A vast treasure in Arizona, the Grand Canyon South Rim (and its better half, the North Rim) is one of the world’s most renowned scenic wonders.

People from all over the globe come to experience its magnificence and beauty. 

Our nation’s second most visited National Park holds landscapes galore for those blessed enough to lay eyes on it. 

The great thing about Grand Canyon National Park is that you can easily hit the “road less traveled” North Rim as part of a vacation that includes Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks or include the South Rim as part of a Phoenix and Sedona vacation.

Grand Canyon South Rim view from above

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Getting to the Grand Canyon

Choose to fly into 1 of 2 Southwest airports for your trip to the Grand Canyon…

Harry Reid Airport in Las Vegas (Formerly McCarran)

southwest airplane landing at las vegas airport

This airport is about 4.5 hours away. And you could spend a day or 2 in Vegas, baby!

[Read our list of 32 Incredible Things to Do in Las Vegas]


Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix

view of Southwest wing from airplane flying over Phoenix

About 4 hours from the Grand Canyon is Phoenix International Airport, which allows you to hit Sedona on your way coming or going.

[Check out 16 Groovy Things to do in Sedona]

We, of course, always recommend using Southwest points and the Southwest Companion Pass no matter which airport you choose.

Grand Canyon Entrance Fees

Grand canyon north rim entrance sign in snow. Sign says Entering Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon North Rim entrance in October

The park entrance fee is $35 per car and $30 per motorcycle for a 7-day pass.

You can also purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80 that allows you to visit as many National Parks and federal lands as you want for a full year.

Text - America the Beautiful. The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Image of SUV with tent on top under starry sky, and Annual Pass logo
America the Beautiful Annual Pass

Senior citizens can purchase a lifetime senior pass that covers ALL national parks for $80 or instead they can choose a $20 annual pass.

Are you an active military member, veteran or Gold Star family? Grab a FREE pass that’s good for your whole family to visit as many National Parks as you can squeeze into a year. Thank you for your service!

Your whole family can also get into National Parks free if you have a 4th-grader, both during their school year and the following summer, as part of the Every Kid Outdoors program.

You can also access Grand Canyon National Park on FEE-FREE Days but keep in mind these days will be even MORE BUSY than usual. Here are the fee-free days for 2024:

January 15Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 20First day of National Park Week
June 19Juneteenth
August 4Great American Outdoors Act Anniversary
September 28National Public Lands Day
November 11Veterans Day

Grand Canyon Weather: What to Expect

tiny snowman in front of North Rim of Grand Canyon
Snowman at the North Rim

Grand Canyon weather varies between the North Rim and the South Rim. Because of the 8200′ elevation at the Grand Canyon North Rim, the weather is much more severe and the season is shorter.

The North Rim is officially open only mid-May to mid-October (this includes all facilities), and even then, you might find snow and ice on your visit like we did!

When closed, the area gets up to 142 inches of snow, and the only way in and out is by snowmobile! Only a handful of rangers stay through the winter.

View of sunset at the North Rim in the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the North Rim

If you need or want to go earlier or later than that, stick with the Grand Canyon South Rim, which is open year-round. The extreme here is the heat. It sometimes reaches more than 100+ degrees inside the canyon!

View of Grand Canyon National Park South Rim from Yavapai Geological Museum
Overlook from Yavapai Geological Museum at the South Rim

We found mid-May to be the perfect time to go to avoid crowds and beat the heat as the temps were in the 70s during the day.

It was easy to drive where we needed to go without the crowds, shuttle lines were short and restaurant reservations were still available.

Getting Around the Grand Canyon

Shuttle bus at the South Rim, courtesy of NPS

Grand Canyon North Rim

You WILL have to have a car to get to and around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon unless you take the Trans Canyon Shuttle, which runs between the north and south rims of the park once daily, in each direction, when the North Rim is open. Reservations are required and it takes 4.5 hours. 

Grand Canyon South Rim

Image of Grand Canyon shuttle routes map
Grand Canyon shuttle routes

There are 2 primary ways to get around: driving your own car and the myriad of constantly-running shuttle buses.

Try entering from the less-busy East Entrance or enter very early in the morning during the summer if you’re driving your own car to the Grand Canyon South Entrance.

To/from the Visitor’s Center you can take these routes…

  • ORANGE east to South Kaibab trailhead; not accessible by car between May and September; runs 4 a.m. to 1 hour past sunset, and west to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum which ARE accessible by car
  • PURPLE to/from the town of Tusayan to the Visitor’s Center, highly recommended during the busy summer season
  • BLUE to ALL Grand Canyon Lodges, art studios, Bright Angel trailhead, all accessible by car also and RED route transfer 
  • RED to Hermit’s Rest, 7 miles with 9 scenic overlooks; not accessible by car between March 1 and November 30; runs 4 a.m. to 1 hour past sunset

Some tips when taking the Grand Canyon shuttle

  • Don’t forget to bring your park pass or receipt to get into the park if you came from outside the park in Tusayan!
  • Make sure you know the time of departure of the last shuttle of the day and don’t miss it! 🙂

Grand Canyon Accommodations

North Rim

Grand Canyon accommodations - North Rim cabin
North Rim cabin

In the park

There are only 2 choices if you want to stay on property at the Grand Canyon North Rim. You can either opt for camping at the North Rim Campground, or if you time it right, you might snag a guest room in the lodge or 1 of 3 types of cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim.

I knew the EXACT moment when the reservations were opening for the year and was able to secure 2 nights of lodging in a rim-front cabin with sleeping accommodations for 4+ between a queen-size bed, a set of bunks and a futon in 2 bedrooms (one with its own sink and the other with a mini-fridge) separated by doors and a bathroom. 

