Whether strolling the rim trail with ice cream cone in hand or backpacking to the river, the most rigorous feat many hikers have ever attempted, the majesty of the Grand Canyon National Park is more than the human mind can absorb in a day, week, or lifetime. A World Heritage Park, Wonder of the World, most visited national park, and icon of the West, Grand Canyon National Park attracts visitors from around the world. From any one viewpoint, you can see only a fraction of the 18-mile-wide, 277-mile-long chasm, but even that’s enough to boggle the mind. Stare across the vast maze of buttes, ridges, and cliffs and the wonderment only increases, especially as the shifting light transforms the scene from afternoon shadows to the golden hues of sunset.
From hotels to campgrounds and restaurants to grocery stores, both inside the park and at the South Rim entrance in Tusayan, you can choose your level of luxury and expense. The South Rim Shuttle stops at all the viewpoints going west from the Village to the most popular spots, and east to the more remote views. Or you can walk several miles either way, soak in the majestic views, and ride the shuttle back.
Spend one day on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park visiting the viewpoints in the Village for a quick overview. Spend two days going east and west along the rim for a more intensive thrill. Spend three days and explore the rim trails or hike partway down into the canyon. For an unforgettable experience and challenge, hike to the Colorado River (22-mile round trip), spend a night or more, and hike back up. The view, and hike, from below the Red Wall formation is an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime.
The South Rim Village, with its plethora of hotels, restaurants, gift shops, museums, crowded sidewalks, and traffic jams is far from the wilderness experience many seek in our national parks. But don’t despair. When you’re ready to commune with nature, the canyon awaits. Just visit a viewpoint at sunrise, or hike one of the many secondary trails, often for only a few hundred yards, to find solitude.
The North Rim, a full day’s drive from the South Rim, receives a fraction of the visitation. With one lodge, one campground, and dozens of improved and backcountry trails, it’s like a different park. At 1,000-feet higher elevation than the South Rim, you discover a different forest ecosystem, milder (cooler) climate, and a whole new set of astounding views.
More than the gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff rates as one of the premier travel destinations in Arizona. You can spend a weekend or week exploring all the historic town has to offer. “Flag” began as a lumbering and railroad center in the mid-1800s, a Route 66 stopover and Grand Canyon gateway through the 1900s, and continues today as a winter and summer outdoor and sports Mecca.
With the historic downtown with period hotels (Monte Vista and the Weatherflord–both haunted), Pioneer Square, shops, galleries, and restaurants; two world-class museums, arboretum, the world-famous Lowell Observatory, Arizona Snowbowl in the San Francisco Mountains, and three nearby national monuments, Flagstaff is the unheralded gem of northern Arizona.
For a one-day visit, check out Lowell Observatory, where the (former) planet Pluto was discovered. Great for the whole family, tours give gee-wiz facts about the cosmos and up-close views through telescopes. Then head across town to the Museum of Northern Arizona to see the best from traditional Native American art and culture to modern art. With a steam locomotive out front, the Pioneer Museum explains the early lifestyle of the first settlers through the Route 66 era.
With two-days, you can visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument at the edge of town and hike through lava flows, around cinder cones, and find caves with ice all year long. Then continue the loop to Wupatki National Monument and see six 800-year-old pueblos that represent the complex culture and lifestyle that existed long ago. Farther afield, Walnut Canyon National Monument preserves cliff dwellings overlooking a deep canyon.
Hungry? Flagstaff has you covered with corner coffee shops that serve delicious java, pastries, and even breakfast and lunch, Galaxy Diner reminiscent of Route 66 days, Black Bart’s Steakhouse and Music Revue, pizza, microbreweries, and ethnic and fine dining restaurants.
Williams, an old Route 66 stopover, has reinvented itself as a tourist town, a tourist trap, and a town loaded with re-imaged authenticity. For lodging, you can step back in time and stay in the oldest hotel in Arizona (Grand Canyon Hotel), an 1897 brothel (Red Garter B&B–“Celebrating 100 years of personal service”), or one of the renovated historic motels on Route 66. Or, for a modern hotel with a fabulous buffet, book into the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel (packages include a train trip to the national park).
Besides all the made-in-Asia souvenir shops, galleries with Southwest and Indian art (and faux art), boutiques, and burger joints, you can browse an authentic western store (Western Outfitters & DeBerge Saddlery), chat up the barkeep and shoot pool with the locals at an old-timed cowboy-biker saloon (World Famous Sultana Bar), and enjoy a bust-a-gut breakfast with homemade pie at a classic restaurant (Pine Country Restaurant).
The Grand Canyon Railway takes visitors from Williams to the Grand Canyon for day trips or overnight packages. More nature-oriented activities include Bearizonia, a 160-acre, drive-through game park and walk-though zoo with black bears, wolves, dall sheep, mountain goats, and a herd of normal and white bison. Elephant Rock Golf Course challenges with 18 holes with narrow fairways and unforgiving roughs, while the surrounding Kaibab National Forest offers fishing and recreation lakes, campgrounds, and trails.
The Grand Canyon is essentially two parks in one. The popular South Rim offers full tourist facilities inside and outside the park, activities from helicopter flight-seeing to mule rides and ranger programs, hiking options from easy to strenuous. It attracts 4.5 million visitors per year with all facilities open year round.
