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Grand Canyon Camping & Hiking

The Grand Canyon is one seven natural wonders of the world. It spans 277 miles long and 18 miles wide; with the Colorado River flowing as much as 6,000 feet below.

If you find yourself near Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is a can’t miss travel destination.

Hundreds of miles of hiking trails, comfortable weather and numerous camping options make it the perfect place for a family road trip. In this article we’re going cover the best day hiking trails, where to park your car or RV overnight and the most picturesque spots to take photos along the rim.

Grand Canyon Photography

Which Rim to Visit

The Grand Canyon is a massive National Park, so before you make too many plans you’ll want to decide whether to spend the majority of your time on the North Rim vs South Rim.

Traveling between the two rims is a 4 hour drive around the outside of the park. Alternatively, there is a Trans-Canyon shuttle which runs twice a day in each direction; but it doesn’t come cheap. The shuttle ride lasts 4.5 hours and costs over $90 for a one way ticket.

Otherwise, you could always walk! Backpacking rim-to-rim takes you down to the base of the canyon and up the other side. The journey is 24 miles one way and very strenuous. We’ll get into more details about that later.

Driving between North and South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
Driving between North and South Rim

The South Rim is the most popular area. It’s the easiest to access, has the most amenities, and it’s open year-round. When tourists talk about visiting the Grand Canyon, they are likely referring to the South Rim.

On this side you can enjoy the most popular hikes, visit park museums and galleries, or indulge in a variety of restaurants and snack stands. The entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is:

  • 5 hours from Flagstaff, Arizona
  • 5 hours from Sedona, AZ
  • 5 hours from Las Vegas
  • 5 hours from Phoenix

The North rim of the Grand Canyon is less popular and only open about half of the year. Services operate May 15 to October 15. Snow and icy roads prevent you from getting there in the winter months.

The North Rim will give you a completely different experience from the South Rim. There are more panoramic views, quieter trails and you won’t find the hustle and bustle of the south side. The entrance to the North Rim is:

  • 5 hours from Las Vegas
  • 3 hours from St. George, UT

Grand Canyon West is a 4 hour drive from the South Rim. Most people travel here for a day trip to visit the famous glass bridge. The skywalk is located outside of Grand Canyon National park on Hualapai Tribe Land. There are limited amenities and tickets to get on the skywalk start at $62. You can get more information about visiting the skywalk and the west rim here.

South Kaibab Trail in the winter Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail in the winter

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Many travelers are surprised by the immense temperature fluctuations in the Grand Canyon. The altitude difference can make the top of the canyon considerably cooler than the bottom. Average temperatures for the South Rim are:

  • Spring (March – May): 34-62ºF at the Rim, 65-82ºF at the bottom
  • Summer (June – August): 80+ºF at the Rim, 100ºF at the bottom
  • Fall (September – November): 34-62ºF at the Rim, 65-82ºF at the bottom
  • Winter (December – February): 20-43ºF at the Rim, 38-58ºF at the bottom

The best time to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is Spring and Fall. You’ll get milder temperatures, and avoid the crowds. In the winter, you may get a chance to see some snow on the South Rim.

The North Rim is a higher elevation and therefore wetter and cooler than the South. The summer months are the best time to visit the North Rim. In July, the temperature will peak in the mid-70s and get to a low in the 40s. The North Rim is also closed during the winter so you won’t want to visit between October and May.

Getting Around the South Rim

Free shuttle buses make getting around the Grand Canyon easy. While you can drive your own car, it’s best to park and hop on a shuttle to the points of interest you want to see. In the spring and summer, the shuttles make stops every 30 minutes from 4:30am – 10pm.

There are 4 shuttle buses that zip around all areas of the South rim. Plus a Hiker’s express bus for backpackers.

Traveling in an RV

If you’re traveling to the Grand Canyon in an RV, there are 3 parking lots inside the South Rim that accommodate motorhomes and trailers over 22ft.

  • RV Parking Lot 1 (Grand Canyon Visitor Center)
  • RV Parking Lot B (Market Plaza)
  • RV Parking Lot D (Backcountry Office Village)

In summer months, the treasured RV spots fill up fast. You’ll want to get there as soon as the park opens at 9am. RV parking spots get full before noon, or even earlier depending on the lot.

