A trip to the Grand Canyon is one that everyone should do in their lifetime. The vast canyon is not only a splendid natural wonder, there are many ways to see it and explore it. The Grand Canyon is full of possible adventures awaiting you, whether you’re traveling with your family or in for an adrenaline-fueled adventure.
The Grand Canyon National Park lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwest Arizona. It was carved over a period of millions of years by the Colorado River, which winds its way through the canyon.
It’s truly amazing to see how a little trickle of water eventually turned into the Colorado River, which eventually carved out the Grand Canyon. When you see it in person, you’ll be in awe of Mother Nature. This is why we strongly believe that a road trip to the Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list.
If you’re ready to go, let’s jump in and start planning a road trip around the Grand Canyon.
Where is the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon is located about 75 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona and falls almost entirely within the state of Arizona, though very close to the Utah and Nevada borders. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the north rim’s visitor center from Flagstaff.
There are two main visitor centers, on the north and south sides of the canyon. Generally, tourists base their trip in either the north or south rim. This is because it is a 5-hour drive between the North and South visitor centers.
Most of the Grand Canyon lies within Grand Canyon National Park and is managed by the National Park Service. However, there is a third access point: Grand Canyon West, which is owned and run by the Hualapai Indians.
Grand Canyon West is the closest to Las Vegas, Nevada, where visitors to the canyon often come in from. It’s only 125 miles to get to the west entrance vs a 275-mile drive to get to the south rim. So if you’re coming from Vegas, this could be an option for you.
However, the entrance fee at the West rim is considerably more expensive than the other entrances. We go over entrance fee prices further down this post.
How Big is the Grand Canyon?
Although it’s called “the” Grand Canyon, implicating that there’s only one, that’s a bit of an understatement. There are actually dozens of canyons, fissures, and gorges that intertwine and merge to create one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders.
The Grand Canyon stretches for 270 miles and is between 10 and 15 miles wide. At some points, the canyon measures nearly a mile to the bottom. Can you imagine looking over the edge of a canyon that deep? Well, actually, you can! More on that later.
Because this national park is so huge, it’s necessary to plan a Grand Canyon road trip, in order to see it all – or at least the major aspects of it that you shouldn’t miss.
Best Times to Visit the Grand Canyon
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is during spring and fall. Summer is the busiest season for the park, as hordes of tourists take advantage of the sunny weather and time off together.
April through May, and September through November, are the prime times to visit the park. The crowds are thin, and the weather is temperate staying around 60F day in and out.
Spring weather is dry and usually between 50-80F depending on where you visit inside the park. It’s also wildflower season, and a great chance to appreciate the unique flora that surrounds the canyon.
Fall is slightly rainy, and the weather can change quickly during autumn in the canyon. The fall foliage is hard to beat though, the vibrant colors that appear during fall are incredible sights to see and make for great pictures. Sunsets are also easier to catch in the fall due to the shortening days.
Planning a Road Trip in the Grand Canyon
As you can see, there are great things to see and do in all three areas of the park and you can’t see them all unless you do a road trip. It’s a very scenic drive.
The best thing to do when visiting the Grand Canyon is to allow yourself plenty of time. There is a lot to see and although it might look like you can do it all in one day, you won’t be able to really enjoy it that way.
There is no “best place to start”. We recommend starting with what sounds most interesting to you. Whether that’s checking out the history behind the canyon, taking a hike in the beautiful dessert surroundings, or riding in a helicopter to see a bird’s-eye view.
How Many Days to Spend
We recommend giving yourself plenty of time when you are at the Grand Canyon so you can see all the rims, head down to the basin, whitewater raft, and just enjoy this beautiful natural wonder.
- If you only want to see the spectacular views, and don’t have a lot of time, then one day will suffice.
- To cover the main attractions and see both rims, two to three days might be enough time.
- If you want to camp and hike and raft… then you’ll need five to seven days.
What To Do in the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village, located on the South Rim of the canyon, is a beautiful place to stay or just visit.
This historic town was founded in the early 1900s with the arrival of the first steam-powered train. Since then, it’s been a hub of activity for Native Americans, and homesteaders. There are several cultural centers and places to see antique Native American crafts and culture.
