A vast treasure in Arizona, the Grand Canyon South Rim (and its better half, the North Rim) is one of the world’s most renowned scenic wonders.
People from all over the globe come to experience its magnificence and beauty.
Our nation’s second most visited National Park holds landscapes galore for those blessed enough to lay eyes on it.
The great thing about Grand Canyon National Park is that you can easily hit the “road less traveled” North Rim as part of a vacation that includes Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks or include the South Rim as part of a Phoenix and Sedona vacation.
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Getting to the Grand Canyon
Choose to fly into 1 of 2 Southwest airports for your trip to the Grand Canyon…
Harry Reid Airport in Las Vegas (Formerly McCarran)
This airport is about 4.5 hours away. And you could spend a day or 2 in Vegas, baby!
Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix
About 4 hours from the Grand Canyon is Phoenix International Airport, which allows you to hit Sedona on your way coming or going.
We, of course, always recommend using Southwest points and the Southwest Companion Pass no matter which airport you choose.
Grand Canyon Entrance Fees
The park entrance fee is $35 per car and $30 per motorcycle for a 7-day pass.
You can also purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80 that allows you to visit as many National Parks and federal lands as you want for a full year.
Senior citizens can purchase a lifetime senior pass that covers ALL national parks for $80 or instead they can choose a $20 annual pass.
Are you an active military member, veteran or Gold Star family? Grab a FREE pass and thank you for your service!
It’s good for your whole family to visit as many National Parks as you can squeeze into a year. Thank you for your service!
Your whole family can also get into National Parks free if you have a 4th-grader, both during their school year and the following summer, as part of the Every Kid in a Park Program.
You can also access Grand Canyon National Park on FEE-FREE Days but keep in mind these days will be even MORE BUSY than usual.
Grand Canyon Weather: What to Expect
Grand Canyon weather varies between the North Rim and the South Rim.
Because of the 8200′ elevation at the Grand Canyon North Rim, the weather is much more severe and the season is shorter.
The North Rim is officially open only May 15-October 15 (this includes all facilities), and even then, you might find snow and ice on your visit like we did!
When closed, the area gets up to 142 inches of snow, and the only way in and out is by snowmobile!
Only a handful of rangers stay through the winter.
If you need or want to go earlier or later than that, stick with the Grand Canyon South Rim, which is open year-round.
The extreme here is the heat. It sometimes reaches more than 100+ degrees inside the canyon!
We found mid-May to be the perfect time to go to avoid crowds and beat the heat.
The temps were in the 70s during the day.
It was easy to drive where we needed to go, the shuttle lines were short and restaurant reservations were still available.
Getting Around the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon North Rim
You WILL have to have a car to get to and around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon unless you take the Trans Canyon Shuttle (928-638-2820), which runs between the north and south rims of the park once daily, in each direction, between May 15th and October 15.
Reservations are required and it takes 4.5 hours.
Grand Canyon South Rim
There are 2 primary ways to get around: driving your own car and the myriad of constantly-running shuttle buses.
Try entering from the less-busy East Entrance or enter very early in the morning during the summer if you’re driving your own car to the Grand Canyon South Entrance.
To/from the Visitor’s Center you can take these routes…
- ORANGE east to South Kaibab trailhead; not accessible by car between May and September; runs 4 a.m. to 1 hour past sunset, and west to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum which ARE accessible by car
- PURPLE to/from the town of Tusayan to the Visitor’s Center, highly recommended during the busy summer season
- BLUE to ALL Grand Canyon Lodges, art studios, Bright Angel trailhead, all accessible by car also and RED route transfer
- RED to Hermit’s Rest, 7 miles with 9 scenic overlooks; not accessible by car between March 1 and November 30; runs 4 a.m. to 1 hour past sunset
Some tips when taking the Grand Canyon shuttle…
- Don’t forget to bring your park pass or receipt to get into the park if you came from outside the park in Tusayan!
- Make sure you know the time of departure of the last shuttle of the day and don’t miss it!
Grand Canyon Accommodations
In the park
There are only 2 choices if you want to stay on property at the Grand Canyon North Rim.
I knew the EXACT moment when the reservations were opening for the year and was able to secure 2 nights of lodging in a rim-front cabin with sleeping accommodations for 4+ between a queen-size bed, a set of bunks and a futon in 2 bedrooms (one with its own sink and the other with a mini-fridge) separated by doors and a bathroom.
Outside the Park
The closest full-service town to the North Rim is Kanab, Utah, which is less than a 2-hour drive where you gain and then lose an hour driving back and forth.
Watch our review of the Best Western Kanab below…
In the Park
You have many, many options for staying inside the park. Just be sure to reserve one of these up to a year in advance…
- Yavapai Lodge – Choose a Midcentury room from the Route 66 heyday
- El Tovar Hotel – A cross between a Swiss Chalet and a Norwegian Villa built in 1905 with 78 rooms
- Thunderbird Lodge – Contemporary lodging right on the Canyon rim
- Kachina Lodge – Canyon-side rooms directly on the rim trail
- Maswik Lodge – 280-room lodging complex
- Bright Angel Lodge – Registered National Historic Landmark with lodge and cabin rooms
- Campgrounds at Mather Point, Trailer Village RV Park and at the east entrance, Desert View
- Backcountry camping
Outside the Park
In the city of Tusayan, just outside the south gate entrance, you’ll have several options for hotel rooms including these 2…
- Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn – 2 pools, hot tubs and restaurants plus microwaves and refrigerators in each room, minutes from the Grand Canyon
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon, where several Families Fly Free team members have stayed, perfect with its spacious rooms, free hot buffet breakfast and pool and hot tub after a long day of hiking!
