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Grand Canyon National Park is a must-see destination. Spanning 277 miles in length, approximately 18 miles wide across at its widest point and 4 miles across its narrowest point, and 6000 feet deep, there is a lot to see and do.

Exploring Grand Canyon National Park can be a little challenging, but armed with these 14 tips for first visit to Grand Canyon National Park you will make your visit one to remember!

Grand Canyon National Park / Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

14 Useful Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon National Park


Skip the North Rim and Visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

There are two sides to the Grand Canyon – the South Rim and the North Rim. They are about a 4-hour drive from each other.

If you have never been to the Grand Canyon and you are trying to decide whether to visit the South Rim or the North Rim, then, hands down, go to and spend time at the South Rim.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a spectacular place to experience the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River as it carves its way through the canyon. However, the Grand Canyon South Rim is a busy place and you will have plenty of company wherever you go.

Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

Skip the North Rim and Visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon 

Having said that, if you seek solitude, you need to head to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It is a fantastic choice if you seek a more primeval, natural, quiet, and uncrowded Grand Canyon experience.

Keep in mind that the North Rim is open only during the summer months.


Save Time and Fly into One of the Closest Airports and Rent a Car

The Grand Canyon South Rim is located 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona (via Route 64 from Interstate 40) and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona (via Route 180).

The closest major airport is in Flagstaff, AZ (86 miles from the park). It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach Grand Canyon from Flagstaff.

In addition, there is limited air service to Grand Canyon Airport

Other airports:

  • Distance from Phoenix, AZ to Grand Canyon – 224 miles (3h, 30 min)
  • Distance from Las Vegas, NV to Grand Canyon – 271 miles (4h, 17 min)
  • Distance from Salt Lake City, UT to Grand Canyon – 503 miles (8 hours)


Enter the Park Through the East Entrance and Take Desert View Drive

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park has two entrances:

  • South Entrance which you can reach from Hwy 180, and
  • East Entrance on Hwy 64

The majority of the visitors enter from the South Entrance.

However, If possible, enter the park from the East Entrance and take Desert View Drive.  Desert View Drive is 25 miles long from the East Entrance to the Grand Canyon Village.

Make sure to stop by as many viewpoints located along Desert View Drive as possible. The views along this section of Grand Canyon South Rim are simply off the charts!

If you are into photography, then make sure to check out all the best photo spots in my post: Best Photography Locations in Grand Canyon National Park. It has a ton of useful photography tips as well.

Sunrise in Grand Canyon

Spectacular Sunrise in Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon Is Stunning at Any Time of the Year - Plan Your Trip Now

The Grand Canyon South Rim is a great destination to visit at any time of the year. Simply put, no matter when you visit, you will experience the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon.

Even though the Grand Canyon is always spectacular, the weather conditions vary considerably from season to season. Here is what you need to know:

  • Spring: March, April, and May are the best times to visit the Grand Canyon. The temperatures are mild and range from about 50F to 70F. However, be prepared for occasional showers and even snow. By the same token, you will see fewer crowds and have some serene experiences.

INTREPID’S PRO TIP: If you are planning to do some hiking in the Grand Canyon, then plan it for the early spring. The inner canyon trails become hot and extremely uncomfortable during the summer months, however, they are wonderful in the early spring.

  • Summer: June, July, and August are the high season. It is the busiest time of the year. Needless to say, expect a lot of companionship on the trails and everywhere throughout the park.

In addition, it is the hottest time of the year with temperatures ranging from 80F at the rim and climbing above 100F below the rim. Moreover, be prepared for late-summer thunderstorms.

However, you cannot beat long summer days and even if you experience a late-summer thunderstorm, it might be a stunning view of the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park at Sunset / Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

  • Fall: September, October, and November are my favorite times to visit the Grand Canyon. First of all, you will be able to find some solitude on the trails and at some viewpoints. Second, the weather is usually great. The temperatures range from 50F to 70F.

