This article provides an overview of things to see and do in the Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding area along with useful links to other websites for additional travel related information.
At a Glance
The Grand Canyon is spectacular! It is not just a simple canyon but rather a whole maze of canyons, fissures and gorges worn into the rock with unusual buttes, mesas and rock spires standing between them. The exposed multicolored sedimentary layers take on varying hues as the angle of the sun and shadow change throughout the day. It is truly one of the great natural wonders of the world.
The Grand Canyon is immense. It is almost 200 miles (322 km) long and about 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) wide. Its deepest parts along the Colorado River channel lie over one vertical mile (1.6 km) below the plateau at its rims.
Popular activities here include hiking, backpacking, scenic drives, horseback & mule rides and photography.
The Grand Canyon Village Center located at the South Rim is the most popular Grand Canyon destination for tourists. It offers the best views, has the most facilities and is the most accessible. Most people view the canyon from the South Rim Trail. Part of it is closed to automobile traffic from May to October, but free shuttle busses take tourists to all the vantage points. The road east to Desert View is normally open and offers many scenic overlooks into the canyon. The airplane tours and helicopter tours departing from the airport near Tusayan are great ways to appreciate the grand scale of the canyon. For a unique experience, you can take a mule ride down into the canyon.
The Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village is large and spread out consisting of 3 main areas: a Visitor Center area, the Market Plaza area and the Village area.
The Visitor Center Area consists of the visitor center, a park store, a bicycle rental place and a cafe.
The Market Place consists of the Park Headquarters, Shrine of the Ages, a Market, Mather Campground, Yavapai Lodge, Trailer Village RV Park and the McKee Amphitheater.
The Village consists of the Verkamp’s Visitor Center, Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Bright Angle Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Kolb Studio, Backcountry Information Center, the Mule Barn and the Train Depot.
Hiking the Rim Trail
The rim trail is the easiest hike there is at the South Rim. It’s eastern most point is at the South Kaibab Trailhead and goes around the rim and out to Hermit’s Rest to the west. You can hike any part of this trail as an out-n-back or hike it one way and take a free shuttle bus back. Either way you are bound to find numerous magnificent views of this spectacular place.
Hiking into the Canyon
One of the best ways to experience the canyon, is to hike down into it. Bright Angel Trail that departs from Grand Canyon Village is the most popular route. The trail is a well maintained and has drinking water supplies at several points. Most cautious tourists hike only a short distance down this trail, as the climb back to the rim is much more strenuous than the trip down. Indian Gardens on the Tonto Plateau is about 4 miles (6 km) and about 1,500 vertical feet (500 meters) below the rim. That makes a nice day hike, but remember to always carry a supply of water and some snack food.
The temperature down in the canyon is usually much warmer than on the rim. Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon is 12 miles (20 km) and 5,000 feet (1,650 m) below the rim and is normally attempted as a two-day hike with an overnight stay at the Phantom Ranch Campround. There are many trails down into the canyon for serious hikers and backpackers, but you must obtain camping permits from the park rangers before attempting overnight hikes.
Check out our article Hikes and Mule Rides from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim for more details on hiking and mule rides in the canyon.
Scenic Drives & Bus Rides
Driving out to South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point is a nice way to spend half a day. From Grand Canyon Village take Route 64 west and look for Yaki Point Road on your left. Taking a drive or bus ride out to Hermit’s Rest via the West Rim Road is also a great way to see fantastic views of the canyon without having to hike the rim trail.
Flagstaff is the closest city with a commercial airport, the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG) and Phoenix is the closest city with a large international airport, the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). From Phoenix take Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff. You can then either take Route 180 north to Route 64 north or take Interstate 40 west to Route 64 north. Follow Route 64 north until you reach the entrance to Grand Canyon Village.
The Grand Canyon Railway, running year-round from the town of Williams, offers a more interesting, entertaining and scenic way to get to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. They not only offer train rides, but complete packages that include a stay at their RV park or the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel that is right next to the Williams Train Depot as well as stays in the Maswik Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. Williams is also one of the many towns with a connection to the historic Route 66.
