Plan the Ultimate Grand Canyon Vacation With These Expert Tips

Planning a Grand Canyon vacation? Kristen Czudak, an outdoor enthusiast who has hiked it from top to bottom (literally), has all the info you need to succeed.

The Grand Canyon is a timeless destination that attracts almost 5 million visitors annually.

It’s one of the great natural wonders of the world – an awe-inspiring place sculpted over millennia.

Is this the year you’ll finally visit?

Well, take the guesswork out of planning the trip with our ultimate Grand Canyon vacation guide for 2024!

It includes all the info you need for an unforgettable trip, including a comprehensive breakdown of where to go, what to do, and where to stay.

A view of Grand Canyon’s North Rim from the Widforss Trail. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

Grand Canyon: A Tale of Two Rims

It may surprise some planners to discover that Grand Canyon National Park encompasses two separate rims: the North Rim and the South Rim.

Equally surprising is the distance between them – approximately 4 hours by car. If you want to visit both on the same trip, schedule at least two days, preferably three, to spend a day on each rim. And be sure to account for the drive time in between.

Each rim has unique characteristics to consider when planning a Grand Canyon vacation.

Summary of the South Rim

  • Closer to larger towns
  • More lodging accommodations
  • More amenities
  • Closer to major airports
  • Open year-round
  • Far more heavily visited (majority of the 5 million annual visitors)
  • More crowded facilities, campgrounds, buildings, and trails during peak season
  • Summer is peak season
  • The best time of year to visit is spring and fall

Closest Town(s) to the South Rim:

  • Tusayan, AZ: 12 minutes
  • Williams, AZ: 1 hour
  • Flagstaff, AZ: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Summary of the North Rim

  • Further from larger towns
  • More rustic and spread out
  • Fewer amenities
  • Further from major airports
  • Closed in the winter
  • Far fewer annual visitors
  • Less crowded facilities, campgrounds, buildings, and trails during peak season
  • Summer is peak season
  • The best time to visit is late spring and early fall

Closest Towns to the North Rim:

  • Jacob Lake, AZ: 1 hour
  • Fredonia, AZ: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Kanab, UT: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Views to die for on the Bright Angel Trail. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

Quick Tips for Your Grand Canyon Vacation

1. Check the Forecast Before

The Grand Canyon sees it all: brutally hot temperatures, flash floods, ice, sleet, snow, thunderstorms, even tornadoes! Make sure you check the forecast ahead of time so you can plan and pack accordingly (here are some tips on what to wear hiking).

2. Leave Pets at Home

Pets are not allowed in Grand Canyon National Park! Avoid the disappointment of showing up with your pet pooch only to realize they can’t come with you.

3. Stay on Designated Trails

Unless you have the necessary skills, equipment, and backcountry passes, it’s important to stick to marked hiking trails. Don’t, and you risk personal injury.

4. Bring Plenty of Water

It goes without saying, but staying hydrated is all-important! This is especially true in summer when temperatures at the Grand Canyon can exceed 100 degrees (higher than 38°C).

5. Book Lodging Accommodations Far in Advance

The Grand Canyon is a popular place! Lodging fills up fast. Make sure you book well ahead – months, if possible – to avoid disappointment.

6. Have a Pre-Planned Itinerary

Plan your itinerary in advance, too. It’ll ensure you see everything you want to at the Grand Canyon and don’t waste precious time/energy on the trip.

A glimpse of Grand Canyon’s iconic red rock on the North Kaibab Trail. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

Best Things to Do in the Grand Canyon

No Grand Canyon vacation guide would be complete without a list of the best things to do! There is something for everyone. Here are a few unmissable activities:

Hiking

Perhaps the biggest draw to the Grand Canyon is its hiking opportunities. After all, you’re there to witness one of the grandest displays of nature in the world. What better way to experience it than by trekking some of the best hiking trails in the Grand Canyon?

Best Hiking Trails on the South Rim:

1. Rim Trail

This 13-mile-long trail is a gift for hikers of all ages, and abilities. It parallels the entire South Rim, is relatively flat, and is mainly paved.

