USA Travel

Visitor Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

By
Tim Gillespie
on
July 20, 2021

In this guide you will find the following:

  • Why visit Grand Canyon National Park?
  • When is the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park?
  • How to get to Grand Canyon National Park
  • Best cities to access Grand Canyon National Park
  • What are the different areas of Grand Canyon National Park?
  • Popular things to do in Grand Canyon National Park
  • Frequently asked questions about Grand Canyon National Park

Why visit Grand Canyon National Park

One of America’s most distinguishable landmarks, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder you must see to believe. Grand Canyon National Park stretches 277 miles (445 kilometers) from end to end, its rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest. Layered bands of colorful rock reveal millions of years of geologic history. 

Rim-to-rim hiking, donkey rides, and whitewater rafting are popular ways to view the majestic beauty of Grand Canyon National Park. Beyond the natural beauty, Grand Canyon National Park is also home to National Historic Landmarks and incredible museums.

Whether you're looking for a scenic drive to view the highlights of the park or considering a multi-day adventure, Grand Canyon National Park is loaded with opportunities that will not let you down. 

Discover other national parks with these visitor guides to Smoky Mountains, Acadia, Yellowstone, and Yosemite national parks.

When is the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park?

The weather in Grand Canyon National Park is at its best between April and early June. Crowds have not yet arrived, as the peak season picks up in July. During this time of year, rainfall is limited as well.

Visiting in Spring

The shoulder season from March through May is one of the best times to visit Grand Canyon National Park. Even though the North Rim is still not open, there are still plenty of activities and sights to see to keep visitors busy.  

Temperatures do fluctuate rapidly during this time of year with highs reaching the 70s Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) and lows dipping down to the mid-20s (-3 Celsius). Early in the spring hiking trails may still be covered in snow. Springtime is also when the canyon’s wildflowers are in bloom. Visitors will be rewarded with cactus plants and trees blooming with yellow, red, purple, and white flowers.

Visiting in Summer

Get ready for the crowds if you are visiting during the summer. Though that’s not to say you should stay away. During the summer months, all facilities and regions of the park are fully operating, daylight hours are long, and the sun is out. Do be mindful that the sun is strong and drink lots of water when visiting during the summer months.

The North Rim, which is a bit more isolated than the South Rim, tends to see fewer crowds making it an ideal destination during the peak season. The North Rim also tends to be a bit cooler too.

Visiting in Fall

Another “shoulder season” for the park, visiting during the fall provides lower-priced accommodations and fewer crowds. Temperatures range between 50 and 65 Fahrenheit (10 to 18 Celsius). Nighttime temperatures drop significantly and be prepared for weather such as early snowfalls.

The fall season is the last chance to visit the North Rim, especially Bright Angel Point for amazing sunset views before it closes for the winter.  

Visiting in Winter

Considered by many to be the most peaceful season at the Grand Canyon due to the cold temperatures keeping the crowds away. Temperatures in the winter range from the lower teens to mid-40’s Fahrenheit (-10 to 8 Celsius). The North Rim, which receives the most amount of snow, is closed during the winter months though it can still be accessed via snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

The South Rim is open all year and visitors in the winter will be rewarded with limited crowds, clear skies, and potentially a unique opportunity to see the canyon covered in snow. Consider hiking the South Kaibab Trail for spectacular views including Ooh Aah Point.

Additional Reading: 9 Hiking Tips for Your Next Cold Weather Adventure

How to get to Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is located entirely within the state of Arizona, near the borders of Utah and Nevada. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into either Las Vegas or Phoenix. There is also a small regional airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, just over an hour from the South Rim.  

Driving from Flagstaff, Arizona:  Take Interstate 40 West towards the town of Williams, Arizona. Turn north at the Arizona Highway 64 junction. Proceed to the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.  (Driving time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes)

Driving from Phoenix, Arizona:  Drive north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff, Arizona. Then take Interstate 40 West to Williams, Arizona. Turn right onto Highway 64 (north) and proceed to the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.  (Driving time is approximately 4 hours)

Driving from Las Vegas, Nevada:  Head south on US Highway 93 to Kingman, Arizona. Along the way, you will drive over the Hoover Dam. Then go east on Interstate 40 towards the town of Williams, Arizona. At the Arizona Highway 64 junction, turn left (north) and proceed to the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. (Driving time is approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes)

An alternative way to enter the park is via the Grand Canyon Railway. The railway runs from the town of Williams, Arizona right into the heart of the park. The train departs daily at 9:30 AM and returns to Williams at 5:45 PM, allowing time to see the highlights near the Historic Village at the South Rim.

Best cities to access Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park can conveniently be accessed through a handful of gateway cities and towns. The proximity of these cities and towns to the park makes it easy to plan last-minute trips with reasonable lodging prices.

