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Authored by Luke Durbin

One of the great wonders of the world, no trip to the US is complete without stopping to experience the Grand Canyon. But at almost 450 km long, and over 1,100 km in circumference, how do you even know where to start?!!

There are options to take in the West Rim glass skywalk, and stay overnight at a ranch on native land. You can choose to travel on horseback, and witness the magic of a sunrise which most tourists will never understand.

The following are the pros and cons of visiting each of the Grand Canyon’s 4 available rims. If you can’t make it to Arizona you can take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from Vegas too.

The Grand Canyon: Which Rim is Best?

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The West Rim

My first visit to the Grand Canyon took in the West Rim.  Booked onto a tour from Los Angeles, this included one night in Las Vegas, one night at a Ranch on a Hualapai Reservation mere kilometres from the canyon edge, and a full day out to the West Rim, where the glass floor of the Skywalk looks straight down into the canyon below.

The ranch experience was one of kind. Treated to wagon rides, mock cowboy duels and horseback rides to the canyon edge, the little ranch was built to resemble a western town from the 1850’s, and even though it may not have actually felt like we were in the wild west, it certainly looked the part.

Staying overnight at the ranch meant we had the absolute privilege of watching the sun rise and set over the canyon rim, an experience many visitors go without. Needless to say, the tour of the West rim was worth every penny, and I look back with only fond memories of this trip.

Though I will admit to having felt underwhelmed by the canyon itself. It was not the vast, endless expanse I had expected. In fact, it couldn’t have been more than a few hundred metres wide.

The glass floor of the Skywalk looks straight down into the canyon below.

The South Rim

The Southern Rim is the most popular and most developed part of the Canyon. This makes it the most accessible, but also the busiest by far. Free shuttle buses leave from the parking lots and service around 7 or 8 different vantage points along the cliffs, each with a slightly different angle of the same view.

There is a visitors center as well as a cafe at the western-most bus stop; visitors are not allowed to drive on the same roads as the shuttles, so a definite con could be that there is no way of avoiding the busy buses.

However, don’t let the onslaught of millions of visitors detract you from visiting the South Rim. As one of the widest points of the canyon it offers some of the most spectacular views, and it was actually easy enough to ditch the crowds by straying away from the paved path and walking closer the edge.

For first time visitors I would highly recommend the South Rim over the West, as this is where travelers will witness the iconic image that is so commonly associated with the Grand Canyon.

The Southern Rim is the most popular and most developed part of the Canyon.

The North Rim

The Western and Southern Rims are the two most common Canyon areas to visit (mainly due to accessibility from urban centres), however there are of course plenty of additional areas to explore.

The North Rim for example sits roughly opposite the South, though offers intriguingly different views while bringing in about a tenth of the visitors annually. Being a full 1,000 feet higher than that of the Southern Rim, the temperature is also cooler which allows more vegetation to grow.

For this same reason, the North Rim is closed during winter due to heavy snowfall. North Rim will be open from May 15 – October 15.

The East Rim

Horseshoe Bend at the very Eastern Rim is an area of the Canyon which is quickly growing in popularity, and while not worth driving to as a sole destination in itself, it is certainly worth the detour for those with extra time.

Crowds here are much fewer, and while there are lesser view points than located on the West Rim, the views are equally as spectacular.

Horseshoe Bend at the very Eastern Rim is an area of the Canyon is quickly growing in popularity

So … Which Rim?

The bottom line is this: The West Rim is closer to major hubs like Las Vegas, and is included in more tours for this reason. The Skywalk is cool though a bit gimmicky. However combine your West Rim experience with a ranch stay, and the trip is definitely worth it.

Those seeking photos that will make family and friends back home exceedingly jealous should opt for Grand Canyon South Rim. Hire a car, and consider booking a night in Kingman or Flagstaff to allow enough time for a full experience you will never forget.

While the Northern and Eastern Rims of the Canyon may not offer the same iconic view of the South, these areas see substantially fewer crowds, and are well worth the detour if spending an extended amount of time exploring Arizona State.

Grand Canyon Hotels

Yavapai Lodge

Situated in Grand Canyon National Park, this modern lodge is the perfect base for a scenic stay. It also provides a 24-hour reception, a terrace, and features a number of amenities, including a garden and a laundry service. Pets are also welcome.

Yavapai Lodge East Grand Canyon’s restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and provides an ideal place for those who want to stay close to everything the property has on offer. It has easy access to Grand Canyon Village Historic District, El Tovar Stables and Grand Canyon Village.

Check availability & prices

Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim

Opened in 1936, Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim is the perfect base for those looking to immerse themselves in nature, with Grand Canyon National Park just steps away. The lodge has 217 rooms and has been recently refurbished.

Rooms are comfortable and provide cable/satellite channels. The lodge houses both a restaurant and a bar where guests can unwind of an evening with dinner and a drink. There is a range of breakfast options available each day.

Check availability & prices 

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Luke Durbin works a regular 9-5 job, and his salary he calls his travel fund. He and his wife spend most of their time in negative annual leave due to this expensive yet incredibly rewarding hobby.

