Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim: How to Choose

Last Updated on May 13, 2024 by foxintheforest

As one of the most beautiful places on this planet, nothing quite compares to the Grand Canyon. However, when it comes to deciding between the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim, how do you know which one to choose?

Having visited the Grand Canyon many times I often get asked which rim of the Grand Canyon is best. Of course, I have my personal preference (more on that in a minute), but choosing which rim to visit in the canyon largely depends on what you want to get out of your trip.

As an expert desert traveler, I’ve visited the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas plenty of times. You won’t get generic travel advice from someone who spent 2 days in one area on this blog. My research takes years to cultivate. So if you’re wanting to visit the Grand Canyon like a pro, not a tourist, keep reading.

About this Guide to the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim

Inside this expert guide to how to choose between the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim you’ll find hot tips and tricks about:

  • Which rim of the Grand Canyon is best for you
  • How to get between the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • How to choose between the North Rim and the South Rim
  • Which part of the Grand Canyon has the fewest crowds
  • Tips, tricks, and must-see attractions at the North Rim, South Rim, West Grand Canyon, and East Grand Canyon
  • Where to find the best views of the Grand Canyon
  • Additional Planning Resources
north rim vs south rim Grand canyon

Which Rim of the Grand Canyon is Best?

Deciding which rim of the Grand Canyon is best will heavily depend on what kind of traveler you are. If you want to see the vastness of the canyon, then the North Rim is best. If you’re looking for dramatic drops, the South Rim will have more of what you’re looking for.

Pro Tip: Personally, I prefer the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for its quiet, remote setting and unexpected scenery.

Don’t just take my word for it though, there are pluses and minuses to each rim.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon sees about 85% of the traffic to the park. It has more amenities and is open year-round. It’s also easier to access from the west. You’ll also have more opportunities to see the river bottom. So expect crowds, but more things to see and do, like some of the top sunset tours of the Grand Canyon.

The North Rim sits high up in elevation (the North Rim Lodge sits at 8,500 feet above sea level). The weather is cooler, and the crowds much thinner, but it is far more remote. There are very few services nearby. Lodging is limited. However, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the canyon, better sunrise opportunities, and far fewer crowds. Just keep in mind this part of the park is closed from mid-October through late May.

Pro Tip: Fall at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is spectacular. The changing scrub oak and aspen trees glimmer throughout this part of the park.

Check out my video about choosing where to go in the Grand Canyon. A complete reccomendation in just 3 minutes!

What’s the Difference Between the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon?

When it comes to comparing the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim there are three main differences.

First, the North Rim sits over 1,000 feet higher in elevation. This means cooler temps, more expansive views, and winter closures.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has many more amenities. You’ll have more lodging options, bigger towns nearby (most North Rim amenities are more like outposts, with Kanab being the nearest town), and easier accessibility.

Lastly, the South Rim is far more crowded than the North Rim. It’s not unusual to be smashed in a crowd of people at an overlook on the South Rim. I’ve visited the North several times and been the only person around at “popular” areas.

How Do You Get to the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon?

If you’re looking to visit both sides of the Grand Canyon (which I highly recommend if you have the time), then you’re looking at a 3-hour and 50-minute drive between the two rims.

If you’re planning to do this, it’s best that you plan to spend at least two nights at the North Rim to make it worth your time. This will give you one full day at the North Rim, which is enough to catch some highlights and perhaps a short hike.

best grand canyon views

Grand Canyon North Rim vs The South Rim: How to Choose

When it comes to which rim of the Grand Canyon is best, you’ll want to think about the reasons you’re visiting. Different parts of the Grand Canyon cater to different types of travelers. Don’t worry, you’ll find amazing Grand Canyon views and hikes on both the South Rim and the North Rim.

Here are a few things to consider when you’re comparing the north rim vs the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

How Much Time Do You Have?

Time is an important factor when deciding between the south and north rim of the Grand Canyon. If you only have a couple of days and you’re flying to the Grand Canyon, then the South Rim is going to be a better choice for you.

