Aerial image of the grand canyon

How To Visit the Grand Canyon

When it comes to bucket list items on your travel agenda, Grand Canyon National Park is probably near the top of the list.

The 277-mile-long Colorado River cuts a majestic, geological marvel through ancient layers of the Colorado Plateau. Every year, millions of visitors travel to view the eighth wonder of the world.

With multiple vistas and tons of activities to experience at the Grand Canyon, we've assembled this guide for both first-time visitors and returning adventurers alike to help you travel most efficiently to America's most majestic National Park.

view of Grand Canyon South Rim

Traveling to the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon National Park official website is a great resource. It has full details to plan your visit including operating hours, road conditions, entrance pass fees, and information on all Grand Canyon services, lodging, camping, and much more.

South Rim

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At the South Rim, the Grand Canyon Village houses many of the park's most iconic buildings and attractions, including Bright Angel Lodge, guided ranger programs, restaurants and cafeterias, and souvenir shopping.

Also at the South Rim, you can drive to Mather Point, where the entrance road stops at the edge of the dramatic Canyon. Or you can watch the sunset over the beautiful geology by heading out to Desert View Watchtower, a stunning 25 mile scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. You'll pass six canyon viewpoints, including Navajo Point, the highest point on the South Rim, funky shaped Duck on a Rock, Grandview Point, where you can begin a strenuous hike down into the canyon, Lipan Point, with unique rock strata and river rapid views, and the remains of a pueblo village along the way.

West Rim

Many visitors coming from Las Vegas visit the West Rim, known as Grand Canyon West, which is the closest part of the park to Sin City. Here, you enter the lands of the Hualapai tribe, a sovereign Indian nation federally recognized since 1883. The Grand Canyon and the Colorado River are sacred to the Hualapai and they share their culture, tribal heritage, and traditions at the Grand Canyon West self-guided Native American village tour located at Eagle Point.

Eagle Point also houses the Hualapai's famous Grand Canyon Skywalk. This horseshoe shaped, glass bottomed structure floats over the canyon. You feel as if you are walking on air thousands of feet above the Canyons and river below.

The West Rim is also the jumping off point for Grand Canyon Helicopter and Boat Tour and helicopter landing tours that let you see the bottom of the Grand Canyon in style.

The viewpoints here are some of the most dramatic in the entire canyon. Guano Point offers a 360-degree view with the historic remains of an aerial tramway enhancing the surreal vantage point. The tramway was used to mine a guano cave thousands of feet below nearly a decade ago.

North Rim

If you are looking for solitude and raw beauty, head to the less accessible North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Cooler, forested, and offering some of the best stargazing in the world (it's an International Dark Sky Park) the North Rim sees 90% fewer visitors than the busy South Rim.

The North Rim is located at more than 8,000 foot elevation, there is only one lodge, one campground, and, in the winter, all roads are closed. Be sure to check with the National Park for current conditions and closures before you embark on your trip.

Take a Grand Canyon North Air Tour to really see the most beautiful part of the entire Grand Canyon. You'll fly from Las Vegas to the North Rim via a sightseeing airplane and visit Bar 10 Ranch. There, you'll visit the Bar 10 Ranch and have a chance to explore the Grand Canyon aboard an ATV or Polaris Ranger. Flights run seasonally from April 1 until October 31.

How Long Does it Take to Visit the Grand Canyon?

There is no shortage of activities to keep you busy during a trip to the Grand Canyon. So how long should you prepare to experience it all?

The South Rim is the more developed of the two regions and is a common vacation destination, particularly for families and groups that enjoy hiking and outdoor excursions. If you're a nature lover, you can easily spend a week or longer traversing the many trails scattered throughout the park. The South Rim also boasts numerous historic hotels and lodgings for those planning a longer stay. You can even camp at the South Rim if you plan far enough in advance! However, if you're hoping to simply experience the stunning views of the Grand Canyon, you can reach several fantastic lookout points in just an afternoon's time - with extra time to eat, shop, and explore.

The West Rim offers a more close-to-nature approach than the Grand Canyon National Park. Here, a free shuttle service can transport you to the two most famous lookout points, the Skywalk Bridge, and to Hualapai Point, where you can shop for authentic handmade Native American gifts, test your abilities at the shooting gallery, or zoom across the zipline! You can experience the best the West Rim has to offer in a day's time, including if you choose to land on the bottom of the canyon in a helicopter or take a short boat ride along the Colorado River.

With a Papillon Grand Canyon tour, you can determine how long you'd like to spend at either the West Rim or the South Rim. We offer short tours at just a few hours to daylong excursions, either departing from Las Vegas or taking place at your canyon rim of choice. No matter what kind of Grand Canyon vacation you're planning, we can make it even more exciting and memorable!

View from front seat of a helicopter tour over grand canyon

Fly To the Grand Canyon

Of all the ways to experience the Grand Canyon, flying to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas is the most spectacular.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour options get you to the Canyon quickly. Over a short distance, this route includes breathtaking views of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River.

There are daily nonstop private Las Vegas helicopter flights from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and a number of private aircraft flights as well. Departing Las Vegas by air really offers the most options for your Grand Canyon vacation getaway and gives you more time to explore the park's most interesting sites.

