The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon in Arizona covers a huge area - shown on the map below as the West Canyon, the East Canyon, The North Rim and the South Rim.
South Rim - Spectacular, best known and most developed. If you book a tour or trip to the Grand Canyon then you most probably will visit the South Rim. Most facilities and viewpoints are open year-round but can be temporarily closed in winter due to snow. Many trails and easily accessible viewpoints.
North Rim - Every bit as spectacular, but less developed and seasonal because its higher altitude receives more snow. Popular with nature enthusiasts who try to avoid crowds when they can. Fewer trails and viewpoints unless you are willing to drive/hike on dirt roads with a 4WD vehicle. It is a 5-hour (215 mile) drive between the north and south rims.
East Canyon - Mostly visited by river-rafting enthusiasts and connecting traffic between the North and South Rims. The famous multi-day Colorado River rafting adventures start at Lees Ferry in the East Canyon. If you are not doing a rafting trip then this area will not be of much interest to you. This area is outside the scope of this website.
West Canyon North - The west area north of the Colorado River is mostly known as Tuweep - for 4WD, horse and backcountry enthusiasts only, although you can fly to the Bar 10 Ranch airstrip for a more comfortable stay at the Lodge with its typical ranch activities! If you do not trust your vehicle, arrange a 12-hour round-trip tour to this area from Las Vegas with pinkjeeptours.com. This area is outside the scope of this website.
West Canyon South - South of the Colorado River you will find two very interesting places to visit - remote Havasupai Village (known for its blue-green waterfalls) and the Skywalk (a glass-bottomed viewpoint extending over the edge of a canyon).
Las Vegas is a very convenient gateway city for visiting the Grand Canyon. It is 275 miles from the North Rim (about 5.5 hours) and 278 miles from the South Rim (about 5 hours). Other cities (Phoenix, St. George, Flagstaff, etc.) may suit you better depending on connecting flights from your home airport.
View Grand Canyon Areas in a larger map
Our most frequently asked questions (with answers!):
To make it easier to follow along, please click here to view our Grand Canyon Map in a large new window. You can zoom in and out, scroll around and click on the camera icons to see our pictures.
I am looking at several tours to the Grand Canyon. Some overnight at the North Rim and others visit the South Rim. Which is best?
We love the North Rim because it has fewer tourists and the canyon views are often more interesting thanks to the greener vegetation. But note you cannot see the Colorado River from its popular viewpoints. Most tours visit the South Rim but Tauck, Collette, Mayflower and a few others offer the North Rim. The North Rim experience is more intimate but because you do not have your own transport the canyon viewing choices are more limited. Your best option is the 0.5 mile round-trip walk to Bright Angel Point on a paved trail. The South Rim offers at least 13 miles of rim trails with countless viewpoints of the Colorado River, the expansive canyons and access to the famous Bright Angel Trail. Thus, practically speaking the South Rim offers more views and trails and conveniences such as hop on/hop off shuttles to the best viewpoints and we consider the South Rim a better option for tour groups on quick overnights. But, other factors can certainly negate the advantages of the South Rim and we will discuss those with you when we compare the complete tours in your shortlist.
Shall we rent a vehicle when visiting the Grand Canyon or is it a waste of money considering the efficient shuttle system?
Parking is a serious challenge near the South Rim's most popular lodges (El Tovar, Kachina and Thunderbird). For this reason we understand why many lodge guests never move their vehicles after struggling to find a nearby parking spot! It is possible to book airport transfers and transportation to/from these lodges and then you really do not need a rental car. However, we do recommend to rent a vehicle and drive if you plan to visit for several nights. There is plenty of parking available near the main visitor center and a vehicle makes it easier to visit the more remote (and often very spectacular) overlooks. A drive out to Desert View is essential especially early in the morning or late afternoon. After visiting Hermits Rest and all the viewpoints along the shuttle route with many other tourists, it is relief to drive east where the crowds are thin and the views even better in our opinion. On the North Rim a vehicle is absolutely necessary to visit viewpoints such as Imperial Point, Roosevelt Point and Cape Royal.
We read about hordes of camera-waving tourists at the Grand Canyon South Rim. How bad are the crowds during high season?
Surprisingly, it is quite easy to avoid the worse of the tourist traffic if you plan well. Most tourists ride the shuttles between the overlooks and hug the safety railings while avoiding the rim trail - allowing you to have long stretches of premium canyon views all to yourself if you are willing to do some walking! Regardless, we suggest you do most of your canyon viewing around sunrise and in the late afternoon. In the morning grab a snack and some juice to enjoy on the run at sunrise and explore until 9:30am before returning to your hotel for a sit-down breakfast. Then relax and visit the visitor centers, museums, shops and bookshops or attend some ranger programs. Around 3pm take the shuttle to Hermits Rest and start working your way east as the sun is setting, or start driving from the Village to Desert View.
