Free Things to do in the Grand Canyon

I’m sure the Grand Canyon needs no introduction. A natural wonder carved by the Colorado River for millions of years, this place is visited by countless travelers every year. Its majestic cliffs, colorful layers of rock, and sweeping vistas leave me breathless no matter how many times I go there. However, what if you’re on a budget? Don’t worry, I don’t like spending a lot of money either, but there are so many free things to do in the Grand Canyon. From breathtaking viewpoints to fascinating historical sites and easy hikes, you’ll be able to have an unforgettable trip without breaking the bank. Say goodbye to those hefty price tag tours and make your trip as amazing as the Canyon itself with these activities.

Grandview Point


The Grandview Point has to be one of the best viewpoints along the South Rim. It offers panoramic vistas of the canyon minus the large crowds you might find at other popular spots. I think it lives up to its reputation. From the overlook, I was able to see a wide swath of the canyon, including landmarks like Vishnu Temple and the Colorado River. The views were especially stunning at sunset, where the canyon walls were bathed in a warm golden light.

If you’re looking for some exercise, there’s a short, steep trail leading down from Grandview Point to the canyon rim. The trail is a great way to get a closer look at the canyon and see some different geological features. I was also surprised to learn that the area around Grandview Point has a rich history. The Last Chance Mine, a copper mine that was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is located nearby. You can still see some of the ruins of the mine today.

Grandview Point by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Grandview Point by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Lookout Studio


Right on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you’ll find the Lookout Studio. Architect Mary Colter designed the building to resemble the ruins of an ancient Puebloan dwelling. It was such a smart decision, though. When I saw the studio for the first time, it looked just like a natural part of the landscape. What I liked the most about the studio was that it allowed me to take in some of the most gorgeous views of the canyon. There were even telescopes for me to take a closer look at the views.

If you’re staying near the El Tovar Hotel, the studio is only a short and scenic walk away along the Rim Trail. By the way, I was able to see the California Condors there. So, keep an eye out for these rare and majestic birds soaring above the canyon rim. Best of all, you can find some souvenirs in the studio, and the shopkeepers were so friendly and helpful to me. This is the place to be if you’re searching for cheap things to do at the Grand Canyon.

Lookout Studio by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Lookout Studio by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Shoshone Point


When it comes to hidden gems, the Shoshone Point is absolutely one. This easy trail, just a short drive and an even shorter hike from the South Rim Visitor Center, offers stunning views without the crowds. I loved how easy it was to hike this trail. When I was there, the trail was well-maintained and mostly flat. Those seeking a relaxing walk with a big payoff would definitely love this place.

The unmarked parking lot might seem inconspicuous, but that’s part of the charm. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a secret spot as you navigate the trail through the pines. The path opens up to a serene picnic area, a great place to rest and fuel up before continuing to the grand finale – Shoshone Point itself. However, make sure to bring plenty of water, as there’s none available at the trailhead or the point.

Shoshone Point by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Shoshone Point by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Historic Navajo Bridge


I accidentally found the Historic Navajo Bridge, and it was such a blessing. My GPS took me down a long road, and I suddenly stumbled upon this amazing bridge. It was a lucky accident, though, as the views from there are incredible. The best part? It’s totally free. I immediately walked right out onto the bridge and snapped some stunning photos. It was raining a little when I was there, but luckily, it was only for a few minutes.

This bridge is located in Marble Canyon, which is considered the beginning of the Grand Canyon. It was built in 1929 and was the highest steel arch bridge in the United States at the time. The bridge is 750 feet long and spans 470 feet above the Colorado River. Though I didn’t get the chance to experience it myself, people say the views from the bridge are especially impressive in the morning or evening when the light is shining on the canyon walls.

Historic Navajo Bridge by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Historic Navajo Bridge by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Yavapai Geology Museum


The Yavapai Geology Museum is a free museum in Grand Canyon Village. Perched right on the very edge of the canyon rim, it offers one of the best vantage points for an overview of Grand Canyon geology. I wish I could easily visit the museum whenever I wanted to. The annotated displays at the base of the panoramic windows were amazing, as they helped me identify the various rock layers I was seeing. My experience there was even better when I found out the museum was a historic building dating back to 1928. What amazed me was the fact that it still retains much of its historic character.

