The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

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Here’s everything you need to know to make the most out of your time in the Grand Canyon.

Nothing can prepare you for the majestic beauty that opens before your eyes in the Grand Canyon. This ancient natural wonder—that scientists estimate is about five to six million years old— is essentially a river gorge. The Colorado river cut through the rusty red rocks forming at times mile-deep canyons, home to diverse flora and fauna. And as much as a trip here is about experiencing Mother Nature’s splendor, it is also about appreciating Native American culture as humans have lived in the region for 12,000 years.

Rafting Colorado River in Grand Canyon
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The national park is divided into two sections by a 277-mile canyon—south and north. The Grand Canyon South Rim remains the most popular one for exploring everything this natural gem has to offer. From multiple viewpoints that reveal stunning vistas of the seemingly endless canyon to hiking trails and other fun things to do, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon draws millions of people each year for a reason.

So before you start packing, we put together a handy guide to help you plan the vacation of a lifetime.

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El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, Arizona
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Grand Canyon South Rim Hotels

Whether you’re at the Grand Canyon South Rim just for the day or you’d like to stay for longer, the area has several high-end properties that will go above and beyond to pamper you after a day of hiking.

The historic El Tovar Hotel has welcomed the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Albert Einstein. But the property’s famous guest list is not even its most impressive feature. Situated directly on the rim of the canyon, its location delivers stunning vistas at every corner. The stone-and-log lodge was designed in 1905 by Chicago architect Charles Whittlesey who combined elements of Swiss chalets and Norwegian villas in both the interior and exterior. The 78 rooms and suites were all renovated in 2005 and infused with old world elegance.

The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is another lodge-inspired property located a 15-minute ride from the park’s entrance. Its spacious lobby features an impressive stone floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and the indoor pool is certainly an added perk not many properties in the area can claim.

A view of the South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon at sunrise.
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Grand Canyon South Rim Hikes

Hiking is the best way to explore the unrivaled beauty of the Grand Canyon, and the South Rim offers a variety of trails and paths for hikers of all levels. The easiest and most popular walk is the South Rim Trail that stretches for 13 miles (some of them paved) along the rim, offering spectacular canyon views.

If you’re looking for something more challenging, try Bright Angel Trail. This steep 12-mile hike takes you inside the canyon and features some shaded sections along the way (which is essential if you visit in the summer). The elevation change from the rim to the end of the trail is about 3,000 feet, so keep in mind that it may take you twice the time to get back to the South Rim, and pack accordingly.

Another great option that will get you moving is the South Kaibab Trail. It begins south of Yaki Point and you can only get there by shuttle. The six-mile hike offers superb vistas along the way, and you can only do part of the trail if you’re short on time. If you’re planning a long hike inside the canyon, keep in mind that as you go down, the weather at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can change dramatically, so be prepared for extreme cold and heat, and have plenty of water with you.

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A group of pack donkeys walking a trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
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Things to Do at Grand Canyon South Rim

While hiking may be the most popular activity here, people flock to the Grand Canyon South Rim because it also offers plenty of other ways to enjoy the area. Water sports enthusiasts can explore the canyon on a rafting trip along the Colorado River. The guided tours can last from half a day to a couple of weeks for boat cruises.

Don’t feel like walking? Take a mule ride from the rim to the river. Then spend the night at the historic Phantom Ranch tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the canyon. Mule rides are also a great family-friendly option, but your kids should be at least nine years old.

With about 13 miles of roads and even more trails, biking is another way to explore the Grand Canyon South Rim. The most popular road is Hermit Road that follows the canyon rim for seven scenic miles. And if you want to see the canyon the way not that many people do, go for a helicopter tour and enjoy the awe-inspiring views of both the North and South Rim from above.

Camped atop the bridge connecting Cheops Pyramid (background) and Isis Temple on a late-October night, the lights from El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge dot Grand Canyon's South Rim while Orion rises to the southeast.
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Grand Canyon South Rim Camping

Staying in the park overnight is a pretty unique and popular way to experience it. Mather and Desert View Campgrounds are the only two camping sites at the South Rim where vehicles are permitted. They are located 26 miles from one another. The idyllic, although more rustic, Desert View is open from May through October and includes 50 campsites that can accommodate small RVs and travel trailers.

With 327 sites, Mather Campground is the largest and most developed one in the park. Each site can accommodate up to six people and comes with a campfire ring, picnic table, and a designated parking space. Restroom and shower facilities are also available here.