Planning a trip to the grandest of canyons requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera. There are questions that must be asked and answered: When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? Your favorite travel advisor has the answers.
Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s the oft-forgotten Grand Canyon West, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim, on the Hualapai Native American Reservation.
The South Rim is the go-to part of the Grand Canyon for most visitors, and for a reason. There are more viewpoints than the North Rim, and more places to get the classic views of the canyon’s expanse. Lodging is more widely available, and with more options and visitor services. Activities abound: hiking, river rafting and mule rides.
The North Rim is quiet, uncrowded, forested, and has lower temps than the South Rim. Hikers and photographers prefer it for the undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.
The main attraction at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet beyond the canyon rim’s edge, giving that vertigo-inducing view that you either love or hate. Avid hikers and photographers please note that 1) there are only two easy trails here, and 2) cameras and phones are not allowed. If you're still bored after your dizzying walk, there are other novel activities to pursue: zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, touring a Native American village.
Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient day trip; because it is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which administered by the National Park Service.
THE WHEN: I’m recommending you visit the South Rim in “not summer” if you can help it, because temps can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. If you’re thinking of descending into the canyon, that’s a brutal (and potentially unsafe) situation. Summer has the most visitors, the most expensive and least available lodging, jammed parking lots and crowded viewpoints. Where’s the fun in that? There are three other seasons you can choose from for your visit. The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in spring and fall. A visit in winter? Bundle up and enjoy the light dusting of snow.
You’ll likely enjoy a visit to the North Rim in summer, however. Thanks to its higher altitude on the Kaibab Plateau, the North Rim has a cooler climate, and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. I’ve visited in the fall: this part of the Kaibab National Forest is resplendent in aspen fall foliage, and the elk are bugling in this their rutting season. Check out that link if you've never heard the sound. This part of the park is closed for the winter between mid-October and mid-May. Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is also less crowded outside the summer months.
Most visitors fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix, or the small airport in Flagstaff, a mere hour from the South Rim. Visitors to the North Rim typically fly into Salt Lake City. You’ll need to rent a car, which you should park once at the Grand Canyon and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. There is also a shuttle service between the North and South Rims. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.
Another option: a rail trip from the city of your choice to Williams, Arizona. From here, the Grand Canyon Railway will take you into the park for a half day of exploration. An advantage to this – we’ll make it so you can stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge, which normally requires reservations be made a year or more in advance. You’ll still be able to rent a car and return to the park for additional sightseeing if you wish.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? As I've said, it's a trip you can do any time of year, and as icons go, it's one you shouldn't miss. Sounds like a great idea for 2021.
'til next week.
Did you miss any of my articles? They are all here.
I create expertly designed, transformative vacations for people who crave immersive travel. If you’re too busy to take time to plan the details of your own well-deserved escape, don't know where to begin, or are longing to make unforgettable memories with those you love, then don’t wait another day. Let's talk.
Contact: GLOBAL EXOTIC ADVENTURES
-Juliet Weller, Founder