The less-developed North Rim, a 4.5-hour drive from the South Rim, receives a fraction of the visitation. With one lodge, one campground, and dozens of improved and backcountry trails, it offers a less frenetic and more nature experience. At 1,000-feet higher elevation than the South Rim, you discover a different forest ecosystem, milder (colder) climate, and a whole new set of astounding views. It’s closed (and often snowed in) from October 15–May 15.
Many visitors arrive by car or train for a day or half-day trip – even a glimpse of paradise is better than none. One day will get you through the Visitor Center, South Rim museums and shops, and a tour of the South Rim’s ten major viewpoints via shuttle or car (winter) west to Hermit’s Rest.
Take two days and explore the South Rim via shuttle or hiking east to Yaki Point, popular for sunrises, then drive east 25-miles to Desert View with stops at five viewpoints, Tusayan ruins, and Desert Watchtower.
Three days and you’re living big. Now you can really experience the depth of the canyon. Hike down the Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point and Cedar Ridge (3-miles rt, 1,200 foot drop, 2–4 hours), or Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens (9-miles rt, 3,000-foot drop, 6–9 hours). Hiking to the river requires an overnight in the campground or Phantom Ranch. Inner canyon trails parallel the river for extensive backpacking trips.
During the summer high season at the South Rim Village, a small city within the park, and Tusayan at the southern entrance, expect crowded restaurants, jammed parking lots, waits for shuttle buses to the rim viewpoints, and sold-out hotels. Make reservations months in advance. After Thanksgiving as the weather turns colder, the crowds thin out considerably. The North Rim, open May 15 to October 15, peaks in the summer until school starts, but receives only one-tenth the visitation.
The South Rim at 7,000 feet elevation often experiences extremes in weather with summer thunderstorms and winter blizzards. Average summer temperatures reach 70-80 degrees F. Yet at river level, in the Sonoran Desert Zone, the temperature often exceeds 110 degrees F. with hypothermia a major cause of death of hikers. Spring and fall offer more moderate temperatures.
The North Rim, open May 15 to October 15, often has substantial snow until Memorial Day. At 8,000-9,000-feet elevation, the summer days reach highs of 60-70 degrees F. with frost possible at night.
Mountain Standard Time year round (Arizona not on Daylight Savings Time)
On the South Rim in summer, hot days, cool nights with possible frost through May. Frost possible every month on the North Rim. For hiking below the rim, guard against the sun and heat with a wide-rimmed hat, sunscreen, and a gallon of water a day. Wear sturdy hiking boots, take a basic first-aid kit for scratches and foot blisters. Trekking poles are a great hiking aid, especially with a heavy pack.
In the park, concessionaires operate the historic lodges, modern motels, campgrounds, restaurants and cafeterias, gift shops, grocery and outdoor supply stores, as well as the mule tours and bike rentals. The National Park Service and associates manage the Visitors Center and book store/gift shop, museums, and ranger programs and walks. In the summer a free shuttle bus runs through the park and connects to points in Tusayan.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We donât want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
ATM and bank available on the South Rim in the Market Plaza; all major credit cards accepted at businesses.
If you’re not on a private tour, you can drive to the South Rim from Flagstaff (80 miles) or Williams (60) miles, or book a seat on the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams for a day trip or extended stay. Once on the park, you can catch the rim-to-rim shuttle van that leaves once a day for the 4.5 hour trip to the other side of the canyon. The free Park Service South Rim Shuttle stops at hotels in Tusayan and all the viewpoints going west and east from the Village. Or you can walk several miles either way along the rim, soak in the majestic views, and ride the shuttle back.
If you’re not on a private tour, you can drive to the South Rim from Flagstaff (80 miles) or Williams (60) miles), or book a seat on the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams for a day trip or extended stay. Once in the park, the free Park Service Shuttle connects to the viewpoints, hotels, campgrounds, and services in Tusayan. The North Rim is 215 miles from the South Rim with a 4.5-hour rim-to-rim shuttle leaving once a day. Flights to the Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan connect to select cities (check current schedules).
Much of the activity on the South Rim centers around the Village, a full service town with complete tourist facilities, a bank, grocery and outfitter stores, and a free shuttle for transportation. In the summer, no private cars are not permitted on the road to the western viewpoints and Hermitâs Rest. The free Park Service Shuttle connects all viewpoints. A great way to experience the canyon is to walk the viewpoint trail hub near Bright Angel Lodge to Hopi Point (1.2 miles)with great vistas all along the trail, then ride the shuttle back to the Village.
On the South Rim, the free Park Service Shuttle stops at all the viewpoints going west from the Village to the most popular spots, and east to the more remote views. Or you can walk several miles either way, soak in the majestic views, and ride the shuttle back. The Shuttle also connects to Tusayan hotels and the Grand Canyon Airport, home of flight-seeing tours over the canyon and limited commercial service.
On the South Rim, the Park Service offers free shuttle service around Village and to the hotels and airport in Tusayan. From the Village Route Transfer near Bright Angel Lodge, take the Red Route to visit the viewpoints toward Hermits Rest. Note the rim road west is closed to private vehicles in the summer. The Blue Route circles through the Village, Market Plaza, campgrounds, and Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center, the Orange Route connects to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum, South Kaibab Trailhead, and Yaki Point, popular for sunrises.