Due to COVID-19, the businesses mentioned here may close at any time or be operating under specific restrictions. Please call ahead to verify that activities you’re interested in will be open for business at the time of your visit.
Grand Canyon’s South Rim is a gorgeous spot in Arizona, and it’s known all over the planet for its wide-open spaces and broad vistas. While the world adjusts to the new normal of social distancing and a phased re-opening, both the Grand Canyon National Park and the adjacent, gateway community of Tusayan are open, offering plenty of safe, memorable experiences to enjoy. Stay for a few days to enjoy the canyon, as well as Tusayan’s many attractions, restaurants, and lodging options. As with everything these days, check websites or call ahead to find out about current conditions.
Here are the top 10 things to do at the South Rim and Tusayan that guarantee fun—with a healthy, safe approach.
The popular Bright Angel Trail into the canyon’s depths is often a nose-to-tail experience—and we’re not just talking about the famous mule rides. Instead, peel off to explore the national park’s less crowded trails. The 13-mile-long Rim Trail does just what its name suggests—hug the rim for gorgeous, Instagram-able photo ops. Hike the east or west ends for the least amount of foot traffic. Away from the village, pick up the paved Greenway Trail from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center as it heads a little more than three miles to Yaki Point, a great vista spot.
Bikes are the perfect way to keep your social distance. Bring your own to ride on a newer, 6.5-mile section of the Greenway Trail, which links Tusayan and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center within the park. No bikes? No problem, as Tusayan GC-Bikes now offers electric bikes to make the Greenway journey a breeze. Alternatively, try Bright Angel Bicycles, located next to the main visitor center inside the park.
Early morning is the best time to visit popular spots at the South Rim. You’ll be able to (almost) have viewpoints to yourself and admire the park’s notable buildings like Hopi House and Lookout Studio without crowds. In the afternoon, plan on having other adventures, like a hike through the surrounding Kaibab National Forest, going on a scenic trail ride via horse or UTV, or taking a Jeep tour or helicopter flight with tour companies based in Tusayan.
See the canyon from the rugged splendor of a 4x4 vehicle by booking a tour with Tusayan operators like Buck Wild Hummer Tours, Grand Canyon Jeep Tours & Safaris or Grand Canyon Pink Jeep Tours. You’ll get plenty of intel on local geology, history, and biology, and see the canyon’s lesser-known viewpoints, catch a sunset, or even take in some Native American petroglyphs. These operators are keeping things safe by limiting the number of passengers per vehicle, requiring guests to wear masks and get temperature checks, and sanitizing vehicles between trips.
To really understand the magnitude of the canyon and the splendor of its geology, try an air tour. With panoramic windows and guided narration, operators like Westwind Airservice, Papillon, and Maverick Helicopters depart from Tusayan’s Grand National Park Airport to zip over the surrounding Kaibab National Forest before circling the canyon itself. Safety measures for today’s environment? Look for sanitized terminal facilities and aircraft, temperature checks, and masks for both passengers and pilots.
It’s easy to stay at least six feet apart during a trail ride, so social distancing is no problem at Apache Stables. Located between Tusayan and the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, the stable offers one- and two-hour wrangler-guided trail rides through pines and open meadows of the Kaibab National Forest. When the current health climate changes, look for wagon rides and campfire cookouts to return.
At the end of a day filled with outdoor adventures, kick back with a great meal and perhaps an adult beverage or two. Tusayan has a variety of restaurants that are open for both dining in (with proper social distancing) and take out. Among them, Big E Steakhouse & Saloon is a beef-centric eatery with vegetarian entrees also available. Enjoy the Western ambiance and take advantage of your table’s own dispenser of Big E sanitizer and mask bags for your face coverings. Nearby, Plaza Bonita has a colorful background that sets the stage for a menu of Mexican specialties. At We Cook Pizza & Pasta, a town favorite since 1981, you can sit indoors or out to enjoy a veggie pizza, some wings, or fettuccine Alfredo, plus a cold craft beer.
A day trip to the Grand Canyon is just dandy—but consider spending the night (or two or three…) to really get to know the area. Tusayan has numerous properties that are within walking distance of restaurants and community attractions—and a short drive to the Grand Canyon itself. All are practicing enhanced sanitizing procedures for rooms and public spaces, adjustments for food service safety, social distancing measures, and more. Look for well-known national names like the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn, Grand Canyon Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, and The Grand Hotel. There are also some beautiful family-run properties that have all been recently remodeled and upgraded, such as Red Feather Lodge, Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, and the efficient 7-Mile Lodge.
Sunrise and sunset are magical times for viewing and photographing the canyon. If you’re a morning lark, you’ll find crowds thinner for those sunrise vistas from viewpoints along Hermits Road, like Hopi Point. In the opposite direction, Yaki Point is also great for dawn’s early light. Like sleeping in and catching a sunset instead? Mather Point is very popular (read: crowded) as the sun slips below the horizon. Instead, drive away from big groups to Lipan Point or Navajo Point.
Camping is the natural way to keep your social distance. Look for campgrounds and RV hookups within the Grand Canyon National Park. In the surrounding Kaibab National Forest, rustic Ten-X Campground has some 70 sites in a ponderosa pine and oak forest plus miles of dispersed (dry) camping surrounding Tusayan. In Tusayan, Grand Canyon Camper Village has sites for tents, campers and RVs, and features hookups, showers, campfire rings, and a small general store. And stargazers, take note—anywhere you camp at the Grand Canyon, lack of city lights means you’re guaranteed a view of constellations and the Milky Way on a clear night. Bring your telescope.