Beach to your left and Otter Cliff to the east.

Ride at Wildwood Stables

Wildwood Stables provides a variety of daily horse-drawn carriage rides and tours from end of May through mid-October of each year. Tours follow the famous and scenic carriage roads that were originally constructed by John D. Rockefeller. Tour lengths include one and two hours with the option to charter a private carriage driven by a Wildwood Stables’ coachman. The stables are located next to the picturesque Park Loop Road on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island.

Explore Schoodic Point

Located at the southern tip of Schoodic Peninsula in Winter Harbor, Schoodic Point is composed of a craggy shoreline, granite headlands and spruce-fir forests. It provides one of the best places to view the pounding surf during rough seas as well as great views of Cadillac Mountain. Schoodic Point isn’t as easily accessible as some of the park’s other major attractions. But that’s precisely why park visitors find this area so special. There are four hiking trails; the Schoodic Head Trail, Anvil Trail and East Trail lead hikers through spruce-fir forests to pine woodlands at the top of Schoodic Head. The less-strenuous Alder Trail guides visitors through a shrubland.


Acadia National Park

Click here to see the Acadia National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob and the National Park Poster Project

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Best Things to do in Yellowstone National Park (Part 1)

Blue Pool

One of the greatest experiences in Yellowstone National Park is witnessing its geologic wonders. Topping the list are the hydrothermal features: hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and geysers — particularly, Old Faithful. Well over 10,000 different hydrothermal features have been estimated to be active within the park. Even more incredible might be that over half of the world’s active geysers are found here. Every year, some 500-700 geysers are active. In 2011, it was determined that 1,283 geysers have been recorded as erupting in Yellowstone. This is truly incredible, when all of the rest of the world’s geysers combined number less than 500. Hydrothermal features are extremely dynamic, changing throughout the day, across seasons, and over the years. This makes revisiting the different thermal basins so interesting. Besides seeing familiar sites, you can also see how those areas have changed since the last visit.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Yellowstone is one of my all-time favorites! I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

Yellowstone is huge…and this is the first of three posts describing what to do and what to see when you visit Yellowstone National Park. Read on to learn more about the southern part of the park.

Watch Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser
Watching Old Faithful Geyser erupt is a Yellowstone National Park tradition. People from all over the world have journeyed here to watch this famous geyser. The park’s wildlife and scenery might be as well-known today, but it was the unique thermal features like Old Faithful Geyser that inspired the establishment of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872. Old Faithful is one of nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone and one of six that park rangers currently predict. It is uncommon to be able to predict geyser eruptions with regularity, but Old Faithful has lived up to its name, only lengthening the time between eruptions by about 30 minutes in the last 30 years. Thermal features change constantly and it is possible Old Faithful may stop erupting someday. Geysers and other thermal features are evidence of ongoing volcanic activity beneath the surface and change is part of this natural system.

Check out Fishing Bridge

The original bridge was built in 1902. It was a rough-hewn corduroy log bridge with a slightly different alignment than the current bridge. The existing bridge was built in 1937. Fishing Bridge was historically a tremendously popular place to fish. Angling from the bridge was quite good, due to the fact that it was a major spawning area for cutthroat trout. However, because of the decline of the cutthroat population (in part, a result of this practice), the bridge was closed to fishing in 1973.

Visit Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Large volcanic eruptions have occurred in Yellowstone approximately every 600,000 years. The most recent of these erupted from two large vents, one near Old Faithful and one just north of Fishing Bridge. Ash from this huge explosion — 1,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens — has been found all across the continent. The magma chamber then collapsed, forming a large caldera filled partially by subsequent lava flows. Part of this caldera is the 136-square mile basin of Yellowstone Lake. The original lake was 200 feet. higher than the present-day lake, extending northward across Hayden Valley to the base of Mt. Washburn.

Explore the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake

Members of the 1870 Washburn party noted that Yellowstone Lake was shaped like “a human hand with the fingers extended and spread apart as much as possible,” with the large west bay representing the thumb. In 1878, however, the Hayden Survey used the name West Arm for the bay. West Bay was also used. Norris’ maps of 1880 and 1881 used West Bay or Thumb. During the 1930s, park personnel attempted to change the name back to West Arm, but West Thumb remains the accepted name.

West Thumb

Explore the West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin, including Potts Basin to the north, is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The heat source of the hydrothermal features in this location is thought to be relatively close to the surface—only 10,000 feet down! The West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake was formed by a large volcanic explosion that occurred approximately 150,000 years ago. The resulting collapsed volcano later filled with water forming an extension of Yellowstone Lake. The West Thumb is about the same size as another famous volcanic caldera, Crater Lake in Oregon, but much smaller than the great Yellowstone Caldera. It is interesting to note that West Thumb is a caldera within a caldera. The hydrothermal features at West Thumb are found not only on the lake shore, but extend under the surface of the lake as well. Several underwater geysers were discovered in the early 1990s and can be seen as slick spots or slight bulges in the summer. During the winter, the underwater thermal features are visible as melt holes in the icy surface of the lake. The ice averages about three feet thick during the winter.

View Wildlife in Hayden Valley

Bison, Yellowstone National Park

Hayden Valley is located six miles north of Fishing Bridge Junction. Hayden Valley offers some of the best habitat in the lower 48 states for viewing wildlife like grizzly bears, bison, and elk. Hayden Valley was once filled by an arm of Yellowstone Lake and it contains fine-grained lake sediments that are now covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat, about 13,000 years ago. Because the glacial till contains many different grain sizes, including clay and a thin layer of lake sediments, water cannot percolate readily into the ground. This is why Hayden Valley is marshy and has little encroachment of trees.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Best Things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser

Click here to see the Old Faithful poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Share this with Friends, Family & Followers