For many people, getting to visit the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience. As a Wonder of the World and icon of the United States, the Grand Canyon is no doubt a bucket list adventure. But did you know that there are several sides of the Grand Canyon – each with their own magnificent views and trails?
There’s the Grand Canyon North Rim, South Rim, East/Desert View Entrance, and the West Rim (the one that’s closest to Las Vegas with the skywalk). During our road trip in the Southwest, we were able to see both the remote North Rim and popular South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so I’m going to compare the two in this article. So which one should you visit – Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim (or both)?
Before seeing the Grand Canyon for myself, thinking about visiting was always shrouded in a mystery. I wondered about how to get there, which side of the Grand Canyon is best to visit, how long does it take, are there easy trails, campgrounds, data service, etc. It’s only when you visit do you realize, “Oh! I get it now.”
If you are also wondering about the differences between the North Rim vs South Rim of the Grand Canyon, then keep reading!
Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim – how do they differ and which side should you visit?
The Ultimate Showdown: Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim
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|Popular View||Trails||Gateway||Distance*||Crowds||Lodging||Nearby Towns/Parks|
|North Rim||Bright Angel Point||Yes||Jacob Lake, AZ||44 miles S||Remote||Yes||Kanab, Page, Bryce + Zion|
|South Rim||Mather Point……..||Yes….||Williams, AZ…..||60 miles N….||Popular||Yes……..||Williams, Sedona, Flagstaff|
Scroll to the right to see the table on mobile >
COVID-19: Right now, the East/Desert Entrance of the South Rim is closed. This is normally how you would be able to visit both the North Rim and South Rim faster, but because it is closed due to COVID, you need to go all the way to the main entrance of the South Rim via Williams and Tusayan, AZ. The North Rim Campground is closed, but the Lodge is open for guests and grab-and-go breakfasts/lunches. Visitor Centers at both rims are closed. Shuttles are limited. Check here for updates.
* The distances noted are how many miles it takes from the “gateway” towns. The North Rim definitely feels more remote and takes 1h 30 mins / 80 miles driving from Kanab, UT (a popular place to stay overnight for the day before/after). On the flip side, it takes 1h 20 mins / 70 miles driving from Williams, AZ to reach the South Rim Grand Canyon.
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Grand Canyon North Rim
With its remote landscape, empty trails, and crisp air, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon offers a wild adventure you’re not likely to forget anytime soon. I say wild because the North Rim definitely gives off a different vibe than the South Rim, which is heavily-trafficked. At the North Rim, you can go slowly and really enjoy being immersed in the Grand Canyon’s solitude and immensity.
The Grand Canyon North Rim has several viewpoints, but the first one you’ll likely go to is just beyond the visitor center at Bright Angel’s Point.
Bright Angel’s Point Viewpoint overlooks Bright Angel’s Canyon and Roaring Springs, which is the main source of drinking water in the Grand Canyon.
There are other viewpoints to stop and admire on the trail that skirts the rim around the parking lot. To get to other viewpoints and hikes, you need to hop back in your car and drive a short distance to trailheads.
Hikes / Trails
It is a short and sweet hike to get to Bright Angel’s Point (0.5 miles / 30 mins). There are also several viewing “decks” around the rim behind the visitor center.
If you have more time, here are other day hikes you can do while at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon:
- Cape Royal Trail – 0.6 mi, 30 mins
- Transept Trail – 3 mi, 1.5 hours
- Bridle Trail – 1.2 mi (bicycle & pet-friendly trail)
- Cliff Springs Trail – 1.0 mi, 1 hour
- Roosevelt Trail – 0.2, 20 mins
- Point Imperial Trail – 4 mi, 2 hours
- North Kaibab Trail to Coconino Overlook – 1.5 mi, 1 hour (the only trail into the canyon from the North Rim). You can also hike further to Supai Tunnel (4 miles round-trip) for more impressive canyon views.
Bright Angel’s Point Trail
Distance & Accessibility
To get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon takes 44 miles of driving from Jacob Lake, AZ. The road meanders through the Kaibab Plateau with views on the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance. We personally stayed overnight at the Rodeway Inn in Kanab, UT (recommended) before our morning sunrise mission to the North Rim. From Kanab, it takes 1 hour 30 mins driving (approx. 80 miles).
If you are also planning on visiting Bryce Canyon National Park or Zion National Park, consider combining a trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim since it is much closer and more convenient.
Bryce Canyon, UT – North Rim: 3 hours, 155 miles
Page, AZ – North Rim: 2 hrs 20 mins, 123 miles
The Grand Canyon North Rim has a much more remote feel to it compared to the South Rim. There was even a study that showed around 10-15% of all visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the North Rim, whereas 80-85% of visitors go to the South Rim. There were virtually no crowds when we visited the North Rim all morning vs the South Rim where it became visibly crowded by 9:30 AM.
The North Rim sits at a higher elevation than the South Rim. At 8,000 feet, the North Rim receives more rain and has cooler temperatures year-round with thicker forests. On your drive to the North Rim, you’ll notice lots of burned, blackened trees from past forest fires.
Make sure to dress for cooler weather, especially if you plan on visiting the North Rim early morning or camping overnight.
As for accommodation at the North Rim, there are two options – the Grand Canyon Lodge and the North Rim Campground. However, right now due to current closures, both the North Rim Campground and the visitor’s center are closed until further notice. The Lodge remains open for guests.
Nearby Parks / Towns / Attractions
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is far less visited in part because of how remote it is. The nearest towns are Jacob Lake and Kanab – with the latter having many more options for lodging, restaurants, and activities. Even then, it still takes roughly 1-1.5 hours of driving over the Kaibab Plateau to reach the entrance to the North Rim.
