Thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon? This guide tells you all the practical information on how to visit the Grand Canyon South Rim.
The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of the top things to see in the U.S. for both foreign and domestic visitors. Most visitors spend at least 1-2 days in the Grand Canyon National Park even though you can spend much longer at the Grand Canyon without being able to take it all in. This guide specifically talks how to visit the Grand Canyon South Rim to prepare you for your visit.What is the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon is a canyon located in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, USA. It is believed that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River carving through the canyon 5-6 million years ago. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles across and about 1 mile deep. The Grand Canyon area was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years.
Even though the Grand Canyon is not the deepest canyon in the world, it is the most famous due to its overwhelming size and its colorful landscape.
Which Rim at The Grand Canyon Should You Visit?
Since the Grand Canyon is a huge hole in the ground, it has 4 different rims visitors can visit: North, South, West, and East.
Grand Canyon West Rim
The West Rim is the closest point from Las Vegas (2.5 hours from Las Vegas) and therefore easier to get to compare to the other rims at the Grand Canyon. In 2007 the West Rim constructed a horseshoe shape glass walk called Skywalk at Eagle Point which extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Canyon. This glass bridge allows visitors to walk above the 4000 ft drop of the Grand Canyon.
Due to its proximity to Las Vegas and the amazing Skywalk attraction, the West Rim receives the 2nd highest number of visitors to the Grand Canyon among the 4 rims. But this part of the canyon is much narrower and does not offer views of the canyon as you would see in National Geographic magazines.
One thing to note that if you are an avid hiker and plan to do the Havasu Fall hike, the hike is located near the West Rim.
Grand Canyon East Rim
There is not really an “official” East Rim and most people refer to the Desert View point in the east side of South Rim. However, this is not really a true East Rim compare to the North or South Rim. The East side of Grand Canyon is the most difficult to access and it has a pretty low elevation of 4000 ft.
If you are interested in visiting the East side of Grand Canyon, you may be glad to hear that there are some famous sites to see in that region:
- Little Colorado River Gorge: The little Colorado River is responsible for carving some smaller canyons near the Grand Canyon.
- Horseshoe Bend: Located near Page, this natural wonder has become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s one of the only locations where you can see the Colorado River so clearly, but it’s actually not located in the Grand Canyon (it’s located in one of the smaller canyons). It’s a short hike from the parking lot and highly recommended for those who want to get an amazing view of the Canyon. However there is no guard rail at the cliff and there have been many death from falling because people want to sit at the edge for a photo. If you are scared of heights or have small children with you, this may not be the best option.
- Antelope Canyon: Located east of Page, AZ, the Antelope Canyon is a popular destination for both tourists and photographers. There are 2 sections of the Canyon, the upper and lower part that one can visit. There are plenty of tours that visit this spot and it’s good for families. However since it’s so easy and safe to access, expect a lot of crowds. It’s also one of those places that people say that looks better in photos than in real life.
Grand Canyon North Rim
The Grand Canyon North Rim is one of the highest spots to visit in the Grand Canyon, situated at around 8000 ft (2438m). It is one of the harder rims to reach due to the distance from major cities and highways as well as the accumulation of snow.
The north rim of Grand Canyon is only open for visitors between mid May and mid October due to the snowfall in the winter. Only 10% of all visitors to the Grand Canyon go to the North Rim so it’s perfect for those who would like to enjoy a more quiet and peaceful experience. However, besides the short season, another reason that fewer visitors go to the North Rim is because there are fewer view points and activities to do.
There is a rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon that visitors can do to go from the South Rim to the North Rim. However this is a multi-day hike and is not recommended for the hot summer.
Grand Canyon South Rim
The South Rim is the most popular rim to visit at the Grand Canyon. The view of Grand Canyon from the South Rim is also what you see in magazines and on social media.
The South Rim at the Grand Canyon receives about 90% of the visitors to the Grand Canyon. What makes the South Rim so popular? The South Rim has the most number of view points of the Grand Canyon and you can easily see the depth of the Grand Canyon compare to the view from other rims. The South Rim is open all year round, and it’s located at around 7000 feet (2133m) above sea level. There are also more things to do for families and kids in the South Rim.
