The Grand Canyon has inspired visitors for centuries with its unmatched beauty and grandeur. In an age of evolving travel trends and rotating destinations, the Grand Canyon has remained steadfast and timeless in its appeal. Find out what makes this natural wonder endearing with this list of the best things to do in Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon National Park Background
Grand Canyon National Park was founded in 1919 and has remained one of the top National Park destinations in the United States ever since. The size is immense, spanning two separate rims, the North and South Rim, and engrossing over one million acres. This massive size accommodates around 5 million visitors annually.
Grand Canyon National Park is appealing for many reasons, one being that there are many diverse things to do there, which can suit the preferences and interests of every type of visitor. It’s not just about hiking at the Grand Canyon.
There are numerous educational opportunities, engaging exhibits, dining, shopping, lodging amenities, scenic overlooks and nature trails, wildlife spotting, stellar camping options, and even a few additional unique opportunities like the Grand Canyon Railway and the Grand Canyon West Skybridge!
No matter what kind of visitor you are, you won’t have any trouble making the most of every minute in the Grand Canyon.
Things You Should Know Before Visiting Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park Entrance Fees
You will need to pay $35 per vehicle (valid for seven consecutive days).
Grand Canyon National Park Opening Hours
The South Rim is open daily, 24 hours a day. The North Rim closes in winter (mid-October through mid-May).
Best Time To Visit Grand Canyon National Park
Best Time To Visit the North Rim Of Grand Canyon National Park
Because the North Rim is closed from mid-October through mid-May, the best time to visit is late spring through early fall. The North Rim’s higher elevation and cooler temperatures make it a great summer alternative when looking to escape the scorching heat of the surrounding desert.
Best Time To Visit the South Rim Of Grand Canyon National Park
The best times to visit the South Rim are the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. Summer is the busiest time of year for the South Rim and can get very crowded. Also, summer temperatures can get uncomfortably hot during the day. Winter is a good time to visit to avoid crowds, but many trails may have snow or ice during the winter.
Pets are NOT allowed on trails or in park buildings.
Location Of Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is located in northern Arizona. The closest towns are Tusayan, Williams, and Flagstaff. The park is divided into two regions: the North and South Rim.
Because the North Rim and the South Rim are separated by about a 5-hour drive, it is important to plan around this logistics when determining your priorities of which top things you want to do at Grand Canyon National Park. Consider your itinerary as well, whether you want to visit one or both rims, as visiting both will require multiple days due to drive time.
Closest Airport(s) To Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park Airport (Tusayan)
- Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (Flagstaff)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Phoenix)
- St. George Regional Airport (St. George, UT)
Rental cars are available at each of these airports.
Closest Town(s) To The South Rim Of The Grand Canyon
- Tusayan, AZ (15 minutes)
- Williams, AZ (1 hour)
- Flagstaff, AZ (1 hour and 30 minutes)
Closest Town(s) To The North Rim Of The Grand Canyon
- Jacob Lake, AZ (1 hour)
- Fredonia, AZ (1 hour and 30 minutes)
- Kanab, UT ( 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Lodging At Grand Canyon National Park
There are several options for lodging accommodations when visiting Grand Canyon National Park. All of the towns surrounding both the North and South Rims contain hotels and vacation rentals. The South Rim has more options than the North Rim area.
In addition to hotel chains and vacation rentals, there are also National Park lodges and campgrounds at both rims. Below are some of the most sought-after National Park lodges and campgrounds, which can be reserved online.
Grand Canyon National Park Lodges
- Bright Angel Lodge (South Rim)
- El Tovar Hotel (South Rim)
- Kachina Lodge (South Rim)
- Thunderbird Lodge (South Rim)
- Maswik Lodge (South Rim)
- Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim)
Phantom Ranch is an overnight lodge and cabins located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, near the intersection of the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel/South Kaibab Trails. Advance reservations are required and very difficult to obtain.
National Park Campgrounds
- Mather Campground (South Rim)
- North Rim Campground (North Rim)
- Cottonwood Campground (North Rim – inner canyon on North Kaibab Trail)
- Bright Angel Campground (North Rim – inner canyon on North Kaibab Trail)
- Havasupai Garden Campground (South Rim – inner canyon on Bright Angel Trail)
Tips For Visiting Grand Canyon National Park
- Book as far in advance as possible – lodging accommodations, tours, etc., fill up quickly
- Have a pre-planned itinerary
- Check the weather – the Grand Canyon sees snow, ice, scorching heat, flash floods, and even tornadoes!
