When most people decide they are going to visit the Grand Canyon they are not actually aware of just how enormous the Canyon actually is. They are also unaware that due to its enormous size, there are different and distinct parts of the Canyon, and choosing the right part of the canyon is crucial to your enjoyment and getting the best Grand Canyon Experience. For many, they simply know you can visit the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and jump on a tour to do just that! For some this is a great choice, others will be disappointed.
The two main Visitor locations are the West Rim and the South Rim. These two locations are radically different and hundreds of miles apart, so it is vital you make the right decision in choosing which Rim is best suited to you. Our Grand Canyon West Rim vs South Rim article is designed to do just that. We do a Grand Canyon Comparison to show you exactly what to expect from each Rim, How much they cost, and what it takes to get to each rim! This is not a simple topic and many people degrade it down to a simple question with one answer, but the truth is a little more nuanced, and the best option for you may not be the same for others.
Grand Canyon Snobbery
We often hear on Travel Forums and from Travel Bloggers that there is only one choice for the Grand Canyon, the South Rim. They berate the West Rim as a tacky tourist attraction with far inferior views and not worthy of your time and money. Anyone visiting is a fool and falls into a tourist trap.
We whole heartily disagree…well with some of it. The South Rim is, far and away, a better part of the canyon. It is FAR deeper, FAR wide and the colors pop far more vividly. There isn’t a hint of tourist trappings and it is easily one of the most beautiful and stunning natural wonders you will ever lay eyes on. But its magnificence does not render the West Rim unworthy of your attention. There are many good reasons people choose the West Rim and most people come away having had a fantastic experience and no worse off for not making the pilgrimage to the South.
Simply put there is no one size fits all answer to the West vs South Debate and we do not wish to provide you with one. Instead, we think it’s best to arm you with honest information so you can decide which is best for you.
What is Grand Canyon West – West Rim?
- Distance From Vegas – 130 Miles – 2 hours 20 Mins (minimum, Each Way)
- Entry Fee – $39 Per Person
As Vegas grew the array of attractions and things to do also grew, people were no longer satisfied with just Shows, booze, and Gambling and the tourism industry started looking around the Las Vegas Area for other attractions that they could run tours to in order to give people a break from Vegas but actually make then stay longer, Day trips to Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire all popular, but the big prize was the Grand Canyon!
However, the National Park was over 280 miles away from Vegas, and running strips there was painful. Until the Hualapai Indian Tribe opened up their reservation at the Western part of the Canyon. The Hualapai Indian Reservation was deemed too hard for Tourists to as so the Name Grand Canyon West was adopted and is now known as the West Rim. At “only” 125 miles from the park visitors could now Visit the Grand Canyon with only a 2-3 hour drive!
To attract even more tourists in 2007 the Hualapai Tribe built the Grand Canyon Skywalk and added other tourist attractions to make your day out even more appealing. hey also allow other activities that are not allowed in the National park such as Helicopter landings and Canyon Fly Throughs. They also have big plans to open the whole area up into a mega-resort right o the canyon Rim, but plans for this have stalled.
The South Rim definitely has a tourist feel about it and there is little doubt the primary motive of the Tribe is to relieve money from tourists, but in a capitalist America who can blame them for that? They have an amazing Resource at their disposal, so why not utilize it? Millions of American companies do just that!
The Grand Canyon National Park – South Rim
- Distance From Vegas – 280 Miles – 4 hours 30 Mins (minimum, Each Way)
- Entry Fee – $35 Per Car ($20 Per Person if arriving by bus, coach, plane, bike foot, etc)
The Grand Canyon National Park is a very different beast from the West Rim. When it was established over 100 years ago (1919) it got the pick of the canyon and fact took over stewardship of most of the canyon, with just small areas left to the Hualapai Indian Reservation, the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and the Navajo Nation.
Most of the National park covers the Northern side of the Canyon, however, this is remote and inhospitable, for their Main Visitor centers the NPS Designated a small part of the Southern Rim as home and created the Grand Canyon Village to service the 17 million visitors that now visit the Park annually.
While the Village offers services to the Visitors it is very un-commercialized. There are no Tourist trappings here and the Park sells itself on the Dramatic Beauty and Stunning nature of the Canyon. And Make no mistake The South rim is, utterly, mind-blowingly, spectacular.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon National Park
Finally, there is the North Rim Visitor Center. Requiring a 50-mile drive from the main highway which in itself is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The North Rim is a wonderful place but you have to REALLY want to head there, and as such, it is not really suitable for tourists simply looking to visit the canyon on a one or two-day trip.
There are other parts of the North rim that are accessible but only via some pretty extreme backcountry hiking so again we will leave those here.
The Grand Canyon officially starts at the confluence f the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River. Beyond that is what is known as the Marble Canyon, at first this is barely distinguishable from the Grand Canyon, however, after a while, it becomes much smaller. It is still an impressive Canyon, in fact, some of its features are more striking than the actual Grand Canyon, such as the amazing Horseshoe Bend! There are other features and attractions in the area, such as Antelope Canyon, which are also well worth checking out. But these are not technically the Grand Canyon.
