I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Grand Canyon twice. My first visit was to the South Rim, and my second was to the North Rim.
I can confirm that photos of the Grand Canyon don’t do it justice, if only because they haven’t yet invented a camera that can fit the whole thing in. There’s no words to describe the feeling of awe you get when you first step up to the rim and see the massiveness of the chasm spread out in front of you. The colours, the size, the natural beauty… the whole thing doesn’t even look real. I guarantee it will leave you speechless.
At 18 miles wide, 1 mile deep, and 277 miles long it’s fair to say there’s a lot of canyon to see (they don’t call it Grand for nothing…). So if you don’t know your Hopi Points from your Pipe Creek Vistas, here’s an intro guide to America’s coolest natural wonder.
When to go
June-August is peak season for the Grand Canyon. Lodging and campsites can both book up far in advance during these months, so be sure to make your reservations as early as possible if you are planning on traveling during this time.
Remember though, the South Rim is open year-round, and Spring and Fall are often considered the best times to visit. The weather is a little less apocalypse-hot, and there are fewer crowds around the major viewing platforms. The North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October, as the roads are less accessible through the winter months.
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, the easiest to get around, and has the most viewpoints and hiking trails. Unfortunately, the crowds know this too (really, consider a shoulder season). The South Rim can be done in a day or spread out over a few days, depending on your itinerary.
- Hopi Point, Mohave Point, and Powell Point are all popular for sunrise and sunset shots of the canyon.
- Mather Point is often used as a perfect first viewpoint of the canyon.
- Also take a look at often overlooked Yavapai Point and Pipe Creek Vista.
- The South Rim Trail is a 7-mile flat hike from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest.
- Bright Angel Trail is a 6-mile steep hike to the river at the base of the canyon, but can be shortened to 1-2 miles by turning back at the 1st or 2nd tunnel.
- Ooh-Ahh Point via Kaibaba Trail is a 2-mile hike beyond the rim of the canyon that provides some spectacular views.
Other things to do
- Visit Hopi House, a Native American arts and crafts centre.
- Take a mule trip into the canyon.
- Do a helicopter tour, which will fly your directly over the Grand Canyon for the best views of the Colorado River and Painted Desert.
Where to stay
- $$$ – El Tovar Hotel (a historic hotel very near to the canyon rim. Book well ahead as this place fills up months in advance).
- $$ – Yavapai Lodge (about a mile walk from the rim).
- $ – Mather Campground (open year-round).
The North Rim
The North Rim is a lot quieter than the South Rim. For every ten people that visit the Grand Canyon, only one visits the North Rim. The North Rim actually sits 1000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, so while it has fewer viewpoints, the views themselves are arguably slightly better. Bonus points: you can easily cover the North Rim in a single day.
- Cape Royal and Bright Angel Point are the most popular viewpoints (and for good reason – they’re spectacular).
- Point Imperial, a short drive away (great for sunrise and sunset).
- Cape Royal Trail and Bright Angel Point Trail, both of which are an easy half mile roundtrip.
- Coconino Overlook via the North Kaibab Trail is a 1.4 mile roundtrip hike climbing 800 feet down.
Where to stay
- $$ – Grand Canyon Lodge (the only lodge located at the North Rim, reservations must be made over a year in advance).
- $$ – Hampton Inn Kanab (located 1.5 hours drive away in the town of Kanab).
- $ – North Rim Campground (open mid May to late October).
Other points of interest
- Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed bridge located only 2.5 hours drive from Las Vegas.
- Painted Desert & Petrified Forest, a stunning national park at the East Rim of the canyon. The entry fee is $10 and the park closes at 6PM.
- Desert View, where you can climb an old watchtower to get awesome views of the canyon.
- Havasu Falls, a tribal reservation located inside the canyon. The Havasu Falls Trail will take you to a picturesque waterfall with bright blue water that looks almost out of place in the red desert.
- Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ. You may have seen photos of it already as this spot on the Colorado River is incredibly photogenic.
- Tusayan Ruins and Museum, an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site.
What to bring
- Water. The big one. It’s best to pack a refillable canteen or two and forgo the bottled water (it’s better for the environment). Bring plenty of H2O, especially if you’re planning to hike.
- Trail mix. Make sure you take some high-energy snacks (like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit) to keep you going on those hiking trails. You should be able to buy this at the Grand Canyon general store.
- Hiking boots or sneakers. You’ll need some comfortable shoes fit for walking on dirt trails. If your feet are prone to blisters, try to break the shoes in a few months before you travel.
- 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. Pack a light-weight parker just in case.
How to get there
Driving is one of the easiest ways to get to the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is accessible via Route 64, and the North Rim via Route 67. The price to enter Grand Canyon National Park is $25 per vehicle for a week-long permit (this gives you access to both the South Rim and North Rim).
If you choose to visit the South Rim, you can get by without a car. Flagstaff and Sedona are towns located within 2 hours of the South Rim, and there are multiple options for getting tours or shuttle buses into the national park from these towns. Once you’re in the park, there is also a free shuttle service to take you between viewpoints.
If you find it easier to let someone else organise your Grand Canyon experience, then I would highly recommend including it on a multi-day tour of western USA. This has been my preferred method of travel to the canyon so far, and it’s been great to have someone who knows the area to show us the best spots. You’ll see the Grand Canyon on this 6-day LA to Vegas Adventure, this 11-day Wild Western USA tour, or this 13-day Bright Lights & Canyons of the USA.
Want to see the best of the Grand Canyon? Check out our small group adventure from LA to Vegas.