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Grand Canyon Essentials: 12 Basic Things You Need to Know

Read this before you plan your visit to the park.

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World resides in Arizona, known as the Grand Canyon State. Digging deep into 1.8 billion-year-old rock, the Colorado River cut an immense canyon, revealing ancient human and geological history along the way. Today, the stunning mile-deep Grand Canyon is protected as a national park. Explore the popular South Rim, quiet North Rim and its isolated canyon depths. Before you head to the park, here are a few basic Grand Canyon essentials you need to know.

What a hole.

Sunrise at Desert View Point in the Grand Canyon
Sunrise at Desert View Point in the Grand Canyon (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s easy to peer into the canyon from the rim, but if you want to get to the Colorado River at the bottom, it’s a long hike that isn’t recommended for a day-trip, or a long rafting trip that requires a permit or guide. Outside the park, you can go on a guided one-day whitewater rafting trip along the canyon’s bottom at Grand Canyon West.

Get your pass.

You can buy a $35, 7-day pass at a park entrance station, or use your America the Beautiful or other interagency annual pass to get into the national park. Grand Canyon West is not part of the national park and has its own fees.

There’s no Uber.

Map showing the three rims of the Grand Canyon
Map showing the areas of the Grand Canyon (Photo: iStock)

Things are spread far apart in the Southwest and you won’t find ride-share services to or from the park. The South Rim, the North Rim and Grand Canyon West are all several hours apart and are far from major cities. Rent a car and plan your route ahead of time to make sure you don’t spend all your time driving.

Don’t become a statistic.

Rangers respond to heat-exhausted hikers every day in the summer. Hike smart and avoid being out in the middle of the day when there’s little shade. Temperatures on the rim may seem reasonable, but they soar above 100°F in the inner canyon in summer months.

Ditch the car.

Skip the headache of circling for parking and take the free park shuttle that picks up at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center & IMAX in Tusayan just outside of the South Entrance Station and brings you to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and Theater in Grand Canyon Village. (Yes, they’re both called GCVC.) From here, you can transfer to other routes throughout the park.

Bottoms up!

Man drinking water from a reusable water bottle at the Grand Canyon
Stay hydrated! (Photo: Getty Images)

Drinking plenty of water is key to surviving the dry and hot desert landscape. Bring at least two liters of water per person with you when you hit the trails.

Lace up.

Leave the flip-flops for the pool. Closed-toed shoes with good tread like hiking boots or tennis shoes will protect your feet. You’ll be encountering a lot of dirt trails.

Stay on the trail.

Walking off-trail damages fragile desert plants, erodes the landscape and can lead to dangerous drop-offs. Stick to the park’s nearly 600 miles of trails.

Hikers on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon
Hikers on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Know your Fido 411.

Dogs are only allowed on paved trails and on leash in campgrounds and parking lots. While the 12-mile, paved Rim Trail will give you plenty of opportunities to go on walks with your furry friend, it’s better to leave them at home if you want to explore below the canyon rim. Never leave your pet in the car as temperatures can become dangerous, even on a mild day.


The park and much of rural Arizona, Utah and New Mexico have spotty cell service and limited public WiFi. Download maps, directions and reservations ahead of time and then take in the scenery. You can always post a Latergram from home.

Know where to stay.

Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim at dusk
Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim at dusk (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

The park has six hotels on the South Rim: El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel, Kachina, Maswik, Thunderbird and Yavapai lodges. There’s also one hotel on the North Rim, Grand Canyon Lodge, as well as dormitory-style lodging at Phantom Ranch on the canyon’s floor, accessible only by foot or mule ride. Read our Grand Canyon Hotel Guide.

Reservations open for lodging in the park 13 months in advance and fill quickly. Many visitors stay in towns near the park where it’s easier to find lodging like Tusayan, Williams and Flagstaff, Ariz., or Kanab, Utah.

Campers will find four campgrounds—some with first-come, first-served sites—on the park’s South and North rims. It’s best to make advanced reservations. Camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds, or in the backcountry with a permit.