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One of the great wonders of the world, no trip to the US is complete without stopping to experience the Grand Canyon. But at almost 450 km long, and over 1,100 km in circumference, how do you even know where to start?!!
It’s one of the world’s most powerful and inspiring landscapes; both immense and overwhelming, and the opportunity to stand on the rim of this vast canyon is without a doubt one of the most phenomenal encounters with nature.
There are options to take in the West Rim glass skywalk, and stay overnight at a ranch on native land. You can choose to travel on horseback, and witness the magic of a sunrise which most tourists will never understand.
The following are the pros and cons of visiting each of the Grand Canyon's 4 available rims. Of course though, if you can't make it to Arizona you can take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from cities such as Vegas, and day trips which also include surrounding sites like Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River, and the Mojave Desert.
The West Rim
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My first visit to the Grand Canyon took in the West Rim. Booked onto a tour from Los Angeles, this included one night in Las Vegas, one night at a Ranch on a Hualapai Reservation mere kilometres from the canyon edge, and a full day out to the West Rim, where the glass floor of the Skywalk looks straight down into the canyon below.
The ranch experience was one of kind. Treated to wagon rides, mock cowboy duels and horseback rides to the canyon edge, the little ranch was built to resemble a western town from the 1850's, and even though it may not have actually felt like we were in the wild west, it certainly looked the part.
Staying overnight at the ranch meant we had the absolute privilege of watching the sun rise and set over the canyon rim, an experience many visitors go without. Needless to say, the tour of the West rim was worth every penny, and I look back with only fond memories of this trip.
Though I will admit to having felt underwhelmed by the canyon itself. It was not the vast, endless expanse I had expected. In fact, it couldn’t have been more than a few hundred metres wide.
The South Rim
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The Southern Rim is the most popular and most developed part of the Canyon. This makes it the most accessible, but also the busiest by far. Free shuttle buses leave from the parking lots and service around 7 or 8 different vantage points along the cliffs, each with a slightly different angle of the same view.
There is a visitors center as well as a cafe at the western-most bus stop; visitors are not allowed to drive on the same roads as the shuttles, so a definite con could be that there is no way of avoiding the busy buses.
However, don’t let the onslaught of millions of visitors detract you from visiting the South Rim. As one of the widest points of the canyon it offers some of the most spectacular views, and it was actually easy enough to ditch the crowds by straying away from the paved path and walking closer the edge.
For first time visitors I would highly recommend the South Rim over the West, as this is where travelers will witness the iconic image that is so commonly associated with the Grand Canyon.
The North Rim
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The Western and Southern Rims are the two most common Canyon areas to visit (mainly due to accessibility from urban centres), however there are of course plenty of additional areas to explore.
The North Rim for example sits roughly opposite the South, though offers intriguingly different views while bringing in about a tenth of the visitors annually. Being a full 1,000 feet higher than that of the Southern Rim, the temperature is also cooler which allows more vegetation to grow.
For this same reason, the North Rim is closed during winter due to heavy snowfall. North Rim will be open from May 15 - October 15.
The East Rim
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Horseshoe Bend at the very Eastern Rim is an area of the Canyon which is quickly growing in popularity, and while not worth driving to as a sole destination in itself, it is certainly worth the detour for those with extra time. The 26-mile East Rim Drive (also known as Desert View Drive) lets non-hikers enjoy the canyon’s breathtaking views right from the comfort of their car.
Crowds here are much fewer, and while there are lesser view points than located on the West Rim, the views are equally as spectacular.
So ... Which Rim?
The bottom line is this: The West Rim is closer to major hubs like Las Vegas, and is included in more tours for this reason. The Skywalk is cool though a bit gimmicky. However combine your West Rim experience with a ranch stay, and the trip is definitely worth it.
Those seeking photos that will make family and friends back home exceedingly jealous should opt for Grand Canyon South Rim. Hire a car, and consider booking a night in Kingman or Flagstaff to allow enough time for a full experience you will never forget.
While the Northern and Eastern Rims of the Canyon may not offer the same iconic view of the South, these areas see substantially fewer crowds, and are well worth the detour if spending an extended amount of time exploring Arizona State.
If you're a hiker, you’ll find frequented routes along the South Rim of the canyon, including the Bright Angel Trail and the Rim Trail. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life, then head to the North Rim for trekking trails such as the demanding North Kaibab Trail.
The park also has seven lodgings above the rim, six in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, and one on the North Rim. Grand Canyon Village also has a supermarket, a variety of restaurants, a small shopping center, and spectacular canyon views.