The Grand Canyon is a name people instantly recognize. Naturally sculpted over millions of years, it’s one of the most studied landscapes in the world, full of archeological mystery.
It’s huge, being 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, and if you could drive it, this sure would make seeing everything on offer easier.
It’s not possible to drive inside the Grand Canyon, but you can drive to different sections, including the North and South Rim. From there, parking lots are available and you can hike nearby trails, or drive further to surrounding areas, with spectacular views along the way.
Driving to the North and South Rim
The Grand Canyon comprises four sections: North, South, West, and Havasu Falls. The North and South Rim are managed by the National Park Service and serve as the most popular places to visit.
The North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon are only 10 miles away from each other across the canyon, but when driving, this distance increases to 212 miles (341 km), and it takes about 4.5 hours.
Both locations are accessible by car, with parking lots available that connect to trails and surrounding areas of the canyon.
However, they are active at different times during the year, and while the South Rim is a heavy tourist spot all year round, the North Rim serves as a more scenic experience active during the peak season.
Driving the North Rim
The Grand Canyon has been described as the most majestic when viewed from the peaks of the North Rim.
It’s situated in the northwest corner of Arizona, and full services operate from mid-May until mid-October, but this can vary depending on snowfall.
The Visitor Center operates between 8 am to 5 pm.
To get there, you’ll take State Route 67 (SR 67), which runs from Jacob Lake all the way to the North Rim entrance station, with a distance of 45 miles.
Once you arrive at the parking lot, you’ll either park near the visitor center and hike to nearby locations, or drive to the other viewing locations available.
North Rim drives
Here are some popular locations to drive to on the North Rim of the canyon. North Rim roads close from the beginning of December to mid-May.
Bright Angel Point
Bright Angel Point is the most popular of the North Rim locations, as it’s the easiest to access via car, with the shortest driving distance from the North Rim entrance when compared to Cape Royal and Point Imperial.
There’s a large parking area available near the visitor center and the beginning of the 0.4-mile trail leading to the viewpoint, which showcases classic views of the surrounding canyons.
From the visitor center, the northernmost viewing location of Point Imperial is reached through a twisting 11-mile paved road along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
On the way, you’ll find areas to stop and admire what’s around you. Its highest point peaks at 8,800 feet and showcases unforgettable views of the desert landscape!
There’s a large parking lot available near the beginning of the trail.
Cape Royal is the southernmost spot on the North Rim, and from the North Rim entrance, you’ll drive along a 23-mile paved road leading there.
Along the drive, you’ll find endless views both east and west, rock formations, the Colorado River, and a sunrise and sunset hotspot.
There’s a large parking lot available near the start of the trails, leading to the accessible viewpoints. For instance, one trail leads off to a viewpoint situated over Angels Window, which has been described as inducing the feeling of “floating above the canyon.”
Driving the South Rim
The most known and common visiting spot for tourists, the South Rim of the canyon, can be found 60 miles North of Williams, Arizona, and can be accessed by driving from Interstate 40 via Highway 64.
It’s open to the public all year round, and its entrance operates 24 hours a day. The visitor center operates between 9-4 pm daily.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The South Rim gets very busy during holiday periods. It’s best to arrive before 9 am to avoid heavy traffic during peak periods of 10 am and 2 pm.
- Parking lots are usually completely full by 12 pm.
- Fees are paid at the park entrance stations.
- Entrance passes can be purchased in advance.
South Rim drives
Here are some hot spots to drive to on the South Rim of the canyon.
This drive is great for those wanting to avoid the hustle and bustle of other areas in the park, open 24/7 to drivers throughout the year.
Starting close to the Grand Canyon Village, this scenic route follows through a 23-mile drive to the East entry point of the National Park and Desert View.
Along the way, you’ll find there are six lookout points for picturesque views of the central area of the canyon, including ravines, peaks, and the Colorado River.
At the end of the drive, you’ll find the 70-foot tall Desert View Watchtower, which serves as the highest point on the South Rim of the canyon, displaying spectacular 360-degree views!
- Although it’s possible to complete the Desert View drive in around an hour, it’s recommended to take your time, absorb the atmosphere, pack a picnic (4 spots available), and take some snaps of the views.
- Parking is available at the Desert View parking lot, with a visitor center nearby and a 402-meter walk from the parking lot to the canyon rim.
- Operation shuts down during the Winter months.
- This route allows access to the Grandview Trail, venturing deep into the canyon.
Hermit’s Road (formerly West Rim drive)
This route stretches for 7 miles throughout the canyon rim, starting from the village route transfer shuttle stop, and running to Hermit’s Rest.
It’s open to private vehicles throughout December, January, and February. During the period of March 1 and November 30, the route is operated via a free shuttle bus, which offers a 50-minute round trip with multiple stopping locations and nine viewpoints along the way, showcasing the best views of the canyon and Colorado River.
- Parking lots are available at all viewpoints.
- This route provides popular spots for sunset viewing.
- You can continue walking from the Historic District through the rim trail.
Driving to the North and South Rim
Here’s the distance to reach the North and South Rim entrance from surrounding locations.
The North Rim
- Flagstaff, Arizona: 3 hours 40 minutes (207 miles)
- Las Vegas: 4 hours 22 minutes (264 miles)
- Phoenix, Arizona: 5 hours 43 minutes (351 miles)
- Utah: 6 hours 36 minutes (339 miles)
- Tucson, Arizona: 7 hours 15 minutes (463 miles)
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: 7 hours 46 minutes (467 miles)
The South Rim
- Flagstaff, Arizona: 1 hour 46 minutes (91.7 miles)
- Las Vegas: 4 hours 28 minutes (290 miles)
- Phoenix, Arizona: 3 hr 46 min (236 miles)
- Utah: 8 hours 20 minutes (456 miles)
- Tuscon, Arizona: 5 hours 20 minutes (347 miles)
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: 6 hours 5 minutes (402 miles)
The National Park Service app
With such a large land surface area available to explore, planning beforehand can be a great help before you set out on your adventure.
The NPS App helps you to plan your adventure, allowing users to access tools such as interactive maps, on-foot accessibility, and tour information.
The Trans Canyon Shuttle
If you want to leave your car behind, then the Trans Canyon Shuttle operates between the North and South Rim once daily, between mid-May and mid-October each year, with limited availability between mid-October to mid-November.
To use this service, reservations are required, and the cost is $120 per person each way.
The North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon are the two sections that tourists generally visit, but they are far apart from one another, so before your trip, it’s important to understand the key differences between both spots, such as operating times and dates, driving routes, and what you want to see and plan accordingly.