Grand Canyon, Arizona

Travel resources | Rim to rim hike | Southern rim hike | Photos
Arizona | Utah | USA
The south rim of the Grand Canyon is the touristy one, with all sorts of accomodation and amenities. It is usually reached from Las Vegas in four hours. Unfortunately there is no public transportation from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (2005). Only extremely expensive hotel tours would take you to the Grand Canyon. If you want to do it on your own, you need to rent a car. There is an excellent free shuttle system that makes a car redundant (and annoying) once you are inside the Grand Canyon village. A popular and strategically-located campground is Mather Campground. The shuttle can take you to any of the trailheads. In the summer the shuttle starts operating very early (5am). The most popular way to get down to the Colorado river is the South Kaibab trail. It is brutally steep, but it gets you there in three hours. The most popular way to get back up from the Colorado river to the south rim is the Bright Angel trail, which is very long but not as steep as the other trails. Be aware that, whichever way you go, it is a very strenuous hike. Most tourists only hike one or two hours into the canyon and then take at least twice that time to return back up. If you plan to get to the Colorado, you need to carry a lot of water (temperatures can be brutal) and start before sunrise to make sure that you end before sunset. Countless tourists have been stuck in the Grand Canyon. (If the rangers have to send a helicopter to rescue you, you pay for it).

Things to see:

  • Canyon View Information Center (near Mather Point). Nearby is the bus stop for the Kaibab trailhead.
  • Mather Point (probably the most touristy spot of the south rim)
  • Yavapai Observation Station (fossil record and great panorama)
  • Trail of Time between Mather Point and Yavapai Museum of Geology (2 kms)
  • Kolb Studio (Bright Angel trailhead, built by brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb in 1926)
  • Lookout Studio (west of Bright Angel Lodge, designed in 1914 by Mary Colter, now just a souvenir shop)
  • Hopi House (next to the El Tovar Hotel, designed in 1904 by Mary Colter)
  • Hopi Point (highest point of the south rim)
  • Pima Point (best place to see the rapids: the eastern tip of the viewpoint)
  • Hermits Rest (14kms west by shuttle only, designed in 1914 by Mary Colter, now a souvenir shop). A short distance is also the trailhead for the Colorado river.
  • Hermit Trail, a less crowded trail into the canyon than Bright Angel or Kaibab
  • Mohave Point, probably the most scenic viewpoint of the Hermit Road (west)
  • Several other viewpoints on Hermit Road (reachable only by free shuttle): Powell Point, The Abyss
  • Desert View Drive viewpoints along the east of the south rim between Grand Canyon Village and the East entrance (especially Grandview)
  • Desert View Watchtower (40 kms east of Grand Canyon Village, at the eastern entrance)
  • Tusayan Museum (east on Desert View Drive, 800-year old ruin of an Indian pueblo)
No need for cars. Shuttle buses take you to all of them, expect the last one.

Best place to eat is probably the Maswik Lodge that has self-service food stalls.

The north rim (2,438m) is far less known and visited than the south rim. It is at much higher elevation, so it is closed during the snow season (october-may). The north rim is flanked by the Kaibab national forest. Because it is at higher elevation, and because it is farther from the Colorado river, it affords more spectacular views into the subcanyons of the Grand Canyon. The only accomodation is the North Rim Lodge, which is spectacular in itsel (even if you don't stay there). It used to be also the only place for dinner. Fast-food joints are now (2005) beginning to appear. From the North Rim there are several paved or dirt roads that one can take to reach different viewpoints and trailheads on the canyon. There is no way you can reach the Colorado river from the north rim in one day. It is just too long. But, if you have more than one day, there are at least two There is just one way to do it: the North Kaibab trail (very long, extremely steep at the beginning, almost flat at the end). Overall, i think the north rim is the more beautiful of the two. Both Point Imperial (the highest point in the park) and Cape Royale (and Point Sublime if you have a 4WD) are worth detours. If you haven't seen the north rim, you haven't really seen the Grand Canyon.

If you need to spend a night in Las Vegas, there are websites that list the last-minute specials, or just drive to the Stratosphere on Las Vegas Blvd (the "strip") where a dozen cheap motels can be found.