Tusayan, Arizona

Located just 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) outside the South Entrance, Tusayan is the closest city to Grand Canyon National Park. Accommodations in every price range and a variety of restaurants can be found in town. From March through September the National Park Service operates a shuttle service between the town and the main visitor center at the South Rim.

Apache Stables, located in Tusayan, offers guided horseback trail rides through the Kaibab National Forest.

Williams, Arizona

Located on the historic Route 66, Williams is home to trendy retro diners, souvenir shops, and historic buildings dating back to the Old West. Accommodations range from motor lodges to boutique bed & breakfasts, and of course camping. A variety of restaurants are on hand serving up delicious meals from the home-cooked to the deep-fried and showcase delicious Mexican, Italian and American fare.

There are plenty of things to do in Williams including fishing, hiking, golf, and a rodeo. You can hike to Sycamore Canyon, Arizona’s second-biggest canyon.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Though it’s roughly one and a half hours from the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is a great base when visiting the park. Additionally, it is home to the closest airport to the South Rim. Flagstaff’s walkable downtown district makes it a great place to stay. Here you will find plenty of restaurants, accommodations, and activities to keep you occupied.

If you love the night sky, add a visit to the Lowell Observatory to observe the galaxies above on the open-deck platform and attend one of the educational programs to learn more about the expanding universe.

Additional reading:  16 Must See Parks in the Southwestern United States

What are the different areas of Grand Canyon National Park?

The Grand Canyon has three rims: North, South, and Grand Canyon West. The North and South Rims are managed by the National Park Service while Grand Canyon West is owned by the Hualapai Nation, a federally recognized Native American tribe. Then there is Havasu Falls, the most famous waterfall inside the canyon, which is located in the Havasupai Indian Reservation and only accessible by a 10-mile hike.

The South Rim

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round and receives a majority of the visitors to the park. This area includes Grand Canyon Village, campgrounds, multiple lodges, restaurants, visitor centers, and museums.  

The South Rim is home to many stunning viewpoints including Mather Point, Yaki Point, and Powell Point. The Hermit Road, which is closed to public traffic, is a 7-mile long stretch with several amazing vista points to take in panoramic views of the canyon. Visitors can learn about the history and formation of the Grand Canyon at the Yavapai Museum of Geology, also located in the South Rim area of the park.

The North Rim

This more remote area of Grand Canyon National Park is only open from mid-May through mid-October, and though it receives a lot fewer visitors than the South Rim doesn’t mean that it’s not worth exploring.

Bright Angel Point provides dramatic views into Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. Point Imperial and Cape Royal are two amazing viewpoints worth visiting which can be reached via The North Rim Scenic Drive.

The Grand Canyon Lodge provides the only lodging in this area of the park and there is one campground operated by the National Park Service.

To drive from the South Rim to the North Rim takes approximately 4.5 hours, though you can hike the 21-mile (34 kilometers) Rim-to-Rim Trail.

If you do find yourself visiting the North Rim, then you should consider linking up an epic road trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Grand Canyon West

Located on the far western portion of the Grand Canyon, this area of the park is managed by the Hualapai Nation. The Skywalk, a glass bridge that is 10 feet wide and stretches 70 feet over the Grand Canyon in a horseshoe shape, is the main attraction in this area. The Skywalk features a history exhibit detailing the origins of the Hualapai people as well as cafes that offer traditional dishes. 

The Hualapai River Runners offers a 1-day rafting trip along the Colorado River. After floating along the river all day you can even opt for a helicopter ride back up to the rim!

Grand Canyon West is approximately a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas and a 2-hour drive from Kingman, Arizona. The South Rim is about a 5-hour drive. 

Looking for that next solo adventure?  Read our Top Travel Solo Destinations in the United States.

Popular things to do in Grand Canyon National Park

Take in the sunrise from Yaki Point, descend into the canyon by hiking the Bright Angel Trail, enjoy the scenery along Desert View Drive, and be sure to watch the sunset at Mather Point Overlook.

Hiking - Exploring Grand Canyon National Park by foot is one of the best ways to experience the majestic grandeur of the park. Most people don’t realize that the best views aren’t from the top. To get the real scope of the park’s size and beauty, visitors should lace up their hiking boots and hit the trails. With over 358 miles (576 kilometers) of established trails, there is something for every level of hiker to enjoy. Here are a few of our recommended hiking trails:

  • Bright Angel Trailhead to Indian to Indian Garden Campground - this 8.8-mile (14 kilometer) trail takes hikers past 2 billion years of geology and incredible rock towers. This is one of the premier hiking trails in the park.
  • South Kaibab Trail - this 7-mile (11 kilometers) path descends 4,780 feet (1,456 meters) to the river, passing Ooh Ahh Point and Skeleton Point along the way.
  •  Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa - descend steeply down the canyon walls for 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to a flat platform extending out into the space of the canyon, known as Horseshoe Mesa.

