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The Grand Canyon is a must-see destination. Spanning 277 miles in length, approximately 18 miles wide across at its widest point and 4 miles across its narrowest point, and 6000 feet deep, there is a lot to explore. Following is the essential guide to the Grand Canyon that will help you plan your trip and have a great experience.

The Grand Canyon South Rim vs North Rim

There are two sides to the Grand Canyon – the South Rim and North Rim. They are about 4-hour drive from each other. Visiting both rims in one day is rather tough. Keep in mind that the North Rim is open only during summer months.

If you have never been to the Grand Canyon and you are trying to decide whether to visit the South Rim vs the North Rim, then I strongly encourage you to spend your time at the South Rim.

The South Rim is a spectacular place to experience the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River as it carves its way through the canyon. However, if you are seeking solitude, then head to the North Rim. It is a fantastic choice if you seek a more primeval, natural, quiet and uncrowded Grand Canyon experience.

Still can’t decide? Read my post about the South Rim vs North Rim.

Read more: Grand Canyon South Rim vs North Rim

Where is the Grand Canyon South Rim Located

The Grand Canyon South Rim is located 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona (via route 64 from Interstate 40) and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff (via route 180). The Grand Canyon lies entirely within the state of Arizona.

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How to Get to Get to the Grand Canyon South Rim

By Plane

The closest major airports are in Phoenix, AZ, Flagstaff, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, and Salt Lake City, UT.

There is limited air service into Grand Canyon Airport

By Car or Motorcycle

Driving direction from the North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ – 212 miles / 341 kilometers

  • From the North Rim, take Highway 67 north to Jacob Lake, AZ.
  • Next, from Jacob Lake, take Highway 89Alt east through Marble Canyon, AZ to Highway 89 at Bitter Springs, AZ.
  • Once you get to Bitter Springs, take Highway 89 south to Cameron, AZ.
  • Finally, from Cameron, take Highway 64 west to the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park (on the South Rim) known as Desert View.

Driving directions from Phoenix, AZ – 231 miles / 372 kilometers

  • Take I-17 north to Flagstaff, AZ.
  • From Flagstaff, take I-40 west to Williams, AZ.
  • Lastly, from Williams, AZ, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.

Driving directions from Las Vegas, NV – 278 miles / 447 kilometers

  • Take Highway 93 south to Kingman, AZ.
  • From Kingman, take I-40 east to Williams, AZ.
  • From Williams, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.

Driving directions from Los Angeles, CA – 494 miles / 795 kilometers

  • Take I-15 east to Barstow, CA.
  • From Barstow, take I-40 east to Williams, AZ.
  • From Williams, take Highway 64 north to the South Rim.

Driving directions from Salt Lake City, UT – 510 miles / 821 kilometers

  • Take I-15 south to Cedar City, UT
  • From Cedar City, take Highway 14 east to Highway 89.
  • Take Highway 89 south to Kanab, UT.
  • Continue on Highway 89 to Page, AZ.
  • From Page, AZ, take Highway 89 South to Cameron, AZ
  • From Cameron, take Highway 64 west to the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park (on the South Rim) known as Desert View.

Where Is the Entrance to the Grand Canyon South Rim

The Grand Canyon National Park – South Rim has two entrances: the South Entrance which you can reach from Hwy 180, and the East Entrance on Hwy 64. Majority of the visitors enter from the South Entrance.

Grand Canyon

If possible, enter the park from the East Entrance and take Desert View Drive. Desert View Drive is 25 miles long from the East Entrance to the Grand Canyon Village. Make sure to stop by many viewpoints located along Desert View Drive. If you need help deciding where to stop to get the best views of the Grand Canyon, read my guide to the best viewpoints.

Read more about the best viewpoints along the South Rim: Grand Canyon South Rim – Guide to the Best Viewpoints

What Is the Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon South Rim

The Grand Canyon South Rim is a great destination to visit at any time of the year. Simply put, no matter when you go, you will experience the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Even though, the Grand Canyon is always spectacular, the weather conditions vary considerably from season to season.

Spring

Spring, specifically – March, April, May, is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon. The temperatures are mild and range from about 50F to 70F. However, be prepared for occasional showers and even snow. By the same token, you will see less crowds and have some serene experiences.

If you are planning to do some hiking in the Grand Canyon, then plan it in the early spring. The inner canyon trails become hot and extremely uncomfortable during summer months, however they are wonderful in the early spring.

