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The Grand Canyon – North Rim vs South Rim

Which Rim of the Grand Canyon is best?

The Grand Canyon. There are few places more iconic! To the U.S., to the Southwest, to Road Trips! This extraordinary National Park is made up of two locations, each with their own distinct personality. Read on to discover details of the peaceful yet isolated North Rim and the more accessible, thus more crowded, South Rim. Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim – Which will you choose? Or are both in your future? This guide will give you all the info you need to make that decision by introducing to you what each side has to offer as well as highlighting the considerations for which travel style is best suited for each. If you’d like to do both, I’ve got you covered with details on making it a full road trip.

Entering Grand Canyon National Park at the North Rim
Welcome! – Photo: IG – @jayvaline

Grand Canyon North Rim

As you gain elevation to approach this section of the Park, you may start to wonder if you are still in Arizona. I know I did! What sealed the deal was when I saw a road sign warning of bison. Sure enough, we saw the herd within Park boundaries. The North Rim offers a variety of vegetation including a wealth of Aspens and Ponderosa Pines. The diversity of vegetation adds depths of color to the already scenic view of the Canyon. This side of the Canyon offers several options for scenic drives and breathtaking hikes. The services here are all centrally located and are limited to only a few options for dining and lodging. This location is off the beaten path but it is worth it if you are looking for some solitude and a new perspective on a well known iconic destination.

Highlights of the North Rim

North Kaibab Trail from Coconino Overlook
Autumn on the North Kaibab Trail

  • Point Imperial – This location claims the highest elevation in the Park and has the stunning views to match.
  • Bright Angel Point – The short 1 mile RT hike will get your blood pumping to reward you with 360 degree views to the South Rim. The trail head is just outside the back deck of the Grand Canyon Lodge.
  • Cape Royal – It’s worth the drive here to check out Angel’s Window and take in some of the park’s best scenery from the Cliff Springs Trail.
  • North Rim Campground – This place is incredible! You can’t ask for a better location and value for a front country campground.
  • For more details, check out my blog post on visiting the North Rim in the Fall: https://expeditionswithevelyn.com/grand-canyon-north-rim/

North Rim Lodging Options

North Rim Campground
Camp Site #11 – Steps from the North Rim

  • North Rim Campground – This campground offers options for amazing tent camping at the Rim (for individuals and families), three large group campsites, and RV camping. The blog post noted above has all the details!
  • Grand Canyon Lodge and Cabins – The Lodge sits right on the Canyon’s edge, offering sublime views. The neighboring Cabins are also treated to the view. The North Rim’s only restaurant is located in the Lodge.
  • If you choose to stay outside the park, lodging options will be minimal and a good distance away. The closest option will be in Jacob Lake, about an hour from the Visitors Center.

You’ll love it here, if you prefer places that:

Grand Canyon North Rim vs. South Rim views from Cape Royal on the North Rim
Endless views from Cape Royal

  • Are an adventure to get to.
  • Have fewer crowds (that is not to say given the smaller size of this location that it is not crowded in main areas).
  • Are higher in elevation and have cooler weather in shoulder seasons.
  • Are geared toward individual/family travel rather than public transport.
  • Allow you to disconnect with minimal services and cell signal.

This may not be your style, if you:

At Coconino Overlook on North Kaibab Trail Grand Canyon North Rim
Falls colors at Coconino Overlook – Photo: IG – @jayvaline

  • Are looking for somewhere easy or quick to get to.
  • Prefer somewhere with several options for public transportation via Shuttle Services.
  • Seek warmer weather in shoulder seasons or would like to visit in the winter.  Note: This section is closed for winter due to the higher elevation, typically from October/November to May – https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm
  • Desire a wider variety of services such as lodging, restaurants, tours, and activities.
  • Would like to stay connected via cell signal or wifi.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Highlights of the South Rim

  • Check out one of the South Rim’s two Visitors Centers for interpretive exhibits, information on current conditions, and personalized recommendations.
  • Take the scenic 25-mile Desert View Drive, stopping to savor its numerous vistas. End at the Desert View Watchtower and take in a cultural demonstration with members of the tribes who have long called this area home.
  • Hop on and off the shuttle along the Red Route to view some of the most iconic lookouts on this side of the Rim such as Hopi’s Point. There are nine overlooks total, only three of which have stops on the return route.
  • Enjoy a snack with a view at the end of the Red Shuttle Route at Hermit’s Rest or hike the seven miles along the Rim to get there (follow park guidelines in the link below to ensure preparedness). This road is closed to private vehicles.
  • Hikes descending from the Rim provide a fresh perspective and breathtaking scenery, however even a short hike in the park should not be taken lightly. Check out the National Park Service guidance here: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/hike-tips.htm

