So you have finally decided you are going to relive that childhood itch and finally visit the Grand Canyon, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Good Choice. But the practicalities of visiting this amazing site are quite daunting, The gigantic geological Feature is over 277 miles long 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, it’s nestled in some incredibly remote and hostile desert hundreds of miles from civilization and is remote, wild. You cannon, unfortunately, just pop along for a quick look. Visiting the canyon takes planning, preparation, and possibly several hundred miles of hard driving.
But do not be put off, the canyon is entirely worth the effort, and with our guide on how to get to the Grand Canyon, we show you the best ways to visit the Grand Canyon, where to base yourself, where to stay, and how to get around however you get there. With our Best Way to Visit the Grand Canyon guide, you will have all the planning a preparation sorted in no time and you can then get on with planning your hikes, booking your Helicopter Trips, or just getting ready for a beautiful Sunset over the Grand Canyon.
How to Get to the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon is pretty remote, the nearest city is over 75 miles away, and even then this really only a large town. It also covers a VAST area, over 3000 Sq Miles, 277 Miles long, 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep. So before we can really give you the best advice on how to get “there” we need to decide where “there” really is. There are three main visitor areas all with their own pros and cons, we take a brief look at these below or read our more comprehensive guide on which part of the canyon is best.
Which Part of the Grand Canyon so Visit, South Rim vs West Rim vs North Rim
South Rim – Grand Canyon National Park
Some internet travel forum experts insist on calling this the “real” Grand Canyon, and push a narrative that the other sites are not worth your time. While this is not the case in our opinion, what is beyond debate, is the South Rim is the more stunning and visually mindblowing part of the canyon. The Canyon here is the deepest, widest, and most varied in terms of color and topography. This is the picture-perfect canyon and the one most people visualize when thinking of the canyon.
If your reason for visiting the Canyon is to fulfill a lifetime dream then really the other part of the canyon are poor substitutes. All things being equal then the South Rim really is the only choice. However, the downsides are the canyon is quite a long way from anywhere. Getting to the canyon is difficult and time-consuming and you need to plan at least a couple of days there to make the most of it.
West Rim (Grand Canyon West)
The West Rim is the complete opposite. Located conveniently only a couple of hours drive from Las Vegas the West Rim is the perfect location for those just wanting to see the canyon but not really wanting to commit 2-3 days of their trip to the experience. The West rim makes the perfect excursion from the bright lights of Las Vegas.
The Attraction is also loaded with tourist options to further enhance your visit. Whereas the South Rim is tightly controlled by the National Park Service who very much protects the area from over-exploitation and keeps the wild, wild. The Land the West Rim Reside is owned by the Hualapai Tribe of Native Americans and they have allowed a more tourist orientated approach. The Big Draw is the SkyWalk. A horseshoe-shaped glass walkway that juts out over the open expanse of the Canyon. There is also Zip Lining, River Rides, and even helicopter tours that land in the canyon offering champagne toasts!
The Downside is this part of the canyon needs these extra bells and whistles to compete. It is far smaller, less spectacular, and overall just far less visually appealing. It’s a spectacular Geological feature and well worth witnessing, but compared o the South Rim it just falls short in every way imaginable.
The North Rim is almost as picturesque as the South, however, it is very remote, has limited, viewing areas and is much smaller with fewer amenities than the south. This less built-up nature appeals to the purists who want to get away from the crowds and just enjoy the canyon. It really is an awfully long way from anywhere though and is even closed off during the winter.
We see the North Rim as Somewhere to visit as well as the South, an add-on. Not many people would plan a trip exclusively to the North Rim. It is however great for anyone looking to through-hike.
Where to Base Yourself
Some people may be planning on visiting the Canyon while Passing through on a Road Trip. If that is the case then you will not be basing yourself anywhere really. Simply decide on where ou are actually staying inside or near the Park
Again Most people Visiting the West Rim will be based in Las Vegas, so there is no decision there. There are places to stay at the West Rim but most people really only visit the canyon here on brief Day Trips out of Vegas.
Apart from this you need a Staging Post, somewhere to Fly-into or use as a base for heading to the Canyon. Apart from these Staging posts, the Canyon is really just too far from anywhere to get to in a single day, so whether you fly or drive in you will need a base.
- Distance to the South Rim: 75 Miles – 1:20 hr
- Airport: Flagstaff Pulliam – FLG
Flagstaff is the closest built-up location to the National Park. It is a small city with all the usual amenities you expect from a Us City. Other than flying in, picking up a hire car, and staying over a night is necessary we tend not to spend much time here. It really is just a staging post before heading to the Canyon
Flights here nearly always go through Pheonix. There are limited (if any) direct options into this very small regional Airport. Car Rentals are available here and you will find a large selection of cheap hotels right outside the city.
