The Grand Canyon is a geological marvel: a carved gorge over 277 river-miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Observe horizontal layers of red, yellow and sepia cliffs and ages of geology in one spot. The second most visited national park, Grand Canyon is ranked as one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world and sees over 5 million sightseers yearly. Clouds dance across the vast vistas and sunlight shimmers upon rocks, buttes, side canyons and nature-made arenas.
The marvel of Grand Canyon National Park lies in Mile-high rim views, treks into a prehistoric canyon, and sweeping desert vistas
The Grand Canyon’s South Rim is widely popular with numerous rim and canyon trails. Raft the Colorado River. Mule-ride into the depths of the canyon. The North Rim is 1,000-feet higher, more forested, carpeted with wildflowers and cooler than the South Rim. The North Rim only sees 10% of the visitors than its southern neighbor during the open season (May through October). There are four year-round and one seasonal visitor centers in the park. Weather varies, with higher temperatures in the canyon and on the South Rim, and harsher winters on the North Rim. The secret to escape crowds? Go beyond the rim viewpoints, visit the North Rim, or descend into the canyon by a less-traveled trail.
5 Must-Do’s in Grand Canyon National Park
Accessible Trail: 10 miles along the South Rim (paved, astounding vistas)
The Grand Canyon Itself: Hike the rim or into the canyon
Sublime Views, North Rim: Cape Royal/Angel’s Window, Point Imperial, Bright Angel Point
Sublime Views, South Rim: Hopi Point, Shoshone Point, Powell Point
Notable Trails: Bright Angel, South Kaibab, Rim, Hermit, Grandview
Grand Canyon National Park Campgrounds
The park offers four campgrounds (one on the North Rim, three on the South Rim). Reservations for North Rim and Mather Campgrounds can be done via the National Recreation Reservation service or online at recreation.gov. Make reservations well in advance. None of the park-operated RV campgrounds provide hookups, but Trailer Village has hookups and is open all year. Prices range from $18 to $40 for all park-run campgrounds. Phantom Ranch in the canyon is by lottery on grandcanyonlodges.com and books out at least a year in advance.
North Rim Campground
What you need to know: North Rim Campground has 90 sites and is open only from mid-May through October and usually requires reservations. (For 2020, it is first-come, first-served due to construction until August 31st).
RVs (no hookups) and tents are allowed.
ADA-compliant/accessible campsites are available.
Amenities: coin-operated showers and laundry, potable water, dumping station and food and firewood at store.
Though the North Rim is closed in winter, backpackers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers are allowed to use the North Rim Campground with a backcountry permit.
Why this campground? Come in from the north and enjoy far fewer crowds than the South Rim. One shuttle offers rim transportation. Bask in cooler temperatures and take in stunning views from premium campsites that are a skip and a jump from the rim. Deer and elk graze among nearby shaded forests.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Participate in the Junior Ranger Program. Most hikes and viewpoints are rim-level. Check out notable viewpoints Point Imperial (easy, 4 miles) and Bright Angel Point (0.5 mile). Access Transept Trail (3 miles, along the rim to the visitor center) and Bridle Trail (2.4 miles, forested). Other easier hikes start at Cape Royal Road, including Roosevelt Point, Cape Royal, Cliff Springs and longer but easier 4-mile Cape Final (with a stunning canyon overlook). Visit Grand Canyon Lodge during sunrise/sunset.
Hidden Treasure: Head to Deer Creek Falls via an ambitious backpacking trip. An easier option: Perch near Roosevelt Point lookout or take a narrow path (with a few scrambles) to view the canyon.
Mather Campground (South Rim)
What you need to know: Located in Grand Canyon Village, this tent, group and RV (up to 30 feet, no hookups) campground has 327 sites and is open all year. Reservations are available online, but some first-come, first-served sites are available (reservations are highly recommended as sites fill before noon). Winter months are first-come, first-served. The campground is a short shuttle ride from the rim.
Amenities: potable water, grill, picnic table, laundry, showers, flush toilets, library, firewood for purchase, restaurants, shops and nearby village.
Why this campground? Near the South Entrance, it is a central hub, and just a mile and quick shuttle drive from the rim. Walk on the paved Greenway Trail to the visitor center. Access shops, visitor centers and trailheads. Observe wildlife among the ponderosa pines and aspens: elk, mule deer, coyotes, lizards and birds.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Visit Yavapi Geology Museum to learn about the canyon’s formation. Hike into the canyon (part-way) via Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails (both are strenuous and long if you hike the entire length). Walk along the rim, check out numerous viewpoints (Hopi, Powell, Maricopa) and participate in family or Junior Ranger programs.
