I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the Grand Canyon no less than three times and coming all the way from Australia, this is no mean feat. I rarely go back to the same place twice but when it comes to the world’s largest canyon is it any wonder why so many others return time and again. It’s not enough to get your photos out and reminisce because none of them do it justice. You just have to stand there and let your jaw drop in a stunned mullet fashion, take a zillion photos, look at another vantage point and ogle some more and more until the sun goes down and you just can’t see it any longer. So get up extra specially early to ogle at it some more before you really, really have to leave to get to your next destination. By the way. this blog is also dedicated to my friend who got Las Vegas fever and never quite made it to this world famous icon because she was too “under the weather”.
As I was saying, I have been here three times and have seen the ditch from both the South side and the north side. I’m aware there is also an east and west side but most tourist usually go to either the south or north rim because of their limited time in the States. If you’re anything like me then you are faced with organising the quintessential road trip out this way from either LA or Las Vegas, then you inevitably end up in an agonising decision of which rim to go to. In a nutshell, one is neither better or worse than the other in terms of the spectacular view. However, there will be factors that influence your North vs South Rim decision. Hopefully, I have made this decision easier by doing a list of pros and cons.
South Rim – Pros
- If you’ve already been to the North Rim then it’s a no brainer.
- There’s a hell of a lot of lodging options both inside and outside the park catering to all budgets.
- Same distance from Las Vegas (4.5 hours) but closer to Phoenix (3.5 hours).
- Accessible by car, plane and railway.
- There are over 20 main view points and the view here reveals more about the depth of the canyon rather than the width.
- The South rim is open year round and good for winter visits as the North Rim is closed from mid-May through mid-October.
- Summer is predictably warm and dry, with afternoon monsoon storms occurring during the months of July and August. Daytime temperatures are 27-32 degrees Celsius, with night time lows between 5 and 10. Spring and autumn are also good times of year with daytime highs usually 18-24 degrees with chilly nights. A coat is best carried no matter what time of year you visit. In wintertime, Grand Canyon National Park becomes a different world and definitely worth a visit for this reason alone. March and April are also prone to late season snowstorms.
South Rim – Cons
- Swarms of tourists visit, especially during the peak season (US and European summer), as it is the most accessible from Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Hotel reservations need to be made 6 to 9 months in advance during peak travel season.
- Further from Salt Lake City (8.5 hours).
- The drive there is a little boring with desert, desert and more desert.
North Rim – Pros
- If you’ve already been to the South Rim then it’s a no brainer.
- This side receives 1/10th less visitors so is a great place to bring the family who can all hear their own voices yelling cooee across the canyon. Rarely will you see a tour bus.
- You will have more chance in being able to go on a trail ride with mules on the north side and this is an absolute highlight of any visit to the canyon.
- If you’re a National Park Junkie like me then the lure of both Zion and Bryce National Parks, which are virtually on the way there, are too irresistible.
- Same distance from Las Vegas (4.5 hours) but closer to Salt Lake City (6.5 hours).
- The drive there is really interesting as not only will you encounter desert, but you’ll be rising in elevation through spectacular mountainous country and through the Kaibab National Forest featuring tree species such as ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, aspen, blue spruce, oak, pinyon pine, and juniper.
- A full 300m higher in altitude, this side always runs about 12 degrees Celcius cooler than the South Rim. As a result it has its own microclimate and supports plant and animal life that the drier South Rim cannot, such as trees mentioned above and the Kaibab Squirrel. There is also a herd of bison roaming around near the park and if you’re lucky you’ll see some if you can get up early enough.
- At 2438m above sea level, summer temperatures are a pleasant, with day time highs ranging from 21 to 27 degrees Celcius and night being quite cold until late spring. We travelled in July and packed nothing but summer clothes and a light pullover but we were caught short and ended up buying souvenir pull overs from the gift shop because we were so cold.
- Hiking, sightseeing and ranger-led programs are the primary activities offered at the North Rim and as such is recommended for outdoors-minded people and families seeking a quiet getaway, as well as hikers, photographers and nature enthusiasts.
- If you’ve never experienced the Northern Hemisphere autumn then you should seriously consider experiencing the spectacular fall colours of the Kaibab National Forest in late September.
North Rim – Cons
- If you don’t have your own transport then forget it.
- Accommodation options are lot more limited here. The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only accommodation inside the park. Built in the 1920’s, the Grand Canyon Lodge has a couple hundred cabins and a handful of motel rooms as well as a restaurant, lounge, deli, campground and gift shop. Outside the park lodging is also more scarce than at the South Rim, with the Kaibab Lodge being 8km away and Jacob Lake Lodge 80km away. The next nearest lodging is about 90 minutes from the park.
- Further from Phoenix (6 hours).
- You can only see a small sliver of the Colorado River if you look through Angel’s Window.
There are only 3 main view points and the view here reveals more about the width of the canyon rather than the depth.
- The season here is relatively short before they close the Park. It’s only open from mid-May through mid-October due to heavy snowfall during the winter months.
What do I think now that I have seen it from both sides? I’m glad you asked because I think the North Rim is better because it is calmer, quieter, and reminiscent of what US National Parks may have been like in years past. I hope this article helps your North vs South Rim decision.