Grand Canyon: How to Choose Which Rim to Visit

The beauty of visiting Grand Canyon National Park is that it’s big enough to enjoy from multiple vantage points. The South Rim is the more popular place, with its established tourism infrastructure and iconic canyon views. But don’t overlook the North Rim, with scenic drives and hikes well worth the longer trip to get there.

Use this guide to help you decide whether the Grand Canyon’s South Rim or North Rim is the best fit for your vacation.

South Rim

Incredibly vast canyon vistas, gorgeous hiking trails, mule rides and historic lodges — many of which are accessible by car year-round — make the South Rim an ideal national park experience, especially for families and sightseers.

 

What to See and Do

The South Rim’s hub is Grand Canyon Village, home to a visitor center, lodges, restaurants, shops, museums and stunning canyon viewpoints. It’s also the start of the 13-mile Rim Trail, which winds west and offers several impressive overlooks. If you don’t want to hike the whole stretch of this mostly flat, predominantly paved trail, you can get on and off the park’s free shuttle on nearby Hermit Road — nine stops allow you to cover as much of the Rim Trail as you’d like. (You can also drive Hermit Road from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, weather permitting.)

For more breathtaking views, hop in your rental car and head east from the village along Desert View Drive (25 miles one way). You’ll find six developed viewpoints and five unmarked pullouts, including Grandview and Navajo points, which offer particularly impressive panoramas. The grand finale is Desert View Watchtower — this circular, 70-foot-high stone structure, built in 1932, is just a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot; climb the spiral staircase inside to the observation deck, the highest point at the South Rim.

Ready for a hike? The South Kaibab Trail — a steep, 3-mile round trip to Cedar Ridge, past the aptly named Ooh Aah Point — is a terrific choice. Be sure to bring water with you, as there is none on the trail, and give plenty of space to mules. (A mule ride is a unique way to experience the Grand Canyon, too.)

Biking is also popular at the South Rim. Rent a cruiser from Bright Angel Bicycles and explore miles of paved bicycle paths at your leisure, or sign up for a guided tour.

For more family adventure, download this Grand Canyon scavenger hunt activity sheet to help your kids keep track of everything they see during your trip.

From the observation deck inside Desert View Watchtower, visitors can see over 100 miles across the Grand Canyon’s South Rim on a clear day.

 

Where to Stay

The South Rim has six lodges in Grand Canyon Village with rooms to suit various comfort needs and budgets; book through Delaware North or Xanterra well in advance, as accommodations fill up quickly, especially in the summer. Two campgrounds are also available within the park: Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village takes reservations and is open year-round; Desert View Campground, 25 miles to the east, is first come, first served and open mid-April to mid-October.

Where to Eat

A handful of eateries populate Grand Canyon Village — from the El Tovar Dining Room in the historic, namesake lodge, to snack bars and food trucks — so chances are you’ll find everything you need for your stay in the park. For a change of scenery, drive about 6 miles south to Tusayan, Arizona, to find a selection of casual family restaurants, pizza joints and fast-food fare.

North Rim

The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is a farther drive from major cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles, and there are far fewer tourist facilities compared with the South Rim. The result is lighter crowds.

Weather is also a factor: The North Rim’s perch high on the Kaibab Plateau leads to cooler temperatures and greater chances of precipitation. In fact, the North Rim lodge and restaurants close for the winter on Oct. 15 (and open again on May 15). After Oct. 15, limited services — including the lone gas station in the park — remain open until Dec. 1 or snow closes the only highway into the park, whichever comes first.

 

What to See and Do

Get your bearings at the visitor center and Grand Canyon Lodge. Panoramas from Bright Angel Point, reached by an easy half-mile, one-way trail, are a knockout. The visitor center also sits at the start of the Transept Trail, which snakes along the canyon rim for 1.4 miles to the area’s only campground.

 

Bright Angel Point, an easy, half-mile hike from the visitor center at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, treats visitors to extraordinary panoramas.

East of Bright Angel Point, the forested Scenic Drive (23 miles one way) winds past several hiking trailheads and scenic overlooks, including the road’s marquee vistas, Point Imperial and Cape Royal.

The rim’s only maintained hiking trail into the canyon, North Kaibab Trail, descends through a shady forest to Roaring Springs Canyon and continues on to the Colorado River at the canyon floor. Hiking from the trailhead to Roaring Springs and back is a full day of strenuous hiking (9.4 miles over seven to eight hours), so plan accordingly. Even shorter hikes on this trail — to Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles round trip) or Supai Tunnel (4 miles round trip) — yield stunning views of the canyon.

To experience the North Kaibab Trail on a guided mule trip, book a three-hour ride to Supai Tunnel, about 2,300 feet below the rim. One-hour and three-hour mule rides along the rim are also available.

Overnight hikers on the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon’s North Rim are treated to stunning sights like Ribbon Falls.

 

Where to Stay

Grand Canyon Lodge has the only room accommodations at the North Rim, and, combined with a short open season — May 15 to Oct. 15 — you can see why it’s wise to make reservations at the rustic cabins and motel-style rooms at least 13 months before your trip. The nearby campground, open May 15 to Oct. 31, has sites for tents among the aspens and pines and should also be booked well in advance.

Outside the park, the closest lodging is 18 miles away (Kaibab Lodge, open seasonally) and 45 miles away (Jacob Lake Inn, open year-round).

Where to Eat

In the historic Grand Canyon Lodge dining room, feast on regional dishes like elk chili and bison short ribs as you take in canyon views through a wall of picture windows (make reservations for dinner). Also on the lodge grounds are a deli serving subs and pizza, a casual coffee shop and a saloon with pub grub. Adjacent to the campground, a general store stocks canned and packaged foods.

Wait! What About the West Rim?

  • About 120 miles east of Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

When the Native American Hualapai Tribe opened the Skywalk at Eagle Point in 2007, it created an instant attraction of Grand Canyon West, outside the Grand Canyon National Park boundary near Kingman, Arizona. In addition to the iconic horseshoe-shaped observation deck — a glass bridge extending out 70 feet from the canyon’s edge — the tribe offers a zip line, helicopter and airplane tours, and rafting trips.

As the nearest rim to Las Vegas, the West Rim is suited for day-trippers and bus tour groups from “Sin City,” as well as travelers along U.S. Highway 93 and Interstate 40 who want to spring for these unique views of the Grand Canyon. (Skywalk tickets start at $82.38 per person, tax included.)

 

West Rim Observation Deck
The Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped observation deck owned by the Native American Hualapai Tribe, extends 70 feet off the Grand Canyon’s West Rim, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind view.

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About the Author

Eli Ellison is a travel writer who specializes in the American Southwest. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, AAA.com and WorldHum.com.