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The Grand Canyon

The ultimate guide to visiting the Grand Canyon

This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2017. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.

There’s no words to describe the feeling of awe when you see the massiveness of the Grand Canyon for the first time.

It always surprises me when I ask an American if they’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and they answer no. I truly believe that this epic natural wonder, which is so big and so mind-blowing that it doesn’t even look real, should be on everyone’s must-visit list.

I visited the Grand Canyon in 2009, 2011, and 2017. I know that sounds kind of excessive, but if you’ve seen this incredible place for yourself then you might just understand my attraction to it. The canyon is so amazing that it really does deserve three visits.

Most visitors will experience the canyon via the South Rim or the North Rim. I’ve done both, and on my last visit I also drove along the East Rim to see all the viewpoints along the way.

Not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know for visiting the Grand Canyon!

Bright Angel Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon
Bright Angel Trail, South Rim

Grand Canyon South Rim

The South Rim, which is based around Grand Canyon Village, is the most popular spot for tourists visiting the Grand Canyon. This area is the most accessible, is the easiest to get around, and has the most viewpoints and hiking trails. The South Rim can be done in a day or can be spread out over a few days.

One thing to note is that the South Rim can get insanely busy, especially during the summer months. There are multiple large parking lots around the village, but you may end up parked nowhere near the rim. If this is the case, there is a free shuttle bus service which will take you between the parking lots and the rim.

How to get to the South Rim:

You can drive to the South Rim via the south or the east on Highway 64. The price to enter Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle for a week-long permit (this gives you access to both the South Rim and North Rim).

I rented a car and drove to the South Rim from the east, which I would definitely recommend as the viewpoints along this route are so much quieter than the ones at the village.

If you’re not interested in driving to the canyon, there is the option of doing a day trip from Las Vegas like this Grand Canyon South Rim tour.

Visiting the Grand Canyon
One of the viewpoints along the East Rim (I think it was Grandview Point)

South Rim vista points:

Mather Point is often used as a first viewpoint of the canyon. Also take a look at Yavapai Point or Hopi Point, which are popular for sunrise and sunset shots of the canyon.

South Rim hikes:

  • South Rim Trail is a 7 mile hike from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. This flat trail follows the rim and can be shortened to any length you like, so this one is good for people who aren’t into the idea of a steep hike into the canyon.
  • Bright Angel Trail is a 6 mile steep hike which eventually goes to the river at the base of the canyon, but it can be shortened to 1-2 miles by turning back at various points. Rob and I did this one on our last visit (we turned back after about 45 minutes).
  • Ooh-Ahh Point via Kaibaba Trail is a 2 mile hike beyond the rim of the canyon that provides spectacular views. This one should also be a little quieter as it’s further away from the village.
Grand Canyon National Park
Aerial view of the canyon from a helicopter flight

Other things to do at the South Rim:

  • Visit Hopi House, a Native American arts and crafts center.
  • Take a mule trip into the canyon.
  • Do a helicopter flight directly over the Grand Canyon.

I did a helicopter flight over the canyon on my first visit and it was absolutely incredible – the aerial view of the canyon is like nothing else I’ve ever seen! Highly recommend doing this if you are willing to splurge on a special sightseeing activity.

Where to stay at Grand Canyon South Rim:

There are a few options for staying near the South Rim. You can stay in Grand Canyon Village, though do keep in mind that you will have to book a room months in advance. You can try El Tovar Hotel (a historic hotel very near to the canyon rim) or Yavapai Lodge (about a mile walk from the rim).

Other nearby towns are Tuscayan, which is about a 10 minute drive from Grand Canyon Village, or Williams, which is about an hour drive. We ended up staying at La Quinta Inn & Suites in Williams as it had the best rates for accommodation.

If you’re planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon and will be bringing along an animal companion, you’ll be happy to know that pets are welcome inside the national park (though they are not allowed below the canyon rim). There are some dog-friendly hotels available in the surrounding areas – these accommodations understand the needs of both you and your furry friend, providing a comfortable stay for both.

Grand Canyon North Rim
Hiking into the canyon from the North Rim

Grand Canyon North Rim

The North Rim only receives about 10% of the tourists that visit the Grand Canyon, so choose this location if you prefer to avoid the crowds. This area can easily be done in a day.

The North Rim actually sits 1000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, so while it has less viewpoints and attractions, it’s argued that the views are slightly better.

How to get to the North Rim:

The North Rim is accessible via Highway 67. You can drive in from the nearby towns of Page, AZ (which is about 2.5 hours away) or Kanab, UT (about 1.5 hours drive).

North Rim vista points:

Bright Angel Point is the most popular viewpoint at the North Rim. Cape Royal and Point Imperial are a short drive away and are great for sunrise and sunset.

North Rim hikes:

  • Cape Royal Trail and Bright Angel Point Trail are popular hikes at the North Rim. Both are an easy half mile roundtrip.
  • Coconino Overlook via the North Kaibab Trail is a more challenging 1.4 mile roundtrip hike climbing 800 feet down.

Where to stay at Grand Canyon North Rim:

If you book far enough ahead (like, an entire year in advance!) then you might score a room at Grand Canyon Lodge which is the only hotel located at the North Rim.

Other options include the North Rim Campground (which is open mid May to late October) or the Hampton Inn in Kanab.

Desert View Watchtower, The Grand Canyon
Desert View Watchtower, East Rim

Other points of interest:

  • Desert View, an old watchtower near the east entrance of the National Park. Climb the tower for an awesome first view of the canyon.
  • Tusayan Ruins and Museum, an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site.
  • Havasu Falls, a tribal reservation located inside the canyon. The Havasu Falls Trail will take you to a stunning waterfall with bright blue water that looks like an oasis in the red desert.
  • Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed bridge located only 2.5 hours drive from Las Vegas. Purchase your tickets if you plan on driving to the West Rim or book a day tour from Las Vegas to see the skywalk.

When to go to the Grand Canyon:

June-August is peak season for the Grand Canyon. Lodging and campsites can both book up far in advance for these months, so be sure to make your reservations as early as possible if you are planning to go during this time.

The South Rim is open year-round. Spring and Fall are often considered the best times to visit as the weather is milder and there are less crowds. The North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October, as the roads are less accessible through the winter months.

What to bring when visiting the Grand Canyon:

  • Water. Or a few drink bottles to fill with water. You will need lots of it, especially if you are planning to hike.
  • Trail mix. Make sure you take some high energy snacks (like nuts) to keep you going if you’re hiking. You can buy this at the Grand Canyon general store at the South Rim.
  • Hiking boots or sneakers. You’ll need some comfortable shoes fit for walking on dirt trails. Your shoes will get very dusty.
  • Gear for all weather. The Grand Canyon gets very little rain, but mid-June to mid-September is considered monsoon season and thunderstorms are frequent at this time of year.

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