If you’re not a morning person – or you simply don’t want to fight the traffic, the next best thing is arriving on the free Tusayan Park & Ride shuttle. It operates from March 1 – September 30 from 8am to 9:30pm. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes and takes you to the main visitor center from four stops just outside of Grand Canyon National Park in Tusayan:

  • IMAX theater
  • Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn
  • The Grand Hotel
  • Big E Steakhouse and Saloon

The IMAX is the best place to park your RV or large trailer while visiting the Grand Canyon.

Getting Around the North Rim

There are no shuttle buses that operate in the North Rim. This area is much smaller than the South Rim and the longest distance you’ll probably drive from one end to the other is about 23 miles.

While you shouldn’t have a problem getting a larger vehicle like an RV to the North Rim Visitor Center, winding roads are going to prevent big vehicles from getting beyond the visitor center to Cape Royal on the east.

Visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim

The South Rim is broken up into four main areas from east to west: Visitor Center, Market Plaza, The Village, and Hermit’s Rest.

The Rim Trail is an easy, 12.8 mile route that stretches all the way from the Visitor center to Hermit’s rest, connecting each of the main areas. It has spectacular views running alongside the canyon rim and its easily accessible. Large sections of the trail are paved, wheelchair friendly, and pet friendly.

Map of the Grand Canyon South Rim

The Visitor Center has a large parking area, bus stop and hiking information. There is a Yavapai Geology Museum and it’s a kickoff point for getting on the South Kaibab Trail. From the visitor center, you can take a short walk to the following overlooks:

  • Yavapai Point
  • Mather Point
  • Pipe Creek Vista
  • Yaki Point
  • Grand View Point
  • Moran Point
  • Lipan Point
  • Navajo Point
  • Desert View Point and Watchtower
  • Shoshone Point

Market Plaza has all of your basic amenities and more: food, a post office, bank, showers, lodging and laundry services. It’s right on the main shuttle stop where you can also grab directions and information to all of the surrounding trails.

Mather campground is located here as well as trailer village. Both places are RV and pet friendly, as well as steps away from shops in the village!

The Grand Canyon Village is the most developed section of the South Rim. A visitor center, hotels, mule barn, kennel, clinic, library and automotive garage are just a few of the things you’ll find there.

The Village sits at the end of Bright Angel Trailhead, one of the most popular ways to get to the Colorado River at the base of the canyon. This is also the route people take when undergoing a rim-to-rim hiking trip to the north side.

Hermit’s Rest is the smallest area on the South Rim and home to some of the most spectacular overlooks. There is a little snack bar here with bathrooms and drinks but you won’t find much beyond overlooks and tiny gift shop.

At Hermit’s Rest you can stare down into The Abyss – a 3,000 foot canyon drop off. You can also take in canyon views from all of these overlooks:

  • Trailview overlook
  • Maricopa Point
  • Powell Point
  • Hopi Point
  • Mohave point
  • Monument Creek Vista
  • Pima Point
Hiking down bright angel trail in Grand Canyon National Park
Bright Angel Trail

South Rim Day Hiking

The Grand Canyon day hiking trails aren’t to be underestimated. While they look short on paper, the trails are very steep leading down toward the canyon floor and consequently, much more difficult on the way back up.

Water and shade are scarce. If you’re not up for the challenge of hiking, stay along the Rim Trail at the top. It is nearby food, water and restrooms offering remarkable views without the high heart rate.

All of the day hiking trails listed here are out-and-back so don’t feel obligated to get all the way to the end. Keep in mind, hiking uphill out of the canyon often takes twice as long as hiking down.

TrailElevation ChangeWaterDistance (round-trip)
Bright Angel TrailSteepMay - September12 mi
South Kaibab TrailSteepNo6 mi
Hermit TrailSteepNo7 mi
GrandviewTrailVery SteepNo2.2 mi or 6.4 mi

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel makes for the perfect all-day hike with multiple resting points along the way. There are two pit toilets located at the 1.5 mile mark and Indian Garden (4.5 miles). There is also water available seasonally at 4 different locations along the way.

