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Looking to visit one of the nation’s most famous national parks? I’m outlining everything you need to know and an itinerary in this total Grand Canyon guide.
The Grand Canyon is one of those places it seems like everyone has on their bucket list, right? It’s one of the most crowded national parks in America (source) and almost every family wants to take a summer trip here. But for good reason! The Grand Canyon is an epic 277 mile long and up to 17 mile wide crack in the ground formed by the Colorado River between the Glen Canyon Dam and something Lake. It has formed over thousands and thousands of years and is truly a sight to behold. I’m 99% sure the first thing we all said when we first peaked through the trees to the canyon was, “Wow.” That’s it. Just wow. It really is that amazing.
As I’m sure you already know, the Grand Canyon is located in the northwest corner of Arizona. One thing I didn’t realize was just how long the Grand Canyon is. The park only covers a portion of the canyon. For example, Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona is also technically a part of the Grand Canyon. So you don’t have to necessarily go to the national park to say you’ve seen the Grand Canyon… but why would you skip it if you’re already out there?!
We spent a short but great time in the Grand Canyon. Two days may not seem like a lot but to be completely transparent, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. Unless you want to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon (many people do!), two days should be enough to cover a good portion of either the south or north side of the park. Alright, let’s hop to the Grand Canyon guide.
When to visit
The Grand Canyon is in the desert. Therefore, the summers are HOT HOT HOT and the winters are pretty cold. You also have to factor in the fact that the canyon floor is usually a drastically different temperature than the top. Due to the loss of wind and lack of shade below the canyon floor, it can often be 20 degrees above the top in the summer and 20+ degrees below in the winter. Believe it or not, it snows in the winter, too.
As with many places in the southwestern United States, fall or spring is going to be the best time to visit. Not only will the weather be the most mild, you will also have less crowds.
However, that’s not to say it can’t be enjoyable in the other seasons! We visited in the summer and it was VERY hot. We did get lucky and have some overcast weather, otherwise I wouldn’t have felt comfortable hiking in those conditions. If you do plan to visit and hike in the summer, plan to start very very early to beat the heat.
The winter is obviously cold but has it’s benefits. You’ll have almost no crowds and have the chance to see some beautiful snow covering the desert landscape. Just be sure to pack plenty of layers as the weather can change quickly.
How to get there
Grand Canyon National Park is basically in the middle of nowhere. You will absolutely need a rental car or drive from a neighboring city/town (as is the case with most of the national park posts I write, ha!) The closest airports are Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
Flagstaff is about 90 minutes away from the south rim which is the most popular area of the park. Phoenix is about 3 hours but the drive is so scenic and puts you right by Sedona, which could be a great add on to your trip! Las Vegas is probably the most popular option because it usually has the best flight deals and everyone wants to hit up Vegas, right?! The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is about 5 hours but you’re also set up to be near Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a whole host of beautiful areas in Nevada and Utah!
We drove to the Grand Canyon from Sedona. It was about a 2.5 hour drive, so very easy! If you’re coming from the other direction, Joshua Tree is about 6 hours away. From the big 5 national parks in Utah, you’re 4-5 hours away. This corner of the country has SO much to explore, so I highly recommend tacking Grand Canyon onto more stops in the Southwest.
Where to stay
There are a few towns nearby, but you’ll probably have to decide if you want to be close to the park or if you want to have luxury accommodations.
As with most national parks, there is a handful of camping options. There are 1 bigger campground that is open year round, one open only in the summer, and one in the North Rim. The South Rim also has a trailer village which provides full hook ups for campers and RVs. Reservations are HIGHLY encouraged, most reservations book up 6 months to a year in advance. (Wowza, should I write a whole other Grand Canyon guide on snagging in-park lodging?!)
In addition to camping, the National Park Service also provides lodging within the camp. These also book up very very far in advance. If you choose to go this route, be mindful that some lodging is on the canyon floor (ie Bright Angel) so you will need to hike or take a donkey/horse ride down!
If you want to camp but didn’t get a spot inside the park, have no fear! There are plenty of dispersed camping spots outside the park within the Kaibab National Forest. We originally planned to do this, but the forests were shut down due to such high wildfire activity in Arizona at the time so just be mindful that the forest being closed is always a possibility.
During this trip, we were on our 6 week adventure in the RV. We didn’t plan ahead far enough to use the park’s trailer park, so we used a private camp. We booked a spot at the Grand Canyon Trailer Village. The spots were nothing to write home about, the WiFi wasn’t great, and there wasn’t any shade (which is awful in the summer!) but it was incredibly close to the gate. Like, 1 mile!