The BIG advantage of Flagstaff is the possibility of Shuttles and Taxi’s straight into the park more on this later
- Distance to the South Rim: 228 Miles – 3:20 hr
- Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor – PHX
Phoenix is the closest big Hub. The City is a worthwhile place to visit in itself and a great place to fly into. Most Flights to Flagstaff will pass through the Sky Harbor so if you are flying into the Canyon Area, it may make sense to bypass Phenix and simply grab a short connecting flight, you will save quite a bit of time and gas money by simply hopping straight over to Flagstaff. However, you will miss out on Pheonix as a destination.
Car Hire is often Cheaper in phoenix so you have to factor this in against the added mileage, fuel costs, and added time.
Overall, Flying into Pheonix from most USA Destinations, coupled with the cheaper hire car cost makes this option substantially cheaper, The added gas milage just doesn’t come close to the other expenses. However the time consideration is more of a deal breaker in our opinion, at flagstaff you are right on the doorstep of the park, but even then you have to consider layover times at Skyharbor!
Las Vegas, Nevada
- Distance to the South Rim: 275 Miles – 4:10 hr
- Airport: McCarran International – LAS
The Farthest of the Big Hub Cities is Las Vegas. This is by far our preferred option! It’s further away, has more expensive hotels, and is far busier and harder to get to the Canyon from. So what possible reason do we have for suggesting it?
Well…It’s Vegas! At this point, you are either sold, or you should fly into Pheonix/Flagstaff. Vegas is a destination in itself and we love the fact you can double the trip up with the canyon and get two completely contrasting experiences. The Glitz, the Glamour, and the Gaudiness of Vegas, contrasted against one of nature’s most spectacular wonders. It’s a great trip. A few days in Sin City then off to the Wilderness to detox!
Even those who are not that into Vegas will still enjoy it in a kind of passive observer kind of role. It is a city that just has to be experienced. We acknowledge some will really be rolling their eyes at this point. Vegas can be a bigger turn-off for some as it is a turn-on for others. If that’s you, No problem, Fly into Pheonix/Flagstaff.
Even better Vegas give the option of around the Canyon Road Trip. We detail this road trip here, and trust us this is the BEST way to see the canyon and it covers every option, every accessible part of the canyon along with up to 5 other National parks! The World Epic doesn’t even come close! We suppose there is no reason you couldn’t do this from Flagstaff/Pheonix, but they are out of the loop where Vegas is squarely in it!
- Distance to the South Rim: 130 Miles – 2.10 hr
- Airport: Page Municipal Airport PGA
Page, AZ is another option, however, flights here are sporadic at best. It is not a well-serviced airport at all. They are likely to be far higher than fairs to Flagstaff, Phoenix, or Vegas. We really like Page and there is a lot going on there. We would happily recommend visiting or even staying over in the quint little desert City, but the difficulty of getting there means it’s a poor choice as an initial staging post.
St George / Utah
There are also option up on the North Side of the Canyon such as St George. But while these are close to the Canyon, they are a long way from the south side and the most visited tourist destinations! Not the best for a base.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon
While the above locations are great for a staging post to springboard you into the Canyon. They are too far to stay at for the entire length of your trip. Instead, it’s best to stay close to the park or even inside the park boundaries.
Where to Stay at the South Rim
For the South, there are many options. We have compiled a full list of all the Hotels, Lodges, Campsites, and RV Parks Here:
Honestly, the West Rim is best visited as a Day Trip out of Vegas so on the whole we recommend staying there. There is very little reason to overnight at the West Rim.
The North Rim is remote and fairly desolate. There are Few Options for Staying over here. Many people who visit the North Rim are looking for an outdoorsy experience and there are many campgrounds in the area. Either the North Rim Campground or the Cottonwood Campground a Few miles down the North Kaibab Trail.
For those looking for a more civilized stay, your options are limited to precisely one! The Grand Canyon Lodge. This Iconic Lodge, nestled right on the Rim’s edge is rustic yet utterly wonderful. Staying in a historic Cabin right o nth eRim edge is simply awesome. The downside is availability! This is not a last-minute thing. You need to get a booking NOW!
Best Way to Visit the Grand Canyon
Finally, you need to decide on your transport method, we assume at this point you have got ton one f the Staging posts discussed above. Now let’s work out how to get around:
By Far our favorite way to see the Canyon. The Arizona landscape really lends itself to road tripping. The Endless black Highway, the Vanishing point horizon, Golden orange desert, and towering Mesa’s. As you follow along Route 66 or the neighboring highways there is just a wonderful remote desolate feeling. Just you and your car plowing across the endless expanse of Landsea!