So, what can you expect? Inside, you’ll find interactive exhibits that chronicle the geological history and composition of the Canyon. There’s also a large, sculpted relief map in the center of the room that provides a great way to get acquainted with the shape of the canyon and where its various landmarks are relative to one another. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a geology buff. But even so, I couldn’t help but find the exhibits informative and enchanting. Plus, the views from the museum are simply stunning.

Yavapai Geology Museum by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Yavapai Geology Museum by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Trail of Time


From the Yavapai Geology Museum, walk west and find the Trail of Time. It’s a relatively flat 2.8-mile walk along the rim. This unique trail uses the canyon’s rocks and vistas to tell the story of Earth’s history, which stretches back billions of years, hence the name. Choosing to walk this trail was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Perfect for travelers of all ages and fitness levels, I even saw families with kids along the trail.

The trail is essentially a timeline of the canyon’s formation. Markers along the path indicate how many millions of years ago you’re standing. I also saw informative signs that explained the geologic events that shaped the canyon over billions of years. It’s a fascinating way to gain an appreciation for the immense scale of geologic time. Better yet, you can touch rock samples, see how the canyon has eroded over time, and even peer through a giant telescope for an even closer look at the canyon’s layers.

Trail of Time by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr
Trail of Time by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Desert View Drive


The Desert View Drive is arguably the crown jewel of the South Rim. This exclusive route, restricted to only private cars, unfolds for 23 miles. It unveils breathtaking panoramas of the majestic canyon and the lifeblood of the Colorado River. As I was cruising along the rim, I was surprised as each bend in the road revealed a fresh perspective of the canyon’s vastness. Want to make everything better? Don’t forget to pack your favorite road trip snacks! Also, you can pull over at any of the six viewpoints and soak in the grandeur.

That’s not all! It also has four designated picnic areas that provide the perfect spot to relish a meal amidst this natural wonder. Need a quick stop to stretch your legs and capture the moment? Five pullouts cater to your needs. The highlight, at least for me, is the Desert View Watchtower. This architectural masterpiece pays homage to the Ancestral Puebloan people who once inhabited the Colorado Plateau. Witnessing the artistic traditions of local Native American groups unfold before my eyes was truly a moment I will never forget.

Desert View Drive by Wayloncash/Flickr
Desert View Drive by Wayloncash/Flickr

Ranger Park Programs


One simply can’t talk about free things to do at the Grand Canyon without mentioning the Ranger Park programs. These programs are a great way to learn about the park’s geology, plants and animals, history, and culture from the experts. What I like the most about these programs is that they’re offered throughout the day and are available at both the South Rim and North Rim.

“Those who don’t know where to start can check out these programs. Plus, they’re all free.”

WOW Travel

Some of the most popular programs include guided hikes led by park rangers and fun, educational tours. Families can even enjoy the experience of joining the Junior Ranger Program. I enjoyed the Native American history tour the most, though. After all, I’m a history buff! You don’t need to worry about the schedule either, as you can check it out on the official website or pick up the park newspaper. The upcoming Grand Canyon Star Party sure sounds exciting.

Park Ranger Programs by Flickr
Park Ranger Programs by Flickr

Mather Point


I still remember Mather Point as one of the first things I saw of the Grand Canyon. It’s safe to say that it’s the canyon’s grand entrance. The view stretches for miles across the canyon, and on a clear day, the visibility is incredible. When I was there, I was amazed by the dramatic rock formations, the Colorado River winding down below, and layers of colored cliffs. The views were nothing short of hypnotizing.

Speaking of views, Mather Point is a photographer’s dream, especially for capturing the sunrise or sunset. Though I didn’t have the chance to spot the views super early in the morning, they say it’s worth setting the alarm for. Another reason why it’s among travelers’ favorites is because it’s conveniently steps away from the visitor center. Yep, this means restrooms and gift shops are within easy reach. I even spent some time at the face. On top of that, a free shuttle drops you off right at the lookout.

Mather Point by Joshua Bedford/Unsplash
Mather Point by Joshua Bedford/Unsplash

Bright Angel Trail


One of the most popular trails in the Grand Canyon, the Bright Angel Trail is a must-visit. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a scenic walk down the rim, the trail offers something for everyone. Personally, this is one of my favorites. Hiking this trail allowed me to get an up-close look at the colorful layers of rock that are simply indescribable. You’ll also witness the geological formations up close.

