Las Vegas' Best Side Trips: Tour the Grand Canyon
If you only make one side trip from Las Vegas, make it to Grand Canyon National Park.
There's nothing quite like standing on the canyon rim and looking across at layers of distance, color, and shifting light. Add the music of a canyon wren's merry call echoing off the cliffs, and spring water tinkling from the rocks along a trail, and you may sink into a reverie as deep and beautiful as the canyon. If you don't, check your pulse—then return immediately to the bright lights and clamor of the slot machines. Nothing can save you now!
Here's what you need to know to make the trip.
South Rim vs. North Rim
There are two main access points to the canyon: the South Rim and the North Rim. It's about a 5 hour drive to either place from Las Vegas, so you'll need to stay at least one night.
Both are within the national park, but the hordes of visitors converge mostly on the South Rim in summer, and for good reason. Grand Canyon Village is here, along with most of the lodging and camping, restaurants, stores, and museums. You'll also find the airport, railroad depot, rim roads, scenic overlooks, and trailheads into the canyon. The South Rim can be accessed either from the main entrance near Tusayan or by the East entrance near the Desert View Watchtower.
The North Rim, by contrast, stands 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and has a more alpine climate, with twice as much annual precipitation. Here, in the deep forests of the Kaibab Plateau, the crowds are thinner, the facilities fewer, and the views even more spectacular.
Fodor's Choice Around the South Rim
Yavapai Observation Station. The word Yavapai means "sun people" in Paiute, the language of nomadic Indians associated with the Grand Canyon. Dominated by the Yavapai Observation Station, and revamped in 2007, this lookout point—one of the best places on the South Rim to watch a sunset—offers panoramic views of the mighty gorge through a wall of windows. It's a perfect break from the never-ending neon daylight of Vegas' casinos. You can learn more at nps.gov.
Rim Trail. The South Rim's most popular walking path is the 9-mi (one way) Rim Trail, which runs along the edge of the canyon from Mather Point (the first overlook on Desert View Drive) to Hermits Rest. This walk, which is paved to Maricopa Point, visits several of the South Rim's historic landmarks and is ideal for a day hike, as it varies only a few hundred feet in elevation from Mather Point (7,120 feet) to the trailhead at Hermits Rest (6,640 feet). The trail also can be accessed from the major viewpoints along Hermit Road, which are serviced by shuttle buses during the busy summer months.
Hermit Road. This tree-lined, two-lane drive, eight miles west from Grand Canyon Village, has eight scenic overlooks with panoramic views of the inner canyon. All are popular sunset destinations. Hermit Road terminates at Hermits Rest, which has beautiful views of Hermit Rapids and the towering cliffs of the Supai and Redwall formations. Other popular stops along the way include Hopi Point, with unobstructed views into the canyon; Maricopa Point, where you can see the defunct Orphan Mine and the Colorado River below; and Pima Point, with a bird's eye view of Tonto Platform and Tonto Trail. From March through November, Hermit Road is closed to private auto traffic because of congestion. During this period a free shuttle bus will carry you to all the overlooks. Riding the bus round-trip without getting off at any of the viewpoints takes 75 minutes; the return trip stops only at Mohave and Hopi points.
Fodor's Choice Around the North Rim
Bright Angel Point. This is one of the most awe-inspiring overlooks on either rim. The trail leading to it begins on the grounds of the Grand Canyon Lodge, and proceeds along the crest of a point of rocks that juts into the canyon for several hundred yards. The walk is only 1 mi round-trip, but it's an exciting trek because there are sheer drops just a few feet away on each side of the trail.
Point Sublime. Talk about solitude. If you take an extra night away from Vegas, spend it here at Point Sublime, where you can camp within feet of the canyon's edge. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. The winding road, through gorgeous high country, is only 17 mi, but it will take you at least two hours, one-way. The road is intended only for vehicles with high-road clearance (pickups and 4WD vehicles), which should also be properly equipped for wilderness road travel. Check with a park ranger or at the information desk at Grand Canyon Lodge before taking this journey. You may camp here only with a permit from the Backcountry Office.
Where to Stay
Grand Canyon Lodge. This historic property, constructed mainly in the 1920s and '30s, is the premier lodging facility in the North Rim area. Almost all of the dining options on the North Rim are on the property here. Read our Grand Canyon Lodge review to find out more.
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There are a couple options out of Las Vegas where you don't have to stay the night. If you have time (more so than the money), you can take a bus tour from Vegas to the canyon and back in a (long) day. You get to see the area and a tour guide on the bus points things out for you. Runs about $100.
The best way (but pricey at about $400) is a helicopter tour. Some companies actually even have tours that land you IN the bottom of the canyon. Stunning. Search YouTube for something like
vegas grand canyon helicopter tours
and you'll find all kinds of videos people have posted to help decide if it is for you. When you consider the time driving and the cost of staying the night, doing a tour out of Las Vegas as part of a Vegas vacation makes sense in both time and money spent.