They are important to mention though as you will only get to visit these as additions to the South Rim, they are hundreds of miles from the West Rim so are not part of any West Rim tours or itineraries.
That said, the West rim also has a few extras attached to it that are not really part of South Tim Tours, Most tours also Visit the Hoover Dam (you may pass over this on the way to the south rim, but time scales mean you will not stop) and Lake Mead on their way to the West Rim. These are great additions and really stunning and beautiful parts of the Las Vegas Area.
Which is the Best: West Rim or South Rim?
We think from our descriptions it’s clear we prefer the South Rim. But let’s be 100% clear, the South Rim knocks the absolute socks off the West Rim! There is just NO comparison. Let’s look at a few stats:
- Canyon Width – West Rim: 1-5Miles – South Rim: 18 Miles!
- Canyon Depth – West Rim 3500ft – South Rim: 6000ft!
- View Distance – West Rim: 8 Miles Max – South Rim: 40 Miles!
- River Colour – West Rim: Muddy Brown – South Rim: Emerald Green
- Rock Colours – West Rim: Reddish-Brown – South Rim: Rainbow!
- Entry Fee – West Rim: £39 per Person – South Rim: $35 Per CAR!
If the Stats are damning then let’s compare a couple of images?
And Finally, there is the word of mouth, which we have heard from quite a few people, when discussing the Grand Canyon say “Oh yeah we went, but we were not that impressed, it wasn’t as impressive as we imagined!”
Our inevitable follow-up question is did you go to the West Rim? The answer is always “huh?”…which with further questioning, ends up as yes!
So You Don’t Recommend The West Rim Then?
You see this is where it gets complicated, as Yes, we do recommend the West Rim! It’s great, and we love our trips there. It is a bit like saying, you don’t recommend a nice reasonable bottle of wine because a Vintage French Champagne is better! Or all paintings are awful because they are not Van Gough! Just because something is better does not make the other terrible!
If you look at our stats above and ignore the comparison, the canyon is still a huge and mighty impressive gouge in the Arizona Desert, The steep canyon walls plunge away from the rim to the mighty colorado below (you can barely see the river from the south rim). It is still a mightily impressive sight and far larger than pretty much any canyon on earth. While it might not fully tick everyone’s Grand Canyon Bucket list, if a day trip away from the craziness of Vegas for a day is all you require, this fits the bill perfectly!
There are also several other reasons the West Rim is a better bet than the South Rim.
The South Rim is a damn long way from Vegas, or anywhere else really. We have done some crazy legs on our USA road trips but a one-day round trip to the South Rim is even beyond our tolerance. 560+ Miles and 10 Hours of solid motoring is some tough going and leaves little time for actually seeing the Canyon you will also miss the Canyon at its best at sunrise or sunset, and fitting any of the amazing surrounding attractions in like, Antelope and Horsehoe bend mean adding hours more motoring onto an already exhausting day.
The Solution to that is to overnight near the South Rim, split the driving up over a few days, and see the canyon properly, better still 2 nights, or a multi-day trip around the canyon. These are all great options, but not ones everyone has time for. If you can only spare one day out of your vegas trip to see the canyon the West Rim wins hands down.
It all depends on how much time you can spare and how much you want to see the Grand Canyon at its best? These scales tip differently for different people and different trips!
The West Rim also has some tricks up its sleeve. Being owned by the Hualapai tribe and run primarily for profit they have opened the canyon up much more on a tourist level than the National Park Service has. The Park service strike a balance between allowing us to enjoy the stunning Natural Wonder while also protecting it, its wildlife, and its visitors (it can, after all, be a pretty hostile place). They do a fantastic job and we do not criticize them one bit! However, some of the rules they put in place can be a touch draconian and feel a little “killjoy” in nature. The truth is they are just doing whatever it takes to protect the canyon and allow us to see it for what it really is!
The Hualapai tribe just let things slide a little more, allowing activities that the NPS just wouldn’t consider, such as:
If you have ever dreamed of flying into Grand Canyon, Landing on the Canyon Floor, Popping a Bottle of Fizz, and living life like you never imagined possible, then forget the South Rim! No flights are allowed within 1500ft of the Rim, and there are strict height restrictions for fly-overs. No Commercial Helicopters are allowed to land anywhere inside the canyon, on park grounds that is.
At the West Rim, this is the norm. A slew of choppers ferry people into the canyon every day, and for fairly reasonable prices. These tours are heavily commercialized and can feel a bit like a production line but it is an experience like few others. And the only place you are going to get a helicopter landing inside the canyon*
*well, you could try breaking your leg at the bottom of angel Bright Trial in the south Rim…they may send a chopper to get you out then!
Sky Walk – $20 add-on
The Grand Canyon Skywalk was the big attraction to get people to visit the Area, without it the tourists were pretty reluctant to come. The Skywalk really is quite a thrill. Stepping out onto the glass really turns something on in your stomach! The ground dropping away beneath your feet is enough to play terrible tricks on the more primitive part of your brain.
Critics point out that it is “only” 5-800ft high, that it is above aside canyon and it is all a bit gimmicky, and that is all true, but still try explaining that to your caveman’s brain when there is nothing but air between you and the canyon floor below!
