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Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is always at the top of every traveler's U.S Destinations Bucket List...and rightfully so! At a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, there is no other place in the world as spectacular as the Grand Canyon.
Although I’ve road tripped to the Grand Canyon four times, that magical sense of feeling like you’re standing on the edge of the world at 7,000 feet high never gets old. It’s easy to get lost in the park’s geological history or mesmerized by the canyon’s brilliant colors swirling around you. There truly is no other feeling like what you’ll experience in the Grand Canyon.
And there’s an endless list of Grand Canyon things to do and see. Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, geology, wildlife, stargazing, or scenic drives, the Grand Canyon is one of the best U.S. national parks for any kind of visitor looking for an adventure.
This Grand Canyon travel guide focuses on the South Rim since it is the more popular tourist destination compared to the North Rim. Since it is more “visitor-friendly”, so easily accessible, and open all year round, many first-time visitors explore the South Rim. The Grand Canyon South Rim offers more tourist amenities and facilities than the North Rim without compromising the incredible views and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
So if you’re ready to start planning your trip to the Grand Canyon, here’s your ultimate travel guide, packed with everything you need to know, things to do, what to bring, and other insider travel tips to make your adventure to the South Rim EPIC!
Because of how easy it is to get to, Grand Canyon National Park draws millions of visitors (around 5.5 million people each year) and is consistently ranked one of the top-visited U.S. national parks.
Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, the Grand Canyon borders Nevada and Utah making this national park easily accessible from several major cities. The closest major cities that are perfect for starting your Grand Canyon trip include Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Flagstaff, all of which are a short drive away.
Whether you are planning a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas or an adventurous road trip through the famous American southwest, it is worth visiting Grand Canyon National Park.
If you’re planning on visiting Grand Canyon National Park, Las Vegas is one of the best places to start your trip. The Grand Canyon is only a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas!
Traveling to the Grand Canyon from further away? Las Vegas has an international airport (McCarran International Airport), making it easy and more affordable to travel in and out of.
Because it’s such a short drive, Grand Canyon National Park is worth visiting when in Las Vegas. Whether you are looking for a weekend adventure or a day trip from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon is the perfect outdoor getaway and escape from the hustle and bustle of The Strip.
Have some extra time to enjoy the scenery along your drive? Here are some of the best stops on your road trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, including Lake Mead Recreation Area and the Hoover Dam.
Road tripping from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience. Even though it only takes 3.5 hours to drive from Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park, this scenic drive has several epic stops to check out, including Montezuma Castle National Monument and Sedona.
Phoenix also has an international airport, making it a great starting point for your Grand Canyon trip if you’re flying into Arizona.
Flagstaff is the closest major city near Grand Canyon National Park, located about 80 miles from the entrance to the South Rim.
Since it’s only a 1.5-hour drive to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff, you can easily visit Grand Canyon National Park as a day trip from Flagstaff.
Although it’s not large, the Flagstaff airport will be the closest airport to the Grand Canyon.
Although the Grand Canyon South Rim never closes (it’s open year-round), deciding on the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park depends on what you are looking for.
The Grand Canyon weather varies drastically throughout the year due to tremendous elevation changes. From freezing temperatures and snow that covers the canyons to the hot temperatures and summer thunderstorms.
After traveling in spring, summer, and winter, my favorite times of year to visit the Grand Canyon are spring and winter! During spring, mild temperatures and cool, crisp nights make Grand Canyon hiking and camping so much more enjoyable and comfortable. And although I won’t be camping or hiking in the winter, I particularly love the spectacular sight of sparkling snow contrasting against the bright red canyons in addition to no crowds.
Mild temperatures and manageable crowds make March, April, and May the best months to visit the Grand Canyon. Temperatures range from 50F - 70F during the day and 25F - 40F at night. Because nighttime temperatures can still drop below freezing in the earlier spring months, expect some snowfall overnight!
This means comfortable Grand Canyon camping weather and pleasant hiking conditions, especially if you are hiking down to the bottom of the canyon. Temperatures at the bottom of the Grand Canyon can be 20F hotter than at the top of the rim.
Because June, July, and August bring the most visitors to the Grand Canyon, expect large crowds during the summer. And if you’re like me, the frustration of navigating through crowds and trying to find a parking spot is enough to keep me away!
But the crowds aren’t the only reason why summer is less than ideal to visit the Grand Canyon. Extreme heat and “monsoon” season make hiking difficult, unpleasant, and dangerous, especially if you’re planning to hike to the bottom of the canyon. During summer, temperatures at the bottom of the Grand Canyon exceed 100F, and water sources are scarce.
Like the spring months, crowds at the Grand Canyon die down during the fall, especially after Labor Day. Temperatures during the day are mild, ranging from 50F - mid-70F. But make sure to layer up at night since temperatures begin to drop below freezing by mid to late October.
And don’t forget! Daylight starts to get shorter and shorter as fall progresses.
A winter trip to the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience and offers magical, unique views of the canyons!
Temperatures on the South Rim in winter range from a low of 20F to a high in the mid-40F. But don’t let these cold temperatures deter you from seeing the Grand Canyon South Rim sprinkled in snow, one of the most spectacular sights.