Above all, it usually starts to dry up after the late-summer monsoon season. However, the weather can be unpredictable, so make sure to bring some warm clothes as well.

Furthermore, the fall sunsets are spectacular. The light brings out the colors of red, rust, and orange on the canyon walls.

  • Winter: December, January, and February are good times to visit the Grand Canyon. First of all, the huge tourist crowds are practically gone.

However, the temperatures are usually about 40F or below. These are the coldest months with plenty of snowfall. The South Rim averages about 5 feet of snow each winter. Likewise, winter is a magical time with snow covering the canyon.


Make Reservations for Your Accommodations Way in Advance

Needless to say, there is nothing like staying inside the park at one of the lodges. You are practically staying at the rim. And, honestly, for me, nothing beats just walking out of your hotel and watching the sunset.

Now, if you decide to stay at one of the lodges, then some planning is necessary and you need to reserve your room at least one year in advance.

Following are some of the options for staying inside the Grand Canyon National Park:

  • El Tovar Hotel: 

My top choice is El Tovar Hotel. It is a historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It first opened its doors in 1905.

The hotel was designed by Charles Whittlesey, Chief Architect for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.  The hotel was built from local limestone and Oregon pine. It cost $250,000 to build, and many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River.

In 1987 the Hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark.

In the past, the hotel has hosted such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Western author Zane Grey, President Bill Clinton, Sir Paul McCartney, and countless others.

El Tovar has 78 rooms many of which are suites. If possible, book a suite! Due to the historic nature of the hotel, no two rooms are alike, which gives the hotel distinctive charm.

In addition, make sure to check out the restaurant located in the hotel.

El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon

El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon 

  • Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins:

Bright Angel Lodge is located at the top of Bright Angel Trailhead. It was designed in 1935 by famed Southwest architect Mary E.J. Colter.

Bright Angel Lodge has a natural rustic character and is a Registered National Historic Landmark. Bright Angel Lodge has 90 units ranging from rustic cabins to lodge rooms (with no television and shared baths).

  • Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge:

Katchina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge are my two personal favorites. They both sit along the Rim Trail in the National Landmark Historic District. Above all, they are practically a stone’s throw from the canyon abyss.

  • Maswik Lodge:

Maswik Lodge is less expensive than the options above. However, it is a 250-room lodging complex located in the Ponderosa pine forest about a quarter-mile from the canyon’s edge.

Ok, so if everything is booked inside the park, which happened to me many times before, then, you need to look into some of the accommodations outside the Grand Canyon National Park.

The good news is that there are numerous accommodations available in the gateway community of Tusayan. Tusayan is located 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village, along Arizona Highway 64.

Following are some of the places that I stayed at before. They are no frills type of accommodations, but they work just fine:

Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon

Best Western Canyon Squire Inn

The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon

If you are staying at one of the lodges in Tusayan between March 1st and October 30th, then the park provides a free shuttle bus service between Tusayan Hotels and the South Rim Visitor Center.



Arrive Early for Sunrises and Stay Late for Sunsets

If you are staying outside the park, then do not feel like you have to leave the park at a certain hour.

Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day throughout the entire year. So, arrive as early and stay as late as you want. Sunrises are awesome and sunsets are spectacular at the Grand Canyon.

However, if you are visiting during the winter months, then you need to keep in mind that there may be temporary road closures during and shortly after winter snowstorms. Roads stay closed until plowing is completed and conditions are safe for visitor traffic.


Watch Sunsets During the Golden Hour and Stay for the Blue Hour

Sunsets are spectacular in Grand Canyon National Park. It seems like the entire canyon comes alive and the colors of orange and red become extremely vivid.

The best time for sunset photography is during the golden hour. The light is warmer and softer during that time and there are no dramatic shadows.

Sunset in Grand Canyon

Sunset in Grand Canyon National Park 

Also, make sure to stay a bit longer after the sunset and wait for the famous Blue Hour. It happens when the sun is way below the horizon and the light has a slightly blue tint.