Summer

Summer, namely – June, July, and August, is the high season. It is the busiest time of the year. Needless to say, expect a lot of companionship on the trails and everywhere throughout the park. In addition, it is the hottest time of the year with temperatures ranging from 80F at the rim and climbing above 100F below the rim. Moreover, be prepared for late-summer thunderstorms.

However, you cannot beat long summer days and even if you experience a late-summer thunderstorm, it might be a stunning view at the Grand Canyon.

Fall

Fall, specifically – September, October, and November, is my favorite time to visit the Grand Canyon. First of all, you will be able to find some solitude on the trails and at some viewpoints. Second, the weather is usually great. The temperatures range from 50F to 70F. Above all, it usually starts to dry up after the late-summer monsoon season. However, the weather can be unpredictable, so make sure to bring some warm cloths as well.

Furthermore, the fall sunsets are spectacular. The light brings out the colors of red, rust, and orange of the canyon walls.

Winter

Winter, specifically – December, January, and February is a good time to visit the Grand Canyon. First of all, the huge tourist crowds are practically gone. However, the temperatures are usually about 40F or below. These are the coldest months with plenty of snowfall. The South Rim averages about 5 feet of snow each winter. Likewise, winter is a magical time with snow covering the canyon.

Grand Canyon

Where to Stay in the Grand Canyon National Park

Lodging Inside the Park

Needless you say, there is nothing like staying inside the park at one of the lodges. You are practically staying at the rim. If you decide to stay at one of the lodges, then you need to reserve your room at least one year in advance. Following are some of the options:

El Tovar Hotel

My top choice is El Tovar Hotel. It is a historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It first opened its doors in 1905. The hotel was designed by Charles Whittlesey, Chief Architect for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.  The hotel was built from local limestone and Oregon pine. It cost $250,000 to build, and many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River.

In 1987 the Hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark.  In the past, the hotel has hosted such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Western author Zane Grey, President Bill Clinton, Sir Paul McCartney and countless others.

El Tovar has 78 rooms many of which are suites. If possible, book a suite! Due to the historic nature of the hotel no two rooms are alike, which gives the hotel distinctive charm. In addition, make sure to check out the restaurant located in the hotel.

Following is the website for El Tovar Hotel: El Tovar Hotel

Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins

Bright Angel Lodge is located at the top of Bright Angel Trailhead. It was designed in 1935 by famed Southwest architect Mary E.J. Colter. Bright Angel Lodge has a natural rustic character and is a Registered National Historic Landmark.

Bright Angel has 90 lodging units ranging from rustic cabins to lodge rooms (with no television and shared bath). Following is the website for Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins: Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins

Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge

Katchina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge are my two personal favorites. They both sit along the Rim Trail in the National Landmark Historic District. Above all, they are practically a stone’s throw from the canyon abyss.

Following is the website for Kachina Lodge: Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge: Thunderbird Lodge

Maswik Lodge

Maswik Lodge is less expensive than the options above. However, it is a 250-room lodging complex located in the Ponderosa pine forest about quarter-mile from the canyon’s edge. You might want to check it out and see how you like it. Following is the website for Maswik Lodge: Maswik Lodge

Lodging Outside the Park

There are numerous accommodations available in the gateway community of Tusayan Tusayan is located 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village, along Arizona Highway 64. Following are some of the options:

Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon
Best Western Canyon Squire Inn
Red Feather Lodge

If you are staying at one of the lodges in Tusayan between March 1 and October 30 the park provides free shuttle bus service between Tusayan Hotels and the South Rim Visitor Center. Furthermore, Tusayan Route shuttle buses pick up visitors in Tusayan at the following four stops:

  1. IMAX Theater/ R.P.’s Stage Stop
  2. Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn
  3. The Grand Hotel
  4. Big E Steakhouse and Saloon

After making four stops in Tusayan, the shuttle bus heads straight to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center By the way, shuttle buses run every 20 minutes between 8 am and 9:30 pm. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the Visitor Center.

Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus

In order to use Purple Route/Tusayan Route shuttle bus, you must present a valid park entrance pass when boarding the bus. It is no big deal, you can buy an entrance pass online at  https://yourpassnow.com/ParkPass/park/grca An online pass will admit everyone traveling with you in your car or personal vehicle. In addition, you can purchase an entrance pass in Tusayan at the following locations:

Read all about free shuttle bus service between Tusayan and the South Rim Visitor Center, as well as how to obtain park entrance pass in my post: Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus – Everything You Need to Know

The Grand Canyon National Park Opening Hours

The park is open 24 hours per day throughout the year. However, you need to keep in mind that there may be temporary road closures during and shortly after winter snow storms. Roads stay closed until plowing is completed and conditions are safe for visitor traffic.

The Grand Canyon National Park Entrance Fees

All visitors are required to purchase a recreational use pass. You pay for the pass at the entrance to the park. In addition, you can buy the pass online. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days including the date of purchase. The pass includes both the North Rim and South Rim. Following are the prices:

  • Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit – $35. It admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers.
  • Grand Canyon National Park Motorcycle Permit – $30. It admits one single, private, non-commercial motorcycle and its passenger(s).
  • Grand Canyon National Park Individual Permit – $20/person. It admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway and private rafting trip. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.

Annual Pass – America the Beautiful Parks and Federal Recreational Lands

If you are visiting several national parks during your vacation, you should consider purchasing an annual pass.

The cost of the annual pass in 2018 was $80. Annual pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, such as national parks, national wildlife refugees, national forests and grasslands.

You can purchase the pass online. Following is the website: America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass

The Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttle Bus Service

Free shuttle bus service is offered inside the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park. You can hop on hop off at any of the shuttle stops and use the shuttle bus service as many times as you need. Shuttle is not mandatory, however it is highly recommended especially during summer months, since finding a parking spot could be challenging. In addition, you will save money on gas and you will not be stuck in traffic.

Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus

There are five routes covered by the Grand Canyon shuttle bus service:

  • Blue Route/Village Route
  • Orange Route/Kaibab Rim Route
  • Red Route/Hermits Rest Route
  • Purple Route/Tusayan Route
  • Hiker’s Express Route

I wrote a post about the Grand Canyon South Rim shuttle bus service. It contains several handy maps and explains each route in detail.

Read more about the Grand Canyon South Rim shuttle bus service: Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus – Everything You Need to Know

Cell Phone Reception at the Grand Canyon National Park

Verizon has a tower inside the park, so their customers typically get the best reception. Everyone else can expect spotty to non-existent reception. As a result, do not rely on cell phone coverage in the Grand Canyon National Park.

I usually download google offline maps and use them to help me navigate the places without cell phone reception.

Interesting Facts About the Grand Canyon National Park

  • Many people consider the Grand Canyon to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

  • The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometers) in length. At its widest point the Grand Canyon stretches 18 miles (29 kilometers) across and at its narrowest point it is 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) across. The Grand Canyon is around 6000 (1800 meters) feet deep.

  • The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon, it has been eroding its steep sides for millions of years.

  • The different types of rock visible in the Grand Canyon make it an important site for geological research. The rock found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (schist) is around 2 billion years old. In addition, the rock found on the upper rim (limestone) is around 230 million years old.

  • American Indians have been living in and around the canyon for thousands of years.

  • John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down the Grand Canyon in 1869. He was the first to use the name “Grand Canyon” after it had previous been known as the “Big Canyon” or “Great Canyon”.

  • The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919. It was the 17th national park to be established in the United States.

  • Around 5 million visitors come to the Grand Canyon South Rim each year.

Top Best Things to Do in the Grand Canyon National Park

Sightseeing in the Grand Canyon National Park

If you are not able to or simply do not feel like doing many physical activities, then exploring the sights along the Grand Canyon South Rim is the perfect choice. Following are my favorite viewpoints along the South Rim. In addition, read my guide to the best viewpoints along the South Rim. It has detailed information on how to use the shuttle bus service to get from one point to the next.

Read more about the best viewpoints: Grand Canyon South Rim – Guide to the Best Viewpoints

Yavapai Point

Yavapai Point sits at the most northerly section of the Grand Canyon South Rim. Consequently, you will get the best view of the famous three points: Cape Royal, Wotans Throne, and Vishnu Temple. In addition, look down the gorge and onto the serpentine Colorado River.
 
Yavapai Point
 

Mather Point

Mather Point is the busiest viewpoint in the Grand Canyon South Rim. However, it is one of the park’s most spectacular vantage points. The Colorado River is practically below your feet. To the west is Bright Angel Trail, to the east is the South Kaibab Trail, and straight ahead is the North Rim.