It is a maintained dirt trail open to both mules and hikers. You can expect lots of switchbacks descending 3,000 feet downward. A little shade from the canyon walls will keep you cool as you get lower, and a nice view of the Colorado River rests at the bottom.

This is a good family hike to do, even if it means turning around just a mile or two in. The steepness of the switchbacks on the way up can be deceiving so make sure not to hike beyond your limits and bring lots of water and snacks.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab is the fastest way to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That also makes it extremely steep with a 4,700 ft elevation change. You can use this route to get to Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch at the bottom.

The dirt trail is maintained with lots of stair stepping and switchbacks that you’ll be sure to feel in your joints tomorrow. It’s much less crowded than Bright Angel and ends with a suspension bridge across the river. There is no water on the trail, but you can use it to connect to Bright Angel for a longer, yet shallower path back up the canyon.

Suspension Bridge on South Kaibab Trail

Hermit Trail

Hermit trail is unmaintained so you may encounter some washouts. This is the place to go if you really want to avoid the crowds. There is no water or restrooms and it’s more difficult than Bright Angel or South Kaibab. All that said, this is a fantastic place to take photos and enjoy the scenery off the beaten path.

Grandview Trail

Even less visited than Hermit Trail is Grandview Trail, it is the shortest and steepest day hiking trail on the South Rim. It is an old mining route that’s rocky, exposed and unmaintained. The sharp cliffs are not for the faint at heart and get slippery when wet.

Camping on the South Rim

There are three campgrounds in the Grand Canyon South Rim: Mather Campground, Trailer Village, and Desert View Campground. All three are pet friendly.

Mather CampgroundTrailer VillageDesert View Campground
Year-roundYear-roundopen Mid-April to Mid-October
300+ sites84 sites50 sites
Tent + RV friendly <30 ftRV friendly <50 ftTent + RV friendly <30 ft
No ElectricityElectric Hook-upsNo Electricity
Shower + LaundryShower + LaundryNo hot water
Reservations Recommended March 1 – November 30Reservations Recommended April - OctoberFirst come, first served only

Mather Campground

This is the largest and most popular campsite accommodating both tent and smaller RV trailers. Located right next to Market Plaza, it’s an easy walk to restaurants, shops and the shuttle bus stop.

While the campground is open on a first-come, first-serve basis year round it’s highly recommended that you make a reservation when visiting in the summer months. During that time the camping sites are typically filled up by noon.

There are no electric hookups here, but coin operated showers and laundry facilities are available.

Trailer Village

Trailer Village is the most RV friendly campground in the Grand Canyon. There is no tent camping here because each of the sites is paved and modified to fit motorhomes up to 50ft long. There are electric hookups, Cable TV, water and sewage hookups as well as a dump station (closed during winter) and shower and laundry facilities.

Trailer village is located right around the corner from Mather Campground so you have all of the Market Village amenities just a few short steps away.

While you can camp there year round, it’s highly recommended that you make reservations ahead of time if you’re visiting between April and October.

Desert View Campground

Dry camping at Desert View Campground is the best location if you want to be near the rim. This campsite is higher than the other two, giving it a more arid feel. While it doesn’t come with fancy facilities, it is less expensive and less crowded.

Desert View campground is out of the way from bus stops and restaurants. The campsites are designed for tents, but you can fit a small trailer or RV under 30ft there as well. If you decide to go camping at Desert View, you’ll be a short hike away from a variety of overlooks, the Desert View Watchtower, and the Tusayan Museum.

You cannot make reservations for Desert View Campground ahead of time and it’s closed in the winter months.

Boondocking and Free Camping Near The Grand Canyon

Outside of Grand Canyon National Park, just south of the entrance station is Kaibab National Forest. Boondocking and free dispersed camping is legal in the National Forest. Be sure to follow proper boondocking etiquette: leave no trace, do not drive off trails and be mindful of fire restrictions. You can learn more about finding free camping here.