Buy America the Beautiful Pass Instead of a Single Entrance Ticket

All visitors are required to purchase a recreational use pass. You pay for the pass at the entrance to the park. In addition, you can buy the pass online. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days including the date of purchase. The pass includes both the North Rim and South Rim.

The following are the prices:

  • Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit – $35. It admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers.
  • Grand Canyon National Park Motorcycle Permit – $30. It admits one single, private, non-commercial motorcycle and its passenger(s).
  • Grand Canyon National Park Individual Permit – $20/person. It admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway, and private rafting trip. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.

Now, if you are visiting several national parks during your vacation, you should consider purchasing an annual pass. And, by the way, a trip to Grand Canyon National Park is perfectly combined with a visit to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park!

The cost of the annual pass is $80. An annual pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, such as national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and grasslands. You can purchase the pass online: America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass


Use Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus Service

Free shuttle bus service is offered inside the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park. You can hop on and hop off at any of the shuttle stops and use the shuttle bus service as many times as you need.

The shuttle is not mandatory, however, it is highly recommended especially during the summer months, since finding a parking spot could be challenging. In addition, you will save money on gas and you will not be stuck in traffic.

There are five routes covered by the Grand Canyon shuttle bus service:

  • Blue Route/Village Route
  • Orange Route/Kaibab Rim Route
  • Red Route/Hermits Rest Route
  • Purple Route/Tusayan Route
  • Hiker’s Express Route

I wrote a post about the Grand Canyon South Rim shuttle bus service. It contains several handy maps and explains each route in detail.


Do Not Rely on Cell Phone Reception Inside the Park

Verizon has a tower inside the park, so their customers typically get the best reception. Everyone else can expect spotty to non-existent reception. As a result, do not rely on cell phone coverage in the Grand Canyon National Park.

I usually download Google offline maps and use them to help me navigate places without cell phone reception.


Quick Facts About Grand Canyon You Need to Know

  • Many people consider the Grand Canyon to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
  • The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometers) in length. At its widest point, the Grand Canyon stretches 18 miles (29 kilometers) across, and at its narrowest point, it is 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) across. The Grand Canyon is around 6000 (1800 meters) feet deep.
  • The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon, it has been eroding its steep sides for millions of years.
  • The different types of rock visible in the Grand Canyon make it an important site for geological research. The rock found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (schist) is around 2 billion years old. In addition, the rock found on the upper rim (limestone) is around 230 million years old.
Grand Canyon National Park

The Colorado River Runs Through the Grand Canyon

  • John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down the Grand Canyon in 1869. He was the first to use the name “Grand Canyon” after it had previously been known as the “Big Canyon” or “Great Canyon”.
  • The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919. It was the 17th national park to be established in the United States.
  • Around 5 million visitors come to the Grand Canyon South Rim each year.


Stop By the Famous Viewpoints Along the Grand Canyon South Rim (Hermit Road - West Side)

Map of Grand Canyon South Rim

Map of Grand Canyon South Rim (West Side). Image Source: NPS / Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon 

To Print or Download Grand Canyon Panorama Map

Click: HERE

Take the Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus and stop by all the famous viewpoints in Grand Canyon South Rim along Hermit Road (west side).

Following are my favorite viewpoints along the South Rim.

  • Yavapai Point: Yavapai Point sits at the most northerly section of the Grand Canyon South Rim. Consequently, you will get the best view of the famous three points: Cape Royal, Wotans Throne, and Vishnu Temple. In addition, look down the gorge and onto the serpentine Colorado River.
  • Mather Point: Mather Point is the busiest viewpoint in the Grand Canyon South Rim. However, it is one of the park’s most spectacular vantage points. The Colorado River is practically below your feet. To the west is Bright Angel Trail, to the east is the South Kaibab Trail, and straight ahead is the North Rim.
Mather Point in Grand Canyon

View from Mather Point of the Famous Three Points: Cape Royal, Wotans Throne, and Vishnu Temple

  • Maricopa Point: Maricopa Point sits on a narrow promontory extending northeast and then dropping vertically. The vistas towards the east and west of the canyon are excellent here. In addition, the views extend to the North Rim.
  • Hopi Point: Hopi Point is one of my personal favorites. It is one of the best all-around viewpoints in the Grand Canyon. Jutting out farther into the Canyon than any other point on the South Rim, Hopi Point offers incredible views. In addition, it is a great spot to come back to and watch the sunset. You will be able to catch all the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls as the sun is setting down.

