A Grand Canyon Rim Comparison
The South Rim or the West Rim?
The Grand Canyon hosts millions of visitors each year at both its South and West Rims, but many do not realize that these regions rims differ greatly not only in their unique rock formations and wildlife, but in the sightseeing opportunities and activities available there. When planning a Grand Canyon vacation, it is important to determine what you and your family would like to experience. Learn more about what each region offers to make your decision easier!
"The South Rim" is the colloquial term for the Grand Canyon National Park. This area features some of the most world-recognized sights of the striped canyon walls and deep rock gorges. The South Rim is surrounded by the lush Kaibab Forest, which is home to elk, mule deer, mountain lions, rock squirrels, and endangered California condors. Nestled along the canyon rim is the historic Grand Canyon Village, which offers visitors a variety of dining and shopping options, as well as several antique hotels and significant pieces of architecture.
The Grand Canyon West Rim is the rugged, less-trafficked alternative to the South Rim. Here, visitors will enter a more desert landscape that creates a different canyon landscape. This region is the home of the famous Skywalk Bridge, whose glass floor provides views straight to the canyon floor. Additionally, helicopter tours operating daily at the West Rim allow passengers to land at the very bottom of the canyon.
The nearest departure point to reach the Grand Canyon South Rim by airplane is the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. The South Rim can be reached most conveniently via car from Flagstaff, Arizona.
The Grand Canyon West Rim is the most convenient region of the canyon for visitors driving from Las Vegas, Nevada. The West Rim is approximately a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas and a 3.5-hour drive from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Despite its location deep in the Arizona desert, the South Rim experiences a great variety of weather patterns due to its high elevation. Summertime temperatures easily reach up to 100 F (37 C), and monsoon-style rain can quickly take over the bright sunshine in the summer. The temperature can regularly plummet to 0 F (-17) C in winter, and snow is a regular seasonal occurrence. Because of these abrupt weather changes, visitors to the South Rim are encouraged to monitor the forecast before visiting.
The West Rim experiences a much more consistent desert climate, with approximately 300 sunny days annually. The temperature here ranges between 90-100 F (32-37 C) in summer and 30-40 F (-1-4 C) in winter. The canyon floor at the West Rim is often a higher temperature than the surface due to the heat retention within the canyon walls.
Access to the Canyon Floor
Within the South Rim are some of the deepest gorges in the entire Grand Canyon, the deepest being a mile from top to bottom. The floor can be reached by accomplishing a several-day hike down either the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail. Visitors can also plan a river rafting trip down the Colorado River for another way to experience the South Rim from the floor; however, this is a high demand option that requires an advanced reservation.
Visitors wishing to experience the canyon floor can do so most conveniently at the West Rim. The West Rim is the only region of the Grand Canyon that allows helicopter landings on the very bottom. Daily helicopter tours operating at the West Rim transport passengers to the canyon floor near the bank of the Colorado River.
Lodging and Services
The Grand Canyon Village within the South Rim contains a variety of lodging options that meet every need, including several historic hotels like the El Tovar and the Yavapai Lodge. Most hotels in the village are a short walking distance to the canyon's edge, and many also feature rooms with windows facing the Grand Canyon.
Several campgrounds can be found near the South Rim, as well, accommodating both tents and trailers; however, reservations are highly recommended as campsites are regularly booked solid during the summer months.
The West Rim is the best option for those looking for a Grand Canyon day tour. Unlike the South Rim - where it would require a several-day trip to experience every attraction, all of the viewpoints and activities at the West Rim can be accomplished in a day! A convenient shuttle service can transport guests free of charge to all of the best viewpoints, as well as the Skywalk Bridge, Hualapai Ranch, and the Native American Cultural Center. Visitors can also enjoy a helicopter tour to the canyon floor with plenty of time to explore during their day at the Grand Canyon West.