Take advantage of the minimal crowds and cheaper accommodations and visit the Grand Canyon in the winter.
Even though I’ve visited multiple times already, every trip I have to Grand Canyon National Park always feels like a brand new experience. As big as the park is, there is an overwhelming number of things to do and see.
But that’s a good thing! Whatever kind of traveler you are, Grand Canyon National Park has an adventure for everybody, especially families, kids, and solo travelers.
Driving your car or riding the free shuttle buses along the South Rim is one of the best ways to experience the park if it’s your first time in the Grand Canyon. Hop out and admire the swirling canyon colors and geological mysteries at the observation points along the way.
Since the South Rim is extremely established, offering navigable roads and plenty of visitor services and facilities, the Grand Canyon is one of the easiest national parks to tour by yourself. You don’t need to pay for a tour or hire a guide to thoroughly see the best of the Grand Canyon.
Feeling more active? Walk along the South Rim on the Rim Trail and learn about the geological history of the Grand Canyon.
Want a unique view of the Grand Canyon? Hike below the rim on the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail and see the canyons from a different perspective.
Looking for a list of the best things to do and top attractions you can’t miss on your Grand Canyon trip? Check out these 10 unique ways to experience the Grand Canyon.
I've experienced the Grand Canyon in several different ways, including day trips from Las Vegas and long weekends camping on the South Rim. Whatever time you have in the Grand Canyon, it will be worth the visit and make you want to come back for more.
That’s plenty of time to stroll along the Rim Trail and enjoy several scenic viewpoints along the way, including Mather Point, without feeling like you’ve missed out on what makes the Grand Canyon...well...GRAND! If you’ve got time to spare, hit up the Yavapai Museum of Geology to learn about the Grand Canyon’s history or walk along the interactive Trail of Time and get lost in the Grand Canyon’s geological timeline.
A day trip is enough time for you to see everything above as well as experience a quick hike below the rim on part of the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail.
If hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is on your bucket list, dedicate your day to hiking on Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point (12 miles roundtrip) or South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (6 miles roundtrip).
Having multiple days in the Grand Canyon allows you to do more. You can take your time driving or biking the scenic routes or hiking below the rim (maybe even check that Rim-To-Rim hike off your bucket list?). Another advantage of spending a few days on the South Rim is that you can stargaze under one of the darkest skies in America!
Need some ideas for how to make the most out of your weekend in the Grand Canyon? Check out my Epic 3 Day Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) Itinerary, based on my favorite Grand Canyon trip I recently took for my birthday!
Between campgrounds, lodges, and hotels, the Grand Canyon offers a variety of accommodation options if you’re looking to stay inside the national park. Because of how popular it is to stay inside the Grand Canyon (imagine waking up to that view!) I recommend booking accommodations as far in advance as possible.
Camping on the South Rim - Grand Canyon National Park offers three developed campgrounds on the South Rim. Advanced reservations are required and can be made at recreation.gov.
Below is a list of places to camp inside Grand Canyon on the South Rim:
Camping below the South Rim - Grand Canyon visitors can experience what life is like at the bottom of the canyon by camping below the rim. Below is a list of campgrounds if you’re looking to camp below the South Rim. Each of these campgrounds has a picnic table and food storage cans.
To camp below the rim, you will need to reserve a backcountry permit (see Grand Canyon Fees, Permits, & Passes section above for more info).
In addition, campers are limited to how long they can camp below the rim depending on the time of year.
Looking for hotels and lodging to stay inside the Grand Canyon? Below is a list of places to stay on the South Rim. I suggest booking accommodations as early as possible since these places can fill up even a year in advance.
Staying overnight inside Grand Canyon National Park may not only be difficult to find availability for, but it can also be expensive. For more affordable accommodations, consider staying outside the park in Tusayan, Arizona. Located 7 miles from Grand Canyon Village, Tusayan, AZ is the closest town to the South Rim entrance with plenty of affordable hotels and lodging near the Grand Canyon.
Because of how visitor-friendly Grand Canyon National Park is, it’s incredibly easy and convenient for people to get around the South Rim. With developed roads, an established shuttle system, and paved biking trails you can drive your car, ride the park’s free shuttle, or bike your way through the Grand Canyons!
Depending on what season you visit the South Rim and how you prefer to travel, it may be more efficient to get around one way versus another. Here are my recommendations on how you can best travel around the Grand Canyon:
For more detailed information and travel tips on the free shuttle system, scenic drives, and biking trails, check out my in-depth travel guide on the best way for getting around Grand Canyon South Rim.
Here are my best Grand Canyon travel tips and hiking safety to help you get the most out of your trip. These travel tips are based on my own Grand Canyon experiences!
Depending on the time of year you visit Grand Canyon National Park, you’ll need to pack accordingly. However, since desert temperatures can swing 30F-40F degrees in a single day, I’d recommend packing clothing that can be layered to prepare for both the hot and cold.
Whether you are self-driving or car camping, below is a packing guide for the essential things to bring on your Grand Canyon trip!
If you’re a hiking beginner and looking for a list of what to bring on your hike, check out my post 7 Must-Have Essentials to Bring on Every Hike.
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