GOOD TO KNOW: Hopi Point offers excellent views of the stone “temples”. Temples, in this case, are rock formations rising from the depths of the canyon.

If you look at the above photograph all the way to the horizon, you will be able to see the North Rim. Follow the North Rim up to the first indentation. This is Cape Royal. Cape Royal is a type of temple formed when side-canyon erosion produces peninsula-like projection along the rim.

Afterward, follow the horizon to the next temple. It is Wotan Throne. It was formed by erosion which transformed the peninsula into an island, and eventually, it was separated from the rim.

Finally, let your eyes wander to the last rock formation. It is called Vishnu Temple. Vishnu Temple was formed by further erosion, where the softer rock crumbles and undercuts harder rock.

Hopi Point in Grand Canyon

Hopi Point Offers Excellent Views of the Stone “Temples”.

  • Mohave Point: Mohave Point is awesome! If you thought that Hopi Point was good, just wait till you get to Mohave Point. Not only you will catch the dramatic vistas here, but also you will be able to see some excellent views of the river and rapids below.

In addition, stretching out below the lookout is a rocky promontory known as the Alligator, as it twists toward the river beyond. To the northwest, you can see Hermit Rapid, created when the side of the canyon collapsed into the river.

Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

Mohave Point Offers Excellent Views of the River and Rapids Below 

Next, take the path that goes from Mohave Point to Pima Point. The path goes along the Abyss and travels along one of the most scenic segments along the rim.

The Abyss lookout point is one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the Grand Canyon. Notably, it is located on the very edge of the rim and gives you an almost vertical look down into the canyon below. In the distance, you can see the Colorado River set against the backdrop of the layered rocks.

Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

Path Between Mohave Point and Pima Point

  • Pima Point: At Pima Point, you will get one of the best views of the Grand Canyon South Rim and probably the most spectacular one of the Colorado River and rapids below. In addition, the views to the east are stunning.
Grand Canyon at Sunset

View from Pima Point at sunset in Grand Canyon National Park / Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon


Take a Drive on Desert View Road

Map of Desert View Drive in Grand Canyon National Park

Map of Desert View Drive in Grand Canyon National Park. Image Source: NPS / Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon

Make sure to take a drive along Desert View Drive and stop by some of the viewpoints. Keep in mind that the Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus Service does not operate in this section of the Grand Canyon, so you will have to use your vehicle.

Here are my favorite viewpoints along Desert View Drive:

  • Grandview Point: Grandview Point stands tall at 7,100 feet. It is one of the highest viewpoints in the Grand Canyon South Rim. In addition, it is the southernmost point of the canyon. The views are magnificent here.

Grandview Point overlooks the dense forests and the Horseshoe Mesa. By the way, Grandview Point is the start of Grandview Trail which leads to Horseshoe Mesa.

  • Moran Point: Once you reach Moran Point and glance all around you, you will get a true sense of the vastness of the Grand Canyon South Rim. Furthermore, directly below Moran Point sits the Red Canyon and the colors are just staggering here. The reds, oranges, and rusts glow beautifully, especially in the afternoon sun.

To top it off, the sparkling Colorado River finally makes a longer appearance. Finally, try to find the Sinking Ship, a fascinating geological formation that appears as if it were a sinking vessel against the setting sun.

GOOD TO KNOW: By the way, Moran Point is named after Thomas Moran, a painter who traveled to the Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell in 1873. If you like Thomas Moran’s paintings here is a website with a recap of his life and work: Thomas Moran

  • Desert View: Desert View is the highest viewpoint on the Grand Canyon South Rim with an elevation of 7,438 feet. Consequently, Desert View offers sweeping views of the Grand Canyon South Rim and the Colorado River.