There are also great lodging options inside the town, including hotels, RV parks, and campgrounds that make it a perfect gateway to the park.
The Grand Canyon has several hiking trails of different difficulties so that everyone can take a stroll and enjoy the scenic surroundings of the park.
The Bright Angel Trail is a maintained dirt trail that is 12 miles long roundtrip. It has some shade coverage depending on the time of day. There may be ice on the trail in winter and early spring. It gets quite steep in some sections, and may not be suitable for all hikers. Here’s a great guided hike of Bright Angel Trail.
The Rim Trail is an easier hike. It’s a quiet path that extends from the village out to Hermit’s Rest, a series of rock buildings built in the early 1900s. There is a bus route near the Rim Trail, so hikers can easily customize how far they ride the bus or hike.
The North Kaibab Trail is the only maintained trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It reaches all the way to the Colorado River, making it 28 miles roundtrip. Caution is advised, as travelers should not hike in the hottest parts of the day or attempt to hike this entire trail in one day. Just a short hike to one of the closer stops such as Coconino Overlook will give guests a great view and appreciation of the park.
If you’d rather go on a guided hike, we can recommend this full-day hike
Hiking Tips & Safety Precautions
- Remember where you are going and consider clothes that would be good for hiking, as well as something in case it rains. Also keep in mind the temperatures can drop substantially at night in this area, so you should pack something to keep warm.
- If you are going hiking make sure to have things such as water bottles, a compass, map, and some supplies in case you happen to get lost. Also remember first aid items and sunscreen to avoid getting a sunburn.
- If you are hiking, camping or riding off the main trails, in the backcountry, you will need a permit. Permits can be obtained through the Backcountry Information Center. Rangers patrol and inspect camps they find for permits and to check that campers are adhering to the conditions laid down in the permit.
See the Grand Canyon in a Variety of Ways
- Mule Ride into the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon has mule rides on many of their different trails. This is a great way to experience the park if you aren’t too keen on hiking. These tours will take guests on a hiking trail on the backs of mules, and are completely guided. Guests will learn proper safety and can learn more about the park and it’s history.
- Train Ride into the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Railway has been running since 1901, and passengers have been enthralled since it’s opening. Not only is it a wonderful and historic way to travel, but it helps keep the cars going into the park to a minimum as to preserve the land. See more about the train and book your tickets here.
- Helicopter Tour Over the Canyon
What better way to see the entirety of the park than from a birds eye view? Helicopter tours will take passengers over top of the park, allowing for wide sweeping sights and picturesque views. ✔ Book a helicopter tour here.
- Open-Air Hummer Tour
Make the most of limited time and see the highlights of Grand Canyon National Park in just a couple of hours on this sightseeing tour. Ride in a windowless, open-air Hummer and listen to commentary from your guide as you visit some of the canyon’s best lookout points, where you can hop out, take photos, and explore. Book this tour here.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is one of the most popular ways to see the Grand Canyon. Rafting along the Colorado River is a fun and thrilling experience. Some rafting tours span multiple days, and some are just a single day so visitors can choose what fits their schedules and interests best.
See beautiful views while careening down a river. Rafting in the Upper Canyon is often preferred, as passengers will watch the canyon walls rise around them.
We recommend this planned white-water rafting tour. Make your way to Peach Springs, Arizona, home of the Hualapai Indians at the gateway to the Grand Canyon. Then, challenge the mighty Colorado River’s varied rapids on a 40-mile (64-kilometer) journey through the canyon. Learn more about the rafting trip.
See the Skywalk
Located at Grand Canyon West, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, is one of the coolest ways to see the vastness of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Skywalk extends almost 70 feet over the canyon in a horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed overhang.
The Skywalk, with its four-inch-thick glass bottom, allows visitors to peer over the railing or just look down directly into the canyon to see its 4,000-foot vertical drop. But don’t worry. Skywalk is strong enough to hold seventy fully loaded 747 passenger jets.
Desert Jeep Tour
Explore the desert around the Grand Canyon on a guided Jeep tour. Many of these tours take visitors along the canyon and into the Kaibab National Forrest.
