After decades of lesser designations, Grand Canyon National Park was finally established in 1919 and it was designed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The vast park covers 1,902 square miles (4,926 square km) and its centerpiece is a winding, dramatic canyon that’s 1 mile (1.6 km) deep and up to 18 miles (29 km) wide. The Colorado River, which carved the canyon, travels 277 miles (446 km) through the park. In 2017, more than 6 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park. Ninety percent of them visited the South Rim, a fraction visited the North Rim, and less than 10,000 people visited the Toroweap area. We’ve explored all areas of the park during three separate visits, including hikes to the bottom of the canyon from the South Rim and from the North Rim. We celebrate the 100th birthday of Grand Canyon National Park with our very best shots of her beauty, and some Grand Canyon National Park travel tips to help you see it all too.
South Rim of the Grand Canyon
There’s a reason most people visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: accessibility. The South Rim is less than an hour off the Interstate and 80 miles (128 km) from Flagstaff, Arizona. You can even take the Grand Canyon Railway tourist train right to the South Rim. Located at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), the South Rim is also open year-round (the North Rim closes seasonally) and there are a number of hotels and restaurants on offer as well.
South Rim Grand Canyon National Park travel tips
Even if you are only visiting the South Rim, make sure you get beyond the busy viewpoints between The Village and the Visitor Center. For example, Desert View Drive covers 32 miles (51 km) between Hermits Rest (located 7 miles / 11 km west of The Village) and Desert View (located 25 miles / 41 km east of The Village) and includes more than 20 developed viewpoints and other sites that deliver canyon views that exceed those you get near The Village. Here are some of the best views of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Even though the South Rim Visitor’s Center and North Rim Visitor’s Center are separated by exactly 10 miles (16 km), the North Rim is a shocking 210 miles (338 km) and 4 hour drive by car, or 21 miles (34 km) by foot across the canyon by way of the North and South Kaibab Trails. The North Rim is at an average of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) and, due to its remote location and greater snowfall, the North Rim is only open about five months per year, usually from mid-May to mid-October.
North Rim Grand Canyon National Park travel tips
Unlike the South Rim, the North Rim doesn’t have one easy and convenient drive that covers all of the viewpoints. Bright Angel View is near the Visitor Center, but the other North Rim viewpoints are off side roads. Some, like our favorites Cape Royal and Angels Window, are an hour’s drive away. As you can see, it’s all worth it.
Inside the Grand Canyon
To truly see the beauty of the Grand Canyon you need to dip below the rim and that means hitting the trail, bouncing on the back of a mule, or spending 12-18 days rafting the Colorado River.
Grand Canyon hiking tips
We’ve hiked to Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon at 2,480 feet (756 meters), from the South Rim via the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail back up, and from the North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail down and back up. These hikes are not easy since the elevation change from the South Rim to the bottom is 4,460 feet (1,360 meters), and 5,850 feet (1,780 meters) from the North Rim. However, the effort is worth it.
You likely will see fewer than a dozen people if you visit the Toroweap (sometimes called Tuweep) area of Grand Canyon National Park. When we visited Toroweap we saw just four other people there.
Toroweap Grand Canyon National Park travel tips
This remote and little-visited corner of the park is a 5-hour drive from the North Rim Visitor Center and more than 7 hours from the South Rim. That is, of course, if you don’t get a flat along the terrible 60 miles (96 km) of dirt road into the Toroweap area. There are no services, no ranger station, and no water in the peaceful but basic campground. There are a few short trails in this area, but the real attraction is Toroweap Overlook which sits 3,000 sheer vertical feet (880 meters) above the Colorado River. Take a look.
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