Another reason why the South Rim is popular is due to the proximity to near by cities. It is 5 hours drive from Las Vegas and Phoenix, about 2 hours from Sedona and 1 hour from Flagstaff. Most tours from Las Vegas or Phoenix will take you to the South Rim as the multiple view points along the South Rim offers unique viewing points and attributes of the canyon.
Weather at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon does not just have dry and hot weather as most visitors would expect. Because the Grand Canyon is at a rather high elevation, the Grand Canyon can see all 4 seasons. Generally speaking, the summer is hot and dry (~50-80F depending on the time of the day) and the winter is freezing with heavy snowfall. There are thunderstorms in the summer so if you are visiting during the summer, make sure to watch out for sudden heavy storm (especially if you are hiking).
If you are hiking in the Grand Canyon, the inner canyon can be extremely hot the lower you hike down to. I read somewhere that the bottom of Grand Canyon is about the same temperature as in Phoenix, so it’s about (100+ F). I will discuss more about hiking in just a minute.
Best time to visit the Grand Canyon
Since the Grand Canyon South Rim is open all year round, you can technically visit any time of the year. But I would highly recommend visiting in early May or mid/late September when the temperature is more mild and dry. It’s about 70-80F during the day but it gets quite cold (40F) at night/early morning so make sure to bring layers. This temperature is from the top of Grand Canyon at 7000ft. If you are planning to hike into the lower canyon, bear in mind that the temperature can still go up to 100F.
How to Visit the Grand Canyon South Rim
The easiest way to get to the Grand Canyon South Rim is to drive from nearby cities.
Fly to the Grand Canyon
I would recommend flying into either Las Vegas, Phoenix or Flagstaff (closest city but may not have direct flights from your city of departure) first. The Grand Canyon South Rim is about 4.5 hours drive from Las Vegas and Phoenix and one hour drive from Flagstaff. However you will more likely get a direct flight to Las Vegas or Phoenix compare to Flagstaff since Vegas and Phoenix are much larger cities.
Bus to the Grand Canyon South Rim
TheGrand Canyon Shuttle Service provides on demand transportation options to the Grand Canyon South Rim from Flagstaff and Sedona.
How to Get Around the Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon National Park makes it extremely easy for visitors to get around the South Rim. Most people either drive their own cars or take the free shuttle bus or a combination of the two. The official map of the Grand Canyon South Rim shows all the bus routes.
Get Around the Grand Canyon South Rim by Bus
There are 4 official routes for theSouth Rim shuttle buses, but only 2 run all year round:
Blue Route: Connects the visitor center to the Village and the lodges. It runs all year round
Orange Route: Connects the visitor center to a few view points east and west of the visitor center. It runs all year round. This is also the shuttle bus to access the South Kaibab Trail (discussed later)
Red Route: Operates from March to November, connects the western end of the South Rim at Hermits Rest to the Bright Angel Trail head west of the Village. Has scenic views of the canyon.
Tusayan Route Park Ride (Purple Route): Runs from March to September, connects the park entrance station to the visitor center because it’s difficult to find parking during the summer months. Once you get to the visitor center, you can take the Orange Route or the Blue Route.
Get Around the Grand Canyon South Rim by Car
The buses come frequently (every 15 – 30 minutes) and they are a very convenient way to get around the South Rim. However if you prefer to drive around with your car you can definitely do that as well. Most view points long the Grand Canyon South Rim have parking lots, with the exception of Yaki Point, the South Kaibab Trail as well as Hermit Road (west of the Village). However with Hermit Road, you can drive to the different view point during the winter month (December, January and February). To access the Hermit Road during March to November, you will need to take the Red Bus from the Village. Hermit Road view points such as Hopi Point are extremely popular places to watch the sunset.
