Grand Canyon National Park is the second-most visited national park, just behind Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s one of America’s most distinguishable natural landmarks, not to mention one of the seven natural wonders of the entire world.
Even those that don’t venture down into the canyon during their visit are amazed by the geological forces that have shaped the region for millennia. But hiking into the Inner Gorge puts things into a whole new perspective
Why Visit Grand Canyon National Park?
The Grand Canyon is truly a sight you have to see to believe. It’s a mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles wide. Photos or videos don’t do it justice as the canyon’s sheer size is astonishing.
From many points on the river, it’s impossible to catch a glimpse of the river winding by below. That river is responsible for so much of the canyon’s history, but there’s a story to be told in the layers of ancient rock visible from every angle.
It’s a bucket list destination and something everyone should see in their lifetime. Its name says it all; it’s truly “grand” and a jaw-dropping masterpiece that will leave you speechless.
Here are some other reasons to visit the Grand Canyon:
- The canyon is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
- Geological activity and erosion have been at work here for more than six million years.
- It’s home to 373 bird species, 91 species of mammals, 58 reptile species, and 18 fish species.
- The Village of Supai (the only village in the canyon) is the most remote village in the lower 48 states. They still receive deliveries by mule.
When to Visit
The Grand Canyon area experiences various weather conditions due to its wide elevation span. On average, temperatures rise roughly 5.5℉ for every 1,000 feet of elevation loss. The canyon itself impacts the weather, and conditions differ greatly from the North Rim to the South Rim.
Late spring and early fall, however, tend to be the best times to visit. But no matter what time of year you head to the Grand Canyon, check the weather in advance and plan accordingly to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
Grand Canyon National Park in the Spring
While temperatures aren’t as warm as in the summer, most of the snow has melted by late spring, and new precipitation is rare. You won’t experience summer crowds yet, and average high temperatures begin to climb into the 70s by May. However, overnight temperatures below freezing are still common if you visit in March, April, and sometimes early May.
Grand Canyon National Park in the Summer
As with most national parks, summer is a popular time to visit, but the crowds can be challenging. It’s estimated that 5.9 million people visit the park every year, and most of these visitors choose the summertime when the entire park is open and accessible.
Average summer highs on the South Rim climb into the low 80s but can easily exceed 100℉ once you descend into the canyon. Heat-related illnesses are a big deal for hikers in the summer, so pack plenty of water and be aware that most hikes require a challenging uphill climb on the way home (like reverse mountain climbing!).
Grand Canyon National Park in the Fall
The weather is very comfortable and mild throughout most of the fall. Storms, however, are more common and can often be unpredictable. Late August is one of the park’s wettest times of the year and is commonly known as “monsoon season.”
Thunderstorms can cause flash floods with little or no warning, endangering hikers at the park’s lower elevations if you’re not prepared. The first freezing overnight temperatures usually occur in late October or early November, but daytime highs range from the mid-70s in September down to the low 50s by November.
Grand Canyon National Park in the Winter
Winter can be one of the most peaceful times to visit, despite snowy conditions and cold temperatures. On average, the North Rim sits at roughly 8,297 feet of elevation, and the South Rim lies at roughly 7,000 feet in elevation.
You’ll have far fewer crowds in the winter but still chances to see the park’s winter wildlife. Plus, blankets of snow covering the canyon are a beautiful sight to behold. But you’ll need to be prepared for the possibility of snow, freezing temperatures, icy roads and trails, and potential park closures.
Where to Stay
Then there’s North Rim Campground, which is open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October. Mather Campground and Trailer Village are open year-round, and Desert View is open seasonally from mid-April through mid-October.
Trailer Village is the only campground with full hookups and pull-through sites for RVs up to 50 feet long.
Staying Outside the Park
- Grand Canyon Railway RV Park: Located in Williams, AZ, about one hour south of Grand Canyon Village.
- Canyon Gateway Grand Canyon RV Park & Glamping: Located in Williams, AZ, about one hour south of Grand Canyon Village.
- Village Camp Flagstaff: Located in Bellemont, AZ, about 1.5 hours from Grand Canyon Village.
- Grand Canyon Camper Village: Located in Tusayan, AZ, about 15 minutes from Grand Canyon Village.
- Raptor Ranch RV Park & Campground: Located in Williams, AZ, about 35 minutes from Grand Canyon Village.
Invest in a Good Sam Membership and save 10% on nightly stays at Good Sam Campgrounds.
Another great option is to camp inside the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the park. There’s plenty of space and even some free primitive camping areas. While you won’t have the amenities of a campground, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest while being a short drive from the park!
Tips for Your Camping Stay
- RV parks and campgrounds inside the park book up well in advance.
- Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.
- Reservations are required for the park’s developed campgrounds during peak season and can be made via the links below or by calling 1-877-6777 (excluding Trailer Village).