Where to Stay
Desert View Campground is a National Park campground with no hook-ups located 23 miles (37 km) east of Grand Canyon Village and is only open seasonally. Reservations are recommanded.
Ten-X Campground is a National Park campground with no hook-ups located 9 miles (14 km) south of Grand Canyon Village and is only open seasonally. Reservations are required.
Phantom Ranch is located at the bottom of the canyon and requires you to either hike down and back up the canyon or ride a mule. See our article Hikes and Mule Rides from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim for more details about getting to and staying at Phantom Ranch.
Market Plaza Area
Yavapai Lodge is divided into two areas, Yavapai Lodge East, which has 6 two-story buildings and Yavapai Lodge West, which has 10 single-story buildings. All rooms do have air conditioning.
Trailer Village RV Park is the only RV park with full hook-ups and paved pull-through sites that can accommodate up to 50 foot (15.25 meter) long rigs. It is located within walking distance of the rim and is open all year.
Mather Campground is a National Park campground with no hook-ups, but does have showers, flushing toilets and laundry facilities. Although there are no hook-ups the sites are larger and more scenic then at the Trailer Village RV Park and is open all year.
Camping Tip: Stay at Mather, Desert View or Ten-X Campground for a few nights then move to Trailer Village RV Park for your last night or two. This gives you a nicer camping experience while allowing you to have running water, electricity and empty your tanks at the end.
El Tovar Hotel was built in 1905 and is a historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The rooms are basic compared to more modern accomadations, but nice and on par with similar national park lodges of this era. This lodge is considered one of the historic national park lodges. All rooms have heating and air conditioning.
Kachina Lodge was built in the 1960s and looks the part with its 1960s modern contemporary design. It is situated next to the El Tovar Hotel and sites directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon as well. The rooms are similar to the rooms in the El Tovar, but rooms here do not have air conditioning.
Thunderbird Lodge also sits on the rim of the Grand Canyon and has the same styling as the Kachina Lodge with the same types of rooms including no air conditioning.
Bright Angle Lodge & Cabins was built in 1935 and has a log and stone construction style that exudes that western feel. It also sits on the rim of the Grand Canyon near the Bright Angle Trailhead. Most rooms are en-suite, but some of the historic rooms require the use of a shared bathroom. The cabins are a nice option for families or anyone wanting a bit more room to spread out. There is no air conditioning in the rooms in this lodge or the cabins.
Maswik Lodge is divided into two areas, Maswik Lodge North, which has 12 two-story buildings and Maswik Lodge South, which has four 2-story buildings. These lodges are located ¼ mile (0.4 km) from the rim of the Grand Canyon and are on the village bus route. All rooms are equipped with air conditioning though.
Outside the Park
The Grand Hotel, built in 1998, is located just one mile south of the South Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park and offers luxurious rooms and dining just a short drive away from Grand Canyon Village and the south rim.
The little village of Tusayan is about 6 miles (10 km) south of the Grand Canyon Village and one mile from the park entrance. It contains several private hotels, a few restaurants, a grocery store, some convenience stores, souvenir shops, gas stations, some bars, an IMAX theater and a small airport. It is usually easier to find accommodations at the private hotels in Tusayan, as they do not normally fill up as far in advance as the park properties.
The West Rim, known as Grand Canyon West, is actually the western end of the canyon located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It is not as deep and is a bit less spectacular, but is favored by many Las Vegas tour operators, as it is only a 2.5 hour drive from the Vegas Strip. Since this part of the canyon is on Hualapai reservation land the strict rules that apply in the Grand Canyon National Park do not apply here.
Tourist attractions and accommodations here are divided into two areas: Grand Canyon West and Peach Springs, both located on the Haulapai Indian Reservation and they are about a two hour drive from each other.
At Grand Canyon West you can take a walk on the glass-bottomed skywalk that juts out over the canyon, zip-line, take a helicopter ride into the canyon and many other activities.