Keep in mind that the South Rim is long and it’s hard to tell the distance on the Map. But if you are trying to get to Desert View (the far most east side of the South Rim) from the Village (west of the visitor’s center), that will take about 40 minutes. Plan your travels accordingly! You can use Google Maps to help you plan and calculate travel time. I would definitely recommend having some buffer time during the summer month because there will be traffic and slow cars on the road.
Where to Stay to Visit at the Grand Canyon
If you are only visiting the Grand Canyon for one day or two, I highly recommend that you stay somewhere nearby to get the most out of your time in the Grand Canyon National Park.
I stayed in Sedona which is about 2 hours away from the South Rim the day before I visited. If you can, try to stay in Flagstaff the night before you visit since it’s much closer. There are also historical lodges situated at the South Rim that you can check out to minimize traveling time.
Things to See at the South Rim
The South Rim entrance is open 24 hours 365 days a year. There is a fee at the entrance station, usually around 30 USD per passenger vehicle for a 7 day pass (there is no one day pass). Motorcycles have a 25USD fee for a 7 day pass.
There are a few days of the year that entrance to the Grand Canyon is free:
Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January
First Day of National Park Week in April
National Public Lands Day in September
Veterans Day in November
For additional information on the cost of visiting the Grand Canyon, please visit the official website.
Once you enter the Grand Canyon National Park, there are several areas you can visit and park your car. This official mapof the Grand Canyon shows in detail all you need to know on the different areas of the South Rim.
To the west of the South Rim is the Village. The Village is a small “town” in the South Rim that has lodging, restaurants, clinic, visitor center, several view points and the trail head to the Bright Angel Trail. There is also a blue bus that connects the Village to the Visitors Center.
The Market Plaza is the business center of the Village with grocery store, bank, post office and is located right next to the Yavapai Lodge.
The visitor center is usually the first stop at the South Rim after visitors enter the Grand Canyon National Park. There are 4 parking lots at the visitor center and it is located right next to the famous Mather Point (I think the Mather Point is famous only because it’s right next to the Visitor Center). The visitor center provides information on the park, the shuttle bus information, hiking information as well as historical information of the Grand Canyon and exhibitions. There is also a gift shop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
Desert View is 40km (25 miles) east of the Visitor Center. There is a watch tower at the desert view point as well as the Tusayan Museum. This view point also provides a good view of the Colorado River. There is a gas station (one of the 2 in the Grand Canyon national Park), bathroom, gift shop and general store at Desert View. Desert View is one of the best spots along the South Rim to watch the Grand Canyon sunset.
The Major View Points of the South Rim
Often times people (including myself) google “best view point on the South Rim” but in reality almost all the view points along the South Rim are great. From the Visitor Center going east, there are 6 major view points shown on the map not including the Mather Point: (Yaki Point, Grandview Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, Navajo Point and Desert View). Yaki Point is only accessible by the orange route shuttle bus (Yaki Point is closed and under construction as of May 2018). The rest of the view points mentioned above have parking lots you can drive to. However besides these major view points, there are random stops along the road that you can just park and enjoy the view without much crowd. I highly recommend stopping by all the view points to take in the view of the Grand Canyon from different angles.
The Hermit Road is a 7 mile scenic drive west of the Village to Hermit Rest. You have to take the red shuttle bus to Hermit Rest between March and November (and drive yourself between December and February). One of the most famous view points on Hermit Road is the Hopi Point, but besides the Hopi Point, there are many other view points: Powell Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Pima Point, etc.
Hiking Trails at the Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon is beautiful when seen from above but it’s even more beautiful when you hike down towards the bottom of the canyon. I read somewhere that 95-97% of the visitors at the Grand Canyon only stop by the different view points. This actually does not surprise me because it is only recently that I found out you can actually hike into the Grand Canyon. I suppose most visitors simply do not know that they can hike into the Grand Canyon or they get intimidated at the steepness of the trail and the hot weather. But what they don’t realize is that hiking into the Grand Canyon is an experience they cannot get anywhere else and the view along the hike is simply incredible.
