The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular places to visit in the US. Planning your trip to the Grand Canyon is essential for touring the area in the best possible way.
This natural wonder is by far the most popular tourist destination in America. Every year, more than 5 million people make a trip to the Grand Canyon for a glimpse of the beautiful scenery. The vast canyon has steep cliff sides that have been carved by the Colorado River over millions of years. Touring the Grand Canyon is a dream for many, especially as it offers so much.
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There are many different viewpoints and an abundance of ways to experience the vast national park. The Grand Canyon is a must-visit on any west coast itinerary. Whether you are a first time visitor, or a returning one, this guide will help you get the most out of your trip to the Grand Canyon.
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Getting to the Grand Canyon National Park
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To get to the Grand Canyon, many visitors fly or drive to a close-by city such as Phoenix or Las Vegas, or for North Rim visitors, Salt Lake City is the more ideal starting location. If you decide to fly, renting a car is a necessity to visit the Grand Canyon as there is very limited public transportation in this region. Who can say no to a road trip anyway?!
If you are embarking on a roadtrip this is a destination that should be on every west coast itinerary.
After driving from the city to the desired rim you’d like to visit, you will need to park your car and use the national park shuttle buses which provide good transport links. If you are looking for an alternative way to reach the Grand Canyon in a fun, educational, and historic way, try the Grand Canyon Railway. The railway begins in the town of Williams and runs to the South Rim.
Top Tip: If you choose to rent a car, you can do so from Rentalcars.com.
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What is the Grand Canyon?
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The Grand Canyon is a large formation that was created over millions of years as the Colorado River eroded the rock. It stretches for over 446km and is widely considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The rock found at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon is thought to be around 2 billion years old.
The Grand Canyon was the fifteenth area in the United States to officially be declared a national park and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The park is home to a number of visitor centres and shops which are operated by the Grand Canyon Association, a non-profit partner of the national park.
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Which Rim of the Grand Canyon Should you Choose for you Trip?
The South Rim is often chosen by visitors that are touring the Grand Canyon for the first time. It is well-known for its beautiful movie-like views and convenient visitor services. The South Rim offers around 24 different vantage points, with many spots where you can peer down to the bottom of the canyon.
This makes for a truly iconic trip to the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is one of the best places to photograph the canyon, many images found in the media are taken from this rim. It is also the most convenient and accessible rim of the Grand Canyon and it’s open year-round which is always a plus if you’re touring on your own time.
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The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is much less busy than the South Rim and is perfect if you don’t enjoy crowds when touring a new place. This side of the canyon is less well known, meaning fewer tourists to share the view with. The North Rim only offers a few viewpoints, but they are never busy.
If your looking for a more adventurous trip to the Grand Canyon then the North Rim is perfect. Some of the viewpoints are only accessible through long treks on windy dirt roads which makes for a great adventure. The North Rim offers the highest viewpoints, sitting over 8,000 feet above the canyon floor. It’s only open half of the year and has fewer facilities for visitors so bear this in mind when planning your trip.
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Things to do at the Grand Canyon National Park
Beyond visiting viewpoints, the Grand Canyon offers many different activities to experience the full raw beauty of the canyon.
Hiking is a wonderful way to experience the canyon from the inside. There are multiple unique trail options. From short hikes lasting a few hours to multiple day hikes reaching from the South Rim to the North Rim. Hiking down first and then back up is an unusual experience compared to most hikes you’ll encounter in your life.
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Rafting through the canyon on the Colorado River is one of the most exciting and up-close ways to experience the canyon. The 189-mile adventure takes you through the base of the Grand Canyon. From here you are able to look 1 mile above you to the top of the cliffs. You can find guided trips or acquire a permit for a private trip.
Taking a helicopter ride through the canyon offers a unique vantage point of the canyon at an exhilarating height. You are able to look out at the vast and deep canyon from the comfort of your seat.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
You’ll find the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the west side of the canyon. The skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed walkway that extends 70 feet over the canyon. If you are a thrill seeker or love heights, peer over the balcony or through the floor. It’s a whopping 4,000 feet drop below you.