- Winter tent and RV camping are available at Mather Campground (first-come, first-served after November 30) and Trailer Village RV Park.
How to Get Around Grand Canyon National Park
Driving into Great Canyon National Park is its own enjoyable and scenic adventure. To get to the South Rim, you’ll drive from Flagstaff along Highway 180 to Highway 64. You’ll wind your way along this route through the beautiful Kaibab National Forest.
If you enter the park through the North Rim, which is only open seasonally from mid-May or mid-October, you’ll take Highway 67 from Jacob Lake.
Several shuttle and bus services are available to avoid congestion in the park. You can park just outside the South Entrance Station in Tusayan and catch a free shuttle into the park. Shuttles run every 20 minutes and are a great option for avoiding long entrance lines and parking frustrations. The shuttle services run from March through September.
Another option is to ride the Grand Canyon Railway and enjoy a unique experience on a restored vintage locomotive. You can take a round-trip ride from Williams to the South Rim and learn about the history while soaking in the changing terrain. Grab a seat in the observation dome for the most scenic ride!
Places to Go
Planning your Grand Canyon visit starts with deciding whether you’ll spend most of your time on the North Rim or the South Rim. The South Rim is the most popular option for first-time visitors, which is why many of these places to go are accessible from there. But we’ll provide a little info on the North Rim as well.
The Visitor Centers
There are a total of five visitor information centers to choose from. Most new visitors start at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the South Rim, but you can also get up-to-date information from park rangers at the following locations:
- Verkamp’s Visitor Center: Closest option for visitors arriving by train.
- Historic Kolb Studio: Great for visitors in the area of the Bright Angel trailhead.
- Yavapai Geology Museum: Stunning canyon views along the South Rim’s paved walking trail.
- Shrine of the Ages: Within walking distance of Mather Campground and Trailer Village.
Desert View Drive
Beginning near Grand Canyon Village, this 23-mile drive offers scenic viewpoints, picnic areas, and the Tusayan Pueblo site en route to the park’s eastern entrance. It’s the only scenic drive accessible to private vehicles on the South Rim and begins at mile marker 241.5 on Arizona State Route 64.
Phantom Ranch is an overnight destination at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It can be accessed by hiking or riding a mule down, and dormitories or cabins can be reserved for your stay. Meals can also be purchased.
Advanced reservations are required and available through a lottery system. Xanterra runs that lottery, and reservations can be made up to 15 months in advance. Because of the ranch’s remote nature, an overnight trip there requires a lot of planning and preparation.
In 2022, all hiker dormitories and showers are closed for the first phase of upgrades to the ranch’s wastewater treatment plant.
Use the National Park Service’s website for trip planning and checking on the ranch’s current conditions.
Tuweep is the ancestral home to the Southern Paiute people. Today, it’s a popular destination for visitors seeking a more rustic wilderness experience. But due to the area’s increased popularity, advance permits are now required to help the park service reduce the degradation of natural and cultural resources in the area.
You’ll need a day-use ticket, backcountry permit, or park/site pass to visit Tuweep legally. There are no services (no gas, food, lodging, or phone service), and getting to the area requires a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle and experience navigating challenging dirt roads.
The North Rim
Only about 10% of Grand Canyon visitors get over to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s partially due to its accessibility, which either requires a 21-mile hike between the North and South Rims (with 4,860 feet of elevation loss followed by 5,850 feet of elevation gain) or a 4.5-hour, 220-mile drive from South Rim to North Rim. It’s also because it’s inaccessible during the winter.
Even if you’re coming south from towns like Kanab, Utah or Page, AZ, accessing the North Rim requires a long drive on less maintained roads. It really is a destination for experienced off-roaders and backcountry campers, but the NPS Pocket Map and North Rim Services Guide is a great resource for planning a trip on the road less traveled.
Things to Do in Grand Canyon National Park
No matter how much time you have, there are many ways to enjoy the views or find a thrill. You truly choose your own adventure inside the Grand Canyon. Here are the most popular activities to do.
Enjoy the Views
Many visitors start their Grand Canyon tour with a walk along the Rim Trail, which stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest. The trail is approximately thirteen miles and is mostly paved. But you can make it as long or short as you desire, and there are numerous viewpoints along the way.
For a scenic driving tour, the Desert View road offers several scenic points, including views of the Colorado River at Moran, Lipan, and Desert View Points. At Desert View, you can climb to the top of the stone Watchtower and, on a clear day, enjoy a panoramic view extending 100 miles.
The west side of the Grand Canyon is the Hualapai Reservation. The reservation is about 250 miles (about a five-hour drive) from the South Rim and is home to the park’s famous Skywalk.
This modern marvel is 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor and boasts a glass bottom The reservation is outside of the park, however, so you’ll pay a separate entrance fee. While services are limited, there are tours to learn about the Hualapai culture and history.