Mather Point

Maricopa Point

Maricopa Point sits on a narrow promontory extending northeast and then dropping vertically. The vistas towards east and west of the canyon are excellent here. In addition, the views extend all the way to the North Rim. Following is the view from Maricopa Point looking towards the west side of the Grand Canyon South Rim:

Looking north west from Maricopa Point

Furthermore, following is the view from Maricopa Point looking towards the east side. If you look towards the bottom left side of the picture, you will be able to see an interesting rock formation aptly named the Battleship. California Condors have been known to nest on the Battleship.

Looking east from Maricopa Point

Hopi Point

Hopi Point is one of my personal favorites. It is one of the best all-around viewpoints in Grand Canyon. Jutting out farther into the Canyon than any other point on the South Rim, Hopi Point offers incredible views. In addition, it is a great spot to come back to and watch the sunset. You will be able to catch all the reds, rusts and oranges of the canyon walls as the sun is setting down.

Hopi Point

Moreover, Hopi Point offers excellent views of the stone “temples”. Temples, in this case, are rock formations rising from the depths of the canyon. If you look at the above photograph all the way to the horizon, you will be able to see the North Rim. Follow the North Rim up to the first indentation. This is Cape Royal. Cape Royal is a type of a temple formed when side-canyon erosion produces peninsula-like projection along the rim.

Afterwards, follow the horizon to the next temple. It is Wotan Throne. It was formed by erosion which transformed the peninsula into an island, and eventually, it was separated from the rim.

Finally, let your eyes wander to the last rock formation. It is called Vishnu Temple. Vishnu Temple was formed by further erosion, where the softer rock crumbles and undercuts harder rock.

Mohave Point

If you thought that Hopi Point was good, just wait till you get to Mohave Point. Not only you will catch the dramatic vistas here, but also you will be able to see some excellent views of the river and rapids below.

In addition, stretching out below the lookout is a rocky promontory known as the Alligator, as it twists toward the river beyond. To the northwest you can see Hermit Rapid, created when the side of the canyon collapsed into the river.

Mohave Point

The Abyss

The trail leading to the Abyss viewpoint travels along at one most scenic segments along the rim. In addition, it traverses very close to the edge of the canyon and you will be able to catch some great views all the way down to the canyon.
 
The Abyss lookout point is one of the most dramatic viewpoints in Grand Canyon. Notably, it is located on the very edge of the rim and gives you an almost vertical look down into the canyon below. In the distance you can see the Colorado River set against the backdrop of the layered rocks.
 
Grand Canyon South Rim

Pima Point

At Pima Point you will get one of the best views of the Grand Canyon South Rim and probably the most spectacular one of the Colorado River and rapids below. In addition, the views to the east are stunning.
 
Grand Canyon South Rim
 

Grandview Point

Grandview Point stands tall at 7,100 feet. It is one of the highest viewpoints in Grand Canyon South Rim. In addition, it is the southernmost point on the canyon. The views are magnificent here. Grandview Point overlooks the dense forests and the Horseshoe Mesa.

By the way, Grandview Point is the start of Grandview Trail which leads to Horseshoe Mesa.

Grandview Point

Moran Point

Once you reach Moran Point and glance all around you, you will get a true sense of the vastness of the Grand Canyon South Rim. Furthermore, directly below Moran Point sits Red Canyon and the colors are just staggering here. The reds, oranges and rusts glow beautifully especially in the afternoon sun. To top it off, the sparkling Colorado River finally makes longer appearance.

Finally, try to find the Sinking Ship, a fascinating geological formation which appears as if it was a sinking vessel against the setting sun.

By the way, Moran Point is named after Thomas Moran, a painter who traveled to the Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell in 1873. If you like Thomas Moran’s paintings following is a website with a recap of his life and work: Thomas Moran

Moran Point

Desert View

Desert View is the highest viewpoint on the Grand Canyon South Rim with elevation of 7,438 feet. Consequently, Desert View offers sweeping views of the Grand Canyon South Rim and the Colorado River.

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon South Rim sits Desert View Watchtower. Designed by Mary Colter, Desert View Watchtower combines traditional Southwest architectural styles like Spanish Colonial, Mission, and Native American elements, which we call today Santa Fe style.

