Each national park has it’s own beauty, specialness and some even have iconic status, but Grand Canyon National Park stands above them all. It is one of the most well-known parks and over 6 million people visit this wonderous place on any given year.
Of course the beauty of this 6,093 foot gorge carved by the Colorado River over a millennia and gives rise to the stratified canyon walls that blend in red, green and blue, is a wonder to see and experience. That is why it’s one of the seven wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a jewel of the national park system. This wonderous area continues to be sacred to several native communities and Havasupai still live on the land.
Whether it’s a stroll along the South Rim (the popular part of the park) or a below rim hiking/river adventure, Grand Canyon is an exciting place to see and explore.
WHAT TO SEE/EXPERIENCE AT GRAND CANYON
There are two major parts to the park, the south and north rims of the Grand Canyon and Havasupai which is in the Grand Canyon but is separately administered by the Havasupai Tribe.
- South Rim: This is the most accessible part of the park and where visitors mostly spend their time. The iconic overlooks (e.g., Mather Point, Desert View, etc.) are located in the South Rim along with an array of services and accommodations including the Grand Canyon Shuttle. The Rim Trail is a good way to stroll through the major viewpoints.
- North Rim: Unlike the South Rim, this part of the park is only open seasonally (May – October) and is pretty remote. The North Rim entrance is nearly 3 hours away from the nearest interstate. There are only scant accommodations and services. However, this area offers a beauty of its own, cooler temperatures (yes, even in the summer!), as well as views of forests and meadows not typically associated with the Grand Canyon.
- Havasupai: This wonderous and magical falls and the blue-green waters are iconic and often associated with Grand Canyon National Park. Although the Havasu Falls are part of the Grand Canyon, it is not under the purview of the park service. Permits to embark on the 9.5 mile trail and camp are granted by the Havasupai Tribe.
Hiking: Grand Canyon offers world-famous hiking opportunities that range from casual to endurance challenges. My only hiking experience at the Grand Canyon was the backpacking trip from the North Rim to the South Rim. To climb down one rim to the canyon floor and climb up the other rim was a unique experience that allowed me to feel the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
While hiking to some of the most beautiful sights in the world is rewarding, hiking in Grand Canyon requires preparation because the steep terrain and extreme temperatures can make any hike in the park challenging. Regardless of the season be sure to carry plenty of water and food, carry layers of clothing, and be prepared for drastic change in temperature (canyon floor often is drastically warmer than the rim) and severe thunder storms to pop up from nowhere.
– Bright Angel Trail (South Rim)
– Rim Trail (South Rim)
– South Kaibab Trail (South Rim)
– Tonto Trail (South Rim)
– North Kaibab Trail (North Rim
– Transept Trail (North Rim)
– Cape Final Trail (North Rim)
– Rim to Rim Hike (Backpacking, permit required)
Mule Trips: Many national parks offer horseback riding trips, but the Grand Canyon offers mule trip to the canyon floor. The trips leave from the South and North Rims.
Mule rides on the South Rim can be combined with an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch. Reservations are awarded through a lottery and submissions are accepted beginning the 15th of month prior to stay month (e.g., if you want to stay at the Ranch on the June 20, you’d enter the lottery submission on May 15th or later). The Ranch offers basic accommodations but meals are are included in the stay. Backpackers can also reserve a meal in advance. The cost of mule rides is approximately $150/per person. There are requirements and restrictions for the mule trips.
North Rim mule rides operate only seasonally and are shorter, day trips that cost $50-100/per person depending on the trail. The North Rim mule trips also have requirements and restrictions.
River Rides: The Colorado River which runs through the canyon floor is not only an iconic sight but is well known for iconic wilderness whitewater adventures (so unique that it has it’s own rating system). Visitors can obtains a permit through the weighted lottery to operate their private boats or reserve a spot on a commercially-guided trip.
There are several transportation options to visit Grand Canyon National Park, including flying, driving and taking the Amtrak. The park offers a free shuttle to get around points at the South Rim of the park.
Airports: There are three major airports in varying distance to Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon National Park airport is only seven miles from the South Rim but only offers limited service from Las Vegas.
- Flagstaff (South Rim – 100 miles, North Rim – 214 miles)
- Las Vegas (South Rim – 288 miles, North Rim – 272 miles)
- Phoenix (South Rim – 243 miles, North Rim – 356 miles)
Train: Amtrak offers service to the Flagstaff station and bus services connect visitors to the park. The Grand Canyon Railway also provides daily service from Williams, Arizona.
Other Options: There are several bus lines and shuttle services that provide transportation to the South Rim from the major cities near Grand Canyon (e.g., Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Las Vegas). For backpackers or visitors looking for transportation between the North and South Rims, the Trans-Canyon Shuttle runs once a day during peak season (May – October) and on a limited schedule in late October. Each way is $90/per person.
Entrance Fees: As with other National Parks, there is an entrance fee for Grand Canyon National Park.
- Cars/Other Vehicles, $35; Motorcycles, $30; & Bicycle/Walk-In, $20/per person (seven day pass)
- Annual Grand Canyon Pass (unlimited visits to Grand Canyon): $70
- Annual National Park Pass (unlimited entrance to any public lands operated by NPS): $80
There are several lodging options at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon which are open year round and one lodge in the North Rim that operates seasonally. Phantom Ranch is the only lodging option in the canyon floor and reservations are awarded through a lottery. Lodging inside the park are extremely popular and reservations should be made as far ahead as possible.
- Bright Angel Lodge
- El Tovar Hotel
- Kachina Lodge
- Thunderbird Lodge
- Maswik Lodge
- Yavapai Lodge
- Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim)
- Phantom Ranch (canyon floor)
Campgrounds: There are four established campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park, with two of them accepting reservations for campsites. Reservations open six month in advance and book fairly quickly.
- Mather Campground (South Rim), open all year and accepts reservations
- Desert View Campground (South Rim), open seasonally and first come, first-served
- Trailer Village (South Rim), RV campground, open all year, and accepts reservations
- North Rim Campground (North Rim), open seasonally and accepts reservations
Gateway Towns: There are several communities that offer a range of accommodations close to the South and North Rims of the park. Given its popularity, an array of options are available in towns closest to the South Rim.
– Tusayan, Arizona (7 miles)
– Flagstaff, Arizona (80 miles)
– Red Lake, Arizona (43 miles)
– Valle, Arizona (30 miles)
– Williams, Arizona (60 miles)
– Kanab, Utah (84 miles)
– Fredonia, Arizona (77 miles)
- Grand Canyon National Park Website
- Grand Canyon Lodging Reservations
- Grand Canyon (North Rim) Reservations
- Yavapai Lodge Reservations
- Phantom Ranch Reservation Lottery Information
- Trailer Village RV Reservation