The Grand Canyon is one of the most breathtaking sights in the United States, if not the world. This is why it is counted as one of the natural world’s seven wonders and a protected National Park. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (445 km) long and stretches as far as the eye can see. From above, you can see the hundreds of cliffs and valleys that make up the canyon in all different shades of red, while below, you can hike, bike and go rafting on the mighty Colorado River, which is what has shaped the canyon over millions of years.
Unsurprisingly, the park is one of the USA’s most famous sights, with around 4 million people visiting each year. However, there is plenty of space for everyone at this magnificent park, so whether you head to the West or South rims, follow trails to panoramic viewpoints or kayak down below, you’re certain to find somewhere to appreciate its beauty all to yourself.
Grand Canyon National Park
When To Visit The Grand Canyon
Many assume summer is the preferred season to visit the Grand Canyon for blue skies and sunny weather.
However, the best time to visit is just outside this season: April, May, June and September.
The Grand Canyon is in Arizona, an often arid desert state with a similar climate to Las Vegas, meaning the park can get dangerously hot.
Although the cliffs and valleys provide plenty of shade, temperatures can go upwards of 35C, which can be a problem for those hiking or cycling.
The summer months are generally fine for rafting the canyon, but it is vital to come prepared with supplies.
Most people don’t realise the Grand Canyon is also open in winter, although you can only visit the South Rim.
The park can get cold at this time of year, with frequent snowfall, ice, rain and occasional storms.
Hiking in these months requires warm clothing and crampons.
A benefit of visiting in the cold is there are less than half the visitors you will find in the summer, meaning most trails and viewpoints are empty, plus the snow provides a beautiful contrast against the deep red colours of the canyon.
How To Get To The Grand Canyon
Most visitors begin their journey to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, the nearest major city, but if you plan to visit the South Rim, it may be easier to fly to Flagstaff, which is just 1.5 hours from the South Rim.
Most tours will take you from Las Vegas to the West Rim, which is nearest at around 125 miles (201 km) and a drive time of two to three hours.
For visitors driving themselves and heading to the north or south rims, 265 miles (426 km) takes 4.5 hours on average.
Both options have pros and cons.
Tours are very efficient, will pick you up from your hotel early and may include lunch and a stop for photos at the Hoover Dam, which is on the way.
This applies to day trip tours rather than multi-night trips.
Driving can be equally flexible, allowing you to pack supplies, and stop at the dam and any other interesting attractions, plus you will only need to pay for fuel and the $35 National Park entry fee, which is valid for seven days.
You will also have the freedom to choose which rim you visit, or even visit more than one if you have time, and be able to stay overnight nearby.
Where To Go In The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon has three rims, North, South and West, however, only the North and South rims are part of the National Park Service.
The West rim is most often visited on day trips from Las Vegas and is managed by the Hualapai Indian tribe.
Visit the West rim if you are short on time.
This area of the Grand Canyon is owned by the native Indians and is only around 2.5 hours from Las Vegas.
It is also where most day trips will go to maximise the time spent seeing the canyon.
The West Rim is where the now famous glass Skywalk is, which is a transparent viewing platform over the canyon with incredible views, although it must be noted that currently you aren’t allowed to take any photos on the Skywalk, although you can buy them afterwards.
As the West rim is not managed by the NPS (National Park Service), the entry fees differ slightly.
General admission costs $49, while General admission plus the skywalk ticket is around $70. Tickets include access to the shuttle service and some may include a meal.
The South Rim is the most popular for both independent travellers and tour groups, and it is where many tours, such as hiking and rafting trips, set off.
The South Rim is 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and easily accessed via Highway 64, which leads directly to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Centre.
Here you’ll find places to eat, information centres and maps.
The South Rim welcomes 90% of the Grand Canyon’s visitors each year and has a whole host of shops, accommodation and eateries, and unlike the other rims, it is open year-round.
The South Rim has some of the most iconic views of the Grand Canyon, often said to be far better than the West Rim, as the south has many lookout points meaning there is always one or two that aren’t busy, and you are allowed to take photos.
As it is part of the National Park, entry is far more affordable, at just $35 per vehicle (not per person), valid for seven days.
The North Rim is the least visited of the Grand Canyon’s rims but is worth considering as you’ll likely enjoy the views all to yourself.
It is only open between May and October and has fewer accommodation options – just one lodge and one campground, which often get booked up in advance.
The North Rim is ideal for those who are already planning to visit Zion or Bryce National Parks, which are both close by, and it can be reached by following Highway 67 south.
