The South Rim is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Of course, there's not much of the Grand Canyon to see in the dark hours, but you don't want to miss the opportunity to stand on Mather or Yaki Point and see the sunrise over the East Rim, otherwise known as Desert View, nor do you want to leave before experiencing the sunset from Hopi, Yaki or Mather Points. There are evening park ranger programs and dark-sky star-gazing you won't want to miss. During the daylight hours, be sure to take in all the sights, browse the visitor centers, stroll the Rim Trail or hike a bit down into the Canyon on Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trails, attend free ranger talks, and grab a bite to eat at one of the lodges or in the Marketplace Cafe. Because Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim is the most developed of the three rim areas, with most of the essential services you might need, like an ATM, pet kennel, post office, clinic, food, chapel, day care and National Park departments, you'll find plenty of things to do from dawn 'til dusk.
There are twelve glorious months a year to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and each season has its own strengths and negatives. The spring and fall are less crowded, and the Kaibab Plateau surrounding the South and North Rims is ablaze with wildflowers from late March through May and with golden aspen in early October. Winter at the South Rim offers the chance to see the multitudinous layers of rock dusted in white, and the smallest crowds of the year, opening the door to availability of the choicest lodging on the Rim and nearby. These three seasons may, however, bring unpredictable temperatures, limited visibility, reduced shuttle routes, shorter days, and fewer National Park programs from which to choose.
If your visit will occur during the peak summer season at the South Rim, May through September, you'll certainly experience the best months when it comes to weather, available programs and school vacation schedules. But the flip side to visiting the South Rim in summer means crowds, sold-out hotels and tours; expect crowded parking lots, viewpoints, hiking trails, food outlets and ranger talks. The best way to combat the crowds is to plan at least 12 months in advance and book your reservations early for lodging, campgrounds, tours, and fine dining. You should also plan to park outside the entrance, and use the Park Shuttle system and your own walking power liberally. Above all, be sure to pack your patience and flexibility; it's easier to relax and deal with the crowds and lines if you keep and open mind and an open schedule.
Planning ahead is key to getting the most of your Grand Canyon trip. If you want to stay in one of the National Park lodges or Trailer Village on the South Rim, you can — and should — make your reservations up to 13 months in advance. The same is true for most whitewater rafting trips and mule rides down to Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River; your chances of getting a spot on these trips diminishes as the date approaches, so get in early. You may also want to make advance dining reservations at the El Tovar hotel dining room; El Tovar guests can make reservations 6 months in advance, while non-guests can book a table 30 days from arrival.
At 6 months out from arrival, on the advance planning timeline, you can make reservations for Mather Campground. Up to 4 months prior, you can submit a request to obtain a Backcountry Permit as well as a spot at one of the campgrounds below the Rim — at Bright Angel or Indian Garden Campgrounds. Click here for more information on campgrounds and backcountry permits.
Below, you'll find resources for making reservations for the most quickly sold-out experiences:
- Grand Canyon Lodges by Xanterra South Rim Resorts — www.grandcanyonlodges.com
- El Tovar, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina, Maswik, Thunderbird and Yavapai Lodges, Phantom Ranch and Trailer Village
- El Tovar Dining Room and Phantom Ranch Canteen
- Mule Rides and Overnight at Phantom Ranch (Inner Canyon)
- Grand Canyon Railway — www.thetrain.com
- Mather Campground tent and RV sites (no hook-ups) National Park Service — www.recreation.gov
The South Rim is a bargain: just $25 per vehicle. The fee is good for seven consecutive days and is good for both the South and North Rims. You can enter through either the south gate near Tusayan via Highway 64, or the east gate known as Desert View. Either way, you'll need to pay the entrance fee to see the views of the South Rim; you just can't get close enough to the rim to see anything from the road outside the Park. Once inside, the ranger talks, visitor centers and shuttles buses are all free to the public.