To avoid a strenuous descent and ascent, hike the Rim Trail from Maricopa Point to Hermit’s Rest (up to 12 miles, depending on where you start), utilizing the park shuttle then watch the sunset and observe rapids below.
Hidden Treasure: Take Hermit’s Road by shuttle (two hours, eight viewpoints) or by foot to escape crowds (and take the shuttle back). Glory in the best sunset/sunrise viewpoints in the park. Another gem: Shoshone Point begins at a parking lot near Desert View Drive, a mile from Yaki Point. Take the unmarked trail (unless a posted closed sign is present) and walk the one-mile dirt road through forest to canyon vistas at this lesser known overlook.
Desert View Campground (South Rim)
What you need to know: Near the East Entrance, this campground with 50 sites is first-come, first-served, has no RV hookups, and fills up by noon. It is located 25 miles from Grand Canyon Village and is open from April through October. Pay at a credit-card only kiosk to self-register. There are no utility, water or sewer hookups, showers or laundry.
Amenities: flush toilets and sink (no hot water), water spickets, picnic table and grill, stores and gas station (closed in winter).
Why this campground? Desert View, though far from other viewpoints and locations, offers an amazing wide view of the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert and is a less-crowded area of the park.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Check out Tusayan Ruin and Museum. View the canyon from Lipan Point.
Hidden Treasure: Visit Mary Colter’s Puebloan-inspired Desert View Watchtower, the highest viewpoint from the South Rim.
Campgrounds Just Outside Grand Canyon National Park
DeMotte, Jacob Lake, Kaibab Camper Village, Ten-X and Grand Canyon Camper Village. Camping with reservations is also permitted at Havasupai, Navajo and Hualapai Indian Reservations.
“There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”- John Muir
Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry Camping
Backcountry permits are hard to come by. Apply in advance. Read rules thoroughly. Phantom Ranch books up to 13 months or more in advance, by lottery. Trek deep into the canyon, to the river, and back via Nankoweap Trail (6,000-foot drop in 14 miles), camping at sites along the way.
In the canyon explore the Colorado River, Puebloan granaries in the cliffs, aspens, ponderosa pine, sandstone and redwall limestone. Visit Deer Creek Falls.
Ambitious? Take the 36-mile Royal Arch Loop and the South Rim’s Hermit Trail as alternatives to the usual rim-to-rim hikes. Both trails have switchbacks and steep cliff views. North Kaibab Trail (strenuous, 14 miles) descends into the canyon and is one of the best hikes in the park.
Exciting Sites & Scenic Drives Near Grand Canyon National Park
Need a shuttle? On the South Rim, the park shuttle runs four routes, all departing from Canyon View Information Plaza (near Mather Point—an amazing viewpoint to see the canyon), every 15 to 30 minutes, stopping at a dozen viewpoints. Shuttles can accommodate bicycles.
Drive the 25 miles between Grand Canyon Village and Desert View for less crowded viewpoints. Explore the Kaibab Plateau on the North Rim by car at the end of Route 67; four-wheel drive vehicles are permitted along primitive unpaved roads through forests along the canyon.
Head to Point Sublime with epic views that rival the South Rim. The distance between rims is 215 road miles (though only 18 miles by bird’s eye at its widest point). Cape Royal scenic drive (23 miles) is another good one on the North Rim.
Other off the beaten trail highlights: Havasu Falls, Lava Falls (raft/kayak) and Toroweap Overlook.
Insider Tips for Visiting Grand Canyon National Park
Nearest cities to the North Rim: Salt Lake City (380 miles) and Las Vegas (250 miles); to the South Rim: Flagstaff (82 miles), Las Vegas (270 miles) and Phoenix (225 miles). Plan ahead with reservations if possible. Hiking tip: turn around on descents when you have consumed a third of your water (or time). Hiking down to the canyon and back is not recommended in one day nor for those not in excellent health. Grand Canyon (and the rest of Arizona) is on Mountain Standard Time year-round. Remember that the rims are at 7,000 to 8,000 feet elevation.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK CAMPERS BEWARE:
With younger children, be mindful of steep drop-offs. Be prepared for steep, rocky and hot (in summer) descents into the canyon.
Water is key for any hike in the canyon.
Assess your ability.
The canyon floor can be 25 degrees hotter.
Proper gear, footwear, food, and hydration is necessary.
Rangers rescue many visitors who hike into the canyon under-prepared.
The hike back up takes twice as much effort.
Be mindful of lightning strikes and thunderstorms at higher elevations (North Rim).