If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon then Desert View Drive should be on your itinerary! It is a one of a kind experience within the park that most visitors miss the first time around. There’s so much hype surrounding the viewpoints near the visitor center that no one ever talks about this scenic drive along the south rim.
You’ll get the chance to drive and witness the beauty of the canyon (almost) from the comfort of your car. It’ll wind along the south rim passing through ponderosa pine forests with peekaboo views of the canyon. Not only that, but there are a couple of fun stops along the way that allow you to stretch your legs and possibly learn something new.
In this guide we’re going to cover the 5 best scenic stops along Desert View Drive, how to access it, and all the necessary details between points A and B. Get ready to experience this less popular part of the canyon rim!
Don’t miss this other epic Grand Canyon experience: Grand Canyon Bike Rentals Are The Best Way To See South Rim
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Desert View Drive: Quick Facts
- Start & End | Mile marker 241.5 to Grand Canyon East Entrance.
- Driving Distance | 23 miles
- Total Time | 25-30 minutes without stops.
- Conveniences | Restrooms, food, & drinks at Desert View Watch Tower.
- Road Conditions | 2 lane paved road with plenty of distance between you and the edge of the canyon.
Below is a map of the Grand Canyon Desert View Drive.
The Desert View Drive technically begins at mile marker 241.5 at the South Entrance junction and runs to the East Entrance along SR 64, but that can be a bit confusing to figure out.
All you need to do is map your GPS to the Desert View Watchtower if you are beginning the drive from the South Entrance, or map it to the Visitor Center if you are beginning from the East Entrance.
I typically save the drive for last because I’ll leave the Grand Canyon visitor center parking and do the scenic drive, then continue through Cameron and back to Flagstaff or Phoenix. This creates a nice big loop!
5 Stops Along Desert View Drive
The Desert View Drive portion of SR 64 includes:
- 5 unmarked scenic pullouts
- 6 developed canyon viewpoints
- 4 picnic areas
- Tusayan Museum & Ruin (museum currently closed)
- Desert View Watch Tower
Feel free to stop and explore any of the above during your scenic drive! There are several dirt roads and paths I have yet to explore myself. But, from my experience, the 5 stops below are the ‘must see’ spots for your first visit!
Now let’s begin the drive, shall we?
1. Grand Viewpoint
If we’re embarking from the visitor center parking and heading towards the East Entrance, then the first (and may I argue second best) viewpoint along Desert View Drive is Grand Viewpoint. It is located on the left side down yet another paved road. The viewpoint access road isn’t too long and it’ll end circling around the parking lot.
This point is also the location for Grandview Trailhead, a very steep trail that descends into the canyon and provides access to Horseshoe Mesa and Cottonwood Creek. Horseshoe Mesa is the location of an old, thriving copper mine. The Grandview Trail was built by the miners so they could gain access to their mines on the mesa. Mining ceased in 1907 and since then the trail and viewpoint have served many tourists and hikers.
2. Buggeln Picnic Area
Next stop along Desert View Drive is the historic Buggeln Picnic Area which is really only worth the stop if you plan on sitting and enjoying a snack. You can’t see the Grand Canyon from here but the pull-off hosts vault toilets, a picnic table, shade, and informational plaques on the local vegetation.
The picnic area is named after Martin Buggeln who owned 160 acres within the park and operated it as a cattle ranch. He built several buildings on his property before it was purchased by the National Park Service and all of the structures were removed. His land was the last privately owned property within the park.
3. Moran Point
Coming in just a smidge behind Grand Viewpoint in the ‘best views’ contest, Moran Point is also impressive and worth stopping at. If you find the right angle you’re actually able to see the Colorado River wind it’s way through a portion of the canyon.
Depending on the time of year you visit the water could be blue-green or brown. Usually the water is beautiful in the spring and by the time fall comes around it is muddied with brown silt from runoff during the monsoon storms.
3. Tusayan Museum & Ruin
After Moran Point keep a look out on the right side of the road for a brown sign marking the turn to the Tusayan Ruins. Often times there is also a white sign in the middle of the drive indicating that the market is open!
Currently the museum portion of Tusayan Ruin is closed but don’t let that stop you from visiting. You’re still able to walk around the ruins and witness the remnants of a kiva which isn’t too common to come by. Kiva’s were partially underground ceremonial rooms that had benches along the wall and a firepit in the center. This one, however, was not underground due to difficulties digging into the soil and rock. Fun fact!
You also can see the San Francisco Peaks from here! If you walk the path to the ruins there will be a tree clearing with a plaque pointing them out. These peaks hold Humphrey’s Peak, the tallest in all of Arizona. The mountains stand prominently in the distant skyline and mark the location of Flagstaff.
My favorite part of stopping by the Tusayan Ruins is because you may be able to catch the Navajo tribe’s market! There could be anywhere from 1-6+ tables set up displaying intricate jewelry and other handmade goods. If you ever wanted to purchase authentic handmade goods, this is it!
4. Navajo Point
Towards the end of Desert View Drive you’ll have the chance to stop at Navajo Point which is the highest point on the South Rim at 7,461 feet! It provides some of the best views to the west overlooking a portion of the Colorado River. Navajo Point is popular for sunset and would be a perfect place to photograph the changing colors in the canyon.
Somehow I missed this point during my trip so I wasn’t able to get a photo, but I can tell from researching that it is the best view along Desert View Drive! I wanted to include it so you don’t miss out, and next time I’ll make it a point to stop here and snap a photo myself.
5. Desert View Watch Tower
Last but not least a stop by the Desert View Watchtower is a must before ending your scenic drive. The terraces at the bottom of the tower offer more amazing canyon views, some history, a gift shop, and nearby stores for drinks and snacks.
The watchtower is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and was designed by Mary Colter who was a famous female architect at the time. The tower was constructed in 1932 and was influenced by the architecture from the Ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau. You’re able to climb the tower for free but in order to manage occupancy limits you’ll have to check in to receive a ticket. The tickets are free, first come first serve, and are allotted for a certain entry time.
The Desert View Watchtower is the last stop of your scenic drive. Once you’re ready to continue on home or to your next destination just exit through the East Entrance of the park and be on your way towards Cameron.
Final Thoughts On Desert View Drive
My first ride down Desert View Drive was in May of 2023 for my birthday. I somehow convinced my husband to celebrate my birthday by biking along the South Rim, hiking the full Bright Angel Trail, and topping it off with a scenic drive to the East Entrance.
It was a great end to our adventurous weekend and it felt good to do something different within the park. This scenic drive is so easy and peaceful that I’ll always suggest it to visitors! I love it because it allows you to peer down into different parts of the canyon and learn some of the local history.
I hope this guide has helped you plan part of your Grand Canyon trip. Feel free to comment below if you’re adding this to your itinerary or share your experience if you’ve already driven it!
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