South Rim or North Rim?
Which should you visit - the South Rim or the North Rim of the Grand Canyon? It's a question more and more visitors are asking each year. The answer depends on several factors and ultimately comes down to whatever makes the most sense for your vacation. Read on for some questions and answers to help you figure out where to start, what you expect to get out of your Grand Canyon visit, and in the end, choose the Rim that's right for you.
When will your trip take place?
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round. The North Rim is only open mid-May through mid-October each year. So if you're coming to the Grand Canyon between October 15 and May 15 (fall, winter and spring) plan on visiting the South Rim.
If your travel dates are October 1 - 14 or May 16 - 31 and you want to visit the North Rim, we highly recommend you phone the National Park Service within days of your travel to ensure that the North Rim will be open; seasonal weather can close the park early in the fall or delay opening in the spring. Call the National Park Service's Grand Canyon General Visitor Information Line: (928) 638-7888
Where will your trip originate? Nevada or Arizona?
If you're starting from Las Vegas, it probably makes the most sense to see the South Rim. Under a 5 hour drive (274 miles) from the glittering desert oasis lies the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and dozens and dozens of tour options.
On the other hand, if your trip will originate from Phoenix, Flagstaff, Sedona or another Arizona city, you can choose the South Rim or the North Rim. The South Rim will probably be a shorter drive by several hours and hundreds of miles, and is the most visited spot at the Grand Canyon, so you may choose to follow the crowds and enjoy the views at the South Rim.
How much time do you have to spend at the Grand Canyon? A half-day or 1-2+ full days?
Because the entire Grand Canyon - regardless of South or North Rim - is in a remote part of Northern Arizona, half-day driving trips to the Grand Canyon are nearly impossible unless you're already starting from Williams or Flagstaff, located 60 - 90 miles respectively, from the South Rim. Half-day Grand Canyon trips are do-able from Las Vegas, Williams, Flagstaff, Sedona and Phoenix when you book a driving-plus-helicopter or airplane tour combination.
Again, your origination point will influence whether you'll see the South Rim or the North Rim. If you're coming from Las Vegas and you have just a half-day to see the Grand Canyon, definitely plan on taking a helicopter or airplane tour and seeing the South Rim. There are several Las Vegas helicopter and air tours that land at the Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan near the South Rim. If you're coming from Sedona or Phoenix, you can take a helicopter tour straight to the South Rim. If you're coming from Flagstaff or any other Arizona departure point, plan on driving 2 hours or more to the South Rim, then taking a 30- 45 minute helicopter tour from Grand Canyon Airport, located in the village of Tusayan.
If you have one full day to see the Grand Canyon, those driving from Las Vegas will still likely choose the South Rim (a 16 hour day, including drive time) although the North Rim takes the same amount of time (a 16 hour day.) Folks coming from all points Arizona will likely want to visit the South Rim (about a 12 hour day) versus the North Rim (an 16-20 hour day.)
Needless to say, if you have multiple days to see the Grand Canyon, either Rim - or even both - is do-able as long as you plan nearby overnight accommodations. The vast majority of visitors choose to stay overnight in or around the South Rim since there are significantly more lodging choices and room availability at the South Rim than the very-remote North Rim.
What kind of view do you expect? Wide and deep down to the Colorado River, or super-panoramic and more layered and dense?
The South Rim views are the classic Grand Canyon views with which you're probably familiar. Expansive, and deep - the Grand Canyon as seen from the South Rim is an almost surreal, unbelieveable sight that will leave you changed forever. Peer from a dozen viewpoints down to the powerful Colorado River below. The view of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim is equally stunning, though seen from just three developed viewpoints.
Views from the North Rim are widely panoramic, offering views that seem to go nearly all the way 'round you, though rarely giving the viewer a glimpse of the Colorado River below. Many visitors delight at the unique and rarer view of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim while others crave classic snapshots from the South Rim.
What kind of activities do you want to do? Hiking, river rafting, a helicopter tour or train ride?
