Visiting Grand Canyon National Park should top everyone’s bucket list. It’s awe-inspiring and a fascinating exploration of nature and history.

The Grand Canyon is huge, so the question is what part should you visit — the Grand Canyon South Rim or North Rim — and how can you get there?

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Flying to the Grand Canyon on Southwest

Southwest Arizona One
Southwest’s specially-designed Arizona One aircraft; Credit Southwest Airlines

If you’ll be flying Southwest, especially if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, so one person in your family can fly free, there are two options for major cities to fly into.

You can approach the Grand Canyon North Rim from Las Vegas. It’s about a four-hour drive from Sin City.

If you’re headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim, Phoenix, Arizona, is a great airport to access the park. It’s about a three-hour drive.

Both routes offer spectacular sites to see along the way, but we’ll focus on visiting the South Rim. 

From Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

Sedona, Arizona
The Grand Canyon by way of Sedona, Arizona

Some say the South Rim has the best view. It’s definitely a spectacular drive from Phoenix through the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. You might even spend a night or two there with beautiful red rock formations that go UP instead of DOWN. 🙂

[Read our post about the Top Things to Do in Sedona]

From Sedona, it’s an easy two-hour drive to the Grand Canyon. 

Take 89A through Oak Creek Canyon for a beautiful ride.

You’ll find gas stations and fast-food restaurants all along the route.

However, don’t take this drive in the dark, so time your trip accordingly or plan to spend the night in the town just outside the South Rim gate or in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is about an hour from the gate. 

The Grand Canyon South Rim gate is open year-round and costs $35 per vehicle for seven days.

You could also buy the National Park pass for $80, which is good for entrance to any national park for an entire year.

[Read more of our top tips for visiting US National Parks]

What to Do With One Day at the Grand Canyon South Rim

A woman on the south rim of the grand canyon, arms outstretched.

Here are some of my top tips if you only have one day at the Grand Canyon South Rim.

1. Stop by the Visitor Center

Once inside the gate, follow the signs to the Visitor Center.

There’s plenty of parking, thank goodness, and picnic benches where you can hang out and enjoy lunch.

If you didn’t bring any food, there’s also a cafe at the Visitor Center with a limited menu.

At the Visitor Center, rangers are on hand, offering FREE programs, and you might want to catch the movie, “Grand Canyon Journey of Wonder,” as well. 

An iconic lookout point is Mather Point, which is an easy walk from the Visitor’s Center.

2. Take the Free Park Shuttle

You can take the FREE park shuttle to enjoy views of the Park from inside while hopping out to spend extra time at various stops or for a hike.

3. Visit the Yavapai Geology Museum

Inside the museum, there’s a topographic model of the canyon and a ranger who’ll explain how the canyon was formed.

In addition, there’s an incredible glass-enclosed viewpoint that is truly mesmerizing!

4. Go for a Drive

In your own car, you can take the 25-mile Desert View Drive toward the Watch Tower.

We saw a herd of elk on this drive, which was super cool!

Other features on the drive include…

  • Six viewpoints
  • Four picnic areas
  • Five (unmarked) pullouts
  • Tusayan Museum and ruins

 

5. Take a Hike

Grand Canyon South Rim

There are also plenty of hiking trails, but keep in mind if you hike down into the canyon, you’ll have to hike back up, so make sure you’re in good health if you plan to go for it.

Some good hiking trail options include…

  • Rim Trail
  • Bright Angel Trail
  • South Kaibab Trail 

 

6. Explore the Junior Ranger Program

As at all National Parks, the Grand Canyon offers special activities for youth through their Junior Rangers program, which when completed, allows them to earn a badge.

Younger kids will love this activity that helps keep them engaged!

 

Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Bright Angel Lodge Grand Canyon

Inside the Park: Grand Canyon Lodges

If you book far enough in advance, you might be able to score a room at a lodge inside the park itself, though these can be hard to come by.

You actually have quite a lot to choose from compared with other National Parks.

They include…

1. Maswik Lodge

2. Thunderbird Lodge

3. Kachina Lodge

4. Bright Angel Lodge

5. El Tovar

 

Outside the Park

Williams and Tusayan, Arizona, are both good options for lodging outside the park and not too far from the South Rim.

A few options include…

1. Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, Williams, Arizona

2. The Grand Hotel, Tusayan, Arizona (just 1 mile from the South Rim entrance)

3. Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon, Tusayan, Arizona

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What was your favorite activity?

Read More of Our National Park Guides:

Author

  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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