Guide to the Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park Quick Facts

Grand Canyon National Park - Guide

Here are some quick facts about Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Established : 1919
  • Land Size : 1.2 Million Acres
  • Annual Visitors : 6 million
  • State : Arizona
  • Entrance Fees : $20 per person, $35 per vehicle

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Where is Grand Canyon National Park?

Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona’s northwest corner near the state’s borders with Utah and Nevada. Flagstaff, which is about 75 miles north of the park, is the closest city.

The closest major cities to the park are Phoenix, which is about 300 miles south of the park, and Las Vegas, which is about 250 miles west of the park.

What is Grand Canyon National Park Famous For?

Grand Canyon National Park - The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, perhaps the best known of the country’s national parks, is famous for its massive tributary canyon, which was carved out by the mighty Colorado River. 

This enormous canyon is one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The primary public areas to view the park are the South and North Rims. 

The South Rim, which features numerous driving and hiking tours, accounts for about 90 percent of the park’s annual visitors. Much of the North Rim is much more remote and can only be accessed through the use of trails and unpaved backroads.

What is the Best Month to Visit Grand Canyon National Park?

The best month to visit the park is in May.

Next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Grand Canyon is the country’s most visited national park. With that in mind, the park becomes quite crowded in the peak season, June through August.

In May, peak season crowds have not yet arrived. The weather has warmed, allowing visitors to enjoy moderate temperatures with daytime highs in the 60s, making hiking and sightseeing more enjoyable. There is also less rain in the fall – May is one of the park’s driest months – and visitors can enjoy the park’s wildflower season.

What to do in Grand Canyon National Park?

How Many Days Do I Need in Grand Canyon National Park?

You need four days to explore Grand Canyon National Park fully.

That said, you would need weeks to truly explore the entire Grand Canyon, which is about 277 miles long and at some places 18 miles wide. Trips to the canyon floor can only be completed with multi-day backpacking or horseback riding trips.

As the best ways to explore the Grand Canyon involve its network of trails, you’ll want to be sure to bring along your hiking boots.

Two days (short trip)

For short trips, you’ll want to visit the South Rim, which is what many consider to be the Grand Canyon. After visiting the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, head to Mather point, which is just a short walk from the visitor center. Next, take the Hermit Road Shuttle Bus, which will treat you to nine canyon overlooks. 

Along the way, take a short hike on the Trail of Time, Rim Trail, or South Kaibab Trail for plenty of impressive views of the canyon. The next morning watch the sunrise from Desert View on the South Rim before driving down Desert View Drive, where you’ll enjoy multiple overlooks.

Four days (long trip)

Start by exploring the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, hiking to Mather Point, and taking the Hermit Road Shuttle Bus to take in the nine different scenic overlooks. 

On day two, take the opportunity to explore the canyon via some of its best-known hiking trails. This includes the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, and the Trail of Time. 

On day four, take advantage of one of the unique touring options the Grand Canyon has to offer, including mule rides, whitewater rafting, bike tours, and helicopter flights.

How to Get to Grand Canyon National park?

Flights

  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). This is the airport of choice for most visitors who fly to Grand Canyon National Park. It’s the closest international airport to the park’s South Rim, about a 3.5-hour drive away (230 miles). This is one of the busiest airports in the U.S., with flights from all major carriers and many smaller carriers from many major cities inside and outside of the U.S. There are a wide variety of rental car options also available from this airport.
  • Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS). This is the best option if you plan on visiting the park’s West Rim, also known as Grand Canyon West, which is about a two and half hour drive from the airport. McCarron offers non-stop service to a variety of cities both inside and outside the U.S.
  • Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG). Flagstaff airport is the closest commercial airport to the park at just 90 minutes away from the park’s south entrance. This airport has service through US Airways connecting from Phoenix. American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Qatar Airways offer flights from Dallas while Rental car availability includes Dollar, Hertz, Enterprise, and Firefly.

Drive

  • From Flagstaff, take US Highway 180 West for about 49 miles before taking Arizona State Highway 64 North into Grand Canyon National Park.
  • From Phoenix, you have two options. Take Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff, then take Interstate 40 West to Williams. At exit 164, go north on Arizona state highway 64 to the park entrance, a mile north of Tusayan. This route takes about three hours and 40 minutes. You can also take I-17 north to Flagstaff and then proceed using the above directions. This route takes about four hours.
  • From Las Vegas, the closest park entrance is Grand Canyon West. Take US 95 south out of Las Vegas. The highway will turn into US-93 just before Boulder City, Nevada. Continue on US-93 for 77 miles to Mohave County. Exit onto Pierce Ferry Road, then continue onto Diamond Bar Road for about 49 miles to the West Rim.

What to See in Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park - Mather Point Overlook

Visitor Center and Mather Point Overlook

If you’re like 90 percent of the visitors to the park, you’re entering from the South entrance. Head first to the visitors center where you’ll get an overview of the park. Then take a hike on Mather Point Overlook, which offers some of the best viewing areas of the Grand Canyon from its large peninsula that juts out into the canyon.

Bright Angel Hiking Trail

While it’s unlikely you’ll have the time or the energy to take the 19-mile two-day hike, you can still get a feel for what hiking in the canyon is like by hiking the first mile, which hugs the side of the canyon, to Upper Tunnel. Just make sure to bring your hydration pack and a good set of hiking boots.

Hermit Road

This seven-mile scenic drive that runs along the canyon’s rim is the most famous stretch of road in the park. It features numerous stop-off points for viewing the canyon, including The Abyss, Maricopa Point, Pima Point, and Hopi Point. 

Unless you go in the winter, you’ll need to take a shuttle to experience it. This scenic route is closed to private vehicles from March through November.

Desert View Watchtower

This 70-foot tall tower near the park’s east entrance was erected in 1932 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes an outdoor observation deck on the second floor and an enclosed observation deck at the top, offering breathtaking views of the canyon.

Desert View Drive

Next to Hermit Road, Desert View Drive is the most traveled scenic route in the park. This 22-mile drive features impressive views of the Colorado River. The top stopping points include Grandview Point, which offers one of the highest elevation lookouts on the South Rim side, Moran Point, with its amazing views of the Colorado River, and Desert View, which offers a stunning view of Desert View Watchtowers.

Skywalk, Eagle Point

This horseshoe-shaped glass deck juts 70-feet out over the canyon, offering visitors incredible views, not to mention a thrilling experience. This cantilever structure features a glass floor, allowing you to view the canyon between your feet. It’s truly a one of a kind experience at the park.

Havasu Falls

It isn’t easy to get to, requiring a 10-mile hike in, this is a multi-day experience that requires a good backpacking backpack, tent, and sleeping bag experience to reach these falls. But these aren’t any ordinary falls. 

The Havasu Falls drops nearly 100 feet from the surrounding cliffs into a pool of stunning bright blue-green water, a color created by the water’s high concentration of calcium carbonate. This is a can’t-miss attraction for those hardy adventure seekers willing to work for it.

North Rim

The North Rim doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as the popular South Rim. Unlike the South Rim, which is more developed, the North Rim is much more rugged. Many of its campgrounds can only be reached by hiking or on long treks on dirt rods. With less development, there are fewer crowds to deal with, making for a more intimate experience.

Point Imperial

With its elevation at more than 8,800 feet, Point imperial represents the highest point in the entire park. Its views of the canyon and the surrounding desert are unprecedented, making this a must-visit destination in the Grand Canyon. Just keep in mind that it’s a popular site, so get here early.

Gaby Pilson

Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.