If you aren’t into camping, that’s cool, you can absolutely still visit the Grand Canyon and sleep in a real bed. Airbnbs are very limited in the area, but there are select options. Try searching the town of Tusayan. If you’re looking for a hotel, there is a Best Western and a Holiday Inn Express near the South Rim! I’ve heard from Part Time Tourists the Best Westerns out west can’t be beat!
Where to eat
Can you have a Grand Canyon travel guide without mentioning food? Don’t get too excited.. Food options are truly limited around the South Rim, so be prepared for that. There’s a steakhouse with awful Google reviews, a Starbucks, and a pizza joint that is definitely edible but won’t put Italy to shame. For that reason, I think it’s important to know this before you book lodging. There are a few options within the park, too, but that can get pretty pricy and repetitive.
If your lodging doesn’t include a kitchen or kitchenette, you’ll be at the mercy of other restaurants.
How long to stay
In my personal opinion, once you’ve seen the Grand Canyon, you’ve seen it (sue me). A 2 day stay was perfect for our plans. We were able to see a good bit of the South Rim of the park, hike, and enjoy the scenery at sunset. Therefore, 48 hours/2 nights is my recommendation.
However, if you are planning to hike to the Canyon floor, you may want to stay longer. While you can hike all the way to the bottom (~6 miles) in one day (~12 miles roundtrip) it is NOT recommended and strongly discouraged. The weather in the canyon is intense and water sources are scarce. If you plan to do this hike, 3 days might be better so you can stay one night on the front end and one night on the tail end of your 2 day hike.
If you’re headed to the canyon to hike rim to rim, that’s obviously a longer stay. Go on the adventure of a lifetime and hike from rim to rim. The hike is 21.5 miles (less or more depending on starting and ending points) that is rated very hard with a large elevation change of over 6000 feet!
A two day itinerary
Time to get into the meat of this Grand Canyon guide! Plan to get into the Grand Canyon around early to mid-afternoon. Check in to your stay, take a nap if you need (guilty!), and relax for a couple hours. By the time you settle in, it’s time to grab a quick bite to eat or grill out. Then head to the park to see the sunset over the canyon! Depending on the time of year, you may need to eat dinner after because in the Winter the sun obviously sets much earlier.
Head over the South Rim entrance and then to the The Rim Trail. This is a great introduction to your time in the Grand Canyon because it’s paved, it’s long, and there are a ton of viewing areas. This trail has some more famous areas to watch the sunset including Mather Point and Hopi Point. But I recommend Mohave or Pima Point. It’s still easily accessible but a litttttttle bit less crowded than the other areas. However, if you don’t want to walk to a specific view point, trust me—there will be a breathtaking view no matter where you stop! Also, dogs are allowed on the paved portion of the trail!
It gets pretty chilly at night, even in the summer, so bring a jacket for after the sun sets!
Pray for clear weather and enjoy some star gazing. We loved grabbing some beers and sitting outside to enjoy the beautiful night sky and warm weather!
The next morning, you’ll want to get up nice and early–especially if you are hiking in the summer. It’s time to hike into the canyon! South Kaibab trail is the most popular (for good reason) place to go into the canyon. It starts at the top and the trail goes all the way down to the Colorado River. Again, the does NPS NOT recommend to hike all the way to the canyon floor in one day, but you can do it. We didn’t, we chose to stop at Skeleton Point. Trust me, it is CRAZY steep on the way back. Unless you are very very prepared–don’t try to go to the floor in one day.
There are several stopping points along the South Kaibab Trail. Ooh Aah Point makes it about a two mile hike and this is a pretty popular stopping point for people. There’s also a one that makes it about a four mile round trip hike and Skeleton Point makes it a 6 mile out and back hike. And so on and so forth. For us, Skeleton Point was the perfect amount but you do you, boo! Plan accordingly with plenty of water and food.
There is lodging at the floor so you can hike 6 miles down, stay the night in a lodge (or camp!!), and then hike back the next day, too. I think that’s what we would do on our next visit!
After that grueling hike, we were very ready for pasta and a nap. So that’s exactly what we did!
The next morning we got up early to leave for our next destination! I truly feel like this was the perfect amount of time to see Grand Canyon National Park. I highly recommend adding on another destination to your GC visit… there are so many incredible sites nearby.
Alright friends, what did I miss? This is a bare bones itinerary and I’m sure that are magical tidbits that we’ve never even heard about! I’d love for you to share in the comments what you would add to this Grand Canyon guide?
If you liked this, you’ll love…
- Sedona Weekend Guide: Eat and hike your way through Sedona, Arizona
- Best things to see, eat, and do in Payson, Arizona
- What to do in Page, Arizona
Thanks for reading the Grand Canyon guide, y’all! What do you want to see next?