LOTS TO SEE, LOTS TO DO
THE SOUTH RIM is the Grand Canyon’s most popular area. The south side is steeper and shorter — 7,000’ above sea level to the North Rim’s 8,500’ — so the downward views are dizzying and the opposite cliff’s intricate red-rock steps stretch out in front of you like a big orange IMAX.
Lots of incredible viewpoints right off the shuttle (Grandview, Desert View/Watchtower, Yavapai…), but if you’re able and willing, South Rim hiking will justify your efforts. See Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail at least.
Hotels, campgrounds and guides book solid from early spring to late fall. Plan ahead.
THE NORTH RIM lets you walk on the quiet side. It’s a little less developed and a lot more tranquil, with only 10% of the park’s nearly 5 million annual visitors hitting this half of Grand Canyon. (Perfect for misanthropes!) An extra quarter-mile of altitude makes for spectacular views, and the North Rim fits nicely into a multi-park tour through Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, etc. Hike North Kaibab Trail or some of the short loops near viewpoints.
The North Rim visitor center and major services close mid-October to mid-May, but you might be able to drive there in the off season if snow hasn’t closed the road.
SEE ALSO world-class whitewater rafting on the Colorado River that’s responsible for the whole thing. The Upper Grand Canyon is pretty and the Lower Grand Canyon is pretty epic. Go ahead and book a guided trip (a year early) so you don’t die.
A PEOPLE’S PRE/HISTORY OF GRAND CANYON
Artifacts from nomadic hunters found in the area date back to 12,000 BCE and the Ancestral Puebloans emerged ~2,000 years ago. Groups of Paipai people had migrated from the Mojave Desert before the first Europeans saw the Grand Canyon 500 years ago. Dominguez and Escalante traveled the North Rim in 1776 and Mormon pioneers and early U.S. explorers arrived in the 19th century.
Hunter, outdoorsman and man’s man Teddy Roosevelt took a shine to what John Wesley Powell first called “Grand Canyon,” setting it apart as a game preserve (1906) and then a national monument (1908). It was made a national park in 1919 under Woodrow Wilson.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Grand Canyon is like the Beatles vs. Stones question: You sort of have to pick a side. There are no roads across the canyon — did we mention it’s 18 miles wide and a mile deep? — so you may want to make the North and South Rims separate trips.
The North Rim is a short drive from Kanab, Utah (what national park isn’t?!), just 90 miles south on AZ-67 through the forest flattop of Kaibab Plateau.
The South Rim is 4 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada (I-40 & AZ-180), 3.5 hours from Kanab, Utah (UT-89 & AZ-64), and 1.5 hours from Flagstaff, Arizona (AZ-180).