The South Rim is easier to access from a bigger commercial airport (Flagstaff, AZ) vs the North Rim whose closest town is Kanab, UT (1.5 hours away) and doesn’t have an airport. But you can do some of the best Kanab hikes here so that’s pretty cool.

If you have more time, or you’re driving, then the North Rim may be a more attractive option.

When Are You Visiting?

Your timing is a quick way to choose which rim to visit. If you’re visiting between mid-October and mid-May, you’ll want to visit the South Rim, since the gate to the North Rim closes for the season (this changes slightly each year) and it’s an endeavor to get into the prettier parts of the park.

During the sweltering summer months, the North Rim is slightly cooler than the South Rim, thanks to a differing climate. However, any trips into the interior of the canyon (hiking or backpacking) in the summer should be taken seriously as temperatures can vary by 30 degrees or more in the canyon interior. This is definitely not the best time to visit the Grand Canyon.

Pro Tip: Visiting the Grand Canyon in winter? You’ll want to prepare for snow and ice and plan a visit to the South Rim. Although parts of the west and east Grand Canyon areas are open.

Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim

Where are You Starting From?

Your starting point may also dictate which rim you should visit.

In general, it’s easier to get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from places west of the Grand Canyon. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the North Rim, just expect to drive a little more.

However, if you’re embarking on a Grand Canyon road trip from Denver, Salt Lake, or from the east, the drive to the North Rim is a lot easier (although it’s almost the same drive time-wise).

If you’re looking to head out on a day trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, you’ll definitely want to visit the South Rim or the West Grand Canyon.

What Activities Are You Interested in?

What Grand Canyon activities are you planning on doing? This will largely dictate whether you visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or the North Rim.

  • Hiking: Both rims
  • Backpacking: Both Rims. The South Rim features more trailed options while the North Rim has a few unique trips such as Cape Final. If you’re doing the rim-to-rim, it’s best to start at the North Rim (less elevation, more lodging options before you shuttle back).
  • Camping: Both rims. There are more campgrounds on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but more dispersed camping options along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (outside of the park).
  • Viewpoints & photography: Both rims – you really can’t go wrong
  • Helicopter tours: South Rim. There are more tour operators on the south side of the canyon.
  • Rafting: You’ll likely start your journey at Lee’s Ferry near Page, AZ which is the East Grand Canyon. The North Rim is more accessible from Page, AZ if you want to add on a couple of days after your rafting trip. Shorter trips require hikes to Phantom Ranch, which is easier to access from the South Rim so check your itinerary.
  • Dog travel: None. Dogs are not allowed outside of paved roads and this is not the place to take your animal.

Grand Canyon North Rim or South Rim Crowds

As I’ve mentioned before, the North Rim sees a fraction of the traffic of the South Rim. It’s the choice if you’re looking for solitude. Even during crowded times at crowded overlooks, like the North Rim Lodge deck, it’s still hardly a crowd.

The South Rim will typically become extremely crowded after 9:30 am most days. During the winter, the crowds thin out, but it’ll have more of a bustling world heritage site feel to it.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

For the classic Grand Canyon experience, nothing beats the South Rim. You’ll have to contend with massive crowds during the day (unless you’re a skilled hiker and opt to head out on a burly trail that isn’t on the rim-to-rim route, but you’ll be able to catch classic views like Mather’s Point.

The South Rim almost feels like an amusement park at times, with shuttles, trains, restaurants, and plenty of lodging. This is the choice if you prefer more creature comforts, enjoy overlooks, and want to visit via a Grand Canyon tour from Phoenix.

However, it’ll also be your home base if you’re looking to dip below the canyon and spend the night. Most of the trailed at-large backcountry permits and backcountry campgrounds are more easily accessed from the south side.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for more accessible trails and views, the South Rim has more options for you.