Can we get rooms with canyon views at the Grand Canyon?
Yes! But this will take some work and you have plenty of competition. Many experienced guests plan their Grand Canyon vacations around the availability of the three best rooms at the El Tovar Lodge - the canyon-side balcony suites (Fred Harvey, Mary Colter and El Tovar). These three suites offer the very best views of the Canyon; when you make reservations do ask about suite availability. There are many other rooms with partial views of the canyon in El Tovar, Kachina, Thunderbird and Bright Angel (rim cabins), but none are really worth the hassle of trying to book them.
The South Rim lodges are fully booked during our vacation window and our dates are not flexible. What other options do we have?
Try one of the hotels in the village of Tusayan just 10 minutes by vehicle from the Grand Canyon South Rim. The available hotels are marked on our map above. The town of Williams is another option but it is a 65-mile drive from the canyon which is simply too far to be convenient.
Our travel agent strongly recommends a 2-night stay at the Grand Canyon Railway with one round-trip train excursion to the South Rim. Do you agree?
We do not like to comment on specific itineraries without knowing a lot more about a clients' interests, budget, etc. In general, serious train enthusiasts will find the train trip interesting but it is a long ride - please consider the following:
1. You will be based in Williams - 65 miles from the South Rim.
2. It is a 2h 15min train ride each way and children (and some adults) may get bored especially on the return route. The scenery en-route is fine but nothing to get excited about.
3. You do not see the Grand Canyon from the train. Please look at our map to see the route.
4. The train arrives at the South Rim at 11:45am and departs at 3:30pm - leaving you with only 3 hours to explore the Grand Canyon.
5. It takes 75 minutes to complete the bus tour to Hermits Rest and back without even getting off the bus, so there will be very little time left to actually take in the vistas. And you do not get to experience a sunrise or sundown!
We suggest you ask your travel agent to consider a different package that combines the train excursion with at least one night at a lodge near the South Rim.
We will be in Las Vegas for a conference and are looking at several Grand Canyon day-trip options. How do we choose the best tour?
Make sure you understand the destination by looking at our map! Remember the West Rim (Canyon) is not the South Rim - these are two different destinations, both with awesome views, but the South Rim is the Grand Canyon everyone knows and expect to see! The West Rim is known for the Skywalk attraction. If you can afford it, we recommend a combination fixed-wing and ground tour to the South Rim. You will fly to the Grand Canyon Airport and enjoy sightseeing along the South Rim via shuttle buses. As an upgrade, consider a short helicopter excursion over the South Rim after you arrive.
Drive Tours - You need at least 12 hours for a return trip by road to the South Rim. The West Rim is about 9 hours round-trip.
Fixed-wing Flight and Ground Tours - About 6 - 7 hours to the West Rim and back. Shuttle transport to overlooks and Skywalk. Flight time is 20 minutes each way. About 8 hours to the South Rim with 40 minutes flight time each way.
Helicopter Tours - About 4 hours to the West Rim and back - 90 minutes flight time over various attractions. Longer tours are available when landing at the West Rim.
Which longer Grand Canyon trails do you recommend for day-hikes?
The best trails are marked on our map.
Rim Trail - 13 miles along the South Rim from Yaki Point to Hermits Rest is everyone's favorite. No permits needed and you can hop on the nearest shuttle when you get tired! We recommend you start the hike at sunrise at Yaki Point and walk west to Hermits Rest.
Bright Angel Trail - Steep and popular, this is a must-do trail if you are fit and healthy. It is 9.2 miles round-trip to Indian Garden but please turn back sooner if you feel tired. Start early in the morning and be prepared for 6-9 hours of tough hiking. No permits needed.
North Kaibab Trail - North Rim - Not as steep as Bright Angel but beautiful, the 9.4 mile round-trip to Roaring Springs is a delight. Prepare for 6 - 9 hours of challenging hiking. No permits needed.
During our visit to the Grand Canyon we want to overnight at the Phantom Ranch in the Canyon near the Colorado River. What is the best way to achieve our dream?
There are several ways to accomplish your goal! But be aware it is a very popular place - unless you go on an organized tour you will have to book many months out. Permits required. We do not recommend hiking to Phantom Ranch in one day from the North Rim. It is 13.7 miles and you have to traverse a very hot area called the Box.
Overnight Mule Ride - You start down the Bright Angel Trail, have lunch at Indian Gardens and overnight at Phantom Ranch - 9.9 miles. The next morning you return to the South Rim via the South Kaibab Trail - 7.4 miles. You must weigh less than 200 lbs to join this mule caravan.
Overnight Hike - Descend via the South Kaibab Trail and overnight at Phantom Ranch - 7.4 miles. Return the next morning via the Bright Angel Trail - 9.9 miles. Note - we do not recommend the South Kaibab Trail for return hikes to the South Rim because it has no water. Absolutely use the Bright Angel Trail which has seasonal water stops.
