Hermit Road

Start: Grand Canyon Village.

Finish: Hermits Rest.

Time: About 3 hours.

Highlights: Closed to private cars (except vehicles carrying people with physical disabilities) from March 1 to November 30, the overlooks are quieter than those on Desert View Drive and afford excellent river views.

Drawbacks: Occasional long waits for buses, which stop at nine points on the road to Hermits Rest and at only three points (Pima, Mohave, and Powell) on the return. The 7-mile-long road from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest is open to private cars when shuttles aren't running. (The shuttles run Mar 1-Nov 30.)

1. Trailviews 1 & 2

These viewpoints en route to Maricopa Point are great places from which to look back at Grand Canyon Village. Below the village, Bright Angel Trail‘s switchbacks descend along a natural break in the cliffs. Erosion created this break along the Bright Angel Fault, one of many fault lines that crisscross the main canyon.

Looking north across the canyon, you'll see how the fault created two side canyons on opposite sides of the river. Runoff seeps into the cracks along fault lines, beginning the process of forming side canyons such as these. Indigenous humans and animals made the first footpaths through these side canyons. Below, Indian Garden, where the Havasupai people farmed for generations, is identifiable by the lush vegetation that grows around the spring there. Past Indian Garden, a trail leads straight out to the edge of Tonto Platform, where it dead-ends. This is not the Bright Angel Trail, but a spur known as Plateau Point Trail.

2. Maricopa Point

The Orphan Mine, southwest of here, produced some of the Southwest's richest uranium ore during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, this land was once the center of the most exhaustive mining effort in the canyon. Workers removed half a million tons of ore for atomic energy use from 1956 until 1969, by which time mining here had ended.

3. Powell Memorial

Here you'll find a large memorial to Major John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who is widely believed to have been the first non-native person to float through the canyon. In fact, the park was formally dedicated in 1920 at Powell Point; members of his family attended.

Funded in part by the Smithsonian Institution, Powell first drifted into the canyon on August 5, 1869. He and his eight-person crew portaged around rapids where the walls were gradual enough to allow it. In parts of the canyon's Inner Gorge, however, where the walls are too steep to climb, the men were forced to float blindly, in wooden boats, through some of the world's most dangerous waters.

Parts of the Inner Gorge are visible from here, but only a tiny stretch of the river can be seen. Where Powell saw the Inner Gorge's dark, steep rocks near the water, he thought not of their beauty but of the peril they represented. He called the gorge "our granite prison" and described his men "ever watching, ever peering ahead, for the narrow canyon is winding and the river is closed in … and what there may be below, we know not."

When the men stopped above what appeared to be another set of dangerous rapids after 3 weeks in the canyon, three of them left the expedition by walking out into what is now known as Separation Canyon, but were never seen again. The irony is that the expedition had already passed most of the worst rapids. The remaining crew negotiated the last of the white water and arrived at a small Mormon outpost. They brought with them the first records of the inner canyon's rocks, geography, and species. Powell later fleshed out these records into a lengthy diary, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons. The names of the three crew members who left at Separation Canyon do not appear on the monument.

4. Hopi Point 

Because it projects far into the canyon, Hopi Point is the best place off Hermit Road to watch the sunset. It's also the Grand Canyon's most popular viewpoint. As the sun drops, its waning light plays across four of the canyon's loveliest temples. The flat mesa almost due north of the point is Shiva Temple. The temple southwest of it is Osiris; the one southeast of it is Isis. East of Isis is Buddha Temple.

Named for a destructive yet popular Hindu god, Shiva Temple was the site of a much-ballyhooed 1937 mission by a team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History. Believing that the canyon isolated the forest atop Shiva Temple the same way ocean isolates the Galapagos Islands, the team set out to find species that had evolved differently from those on the rim. The press drummed up sensationalistic stories about the trip, even going so far as to hail it as a search for living dinosaurs.

