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Visiting the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As Floridians visiting for the first time, we thought we could simply spend a day exploring the Grand Canyon National Park, see the hotspots, and move on to the next city nearby. However, we were mistaken! I am here to help make sure you do not make the same mistake we did and that you have the information necessary to plan out your trip accordingly for your visit to One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

How to get there?

You can road trip the entire way to the Grand Canyon! It will be a scenic drive, but it will also be a long drive. Even if you do not decide to road trip the entire way, you will still have to spend some time on the road to get there as the closest major airport is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, about 3.5 hours away from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Harry Reid International Airport is another great option for visiting the Grand Canyon at about a 4-hour drive.

You can also take advantage and explore the Las Vegas Strip while you are there since it is only about 10 to 15 minutes away from that airport. Both of these International Airports are great options for cutting down your travel time to the Grand Canyon - make sure to use Google Flights to find out which airport is the better deal for you.

Google Flight screenshot showing Tampa to Grand Canyon National Park for July 25 - 27, 2023 with options to LAS and PHX

Check out our Google Flights blog to learn how to master this incredible feature and find the best flights always!

When is it open and where is it located?

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round, 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona (via Route 64 from Interstate 40) and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff (via Route 180). The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is open seasonally - this year, it is open between June 2 and October 15, 2023. It is about 40 miles south of Jacob Lake (via Highway 67). The Visitor Centers have different hours, so check their website for the most up-to-date information.

DLT! sitting on a rock with the Grand Canyon in the background

Fun Fact

The average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles between the South and North Rim. However, it takes 5 hours and 215 miles to drive between the two rims.

What about the East Rim and the West Rim?

In relation to the East Rim, it is more so an East Entrance to the park through Desert View. Similar to South Rim, it is open year-round. This area is actually where the gas station and convenience store are. They also have a Trading Post for coffee and ice cream and Desert View Market & Deli. At the east entrance, you will be 23 miles from the Grand Canyon Village in the South Rim.

Peaks of the Grand Canyon with a sliver of the Colorado River in the very back

On the other hand, the West Rim is a completely different area. It is located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation in Peach Springs, AZ and is owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. The West Rim is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park. If you decide to visit each side of the Grand Canyon, you will have to pay separate admission for the West Rim. However, if you are staying in Las Vegas or flying into their airport, you will be 2 hours away from the West Rim, making it easier to visit the Grand Canyon on a day trip. There are plenty of fun activities to do at the West Rim, such as walking on the Skywalk, ziplining, and river rafting. For more information about the West Rim, please visit their website, as this article focuses on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

How much is it to get inside the Grand Canyon National Park?

DLT! standing next to a sign showing what we were looking at in this Grand Canyon stop on the Hermit's Rest loop

The Standard Entrance Pass for a vehicle costs $35, while for a motorcycle it is $30. For bicyclists, hikers, and pedestrians, the admission fee is $20. This pass is valid for seven days and grants access to both the South Rim and the North Rim when it is open. Cash payments are not accepted, so you will need to pay the attendant using a debit or credit card.

You can also purchase an annual entrance ticket for the Grand Canyon only for $70. However, if you enjoy visiting parks in the National Park Service, you can buy an Interagency Pass for $80. This pass will allow you to enter more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States for a year (it does not include admission to the West Rim). For more information on the Interagency Pass, you can visit this website here.
Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim

The good news is that there are a few free days when you can visit the Grand Canyon as well. These 2023 dates are:
- Monday, January 16 — Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Saturday, April 22 — First Day of National Park Week
- Friday, August 4 — The Great American Outdoors Act
- Saturday, September 23 — National Public Lands Day
- Saturday, November 11 — Veterans Day

A Quick Did You Know

We have been to other national parks where there are trees everywhere, trails to more trees, wildlife, lakes, waterfalls, etc., and typically the only "modern" thing around is an outhouse to use the restroom. That is also what we expected to find when visiting the Grand Canyon National Park; however, we quickly found out that it is its own little town! They have hotels, restaurants, general stores, and a gas station! We did not expect it to be its own small town and were blown away. It is one of the main factors why we believe you need more than one day to explore the Grand Canyon National Park and all it has to offer!

Where to stay when visiting the Grand Canyon?

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim with the Colorado River in the back left
You can stay within the Grand Canyon National Park at El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, the other Lodges, or their campsites. You can also stay outside the South Rim entrance in the nearby town of Tusayan, AZ. Here you will find a few other hotel options like The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon - to name a few. Keep in mind, the closer to the Grand Canyon National Park the more it will probably cost.

There are various lodging options nearby, but if you need a different accommodation from those listed above check out hotels and Airbnbs in Williams, AZ, and Flagstaff, AZ. They are approximately one hour and a half from the south entrance of the Grand Canyon. The best option for us was an Airbnb in Flagstaff, AZ, and we were about one and a half hours away.

Where to eat when visiting the Grand Canyon?

Tamale meal at Maswik Lodge
There are seven places to get food within the Grand Canyon. Although most are quick-service or prepackaged food options. There are two restaurants for a classier sit-down experience, one in the Bright Angel Lodge and the other in El Tovar Hotel. Within the Bright Angel Lodge, they have two restaurants - one casual dining and the other with Arizona Cuisine. You can find breakfast, burgers, sandwiches, salads, entrees, and ice cream. El Tovar Hotel is a fine-dining restaurant. You can find Huevos Rancheros and Eggs Benedict for breakfast, Salmon Amandine and a French Onion Bacon Burger for lunch, and Filet Mignon and Braised Lamb Shank for dinner. We stopped at the Maswik Lodge and had their tamale meal. It was pretty good, and the price was reasonable! They also had a pub at the Maswik Lodge with pizza, wings, and beer.