Best Views

  • Mather Point
  • Hope Point
  • Shoshone Point
  • Ohh Ah Point
  • Grand View Point

Top Hikes

  • South Rim Trail (easy, 12.7-mile point-to-point, paved with shuttle stops)
  • Shoshone Point Trail (easy, 2.1 miles)
  • Ooh Aah Point (easy, 1.8 miles)
  • South Kabaib to Skeleton Point (moderate, 6 miles)
  • Bright Angel Trail (hard, 9.8 miles one-way)
grand canyon viewpoints

Other Activities

  • A lot of rafting trips start at Phantom Ranch which is easier to access on the south side.
  • Scenic driving along Desert View Drive.
  • Spend the night at the iconic Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.
  • Take a ride on the Grand Canyon Train.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a photographer’s dream. Absolutely do not miss a sunrise at Bright Angel Point or Point Imperial. Sunset enthusiasts will love Cape Royal.

It’s also home to the hardest trail in the Grand Canyon, the Nankoweap.

But if precarious drops and endless el gain isn’t your thing there are plenty of leisurely hikes and a rim-side lodge that boasts amazing views and brews.

The North Rim is a real gem of the National Parks system and shouldn’t be missed!

Pro Tip: We were lucky enough to score a cabin with a rim view, but we booked it as soon as lodging opened, one year in advance. If you want to stay at the North Rim Lodge, be prepared to plan ahead.

Best Views

  • North Rim Lodge
  • Bright Angel Point
  • Cape Royal
  • Point Imperial (the highest point on the Grand Canyon)
  • Toroweep Overlook

Top Hikes

There is an amazing array of North Rim Grand Canyon hikes you don’t want to miss. A few favorites include:

  • Cape Final (easy, 4 miles RT)
  • Transcept Trail (easy, partially paved, 2.9 miles)
  • Wildforss Trail (moderate, 9.1 miles)
  • North Kabaib (hard, 19.3 miles)
  • Nankoweap (hard, 28.3 miles)

Other Activities

There are a few other amazing things to do at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A few bucket list activities include:

  • A mule ride down the North Kabaib Trail
  • Stay at a rim-side cabin – there are only 4!
  • Catch the sunset at the North Rim Lodge viewing deck
  • Spend the night at the Tuweap Campground
which rim of the grand canyon is best

Is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon Worth it?

Simply put, yes. If you’re into stunning views with a fraction of the crowds, then this is the place to be. The perches at the top of the canyon are unforgettable. The landscape coming into the North Rim is unexpected and unique. However, if you’re more interested in having amenities, wifi, and creature comforts, this probably isn’t the place for you.

Grand Canyon West

So Grand Canyon West isn’t technically in the national parks system. It can be found on the Hualapai Reservation. This area gives you a different perspective of the Grand Canyon. It’s much more tourist and attraction oriented, rather than being oriented around views.

Here you’ll find the famous Sky Walk, where you can walk out over the canyon. If you’re searching for views, the national park has better options. But for easy-to-access thrills, such as a zipline or cultural experiences with the Hualapai tribe, then you’ll want to visit the Grand Canyon West.

Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon

The Havasupai Reservation allows visitors to book a permitted camping adventure to the famous Havasu Falls.

Pro Tip: In 2023, Havasupai Tribe is welcoming visitors back to Havasupai after the pandemic and terrible flooding affected the tribe. Only current reservation holders will be allowed in 2023 and no new permits will be issued.

The calcium carbonate and magnesium-rich waters give the falls their iconic bright blue color. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, just expect reservations to be sold out and plan well in advance.

which rim is best in the grand canyon

Grand Canyon East

Grand Canyon east is much less dramatic and much less iconic than its other neighbors. Many people mark the official “starting point” – Lee’s Ferry – of the Grand Canyon from here. Page, AZ is the nearest town.

There are a few notable sites along the canyon that you can access from the rim. The most famous of which is Horseshoe Bend. A quick hike (and a small fee) takes you to a horseshoe-like bend in the canyon. Technically, it’s not the Grand Canyon, but it is a small side trip you can do while visiting Page.

Which Rim has the Best Views of the Grand Canyon?

Both rims offer stellar views and are well worth a visit. The North Rim will have more of a sky-high feel, while the South Rim provides more opportunities to see the river raging below. You really can’t go wrong with either rim of the Grand Canyon.

Additional Arizona Travel Tips

Looking to explore Arizona like a pro, not a tourist? Then you’re in the right place. Here are a few articles you’ve got to check out:

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Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

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Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.