So, with not further delay, head to the tower. Inside you will find a spiral stairway which winds five stories high. Head straight to the top and as you are climbing the stairs look through many windows and see mile upon mile of magnificent views. By the way, the windows have reflectoscopes, which are viewing instruments that enhance the colors by using the black glass. Once you get to the top, check out the observation deck, which offers great views of the eastern part of the Grand Canyon South Rim.

Desert View

Hiking in the Grand Canyon National Park

The best way to get the full Grand Canyon experience is to mix the scenic viewpoints with a some hikes below the rim.

South Kaibab Trail

If you can only do one hike at the Grand Canyon, then South Kaibab Trail is the top best choice. Be prepared to be amazed by the sweeping views as you hike along a dramatic ridgeline. Above all, you will get to see the spectacular beauty of the Grand Canyon from below the rim. Majority of the hikers trek to Ooh-Aah Point or Cedar Ridge and back. Some hikers continue on to Skeleton Point. It is entirely up to you how far you want to hike. Given these points, following are the distances between each stopping point:

  • South Kaibab Trailhead to Ooh-Aah Point – .9 miles
  • Ooh-Aah Point to Cedar Ridge – .6 miles
  • Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point – 1.5 miles

South Kaibab Trail

For full details about South Kaibab Trail read my post, it has all the information you need to plan a perfect hike. It covers trail location and how to get to the trailhead, distances between each stopping point, elevation changes, time need to complete each section of the trail, as well as a map of the trail.

Read more about South Kaibab Trail: South Kaibab Trail – Top Best Hike

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail is your best choice if you have never hiked in the Grand Canyon before. It is very well maintained. There is regular drinking water and covered rest-houses along the way. In addition, there are ranger stations located at the trail’s halfway point (Indian Garden) and at the bottom of the canyon (Bright Angel Campground).

Above all, be prepared to be absolutely stunned by the sweeping views as you hike below the rim along Bright Angel Trail.

Consequently, majority of the hikers trek to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse or Three-Mile Resthouse and back.

Some hikers continue on to Indian Garden or Plateau Point. It is entirely up to you how far you want to hike. It all depends how much time you have and how physically fit you are. Keep in mind, Bright Angel Trail is 6.1 mi one-way, starting at the trailhead and finishing at Plateau Point.

Given these points, following are the distances between each stopping point:

  • First of all, Bright Angel Trailhead to Lower Tunnel – 0.9 mi one-way
  • Lower Tunnel to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse – 0.6 mi one-way
  • Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to Three-Mile Resthouse – 1.5 mi one-way
  • Three Mile-Resthouse to Indian Garden Campground – 1.5 mi one-way
  • Finally, Indian Garden Campground to Plateau Point – 1.6 mi one way

Once you reach Plateau Point, you will be amazed by the sheer beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail

If you need more details about the Bright Angel Trail, then check out my post. It has a map of the trail, plus a ton of information.

Read more: Bright Angel Trail – Ultimate Guide

Photography

I am an amateur photographer, however I do a lot of research before I head to any new destination. Following is what I found out before heading to the Grand Canyon and what I experienced once I arrived at the Canyon’s South Rim. The Grand Canyon photography can be tricky. Maybe I did not get very many perfect shots, however, because I was equipped with some basic Grand Canyon photography tips, I managed to get some pretty good photos. You can do the same! Make sure to read my post about photography in the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon Photography

Read more about photography in the Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon Photography -The Best Locations

Tips for the Best Experience in the Grand Canyon National Park

Get There as Early as Possible

You will see people start arriving at the park around 10 am. I recommend that you get there way before 10 am. First, you will be able to find some solitude on the trails and at viewpoints. Second, it gets very congested during the high season. Getting there early ensures that you have the roads to yourself. Next, there is limited parking, so needless to say, if you are at the park early you do not have to waste precious time waiting for a vacant parking spot.

Dress in Layers

No matter when you are visiting the Grand Canyon National Park, pack warm clothes and dress in layers. Even in the summer the evenings can be very chilly.

Be Aware of High Elevations

Even mild exertion may leave you feeling completely out of breath, light-headed and nauseated. So, take plenty of breaks, and drink lots of water.

Do Not Feed Wildlife

Above all, do not feed wildlife. First, they get used to being fed and consequently, visit the campsites and parking lots looking for food. In addition, human food is not the best option for their diets. Lastly, they bite. Keep your food and your fingers to yourself.

 

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