The Grand Canyon needs little introduction, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, US National Park and National Monument, and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, we all know the Grand Cayon is a very special place full of awe and wonder. It s also very high up on most people’s to-do lists when visiting Las Vegas. And rightly so, The bright lights of Vegas are incredible, but at some point, you need a break from the madness and what could be better than heading out to this magnificent natural wonder.
There are several different ways you can do this however and several different parts of the canyon you can visit, along with hundreds of tour operators and companies all offering the BEST experience. This Guide is designed to get you the best Fit of Grand Canyon activities for your level of interest, budget, and time scales.
Visiting The Grand Canyon From Las Vegas
A quick look at a Map and it is clear why visiting the Canyon is so popular from Las Vegas, it does appear very close to the City. In fact, the Map is pretty misleading and the closest part of the Canyon is 130 miles away and well over a 2-hour drive! The South Rim is even further, over 280 Miles and a 5 Hour Car Journey, without stops, that’s a 560-mile round trip and 10 hours of driving! We do some crazy drives but even that is out for us!
This is not to say you should rethink your plans, the Canyon is definitely do-able from Las Vegas and while it is not close as such, it’s still the closest major city by a long way, and Flagstaff, the closest City is still 2-hours for the South rim and to call that a city is generous. Pheonix is just about closer to the South Rim, but it is still so far it’s not really day trip material!
So despite the distance, Vegas is still your best bet as a base for visiting the Canyon. You just need to decide the best way of going about it!
The Grand Canyon
As we said the Canyon needs little introduction, but here is a brief one anyway, along with a few factoids!
The Canyon lies across the border in Arizona and has been carved out of the Red Sandstone bedrock over millions of years by the mighty colorado river. The slow erosion has exposed one of the most complete geologic columns in the world meaning Geologis can literally look back in time as they explore the canyon, with the layers getting older and older as you move from the top of the canyon to the deeper lower levels. Some of the rock in the base of the canyon dating to over 2-billion years old!
One of the Problems of visiting the canyon is its sheer size. we all know it’s BIG but most people do not appreciate just how big. Even as the Crow flies the West and South rim are over 100 miles apart! The Canyon stretches for over 277 miles in length (further if you take into account the unofficial canyon portions) at it’s widest it’s over 18 miles in width, enough to have its own weather, and over a mile in-depth, That is enough for over 4 Empire State Buildings!
Something on that scale really is hard to conceive and really that is why you NEED to experience it, the scale really is mindblowing.
This size also makes visiting the canyon tricky. To see it all you need to drive around the Canyon and for that, you would need to cover over 800 miles and it would take over 14 hours continuous driving, not something we recommend, instead, we advise for such a trip to take 3-4 days at least if you actually want to see anything, and even then you are not really scratching the surface, more of a Highlights reel!
From Las Vegas the South Rim is a 560-mile round trip and a REALLY long hard day driving or riding in a coach, it’s worth it but excruciatingly hard work. The West Rim is much closer only a 2-hours drive or a few minutes in a chopper! And that is what makes it so popular, a full 14+ hour excursion or a quick hop across to the West-Rim
West Rim Vs South Rim
There are two areas of this gigantic Natural wonder you can Visit from Las Vegas. The West Rim or the South Rim. The West Rim is also known as Grand Canyon West and the South Rim as Grand Canyon National Park. These two areas are very different and also hundreds of miles apart. Knowing the difference and deciding which area to visit is one of the most important parts of planning your visit to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas.
There is little doubt the West Rim of the Grand Canyon is by far the inferior location to visit. Sure it has more tourist amenities and activities but the scale of the canyon is nothing compared to the South Rim
This leads so many to state the West Rim is not worth visiting, or it’s not “really” the Grand Canyon at all. We can’t agree with any of this, the West rim is still a seriously impressive part of the canyon and just so much more accessible than the South. It is basically a trade-off, the South rim is Far more impressive but the 560 Mile round-trip makes day excursions horrific and some people are just not willing or able to sacrifice 2-3 days of their Vegas Trip to see the South Rim.
We explore in-depth wich rim you should visit in our West Rim vs South Rim article here.
There is also the North Rim, this is part of the Grand Canyon nation park, and it sits opposite the South rim area. However, to get to it by car is a several hundred-mile round trip. It’s a wonderful, peaceful part of the canyon but not really accessible from Las Vegas, apart fro as a multi-day Road trip, so for the most part we shall leave it out of this article.