How to explore the Grand Canyon South Rim?

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim with the Colorado River in the back center

You can explore the Grand Canyon by driving, hiking, camping, and by shuttle bus! Our favorite was combining the shuttle bus and hiking. To do this, park in one of the parking lots with a shuttle bus stop nearby, hop on the bus, and get down whenever you spot a trail or place you would like to explore. The bus drivers are great about adding commentary to let you know what you will find at each stop, and they are more than happy to share what their favorite trail is with you! You can continue doing this all day until the shuttles stop going around, and you will see plenty of the South Rim.

A limitation of strictly driving around the Grand Canyon is that access to Hermit Road is restricted to shuttle buses from March 1 through November 30. To explore this area, park at one of the six parking lots near a shuttle bus stop and make your way to the Village Route Transfer. The Hermits Rest Route shuttle bus will take you to Hermit's Rest and back, with multiple stops along the way. (Once you enter the Grand Canyon National Park and pay, the attendant will provide you with a map that will become your best friend as you navigate the park.)

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim

There are three other bus loops: 1) The Village Route, 2) Kaibab/Rim Route, and 3) Tusayan Route. These three bus loops have the same starting point, the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. I will advise you that the Tusayan Route is only good if you are staying in the Grand Canyon National Park without a car and want to visit Tusayan, AZ, or if you park in Tusayan and want to get into the park without having to take your car in. Moreover, this bus only runs from Early Spring to Fall when the parking lots at the Grand Canyon fill up fast.

With that, focus on the Hermits Rest Route (Red), Kaibab / Rim Route (Orange), and the Village Route (Blue). It is recommended to begin with Hermits Rest Route as the shuttles for that route ends earlier than the other two routes. Once you get back to the Village Transfer Point, you can explore the Bright Angel Trail, the most popular hiking trail in the park.

Another bus loop you can skip and instead enjoy from the comfort of your vehicle is the blue Village Route. This bus loop primarily stops at hotels, lodges, and markets, which are all visible from the road as you drive. If you want to visit the general store, shrine, post office, or bank, you can park in the large parking lot. Our favorite highlights of the blue loop were observing the Grand Canyon Railway and the Mule Barn during the day and spotting Moose during the night. Driving through the blue loop without making stops can be done relatively quickly, allowing you to complete it once early in the day and again later in the evening as darkness sets in.

DLT! with the Grand Canyon peaks in the background

Once you finish looping on the blue route, you can hop on the Kaibab / Rim Route orange loop to explore Mather Point, Yavapai Geology Museum, and Yaki Point. After completing the orange loop, you can drive to the East Entrance to visit Desert View Watchtower, a great place to catch the sunset. Without stopping, it will take about 35 minutes to get from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to the Desert View Watchtower. However, there are a few hiking spots along this road that you may care to enjoy. You will also find the Tusayan Museum and Ruin on Desert View Road.

Another great thing to do during your visit to the Grand Canyon is to partake in one of the free daily park ranger programs. It is almost like a guided tour with one of the park rangers, where you will learn about geology, fossils, plants, animals, and more. There are even programs for children ages 6 - 14 during the summer!

Truly, it is not possible to complete all of those activities in a single day. If you adhere to this itinerary, it will take approximately two to three days to accomplish everything. It's important not to rush the experience and to ensure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Remember to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks in between. Additionally, allocate some time to take breaks during the hikes and be aware of your personal limits. Furthermore, if you plan to spend a significant amount of time at each shuttle stop, it will extend your overall duration, so be sure to allow yourself enough time for your visit to the Grand Canyon. There is a reason why your admission is valid for seven days. There is so much to do, so much to explore, and so much rich history!

For the Hikers

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim

It is also possible to hike across the Grand Canyon from South to North Rim, but it is not advisable to do it all at once, meaning you will need to camp. So, research the route, purchase the appropriate gear, get your camping permits, and train yourself in advance. It is a serious task and a strenuous trail!

The Highlights

DLT! catching a break and taking a selfie in the middle of their hike at the Grand Canyon
A few of the highlights of this trip were seeing the amazing beautiful red rock formations, catching a glimpse of the Colorado River from way up high, seeing a family of Moose, the shuttle bus system, and the realization that the Grand Canyon National Park is a small town with a general store!

The unfortunate part for us was that we did not research the Grand Canyon National Park enough before our trip, so we did not have much time to explore it all! Either way, we had a lot of fun, gathered a ton of information, and are here to tell you to make sure you schedule extra time in your Grand Canyon itinerary just in case. You do not want to rush the experience there is a reason why this is one of the most popular national parks!

A Must-See Destination, the Grand Canyon National Park

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim

The Grand Canyon is an excellent place for couples, friends, and families to visit! The best time to visit would be in the Spring before the heat becomes unbearable and it gets too dangerous to hike. Keep in mind, due to the elevation, it does get cold during the night, so make sure to pack a sweater and some leggings/pants just in case!

Have you been to the Grand Canyon National Park? If so, let us know in the comments below - we would love to hear about your trip and which rims you were able to visit! If you have not gone, is it on your bucket list of places to visit now? Let us know in the comments below, and share this article with the person or people you want to go with! Either way, SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places you should add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!

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