One of the best places to stay overnight that is affordable is Flagstaff, Arizona located about 80 miles from the South Rim entrance of the park. The Grand Canyon National Park receives over 5 million visitors annually with the majority visiting the South Rim of the park. It takes about 90 minutes from Flagstaff to reach the main entrance gate of the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff makes a great base to also explore other state and national parks around this region of Arizona.
Use this short guide to give you an overview of your visit to the Grand Canyon with Flagstaff as your base for exploring the rest of this magnificent landscape.
A Flagstaff to Grand Canyon day trip guide – what to see and do in a day
How to get to the Grand Canyon at the South Rim
From Flagstaff the route going to the South Rim entrance of the Grand Canyon is fairly quick and passing through some scenic landscapes along the way.
Flagstaff AZ is approximately 81 miles or 130 kilometers. There are three different routes to get to the Grand Canyon from the city.
- You can drive to Williams taking the I-40 and at Williams take Highway 64 north to get to the South Rim entrance.
- Drive to Valle, AZ on Highway 180 west and at Valley take Highway 64 to the South Rim entrance.
- From downtown go on Highway 89 north to Cameron, AZ.
Why stay at Flagstaff Arizona?
Flagstaff is a convenient and also affordable location compared to the lodges at the Grand Canyon which are busy and sometimes hard to book during peak season. Flagstaff also makes a nice base to explore some of the other attractions in the area with state and national monuments that you can visit in the surrounding area.
You can also fly into Flagstaff at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG) and then rent a car to explore the Grand Canyon and other parks and attractions around Flagstaff area. The two major airlines that service Flagstaff are United Express and American Eagle
Day trip visit to the South or East Rim of the Grand Canyon
From Flagstaff area you can get to the South Rim or East Rim of the Grand Canyon and if you want to avoid traffic during peak hours, consider entering at the East Rim of the park which is not busy compared to the South Rim entrance. Following are some more tips to exploring the national park and saving time especially on a day visit to the park where peak hours can waste a lot of time in getting around. Taking the shuttles is a good way of exploring the park area without wasting time to find parking at the different vista points.
How to save time getting around the Grand Canyon
There’s always a long wait getting into the national park but here are some tips to save you time getting around.
If you have the America the Beautiful Federal Lands Access Pass or other prepaid park entrance fee ticket purchased in advanced, you can use the pre-paid entrance lanes at the South and East entrances to the Grand Canyon.
Those that do not have these passes are required to wait in the regular park entrance line to get your entrance pass and brochure.
Avoid arriving at the park during the peak busy times from 10am to 3pm when most day trippers arrive from Las Vegas and Phoenix area and when the parking areas tend to fill up.
Instead of trying to get into the South Rim entrance, take the long way in from the East Rim entrance. Also, when you enter on the east rim entrance, you’ll also be able to stop at many of the viewpoints with no parking problems.
Parking is busy at all the Rim lodges but consider parking at Yavapai Lodge and taking the free shuttle into the Village area with no hassle to getting around and exploring this segment of the park.
Exiting the park towards Williams will be faster and avoid congestion getting out of the park on your way back to the Flagstaff area. Or consider staying later and eating somewhere for dinner in the village area.
Top places to Explore along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
There’re so many fantastic lookout points to explore along the South Rim, visiting the Grand Canyon Village and so many wonderful hikes from easy to more challenging trails that will put you to the test. Also, there are some unique inns, fantastic eating venues and one-of-a-kind attractions worth visiting here on the South Rim area. Check out these fantastic places to visit on the South Rim and put then on your list of places and things to do when you get to the Grand Canyon.
Visit the best viewpoints along the South Rim
There are dozens of viewpoints that look out to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and each offerig a different look and view that is unique to each spot. Some are iconic with panoramic views, others are off the beaten path and less traveled and others make fantastic sunrise or sunset destinations to visit. Check out these fantastic viewpoints around the South Rim here to see which ones are worth visiting based on your location and time to visit them.
Best viewpoints around the Grand Canyon Village
Mather Point – the most popular and easy to get to viewpoint from the village with great views
Yavapai Point – you’ll find less crowds here but also fantastic views to enjoy of the South Rim.
Ooh Aah Point – located on the South Kaibob trail with one of the favorite spots that visitors go for the best views.
Yaki Point – another fantastic viewpoint where you can also see the South Kaibob trail winding down to the Colorado River below.
