Grand Canyon Visitor Guide

When planning a Grand Canyon vacation, the first three big questions that cross most people's minds are 1) Where should we visit? 2) Where should we stay? 3) What should we do? More questions are likely to follow such as What time of year should we go to the Grand Canyon? How do we get there, in terms of flying into a nearby airport, arranging ground transportation or a rental car, or booking a tour; and What is the most cost-effective way to visit the Grand Canyon?

These days, is it safe to visit Grand Canyon right now is a big concern. Given that Grand Canyon offers open spaces, fresh air, and a once in a lifetime experience for everyone of all ages, it's possibly one of the safest, most satisfying vacations you can take during this uncertain, pandemic era we are going through. Riding shuttles, going on tours, staying in hotels and going into the Visitor Centers all come with an increased risk than staying home or just going on a self-guided tour of the Grand Canyon, but rest assured, all these companies offering tourism services are doing their very best to keep you safe. Travel, explore and experience the Grand Canyon as safely as possible, and only you know how risky is too risky for your comfort level.

The easiest place to begin answering these questions and planning your Grand Canyon vacation is with your starting city. If you know you're coming to the Grand Canyon from either Las Vegas or Phoenix, as most people do, you'll quickly be able to see the answers to your following questions will fall right into place. For example, if you're starting from Las Vegas, you'll then want to Choose a Rim, which will most likely be the West Rim because it's the closest and most accessible by guided tours from Las Vegas. If your trip will originate in Phoenix, you'll very likely want to choose the South Rim.

From there, you'll be able to narrow your trip planning to focus on booking hotels in cities nearest your chosen rim, selecting tours that originate from the city you've chosen, and figure out what driving directions or transportation options you need to consider.

Once you determine which city you'll be coming from, the decision of which rim to visit is fairly simple. The decision will largely be based upon how much driving/travel time you're willing to invest in seeing the Grand Canyon. Because the Grand Canyon is located in a very remote part of northern Arizona, you're guaranteed to be required to put in some effort and time in getting here, but there are some approaches that are more practical than others. Of course, all rims are feasible no matter where your trip begins, as long as you have ample time and budget resources. Here are our recommendations for practicality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

If you're flying into Las Vegas, it's likely you'll want to visit Grand Canyon West, the portion of the West Rim that is owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe, not the National Park Service. Located just 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, Grand Canyon West is home of the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk, a cantilevered walkway that allows visitors to walk out 70 feet past the edge of the Grand Canyon and look straight down to the bottom of the chasm. This trip can be done as an 8-hour self-driven trip, a 10-hour door-to-door guided ground tour, or a half-day helicopter or airplane trip. Because of the expense of the entrance packages and popular tour options, Grand Canyon West is budget-heavy compared to the South or North Rim, but it's the quickest and most practical option for visitors coming from Las Vegas.

For visitors starting their Grand Canyon trip from Phoenix, it makes the most sense to visit the South Rim. This itinerary, including the starting point and destination, are the most popular of all Grand Canyon trips. Five million people visit the South Rim each year, compared to 1 million each to the West and North Rims. The South Rim, which is the hub of the National Park, is where you'll find several visitor centers, museums, hiking trailheads, viewpoints and park lodges.

The South Rim is a pleasant 4 hour drive due north from Phoenix. Most people drive themselves and spend the day walking along the Rim Trail, snapping photos from overlooks and checking out the visitor centers. A day trip itinerary from Phoenix, whether self-guided or on a professional ground tour, takes about 16 hours. While there are a few helicopter tours from Phoenix to the South Rim, it's more likely you'll find ground tours or a combination of a self-driven trip up to rim-adjacent towns like Williams or Tusayan, and then a railway or helicopter tour to the South Rim.

Due to its very remote location and availability limited to the summer/early fall, the North Rim is the least accessible of the three Grand Canyon areas to reach, but for those visitors willing to invest the time and effort, the reward is great. The solitude afforded by the smaller crowds on trails and in campgrounds, and the quiet due to the absence of helicopters, airplanes and commercial tours are as attractive as the dramatic views from the North Rim. The North Rim is easiest to reach from southern Utah cities like St. George and Kanab, or northern Arizona towns like Page and Jacob Lake. Be prepared to drive yourself, or take a guided rafting tour of the Upper Canyon that starts beyond the North Rim in Lees Ferry. Either way, plan on spending at least one night, either at Grand Canyon Lodge inside the park on the rim, in a nearby campground, or in a hotel within 150 miles, anywhere from Jacob Lake to St. George to Page.

At the West Rim, lodging can be found in two places near the rim: The Hualapai Lodge and Cabins and Grand Canyon Ranch. But because of the limited availability, many visitors seek accommodations in nearby Kingman, Laughlin, or the ever-popular Las Vegas. We recommend booking a hotel in Las Vegas if you plan to stay more than one night; a visit to Grand Canyon West will only take one day, and you'll want to round out your itinerary with entertainment and attractions elsewhere. Or, you can travel eastward and visit the South Rim, staying in one of its surrounding towns on your subsequent nights.

