Historic El Tovar offers elegant lodging

GRAND CANYON VILLAGE, Ariz.— When first walking up to the historic El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon National Park, one can immediately understand why it is considered superior.

The front porch is intricately designed using native rock, complete with arched window openings. An inscription that lines the edge of the porch roof reads, “Dreams of mountains, as in their sleep they brood on things eternal.”

Several wooden rocking chairs adorn the space, looking east across to the Hopi House. If you turn the rocking chairs slightly to the left, you can catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon. The porch is an ideal place to rest one’s feet while sipping wine or apple cider purchased only a few steps inside the hotel.

And this is just the front porch.

Walking inside the main foyer, one will find a rustic, but lavish interior.

Four seating areas are arranged in each corner with a gift shop to both the right and left. Looking up, there is a balcony overlooking the lobby of the three-story hotel.

“There’s a lot of history to the building. You see the moose and buffalo?” parapsychologist and storyteller Suzi Sebek says while pointing to two animal heads featured on the walls. “They were shot by none other than Teddy Roosevelt.”

The El Tovar, named after a Spanish explorer, is massive in size and sits upon a cliff overlooking the canyon.

The entrance of the historic El Tovar Hotel
(Photo by Tiffany Rainey).

It is the centerpiece of the South Rim Village. The hotel is located just a few hundred yards from the head of the Bright Angel Trail. Its structure is made of native Oregon pines and boulders taken from the area.

Architect Charles Whittlessey designed the El Tovar in such a manner to help it blend with the natural setting surrounding it. It cost $250,000 to build and, after its opening in 1905, it was called the most expensive log cabin in America.

Architect and Interior Designer Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter was selected to design the interior of El Tovar. She, too, kept the interior of the hotel true to its natural setting by filling it with Indian artifacts and deer, elk and mooseheads on the walls in the entryway.

Whittlessey’s design of log-like walls in the entryway also adds to the rustic look. The combination of Whittlessey and Colter’s designs mixed elements of hunting lodges and European villas.

The lobby of El Tovar (Photo by Bruce Garrison).

At the time she designed the interior of El Tovar, Colter was one of few prominent female designers— or of any professional field for that matter.

“She was designing buildings when women were supposed to stay home fat and pregnant,” Madelyn Toland, a concierge-receptionist for El Tovar, said with a chuckle.

Colter also designed many buildings within the park, including the Hopi House, which is located directly across from the main entrance.

She also designed the Desert View Watchtower, Lookout Studio and Hermits Rest, as well as other buildings that have since been demolished.

In its first years in service, El Tovar was considered first-class lodging mainly due to the fact that it had electricity (a considerable feat in that era and at the remote location).

In addition, fresh water was delivered daily via train from Del Rio, 120 miles away. A nearby greenhouse supplied fresh fruit and vegetables. The hotel also had its own barber and fresh dairy products.

Today, the dairy has been converted into Kachina Lodge and the greenhouse no longer exists. Some of the interior is the same as it was in 1905, with adjustments made only to reflect the current standards of living.

El Tovar presides over the South Rim Village (Photo by Tiffany Rainey).

Although many of the extraordinary amenities no longer exist, the El Tovar remains superior. It is currently the only hotel in the park that offers turn-down as well as room service.

El Tovar recently underwent a $1 million renovation to update 66 guest rooms, two suites, the kitchen and dining room. New furniture, comforters, draperies and carpets were added to the guest rooms. The kitchen received new propane stoves that are more energy-efficient and safer non-slip floors. New chairs and carpets were added to the dining room, and the menu was expanded.

Visitor Sheila Tabuena of California has been traveling to the Grand Canyon since she was a child. She used to stay at Bright Angel Lodge during her visits, but now prefers to stay at El Tovar.

“Of course, it’s more expensive to stay here,” she said. “But the beauty of the hotel makes it worth it.”

Tabuena has stayed in the hotel twice with her husband and children. Both times she has stayed in the standard-sized rooms. However, she hopes to someday stay in one of the higher-end suites.


El Tovar’s grand entrance (above). The Hopi House (below), which contains an art gallery and a gift shop, is located just a few steps across from the front entrance of El Tovar (Photos by Bruce Garrison).

“The higher-end rooms are absolutely amazing— especially the suites with the view of the canyon. I wish I could afford to stay in one of those!” she noted.

In total, there are 78 rooms in the El Tovar. Rates run from $124 to $201 per night.

Guests can choose from one full bed to two queen size beds in the standard rooms.

Deluxe rooms include a separate sitting room in addition to the bed choices.

In addition to the standard and deluxe rooms, there are also three suites available that include an outdoor terrace with a view of the Grand Canyon. These luxurious suites go for $286 per night and are usually booked full a year and a half in advance.

The El Tovar offers more than just a beautiful exterior design, gorgeous rustic interior and comfortable rooms.

Walking past the lobby brings you to the El Tovar Dining Room with an outdoor view. The dining room serves three meals a day, ranging an average of $7 to $20.

Children look at a distant point in the canyon at the South Rim Village near El Tovar (Photo by Tiffany Rainey).

Sample meals include fresh fruit with honey vanilla yogurt for breakfast and salmon tostada with organic greens, lime sour cream, chile olive oil and corn salsa at dinner.

One fun aspect of the hotel that is rarely advertised is its ghostly occupants. Parapsychologist Suzi Sebek claims the presence of up to 14 ghosts in El Tovar.

About once a week, Sebek gathers at the fireplace inside the lobby to tell the story of some of the ghosts that inhabit the hotel. Her free program is called, “Guests that checked in, but never checked out.”

One such ghost includes the hotel’s own interior designer, Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter.


Address: Apache Street & Center Road, South Rim Village
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 86023
Phone: 520-638-2631

Reservations: You can make reservations online at or by e-mail at You can also make reservations by phone by calling 888-297-2757 (toll-free) or 303-297-2757.

Lodging: 78 rooms and suites, ranging from $124 to $286 per night.

Dining: Call 928-638-2631, ext. 6432 to make reservations. Reservations may be made up to six months in advance with a room reservation or 30 days without. Cost ranges from $7 to $20, depending on the meal.


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