See incredible views and ride along with a tour guide. Some tours even have an option to go at sunset to see the awe-inspiring sunset along the rim of the canyon.
Havasu Falls, located in the Havasupai Indian Reservation is a gorgeous waterfall that is definitely worth a visit. Havasupai itself means ‘people of the blue-green waters’ and that gives a pretty good description of the waterfalls on their land.
A hike away from a main road, this waterfall is a beautiful stream flowing down the side of Havasu canyon. The falls also includes several pools of the shimmering turquoise waters it’s famous for.
This bend in the Colorado River – Horseshoe Bend – is located approximately 140 miles from both the South Rim and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but it’s only 5 miles from the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park.
If you’re traveling from rim to rim on a Grand Canyon road trip, you can add a side trip, just 18-miles off the main road, Highway 89, to see Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.
Desert View Drive
The Desert View Drive is a scenic road located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s a 23-mile scenic road between the Grand Canyon Village and Desert View, passing by many scenic points and trails. The road is named after the Desert View Watchtower. There are many points along the way for tourists to stop at. The East Entrance to the park at Desert View is open 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.
- Desert View Watchtower
- Tusayan Pueblo
- Tusayan Museum
Grand Canyon Entrances
You wouldn’t think it, but the two sides of the canyon vary quite a bit in scenery, climate and vegetation. Due to the distance between the two rims, most visitors only go to one side, but if you plan to do both, it’s about a 4-hour drive. There is a park-operated shuttle that goes between the rims once per day. It takes about 4.5 hours. You can only go one way per day.
The Grand Canyon’s South Rim is the best place to visit if you are only visiting one of the rims. It has more spectacular views and viewpoints from which to see it, and it has more facilities (restaurants, hotels, services) than the north rim.
The Grand Canyon Village is a great place to stay when visiting, because it has everything a tourist will need – lodging, restaurants, stores, etc. On the South Rim, there are numerous trails down the canyon, as well as a trail along the top of the Canyon called the “rim trail.”
You can view the canyon from different viewing points, which are accessed by walking the rim trail or taking a shuttle from point to point. There are also two entrance points, at the south and west, with the south entrance being closest to hotels.
You can also visit museums, go biking, hiking, take guided tours, and ride a mule into the canyon to explore. These extra visitor activities make the south side better for most visitors.
The north rim is more remote than the south rim and it’s closed from October to May. If you don’t like crowds and you’re not participating in any planned activities, then you might prefer the north rim. It’s more forested, thus has more wildlife and better hiking opportunities.
If you’re also visiting other national parks nearby, like Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park, you will be on the North Rim side of the canyon, so it might just be more convenient to stay on that side. Just keep in mind that there’s only one hotel and one campground on the north side, so plan well in advance if you want to stay the night.
Grand Canyon West
The West Rim of the park is located on Native American land and requires an extra entrance fee, making it the most expensive area to visit. But this is where the popular Skywalk – a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon – is located.
There are other planned activities here too that draw visitors in, like ziplining, boat rides and tours. Do note that hiking opportunities aren’t as good in this area.See Summer Vacation Packages at Grand Canyon West!
✔ Buy Grand Canyon West tickets in advance here.
Best Places to Stay Near the Grand Canyon
One of the most popular places to stay near the Grand Canyon is Grand Canyon Village, and it’s not difficult to see why. There is easy access to the park’s main entrance from this purpose-built, touristy town. You can’t stay closer than this unless you camp inside the park.
Grand Canyon Lodge provides the only lodging inside the National Park on the North Rim.
Camping in the Grand Canyon
All campsites in the Inner Canyon require a backcountry permit, this includes Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch. So you’ll need to plan ahead to get the proper permits.
Camping is available just outside of the park in Tusayan at Grand Canyon Camper Village. Or the Forest Service campground just 2 miles south of Tusayan in the Kaibab National Forest.
If you like the idea of camping, you could also check out Grand Canyon RV Glamping, where the RV is provided for you.
With so much to see and do, you’ll be kept very busy during your Grand Canyon visit, especially if you choose to do a road trip from rim to rim. We know you’re going to love it. If you’ve been before, share your experiences in the comments below.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.