Are you looking forward to visiting the Grand Canyon someday, but do you need some more information? Read this article for tips and an overview of the most beautiful sights.
Where is the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon is located in the north of the US state of Arizona. Grand Canyon National Park is approximately a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix (Arizona), a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas (Nevada), and a 7.5-hour drive from Los Angeles (California).
It is most convenient to visit the Grand Canyon by car. Do you need to arrange a rental car? For Europeans, it is convenient to reserve a rental car through AutoEurope or Sunny Cars. Then you know for sure that the right insurance is included. If you’re from any other part of the world, you might want to check Rental Cars or Discover Cars for cheap rentals.
The best way to reach the Grand Canyon by public transport is by bus from Flagstaff (Arizona). You can reach Flagstaff by train or bus from many large US cities.
How did the Grand Canyon originate?
The Grand Canyon is an enormously wide and deep canyon that has been carved out over the years by the Colorado River. This is a process that continues, so the canyon keeps changing (very slowly).
At the moment, the Grand Canyon is about 1,600 meters deep and 435 kilometers long. The width of the Grand Canyon varies from 15 to 29 kilometers.
Visiting the Grand Canyon: how much does it cost?
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the greatest attractions in the United States. What does a visit to Grand Canyon National Park cost? Entering the park by car will cost you $ 35 and your ticket is valid for 7 days. You can buy this ticket when you arrive at the park or online.
Check the official website for the latest prices and to purchase a digital ticket.
Tip Are you planning on visiting more National Parks during a USA road trip? Then it is often cheaper to buy an America the Beautiful annual pass. It is valid in almost all of the US National Parks and National Monuments and is valid for one year. An annual pass costs $ 80 and can be purchased at the entrance of the first park you visit.
North Rim or South Rim?
Grand Canyon National Park has a visitor center in two places, the South Rim and the North Rim. Which of the two should you visit? And what about the West Rim?
The North Rim is the least accessible rim of the Grand Canyon. Las Vegas is the closest major city and from there it is still a 4.5-hour drive to the North Rim. The North Rim is at a higher altitude than the South Rim, so it’s covered in snow in Winter. The access road to the North Rim usually only opens between mid-May and mid-October. Because it is so difficult to get to, not many people visit the North Rim. Which can be a big plus!
The South Rim is by far the best known and most visited part of Grand Canyon National Park. The South Rim is open all year round and is best accessible from many major cities in Southwest USA. At the South Rim, you can enjoy the phenomenal view of the Grand Canyon from more than 20 viewpoints. There are also restaurants and various accommodations to spend the night here.
What about Grand Canyon West?
Grand Canyon West and the Grand Canyon Skywalk (a large see-through bridge over the canyon!) Are the closest to Las Vegas (a 2.5-hour drive). Good to know: Grand Canyon West is not part of Grand Canyon National Park and therefore has separate entrance fees. The America the Beautiful annual pass is not valid here.
Near Grand Canyon West are Havasupai Falls, one of the most beautiful places in the USA. This is located on an Indian reservation and you can only go here with a reservation for the campsite or the lodge. The reservations open once a year and are sold out in no time. Havasupai Falls are also not officially part of Grand Canyon National Park.
Best time to visit the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) is open all year round. These are the best times to visit the Grand Canyon:
- March-May: Nice weather and quiet (just before the high season). Wear layers because it can get pretty chilly.
- September – November: The crowds have left, and it’s nice and quiet. Temperatures are still good and most trails are still open (especially in September and October).
The high season is from June to August. Nice temperatures (occasional some thunderstorms in July and August), but it can get very crowded in the park. Yet there are always some quiet spots to be found, although you sometimes have to walk a little further. It is very quiet from December to February. It can get very cold, but that can also be very beautiful.
How much time do you need for the Grand Canyon?
That all depends on what you want to do! Do you want to visit all viewpoints or just a couple? Do you want to go on long hikes or is one short hike ok with you? I would recommend at least a full day when you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, so you can explore the South Rim. Make sure to stay in the park for at least one night, because the sunset at the Grand Canyon is gorgeous!