The rim-adjacent towns of Tusayan and Williams, located 8 and 60 miles from the South Rim respectively, are the most practical options for booking your South Rim hotel, particularly if you are unable to secure a reservation at one of the Grand Canyon National Park lodges along the rim. National Park lodge reservations usually require a 12-month advance timeframe. During the busy summer season, you may need to look further beyond the South Rim to Flagstaff (90 miles) or Sedona (120 miles). Both of these larger cities offer plenty of lodging options from motels and hotels to bed & breakfasts and cabins, vacation rentals and resorts. In addition, Flagstaff and Sedona offer spectacular scenery, broad choices of restaurants and bars, plus attractions and tours departing daily for the Grand Canyon.

At the North Rim, the variety of lodging options is slim, but your search may span far and wide. There is, of course, the Grand Canyon Lodge & Cabins, an historic structure with motel and cabin accommodations located inside the National Park boundaries. Two alternative lodging options are perched atop the Kaibab Plateau, but with the summer-only season at the North Rim, these limited accommodations sell out quickly. If you find you cannot secure reservations at the Lodge, the Kaibab Lodge or the Jacob Lake Inn, expand your hotel search to St. George or Kanab, UT or Page, AZ. The distance is a mere 150 miles at most, which, on the vast plateau that is North Rim country, is practically a stone's throw.

Getting to the Grand Canyon involves, for almost everyone, flying into a commercial airport, renting a car or hiring a shuttle, and driving yourself or taking a tour to the Rim. It always requires some commitment to travel time and budget, as all edges of the Grand Canyon — from the National Park's South and North Rims to Grand Canyon West on Hualapai Tribal land — are located in a remote part of northern Arizona, miles from major cities and interstates. However, one should not be intimidated by the endeavor required, as it is fairly simple and millions of visitors manage the trip each year.

Most visitors, if flying into the area from different parts of the globe or country, land at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, located just 3 ½ hours from the South Rim inside the National Park. As an alternative, many visitors arrive at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, a short 2 ½-hour drive to Grand Canyon West — and a quick trip by airplane or helicopter tour — and 4 hours 15 minutes to the South Rim. A small percentage of folks connecting through Phoenix opt to tack on a short US Airways Express flight into Flagstaff, which will cost you more but will get you 2 hours closer to the Rim than a Phoenix flight. for the lucky few flying privately or by charter, it's possible to fly directly into Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan just outside the South Rim.

Once on the ground, transportation takes one of two forms: self-driven (e.g. rental car) or shuttle. We highly recommend you get a car and drive yourself; the 125—275-mile drive is easy since it's mostly interstate travel. You can take a shuttle from Phoenix to Flagstaff, then Flagstaff to the South Rim, or Las Vegas to the South Rim, but you'll be limited to the shuttle's schedule, its route, and the destination. Shuttle fares range from $80&mdash$100 per person each way and will leave you looking for and paying for additional transportation around your hotel, other destinations and attractions (if you can even find additional transportation.) Getting a rental car for 2—4 people is a much more practical choice because it's cost-effective, flexible and spans the gap between getting to the Grand Canyon and the rest of your vacation.

Often, we receive questions from visitors who do not want to drive themselves, have 1 or 2 days to see the Grand Canyon, and want to combine transportation and lodging for simplicity's sake. To those visitors, we recommend booking a tour. Short on time? Fly from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon on an air tour or helicopter tour. Looking to save money? Book an all-day ground tour, offering hotel-to-hotel round-trip transportation, and hitting all the sights on a comfortable ride. Feeling adventurous? Combine a round-trip shuttle, an overnight stay, and a one-day whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River. When you book a tour from Las Vegas or Phoenix, you're able to meet your transportation needs, sometimes overnight accommodations, and see the Grand Canyon as well as area attractions like Hoover Dam, the Skywalk, the IMAX theater, and the Las Vegas Strip.

As stated, the mostly interstate route to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix or Las Vegas is easy to drive and often scenic. Detailed directions are available here, but essentially, from Phoenix, the fastest and most reliable year-round route is to take I-17 N toward Flagstaff, then I-40 W toward Williams, then follow the signs to take Highway 64 N toward the South Rim. From Las Vegas, take I-215 E toward Henderson, then I-515 S to Highway 93 S. If you're headed to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, follow the signs and turn off Highway 93 onto Road 25/Pierce Ferry Road to Meadview/Dolan Springs, then take the more primitive Diamond Bar Road and Buck and Doe Road to the Grand Canyon West Airport/entrance to the West Rim. If you're headed for the South Rim, continue on Highway 93 toward Kingman, then I-40 E toward Williams and follow the signs to take Highway 64 N to the South Rim.


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Scenic landscape photo of Northern Arizona