South Rim Lodging

If camping isn’t your thing, there are hotels and lodging in the Grand Canyon located right on the rim. In many cases, you can get a great view straight from your room. Of course, staying in the Grand Canyon will require reservations. You can make arrangements for the hotels here:

Backcountry Camping At The Bottom Of The Grand Canyon

There are three backcountry campgrounds on the corridor trails in the Grand Canyon. Each offers water, vault toilets, a picnic table, and food storage bin:

  • Indian Garden Campground is 4.8 miles down the Bright Angel Trail (south rim)
  • Bright Angel Campground is 9.9 miles down the Bright Angel Trail (south rim) or 14 miles down the North Kaibab Trail (north rim)
  • Cottonwood Campground is 6.8 miles down the North Kaibab Trail (north rim)

To use these campgrounds, you’ll need to obtain a Backcountry Camping Permit. They cost $10 per permit + $8 per person per night. Permits are limited. You can submit a request up to 4 months in advance.

You do not have to stay in the three campgrounds if you’re backcountry camping, but you do need to give an estimated schedule of where you’ll be when filling out the application. Park rangers divide up the canyon into sections and limit the number of people spending the night in each area.

Grand Canyon National Park hiking trails and camping map

Camping At Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is the only established lodging at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. You can only get there by hiking on foot, traveling by mule, or rafting the Colorado river.

  • From the South Rim: Phantom Ranch is 7.5 miles down the South Kaibab Trail or 10 miles down the Bright Angel Trail.
  • From the North Rim: Phantom Ranch is 13.6 miles down the North Kaibab Trail

At Phantom Ranch, you can choose to either rent a cabin, or stay in the dorm. There is no tent camping there. Dorm prices start at $53 per person.

While you can pack your own food, one of the cool things about Phantom Ranch is you can order Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner to be cooked and served when you make your reservations. There’s also a duffle service available where the park will deliver your bags (up to 30 pounds) to your room at the base of the canyon. That makes for a much simpler hike!

Phantom Ranch is one of the most sought-after accommodations in the Grand Canyon. While it’s open year-round, there is a lottery process to go through to win your spot. You’ll have to enter the lottery 1 month in advance prior to your stay. Entry forms become available on the 15th of every month.

Visiting The North Rim Grand Canyon

There is just one visitor center located on the North Rim. But there’s also a much larger variety of hiking trails and overlook opportunities without the crowds. Many people consider this place “the real Grand Canyon.” Because you don’t have to walk far to find some alone time and take in the views as if you’re the only person in the canyon.

Along with the visitor center, there is a small general store, gas station and the Grand Canyon Lodge (the only hotel where you can spend the night on the north side).

North Rim Scenic Drives

When it comes to the North Rim, fantastic views can be seen from nearly every road. You don’t even have to leave your car! That makes scenic drives a popular activity on this side of the Grand Canyon.

There are 5 destinations that people will typically take their vehicles to get the most out of the experience. The North Rim visitor center is the typical starting point for all five. So before taking off, walk in and grab a map. If you have all day, you can stop at all of them. It’s just 28 miles from end-to-end:

  • Point Imperial
  • Vista Encantada
  • Roosevelt Point
  • Walhalla Overlook / Walhalla Glades Pueblo
  • Cape Royal

At each of these spots you’ll find parking and picnic areas. Most of them also have bathrooms. Scenic drives are a great activity to do in the Grand Canyon if you have mobility issues or small children. We recommend packing a lunch and having a picnic at one of the famous overlooks.

The roads along the scenic drives are single lane and winding. You should not take a vehicle over 30ft on these because there are no pull offs or easy turnaround points. If you have an RV, it’s best to stick to the trails and overlooks around the visitor center.

Toroweep Overlook on the North Rim Grand Canyon National Park
Toroweep Overlook near Tuweep Campground. North Rim, Grand Canyon

North Rim Overlooks

The most famous overlooks correspond with those on the scenic drive: Point Imperial, Vista Encantada, and Roosevelt Point. Though everywhere you walk is going to have a view.

If you’re sticking near the visitor center, Bright Angel Point is a can’t miss overlook. It’s only 0.5 miles from the parking lot making it easy for everyone to experience. The overlook on this side is also 1,000ft higher than the South Rim making the drop even more dramatic.

Cape Royal is the southernmost viewpoint on the North Side. It is a half mile from the nearest parking area and the walk is flat and paved.

Just down the road from Cape Royal is the trail to Cape Final; one of the least visited viewpoints in the park. That one is a 2.1 mile walk with unforgettable sights.

