If you're like me and have day tripped the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or perhaps it's your first visit and you don't have a game plan, you'll likely end up hanging out on the rim in the area serviced by the blue shuttle. This area is the easiest to get to since it's centrally located in the park, and also where many of the parking lots are located. It's no wonder then why folks seem to gravitate towards this area upon first visiting. There's much to do and see in this area, and the views of the canyon are amazing.
If you look at a park map, you'd probably notice a couple other shuttle routes, designated by red and yellow lines. The red line, and the focus of this post, is located on the western side of the park.
Strangely, over the course of almost 20 years of living in Arizona, I've not spent time exploring this section of the park, probably for a couple reasons. First, on most of my visits, I've spent more time hiking down into the canyon on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails, and didn't spend much time taking in views from up on the rim. Secondly, the red line seemed a little scary to me, as whenever I approached the waiting area of the red line shuttle, the crowds were enormous.
And that brings me to my first point. If you want to do the red line, I'd get there as early as possible, as I did on this particular adventure. I know it might be easier said than done for some of you. I had just packed up my tent at Mather Campground that same morning so I was already in the park bright and early, but if you don't, prepare for the hordes and packed shuttles!
I took a picture of the red line shuttle stop at the end of my visit, on my way out of the park, which was still fairly early in the morning. You can see the crowds already starting to form.
There are a total of 9 stops on the red line to Hermit's Rest shuttle route, not including the red line transfer at the beginning.
The westbound route (going from the transfer to Hermit's Rest) stops at all nine stops. The eastbound route stops at four of the nine (not including Hermit's Rest itself), which is handy in case you want to turn around and head back before going all the way.
On my trip, I didn't have time to hit every stop, but the shuttle driver did a fantastic job educating visitors about the stops and pointed out the best ones to see in case you can't see them all.
Those would be Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point and Pima Point. And then of course the last stop, Hermit's Rest, where you could either turn around and take the eastbound shuttle back, or stay and check out a historic building (more on that later).
In general, the red line stops are known for being good places for seeing sunrises, sunsets, or both. This is partially why they are so popular. I've not experienced a sunrise or sunset in this section of the park, but I've heard that if it is busy, it can be wall-to-wall people during those times. It probably depends on the time of the year.
The first overlook on the red line tour is Powell Point. The shuttle driver mentioned that Powell Point and Hopi Point are good for watching sunrises in particular, as you get good views facing east. As I exited the shuttle and proceeded out to Powell point, I could see what she meant. Unlike the overlooks on the blue line, I could see much further down the canyon. At the blue line overlooks, there are sections of land that jut out far into the canyon that obstruct east and west facing views. You spend more time looking across to the north rim as opposed to down along the canyon lengthwise. At Powell point, I could see much further than I ever have.
Rather than wait for the next shuttle (which comes about every 15 minutes), I decided to walk to Hopi Point along a rim trail as the two points are right next to each other. Unless you have a good reason why not, I say just hoof it. It's not far at all, and the views along the way are amazing.
The shuttle driver had mentioned that you will be able to see views of the Colorado river from certain points along the red line. At Hopi point, I caught my first view of it. This was neat, because on all my other visits to the canyon, I'd never seen the Colorado from up on the rim. I've had to hike pretty far down into the canyon to get a view of the river.
And, as the shuttle driver mentioned, I could see clearly down the canyon facing east, meaning sunrises would certainly be good from this vantage point. Not only that, Hopi point has a wide viewing angle, so I thought that the view facing west was also fantastic and much better than Powell point. I'm almost certain that sunsets would be amazing from Hopi too.
Although you can walk the rim trail all the way to Hermit's Rest, most points are not as close together as Hopi and Mohave. You'd be walking in terms of miles. So, from here on out, I'd be hopping on the shuttle to get from point to point.
The next stop on my tour was Mohave point. The first thing that I noticed is that the easterly facing view from Mohave was not as good as it was from Hopi and Powell, mainly because the land mass that Hopi sits on protrudes far into the canyon, obscuring canyon views facing that direction.
But, the westerly facing views were the best yet. I imagine that sunsets would be magical here. You also get the best view of the Colorado river I had seen yet. Mohave did not disappoint and is an essential stop off the red line.
And after taking in the sights at Mohave, I jumped back onto the shuttle to hit the second to last stop, Pima point. The shuttle driver mentioned that this was another great stop for seeing sunsets and one of the most popular on the red line.
Consulting my park map again, I reviewed my journey so far and the reason is clear why these points have all been so good. All of them sit out on pieces of land that extend out into the canyon. Take a look at the park map once again and you'll see what I mean.
As with Mohave, Pima seems best suited for westerly facing views, and I felt that Pima offered the best views of the Colorado River. You could make out white water rapids on the river from Pima, especially if you use a camera to zoom in a bit.
Big fluffy, white clouds moved across the sky at a pretty fast clip. No need to record a time lapse today. You could see the shadows cast by the clouds rolling over the canyon with the naked eye. What a way to end my tour of the main overlooks! This was perhaps my favorite view of the canyon to date.
Even though I stopped at all of the recommended overlooks, there was still one more stop to see. Hermit's Rest itself.
As I exited the shuttle at Hermit's Rest, I noticed that there were several rest rooms lined up off to the left, which was welcome. Most of the stops on the tour did not have restrooms.
There are a couple spots to view the canyon here too, but none of them were better than the overlooks we had just seen in my opinion.
But, what is neat is that there is a historic building that you can check out at this stop.
The Hermit's Rest building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of four buildings in the park designed by Mary Jane Colter. This particular building was constructed in 1914. It's a beautiful piece of architecture, both inside and out.
As you enter the stone building, you will be greeted by an open room with a beautiful fireplace. I found it cozy and briefly fantasized about sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold winter day back in the pioneer days of the canyon.
Inside the building you'll find a small gift shop and plenty of Grand Canyon merch, as well as a small snack bar where you can refuel before the long ride back down the red line to the transfer station.
After enjoying the building, I hopped back on the shuttle before the full effect of the crowds starting to become apparent.
I did notice that there were a lot more people than when I started, but still not too bad. It was approaching mid morning at this point.
As I relaxed and took in views on the way back, I reflected on my experience on the red line.
As far as the south rim goes, I can say that to date, this was the most enjoyable experience up on the rim I've had at the Grand Canyon. It definitely inspired me to want to go check out a sunrise or sunset the next time I visit.
If you visit the Grand Canyon and have never done so, I can't recommend enough taking the red line to all the points I mentioned. See all 9 stops if you can. I regret not having done so in the past, and I feel that no visit to the south rim could be called complete without checking it out!