Grand Canyon trip-planning has changed a bit since the pandemic, but trip-planning can never begin too soon. Typically, a Grand Canyon visit requires advance reservations at Grand Canyon hotels sometimes over a year out. These days, national parks are still busier than one would expect, but hotel availability close to the Canyon is far more likely even with shorter notice these days. Your Grand Canyon experience will depend on the time of year you would like to travel, your budget, and your travel and adventure preferences. Hopefully, this guide will help you prioritize to get the most of your visit. So without further ado, let's get started!
Really, there are three rims of the Grand Canyon: South, West and North. The "East Rim" is more of the Lake Powell/Page area that is not really the Grand Canyon but is still part of the Colorado Plateau. The East Rim area is well known for attractions such as Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon. Take a look at the map and see which rim is most reasonable for you to travel to and if it has the accommodations and attractions you are wanting to experience.
The South Rim accessed typically through Arizona offers the classic national park experience. You can use a National Parks Pass to get in or pay $35/vehicle total for 7 consecutive days of access to the park. This is where the Grand Canyon Visitor Center is located along with many amenities, tours, concessionaires, hotels, dining, educational talks, and a free hop-on/hop-off shuttle. This rim has historically been the most popular way to experience Grand Canyon National Park and is open year-round.
When visiting the South Rim, you'll likely want to get accommodations in Tusayan (nearest to the park entrance), Williams (50 miles from GCNP), Flagstaff (79.5 miles from GCNP), or Sedona (114 miles away from GCNP, but with luxury accommodations and is a destination in its own right!)
The North Rim is more remote and is only open May-October due to rough winter conditions. The North Rim offers a beautiful lodge with amazing views, smaller crowds and a more rustic, pristine experience of the Grand Canyon. Amenities are limited, but that's part of the charm, especially for true outdoor enthusiasts. The North Rim calls to hikers and backpacking campers during the summer months, especially since it cooler in temperature than the South Rim.
When visiting the North Rim, consider staying at the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim, or in the nearby towns of Freedonia or Kanab, UT (72-79 miles from GCNP North Rim. Freedonia and Kanab are well within reach of other national parks like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante and Canyonlands (also collectively known as part of the Grand Circle). Staying in Lake Powell/Page is 130 miles away from the North Rim, but is a good hub location for seeing Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend as well.)
The West Rim has grown in popularity of the last decade, primarily because of its close proximity to Las Vegas. The West Rim is ran by the Hualapai Tribe and is not part of the "National Park". The West Rim offers a perfect day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, yet visitors don't have to forego any of the posh amenities for a day out in nature. Everything from helicopter rides and hummer tours to bus shuttles leave Las Vegas on the clock every day taking city visitors to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the glass bridge suspended over the edge of the West Rim of Grand Canyon.
When visiting the West Rim, consider getting accommodations in Las Vegas area (125 miles from GC West), Kingman (71 miles from GC West) or Lake Havasu City (130 miles from GC West).
One or two nights on any rim of the Grand Canyon are plenty for most visitors unless you are hiking or on a river rafting trip. If you plan on staying in the area longer, most visitors find venturing outward for lodging much more enjoyable because it allows them to see more of the Great Southwest. Stay in Flagstaff, Sedona, or even Scottsdale/Phoenix for a South Rim visit, and choose Las Vegas for your vacation hub for a West Rim.
If your life's ambition is to backpack and hike rim-to-rim, take a mule ride or hike down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon, start preparing as soon as possible. Get backcountry camping permits and reserve your campsite well in advance of your trip. Likewise, guided Colorado River rafting trips, ranging in length from 3 to 21 nights will include camping arrangements made by the outfitter, but you'll want to choose Flagstaff or Page/Lake Powell accommodations for your pre-trip stay, and perhaps Tusayan, Williams or Flagstaff lodging for your post-trip nights unless your river outfitter chooses a convenient pick-up/drop-off hotel for you.
But as we know, most of us will experience Grand Canyon in a less adventurous way. Taking a train tour? Stay 1 - 2 nights in Williams near the Grand Canyon Railway station. Taking a air tour to the Grand Canyon Skywalk? Stay in Las Vegas where all flights to the West Rim originate. Taking an helicopter tour of the South Rim? Stay in Tusayan near Grand Canyon Airport. Taking a bus, van or jeep tour? Stay in Las Vegas, Sedona or Scottsdale.
Also see Things to Do at Grand Canyon to get some ideas on activities and attractions during your visit.