Mule Rides - Explore the depths of the Grand Canyon on a mule. Mule trips are offered for day-trippers and those that want to head down to the Colorado River for a one or two-night stay at Phantom Ranch or Havasu Falls Campground. The most popular trips are those that start from the South Rim and a Grand Canyon West near the Skywalk.

Walk The Trail of Time - Designed to be a geologic timeline, each meter walked on the trail signifies one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. This 1.3-mile (2.1 kilometers) interpretive walking trail encourages visitors to ponder, explore, and understand the magnitude of geologic time and the stories told by canyon rock layers and landscapes. 

Rafting - Experience the awe of the canyon’s breathtaking beauty on a half-day or multiple-day excursion along the Colorado River. Peaceful, leisure float trips are available or you can opt to pump up your adrenaline by being tossed and turned through hundreds of roaring rapids.

Camping - Pitch your tent or hook up your RV in one of three designated campgrounds inside the national park. In addition to these developed campgrounds, there are also backcountry campsites that require a backcountry permit that must be obtained beforehand. If you plan to stay in one of the developed campgrounds it’s recommended you make your reservation as far in advance as you can.

Additional reading:  Camping Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Their First Trip

Desert View Drive - This 22-mile (35 kilometers) is stunning. Along the way, there are numerous pullouts where you can see the Colorado River snaking through the canyon. Moran Point, Lipan Point, and its namesake, Desert View Point, are all must-see vistas along this scenic drive. Be sure to stop at the Desert View Watchtower, a historic 70-foot (21 meters) cylindrical stone building that offers a 360-degree panoramic view from the top.

Mather Point Overlook - Located a short walk from the Visitor Center in the South Rim area, visitors can view one of the most dramatic sceneries in all of the park. 

Additional reading:  Top Reasons to Visit Grand Canyon National Park

Frequently asked questions about Grand Canyon National Park

How many days do you need in Grand Canyon National Park?

We suggest 2 full days in the park. Assuming you’ll spend all your time in the South Rim area of the park, these 2 days can be broken down as the following:

Day 1: Enter the park through the South Entrance and after stopping in the visitor’s center heading directly to Mather Point. Then begin walking or using the free shuttle to access the points along the Rim Trail. Check out the Yavapai Geology Museum, the Trail of Time, and the Historic Grand Canyon Village. End your day riding the shuttle along the Hermit’s Rest Road and catching the sunset at Mojave Point.

Day 2: Wake up early and hike sections of either the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail down into the canyon. If you are feeling up for it, spend the whole day hiking the canyon. If not, return to the top of the rim, and after lunch take a scenic drive along Desert View Drive. Be sure to stop at Yaki Point, Tusayan’s Ruins, and Desert View Watchtower. You can then exit the park through the East Entrance

How old is the Grand Canyon?

Geologists estimate that the Grand Canyon began to form 5-6 million years ago.

What are the park entrance fees?

$35 USD Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers, up to a 15 person passenger van.

$30 USD Admits one single, private, non-commercial motorcycle and its passengers

$20 USD 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.

Admission to Grand Canyon National Park is for seven days and includes both the North Rim and South Rim. More information can be found here.

Can I bring my dog along with me if I hike into the canyon?

Leashed pets are allowed on the rim trails throughout the developed areas in the park but not below the rim. The only exception is certified service dogs. Learn more about bringing your pets to the Grand Canyon here.

Is gasoline available inside the park?

Gasoline is only available inside of the park seasonally at Desert View. Gasoline is available year-round, just outside of the park to the south in Tusayan.

What are some nearby attractions to Grand Canyon National Park?

Located north of the park’s boundary, Marble Canyon offers more incredible adventures and river floating opportunities. Purple sandstone cliffs rise from canyons along the Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Highway where the Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River.  

Wupatki National Monument preserves pueblos of ancient people just northeast of Flagstaff. History buffs can explore the ancestral past of Southwestern tribes at the three cliff dwellings at the Navajo National Monument.

Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Recreation Area offer unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation just 2 hours from the park.

Additional reading:  16 Must See Parks in the Southwestern United States

Do you offer guided trips to Grand Canyon National Park?

Yes. You can find out about all our USA camping and hiking trips on our website.

More articles featuring USA National Parks:

Camping and hiking articles from Under30Experiences:

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Tim Gillespie
Tim is U30X's Thailand Manager & Community Builder, and has been living, traveling and accumulating experiences in SE Asia since 2009. He loves being in the outdoors, immersing himself in local cultures, and tasting exotic foods.

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