Best Way to Visit the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas?
So out have decided you definitely want to visit the canyon and know which area you want to see. Now you need to decide how to get there? The best option is different depending on which Rim you are visiting.
The west rim is closer and the best choice for those looking to only spend a single day of their trip visiting the canyon, there are even options to see the canyon in less than 4 hours should you opt for a helicopter tour!
Driving to the West Rim is our favorite way of seeing the Canyon from the ground. You are on your own schedule and can see and do exactly what you want. The drive is not too long and would take around 2-3 hours. The Roads are good and the canyon is well signposted and easy to find. There is plenty of parking and while you need to utilize the shuttles once at the west rim that is no issue. You will need to pay the entry fee ( $39.00 ) and any add-ons like the Skywalk ($20) or Ziplining ($49). These might be included in tour packages but you are still paying them, it’s just included.
really if you have a car while in Vegas we see no reason to not drive yourself unless you are very time-constrained in which case…
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours From Las Vegas all head to the West Rim. These are the ultimate bucket list adventures, whisking you off over Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and the stunning Las Vegas scenery. there are Options are to land inside the canyon or up at the top to take in the Skywalk and visitor center. One of the advantages of the helicopter tours is they tale far less of your day than driving there and back. Expect a self-drive tour to eat 10+ hours of your day, and leave you exhausted. A helicopter trip will only take around 5-6 hours and leave you time for a lie-in or even dinner and a show to wrap the day up!
These really are the ultimate way t see the Canyon, and you can read more about these tours here in our Las Vegas Helicopter Tour Article. You can take a helicopter flight from the Rim, but we tend to find flying out of Vegas to be so much more rewarding.
If you can’t stretch to a helicopter tour and are not able to drive yourself then you can look at a Tour. These Coach trips will load you up early and transport you to the rim where you will usually have an included meal and access to a guide through the trip. The guides are usually very entertaining and informative and you will learn a lot more on a tour than most people would DIY’ing it.
The Problem with tours is that you are on someone else’s time and schedule and with frequent stops and breaks the Coach journey is a bit of a slog. Yours can take upward of 12 hours which is a long day. You will see ALOT (not just in the Canyon) but it takes a LONG time. Expect an early start, and to want to head straight to bed afterward.
Best Grand Canyon West Tours
Ok, this option is a bit out there, but West Air Aviation Las Vegas does allow Private Pilots and Trainee Pilots to Hire their planes and fly themselves over the Canyon, something we did recently and still ranks as one of the most memorable experiences of our lives! Read more here.
The South Rim is the Jewel in the Grand Canyons Crown. The Area is part of the National Parks system and requires an Entry fee of $30 per Car, which is a lot cheaper than the West Rim. It is far further away and makes a day trip nearly impossible, It is also way beyond the reach of helicopter tours.
You can drive to the south Rim and back in a day, just, but don’t it’s an incredibly long and arduous journey. If you want to DIY the South Rim you need to do a road trip and at least spend one night near the canyon. This has other benefits too, one you can get out and see some of the other nearby sights such as Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend. Both mindblowing locations. Also, you have the added benefit of being inside the National Park at Sunrise or Sunset! During these golden hours, the Canyon becomes even more staggeringly beautiful as the colors pop and the walls glow, bathed in the incredible glow of the sunlight!
This really is in our opinion the best way to see the Grand Canyon, however, it starts to move from being a part of a Las Vegas trip and is more a Grand Canyon Trip in itself. This is no reason not to visit this way but we think it needs a little more care and consideration. If you are in Vegas for a few days and just want to visit the canyon this is not the way to do it, this is an extension, best tagged on the end of a Vegas trip and treated as a trip all by itself.
We Strongly recommend doing a 3-4 Day Roadtrip around the Canyon and there is so much to see should you do that on top of the Grand Canyon, we discuss this in our Road Trips section here. But if you just want to focus on the Canyon, an overnight in Tusayan gives you the chance to see the canyon at either Sunrise or sunset and head out to Page to see Antelope and Horsehoe Bend, and still break the driving up into more manageable chunks. Add two nights in Tusayan and you can really start to explore the canyon properly.
If you REALLY want to do the South Rim in a single day there are bus tours that take over the driving element for you, at least this way you are not subjecting yourself to the rigors f driving 560+ miles and you can rest in a comfy coach seat instead. Still being on the road this long is arduous, and while the ride out is long, the ride back after a full day sightseeing is bordering on torturous. If you can sleep on a coach then you may be OK, but those who struggle are in for a long hard ride.