Getting away from the Lyrical for a minute, road tripping it is also immensely practical. There is so little out here, and distances are so great, having your own mobile base taking you exactly where you need to be at exactly the right time is by far and away the most practical. Any form of Public transport is non-existent out here so getting around is very tricky (part from in the park as we discuss below).
For us hiring a car and hitting the highway is the best way to visit the Canyon. It also enables you to visit a whole load more places along the way. Our Around the Canyon Road trip is dripping in eye-wateringly spectacular locations and places to see. On top of this, you can simply pull up and enjoy any number of spectacular vistas as you cruise through the desert. The picture above was taken nowhere in particular, we simply rounded a bend and just had to pull over to take in the sweeping Vista and distant rainstorm. These moments happen time and time again as you voyage along the blacktop.
Hiring an RV is in a similar vein as Hiring a car only your transport is also your accommodation. This gives you real freedom to be in nature and go where the feeling takes you. It has all the advantages of a road trip but without the pre-planning of booking Motels and making sure you hit certain parts of the itinerary. You can simply stay a night longer, pull up somewhere unplanned, or just change your plans completely.
The reality is somewhat different as the Authorities do not really like you just pulling over and sleeping at the side of the road. You are required to overnight in designated RV parks. We find this detracts a lot from the Romance of the experience as all the RV drivers are bundled together in a clearing that feels pretty built up and as unnatural as it gets. Popular parks will also require bookings, which kind of flies in the face of going where the whim takes you!
Then there is the cost! RV Parks are rarely free (We discuss GC RV Parks here)and can be as much as a Motel Room! On top of this RV Hire is very expensive, many times more than a Rental Car. They are pretty thirsty too so gas money can be double or triple a rental car. All added up it is normally much cheaper to rent a car and stay in Hotels/Motels instead. Hiring an RV is rarely a good cost-saving exercise.
RVs can also be awfully slow…
Helicopter / Air Tour
It is possible to visit the Canyon without all the arduous hassle of using the roads at all. With the huge distance involved one of the best ways of experiencing the Grand Canyon is by air. You can fly directly to the West Rim from Las Vegas, touch down inside the Rim and enjoy a Champagne Picnic. or even fly in light aircraft all the way to the South rim, explore or take a helicopter flight right out across the canyon. If you are getting to the South rim by other means, you can still hop in a chopper and get a look a the canyon from the best vantage point imaginable.
We look at all the different options for Canyon Air tours in the articles below.
If you want someone else to take on the Driving Coach tours are a good way to get and see the canyon without getting behind the wheel. The positives are the Tour operators know the best part of the canyon and get you straight to them. The Tour guides are hugely knowledgeable and can point out far more points of interest and highlights than you would ever spot on your own and help you understand exactly where to go and what to do in the park. Often meals are included in the price, or at least most of them. They really are a hassle-free way of seeing the canyon.
The are downsides though. We hate the lack of freedom. You are doing exactly what the tour operators dictate and that’s it. They are also pretty slow and you can be on the bus for hours, with little to do but watch the world go by out the window…or sleep.
You may make new friends, you will get to see the best of the canyon and have absolutely no risk or hassle at all, but it will be pretty boring for the most part and will leave you painfully tired and exhausted. South rim Coach tours can take 14 hours+ with an ungodly early start. They really can be pretty torturous.
Best Grand Canyon Coach Tours
There are two parts to the Shuttle bus section Firstly getting to the Canyon and Secondly getting around it once there.
First, the only shuttle buses we know, run from Flagstaff (they do operate out of Phoenix too but that’s a long shuttle). They are a great service that runs you quickly and efficiently straight into the canyon. This is a much better option than a Coach tour as they simply get you to the canyon where you can then explore at your own pace and your own time!
Groome Transportation – Flagstaff – South Rim – $40 (approx pp roundtrip)
The second part of this is the Grand Canyon National Park Shuttle Service. This is complimentary with your park entry and provides a shuttle to just about every location within the park boundaries and links up to Tusyan for anyone staying there or flying into Grand Canyon Airport.
The Service is hugely useful for anyone without a car, but even those with cars will be required to use the shuttle service for certain parts of the Park as roads are often closed to the public. Hermit Drive is the obvious example and most people will want to head to the stunning Hopi point for Sunset/Sunrise!
Have Your Say
How did you get to the Grand Canyon on your last trip? Are you a Roadtripper like us? Or did you take a coach tour or hire an RV? Maybe you flew in on an aerial tour? However, you visited let us know below. And if you have any questions about getting to and from the canyon just fire away in the comments below