Join a guided hiking tour (1 to 3 nights) - If you do not want to make all the arrangements on your own, consider joining a guided tour. Please contact us for outfitter recommendations.
Multi-night Rim-to-Rim Hike - We love this itinerary. It allows for enough time to slow down a bit and explore various scenic side-trails of the inner Canyon instead of rushing from rim to rim! Start at the North Kaibab Trailhead and hike down to the Cottonwood Camp - 6.8 miles - to overnight in your tent or sleep under the stars. The next morning hike to Phantom Ranch - 6.9 miles - with a stop at Ribbon Falls. Enjoy the comforts of your cabin and dinner at the legendary family-style restaurant. On day 3 begin the uphill 5.1 mile trek to Indian Gardens campground for another night out. Finally, on day 4, you complete the last 4.8 miles of the hike via the steep section of the Bright Angel Trail.
We want to extend our South Rim visit to the Grand Canyon with a hike to see the waterfalls at Havasupai. How can this be arranged?
A great idea! The blue-green waterfalls at Havasupai will take your breath away! But getting there take some careful planning. Please look at our map while reading the directions! To overnight at Havasupai you will need a reservation which must be made many months in advance.
Drive and hike (2 nights) - It is a 200 mile from the South Rim to the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead, meaning between 3 and 4 hours in the car. It is best to arrive before 10am. There is overnight security so your car will be safe. Then it is an 8-mile hike to the lodge in Supai Village or 10 miles to the campground - plan for about 4-6 hours. It is not a difficult hike but it can get very hot. As a result many people opt for a mule-assisted hike with the mules carrying your camping gear. In total, plan for a 10-hour day before you can relax at camp. The next day hike to Beaver Falls (7 miles round-trip from the campground, 9 miles from lodge) while enjoying the other beautiful waterfalls along the way. On day 3, hike back to Hualapai Hilltop and your vehicle.
Variations - if you do not want to hike all the way you can go on horse-back (either both ways or one-way). You can also hike in and helicopter out (during high season there are helicopter shuttles between Supai Village and Hualapai Hilltop), or helicopter both ways.
Join a guided hiking tour (2 to 4 nights) - If you do not want to make all the arrangements on your own, consider joining a guided tour. Please contact us for outfitter recommendations.
Helicopter Charter (2 nights) - To save time and avoid the long drive by car, consider chartering a helicopter from one of several companies at the South Rim. Contact us for helicopter charter recommendations.
If your budget allows it, our recommendation is to helicopter to Hualapai Hilltop on day 1 and hike down to the campground, visit Beaver Falls and the other Falls on day 2, then helicopter from Supai Village back to the South Rim on day 3.
What is your honest opinion of the Skywalk?
Sorry, we are not fans of the Skywalk experience. Others seem to agree - it has hundreds of horrible reviews on Tripadvisor. There are several reasons for this.
Deceptive marketing - Many Las Vegas tour operators and travel agents are less than honest about the differences between the Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon West. Unsuspecting tourists are booked on charter buses or helicopters to the Grand Canyon and taken to Grand Canyon West instead.
The Skywalk location - The structure does NOT overlook the Colorado River and main canyon. Please study our map carefully by zooming in to the Skywalk location. You will notice it is actually overlooking a smaller side canyon. The overlook at Guano Point is really good with a view down to the Colorado River but you have to stand in line for a shuttle bus to get there. On a busy day the line can be long.
Costs - It is a shame the Hualapai Tribe is turning the Skywalk experience into a negative one by trying to take as much money from every visitor as possible. In 2012 the basic entry fee was $44.05 per person! Then add $35 per person to include the Skywalk. You are not allowed to bring your own food and drinks so add money for that. At minimum you are looking at $90 per person for an experience that simply does not compare with the much cheaper South Rim!
Attitude - The Skywalk experience is a mass tourism enterprise and you are reminded of its money-making goals just about everywhere you turn. The shuttle buses, the expensive tickets with the many extras, the many expensive "photographers" trying to take your picture (don't ask them to retake the picture - you will get an unfriendly response), the many rules such as don't bring your own food, no cameras on the Skywalk (to protect the glass floor they say), etc. It is a people-moving environment but as long as you understand what you are getting then no worries.
Access - The approach road can be really bad making the drive rather uncomfortable.
What is the easiest way to combine the South Rim and the Skywalk in one trip?
It really depends on your budget and your starting point. Most Las Vegas tour companies will fly you to one or the other but not both, unless you arrange a private itinerary. Let's assume you are staying at the South Rim and want to explore from there.
Road trip - It is a 250-mile drive each way and it will take about 5 hours by car. This makes for a very long day so we recommend you stay overnight at the Hualapai Ranch. Then you can catch both the sundown and sunrise from the West Canyon viewpoints.
Charter a helicopter - Please contact us for recommendations.