Place

Desert View Watchtower

A circular stone tower, 70 feet tall perched on the edge of a vast canyon
One of the most iconic structures along the South Rim, the Watchtower can be seen from miles away.

NPS/M.Quinn

Quick Facts

Audio Description, Automated External Defibrillator (AED), Benches/Seating, Fire Extinguisher, First Aid Kit Available, Gifts/Souvenirs/Books, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information, Information - Maps Available, Information - Ranger/Staff Member Present, Parking - Auto, Parking - Bus/RV, Recycling, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Tactile Exhibit, Trash/Litter Receptacles, Water - Bottle-Filling Station

Hours of Operation

Desert View Watchtower Retail Store (Kiva Room)
9 am to 5 pm Daily 

The upper floors of the Watchtower are closed until further notice.

Desert View is the eastern-most developed area on the South Rim of the park. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the Watchtower was constructed in 1932. Architect Mary Colter’s design takes its influences from the architecture of the Ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau. This particular tower was patterned after those found at Hovenweep and the Round Tower of Mesa Verde. Colter indicated that it was not a copy of any that she had seen, but rather modeled from several.

The view from the Watchtower provides a unique perspective of the eastern portion of Grand Canyon. From here, looking to the northeast offers a distant glimpse of the Colorado River's transition from the relatively narrow Marble Canyon to the north into the much wider, broader expanse of Grand Canyon.

For more about what can be seen from here, view Desert View Point.

The Kiva Room

This lower floor of the tower, the Kiva Room, is modeled after a traditional Native American kiva, and usually hosts cultural demonstrators throughout the year. A Grand Canyon Conservancy Park Store is also located here. 

Inside the Watchtower Kiva Room, views of the canyon, through the different windows, are enhanced by looking through reflectoscopes —viewing instruments that use polished black glass mirrors to cut through the haze and glare of bright sunlight and more clearly highlighting the canyon's multi-colored layers.

The Kiva Room, which for years was used as retail space, in 2015 was returned to the open area that Mary Colter had intended, since the room was originally designed to be a rest area. It was here that visitors to the canyon in the 1930’s could sit in comfort and have outstanding views of the canyon. The fireplace is unique in that it does not block the view for visitors. Gaze into one of the reflectoscopes and see a different perspective of Grand Canyon.

More About the Watchtower

With painstaking detail, Colter directed the placement of each rock and architectural accent in the Desert View Watchtower. Using mostly locally sourced rocks and reused timber, the tower appears to grow organically from the rim of the canyon itself, paying homage to the techniques and styles of local tribes while utilizing modern-day equipment and materials to strengthen the internal structure. 

As you approach the building you might see how well it blends into the environment. It is difficult to tell where the rock of the canyon walls end, and the tower begins. Colter said:

“First and most important, was to design a building that would become part of its surroundings; one that would create no discordant note against the time eroded walls of this promontory.”

To obtain this result she insisted that the rocks not be cut or worked, so they would not lose the “weathered surfaces so essential to blend it with the canyon walls”.

Note, too, some of the intricate designs she had built into the tower. For example, look for the white decorative stones near the top, which fade out as the eye goes around the tower. She had seen this pattern at Chaco Canyon and thought it would break the monotony of this Watchtower. The built in cracks which are patterned from some of the ancient towers she had seen are deliberately designed. There are petroglyphs on some of the stones. Can you spot them?

The internal steel framework of the Watchtower was designed and supervised by the bridge builders of the Santa Fe Railway company. Upon this framework, each exterior stone was selected and carefully placed to ensure exactly the look that Mary Colter was hoping to obtain.

Getting Here

Park Shuttles are NOT provided to Desert View. You must drive you vehicle, or take a commercial bus tour, that starts from Grand Canyon Village.

The 23 mile (37 km) drive east of Grand Canyon Village on Arizona Highway 64 is worth the effort. Desert View Drive offers spectacular perspectives of the canyon, including: 

  • Six developed canyon viewpoints
  • Four picnic areas 
  • Five unmarked pullouts 
  • Accessibility for private vehicles 
  • Tusayan Pueblo Museum and ruins


There is NO lodging at Desert View, although there is a seasonal campground operated by the National Park Service from mid-April to mid-October.

Services

The Desert View settlement provides restrooms, the Watchtower, Trading Post/ice cream/coffee, Grocery Store/Deli, Gas Station, and Campground. 

An outdoor information desk, staffed by park rangers from 9 am to 4 pm daily (as staffing permits), is located under the large shade structure, just beyond the north end of the main paking lot.

Cultural demonstrations also take place here from 9 am to 4 pm, every Thursday and Friday through September 2, 2022.

The program provides an opportunity for visitors to interact with Tribal artisans from Grand Canyon's Traditionally Associated Tribes, and for them to share their history, knowledge and skills.

Grand Canyon National Park

Last updated: June 8, 2022