If you want to visit the North Rim, consider adding Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park just across the border into Utah to your itinerary. Likewise, Page, Arizona is not too far away from the North Rim. You could plan a trip here to see Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell before/after your visit to the Grand Canyon.
Overall, we loved the Grand Canyon North Rim because of its secludedness. It seems to offer more of an adventure and the chance to see parts of the Grand Canyon that few get to see. We also would’ve loved to have spent more time hiking as there seem to be more trails available at the North Rim vs the South Rim.
Grand Canyon South Rim
So now it’s time for the breakdown of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is no doubt the most popular destination to see the Grand Canyon in all its glory. For one, you get massive panoramic views from the viewpoints at the South Rim. And two, the South Rim is more convenient to get to and has more amenities (Grand Canyon Village) that can handle a larger influx of visitors.
The viewpoints at the South Rim certainly satisfy that “wow” factor. It’s easy to see why the Grand Canyon is such a mesmerizing, sacred place not only for the Native tribes but for all of us. It is humbling to see the natural beauty of the world in person right there in front of you.
That said, the best viewpoint to start with is Mather Point. Sunrise and sunset especially make the Mather Point special, so try and see it during either one of these two moments.
The other viewpoints you’ll see in the South Rim are located along the Rim Trail.
Here are the viewpoints from right to left, starting with the South Kaibab Trailhead.
- South Kaibab Trailhead: Start of Rim Trail
- Pipe Creek Vista
- Mather Point (closest to the visitor center)
- Yavapai Point
- Trailview Overlook
- Maricopa Point
- Powell Point
- Hopi Point
- Mohave Point (great for catching the sunset!)
- Monument Creek Vista
- Pima Point
- Hermit’s Rest: End of Rim Trail
Download this digital Rim Trail map here to get an idea of the distances between each viewpoint.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon also encompasses the Desert View which is normally accessed from the East/Desert Entrance via Hwy 64. However, all roads and all Desert View facilities are closed due to the outbreaks in the neighboring Navajo Nation.
Hikes / Trails
The Rim Trail is one of the most obvious choices for a good overview hike at the Grand Canyon South Rim. The Rim Trail spans roughly 13 miles from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. Normally, the shuttle services several of the stops, making it easier to see more viewpoints but if you are on foot the 13 miles is fairly long.
Mather Point is the closet overlook from the visitor center, so most people start there and then walk left toward the Yavapai Point and geology information center. From Yavapai, the paved trail continues into the Trail of Time and onward to Hopi Point and beyond to Hermit’s Rest. We turned around after the Trail of Time as it would already take us nearly another hour to get back to the parking lot.
Distance & Accessibility
Under normal circumstances, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be accessed from the Desert View/East Entrance on Hwy 64 as you come from Page, AZ. It is faster to reach the South Rim this way if you are coming from the North Rim. But as of right now, the only entrance open is the South Entrance. To get here, you’ll need to drive through the historic towns Williams and Tusayan, AZ. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is generally more accessible than the North Rim. The South Rim has several developed towns nearby ideal for lodging, shopping, dining, and more.
Sedona – South Rim: 2 hours, 114 miles
Flagstaff – South Rim: 1.5 hours, 79 miles
Las Vegas, NV – South Rim: 4 hrs 20 mins, 280 miles
The South Rim definitely receives a bigger crowd than its northern neighbor. By 9:30 – 10 AM, the Rim Trail was heavily-trafficked (even right now during the pandemic). Though I’m sure it’s not AS busy compared to usual. Nonetheless, the Grand Canyon National Park is still receiving lots of visitors who are mainly visiting the South and West Rims.
The South Rim is lower in elevation (7,000 ft), so it’s a little warmer here than at the North Rim. Even though most of the Rim Trail is flat and paved, don’t push your limits when hiking. Wear breathable clothing and carry a light jacket in case you’re visiting in the early morning. Try to avoid the heat of the day and bring plenty of water with a few salty snacks too!
Compared to the North Rim, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon has many more accommodation options for camping and lodges. There’s the Mather Campground, El Tovar Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik Lodge, and Kachina Lodge, plus more in Grand Canyon Village and just outside the park entrance in the town of Tusayan.
Nearby Parks / Towns / Attractions
The South Rim also offers bike rentals, several cafes, markets, shopping plazas, multiple centers and museums, and more. To get here you’ll pass through the town of Williams which once thrived on the historic Route 66. It’s well worth a stop here to take in the old-timey inns and restaurants which have mostly been preserved (we stayed in the historic Canyon Country Inn).
Page, AZ is not too far away either, as well as the mystical desert town of Sedona, AZ just outside of Flagstaff. There are several ways you can pack the South Rim into your road trip itinerary based on what other parks and towns you’d like to see!
Historic Route 66 town of Williams, AZ
Final Tips for Choosing Between Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim
So, which side would win if you had to choose to visit just one? The North Rim vs South Rim of the Grand Canyon? Either or, you will not be disappointed!
All in all, I think the North Rim offers more secludedness with better hiking trails and vistas, while the South Rim offers better and easier panoramic views while having your typical comforts closeby. If you’re feeling adventurous, visit the North Rim. If you just want to see the Grand Canyon as most people see it, visit the South Rim!
Grand Canyon National Park is entirely within the state of Arizona but is an easy day’s drive to popular National Parks in neighboring Utah. If you are coming from Vegas, you could do an entire loop that takes you on a thrilling road trip to the Valley of Fire State Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, North Rim, Page, South Rim, and back to Vegas. There are dozens of ways to include the North or South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a trip to the American Southwest!
If you plan to visit several national parks on your trip, then buy an America The Beautiful park pass and save tons of money on entrance fees!
Pin this North Rim vs South Rim guide to the Grand Canyon for later!