Visit A Waterfall
The Grand Canyon is filled with beautiful defining water features, such as the main river and many waterfalls. You can hike to one of these destinations either privately or on a guided tour. Take a beat and relax the rest of the day in the cool pristine water.
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Where to Stay in the Grand Canyon
If you desire to stay close to the South Rim you have several options for accommodation. It’s possible to stay in the park itself while touring, at the Grand Canyon Lodges, RV spots, and camping sites, however, these require reservations up to a year in advance. If you’re looking for more immediate holiday options, check out the close-by villages outside of the National Park, such as Tusayan and Williams.
Tusayan is located 2 miles outside of the South Entrance of the National Park and offers various accommodations from popular well-known hotel names to local motels. Tusayan hotels fill up quickly during the tourist season so if you want to stay close to the South Rim book your stay in advance. If you are unable to book accommodation in Tusayan for the dates you want, fear not, for you have one more option to make your trip to the Grand Canyon.
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The next closest village is Williams, 60 miles from the South Rim. Williams is home to the famous Grand Canyon Railway and remains relatively busy throughout the season although accommodation is easy to find. Williams offers a few hotels and motels, but many people come to Williams for the camping options in the Kaibab National Forest. Whatever you choose, make sure to book in advance if you can to make sure that you have the best experience touring the Grand Canyon.
La Quinta is set in Williams and features a bar, shared lounge and free wifi. This 3-star hotel offers comfort and comes highly rated. The hotel features an indoor pool and a fitness centre. Guest rooms are fitted with air conditioning, a microwave, coffee facilities and a private bathroom.
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Top Pick: Grand Canyon RV Glamping
Grand Canyon RV Glamping is located in Williams. The camp offers family rooms that are air conditioning, a seating area, kitchen, bathroom and a dining area. The property also offers guests a sun terrace, a barbecue area and free wifi. Grand Canyon RV Glamping offers a unique experience to visitors to the Grand Canyon.
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Top Pick: Grand Canyon Railway Hotel
Located near the William Depot rail station, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel offers guests an indoor pool and a hot tub. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurants and pub as well as free wifi. Some rooms feature a kitchenette. This hotel offers comfort and a unique style that you can expect in the Canyon area.
Guests can enjoy a breakfast buffet each morning. Families will love this choice as the property offers a children’s playground, a horseshoe pit and a volleyball court.
Top Pick: The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is located in Tusayan. This 5-star hotel offers guests an onsite restaurant, bar and shared lounge. Guests can enjoy the indoor pool, fitness centre and evening entertainment for guests to wind down. All guests rooms are equipped with air conditioning, microwaves, coffee machine and private bathrooms. There is also a business centre where guests can check newspapers, use the fax machine and photocopier.
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Staying close to the North Rim is easier than the South Rim due to its limited tourist season, however, you still need to book accommodation far in advance to make sure your trip goes smoothly. The accommodation options for the North Rim are remote and intimate. They are in high demand and often get booked up well in advance.
The North Rim offers a singular historic lodge in the park, The Grand Canyon Lodge and it’s often booked. Nearby to the entrance, there are a limited number of motels. These range from Kaibab Lodge just outside of the national park to the Jacob Lake Inn, over 44 miles north of the rim.
Most people visiting the North Rim acquire Backcountry passes and camp within the canyon or in surrounding areas. Finding the right accommodation is one of the most important aspects of touring the Grand Canyon.
The Arizona Luxury Expeditions is located in Tusayan and offers tented accommodation and free private parking. All units offer a seating and dining area and basic amenities. Guests can enjoy an a la carte or American breakfast.
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No matter which rim you visit, where you stay, and what you do while you’re touring, the Grand Canyon National Park will leave you awestruck and should be on any traveller’s bucket list.
Written by Kieren Windsor. Kieren is from Wales and is passionate about adventure and backpacking. He has spent much of his time travelling in Europe and South-East Asia. Kieren shares tips and travel guides over at Got My Backpack.