- Always stay on designated trails
- Leave pets at home
- Leave No Trace
- Bring plenty of water
- Use sun protection
- Supervise children at all times
- Start early – especially during the busy summer months
- Be prepared with all necessary hiking gear
The North Rim Versus The South Rim
A common mistake that many visitors make is not familiarizing themselves with which particular things are available to do at each separate rim. This can waste precious time when attempting to follow an itinerary that may not take into account the differences between the North and South Rims.
In order to make the most of all the best things to do at Grand Canyon National Park, take these points into consideration.
Things To Know About The South Rim
- More amenities like lodging accommodations, shopping, and dining
- Closer to larger towns and major airports
- Open daily year-round
- More annual visitors (about 90% of the 5 million annual visitors)
- Summer is a busy season and can get very crowded
- The best time of year to visit is spring and fall
- Has a more touristy, commercialized feel
- Easier access to popular hiking trailheads, overlooks, and park buildings
- Free park shuttle that offers hop on hop off service around the South Rim
- The South Rim is lower in elevation
- The South Rim experiences hotter temperatures, especially during the summer
Things To Know About The North Rim
- Fewer amenities like lodging accommodations, shopping, and dining
- Further from larger towns and major airports
- Closed from mid-fall to mid-spring
- Fewer annual visitors (about 10% of the 5 million annual visitors)
- Not really a “busy” season
- Less crowded hiking trails, park buildings, campgrounds, and parking lots
- Has a more remote and rustic feel
- Harder to access certain popular trailheads and park buildings
- No park shuttle in operation
- The North Rim is higher in elevation
- The North Rim experiences cooler temperatures year-round versus the South Rim
Best Things To Do In Grand Canyon National Park
When breaking down the full list of the best things to do at Grand Canyon National Park, it helps to categorize by South and North Rims.
Best Things To Do At Grand Canyon National Park South Rim
Due to the sprawling size of the South Rim, paired with the ease of access and multiple amenities, there is no shortage of things to do here, spanning a wide range of interests.
Best Hiking Trails On The South Rim
One of the biggest draws for visitors to Grand Canyon National Park is the unmatched hiking opportunities. Whether you want to traverse the top of the Rim or delve deep into the heart of the canyon, these are the top trails to enjoy on the South Rim.
The Bright Angel Trail
- Length: 19 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Difficult
- Elevation Gain: 4,478 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 10 – 12 hours
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular inner canyon trail on the South Rim. It’s easy to access, but don’t let that fool you; this is a very challenging hike.
This trail dives deep into the canyon, all the way to the bottom of the Colorado River. It offers the unforgettable memory of witnessing the Grand Canyon from the bottom, but that comes with the equally unforgettable challenge of climbing back out! Those who endeavor to take on the entire Bright Angel Trail are completing what is better known as a “Rim to River” hike.
Luckily, there are plenty of options for those who don’t have this entire hike on their agenda.
The Bright Angel Trail has several scenic and suitable “turnaround” spots, like the 1.5 Mile and 3 Mile Resthouses or the surprisingly verdant Havasupai Garden Campground, halfway down the Bright Angel Trail. Turning around at either of these spots creates a much shorter day hike, though it is always challenging to ascend any part of the South Rim wall.
Always be sure to assess your own physical preparedness level, have all essential hiking gear, and take into account the abilities of others in your hiking party, especially children.
The South Kaibab Trail
- Length: 14 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Difficult
- Elevation Gain: 4,872 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 10 – 12 hours
The South Kaibab Trail is the South Rim sister trail to the Bright Angel Trail. It’s similar in that it plunges down into the canyon all the way to the bottom of the Colorado River. It also contains stunning overlooks, arguably the best ones on the entire South Rim.
And just like the Bright Angel Trail, for those who do not wish to hike the entire roundtrip trail, there are great alternative “turnaround” spots like Ooh Aah Point and Cedar Ridge.
The differences between the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail mostly revolve around distance and accessibility. The South Kaibab Trail is slightly shorter by about 2 miles. It’s also logistically harder to access because you cannot park or leave a car at the South Kaibab Trailhead.