The average costs for hotels, tours and attractions at the South Rim represent a wide range of possibilities. From once-in-a-lifetime experiences to the most affordable family or group trips, there are things to do and places to stay at any budget level. Here's just a sample of estimates, exclusive of taxes, gratuities and fees where applicable:
South Rim Tours & Activities
- Helicopter tours — $199 per person
- Ground tours — $72 per person
- Train tours — $75 per person
- Air tours — $300 per person
- Guided day hiking — $110 per person
- Guided backpacking for 3–7 days — $800–$1500 per person
- River rafting (motor) rafting 5–9 day Lower Canyon — $1700 per person
- River rafting (oar) rafting 5–9 day Lower Canyon — $2500 per person
- El Tovar Hotel — $183
- Bright Angel Lodge — $94
- Kachina Lodge — $191
- Thunderbird Lodge — $191
- Maswick Lodge — $92–$176
- Yavapai Lodge — $125–$166
- Tusayan Hotel/Motel $90–$190
- Williams Hotel/Motel $60–$190
- Flagstaff Hotel/Motel $55–$250
- Sedona Hotel/Motel $75–$235
- Sedona Resort $150–$350
- Trailer Village — $35
- Mather Campground — $18
- Desert View — $12
- Grand Canyon park-and-ride shuttle within park — FREE
- Phoenix to Flagstaff shuttle — $38–$42 per person
- Sedona to Flagstaff shuttle — $25 per person
- Flagstaff to South Rim taxi/shuttle — $42–$58 per person
- Flagstaff airport to hotel complimentary shuttle — FREE (See a list of Flagstaff hotels with airport shuttles)
- Flagstaff airport to hotel taxi — $3 load, $1.70–$1.90/mile, $0.50/minute traffic wait
- Flagstaff city bus (public transportation) — $1.25/single ride; $2.50/unlimited rides day pass
- Grand Canyon National Park Lodges casual dining (cafeterias, cafes, deli) — $6–$14
- Grand Canyon National Park Lodges upscale dining (lodges, dining rooms) — $15–$35
- Tusayan fast food chains — $18
Shuttles to the Park
If you're interested in taking a shuttle to the Grand Canyon, from Las Vegas or Phoenix or Flagstaff, it is possible, although not our number one recommendation. We encourage folks to drive themselves, since each of the three possible routes, are all highway and relatively easy to drive, although some are better in inclement weather.
That being said, many international travelers and non-drivers seek shuttle transportation as their only means of getting to the destination. One can easily book a shuttle from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Sedona or Flagstaff, and pick up a second shuttle (or leg of the same trip) from there to the South Rim. Expect to pay a good deal more for shuttle service than a rental car, but you'll benefit from being able to enjoy the scenery and leave the driving to someone else. Here's a breakdown of average costs:
- Phoenix to Flagstaff shuttle — $38–$42 per person each way
- Sedona to Flagstaff shuttle — $25 per person each way
- Flagstaff to South Rim taxi/shuttle — $42–$58 per person each way
- Las Vegas to South Rim shuttle — $99 per person each way
Inside the Park
One of the best things about the South Rim is the hop-on-hop-off shuttle system. Park once and ride the shuttles at your convenience, from viewpoint to viewpoint, all the way from Hermit's Rest to Yaki Point. The shuttles take visitors where cars cannot go, giving you access to the whole South Rim on your schedule. There are four color-coded routes, and the shuttles run every 15–30 minutes. In the off-season, you'll find that one or two of the shuttle routes will be out of service. You can find more information about the specific routes and their operating dates on the National Park service's website.
For those visitors interested in hiking rim-to-rim and taking a shuttle back to their original position, or starting a river rafting trip from the Upper Canyon, and getting a shuttle ride back after they've climbed out of the Canyon at the end of the trip, there are TransCanyon Shuttle and TheGrandCanyonShuttle.com. Both companies' shuttles are priced at $85 per person each way, and make 2 stops a day between the South and North Rims, a 4 ½ hour ride. Trans Canyon also runs a twice-daily shuttle from the South Rim to Marble Canyon/Lees Ferry, where most Upper Canyon river rafting trips put in. Reservations for both companies are required.