Things to do in the Grand Canyon
What to do when you’re visiting the Grand Canyon? These are the most beautiful things to do in Grand Canyon National Park:
I always start a visit to the US National Parks at the visitor center and can really recommend doing this when you arrive at the Grand Canyon. In the visitor center, you can learn a lot about the origin of the Grand Canyon and you can get information about the most beautiful places to visit and the best hiking trails.
The view of the Grand Canyon is phenomenal and it is not without reason that there are dozens of different and amazing Grand Canyon viewpoints. It may be a bit much to visit them all, but I can at least recommend these viewpoints:
- Mather Point
- Hopi Point
- Yavapai Point
- Desert View
- Bright Angel Point (North Rim)
Pro tip: Shoshone Point. This is not an official viewpoint and therefore not many people know about it. It is located along Desert View Road, just off Yaki Point Road. Here you will see a dirt road with a barrier at one point. From here you have to walk about 1.5 kilometers (20 minutes) to get to the viewpoint. It’s not illegal to visit this viewpoint, but it might be closed when there is an event (for example a wedding). There is a toilet and some picnic tables, so it’s a great place to spend some time. This is one of the most tranquil and beautiful viewpoints in the Grand Canyon.
In addition to visiting the viewpoints, it is also nice to go on a couple of hikes in Grand Canyon National Park. These are some of the most beautiful (and therefore very popular) trails:
- South Rim Trail – This is an easy trail along the South Rim (you’ll probably hike a section of it without knowing it when you walk from one viewpoint to another). The trail is accessible by shuttle bus in several places, so you can walk as far as you want.
- Bright Angel Trail – This is one of the most spectacular trails because you hike into the canyon. You can make this trail as long as you want, the longest version is about 19 kilometers. Note: hiking down is easy, but you also have to go back up and that takes (at least) twice as long.
- South Kaibab Trail – This is also a very beautiful trail where you descend into the canyon. The total length is about 10 kilometers, but just like the Bright Angel Trail you can decide to go back earlier. Please note that the trail head of the South Kaibab Trail is not accessible by car, you must take the shuttle bus to get there.
Check this page for an overview of day hikes in Grand Canyon National Park.
Helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon
If you are in Grand Canyon National Park, you will regularly see a helicopter flying over. And you can be in one of them! A helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon is said to be very spectacular (I still regret not doing this) and you can book it here.
Actually, the sunset (and also the sunrise) is something you should see in every National Park in America. They are phenomenal. Also in the Grand Canyon. During the sunset, the red rocks turn even redder. A spectacular sight!
Shuttle bus in Grand Canyon National Park
You can’t get everywhere in Grand Canyon National Park by car, so several shuttle buses run there, which is very convenient. These buses run regularly (you never have to wait for long) and there are various routes. So check if you’re on the right bus before entering. All information about shuttle buses in the Grand Canyon can be found on this page.
Where to stay?
During your road trip in Southwest USA, it is recommended to sleep at least one night in (or near) Grand Canyon National Park. These are your best options:
In the park
Lodges: there are several lodges in the park where you can reserve a room. The Bright Angels Lodge is the most popular and has a long history. You need to book a room in a lodge early (at least 6 months in advance, but preferably longer!) And you can do that via this website.
Camping: There are two campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park: the North Rim Campground (open mid-May through the end of October) and the Mather Campground (open year-round, near the South Rim). I myself slept at the Mather Campground and in my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful campsites in Southwest USA. You can make an online reservation for both campsites. More information can be found on this page.
Just outside the park in Tusayan
Are you unable to secure a spot in the park itself? Then the town of Tusayan is a good base. From here it is only a 20-minute drive to the South Rim. You can book a hotel room in Tusayan via Booking.com. More options (including special places to stay such as a nice bungalow or trailer) can be found via Airbnb.
Want to read more about the Grand Canyon?
Are you looking for more comprehensive information about Grand Canyon National Park? I can recommend these travel guides:
Do you want to read more about Southwest USA? I also wrote these articles:
- West Coast USA road trip: a spectacular itinerary
- Bryce Canyon National Park: the best trails, the best viewpoints & practical tips
- Awesome day trips from Las Vegas
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