Luke travels for 3 reasons: becoming immersed in a different culture, finding the less obvious attractions, and for hectic bragging rights back home.

He is the author of Backstreet Nomad’s Anti Travel Guides, available on Amazon, and hangs out at www.antitravelguides.com where you can follow him for more tips and advice on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credits: Featured header by Joe Jiang. Pinterest image by Karla Villaizan. Skywalk by Leonardo Stabile. South rim by Joe Jiang.

    28 Comments

  1. I am so jealous you got to live in AZ with such beautiful scenery! (I know not everywhere looks like the Grand Canyon, but still :P) I’ve never been to AZ but I’d love to!

    • Well definitely not everywhere looks like the Grand Canyon that’s for sure – but yes, AZ is a beautiful state & very glad we spent some proper time exploring :)

      Highly recommend a stop if you find yourself on the West Coast!

  2. Thank you for this guide! I had no idea there were multiple options like this, but it totally makes sense. I’ll definitely refer back to this when I end up going there at some point in time :)

    • Glad we could help you out! Happy Travels :)

  3. excellent guide on how to maximize my upcoming first short trip to the grand canyon !!!

    • Thanks Udayan! Have a wonderful trip!

  4. I didn’t realise there were so many options! I remember going there about 20 years ago and would have to check with my parents which rim we were at. It was spectacular wherever we were!

    • I don’t think it’s something people automatically consider when they say “Let’s go to the Grand Canyon”, and I think the majority of people only believe there are two rims.

      Though the canyon is spectacular from all four rims, so generally you’re guaranteed a pretty great experience no matter what :)

  5. I have some photos with the Grand Canyon in winter on my blog – they are simply amazing. My friends were there in that time of the year and, even if it was rather cold outside, it was a wonderful perspective:)

    • So glad you had such a fab experience at the Grand Canyon during winter Lori – I’ll have to head over to your blog to check out your photos :)

      We went during winter last March and drove straight into a freak blizzard, so though we were standing on the Southern Rim, we actually couldn’t see anything at all – just a white mass lol. It was an experience, but I’m definitely hoping to be back for a proper view :)

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Sammi! The Grand Canyon truly is just one of those amazing forces of nature!

  6. I will have to say that for first timers I would recommend the South Rim. This is the real deal and even though it is five hours drive it is well worth it. You can spend the night in a motel and spend the day in the South Rim.
    Also note if you are driving make sure you stick with the speed limit, we did get a hefty fine! :)

    • Thanks for the tip on the speed limit – great point to keep in mind! Absolutely agree with you re first timers heading to the South Rim; it’s the iconic views which most people expect on that first visit I think :)

  7. I have not been to the east rim yet and was thinking of making a road trip, I will wait until I can combine it with something else — thanks for the tip!

    • Glad we could help Sherianne – you’ll love the East Rim, horseshoe bend is stunning!

  8. South And East Rims should be visited together because they are so close to each other and between the two are several breathtaking lookout points that give a more complete view of the awesome canyon!

    • Great idea to combine the two when you’re already in the area, why not see multiple sites especially as most people travel a really long way to get here :)

  9. Wow the ranch looks really amazing. I love the fact that it gives a lot of privacy and space to enjoy the gorgeous view!

    • I think the photo you’ve seen is from the Skywalk as opposed to the ranch :) But yes, it’s a great place to stay, and gives you really amazing access with incredible views!

  10. Thanks for the post and I totally agree with you. I have been to the Grand Canyon different rims and I had the same conclusion. ? @ knycx.journeying

    • Great minds think alike! Thanks for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the post, and the Canyon too!

  11. The Skywalk is expensive and they don’t let you bring your camera or cellphone onto it, which for a travel blogger partly defeats the purpose of going onto it. Also, the closest TOWN to the Grand Canyon, if you’re looking to stay in a hotel, is Tusayan which is just a the South Rim, and that’s why I visited the South Rim during both of my visits to the Grand Canyon. (You certainly don’t have to stay all the way in Flagstaff for a hotel near the South Rim.) It’s also funny that you were underwhelmed by a point where the canyon was “only a few hundred meters” across. That’s still vast. Admittedly there are locations where the canyon is as much as 29 km wide (according to Wikipedia).

    • Thanks for the heads up about the Skywalk not allowing cameras – completely defeats the purpose, I agree!! I’m all for disconnecting and being present in the moment, but photography is such a key part of our travels these days. Maybe they think tourists will lose their cameras or injure themselves by leaning too far over the edge for selfies / shots. Sadly I can see that being the reason.

      Awesome that you’ve made it to the South Rim twice – really is special isn’t it! Thanks for the heads up re staying in Tusayan :)

  12. The Grand Canyon is such a wonderful and stunning phenomenon of nature, that all of the rims provide absolutely out of the world experiences. But my favourite is the North Rim, it is simply scintillating.

    • Thanks for sharing your preference Sandy & Vyjay – the North Rim is incredible indeed!

  13. Is it better to use Skyscanner or Kayak for getting cheap flights to Arizona?

    • Much of a muchness, honestly they’re both the same in terms of pricing. I personally like the user experience of Skyscanner better though, and their mobile app is fabulous for checking and booking flights from your phone.

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