Ancient layers on the South Rim
Ancient layers and a distant wildfire

South Rim Lodging Options

  • There are several options for Lodging within the park itself spanning a variety of price ranges.
  • Desert View Campground – This first come, first serve site is the only South Rim camping location within park boundaries that is located above the Rim. Get there early in the day to snag a spot.
  • A limited number of chain hotels and restaurants are located just one mile outside of the South Entrance in the town of Tusayan. Staying here will give you an absolute advantage for getting to the park early.
  • Several helicopter and jeep tour operators are also based in Tusayan. I had a magical experience with Pink Jeep Tours on a sunset excursion through Sedona (however, I have not had a chance to try their Grand Canyon tours yet). A primary reason I chose them as a tour operator was their noted commitment to giving back to nature.
  • Get your kicks on Route 66 in the charming historic town of Williams, located just under an hour from the park. Choices will range from practical to adorable in hotels, inns, and home rentals. This is a wonderful place to enjoy a relaxing meal. After a hot day of exploring, you can’t beat delicious milkshakes at Twisters Soda Fountain!
  • We stayed in the most unassuming yet epic AirBNB approximately 25 minutes South of the park entrance called the Old West Brewers Loft. This spacious rental (in a converted Brewery) is comfortable, perfectly located, decorated to make you feel at home in the Southwest, and just plain fun!

Old Brewers Loft AirBNB South Rim
The charming and spacious Old Brewers Loft AirBNB in Valle, AZ

This could be ideal for you, if you:

  • Are looking to have several different options for activities, lodging and food within the same general location.
  • Would like the option to leave the car behind and hop on the park shuttle to explore the sites.  Less stress while also helping the environment. Win win!
  • Are looking to create a road trip that includes other amazing locations nearby, such as Horseshoe Bend or Sedona.

View from Powell's Point South Rim
Taking in the view from Powell’s Point

This may not float your raft, if you:

  • Are looking for solitude. You will have company here: on the trails, at viewpoints, searching for parking.
  • Do not want to have to plan around crowds during your vacation.
  • Dream of being “disconnected” from cell service and wifi.
  • Dislike warm weather – average highs are above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months.

Colorado River Vista South Rim
Canyon vista with the Colorado River

Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim – Why Not Both?

During our visit to the Southwest, we chose to visit both sides of this incredible Park. Our experiences at each side were very different and exactly what we needed at the different phases of our trip. Traveling between the two was also an adventure in its own right.

Getting there:

Traveling between the two sections of the Park is approximately a 5.5 hour drive. You’ll want to review your route prior to heading out to identify stops for gas/snacks/bathrooms because, in some cases, they are few and far apart. We drove the route from the North Rim to the town of Valle, AZ near the South Rim. Unsurprisingly, there is no shade along this route. If you are sensitive to heat/sun, you may want to start your drive early.

Entering Grand Canyon National Park at the North Rim
Epic lookout on the way down from the North Rim

Scenic Stops:

  • Navajo Bridge – These twin bridges provide one of only seven land crossings for over 750 miles of the Colorado River. The original bridge, built in 1929, is now a pedestrian bridge. It was christened with Ginger Ale when it opened during the Prohibition era.
  • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – Permits are required to hike these Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails, some of which are very hard to come by.
  • Page, AZ/Horseshoe Bend/Antelope Canyon – If you are looking to add a couple extra days adventure into your trip, check out this area known for incredible slot canyons and the undeniably famous Horseshoe Bend.

Grand Canyon North Rim vs. South Rim Navajo Bridge along the drive
Navajo Bridge – Originally providing river passage since 1929

Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim Highlights

Conservation Considerations:

  • Minimize your individual impact on this location that sees millions of visitors annually by staying on designated trails and packing out all your trash.
  • Slow down for wildlife while driving and give them respect and space in person.

Wildlife Profile

Crotalus oreganus abyssus– Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake

This well adapted species is only found here! Its unique color allows it excellent camouflage in the local surroundings, so keep your eyes open. Typically, snakes just want to be left alone, so give them a wide berth if encountered. This species is venomous.

Local Flora

Astragalus cremnophylax – Sentry milk-vetch

This endangered plant is endemic to Grand Canyon National Park. It is so rare that you can only find it in three areas around the South Rim. Its specific habitat needs and small population are part of why it’s endangered. It grows only on Kaibab Limestone found on the Rim of the Canyon. The main threat to this plant is trampling, so please stay on the trail.

Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusives (EEE):

  • Try a historic train ride from downtown Williams to the South Rim. Relax and enjoy the stunning scenery dappled with Ponderosa Pines along the way.
  • Check out the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, AZ to get up close and personal with incredible historic aircraft. https://www.planesoffame.org/ Bonus: If you stay at the Old Brewers Loft Airbnb, this is across the street.

What did you choose?

Leave me a comment down below to tell me which won you over in the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim debate? Or send me your questions if you’re still deciding between the two or both. Happy Expeditions!

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