At the South Rim, one can take nearly any kind of tour: hike, drive or take a helicopter or air tour from Las Vegas, Phoenix or Sedona. At the South Rim, you'll find helicopter tours, van tours, bus tours, light walking and hiking, heavy-duty backpacking and overnight backcountry camping, and the ever-popular Grand Canyon Railway train ride. Upper and Lower Canyon river rafting trips typically end and begin, respectively, at Bright Angel Trail at the South Rim.
At the North Rim, guided tours are fewer and you'll find more emphasis on professionally guided or self-guided advanced hiking and backpacking. And, let's not forget about the legendary Grand Canyon mule trips, available through Grand Canyon Trail Rides. You'll also see several Upper Canyon river rafting trips that put in near the North Rim at Lees Ferry or Glen Canyon Dam. Currently, we are not aware of any helicopter, air or land tours of the North Rim that depart from the North Rim, but you can book a helicopter or air tour that will fly over the North Rim that departs from Las Vegas or the South Rim.
Could the weather influence your decision?
Again, only the South Rim is open year-round. The North Rim is open mid-May through mid-October annually. Weather extremes and moderates occur at both rims at different times of year.
February, March, April and May at the South Rim:
Late winter and early spring are glorious at the Grand Canyon. At the South Rim, average high/low temperatures at the South Rim are as follows each month: Feburary high 45 / low 21; March high 51 / low 25; April high 60 / low 32. Expect to see breath-taking views of snow blanketing the Grand Canyon's surrounding plateau and settled on the nooks and crannies of the chasm walls. Snow can make hiking or walking on the rim trail tricky, so be even more careful than usual and obey posted signs and guard rails.
May, June, July, August & September at the South and North Rims:
The spring and summer months are THE most popular season for visiting the Grand Canyon. Average temperatures for the South Rim are: May high 70 / low 39; June high 81 / low 47; July high 84 / low 54; August high 81 / low 53; September high 76 / low 47. In July and August, when the dew point rises, Arizona experiences monsoon rains. Quick, intense thunderstorms contribute to the rapid-shift swings in weather in the summertime, but locals will tell you that the monsoon season is one of their favorite times of year because it brings relief to seasonally high temperatures and makes the landscape incredibly verdant and fragrant. The Grand Canyon's spectacular vistas just 'pop' against a stormy background.
The North Rim is at an elevation over 8,000 feet above sea level compared to the South Rim at 7,200 feet, so it experiences perceptibly cooler temperatures year-round and is the reason for its summer-only schedule. Average temperatures for the Norht Rim are: May high 62 / low 34; June high 73 / low 40; July high 77 / low 46; August high 75/ low 45; September high 69 / low 39. You can expect an average precipitation (rainfall) totals in the range of 1 - 3 inches per month at the North Rim, so be sure to pack lightweight layers, including a rainproof outer layer and appropriate camping gear if camping overnight in a developed campground or backcountry campsite.
October, November, December & January at the South Rim:
Do come to the Grand Canyon South Rim in winter... you'll love the views and even more you'll love how few other visitors there are!
At the South Rim, the average high in October, November, December & January is between 64 and 40 degrees F and the low between 35 and 18 degrees F. You can expect snow at the South Rim, which makes for some unbelievably beautiful views of the Canyon, but you must be willing to pack on the layers and get out of your car to see them.
You'll need enough warm, layered clothing to stand being outside in cool-to-cold temperatures for an hour or so to take pictures, walk along the Rim trail and tour Grand Canyon Village, etc. Expect some pretty moderate-to-strong winds, too, which can bring the temperature down considerably.
Do you follow the majority or the minority of visitors?
Simply put, the majority of visitors come to the South Rim each year. Compare 4 million annual South Rim visitors to fewer than 1 million visitors at the North Rim. There is a good reason people flock to the South Rim; it's the more popular part of Grand Canyon National Park; it's stunningly beautiful; it's more developed by way of visitors centers and services; there's more lodging nearby; you can hike, backpack and camp; it's easier to access and is more centrally located for Arizona visitors; and it offers more activity and tour variety.
The North Rim is a very remote destination so it offers fewer options for lodging, services, visitor centers and variety when it comes to activities and tours. Its beautiful rugged views and world-class hiking, backpacking, camping and river rafting opportunities make the North Rim a fantastic choice for visitors who seek a more primeval, natural, quiet and uncrowded Grand Canyon experience.
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