Couple this with a REALLY early start and it begins to stop being fun. For some, this is the only option and there is no doubt you get to see some of the best parts of the canyon, including options to head to horseshoe bend and Antelope Canyon, Most tours are fully catered and if it all gets too much and you can’t keep your eyes open at least someone else is at the wheel!
We want to love these tours, but it is just such a long day, IF you can you are definitely better overnighting, that extra day just breaks everything up, and if one day is just all you can spare, the West Rim just maybe a better bet than this!
Ok so it HAS to be the South Rim and you really can only spare one day and quite frankly you are not willing to spend 12+ hours on a bus, then it’s time to revert to America’s number 2 form of transport, the Aeroplane!
There are no major airports near enough to the South rim to make it worth your while flying commercially, but there are several options to fly into the small regional Grand Canyon National Park Airport at Tusayan.
The National Park operates a Shuttle service direct from Tusayan to all areas of the national park, but most of the Tours that fly in offer free Ground Transportation. The Flight from Las Vegas (we actually either Boulder or Henderson) takes just over an hour and you normally have 3-4 hours of time at the Park, this is enough to see the highlights and get the REAL Grand Canyon ticked off your list.
The Maverick Canyon Dream which is a flight AND helicopter trip over the South Rim costs about the same as a West-Rim flight direct from Vegas and you get to see the real canyon in all its spectacular glory.
What to See on your Grand Canyon Visit?
West Rim – $39 Entry Fee
The West Rim is more commercialized than the South Rim and has more tourist type attractions to keep you busy and occupied. The South rim, relies on its unrivaled natural beauty as we will explore later.
Skywalk – $20
The Skywalk is a Glass walkway that extends out over the Canyon with a 4000ft plunge to the Canyon floor below. It is a heartstopping experience as the earth falls away below your feet, it is quite safe however and the views from the end are some of the best at the West rim as you are treated to 270° Panoramic views.
It is a bit gimmicky however and the Walkway actually sites on a side canyon, the direct drop is also only around 5-800ft (still plenty to get the heart fluttering) and they annoyingly ban all cameras and smartphones so no Selfies or Photo’s unless you pay their overpriced photographers for a print! They say it is the interest of safety, but in reality, we think it’s probably to sell photos!
Ziplining – $49
Ziplining over the Grand Canyon has got to be high up on any thrill-seekers bucket list…unfortunately you can’t do this…sorry to get your hopes up! However, if you head to the Hualapai Ranch you can Zipline over a small side canyon. This is good fun and still a big thrill but a long way from the terrors endured by the minors at Guano Point
Despite all the Tourist options at the West-Rim, our favorite part is Guano Point. If you are wondering, yes Guano is Bat poop! The point gets it’s name from the hair-raising Cable Car that was installed to mine Guano (to be used as fertiliser) from a Batcave the other side of the canyon, 2500ft below, the ride out to work must have been insane! The mining venture proved fairly fruitless as there was hardly any bat poop in the cave and then a US Airforce Jet severed the cable, calling time on the venture. The remnants are still present and make for an interesting stop.
But the main reason we love Guano Point is the views from here are the best in the West Rim. The Vista’s extend for miles both p and down the Canyon and the rugged and unprotected drop are far and away the best views of the Grand Canyon available from the West Rim Area. If the canyon has not quite wowed you yet, then Guano Point is you lest hope, without heading to the South Rim.
Canyon Floor Landings
The only way down to the bottom of the canyon at the West Rim is by Helicopter. There are several options for helicopter landings, you can have one included in your flight in from as Vegas, or take a Chopper direct from West Rim Airport down into the Canyon, picnic lunch and Champagne is usually included.
If you are heading into the Canyon you can also tag on a River Tour either up or dow the Canyon. From the Colorado River, the canyon takes on a menacing yet beautiful demeanor as the walls rise up surrounding you.
South Rim – $30 Entry Fee (Per Car!)
The South Rim is devoid of tourist traps and gimmicks, and all that is on offer is jaw-dropping scenery along with a few visitors centers and guided walks where you can learn more about the Canyon. The experience is far more real and visceral, and when stood at one of the many points looking out over the inconceivably gigantic canyon, you will not miss the tourist trappings one bit! You are here to see the Canyon, and that is what you get!