The North Rim is much loved by those planning to take advantage of activities such as hiking or camping in the Grand Canyon, especially in combination with visits to the other national parks, and many viewpoints lie at the end of long trails.
Some multi-day tour options visit the North Rim with Zion or Bryce, so it can also be ideal if you’re short on time and want to maximise what you see.
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Things To Do In The Grand Canyon
1- Go On The Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive is one of the Grand Canyon’s most scenic drives, encompassing 25 miles (40 km) of beautiful viewpoints and overlooks along the South Rim, connecting Desert View with the Grand Canyon Village.
The full drive takes around 35 minutes and passes sights like Yaki Point, the Tusayan Ruins, Navajo Point and Desert View watchtower along the way.
2- Admire The View At Toroweap Overlook
Also known as Tuweep, this overlook is at the lesser-visited North Rim.
The view from here is spectacular, as rather than seeing across the many ridges and cliffs like other viewpoints, you can see straight down into the deep canyon, as well as ash mounds and the river that flows on the valley floor.
There are no amenities here, but you can reach Tuweep by car if you have a 4×4 or one or two tours that visit the area.
3- Hike To Ooh Aah Point
This is an attraction for those who need a little humour after the end of a hike.
Ooh Aah point is a 1.8-mile round trip that takes about two hours.
It’s below the South Rim of the canyon, so you’ll have a steep hike back up, but unsurprisingly given its name, the view from the end is magnificent and offers some of the best views in the park.
4- Admire Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls has risen in popularity due to its breathtaking beauty and sparkling blue water, but it can only be visited with a permit, for which you’ll need to enter a lottery.
The lottery launches once a year in February, and visiting the falls isn’t possible in a day, so you’ll also require a one-night reservation at the campground.
The hike is extremely difficult, through water most of the way (water shoes are needed), but along the way, you’ll pass three stunning cascading waterfalls.
If this 20-mile hike hasn’t satisfied you, you can add on another day’s hike to the two electric blue Havasu Canyon waterfalls.
5- Go Hiking
The Grand Canyon is designed for outdoor activities and it’s best to explore on foot.
There are hundreds of hiking trails across the park, taking in epic viewpoints, hidden caves and creeks and more.
Some of the best include the Cape Royal Viewpoint trail, Widforss and the Bright Angel trail.
Before you go, assess how experienced a hiker you are or need to be, for each trail, and pack plenty of water, snacks and gear.
6- Go Rafting
The Grand Canyon allows commercial (with a tour guide) and non-commercial (self-guided) rafting.
The latter can be difficult and strenuous and isn’t recommended for those new to the area or rafting.
Tour companies offer everything from three-day to 12-day trips covering different parts of the canyon, and you’ll need to make reservations about a year in advance. Find out more here.
It is one of the most iconic activities in the Grand Canyon, offering a different perspective and sense of achievement to the view you’ll get from above.
7- Take A Helicopter Ride Above The Canyon
At the opposite end of the spectrum, taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon is a dream trip for many.
Not only will you have the best views over the entire canyon, but you’ll be able to take photos and comprehend the sheer size of this natural wonder.
Tours depart from either Las Vegas or the West or South Canyon rims. Tours last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and are generally very expensive, however, this is a once-in-a-lifetime way to experience the sight, so it is worth splashing out!
For a special treat, check out this Grand Canyon wedding helicopter experience.
Where To Stay In The Grand Canyon
Las Vegas is the easiest and most popular place to stay if you want to visit the Grand Canyon, as so many tours start here.
It is ideal if you’re planning on visiting the West Rim, whether you join a tour or explore on your own. However, there are lots of other options within and just outside this national park.
The South Rim has the highest concentration of places to stay due to its popularity, particularly in Grand Canyon village.
Although prices are high, you will be right inside the park for quick access to everything.
El Tovar Hotel, Thunderbird Lodge and Yavapai Lodge are some of the best.
Around six miles (9.6 km) away in Tusayan are yet more options.
The town is outside of the park, which means it is generally more affordable and less likely to be booked out, plus, this is where many South Rim helicopter tours start.
There is a range of hotels here, from luxurious top-end resorts, such as the 5-star The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, to a mid-range Best Western and Holiday Inn and the simple but comfortable Red Feather Lodge.
Consider staying in Williams, about one hour south of the canyon for even more options.
The town’s main road is part of the original Route 66 and is filled with western and cowboy shops, Route 66 souvenirs and cafes.
Combining a visit to this historic town with a trip to the Grand Canyon is easy, and accommodation is far cheaper.
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