Things to Do at the Grand Canyon
Most people don’t make a multi-day trip out of visiting the North Rim since it is so remote, so I loved how they had these helpful signs if your time was short.
I found 3 different signs that gave options for…
- First time here. What do I do?
- I have 1-2 hours. What should I do?
- I have half-a-day. What should I do?
Have a bit more time?
- Drive the winding, scenic 23-mile Cape Royal Road to Point Imperial, the highest point of the Grand Canyon at 8800+ feet, Cape Royal with its panoramic views up, down and across the canyon, popular for sunrise and sunset, Vista Encantada, Roosevelt Point, Angel’s Window and Walhalla overlook and Pueblo
- Take a Grand Canyon Mule Ride, which has 3 options, one of which descends 2300 feet into the canyon to the Supai Tunnel
- Hike the paved 1/2 mile Bright Angel Point Trail
- Hike the 21-mile Rim to Rim Canyon hike with includes a 5850 ft elevation loss and a 4,860 foot elevation gain; overnight at Phantom Canyon if you’ve won your lottery position; cross the suspension bridge over the Colorado River
- Go on a wildlife-spotting expedition. A herd of bison crossed the road right in front of us when we were out driving after dark. So cool!
- Stargaze at Point Imperial to see shooting stars and the Milky Way. The night we were there, Saturn, Jupiter and the moon were all in a line as predicted.
- Peruse the Association Park store to pick up souvenirs
- Head over to the official Visitor’s Center with its interpretive exhibits and park ranger programs
A multi-day visit to the South Rim is what most people opt for since there are so many things to do. You can…
- Walk the interpretive ~3 mile Trail of Time to explore the geology of the canyon
- Take a Grand Canyon Mule Ride for 2 hours or to stay overnight at Phantom Canyon
- Raft for half a day or more with Wilderness River Adventures
- Have a Canyon River Experience, which includes a guided tour of Antelope Canyon and rafting
- Choose from 1 of 5 Guided Bus Tours
- Guide yourself on a Historic Village Walking Tour
- Hop aboard the Railway Express Tour, an authentic Wild West adventure but no canyon views
- Enter from the less-busy Grand Canyon East Entrance and stop at all the overlooks on the Desert View Drive
- Spot wildlife like the California condor, one of the rarest birds in the world, bighorn sheep or elk
- Set out on a South Rim Day hike, up to 12 miles
- Explore the exhibits and watch Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center
- Learn about the Harvey Girls, made into a movie starring Judy Garland in 1946
- Sign up for other guided tours and hikes
Watch our video overview below of the gorgeous Grand Canyon South Kaibab Trail into the canyon…
Grand Canyon Dining Options
There are not many selections when it comes to Grand Canyon dining on the North Rim.
There are only 4 places within an hour’s drive, all located in the park’s complex.
- Free coffee in the mornings in the Lodge lobby
- The Coffee Saloon, which is open for breakfast until 10:30 a.m.; no indoor seating; serving coffee, breakfast burritos and delicious cinnamon rolls!
- Deli in the Pines, which is open from 10 a.m. until 9 pm where you can “grab and go” with assorted sandwiches, soups, salads and pizzas
- Historic Main Lodge Dining Room, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (reservations recommended for dinner)
- Roughrider Saloon for drinks from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Inside the Park
Your Grand Canyon South Rim dining options include…
- 20 different general stores, marketplaces, coffee shops, food courts and snack bars for quick grab ‘n go items
- A nice sit-down lunch at Arizona Steakhouse at Bright Angel Lodge
- Fred Harvey Burger serving a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner also at Bright Angel Lodge
- A world-class gourmet dining experience, possibly rim side, at El Tovar
Dining Outside the Park in Tusayan
One of the only towns where I’ve actually seen fast-food restaurants other than Subway is Tusayan.
- McDonald’s, Wendy’s and even a Pizza Hut Express inside the IMAX theater
- One of several steakhouses
- Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory for dessert with many flavors of gelato, including tiramisu (my favorite!) and 100+ other offerings
Grand Canyon West
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Grand Canyon West, which is owned and run by the Hualapai Indian tribe.
It is not part of the National Park system and requires an entry fee of $56 per person.
The big attraction here is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends out over the rim by 70 feet, giving you unparalleled views 4,000 feet down into the canyon for an additional cost.
They claim that there’s no need to be nervous, because the Skywalk is strong enough to hold 70 fully loaded 747s, so if you’re up for it, give it a try!
What to Bring to the Grand Canyon
When packing for a Grand Canyon National Park trip, we suggest including these things…
- layers of clothing for changing temperatures throughout the day
- hiking shoes
- hiking poles
- a hat
- backpack or fanny pack
- flashlight or headlamp for evening excursions
- water bottles for hiking, which can be refilled at stations throughout the park, and a collapsible water jug to leave filled with ice water in the car
- first-aid kit
- portable fully-charged battery source for cell phone
Want more National Park tips?
Check out our post on 7 Top Tips for Visiting Our National Parks.
Read more National Parks tips…
- What to do With One Day at the Grand Canyon South Rim
- The Ultimate Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Grand Teton National Park
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