There are 5 day hikes at the Grand Canyon South Rim:
- Rim Trail: The Rim trail pretty much connects Hermits Rest to the South Kaibab Trail head (east of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center). It’s the easiest “hike” you can do at the South Rim and is the only trail on the top of the rim. This trail is more of a walk than hike since it’s pretty much flat. The Rim trail is paved and under the shade and you can stop to catch a bus along the trail to get back to the visitor center. The Rim Trail is great for families with children or the elderly. You can also bike along the Rim Trail. There is no water on the rim trail.
- Bright Angel Trail starts off near the Bright Angel Lodge in the Village. You can access the Bright Angel Trailhead by car. It’s a steep downward trail going into the inner canyon. It’s mostly covered by the Canyon wall depending on the time of the day and there are water at certain stops on the Bright Angel Trail. The recommended day hike is 9 mile round trip with the lowest view point at Indian Garden with water available. Other view points along the trail include: Resthouse at 1.5 miles (one way), Resthouse at 3 miles before the Indian Garden at 4.5 miles. It is not recommended to go past the Indian Garden on a summer day.
- South Kaibab Trail starts near Yaki Point is the trail head is only accessible by the Orange Shuttle Bus from the Visitor Center. Similar to the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail is a steep downward sloping trail going into the canyon. There is no shade and no water on the trail at all so be sure to bring tons of water and sunscreen for the South Kaibab Trail. The day hike has 3 stops: Ooh-Aah Point at 0.9 mile (one way), Cedar Ridge at 1.5 mile (with a bathroom), and Skeleton Point at the 3 mile mark. It is recommended to turn around at Cedar Ridge on a hot summer day and in cooler weather one should go no further than Skeleton Point. I personally have hiked this trail and think the view along the trail is incredible but some parts of the trail can be steep, especially before reaching Cedar Ridge. If you want to hike from the South Rim to the North Rim, you can take the South Kaibab trail all the way down, but you either need a guide or a camping permit to camp in the inner canyon. You cannot hike back and up within one day.
- Hermit Trail starts 0.25 miles east of Hermits Rests and goes to Santa Maria Spring (5 mile round trip) and Dripping Springs (7 mile round trip). According to the Grand Canyon official website, this trail is not maintained like the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail and is more difficult than those. There is no drinking water along this trail and the water at the spring should be treated. It’s not recommended for beginning hikers.
- Grand View Trailoffers some of the best views of the Grand Canyon but is very steep and unmaintained. Only highly experienced hikers are recommended to do this trail.
Hiking is an amazing way to experience the Grand Canyon but one should use caution when hiking on a hot summer day. Most of the trails do not have water or shade and since they go down from the top of the rim, they can be deceivingly easy. Most people find it much more difficult to hike back up as the trails can be steep. The general rule is that every hour you hike down, it takes 2 hours to hike back up. There are warning signs all over the South Rim warning visitors of the potential dangers of attempting to hike too far deep into the Grand Canyon. There also have been news articles on deaths of hikers either from heat exhaustion, dehydration or accidents involving falling during these Grand Canyon day hikes.
Other Useful Information for Visiting the Grand Canyon
Can I fly a drone in the Grand Canyon?
No. There are signs in the Grand Canyon National Park clearly stating that no drones are allowed.
What camera lens should I bring to the Grand Canyon?
I highly recommend bringing a wide angle lens as well as a zoom lens. The Grand Canyon is so vast that even a wide angle lens cannot do its justice (but it helps!). A zoom lens can help you take some close up photos of the canyon walls and the Colorado River.
Are there gas stations in the Grand Canyon?
There are 2 gas stations according to the official website. However the only one I saw was at Desert View. I would recommend getting gas outside of the Grand Canyon National Park for a cheaper price. The closest town we got gas from was Cameron, southeast of Desert View.
Do I need hiking sticks to hike the Grand Canyon?
If you are steady on your foot then I don’t think hiking sticks are necessary. However if you are scared of steep downward slope then I would recommend you bring at least one hiking stick.
Like this post? Pin it!