Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Kelly
The Grand Canyon technically has four separate regions: North, East, South, and West! The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, so most people won’t be able to see all it has to offer in one trip. You could easily spend weeks there and barely scratch the surface. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, you might be asking yourself, Which rim of the Grand Canyon is best? In this article, we’re sharing our full guide to finding out which rim of the Grand Canyon will be best to visit based on what you want to see during your trip.
If it’s your first time visiting the Grand Canyon, we generally recommend visiting the South Rim. The South Rim has an abundance of viewpoints, hikes, restaurants, attractions, and lodging options. But, like most things, it really all depends on what you want to see and how long you have for your visit. For that reason, we outline each of the areas below so you can plan the best trip for you!
The South Rim at the Grand Canyon
We’ll start with the South Rim of the Grand Canyon because that region is the most established, and it will give us a good basis of comparison for the other regions. Tourism for the Grand Canyon really started in this region, so it is easily the most developed!
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is probably what you picture when you think of the Grand Canyon. It’s definitely the most photographed area. When you visit the South Rim, you’ll see expansive views of the canyon, mesas, and buttes.
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Hotels at the South Rim
The South Rim at the Grand Canyon has by far the most hotel options.
The Grand Canyon Village is the perfect home base and it’s conveniently located within the park. This busy village contains seven hotels and many dining options. The flagship hotel is El Tovar Hotel, which is a rustic lodge that was built in 1905 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Want to stay in the middle of the canyon? You can! Book your reservations far ahead of time at Phantom Ranch and you’ll be able to spend the night on the canyon floor. On a budget? Yavapai Lodge is typically the most affordable option within the village, and is less than a mile from the visitor center. Finally, there is a campground within the park.
In addition to the seven hotels within the park, there are also numerous lodging options in the nearby town of Tusayan. (Just a 15 minute drive from the park’s entrance.) In Tusayan, we recommend checking out the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon or the Best Western Plus Grand Squire Inn (which is where we stayed during our last visit).
We wrote an in-depth article on choosing a hotel for a South Rim visit. Be sure to check it out if you would like to visit the South Rim!
History and Museums at the South Rim
The South Rim offers visitors many opportunities to learn about the history of the Grand Canyon. At the Yavapai Museum of Geology you’ll learn all about the geological history of the canyon. You can learn more about the Ancestral Puebloans when you visit the Tusayan Pueblo Museum. At the Bright Angel Lodge, which is a National Historic Landmark, you can go to the History Room to see artifacts from some of the early pioneers to the canyon. Hopi House, also a National Historic Landmark, will provide you with information about the Hopi culture. Many Native American crafts and products are available for purchase here. At Verkamp’s Visitor Center, you can learn more about early pioneer history and their community.
Dining Options at the South Rim
There are many dining options for visitors to the South Rim. If you’re looking for a nice sit-down meal, you should make dining reservations for lunch or dinner at El Tovar’s dining room. Maswik Lodge has a cafeteria and a pizza place. There’s also Fred Harvey Burger at the Bright Angel Lodge, Arizona Steakhouse, and a snack bar at Hermits Rest.
Within the nearby town of Tusayan, you will have even more dining options. You can have Mexican food at Plaza Bonito, pizza and pasta at We Cook Pizza and Pasta, and steak at the Big E Steakhouse and Saloon.
Hikes and Viewpoints at the South Rim
The South Rim offers something for everyone! Mather Point is probably the most popular viewpoint, as it’s located right next to the visitor center. The Rim Trail will take you to nine scenic overlooks along the canyon. And the best part is that there is a shuttle which makes it easy to hop from one viewpoint to the next if you don’t feel like walking the full trail. The Trail of Time will guide you through the canyon’s geological history, with each meter along the pathway representing one million years of history. The South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail are popular day hikes as well.
You can also check out Desert View Drive, which will take you approximately four hours to complete. There are numerous unmarked pullouts with views of the canyon, and there’s also the following points of interest: Grandview Point, Moran Point, Tusayan Ruin and Museum, Lipan Point, Navajo Point, and Desert View Point.