North Rim Day Hiking

Just like the overlooks, every hike in Grand Canyon National Park comes with a view. Day hiking trails range from just a half-mile to all day hikes and beyond. If you want to really experience all the Grand Canyon has to offer, you can even do a rim-to-rim hike crossing the whole chasm.

Day Hiking TrailsDistance round-tripDay Hiking TrailsDistance round-trip
Bright Angel Point0.5 miNorth Kaibab TrailVaries
Transept Trail4 miPoint Imperial Trail5.4 mi
Bridle Path3.8 miRoosevelt Point Trail0.2 mi
Widefoss Trail9.6 miCape Final Trail4.2 mi
Uncle Jim Trail4.7 miCliff Spring Trail0.8 mi
Ken Patrick Trail19.6 miCape Royal Trail0.8 mi
Arizona Trail24.2 mi

Camping on the North Rim

North Rim Campground

There is just one established campground run by the National Park Service on the North Rim: the North Rim Campground. It’s located just a mile from the visitor center. Campsites are tent camping only, and start at $18/night. They have no electric hookups, though there are hot showers and laundry on the road to the campground. There is also a dump station on the premises.

The North Rim Campground is reservation required May 15 – October 15 and first come, first serve the rest of the year. There are 90 campsites.

Tuweep Campground

Tuweep campground is a primitive campsite located nearly a 5 hour drive west of the North Rim entrance station. There are 9 campsites here that require a backcountry permit. High clearance vehicles are required and four wheel drive is recommended. Because of its remote location, Tuweep is not easy to get to. But that also means you won’t see many neighbors and you’ll get some of the best views in the canyon all to yourself.

Camping Near the North Rim

If the North Rim Campground is full, or if you’re traveling in an RV – you still have options. There are three campgrounds nearby that you might want to take a look at: DeMotte Campground, Jacob Lake Campground, and Kaibab Camper Village.

DeMotte CampgroundJacob Lake CampgroundKaibab Camper Village
7mi from park entrance44mi from park entrance44mi from park entrance
May 15 – October 15May 15 – October 15May 15 – October 15
38 sites51 sites46 sites
Tent/Small TrailersTent/Small TrailersTent + RV friendly
No ElectricityElectric/Non-Electric sitesElectric Hook-ups
Vault ToiletsVault ToiletsToilets/ Shower/ Laundry

Each of these campgrounds is open mid-May to mid-October. They all take reservations, but also have walk-up sites. DeMotte and Jacob Lake are dry camping sites, with vault toilets and few amenities. These are tent camping only campgrounds.

Kaibab Camper Village is where you’ll want to stay if you visit the Grand Canyon in an RV. Their campsites can accommodate larger motorhomes and have electric hookups, showers and laundry. All of these campgrounds are pet friendly.

Other Things To Do In The Grand Canyon

Hiking, photography and camping are among the most popular things to do in the Grand Canyon. But there’s also a few other that may not have crossed your mind.

Mule Rides are available on both the North and South Rims. Reservations on the South Rim are so popular they’ve started a lottery system to earn your spot. For mule rides to the base of the canyon from the North Rim, or on the National Forest trails, you can sign up through Xanterra.

Bicycle Rentals are available on the South Rim. And you can load your own bike onto the shuttle buses. Hermit Road is an 11 mile stretch and perhaps the best place in the park to ride your bike. There is less traffic, and awesome views of the rim. Beyond that, there is also a 3 mile greenway trail perfect for cyclists and hikers.

River Trips range from half-day excursions to 25 day adventures. You can either take a commercial rafting trip, or plan your own non-commercial trip. Not all sections of the Colorado River are advanced. With many commercial rafting companies you can book a smooth and easy experience. Some even use motorized watercraft so you can relax and enjoy the views.

There is a huge variety of commercial trips to choose from, but if you want to go at it alone you’ll need to get a special permit through the Grand Canyon lottery system.

Nearby Points of Interest

The Grand Canyon is an adventure in itself. But if you’re visiting for more than a few days, it might be worth taking a day trip to one of these famous destinations nearby:

If you’re excited to visit the Grand Canyon or want to learn more, these are some great resources to help plan your trip:

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