Outside the Park

The closest full-service town to the North Rim is Kanab, Utah, which is less than a 2-hour drive where you gain and then lose an hour driving back and forth. 

Watch our review of the Best Western Kanab below…

 

[Best Western: A Perfect Choice for the Great American Road Trip]

South Rim

Image of El Tovar Hotel
Historic El Tovar Hotel

In the Park

You have many, many options for staying inside the park. Just be sure to reserve one of these up to a year in advance…

Outside the Park

Photo courtesy of Best Western

In the city of Tusayan, just outside the south gate entrance, you’ll have several options for hotel rooms including these 2…

Things to Do at the Grand Canyon

North Rim

Image of sign at Grand Canyon National Park that says "I have a half day. What should I do? Our Rangers recommend this plan:" Lists out options in smaller print.

Most people don’t make a multi-day trip out of visiting the North Rim since it is so remote, so I loved how they had these helpful signs if your time was short.

I found 3 different signs that gave options for…

  • First time here. What do I do?
  • I have 1-2 hours. What should I do?
  • I have half-a-day. What should I do?
Cami in front of panoramic Cape Royal view
Cape Royal Panoramic Views

Have a bit more time?

  • Drive the winding, scenic 23-mile Cape Royal Road to Point Imperial, the highest point of the Grand Canyon at 8800+ feet; stop at Cape Royal with its panoramic views up, down and across the canyon and popular for sunrise and sunset, Vista Encantada, Roosevelt Point, Angel’s Window and Walhalla overlook and Pueblo
  • Take a Grand Canyon Mule Ride, which has 3 options, one of which descends 2300 feet into the canyon to the Supai Tunnel
  • Hike the paved 1/2 mile Bright Angel Point Trail
  • Hike the 21-mile Rim to Rim Canyon hike with includes a 5850 ft elevation loss and a 4,860 foot elevation gain; overnight at Phantom Ranch if you’ve won your lottery position; cross the suspension bridge over the Colorado River
  • Go on a wildlife-spotting expedition. A herd of bison crossed the road right in front of us when we were out driving after dark. So cool!
  • Stargaze at Point Imperial to see shooting stars and the Milky Way. The night we were there, Saturn, Jupiter and the moon were all in a line as predicted.
  • Peruse the Association Park store to pick up souvenirs
  • Head over to the official Visitor’s Center with its interpretive exhibits and park ranger programs

South Rim

Mules climbing rocks in South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon South Rim mule ride

A multi-day visit to the South Rim is what most people opt for since there are so many things to do. You can…

big horn sheep, grand canyon

Watch our video overview below of the gorgeous Grand Canyon South Kaibab Trail into the canyon… 

Grand Canyon Dining Options

North Rim

View of Main Lodge Dining Room - Grand Canyon North Rim dining
Main Lodge Dining Room Grand Canyon North Rim

There are not many selections when it comes to Grand Canyon dining on the North Rim. There are only 4 which are all located in the park’s complex.

Choose from…

  • Free coffee in the mornings in the Lodge lobby
  • The Coffee Saloon which is open for breakfast; no indoor seating; serving coffee, breakfast burritos and delicious cinnamon rolls!
  • Deli in the Pines where you can “grab and go” with assorted sandwiches, soups, salads and pizzas
  • Historic Main Lodge Dining Room, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (reservations recommended for dinner) 
  • Roughrider Saloon serving drinks from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

South Rim

Inside the Park

View of people dining inside El Tovar dining room
El Tovar dining room

Your Grand Canyon South Rim dining options include…

  • 20 different general stores, marketplaces, coffee shops, food courts and snack bars for quick grab ‘n go items
  • A nice sit-down lunch at Arizona Steakhouse at Bright Angel Lodge
  • Harvey House Cafe serving a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner also at Bright Angel Lodge
  • A world-class gourmet dining experience, possibly rim side, at El Tovar

Outside the Park

One of the only towns where I’ve actually seen fast-food restaurants other than Subway is Tusayan.

Choose from…

  • McDonald’s, Wendy’s and even a Pizza Hut Express inside the IMAX theater
  • One of several steakhouses
  • Mexican
  • Pizza
  • Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory for dessert with many flavors of gelato, including tiramisu (my favorite!) and 100+ other offerings 

Grand Canyon West

View of Grand Canyon West Skywalk
Grand Canyon West Skywalk

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Grand Canyon West, which is owned and run by the Hualapai Indian tribe. It is not part of the National Park system and requires an entry fee.

The big attraction here is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends out over the rim by 70 feet, giving you unparalleled views 4,000 feet down into the canyon for an additional cost.

They claim that there’s no need to be nervous, because the Skywalk is strong enough to hold 70 fully loaded 747s, so if you’re up for it, give it a try!

What to Bring to the Grand Canyon

Items for hiking arranged around a gray backpack

When packing for a Grand Canyon National Park trip, we suggest including these things…

  • layers of clothing for changing temperatures throughout the day
  • hiking shoes
  • hiking poles
  • sunscreen
  • a hat
  • sunglasses
  • backpack or fanny pack
  • flashlight or headlamp for evening excursions
  • water bottles for hiking, which can be refilled at stations throughout the park, and a collapsible water jug to leave filled with ice water in the car
  • first-aid kit
  • portable fully-charged battery source for cell phone 

Read More National Parks Tips…

Author

  • Cami Sauder

    Cami Sauder, a member of the Families Travel Free team, is a longtime traveler who aims to be away from home at least 1/3 of the year. She's mastered the art of using miles and points to save on flights and hotels and saved more than $16,000 on travel using points in the last year. She and her husband have a goal to see as many National Parks as possible.

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