The main attraction in the Park are the many Points and lookouts, these get you the best views and vistas in the park, there is little there but concrete platforms, a few boards with facts and information about what you are looking at and just mindblowing views.
- Hopi Point – One of the finest views in the Park, Hopi juts out into the canyon giving 270° panoramic views of the canyon. Especially beautiful at Sunset, although it can be incredibly Busy.
- Desert View Watchtower – From here the views up the canyon are quite simply staggering, the point is on a bend and the sheer scale of the canyon is very visible. The views extend 20 miles up the canyon and up to 40miles down! At this Scale the canyon seems endless, it even has it’s own weather and the distant parts of the canyon actually fade away into the fog and mist.
- Yaki Point – A wild and unprotected point that offers natural and staggering views down the canyon.
- Hermits Rest – The Last point in the park, only the hardcore make it out here and you can find some real solitude and fantastic views.
- Grand Canyon Rim Trail – At some point, everyone walks some part of this trail, running along the rim from the Grand Canyon Village all the way to hermits rest. The Trail is a tourist trail with perfect grinding and minimal incline, it hugs the rim the entire and takes in all the best Viewpoints, It has world-beating views every step of the way. Over 15 miles in length if you take into account all the sections of the trail, but there is no need to hike all of it. Just start at one of the Viewpoints and hike along the rim as far as you like and then head back, if you head out towards hermits rest you can grab a shuttle back once you have hiked as far as you want.
- Bright Angel Trail – This is a world-renowned Trail and one of the few routes from Rim to River! The Hike is 7.5-9. miles long, depending on your turnaround point, and obviously very challenging as you head back up the Canyon. However, you are rewarded with mindblowing views the whole way and the bucket list experience of hiking down the Grand Canyon and back to the top. Another Tourist Trial with water, shade, and rest stops all along the well-graded trail.
- South Kaibab Trail – 7 miles from rim to river and an altogether more rugged experience than the Bright Angel. The route is steep and the trail not as well graded but it is all the more reading for it. Hiking up this trail in summer is a brutal and dangerous task, with no water and barely any shade. Both these trails lead to the Bright Angel Campground so, we recommend hiking down the South Kaibab Trail and back up the friendlier Bright Angel. Two Trails in one…
For such a rugged, harsh, and barren place there is quite a high density of wildlife that thrives in the park. The Grand Canyon Village area is home to a large number of Elk that hang around the tourist areas looking for food and water. They are fairly timid if approached but tend to be tolerant of humans at a distance. They tend to vanish during the day but come out at night.
Mule deer are also common around the south rim and if you are lucky you may spot one of the Big Horn Sheep that have found a niche habitat on the mountainous walls of the Canyon.
In the Air, you will see bats at dusk and during the day numerous birds of prey soaring over the canyon riding the air currents looking for small mammals. If you spot an unusually large bird, you may have spotted the once Extinct (in the wild), California Condor. This reintroduced species is so large most people mistake them, not for other birds, but for airplanes, so you will KNOW if you see one!
While you are unlikely to encounter them the is Park also home to more creepy creatures, Bark Scorpions, Tarantulas, Rattle Snakes, Gila Monsters and a host of lizards all live around the rim of this spectacular park
The only really touristy attraction found at the South Rim is an Air Tour. Either by Plane or helicopter, these tours are limited to flights only, there is now flying into and landing in the canyon here.
Still, the views from the air are quite simply mindblowing. The canyon really is like nowhere and earth and for the ultimate vantage point getting airborne is the only place to be.
Final Word on Visiting the Grand Canyon From Las Vegas
While not as close as you first thought the Grand Canyon is definitely do-able from Las Vegas, and whether you have a few days spare or just a half-day there is NO reason not to get out and enjoy one of Nature’s most wonderful creations.
The West Rim is definitely inferior to the South but it still outranks pretty much any other canyon on the planet, the much friendlier travel times and fun activities make this a great choice for getting a taste of the canyon. But for the real deal, you have to head to the South Rim, here, the canyon really is mind-blowing. Getting to and from this colossal scar is a chore, but it is one that is truly worth the effort.
Have Your Say
Let us know your thoughts on Visiting the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas? Have you visited the CAnyon? Which area did you Visit? The South Rim or West Rim? How did the experiences meet your expectations? Whatever you have to say just fire away in the comments below. And if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments.