By Stephanie Antin of Almost Free Family Travel
Visiting Grand Canyon National Park should top everyone’s bucket list. It’s awe-inspiring and a fascinating exploration of nature and history. The Grand Canyon is huge, so the question is what part should you visit — the Grand Canyon South Rim or North Rim — and how can you get there?
Flying to the Grand Canyon on Southwest
If you’ll be flying Southwest, especially if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, so one person in your family can fly free, there are two options for major cities to fly into.
You can approach the Grand Canyon North Rim from Las Vegas. It’s about a four-hour drive from Sin City.
If you’re headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim, Phoenix, Arizona, is a great airport to access the park. It’s about a three-hour drive.
Both routes offer spectacular sites to see along the way, but I’m going to focus on visiting the South Rim.
From Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
Why the South Rim?
Some say the South Rim has the best view. It’s definitely a spectacular drive from Phoenix through the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.
You might even spend a night or two in Sedona, which is known for its spiritual vortices. From Sedona, it’s an easy two-hour drive to the Grand Canyon.
Take 89A through Oak Creek Canyon for a beautiful ride. You’ll find gas stations and fast-food restaurants all along the route.
However, don’t take this drive in the dark, so time your trip accordingly or plan to spend the night in the town just outside the South Rim gate or in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is about an hour from the gate.
The Grand Canyon South Rim gate is open year-round and costs $35 per vehicle for seven days. You could also buy the National Park pass for $80, which is good for entrance to any national park for an entire year.
What to Do With One Day at the Grand Canyon South Rim
Here are some of my top tips if you only have one day at the Grand Canyon South Rim.
1. Stop by the Visitor Center
Once inside the gate, follow the signs to the Visitor Center. There’s plenty of parking, thank goodness, and picnic benches where you can hang out and enjoy lunch. If you didn’t bring any food, there’s also a cafe at the Visitor Center with a limited menu.
At the Visitor Center, rangers are on hand, offering FREE programs, and you might want to catch the movie, “Grand Canyon Journey of Wonder,” as well.
An iconic lookout point is Mather Point, which is an easy walk from the Visitor’s Center.
2. Take the Free Park Shuttle
You can take the FREE park shuttle to enjoy views of the Park from inside, while hopping out to spend extra time at various stops or for a hike.
3. Visit the Yavapai Geology Museum
Inside the museum, there’s a topographic model of the canyon and a ranger who’ll explain how the canyon was formed. In addition, there’s an incredible glass-enclosed viewpoint that is truly mesmerizing!
4. Go for a Drive
In your own car, you can take the 25-mile Desert View Drive toward the Watch Tower. We saw a herd of elk on this drive, which was super cool!
Other features on the drive include:
- Six viewpoints
- Four picnic areas
- Five (unmarked) pullouts
- Tusayan Museum and ruins
5. Take a Hike
There are also plenty of hiking trails, but keep in mind if you hike down into the canyon, you’ll have to hike back up, so make sure you’re in good health if you plan to go for it.
Some good hiking trail options include:
- Rim Trail
- Bright Angel Trail
- South Kaibab Trail
6. Explore the Junior Ranger Program
As at all National Parks, the Grand Canyon offers special activities for youth through their Junior Rangers program, which when completed, allow them to earn a badge.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon South Rim
Inside the Park: Grand Canyon Lodges
If you book far enough in advance, you might be able to score a room at a lodge inside the park itself, though these can be hard to come by.
You actually have quite a lot to choose from compared with other National Parks.
1. Maswik Lodge
5. El Tovar
Outside the Park
Williams and Tusayan, Arizona, are both good options for lodging outside the park and not too far from the South Rim. A few options include:
1. Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, Williams, Arizona
2. The Grand Hotel, Tusayan, Arizona (just 1 mile from the South Rim entrance)
3. Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon, Tusayan, Arizona
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What was your favorite activity?
Read More of Our National Park Guides:
- The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Grand Teton National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park
- 7 Top Tips for Visiting America’s National Parks