At Peach Springs you can take a one or two day white-water rafting trip through the canyon while learning about the Hualapai Tribe and surrounding area.
Las Vegas, Nevada is the nearest city with a major airport, the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS). Driving from the airport, make your way to Interstate 11 and proceed west towards Hoover Dam. Be sure to look to your left as you drive over the interstate bridge to catch a glimpse of the Hoover Dam or get off the interstate and get a closer look. Continue on Route 93 southeast until you reach route 25 where you will head northeast. The road will change a couple of times to Route 261 then to Route 7 before reaching Grand Canyon West.
A number of tour operators offer helicopter flights between the Las Vegas airport and Grand Canyon West. You can opt for a day trip or spend a night or two before flying back. Other day flight options include single day sight-seeing helicopter and plane flights over the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the western part of the Grand Canyon. These day trips from Las Vegas are the most popular way to visit Grand Canyon West.
Where to Stay
The Cabins at Grand Canyon West are located at Grand Canyons West and can sleep up to six guests per cabin.
RV Parking, located at Grand Canyon West, is available for up to three nights with no hook-ups. It’s not a campground, just a parking spot that includes 24-hour security and free WiFi.
The North Rim Visitor Area has fewer viewpoints, has fewer facilities, is less accessible and closes from late October to mid May, but if you want to avoid the crowds this is the place to go. The North Rim Visitor Area consists of an Administration and Backcountry Office, General Store, gas station, Campground, North Rim Visitor Center and the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Day Hikes and Walks
Bright Angle Point Trail is a short, but steep 0.5 mile (0.8 km) roundtrip walk on a paved trail out to Bright Angle Point were you will get a fantastic view of the canyon.
Transept Trail is a 2 mile (3.2 km) one-way trail that takes you along the rim of one of the many beautiful side canyons. You can return back on the same trail or take the bridle path back for a less scenic option.
A more strenuous option is to take the North Kaibab Trail down into the canyon to the Coconino Overlook, which is a 1.4 mile (2.25 km) round trip. If you want to try something a bit harder you can continue to the Supai Tunnel and back, which is only a 2 mile (3.2 km) round trip, but can be very difficult, especially in the hot summer months. If you want something even longer and more challenging you can go all the way down to the Redial Bridge, which will add an additional 1.2 miles (1.9 km) to your hike for a total of 3.2 miles (5 km) round trip.
Cape Royal Road takes you to Point Imperial, which is 11 miles (18 km) from the visitors center, and all the way out to Cape Royal, which is 23 miles (37 km) from the visitors center. At Cape Royal you can take a 0.4 mile (0.65 km) one-way trail up to Cape Royal and stop at Angels Window on the way. On the way out or back you can also stop at Vista Encantada, Roosevelt Point and Walhalla Overlook.
The North Rim Visitor Area is reached off of Route 89A. At Jacob Lake head south on Route 67, which takes you all the to the North Rim Visitors Area. The nearest cities and towns are Page, Arizona; Flagstaff, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Phoenix, Arizona.
Where to Stay
In the Park
Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodging in this area of the park and offers motel rooms and cabins.
North Rim Campground is a National Park campground with no hook-ups. There is a dump station, laundry facilities and potable water available.
Outside the Park
Kaibab Lodge is located 18 miles north of the North Rim Entrance Gate and has a main lodge with rooms, dining and gift shop and cabins that can accommodate up to 8 guests. They also have a gas station, country store and rim-to-rim trailhead shuttle services.
Jacob Lake Inn is located 45 miles north of the North Rim Entrance Gate and has a hotel, motel and cabins. They also have a country store, gift shop, bakery, Ice cream, restaurant and gas station.
Arizona State Tourism Site (Visit Arizona – Grand Canyon) has a good visitors guide with information about tours, things do see and do, accommodations, getting there and many other bits of useful information.
Recreation.gov – Grand Canyon has additional information about this park including maps, pictures, rules, fees and facility information. You can also book certain accommodations and pay certain fees here.