Planning a trip to the Grand Canyon can be a daunting process, to say the least.
You’ll often hear people talk about North Rim, South Rim, West Rim, and the Skywalk. Where are they? Where should you go? What should you do? Where should you stay?
We’re here to help!
The first questions that needs to be answered is where are you starting your trip – Las Vegas or Phoenix? (if neither, just skip on down for the goods).
Las Vegas is often a choice for many because of the size of the airport and the attractions in the city itself, however, Las Vegas is roughly 4 hours driving from the “main” area or South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are multiple tour options from Las Vegas, but be prepared for a very long day for round trip (14+ hours).
Phoenix, AZ is the other top choice for airports when visiting the area. Although it can be scorching hot (much like Las Vegas) it’s only about 3 hours from the South Rim of Grand Canyon, and about 2 hours from cool Flagstaff, AZ.
Flagstaff, AZ is (in our opinion) the best place to use as home base for your vacation. With endless hotels, restaurants, and activities ( Lowell Observatory, Wapatki National Monument, historic district, etc, etc) and fresh 7000′ mountain air, it’s a beautiful place to stay. Flagstaff is just over 1 hour from the South Rim, and only about 2 from other amazing sights such as Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is vast, to say the least. Offering a few dozen viewpoints along its miles of easily accessible roads, you can get a vast array of vistas in just one day. The South Rim also boasts a great amount of visitor services including multiple lodges, campgrounds, museums, and historical sites. Aside from all of the services that the National Park Services provides at South Rim. The South Rim is what most people think of when it comes to Grand Canyon – almost every photo of the Canyon you see was taken here. Grand Canyon Adventures offers excellent Daily Grand Canyon Tours as well as guided Grand Canyon Hiking Tours for all ages and ability levels.
The South Rim is just over 1 hour driving from Flagstaff, 4 from Las Vegas, and 3 from Phoenix. Tusayan, AZ, sometimes referred to as Grand Canyon Village is just minutes outside the park. Although it is an extremely convenient place to stay, Tusayan has limited options when it comes to places to eat and things to do after your day at Grand Canyon.
If you’re looking to hike, the South Rim also offers dozens of trails for almost any ability level. Some are certainly more used than others, so we always recommend hiring a guide to show you to the best places.
For most, the big advantage to the South Rim is the accessibility to major highways and cities, as well as flights into and out of the area. Being only about 1 hour from Flagstaff, AZ, the South Rim is definitely the rim of choice for most first time visitors.
Unlike the South Rim, the North only offers a few viewpoints via paved roads; in exchange, the North Rim offer incredible seclusion and spectacular surroundings. If you have the fortitude, and a VERY capable off-road vehicle, you can access a few more viewpoints from the North. The North Rim only has one lodge, and does not offer any of the other visitor services that the South has to offer. Many visitors enjoy the North Rim more for the experience of solitude, a great campground, and crisp 8000 ft air.
The North is generally open from mid-May through mid-October, depending on the snow. If you are lucky enough to get a cabin or campsite, you should plan on spending a couple of nights taking it all in. Generally, the North Rim is for more active and “outdoorsy” types that don’t necessarily need all of the amenities offered by the South. It can be an excellent choice if you have the time to explore, or are looking for a relaxing time at the Canyon.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is located on the Haulapai Nation, so it is not technically part of Grand Canyon National Park. Although an impressive feat of engineering, the Skywalk can be very far out of the way for most. The Skywalk is about 4 hours from Flagstaff, and just over 2 from Las Vegas (according to google maps). When visiting, you cannot simply purchase a ticket for the Skywalk, you must purchase a “package” that includes your entrance to the Skywalk, lunch, and shuttle busses to 2 other viewpoints. If you drive yourself, the ticket will set you back about $80 USD.
So What Should You Do?
It really all depends on time. If you’re here for a quick vacation or work getaway, we recommend just sticking with the South Rim via Flagstaff. If you have a bit more time, the Skywalk, Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend, or North Rim on your way to Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park are really good options.