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National Parks Guides: Grand Canyon East Rim

By Two By Tour

Park History and Stats

The Grand Canyon officially became a National Park on February 26, 1919, signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Though Theodore Roosevelt had given its status as a National Monument 1908, he was working as part of a long-going effort at preserving the park dating back to the 1880s, largely led by then-Senator Benjamin Harrison.

Roosevelt is well-known for his oratory skills, and had this to say of the Grand Canyon in 1903:

“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

The Tusayan Museum was built in 1928, and the Tusayan ruins themselves, an 800-year-old Pueblo site, would be excavated by members of the Gila Pueblo in 1930. Conservation and restoration work occurred in 1948 and 1965. It was placed on the register of National Historic Places in 1975.

The Desert View Watchtower was designed by architect Mary Colter, who also designed several other buildings within Grand Canyon National Park. The Tower was completed in 1932. On May 27, 1987, it was designated a National Historic Landmark as part of a collective nomination of Mary Colter’s buildings.

Is that a tower or are you just glad to see me?

Date Founded: February 26, 1919; Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979

Size: 1,901.972sq Miles

Elevation: 7,461ft (Navajo Point)

Rainfall: 16in a year; 60in of snow

Visitors: Nearly 6 Million a year

Open: Year-round

Fees: Entrance Fees are on a weekly basis and range from $15 (single, bicycle or on foot) up to $30. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites.

The Eastern portion of Grand Canyon National Park could very well be its own park were it not adjoined to one of the largest on the planet. It is comprised of the area along Desert View Drive, a 25-mile long road leading to the main campus of the South Rim.


“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

The East Rim includes Desert View, and the Tusayan Museum, which features archeological and anthropological exhibits highlighting the history of the native culture. The ruins of the pueblo structures of Tusayan are preserved, while at the Desert View Watchtower, the legacy of Pueblo culture is brought into a modern context via educational programs and the amazing artwork of the tower’s interior.

Desert Watchtwoer Mural, Grand Canyon


The Eastern portion of the park has 5 vistas (Desert View, Navajo Point, Lipan Point, Moran Point and Grandview point, as well as the Tusayan Ruin and Museum (Open 9-5). The Grandview Trail begins at Grandview point.

© National Park Service

Desert View facilities:

Gas Station: Jan 1 to Mar 30 = Closed Mar 31 to Oct 22 = 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Oct 23 to Dec 31 = Closed *Self-service gas (pay at the pump) is available year-round, 24 hours a day. Trading Post Hours: Jan 1 to May 18 = 9-5 May 19 to Sept 3 = 8-8 Sept 4 to Dec 31 = 9-5 Desert View Deli: Jan 1 to Feb 28 = 9-4 Mar 1 to May 18 = 9-5 May 19 to Sept 3 = 8-7 Sept 4 to Dec 31 = 9-5 Marketplace: Jan 1 to Mar 30 = 8-5 Mar 31 to Sept 3 = 8-8 Sept 4 to Oct 22 = 8-6 Oct 23 to Dec 31 = 8-5

The Desert View Watchtower is the centerpiece of the campus, with the Tower shop open from 9-5 and the Tower stairs open from 9-4:30.

The Desert View campus is open year-round and has ample flush toilets and fresh water.

Closest Civilization

The town of Cameron, AZ is 57 miles away, however, the Southern side of the park has all of the amenities you would expect in a small town. We were able to buy craft beer to go along with our dinner that evening. There is a wide variety of prepared food and made to order meals in the store at the Desert View facility as well. Batteries, wine, firewood, first-aid and hygiene products are all available. Further amenities are to be had on the main campus of the South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, which is a small city unto itself.


Desert View Campground has 50 sites which operate on a first-come, first serve basis, and the NPS site cautions that these sites are often booked up by the early afternoon. Site use is $12/night with a 7-day limit, though some discounts are offered with various ATB Passes. Payment is via an automated kiosk, which only accepts credit card (as of late 2017). While sites are able to accommodate large cars and small RVs and trailers, vehicles longer than 30′ are prohibited.

Desert View Campground, Grand Canyon

This facility closes for winter in mid-October and reopens mid-April.

Camping Level

Newbie to Novice. There are flush toilets, fresh water and a camp attendant on duty, and with a well-stocked market and kitchen just up the road, if you don’t feel like cooking, you don’t have to. We opted for a mix, making a delicious pasta dish over the fire for dinner, but spoiling ourselves with made-to-order bagel sandwiches for breakfast.

Seasonal Programs

Tusayan Museum and Ruins offer Ranger-guided tours in the summer months from 11-2, (information here) while the Grand Canyon Association hosts events ranging from art auctions to craft demonstrations at the Desert Watchtower every Saturday and Sunday during the summer months. A full breakdown of their calendar and timetable can be found here.

Our experience

Desert View is a nice, quiet campsite, and there’s nothing quite like a cold beer by the fireside- the selection at the Trading Post was a pleasant surprise. Camping here allowed us to dip our toes into the South Rim at a leisurely pace, and you have your pick of vistas for sunset and sunrise. We’d definitely camp here again.

Things we’d like to try next time

We missed out on some of the programming going on; a Grand Canyon Association demonstration was wrapping up as we arrived at the Tower. If we came back, we’d plan around events occurring at the Tower or other facilities.

Special Notes

  • Come early, and reserve for as long as is reasonable. $12/night is mighty cheap, even cheaper if your ATB Pass gives you a discount. If we hadn’t come on the last night (and gotten the second-to-last site) of operation for the campground for the year, we would have definitely stayed there and used it as a base of operations for a longer stay on the South Rim overall.

  • Pets are allowed at the campground, provided they are leashed. Your furry companion is not allowed near the rim, however.

  • The ravens at the Desert Watchtower seem especially enthusiastic about showing off, and we caught a lot of impressive mid-air acrobatics.

  • When taking pictures at the Desert Watchtower, and especially inside, be patient. A lot of crowds move in waves due to the narrow stairs, and if you’re patient, you might get that shot of the beautiful ceiling you were looking for without someone peering down at you.

  • In 2008, two self-appointed spellcheckers and grammar police were arrested after ‘correcting’ one of the signs that had been painted by Mary Colter. They were fined and banned from National Parks from a year. If only that could happen to everyone who defaces our National Treasures. Don’t be that person.

Call to action

What’s your favorite vista on the East end of the park? Beer recommendations for the next visit? What artwork in the Tower struck you? Did we leave anything out?

Read more about our experience at the Grand Canyon National Park’s East Rim here.


Originally from Two by Tour

Partners in travel and life, we are two recovering restaurant professionals who packed up and traveled westward across the United States, then journeyed to Ecuador in search of a life of exploration, culture, beauty and a place to call home.


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