Along its 13-mile stretch, you will pass numerous overlooks, including Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Hopi Point, as well as galleries, dining, the historic Bright Angel Lodge, and the South Rim Visitor Center.

A free South Rim shuttle makes multiple stops along the Rim Trail, so you can pick and choose where to get on and get off and how much of the trail you wish to hike. 

2. The Bright Angel Trail

This is perhaps the most iconic and most popular trail in the entire park. It is also a favorite due to its easy accessibility.

The trailhead is in the heart of Grand Canyon Village, right on the South Rim, close to lodging, dining, parking, and other amenities. It is well-maintained and has bathrooms, water refill stations, and campgrounds.

That being said, the Bright Angel Trail is still one of the most demanding trails in the country.

It delves all the way down into the heart of the Grand Canyon before reaching the mighty Colorado River. The descent is the easy part. It’s climbing back up the South Rim where the real challenge lies.

Completing a roundtrip hike down and up Bright Angel is more commonly known as completing a “Rim to River hike”.

The payoff is worth the reward, however, as you pass iconic sights along the way, like Havasupai Garden Campground, multiple series of switchbacks like the Devil’s Corkscrew and Jacob’s Ladder, and the gentle Garden Creek. 

While it is possible to hike the Bright Angel Trail year-round, special care must be taken in the summer months if planning to hike this inner corridor trail. Daytime temperatures can soar into the triple digits. That’s why we recommend hiking it in spring and fall.

Explore valleys galore if you hike the Bright Angel Trail. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.
3. The South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail is a counterpart to the Bright Angel Trail. It also traverses the South Rim wall all the way to the bottom and the Colorado River.

Similar in length and elevation gain, the main difference is the trailhead is more remote and difficult to access. Visitors are not allowed to park at the trailhead, so the only way to arrive is by the free park shuttle or by taxi.

The South Kaibab Trail is arguably more stunning than the Bright Angel Trail, though, with multiple overlooks like Ooh Aah Point and Cedar Ridge.

Similar to hiking Bright Angel, we don’t recommend hiking it in summer. The extreme temperatures and the fact there are no water refill stations make it a recipe for trouble. 

Best Hiking Trails on the North Rim

1. The Widforss Trail

In stark contrast to the open, exposed trails of the South Rim, the Widforss Trail is welcomingly shady. This peaceful, relatively flat, 10-mile-long trail parallels the North Rim, much like the Rim Trail on the South Rim.

The main difference is that the Widforss Trail is far less busy. It has an aura of quiet peacefulness amongst the ponderosa pine groves.

Don’t worry, this trail isn’t just forest. There are plenty of openings in the canopy where hikers can witness stunning overlooks of the North Rim, including the trail terminus at Widforss Point.  

2. The North Kaibab Trail

The North Kaibab Trail is the inner canyon counterpart to the South Rim’s Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails.

In fact, these 3 corridor trails meet at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and for the truly adventurous, it is possible to connect these trails to complete an epic Rim to Rim hike across the enormous span of the Grand Canyon.

Only 1% of park visitors ever join this elite club of Rim to Rim finishers! And for good reason: it requires months of preparation and a detailed Rim to Rim training plan to safely and responsibly complete.

The North Kaibab Trail, whether hiked individually or in conjunction with a connecting South Rim inner corridor trail, is a completely different world from the South Rim.

You’ll witness deep red and maroon rock walls, gentle streams, blazing yellow aspen trees, and even the humble Ribbon Falls waterfall!  There are bathrooms, water refill stations, and camping along the North Kaibab Trail.

Views to die for on the Bright Angel Trail. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

Scenic Overlooks

If a full hiking trail is not part of your preferred Grand Canyon vacation guide, rest assured there are plenty of other shorter ways to take in the best sights.

The aforementioned Rim Trail on the South Rim is one of the best ways to sample a handful of easy-to-reach scenic overlooks, such as Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Hopi Point. 

Visitor Centers

The National Park Visitor Centers, located on both the North and South Rims, are a great opportunity to learn more about the unique history and geology of the park by viewing exhibits, participating in programs, and chatting with Rangers. 