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon South Rim sits Desert View Watchtower. Designed by Mary Colter, Desert View Watchtower combines traditional Southwest architectural styles like Spanish Colonial, Mission, and Native American elements, which we call today Santa Fe style.

So, with no further delay, head to the tower. Inside you will find a spiral stairway that winds five stories high. Head straight to the top and as you are climbing the stairs look through many windows and see mile upon mile of magnificent views.

By the way, the windows have reflectoscopes, which are viewing instruments that enhance the colors by using black glass. Once you get to the top, check out the observation deck, which offers great views of the eastern part of the Grand Canyon South Rim.

Desert View in Grand Canyon

Perched on the Edge of the Grand Canyon South Rim Sits Desert View Watchtower Designed by Mary Colter 


Hike Below the Rim

The best way to get the full Grand Canyon experience is to mix the scenic viewpoints with some hikes below the rim:

  • South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park 

If you can only do one hike at the Grand Canyon, then the South Kaibab Trail is the best choice. Be prepared to be amazed by the sweeping views as you hike along a dramatic ridgeline. Above all, you will get to see the spectacular beauty of the Grand Canyon from below the rim.

South Kaibab Trail in grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail

The majority of the hikers trek to Ooh-Aah Point or Cedar Ridge and back. Some hikers continue to Skeleton Point. It is entirely up to you how far you want to hike.

GOOD TO KNOW: For full details about South Kaibab Trail read my post, it has all the information you need to plan a perfect hike. It covers trail location and how to get to the trailhead, distances between each stopping point, elevation changes, the time needed to complete each section of the trail, as well as a map of the trail.

  • Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park 

Another great trail that will take you below the rim is Bright Angel Trail. It is your best choice if you have never hiked in the Grand Canyon before. It is a very well-maintained trail.

There is regular drinking water and covered rest houses along the way. In addition, there are ranger stations located at the trail’s halfway point (Indian Garden) and the bottom of the canyon (Bright Angel Campground).

Above all, be prepared to be stunned by the sweeping views as you hike below the rim along Bright Angel Trail.

Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Trail 

The majority of the hikers trek to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse or Three-Mile Resthouse and back. Some hikers continue to Indian Garden or Plateau Point.

It is entirely up to you how far you want to hike. It all depends on how much time you have and how physically fit you are. Keep in mind, that Bright Angel Trail is 6.1 mi one-way, starting at the trailhead and finishing at Plateau Point.

Once you reach Plateau Point, you will be amazed by the sheer beauty of the Grand Canyon.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you need more details about the Bright Angel Trail, then check out my post. It has a map of the trail, plus a ton of information.

Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail 

Intrepid Scout's Tips for First Visit to Grand Canyon National Park

  • Get to the Grand Canyon as Early as Possible: You will see people start arriving at the park around 10 am. I recommend that you get to the Grand Canyon National Park before 10 am.

First, you will be able to find some solitude on the trails and at viewpoints. Second, it gets very congested during the high season. Finally, there is limited parking, so needless to say, if you are at the park early you do not have to waste precious time waiting for a vacant parking spot.

  • Dress in Layers: No matter when you are visiting the Grand Canyon National Park, pack warm clothes and dress in layers. Even in the summer, the evenings can be very chilly.
  • Be Aware of High Elevations: Even mild exertion may leave you feeling completely out of breath, light-headed, and nauseated. So, take plenty of breaks, and drink lots of water.
  • Do Not Feed Wildlife: Above all, do not feed wildlife. First, they get used to being fed and consequently, visit the campsites and parking lots looking for food. In addition, human food is not the best option for their diets. Lastly, they bite. Keep your food and your fingers to yourself.

Read All the Posts About Grand Canyon in:

Arizona Travel Guide


Read All the Posts About the United States of America in: 

United States Travel Guide

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