Regardless of which rim you choose to visit at the Grand Canyon, you are sure to find the spectacular and expansive views you might expect at this world-famous destination. However, it can be hard to decipher what the difference is between the South Rim and the North Rim. While both rims come highly recommended, here is some local knowledge that can assist in helping to choose which side of Grand Canyon best suits your desires and travel plans.
Grand Canyon South Rim
The South Rim of Grand Canyon is where the vast majority of people visit, especially for the first time. Approximately 90% of the five million annual visitors end up at the South Rim, which is the rim that is most easily accessible from the closest metropolitan areas. It is located about a 4-hour drive from both Phoenix and Las Vegas. The South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village is where you will find the most visitor-friendly services including hotels and restaurants, as well as additional options located in the small town of Tusayan, which lies just outside the park’s South Rim entrance gate.
A free shuttle bus system allows visitors to find parking and then have convenient transportation throughout the developed portion of Grand Canyon Village. The buses run approximately every 15 minutes from sunrise to sunset and can get you to the Visitor Center, General Store, gift shops, museums, lodges, and restaurants, as well as a variety of spectacular vistas and hiking trails.
Additionally, the South Rim is open year-round and you can find hiking tours, jeep tours, scenic helicopter flights, bike tours and rentals, and the popular IMAX movie theater.
The North Rim
The hidden secret of Grand Canyon National Park lies on the North Rim of the canyon. The views are truly stunning and quite distinctly different from those on the South Rim, largely due to it higher elevation. The Kaibab Plateau sits approximately 1000 feet higher than the South Rim and therefore supports an entirely different ecosystem, complete with alpine forests and beautiful meadows. The higher elevation also results in cooler temperatures. Summer highs rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a gorgeous destination in June through September. But plan accordingly: the North Rim is only open from May 15 to October 15 each year.
Due to its relative isolation in a remote portion of northern Arizona, the North Rim only sees about 10% of Grand Canyon’s annual visitation. Expect a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas, the closest metropolitan area, and about 6 hours from Phoenix or Salt Lake City. Lower visitation also means fewer visitor services. There is a small bookstore and visitor center and a few Ranger programs. But there is no shuttle bus service, so getting around the developed part of the North rim requires driving yourself. The few paved roads lead to spectacular viewpoints and a few hiking trails.
The Grand Canyon Lodge features a variety of rustic cabin accommodations and some small motel rooms. The lodge’s dining room offers impressive views over the canyon and a lovely outdoor patio allows visitors to kick back in rocking chairs and sip on beverages while enjoying the view and peaceful surroundings. There is also a relatively large and well-appointed campground that can accommodate RVs, trailer campers, and tent camping. Both the lodge and campground require advance reservations, best made about 1 year in advance. Everything will sell-out in short order!
Regardless of which rim you choose to visit, your Grand Canyon experience is sure to be rewarding. However, depending on your particular desires and timeframe for visiting, you may find that either the North Rim or South Rim best suits your plans. And if you’d like to include both the North Rim and South Rim in one visit, consider an all-inclusive guided tour that will highlight the scenic wonders of both!