The only way to access the South Kaibab Trail is by a pre-arranged drop-off or by using the free park shuttle. Luckily, the park shuttle runs year-round and has multiple pick-up spots in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, but it only drops off at certain times to the South Kaibab Trail, which means having to time your arrival more carefully.
A popular alternative option for hiking a “Rim to River” is to connect the South Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail at the bottom of the canyon. Hiking down the South Kaibab Trail and then ascending the Bright Angel Trail allows hikers the opportunity to tackle both of these sister trails.
The Rim Trail
- Length: 12.7 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 583 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 5 – 6 hours
This may seem like another lengthy hike on the South Rim, but it is one of the most accessible and family-friendly trails in the Grand Canyon. The Rim Trail parallels the South Rim, providing easy access to the lodges, scenic overlooks, dining and shopping, park buildings, and other amenities.
Some of the best easy viewpoints are along the Rim Trail, like Yavapai, Hopi, and Mather Points. The free park shuttle also offers multiple pick-up and drop-off spots along the Rim Trail, so you can hop on and hop off at your convenience. The Rim Trail is also almost entirely paved and is relatively flat with very little incline.
The Mather Point Trail
- Length: 0.6 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 13 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 15 – 20 minutes
The Mather Point is short and sweet, at just over a half mile in roundtrip length. It doesn’t compromise on views, however, with one of the best overlooks in the park. With nearly no incline as well, this is a great option for all ages and abilities, including families with children.
If you are looking for a shorter option without sacrificing the views, the South Rim is literally brimming with easy, short overlooks that don’t compromise on the breathtaking beauty. The other great thing about the scenic overlooks on the South Rim is they can all be accessed by hiking the Rim Trail or by using the free park shuttle with stops near all the best overlooks. The top scenic overlooks on the South Rim include:
- Mather Point
- Yavapai Point
- Hopi Point
- Shoshone Point
National Park Lodges
Even if you aren’t staying in one of the park lodges, they are still great for day visits. You can appreciate the architecture and style, tour the historic interiors, or even grab a meal.
South Rim Visitor Center
Another must is a visit to the South Rim Visitor Center. Here, you can talk with park rangers, view exhibits, participate in park programs, and learn more about the fascinating history and geology of the Grand Canyon.
Colorado River Rafting Tours
What better way to experience the raw power of the Colorado River than a river rafting tour? There are multiple operators and guides that offer rafting tours of various lengths, even multi-day trips.
Grand Canyon Railway
The iconic Grand Canyon Railway operates year-round out of nearby Williams, just south of the South Rim. For those who want a relaxing way to take in the scenic sights, there’s no better choice than a train ride full of the best sights of the South Rim, all from the comfort of your seat.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours
For a bird’s eye view full of the best panoramas, consider a Grand Canyon helicopter tour. These exciting trips operate out of Grand Canyon National Park Airport, located just a few minutes outside of the South Rim in Tusayan or out of Las Vegas.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk
Another option for purely unobstructed views into the Grand Canyon itself is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, located on the South Rim in Grand Canyon West. This glass-enclosed bridge is suspended 70 feet out over the South Rim wall.
Best Things To Do At Grand Canyon National Park North Rim
While the North Rim is more remote, with a smaller range of offerings, this lends to a more remote and rustic feel, where you can immerse yourself in the tranquil trails and slow pace.
Best Hiking Trails on the North Rim
Much like the South Rim, one of the top things to do on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is hiking. Whereas the hiking trails of the South Rim are largely bathed in a rocky, open desert environment, the North Rim offers a different persona.
On the North Rim, you can find hiking trails that are cloaked in towering ponderosa pines and brilliant aspen trees, as well as those that delve into the Red Rock Canyon itself.
The North Kaibab Trail
- Length: 27.4 miles roundtrip point to point
- Rating: Difficult
- Elevation Gain: 6,620 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: Overnight recommended
The North Kaibab Trail is the North Rim’s version of inner canyon hiking. While it is possible to hike it roundtrip, the much more popular options are to either camp overnight at the two available campgrounds, hike part of it and turn around, or hike it with the intention of connecting to a South Rim inner canyon trail, like the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail.