Visit to Hermit Road
Seven miles of rim trail and viewpoints, you can get to this road taking the red shuttle service bus and drive to various viewpoints to include: Pima Point, Mojave Point and Powell Point.
Desert View Drive
Another area of the South Rim which is about 25 miles in length and you have to drive here because there are no shuttle services. Viewpoints worth checking out includes: Moran Point, Grand View Point, Desert View Point and Shoshone Point. Most of these viewpoints are more accessible from the East Rim entry gate and less crowed to the viewpoints closer to the village area.
Explore the South Rim Trail
The South Rim Trail is about 13 miles long and is paved and flat along the rim of the Grand Canyon. It starts from the South Kaibob trailhead all the way to Hermits Rest. You can catch the shuttle bus to take you to several stop off points along the South Rim Trail if you just want to walk through a small portion of the trail.
Challenge yourself to the Bright Angel Trail
One of the most popular trails starts off at the Grand Canyon Village and winds down about 9.5 miles to the Bright Angel Campground next to the Colorado River. This trail descends about 4380 feet and is a challenge to do for just a one day hike. There are many options to doing this trail that is not as challenging from the 1.5 resthouse, 3 mile resthouse, 9 mile Indian Garden roundtrip to the longer 12 mile Plateau Point area.
Bike Hermit Road
You can bike the 7 mile road from the Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest and open by foot or biking on the trail. You can rent bicycles from Bright Angel Bicycles for a day package and take the shuttle when you are done with the biking portion.
Take a Helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon
You can take a once in a lifetime helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and see things from above that you will not be able to experience just on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Check out the details to doing this thrilling experience here for more details and information to booking the experience.
Explore Grand Canyon Village
The historic buildings, art galleries and museums along with the iconic lodges are all located in the Village and worth a visit to check out the main attractions here. The top places to visit in the Village includes:
Hopi House – located next to El Tovar Lodge, Hopi House is modeled as an Indian Pueblo and styled like Hopi Housing using materials and interior decor and currently housing an art gallery, gift arts and crafts handmade Indian products and also a museum.
El Tovar – this elegant lodge built in 1905 and considered the crown jewel of national parks lodges with its historic dining room and 78 guest rooms. Tour the historic inn and wander around the lobby and enjoy a meal in the iconic dining room.
Grand Canyon Railway Station – a station built in the early 1900s and is a historic landmarks that still works for the tourist train that originates from Williams, AZ
Verkamp’s Visitors Center – the main visitors center for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Lookout Studio – located right on the South Rim, the Lookout Studio was designed as a gift shop and lookout point at two different outdoor points
Kolb Studio – Once the home of the Kolb Brothers and now an auditorium and also changing art exhibits and a bookstore.
Hermits Nest – designed as a snack bar and gift shop selling traditional gifts, souvenirs and convenience goods
El Tovar Stables – used to house horses and working mules and is still currently used as stables
Bright Angel Lodge – a historic lodge designed by Mary Colter and features classic lodge details like American Indian iconography and gorgeous crafted details utilizing local materials.
Sunrise or Sunset views over the Grand Canyon
This is definitely a once in a lifetime experience for sunrise or sunset on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As the sun rises from the Grand Canyon to the east, you’ll see warm hues of red, orange and pink as the canyon is lit up quickly. During sunset when the sun descends along the horizon to the west, you’ll see the warm glow and same washes of color and last glow before the sun finally sets in the west.
Sunrises are usually not so crowded but harder to wake up early for and sunset is when you are competing with the masses of tourists at all the popular viewpoints to capture those sunset views and fun selfies.
Best time to visit the Grand Canyon
Each season visiting the Grand Canyon offers a different perspective and experience to visiting the national park. But in terms of visiting the park during certain times of the year you’ll find that these are the most typical things you will see and experience for the optimal visiting time frames.
The absolute best times are typically during the shoulder season in spring (typcally March to May) and fall (September to November) when the weather is temperate and the crowds are lower compared to summer and winter season. Weather in the fall season ranges in the 50s to 60s but does get cooler at night and weather patterns do change rapidly.and is harder to predict.
Conclusion to visiting The Grand Canyon from Flagstaff to the South Rim area
If you decide to do the road trip, it can be easily done on a day trip, but if you do have time to explore, these attractions and viewpoints are worth exploring in the park and worth placing on your bucket list journey on the way to the Grand Canyon.
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