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View from the South Rim | © Roger Bolsius/Wikicommons
View from the South Rim | © Roger Bolsius/Wikicommons

A Practical Guide to The Grand Canyon

Picture of Alexia Wulff
Updated: 9 May 2017

The Grand Canyon, a 277-mile-long, 18-mile-wide, and one-mile-deep canyon, is Arizona’s most visited tourist attraction and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Said to have been carved by the Colorado River over five million years ago – though recent studies suggest it could be as much as 70 million years old – the canyon exposes nearly two billion years of the Earth’s geological history within its eroded walls.

For thousands of years, Native Americans have settled on these lands and within its caves; today, the park is preserved by the National Park Service, the Hualapai, Havasupai and Navajo Nations, and welcomes over five million visitors each year.


Choose Your Rim

The Grand Canyon National Park is an immensely large attraction, separated into two different rims: the South Rim and North Rim. The West Rim (or, Grand Canyon West) is technically located outside the park boundaries, and as such, is a less popular destination. The South Rim, the most accessible and popular part of the park, is open year-round and counts visitor centers, lodging, trails, and over 20 viewpoints within its parameters. With its proximity to Arizona towns like Tusayan, Williams, and Flagstaff, it makes for an ideal destination; however, expect crowds, especially during the busy season. The North Rim, open mid-May through mid-October, is the more remote part of the Park – there’s a visitor center, hiking, mule rides and river rafting; however, roads close during winter, so be sure to check the National Park Service website before planning a trip. The West Rim, located on a Hualapai Indian reservation west of the South Rim, is a popular destination for those departing from Las Vegas.

Getting There

Located less than 100 miles from Arizona’s more populated towns, the Grand Canyon is just a few hours’ drive away; it is only accessible by car. For those headed to the South Rim, there are two entrances: Grand Canyon Village in the south and Desert View in the east; if you’re opting for the North Rim, prepare to drive a few hundred extra miles; and if you’re departing from Las Vegas, head to the West Rim, the closest region. The North Rim can be reached from the South Rim via hiking; or you can opt for the Transcanyon Shuttle, a five-hour journey.

Panoramic view of Grand Canyon - South Rim | © World Wide Gifts/Wikicommons

Panoramic view of Grand Canyon – South Rim | © World Wide Gifts/Wikicommons

What To See & Do

The Grand Canyon is known for breathtaking views and stunning scenery, but the area also offers many other activities to appreciate the beauty of the park. There are guided tours available, including helicopter and railway tours, hiking, white-water rafting, backpacking, boating, and horseback and mule rides. If you’re only here for the day, be sure to walk along the South Rim Trail for the best views of the Canyon; if you’re planning to stay for a few days, backpack to Havasupai and Mooney Falls; book a guided tour that ventures into the underground caves; go on an overnight backpacking trip; or stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon. If you’re headed to the West Rim, be sure to stop at the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass structure that extends 70 feet over the rim’s edge.

Grand Canyon in fog | © Public Domain/Wikicommons

Grand Canyon in fog | © Public Domain/Wikicommons

Where To Stay

The surrounding cities of the Grand Canyon, like Phoenix, Flagstaff, Williams, Tusayan, Sedona, and Las Vegas all have plenty of lodging to choose from; however, if you’re looking to stay inside the park, there’s the El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Yavapai Lodge and Phantom Ranch (South Rim), the Hualapai Ranch and Cabins and Grand Canyon Ranch (West Rim), and the Grand Canyon Lodge & Cabins (North Rim). Pro tip: book early as lodging within the park usually fills up a year in advance.

The North Rim, with its remote location, has less options for lodging, but those who venture here prefer to camp at one of the campgrounds or RV camp sites (permit required); for those less nature-inclined, opt for a hotel in neighboring towns, like Lees Ferry in Arizona, or Fredonia in Utah.

Phantom Ranch in fall | © Fredlyfish4/Wikicommons

Phantom Ranch in fall | © Fredlyfish4/Wikicommons

Where To Eat

For eats located within the park on the South Rim, the only restaurants are located within the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges: the Arizona Room, Bright Angel Restaurant, Canyon Café at Yavapai Lodge, El Tovar Dining Room, and Maswik Cafeteria; in the North Rim, there’s the Deli in the Pines, Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room, and Grand Cookout, located in the Grand Canyon Lodge; West Rim visitors should be advised there aren’t any restaurants nearby, so be sure to pack a lunch or book a guided tour.