Attractions at the South Rim
There are a number of attractions nearby, including rafting, helicopter tours, mule rides, and an IMAX theater.
One of the best ways to see the Grand Canyon is with a guided tour. Your guide will be knowledgeable about the local geology and history. You’ll also get the opportunity to see and do some pretty unique things to personalize your trip. Some guided tours you might be especially interested in include:
- 45-Minute Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon: With this tour, you’ll be able to see the Grand Canyon from above! You’ll get an aerial view of the canyon and get to see far more of it than you would hiking.
- Grand Canyon Hummer Tour: Ride in an open-air Hummer as your guide takes you to some incredible lookout points.
- Off-Road Sunset Safari Tour: From a comfortable safari vehicle you will be taken to some spectacular viewpoints.
Accessibility at the South Rim
The South Rim is fairly accessible. There’s a free shuttle system within the park with several routes that will take you around Grand Canyon Village and to popular viewpoints and trailheads. There are also several trails that are paved and ADA accessible, which is very helpful if you have a disability or if you’d like to bring a stroller. If you don’t have a car, we recommend visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. (We wrote a full post on how to visit the Grand Canyon without a car for more information.)
The North Rim at the Grand Canyon
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon tends to be much more quiet than the South Rim. There are fewer crowds and you are more likely to get a visit in nature that is contemplative and restorative. Fewer crowds also mean less attractions, so it depends what kind of a trip you want. The North Rim tends to be closed off during the winter, so be sure to check your dates of travel.
Lodging at the North Rim
The only hotel within the park is the Grand Canyon Lodge (whereas there are seven hotel options within the park on the South Rim). The lodge is booked up well in advance, so you’ll want to check out their release dates when making your reservation. There is also one campground within the park.
The North Rim is only about 2.5 hours south of Zion National Park, so it would be fairly convenient to bundle them both together within the same road trip.
|Grand Canyon National Park was just one stop on our 3-week road trip through Arizona and Utah. View our full itinerary to see our favorite stops!
History and Museums at the North Rim
At the North Rim Visitor Center you can find some small exhibitions on the park’s history.
Dining Options at the North Rim
Within the lodge, you can have dinner in the dining room or lunch at Deli in the Pines. (Breakfast is also available at Deli in the Pines.) The Rough Rider Saloon also offers beverages and snacks.
Hikes and Viewpoints at the North Rim
The Bright Angel Point Trail is a half-mile round-trip trail to a beautiful view of the canyon. It takes around 30 minutes to complete the trail. You can also drive to a number of scenic view points, including Point Imperial (highest point on the rim) and Cape Royal (popular for watching the sunrise or sunset). The Widforss Trail is another popular hike.
Attractions at the North Rim
You can reserve a mule ride to see more of the canyon.
Accessibility at the North Rim
The North Rim is closed during the winter and is only fully accessible for services typically on select dates May through October. (Check the National Park Service’s website in advance for specific dates!) This is one of the main differences between the North Rim and the South Rim, as the South Rim services are available throughout the year.
West Rim (Grand Canyon West)
Grand Canyon West is located just a couple hours east of Las Vegas, so it’s popular to combine both trips as there are plenty of tour operators. You can see a list of guided tours from Las Vegas here.
Lodging at Grand Canyon West
The Hualapai Lodge is owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe and is the place to stay if you plan on visiting Grand Canyon West. You can also stay at The Cabins at Grand Canyon West. Finally, there is RV parking available.
History and Museums at Grand Canyon West
The Hualapai Cultural Center is dedicated to cultural programming and preserving tribal traditions.
Dining Options at Grand Canyon West
There are several options available at Grand Canyon West. These include Sky View Restaurant and Guano Point Cafe.
Hikes and Viewpoints at Grand Canyon West
Eagle Point and Guano Point are the most possible viewpoints on the west side of the canyon. If you go to Guano Point, you will see what’s left of the aerial tramway that was built in 1957. At Eagle Point, you can visit a historic Native American village.