It is impossible to enumerate the "best" tours at the Grand Canyon. There is something for everyone, and no one-size-fits-all solution. However, we can recommend a few tours that appeal to a wide range of visitors, from all ages and abilities, with varied interests and expectations.
- Helicopter tours over the Grand Canyon— $199 per person
- Pros: Helicopter tours pack tons of drama, action and value into 45 minutes and they're great for all ages, abilities and time of year
- Cons: Not easy on the budget
- Railway tours — starts from $75 per person
- Pros: Grand Canyon Railway is a superb all-day option and appeals to kids from 2 to 92. Moderate to luxury fares available and it's transportation and a tour in one package
- Cons: Requires transportation to and usually an overnight in Williams
- Air tours — $300 per person
- Pros: The fastest way to get to the South Rim from Las Vegas or Phoenix/Scottsdale, and like the Railway, it's transportation and a tour in one
- Cons: Pricey
- Guided day hiking — $110 per person
- Pros: Arguably the best way to intimately experience the Grand Canyon, with all the safety, equipment and trip planning you mightn't accomplish on your own
- Cons: Must be in sufficient physical condition
- River rafting (motor) rafting 5–9 day Lower Canyon — $1700 per person
- Pros: This is the kind of bucket list experience you can brag about forever. Heavy on the adrenaline, and cheaper than an oar-powered trip
- Cons: Not for young children, requires far advance planning and a hefty budget
Mother nature presents two daily displays perhaps more spectacular than anything mankind could create. Each day at daybreak and "the magic hour," crowds gather at the South Rim's thirteen viewpoint areas to watch the sun appear and disappear over the Canyon rim, casting dramatic shadows and highlighting rugged textures. While it's true that there is no one best place to watch the sunrise and set, there are good and better places. Your best bets are viewpoints that obtrude toward the canyon, with views to the east and west. The following are well-suited for sunrise or sunset:
- Mather Point
- Yaki Point
- Hopi Point
- Navajo Point
- Mohave Point
- Lipan Point
- Desert View
Crowds are almost always a given at the Grand Canyon, but you can try to beat them by arriving early to your selected viewpoint and staking your claim on a prime sun viewing spot on the rail. Here are the 2014 Sunrise and Sunset Times for the South Rim:
Inside the National Park, there are several historic buildings, visitor centers, gift shops, bookstores and museums to visit.
- Historic Buildings
- Lookout Studio
- Hopi House
- Train Depot
- Desert View Watchtower
- Visitor Centers, Gift Shops and Bookstores
- Market Plaza (shops, services and food)
- Grand Canyon Visitor Center
- Verkamp's Visitor Center
- Kolb Studio
- El Tovar Gift Shop and Newsstand
- Bright Angel Lodge Gift Shop
- Yavapai Museum of Geology
- Tusayan Ruin and Museum
Outside the Grand Canyon, there are a multitude of natural, historical, cultural and commercial attractions within 200 miles. From a modern IMAX theater to preserved ancient ruins; an imaginary prehistoric town to a forest of real petrified fossils; golf and ski resorts to a drive-through wildlife park; northern Arizona is a cache of treasures that will enrich your Grand Canyon trip.