View from a car on the East Rim drive at Grand Canyon National Park

Explore the Grand Canyon By Car

The most popular way to arrive and see the Grand Canyon is by road trip. But with vast distances separating major tourist hubs at the Canyon and a myriad of "must see" viewpoints and experiences, arriving on your own can prove daunting.

The easiest and most efficient way to arrive by car is to travel to the South Rim. This location is open all year, is only 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona, and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff. This location provides the most activity options. Campgrounds, lodges, a general store, endless can experience it all at the South Rim.

If you want to drive from the South Rim to North Rim it is a 4.5 hour drive of 220 miles! So plan ahead. Historic Route 66 runs through Williams and this historic road winding through Arizona desert vistas offers glimpses of America's yesteryear.

People boarding a bus for their grand canyon tour

Grand Canyon Bus Tours

Traveling to the Grand Canyon by bus is a popular option. With bus tours leaving Las Vegas daily, you can customize your trip to meet your specific needs and let the professionals handle your road trip details! On-board a luxury motorcoach, your professional driver will act as a VIP tour guide as you explore the wonders of the desert Southwest.

Grand Canyon West bus tours offer a full day of excitement where you will take in desert, mountain, canyon, and river scenery. Leaving from Las Vegas, Grand Canyon West is closer than the busier South Rim and houses a truly memorable experience opportunity: the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Grand Canyon South Rim bus tours offer many other inclusive, all-day options for your Grand Canyon tour experience. If leaving from Las Vegas, you'll enjoy complimentary pick-up from your hotel, travel over the Hoover Dam, and a scenic trip along the famous Route 66.

Grand Canyon Railway

Ride the Grand Canyon Train

For a true wild west experience, arrive at the canyon on the historic Grand Canyon Railway!

The train offers a full-day adventure on the rails and departs daily each morning. It brings the grit and glamor of the Old West days to life on a vintage rail trail that includes western music, characters, and tons of fun.

The Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey on September 17, 1901. At that time, the canyon rim amenities consisted of just a few ramshackle tents. The Fred Harvey Company was hired shortly after to make the Grand Canyon what it is today: the crown jewel tourism stop of the desert Southwest. In 1905, the canyon rim saw its first hotel built, El Tovar, the most luxurious hotel in the region.

Williams, Arizona, an hour south of Grand Canyon Village, is the hub for Grand Canyon Railway activities.

A pontoon on a Grand Canyon River rafting tour

Floating Down the Colorado River

At 277 miles long, the Colorado River offers unlimited adventure options. Intrepid travelers who want to really experience the canyon can do so with a Grand Canyon rafting tour on America's second longest river.

Grand Canyon National Park offers commercial river trips of varying length (3-18 days) with concessioners through different parts of the canyon. You can choose large motorized rafts, oared rafts, or self-paddle options. A popular option is to raft the 15-mile section through Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

People lucky enough to run the river often remark it is the trip of a lifetime. If you go, add a stop at the Phantom Ranch, the only lodging inside the geological marvel. This creekside oasis nestled at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

No matter how you choose to travel to the Grand Canyon, be prepared to be awestruck and make sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy all the sights.

What is the Best Way to See the Grand Canyon?

Both the South Rim and the West Rim of the Grand Canyon offer beautiful and unique vantage points from the canyon's edge, but undoubtedly the best way to experience the Grand Canyon is either from the sky aboard a helicopter tour or airplane flight or from the very bottom of the canyon floor after landing in a helicopter. Aerial views or seeing the canyon walls from below are not only a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but a viewpoint you simply can't replicate from standing on the edge.

How do Tourists Get to the Grand Canyon?

International tourists and visitors from the United States can fly to nearby airports in Arizona (PHX, FLG, SLC, LAS), then drive to the Grand Canyon. Visitors to Las Vegas can receive a faster and more scenic journey aboard a sightseeing airplane or helicopter tour operated by Papillon Grand Canyon helicopters, who provide daily flights to both the Grand Canyon West and the Grand Canyon National Park.

How Many Days do you Need to See the Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon South Rim offers a variety of shops, historic buildings, dining options, and hiking trails that you can enjoy at your own pace. Some visitors enjoy as much as they can on a day trip from Las Vegas, and others will spend up to a week or longer taking their time exploring the trails or even camping.

The West Rim offers many beautiful viewpoints and activities - like the Skywalk - that can be enjoyed during a day trip or even an afternoon helicopter tour from Las Vegas.

Can You Just Drive and See the Grand Canyon?

Yes! You can transport yourself to the Grand Canyon and pay the entry fee to explore on your own. As of 2023, the entry into the West Rim is $49 USD and the South Rim is $20 USD. 

From the Las Vegas Strip, the Grand Canyon West is about a 2 hour drive and National Park is about a 4 hour drive.

From the Phoenix airport, the Grand Canyon West is about a 4.5 hour drive and National Park is about a 3.5 hour drive.

From the airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, the Grand Canyon West is about a 3.5 hour drive and National Park is about a 1 hour 20 minute drive.