Also, one of the best things about this trail is its versatility. It’s not just one single hike but rather a collection of trails that branch off the main route. This allows you to choose the distance and difficulty that best suits your abilities and time constraints. Best of all, you’ll find countless access to water and rest stops. I went there in the summer, and it was very hot. If you want to hike more comfortably, you can consider hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the spring or fall.

Bright Angel Trail by Sharon Mollerus/Wikimedia Commons
Bright Angel Trail by Sharon Mollerus/Wikimedia Commons

Rim Trail


In case you didn’t get the memo, hiking costs you zero cents in the Grand Canyon. My favorite? It’s none other than the Rim Trail. Stretching for more than 13 miles along the canyon’s South Rim, this is an easy hike, perfect for travelers of all ages and fitness levels. When I was hiking, I even saw an elderly couple. Cute! Also, most of the trail is paved and, for me, relatively flat. I only found a few gentle inclines, which should be no problem, even for first-timers and little ones.

Speaking of inclusivity, the Rim Trail is also wheelchair accessible for most of its length, making it a great choice for people with disabilities. But despite being an easy hike, it offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon. To be honest, I couldn’t even concentrate on hiking as I was always distracted by the stunning vistas along the trail. There are 14 shuttle stops along its course, so you can hop on and off the shuttle as you please. But since there’s no water available along the trail, make sure to bring enough for yourself.

Rim Trail by Michael Quinn/Flickr
Rim Trail by Michael Quinn/Flickr

Grand Canyon Village


The Grand Canyon National Park welcomes millions of visitors each year (including us), and the Grand Canyon Village serves as its bustling heart. This free destination is the most popular entry point, and for a good reason – it provides convenient access to all the canyon’s wonders. That said, one of the village’s highlights is Yavapai Point. I still remember the first time I was there. From there, I was able to witness some of the most mesmerizing panoramas of the canyon. Make sure to bring your cameras!

In addition to being the springboard to some of the canyon’s best viewpoints, the village also boasts charming restaurants, markets, and even gift shops for those last-minute souvenirs. Psst! For a dose of history, the Grand Canyon Railway is a must-visit. It gave me a unique travel experience. By taking the train, I also learned how the railroad’s expansion impacted the region’s tourism industry. You should also stop by the Hopi House. The unique American Indian arts are exceptional, and you can even buy some of them. While there are so many free things to do in the Grand Canyon, spending some time in the Grand Canyon Village is a must.

Grand Canyon Village by Marine 69-71/Wikimedia Commons
Grand Canyon Village by Marine 69-71/Wikimedia Commons

Cool Facts About the Grand Canyon

  • Did you know that the Grand Canyon controls and creates its own weather? Because of its vast size and elevation changes, the canyon has its own weather patterns. This means you might experience sunshine at the rim while encountering rain or snow as you hike deeper down.
  • It’s home to a hidden community: the Havasupai Tribe, which resides deep within the canyon walls. This remote community has lived there for centuries and can only be reached by helicopter, foot, or mule.
  • The amazing Grand Canyon is, at its widest point, wider than the entire state of Rhode Island. Wow!
  • You won’t find dinosaur bones here. However, there are plenty of fossils of marine creatures from millions of years ago. These fossils tell us about the ancient oceans that once covered the area.
  • The layers of rock exposed in the canyon tell a story of over two billion years of Earth’s history. However, a mysterious gap of about 950 million years’ worth of rock layers is missing—scientists are still figuring out what happened there!

Where to Stay in or Near the Grand Canyon

What is not allowed at the Grand Canyon?

Visiting the Grand Canyon comes with some restrictions to protect the park and wildlife. Disrespectful behavior like littering or disturbing animals is prohibited, and for safety reasons, things like bikes and drones are not allowed on the trails below the rim.

Can you walk freely in the Grand Canyon?

You can walk along the rim of the Grand Canyon on paved paths for stunning views. Hiking down into the canyon itself is also possible, but be prepared for a challenging trek – these aren’t casual walks.

When not to visit the Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon can be less enjoyable during peak summer due to scorching temperatures and large crowds. For a less crowded experience, you might also want to avoid major holidays like Spring Break and Christmas.

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