Our only criticism is the banning of cameras on the walk! A cynical ploy to get you to buy their $16 Photos!
Zip-Lining – $49
Who doesn’t love a good Zipline! And While the West Rim Zip-Line is far from what you may imagine, there is no zipping across the canyon as you may have hoped, It is still a good fun Zipline across a small side canyon, you will not find anything like this at the South Rim!
Powered River Tours
You can do Powered River Tours at the South Rim but they are heavily regulated and multi-day adventures, if you just want to cruise up the river a few miles to get the feel of it there are no options. Not so at the West Rim, there are several River tours to various parts of the canyon and all are great fun
Cliff Top Restaurants
Dining options inside the National Park are pretty sparse and not overly exciting, we tend to bring our own food, again it’s the compromise between conservation and catering to visitors. The West Rim has several interesting Dining options, many that you can add-on to your ticket. Ok, the food is, erm, questionable, and that’s being generous, but it’s a bit more about the experience, such as the SkyView Restaurant and the Guano Point Cafe. The food is not the best but dining at the very edge of the Canyon is pretty Special.
Main Reason to Choose the West Rim
Despite us going to great lengths to dispel the myths and let you know you will have a great time at the West Rim there really is only one reason to choose it over the South, and that is TIME. The west rim works as a single-day excursion and the South Rim just doesn’t. Sure the idea of the Sky Walk and a Helicopter landing inside the rim are pretty appealing, but they do not make up for the sheer beauty and wonder at the south.
However, unless you have more than a day to spare the South rim is just too far, so you need to make do with the West Rim. it is, however, a pretty amazing place to “make do” with!
Main Reason to Choose the South Rim
And that brings us back to the South Rim, we have tried fairly hard to highlight the West Rim in this post, Mainly as millions of people head here every year and have a great time. For many, they can only really want to spend a single day of their Vegas Trip visiting the GC, and the West Rim suits this time scale perfectly.
The South Rim doesn’t. In our opinion Driving to the South rim and back in a single day is dangerous, you will be simply exhausted and unfit to continue driving. We have driven similar long hauls and it is utterly exhausting. There are several Day Trips you can take via Coach or Bus and while these are perfectly safe, they are equally draining and you will spend even longer on the road. To Visit the South rim in a Day your only real option is an Air Tour. These are utterly amazing experiences but fairly costly and not for everyone.
This comes across as we are a bit negative towards the South Rim, We are not! We are just negative about trying to do it in one day. The South Rim is a genuine treasure and deserves FAR more than a fleeting Visit after 6 hours on the Road! To do the National Park justice requires you to stay over at least a night. For many, this is no issue and if you can spare two days out of your trip, do not even think twice!
The South Rim is so much more beautiful, stunning, and dramatic, it really is hard to quantify. The simple reason for choosing the South Rim is the place is just unlike anywhere on the planet. We mentioned earlier that we have come across some people who have been underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. They ALL visited the West Rim, we have never come across a single soul who was not blown away by the majesty of the South Rim, if in this post it has seemed we tried to “sell” the West Rim it is because it needs it, the South just Doesn’t. Words just fail to convey how mindblowing the place is, as do pictures and Video, you really have to have your feet at the edge of this precipice to fully contemplate how vast, beautiful, and special it really is.
We think the biggest decider is just how important the Grand Canyon is to you! Are you looking to tick the Canyon off your Bucket List? Have you yearned your whole life to see the natural wonder in person? Are nature and the beauty of the wild more important to you than the bright lights of Vegas? If so the West Rim will just not cut it, you will always have a feeling of you didn’t quite see the best of the canyon and the hole in your heart will not be filled! Find the time and do the South Rim the Justice it deserves, you will NOT regret it!
However, if your primary aim is just something to do for on your Las Vegas Trip, something to get you away from the club, pools, bars, and casinos. To get out and see some of the natural beauty of the area, the West Rim is perfect. While you may be blown away by the South, you may just be missing the craps table or pool time? You haven’t come to Vegas to stare at some rocks, you want to Party!
We all come to Vegas for different reasons, TBH we rarely Visit the CG as part of our Vegas trips, instead, we tag it on the end, and we use Vegas as a Staging post. We start our trips off enjoying the Vegas Debauchery, and when we have had enough head off into the wild. Naturally, it works in reverse too and after a week or two on the road, we end up in vegas to Relax and unwind from the ordeals of the road. This is how it works best for us, but you may only be in town for a weekend or have your whole trip based in Vegas. Sin City caters to so many and everyone can get out of Vegas what they desire.
So you just need to work out what you want, is it the BEST of the GC or just a break away from the bright lights and Vegas Madness?
Made your Choice?
Head back to our Grand Canyon From Las Vegas Page to see how to plan your trip Now you have chosen!
Visiting the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas
Have Your Say
Let us know about your Grand Canyon Experiences? Have you Visited either Rim? Maybe you have visited Both? Which did you prefer? Was the West Rim a Disappointment? Did the South Rim live up to your expectations? Whatever you have to say let us know in the comments below and if you have any questions feel free to Fire away.