- Within 75 miles
- National Geographic IMAX Theater and Visitor Center — Tusayan
- Bedrock City — Valle
- Planes of Flame Air Museum — Valle
- Wupatki National Monument — Cameron
- Bearizona Drive-Thru Wildlife Park — Williams
- Elk Ridge Ski and Recreation Area — Williams
- Elephant Rocks Golf Course — Williams
- Arizona Snowbowl Ski and Snowboard Park — Flagstaff
- Flagstaff Nordic Center — Flagstaff
- Wing Mountain Snow Play Area — Flagstaff
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument — Flagstaff
- Lowell Observatory — Flagstaff
- The Arboretum at Flagstaff — Flagstaff
- Pioneer Museum — Flagstaff
- Museum of Northern Arizona — Flagstaff
- Within 150 miles
- Grand Canyon Caverns — Peach Springs
- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park — Kayenta
- Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive — Sedona
- Out of Africa Wildlife Park — Camp Verde
- Zion National Park — Springdale, UT
- Within 200 miles
- Petrified Forest National Monument — Holbrook
- Jerome State Park (former ghost town) — Jerome
- Bryce Canyon National Park — Bryce, UT
It's Not a Theme Park
It may surprise you or thrill you to know that Grand Canyon National Park is not a theme park. While the South Rim's Grand Canyon Village does offer most of the goods and services that one might want or need, and is capable of aptly serving the 4 million visitors that come each year, you won't find a glittering boulevard of flashing signs, myriad restaurants, souvenir shops and high-rise hotels at the park's access. The village of Tusayan, right outside the south gate, is a modest small town with several quality hotels and motels, a smattering of restaurants and the Grand Canyon airport. There's no hubris, no glitz, no falseness to Tusayan — and that's just the way the locals and most visitors like it.
Weather is one of the number one things visitors search about the Grand Canyon (case in point: you're reading this.) Folks want to know what to expect of the temperature swings; sun, rain and snowfall; road conditions; what to pack and what to wear. We've covered these topics in depth here, but to satisfy your curiosity right here and now, hover over this interactive chart to see the average monthly temperatures at the South Rim:
Grand Canyon offers some of the most challenging hiking and backpacking found anywhere in North America. Steep trails, intense heat, fast changing weather, and elusive water and shade combine to make for harsh conditions - even on a good day. Over 250 visitors are evacuated from the Canyon for medical emergencies by the park service Search and Rescue team each year. Proper planning and training is imperative.
The reward for those willing to make the effort, a mere fraction of the visiting public, is a chance to marvel at the unfolding beauty of the Inner Canyon. For those that are capable it is truly an experience not to be missed.
Day hikers are not required to obtain a permit from the park service. They should choose their route carefully, and let someone know where they are going and when they plan on returning. Each year several day hikers become lost or disoriented in the Canyon, and several perish as a result. Don't become a statistic. Do your homework, don't take any undue risks, and stay well within your known limits in terms of physical exertion.
Plan for twice as much time and effort to go up than it takes to go down. As with all day hikes, get a reliable weather forecast and dress accordingly, wear sturdy shoes and a brimmed hat, and take a gallon of water per person, plus salty snacks for each person in your party.
The best day hike for newcomers to the Grand Canyon is a descent of the Bright Angel Trail. This historic trail begins in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and tumbles seven miles to the Colorado River below. However, going to the river and back in a single day is strongly discouraged for any hiker on any day. The good news is that there are obvious places to change course and head back uphill, including rest houses (with treated drinking water during the hot summer months) which are found at 1.5 mile increments between the top and Indian Garden Campground, located halfway to the bottom.
Cell phone service is intermittent at times, both on the Rim and certainly down in the Inner Canyon. Not all wireless providers offer coverage in the Grand Canyon. Be careful not to rely on your cell or smartphone for all your directions, reservations, up-to-the-minute weather and emergency safety needs while at the Grand Canyon. However, you can now access free, 2-minute ranger talks on topics ranging from geology, to historical sites, the California condors and air quality. Just look for the "Park Ranger Audio Tour" signs located all along the Rim, call 928-225-2907, and enter the stop number.
GRAND CANYON'S NEAREST AIRPORTS
Most visitors fly into Phoenix or Las Vegas and drive to the Grand Canyon. Learn how: See All Nearby Grand Canyon Airports »
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
Drive yourself or take a shuttle? Learn the transportation options for each Grand Canyon rim. See All Grand Canyon Transportation »
LAS VEGAS HOTELS
Roll the dice on a grand vacation, and add Las Vegas to your Grand Canyon trip itinerary. See All Las Vegas Hotels »
WEST RIM SKYWALK TOURS
Venture out to Grand Canyon West by helicopter, airplane or bus; take a walk on the glass Grand Canyon Skywalk. See All West Rim Tours »