Attractions at Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon West is perhaps most famous for its unique attractions. It’s here that you can book tickets for the Skywalk, a glass-shaped bridge that will let you see the canyon beneath your feet. You will see 4,000 feet below you, so it’s not for someone with a fear of heights! Take heart, though, because the glass bridge is strong enough to hold 70 fully-loaded 747 passenger jets.
You can also soar through the canyon at 40mph by going ziplining! The zipline is 3,200 feet long and will carry you 500 feet above the canyon.
In addition to those activities, you can also go whitewater rafting, book a helicopter flight, or take a pontoon tour.
Accessibility at Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon West is open year-round from 9am to 7pm.
East Rim at the Grand Canyon
Finally, the East Rim of the Grand Canyon is home to famous sites such as Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell. There is so much variety to what you will see on this side of the canyon.
Lodging at the East Rim
We recommend that you stay in Page, Arizona, for closest accessibility to these sites. Page is a town of about 7,500 people and it’s the gateway city to Horseshoe Bend (10 minute drive), Antelope Canyon (18 minute drive), and Lake Powell (7 minute drive). There are a variety of hotels you can choose from that are from major hotel chains. These include Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell, Best Western View of Lake Powell, and La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Page at Lake Powell. We stayed at the Best Western View of Lake Powell and enjoyed our stay there!
History and Museums at the East Rim
The John Wesley Powell Museum is part of the Glen Canyon Conservancy. John Wesley Powell was an explorer and geologist that is well-known for his work in the region.
Dining Options at the East Rim
There’s a variety of restaurants in Page, Arizona. You might want to check out BirdHouse for fried chicken, Sunset 89 for dramatic views, and Big John’s Texas BBQ for smoked meats. We especially liked the corn bread and brisket at Big John’s Texas BBQ!
Hikes and Viewpoints at the East Rim
If visiting the East Rim, you’ll definitely want to check out Horseshoe Bend. The trail is 2.8 miles long out-and-back. There’s ample parking. The trail isn’t paved, but we were able to easily use our jogger stroller on it. The trail leads to a viewpoint of the Colorado River winding through the canyon in its iconic horseshoe shape. We wrote all about our visit to Horseshoe Bend if you’d like to see photos and hear about our experience.
Antelope Canyon is perhaps the most famous slot canyon in the world. It’s only accessible by booking a tour. (We also liked visiting Peekaboo Canyon in Kabab!)
At nearby Lake Powell, there are a variety of activities to keep you busy. You can go swimming, boating, and hiking. You can even book a tour to see Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s largest natural bridges.
Attractions at the East Rim
When staying on the East Rim, you can also go house-boating, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding.
Accessibility at the East Rim
Most of these options are open year-round. You’ll need to carefully read the requirements for visiting Antelope Canyon (e.g., metal baby carriers not permitted).
Summary: Our Pick for Best Rim at the Grand Canyon
If you read this far, you have a pretty good idea of what each rim has to offer. Here’s our winners for which rim of the Grand Canyon is best:
Overall Winner: Whether you’re looking for hikes, viewpoints, lodging or dining choices, the South Rim has it all. You have multiple scenic overlooks at your fingertips along the Rim Trail, you can walk through millions of years along the Trail of Time, you can ride to the bottom of the canyon on a mule, and you can dine in style at El Tovar.
Best for Nature Lovers: The North Rim will give you a secluded escape while still giving you the breathtaking views characteristic of the Grand Canyon.
Best for Attractions: The West Rim will provide you unique experiences such as the Skywalk and ziplining through the canyon.
Best for Photography: It’s hard to compete with the East Rim… you’ll be able to capture light beams shining through Antelope Canyon and you’ll be able to see the Colorado River carving its way through the canyon at Horseshoe Bend.
If you’ve never visited the Grand Canyon before, our recommendation would be to visit the South Rim first. If there’s time, we then recommend driving to the east side of the canyon to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. When we visited the Grand Canyon for the first time, we specifically visited the South Rim and we spent a day at the East Rim. We were very happy with our choice, and we would recommend that itinerary for others!
We hope this post inspired you to visit the Grand Canyon!
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