Those who use the North Kaibab Trail to hike across the canyon, from the North Rim to the South Rim, are completing what is known as a “Rim to Rim hike”, and it is one of the toughest hikes in the entire United States! Only about 1% of all visitors to the Grand Canyon ever complete a Rim to Rim hike.
As with all inner canyon hiking, it is crucial to have all the proper hiking gear, as well as to make sure that you are physically prepared by training for the Rim to Rim hike.
Just as with other trails, you can shorten your time on the North Kaibab Trail by hiking a shorter distance down and then turning around. There are several ideal options, like Coconino Overlook, Redwall Bridge, or Ribbon Falls.
No matter how much of the North Kaibab Trail you choose to tackle, you will appreciate the stark differences on the North Rim, including a wealth of forest groves, crimson canyon walls, brilliant yellow aspens, gentle streams, and even a waterfall!
The Widforss Trail
- Length: 9.3 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 1,082 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 3.5 – 5 hours
The Widforss Trail is a lengthier day hike, but it is mostly flat, which appeals to many hikers on the North Rim. While it may appear initially to be cloaked in a thick canopy, there are several spots along the trail where the foliage abruptly opens and provides welcoming panoramas over the North Rim canyon.
The best overlook on the trail is Widforss Point, a rocky vista located at the halfway point. On a clear day, you can even see the highest point in the state, Humphreys Peak hike, looming over the horizon all the way from Flagstaff, several hours south!
The Transept Trail
- Length: 3.7 miles roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 347 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 1.5 – 2 hours
The Transept Trail is a great option for a mid-length day hike, with a moderate rating and moderate elevation gain. The Transept Trail does not offer the standard panoramas of some of the other Grand Canyon Trails, but it does offer its own unique characteristics.
The Transept Trail is one of the most forested hikes on the North Rim. Here, you can find grove upon grove of towering pines, stately oaks, and dazzling aspens. There are also some remains of ancient Puebloan ruins along the trail.
Finally, if you are into wildlife spotting on your hikes, the peaceful tranquility of the Transept Trail is a favorite for local residents, like mule deer.
If you happen to be camping at the North Rim Campground, the Transept Trail is a convenient connector between the campground, the North Rim Lodge, and the North Rim Visitor Center.
The Cape Royal Trail
- Length: 1-mile roundtrip out and back
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 65 feet
- Estimated Time to Complete: 20 – 30 minutes
The Cape Royal Trail is another short, easy trail paired with mesmerizing views. It is also paved, which makes it ideal for various abilities.
The main reward of the Cape Royal Trail is the overlook at Cape Royal Point. From this viewpoint, you can see the Angels Window formation, as well as the Colorado River far below.
There are also several informational signs along the trail where you can learn more about the resident wildlife and plants of the Grand Canyon.
The North Rim also has its share of the best scenic overlooks if you are looking for a shorter route to the best views! The top scenic overlooks on the North Rim include:
- Bright Angel Point
- Coconino Overlook
- Point Imperial
National Park Lodges
There is only one lodge on the North Rim, the North Rim Lodge. You can stay overnight or just visit during the day, but either way, its rustic architecture is impressive.
North Rim Visitor Center
The North Rim Visitor Center is a great way to engage with rangers, exhibits, and park programs, as well as learn more about the unique characteristics of the North Rim. There is also a bookstore you can peruse.
While there is no shortage of unique animals to watch for across Grand Canyon National Park, including mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, mountain lions, and coyotes, as well as numerous birds of prey and reptiles, there is one particular breed of animal that only resides on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon: bison.
The bison herd at the North Rim is one of the only wild, unfenced herds in the United States. While it is natural to gravitate towards these majestic creatures when spotted, it is important to appreciate the bison from a safe distance and remain in your vehicle when viewing.
Respectful wildlife viewing is a habit to follow park-wide, with all forms of wildlife that you may witness both on the rims and inside the canyon. Always maintain a safe distance, and do not feed any of the wildlife in the Grand Canyon.
About The Author Of “Best Things To Do In Grand Canyon National Park”
Kristen Czudak is the author and adventurer behind Yonderlust Ramblings, an active travel website. Looking for a different kind of vacation? Active travel is the answer. Discover just how far your own two feet can take you!
Thanks for stopping by!
If you enjoyed this post featuring the best things to do in Grand Canyon National Park, pin it on Pinterest for later and help it reach more readers!