If you want to hike roundtrip from a rim, there are pros and cons.

Advantages of hiking from the North Rim:

  • No crowds (you'll be lucky to meet anyone at all)
  • Mostly shady (you'll actually be cold, not hot)
  • Water at one-hour intervals, and creeks along the trail.
  • Cooler in the hot season
  • Much varied landscape as you descend (forest, rock formations, waterfalls, vegetation)
  • Highest elevation, which means better overall views
Advantages of hiking from the North Rim:
  • Crowds, if you like to be among humans (e.g., in case of accident)
  • Faster to get to the Colorado river (South Kaibab trail) and easier to get back up (Bright Angel trail)
  • An intermediate area between the rim and the river with picnic facilities
  • Warmer in the cold season

If you want to hike rim to rim, see my notes.
Flash floods are the number 1 weather-related killer in the United States, killing about 200 people every year. Make sure you are not hiking narrow subcanyons of the Grand Canyon in the flashflood season. Flashfloods are unpredictable. They can happen even on a "sunny" day. The worst season is from july to mid-September.

Nearby attractions


Havasu Canyon is located between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon's south rim. Be aware that the Native American tribe charges a very steep fee ($35 in 2009) to see the waterfalls (more expensive than any other entry fee in the USA) . You will only be charged at the very end of the hike, so you can hike for free the entire canyon to Supai Village. When you get there, you find out that you have to pay a huge sum of money to visit the falls. This is de-facto robbery and i discourage you from visiting Havasupai. I also discourage you from supporting the tribe in any way (e.g., bring your own drinks and food). If you really have to:

  • Hualapai Hilltop to Supai 13 kms
  • Supai to campground 16 kms
  • Campground to falls 17 kms
  • Falls to Colorado River 30 kms

Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon are located in Utah north of the Grand Canyon's north rim. They are national parks and very easy to visit.

Accomodation (2004)
  • The only accomodation at the North Rim is the wonderful Grand Canyon Lodge (928.638.2611). They also run the only restaurant, and you need to make reservations if you want to have dinner there.
  • Motels north of the Canyon (30 minutes by car): 928-638-2389 and 928-643-7232
  • Grand Canyon camping: 1-800-365-2267 or this ever changing website (at the South Rim best is Mather Campgroun, and ask for a campsite near the shuttle bus stop, $18 in 2006)
  • Camping in Kaibab National Forest north of the North Rim entrance is free (as of 2004): instructions for dispersed camping in the Kaibab National Forest.
Camping at the North Rim:
  • Camping in Kaibab National Forest, north of the North Rim entrance. Free: instructions for dispersed camping in the Kaibab National Forest.
  • Camping at Point Sublime is a sublime option, but requires a long drive. The 30km road takes easily 1.5 hours because it is unpaved. From the North Rim Lodge, drive north for about 5kms and then turn left at the Widforss Point Trailhead parking lot. This dirt road heads west. After 5/10 minutes, turn left at a "Y" intersection into the Point Sublime road. When you reach a clearing, take the right road. After about 18kms, take the left road. (Camping at Point Sublime, Map of the North Rim with Point Sublime)
  • The official campground at the NOrth Rim near the lodge is $18 (2006) but often full. Campsites are gigantic so chances are other people will let you share their campsite.
  • The nearest motels are in Freedonia and Kanab, a long drive (and rather silly to leave the North Rim), and they are always full anyway.
  • There is disperse (read "free") camping both east, north and south of Kanab. Avoid the campgrounds in town which are super-expensive and ugly, and don't trust the local people who tell you that motels are even more expensive. The closest free area is located at the end of Johnson Canyon Rd: from Kanab go east on 89 and then north on Johnson Canyon to the dead end (which is not really a dead end because two roads depart from here: Glendale Bench Rd and Skutumpah Rd).
  • There is also a nice campground called Ponderosa about 10 minutes west of town: take 89 north to Angel Canyon and look for signs.
  • South of Kanab going towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon there is a national forest that is popular with Grand Canyon campers, but it is a bit far.