The trails in Grand Canyon National Park aren’t your typical walk in the park. It’s akin to reverse mountain climbing because the harder, uphill part of the hike almost always happens towards the end. But if you’re feeling up to it, you can venture into the canyon and see it from a new perspective
Bright Angel Trail
This is the park’s most popular hike because, while it’s a two-day trip and 19 miles long, it’s one of the most comfortable and safe hiking trails. It guides hikers through the peaceful lush greens of Garden Creek before descending “Devil’s Corkscrew,” a challenging set of switchbacks along the Inner Gorge.
Hikers are rewarded when they reach the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge. The bridge is see-through and provides a quick route to the trail’s end. For hikers wanting to only enjoy the Bright Angel Trail for one day rather than two, rangers suggest stopping at Indian Garden or Plateau Point.
South Kaibab Trail
This trail is shorter than Bright Angel and better suited for a day hike while still offering fantastic canyon views. It’s 14 miles round trip, but day hikers can turn around at Cedar Ridge, a narrow section that starts the steep descent to Skeleton Point for a view of the Colorado River.
If you continue to the entrance to the Inner Gorge, you’ll reach the 400-foot Kaibab Suspension Bridge and finish the hike at Phantom Ranch.
North Kaibab Trail
This hike is a strenuous 14-mile round trip journey from rim to river. The full hike requires two days unless you turn around at the Supai Tunnel. The trail offers a variety of unique geological features. First, it descends into Roaring Springs Canyon and through the Supai Tunnel.
Then, it leads into the canyon’s Supai Group layers of sandstone, limestone, and shale. After crossing over the Redwall Bridge and past Roaring Springs and Ribbon Falls, you’ll reach the Inner Gorge. Before ending at Phantom Ranch, you’ll stand in awe of the thousand-foot black and grey ancient-colored walls of the Vishnu Schist, or “basement rocks.”
This trail, while the shorter of them all at only 10 miles, is known for it’s unbelievable and distinct beauty. It’s a bit off the beaten path and accessible outside of the park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Hikers can enjoy a comfortable day hike through Havasu Canyon and soak in the breathtaking views of the turquoise-colored waterfalls known as Havasu Falls. This is considered the heart of the Havasupai Tribal Lands. Hikers can then spend an unforgettable night at the serene and stunning campground or the Havasupai Lodge.
Enjoy a birdseye view of the canyon by taking an airplane or helicopter ride. You’ll soar above the vastness and have aerial views of the canyon gorges and rock formations, many of which can’t be seen from the ground. While it’s the priciest way to see the park, it’s also the quickest and most efficient.
Depending on your skill level, you can take anywhere from a half-day commercial guided whitewater rafting trip to a 25-day non-commercial self-guided trip. Either way, it’s one of the best and most exciting ways to experience this natural wonder first-hand.
You go “straight to the source” since the Colorado River is the creator of the Grand Canyon. If you’re interested in taking a multi-day tour, choose from a full-canyon trip or a half-canyon trip. Both motorized and oar-powered rafting trips are available.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
- Seasonal conditions often result in road or trail closures. Check the park’s recent alerts for the most up-to-date information on what’s open and what’s closed before your visit.
- Traffic can be challenging within the park. Utilize shuttles, bring an e-bike, or plan on walking to save you the stress of parking and getting stuck on congested roads.
- Beware of wildlife! Do not feed them and keep all food inside your RV, in a camping cooler locked inside your tow vehicle, or inside a vehicle in a sealed food storage container.
- Squirrels are the most dangerous animals in the park, believe it or not. Tourists should not feed these cute but aggressive creatures.
- Also, you’ll see about as many elk walking around the campgrounds as squirrels. While these animals seem very accustomed to tourists, they can be dangerous, and the rangers recommend staying at least 100 feet away.
For the latest info on visiting Grand Canyon National Park, visit National Park Service’s website.
Brief History of Grand Canyon National Park
In addition to being one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Grand Canyon earned its national park status in 1919. That was after 11 years of being protected as a national monument, beginning in 1908.
Despite its rugged terrain and often-unpredictable weather, people have been living in and around the canyon for thousands of years. The Hualapai, Havasupai, and Southern Paiute peoples are just three of the 11 contemporary ties with deep roots connected to the canyon.
Beginning in the 16th century, guides and informants from many of these tribes helped to lead expeditions of Spanish and Euro-American settlers into the canyon. The settlement that has grown on the canyon’s South Rim was originally started by early miners and entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich in the region.
Throughout the centuries, the churning of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon has been a constant. A geological story that began almost two billion years ago continues to this very day, but there’s a simple acronym to help you remember what’s taking place in the canyon every day: D-U-D-E, which stands for deposition, uplift, down cutting, and erosion.
Have you been to Grand Canyon National Park? What tips can you share? Leave a comment below!