Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express. While American Express Card Member benefits are highlighted in this publication, including through the links indicated below, the content of this article was independently written by the editorial staff at Meredith. Other Departures content paid for by American Express is explicitly marked as such.
The Grand Canyon is a top-of-the-bucket-list destination whether you live in a state that borders Arizona or you’re from halfway around the world. The Grand Canyon is a full mile deep, stretches 18 miles wide, and extends lengthwise for 277 miles. In other words, it’s big. Grand, one might even say—it can actually be seen from the International Space Station. The Grand Canyon became America’s fifteenth National Park in 1919, and is thought of as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
As is the case with visiting most natural phenomena, planning a trip to the Grand Canyon is a bit of an undertaking. It’s not particularly close to a major city or airport, nor are there a plethora of nearby five-star hotels. But the Grand Canyon is beyond worth the trek, and we’ll give you all of the insight you need to plan a perfect trip to this National Park.
What Airport to Fly Into When Visiting the Grand Canyon
There are a few airports you can fly into when heading to the Grand Canyon: Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix, or Las Vegas. Las Vegas is by far the largest airport and therefore has the most opportunity for direct flights. Las Vegas is 270 miles to the North Rim and 280 miles from South Rim—about five hours either way. Sedona is about 110 miles away from the South Rim—two hours away. Phoenix is approximately four hours away from the South Rim (230 miles). The final airport option is also the closest: Flagstaff. It’s an hour and 20 minutes driving to the South Rim (75 miles away).
Transportation Into the Park
First, of course, you can drive from any of the above destinations.
For a touch more excitement, chartering a helicopter is also an option. There are round-trip charters from most of the hub cities (big or small), and you can even book a helicopter that will touch down within the canyon. Maverick, for example, offers a Wind Dancer Tour from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, with a helicopter flight over Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, the Mojave Desert, and the Grand Canyon. The grand finale is champagne on their private bluff deep within the canyon.
The Grand Canyon Railway is perfect for travelers bringing a “Westworld” vibe to Arizona. The Grand Canyon Railway runs daily, departing from Williams, Arizona. The train ride from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 65 miles and takes just over two hours.
And then there’s Groome Transportation, previously the Arizona Shuttle, which is a van shuttle service that brings visitors from the Phoenix area to the Grand Canyon on five different daily routes. There’s also a free shuttle, from Tusayan to the South Rim that runs several times a day from March through September.
Where to Go and What to Do Within the Grand Canyon
Sitting in northwest Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is comprised of the North and South Rim—which are divided by the Colorado River. The South Rim is open all year around, while the North Rim closes when snow starts to fall heavily on the northern canyon perimeter. The exact closing and opening dates of the North Rim vary from season to season.
To gain entry to the Grand Canyon, you’ll pay a $35 fee per car—not per person. You can also buy a National Park pass for the year (the America the Beautiful Annual Pass).
As for canyon-centric activities, mule excursions are a popular way to descend into the canyon. Some of the tour operators even facilitate overnight trips, with travelers bunking on the bottom of the Grand Canyon after their day’s mule ride. You can also do a shorter Canyon Rim Ride. More info on both can be found via Grand Canyon National Park Lodges.
If you’re more excited to hike the Grand Canyon, you can take the 13-mile South Rim Trail, which doesn’t experience much elevation but brings you to scenic lookouts like Mather Point and Powell Point. Bright Angel is also a classic South Rim hike, a nine-mile trek that involves a descent into the canyon. The North Rim counterpart to Bright Angel is North Kaibab Trail, the only North Rim hike that goes into the canyon.
And finally, if you’re looking for an aquatic canyon pastime, the Colorado River plays host to incredible rafting experiences. Wilderness River Adventures puts together days-long Grand Canyon white water rapids tours.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Grand Canyon
Luxury accommodations for the Grand Canyon are still few and far between. However, for a high-end glamping option, Under Canvas Grand Canyon is just a 25-minute drive from the South Rim. Sitting on 160 acres in Valle, Arizona, their suite tents have an ensuite bathroom (with a flushing toilet) and a king-sized bed.
Alternately, for a chic Arizona retreat, you can stay at L’Auberge de Sedona, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. While a two-hour drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, L’Auberge de Sedona is the closest luxury resort to the Grand Canyon. They regularly welcome Grand Canyon guests who also want a taste of Sedona and an exclusive resort experience. The property curates a Grand Canyon Adventure Package, which includes a three-night stay, a Westwind Signature Small Plane Grand Canyon Tour (which includes a ground Jeep tour), and a $300 L’Apothecary Spa credit, among other coveted offerings.