National Park Lodges

Whether you are staying in a park lodge or just want to visit for the day, these historic and impressive buildings are worth a walk around. They also contain dining options.

The Grand Canyon Railway

This scenic, family-friendly activity is one of the most relaxing ways to see the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon Railway runs year-round from nearby Williams and offers unending views of the South Rim from the comfort of your seat.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours

One unforgettable way to experience the Grand Canyon is on a helicopter tour. There are multiple tour guides and operators, with departures from Grand Canyon Airport on the South Rim or Las Vegas. 

Colorado River Rafting Tours

For the adrenaline junkies, nothing is more thrilling than rafting the heart of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River itself! There are multiple tour guides and operators that can take you out for the trip of a lifetime on the strongest force in the Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon Skywalk

For a completely unique way to see the Grand Canyon, check out the Grand Canyon Skywalk, located in the area of Grand Canyon West. This glass-enclosed bridge is suspended 70 feet out over the South Rim for perfect unobstructed views.

Where you stay at the Grand Canyon, you’ll be close to epic displays of nature. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

Where to Stay in the Grand Canyon

Accommodation options include lodging both inside and outside the park in various towns surrounding both the South and North Rims. Outside the park, you’ll find towns with small hotels, vacation rentals, and some private RV parks and campgrounds. 

There are numerous options if you wish to stay inside the park, such as National Park lodges and campgrounds. These tend to fill up early, though, so we highly recommend making advance reservations.

National Park Lodges

  • Bright Angel Lodge (South Rim)
  • El Tovar Hotel (South Rim)
  • Kachina Lodge (South Rim)
  • Thunderbird Lodge (South Rim)
  • Maswik Lodge (South Rim)
  • Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim)

National Park Campgrounds

  • Mather Campground (South Rim)
  • North Rim Campground (North Rim)
  • Cottonwood Campground (North Rim – inner canyon on North Kaibab Trail)
  • Bright Angel Campground (North Rim – inner canyon on North Kaibab Trail)
  • Havasupai Garden Campground (South Rim – inner canyon on Bright Angel Trail)

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is an overnight lodge and cabins located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, near the intersection of the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel/South Kaibab Trails.  Advance reservations are required and very difficult to obtain.

Make sure your Grand Canyon vacation involves an adventure or two. Photo Credit: Yonderlust Ramblings.

FAQs for Visiting the Grand Canyon

Where is Grand Canyon National Park?

Grand Canyon National Park is in northern Arizona.

How much does it cost to enter the national park?

$35 per vehicle (good for seven consecutive days)

When is the national park open?

Hours: The South Rim is open daily, 24 hours a day.  The North Rim closes in winter (mid-October to mid-May).

Where are the closest airports to the Grand Canyon?

The closest airports to the Grand Canyon are Grand Canyon Airport, Flagstaff Pulliam, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International, which are all in Arizona, and George Regional Airport, in Utah. They all offer rental cars if you need one.

What is the best time of year to visit the South Rim?

Summer is peak season at the South Rim. However, due to the daytime temperatures within the canyon, there are some activities that are not ideal during the summer, particularly hiking.  Inner canyon hiking is not recommended during the day in the summer.

Spring and fall months are much more ideal for hiking in the canyon.  The South Rim remains open in the winter, but it does receive occasional snow and ice, which do not mix well with hiking or walking near the canyon walls or cliffs.

When is the best time of year to visit the North Rim?

Late spring through early fall is ideal for visiting the North Rim. The higher elevation offers cooler temperatures during the summer, making it a great alternative to the hotter temperatures on the South Rim during the heart of summer.

The North Rim is closed during the winter months. Because of the higher elevation, the North Rim receives much heavier snow than the South Rim, making it inaccessible to traffic during the winter.

Love visiting national parks?

Don’t miss these posts about the best West Coast parks and best East Coast Parks.

Author: Kristen Czudak

Bio:

Kristen Czudak is the owner and author behind Yonderlust Ramblings, specializing in active travel resources and guides.  Discover just how far your own two feet can take you!

Flipboard