Alas, the search didn't turn up any new species, let alone dinosaurs. Rather, it proved that cliffs and desert don't bar most species' movements. (The Colorado River poses a more significant barrier.) The most noteworthy discovery: an empty Kodak film box and soup cans deliberately left behind by canyon local Emery Kolb, who was upset when the expedition declined his offer to help. Kolb made the ascent himself, showing that the cliffs are hardly a barrier. Note: There are new vault toilets at Hopi Point.

5. Mohave Point 

This is a great place from which to observe some of the Colorado River's most furious rapids. Farthest downstream, to your left, is Hermit Rapids (named after canyon pioneer Louis Boucher, considered "the hermit of Hermit Canyon" because, in the early 1900s, he made his home in the side canyons). Above Hermit Rapids, you can make out the top of the dangerous Granite Rapids, one of the steepest navigable rapids in the world. Just above Granite Rapids, the bottom of Salt Creek Rapids is visible. As you look at Hermit Creek Canyon and the rapids below it, you can easily visualize how flash floods washed rocks from the side canyon into the Colorado River, forming the natural dam that causes the rapids.

6. The Abyss

The walls in this side canyon -- a deep bay cut into the South Rim by Monument Creek -- fall a steep 2,600 feet to the base of the 335-million-year-old Redwall Limestone layer. The best way to appreciate these plunging walls is to follow the Rim Trail a few hundred yards west of the Abyss overlook, where the cliffs plummet most precipitously.

7. Monument Creek Vista

This is a new shuttle stop on the way to Hermits Rest that lets you access the new Greenway Trail. Cyclists can bring their bikes on the shuttle to this point, and then ride 2.8 miles (3.5km) along the greenway to Hermits Rest.

8. Pima Point

Three thousand feet below Pima Point -- which offers a stunning view of the Colorado River -- you can see some of the foundations and walls from the old Hermit Camp, a tourist destination built in 1912 by the same people who constructed the Santa Fe Railroad. Situated along Hermit Creek, the camp featured heavy-duty tents (each with a stove) and Native American rugs. An aerial tramway, used mostly to lower supplies, connected Pima Point with the camp below. It made the descent in roughly a half-hour.

To get to Hermit Camp, tourists traveled 51 miles by train from Williams to Grand Canyon Village, 9 miles by stagecoach from the village to the top of Hermit Trail's trail head, and 8 miles by mule to the camp. After the Park Service wrested control of Bright Angel Trail from Ralph Cameron in the 1920s, Phantom Ranch became a more popular tourist destination, and Hermit Camp closed its doors in 1930.

Hermit Trail, however, remains popular. North of the overlook, below the fin of rock known as Cope Butte, you can see it zigzagging down the blue-green Bright Angel Shale layer, which is 515 million years old.

During quiet moments here, listen carefully, and you should also hear the distant roar of Granite Rapids.

9. Hermits Rest 

Before descending to Hermit Camp, tourists rested at this Mary Colter-designed building, built in 1914. Here, the renowned architect celebrated the hermit theme, making the building look as if an isolated mountain man had constructed it. It resembles a crude rock shelter, with stones heaped highest around the chimney. A large fireplace (not a bad place to warm up in winter) dominates the interior. Colter covered the ceiling above it with soot, so that the room has the look of a cave warmed by fire -- much like the nearby Dripping Springs overhang where "the hermit of Hermit Canyon," Louis Boucher, once passed time.

Colter had a knack for creating perfect details. Note the anthropomorphic rock above the fireplace, the candelabra, and the lanterns. Some of the original hand-carved furniture is still here.

A snack bar sells candy, ice cream, chips, soda, sandwiches, and coffee. New vault toilets are near the shuttle bus stop, and there's also a water bottle filling station nearby.

Before leaving, take a last look at the canyon. The three-pronged temple across the canyon to the north is the Tower of Ra, named for the victorious Egyptian sun god. Seen from above, each prong points to a different set of rapids: the near arm to Hermit Creek, the middle to Boucher Creek, and the far one to Crystal Creek -- waters that have triumphed over more than a few river guides.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.