Continuing on our National Parks of USA adventure, we headed South in Arizona to The Grand Canyon. It was technically our second visit to the Canyon. On our last visit to Las Vegas, we had taken a helicopter flight over the Canyon, however I was extremely unwell at the time, and spent most of the flight just trying not to be sick all over the people next to me. Needless to say, we were very excited about our second, but first real visit to the iconic American landmark.
The South Rim is far and away the most popular part of the Grand Canyon to visit. About five million visitors flock to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon each year, while the North Rim receives about one million visitors and the West Rim sees about 200,000 visitors each year. The South Rim is the most developed part of the Grand Canyon, offering more visitors centres and services, the most accommodation options, the easiest access, and the biggest variety of activities and tours allowing you to experience everything the Grand Canyon has to offer. Here is a quick guide with everything you need to know about visiting the Grand Canyon, and more specifically – The South Rim.
Read more: Road Tripping Through Arizona
How to get there
After our visit to Horseshoe Bend that morning, we drove south through Arizona towards the Grand Canyon and The Kaibab National Forest. It takes approximately two and a bit hours to reach the national park from Horseshoe Bend. From the moment you enter the park there are dozens of places to pull over and admire the views between the entrance and the Grand Canyon Village Town, which definitely extended our driving time, but allowed us to see so many extra beautiful view points.
Road tripping to the Grand Canyon would absolutely be my suggestion on how to get there, it allows you to see other attractions along the way and experience the wide open desert country of Arizona. If you’re planning on flying to the Grand Canyon from another city in USA there are a few different options:
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): This is the closest major international airport to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and also offers the most regular flights to and from other major cities around the States. It takes about 3 hours and 35 minutes to drive from the airport to the South Rim.
- Las Vegas Airport (McCarran International Airport LAS): Many people combine their visit to the Grand Canyon with their visit to Las Vegas. It takes about 4 hours and 25 minutes to drive from the Las Vegas Strip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, however, you can meet Grand Canyon West in only about 2 hours and the Skywalk in 2 hours and 20 minutes.
- Grand Canyon Airport (GCN): If you have a flexible schedule you could even fly straight to the Grand Canyon, which is only 15 or so minutes away from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. While the airport is primarily used for scenic flights, they do have some scheduled commercial flights.
If you’re not planning on renting your own car (highly discouraged – you absolutely get the best out of the park when you can do your own thing at your own pace), you can jump on a shuttle from Phoenix Airport to Flagstaff, and then another shuttle or taxi to the South Rim. Prices range from $38 – $42USD per person depending on the company.
Read more: Sitting On The Edge of Horseshoe Bend
The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park is $30USD per private vehicle which includes all passengers, or $15USD per individual entering the park on foot, bicycle, shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway or on a rafting trip. Alternatively, if you’re living the in the States or think you might visit the Grand Canyon often, you can purchase a Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass for $60USD which is valid for 12 months from it’s purchase date and gives you unlimited visits to the National Park. Make sure you check out the South Rim Visitor Centre at Mather Point during your visit, which is also where you will find the park’s free shuttle bus.
** The North Rim is closed each year from October 15th to May 15th.
What to do
There is an endless number of activities to keep you busy during your visit to the Grand Canyon, and the South Rim offers the most variety in activities and tours. Some of the ways you can experience the vast beauty of the Grand Canyon include:
- Scenic tours either by helicopter or charter planes over the Canyon.
- River rafting down the Colorado River, or experience the Canyon by oar boat, a paddle boat or an inflatable kayak.
- Guided hikes around the Canyon: Some of the most popular hikes include Havasupai Falls, Indian Gardens, Bright Angel Loop, Horseshoe Mesa and Rim to Rim.
- Or take a self-guided tour if you would like to take it at your own pace.
- Kick back and experience the Grand Canyon from the comfort of a Hummer .
- Take a guided tour in a bright pink open-air Jeep Wrangler, taking you to the most exclusive look-outs and offering the best photo opportunities.
- Ride the canyon on the back of a mule.
- Experience the Canyon from the rail on the Grand Canyon Railway travelling from Williams to the South Rim.
When to visit
Due to the desert climate in Arizona, there is really no bad time to visit the Grand Canyon. We were visiting at the beginning of March, which was also towards the end of their winter season. Although it was quite cold at times (think temperatures of 0 – 5°C during the day) and there was snow surrounding the roads and within the canyon, there were blue skies and the sun was always shining. Even with a frozen face, if the sun is shining everything seems perfect!
The peak time to visit however, is during the summer months of June to August, when families are on holidays and RVs fill the lookout car parks. Expect huge crowds, difficulty finding parking and buys view points if you’re visiting during the summer. Also, as it is technically part of the desert, temperatures can often spike above 40°C, so if you’re taking part in one of the hikes around the canyon make sure you have enough water and sun protection to last you the whole day. The months around summer time (May and September/October) can often be a great time to visit as the crowds are beginning to thin out with families heading back to school, and temperatures are a little more comfortable.
Where to stay
When deciding where to stay in the Grand Canyon there are a few different options. For the best views and most luxurious options check out the official Grand Canyon Lodges. These lodges (including El Tovar Hotel) are located inside Grand Canyon National Park and built right on the edge of the canyon, offering you iconic views right out of your window.
The most popular place to stay when visiting the South Rim is Grand Canyon Village. The Village offers hotel and accommodation options for all budgets, as well as restaurants and stores and gas stations to fill up your car. It’s quite small and doesn’t really offer anything incredible, however it’s extremely close proximity to the South Rim entrance makes it the easiest place to stay in the area.
If you’re planning on camping or visiting the Grand Canyon in an RV, there are also several campgrounds located at both the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon. You can make a reservation up to 6 months in advance for Mather Campground on the South Rim or for the North Rim Campground. The only campground that offers sites with hookups for an RV can be found at the South Rim Trailer Village – which requires advance payment to hold a reservation. The campgrounds can book out early for peak seasons and holidays, so make sure you book in advance.
The Grand Canyon South Rim
20 South Entrance Road
Grand Canyon, Arizona