At more than a century old, Grand Canyon National Park is an American icon. The dizzying depths, dancing light and the mighty Colorado River running through it make it a must-see destination, but more than beauty lends it to be the perfect RV road trip. While other parks on your bucket list may need to wait until summer to visit, the Grand Canyon’s warmer temperatures allow for year-round camping and exploring. Here’s four tips to have the best trip ever.
North or South Rim?
The first question to ask yourself when planning a Grand Canyon vacation is, “North or South Rim?” The South Rim is the more heavily visited of the two. Open year-round, it’s home to historic lodges, museums, many hiking trails and other attractions. It’s also lower in elevation, so it has a warmer climate than its northern counterpart.
The North Rim is more remote and generally only open from May – October due to its cooler weather. Would you believe that it often receives snow? This side of the canyon has fewer services, a shorter operating season and less accessibility. However, this also means fewer visitors!
Unless you are planning a long trip, you’ll want to choose one or the other because it will be a 215-mile, five-hour drive to get between the two. For more information on making your decision, visit our detailed guide.
It’s hard to visualize the distances and locations of each of the rims without a map, especially if you’ve never visited. While you will get a free map when you enter the park, Trails Illustrated makes three different maps of Grand Canyon National Park, each covering different areas. You can buy them online at REI.com.
Park and Ride
The Grand Canyon’s South Rim receives 6 million visitors each year. Because of its temperate climate, it experiences high numbers of visitors through the entire year, especially on holidays, weekends and school breaks. Finding a parking spot can be a challenge on the South Rim in a passenger vehicle and nearly impossible in an RV, especially one over 22 feet in length.
Spend less time circling the parking lots for a space and more time exploring the Grand Canyon’s beauty by parking outside the park in Tusayan and taking the complimentary (with your park pass purchase) shuttle into the park. RV parking spaces are plentiful in the designated parking areas at the Park & Ride, the RP’s Stage Stop and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and IMAX.
After making four stops, the shuttle will drop you off at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center where you can transfer to the in-park complimentary shuttle that will take you to all the trailheads, viewpoints and attractions you’ll want to visit. Buy a Grand Canyon National Park pass online (yourpassnow.com/ParkPass/park/grca) or show your annual all parks pass to access the shuttle. The most up-to-date map for Tusayan and in-the-park RV parking can be found at www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/rv.htm
If you do choose to drive your RV into the park, plan to get to the South Rim before 9 a.m. RV parking is only available in three lots inside the park: the Grand Canyon Visitor Center Lot 1, Market Plaza and the Backcountry Office in the Grand Canyon Village. Park in one of these lots and get on the free in-park shuttle to explore. Make sure to park in designated RV areas of the previously mentioned lots and never pull across multiple spots designated for regular passenger vehicles.
Where to Camp
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is unique in that it has a campground with full hook-ups inside the park. Trailer Village (which is run by a concessioner, not the National Park Service) can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet in length and offers full hook-ups. Make reservations online at gc.synxis.com.
The National Park Service operates two campgrounds that take reservations, one on the South Rim and one on the North Rim. At the South Rim, the Mather Campground is open year-round and can accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length. This campground books up quickly. Make reservations up to six months in advance at recreation.gov for the summer months. In the winter, this campground is first come, first served.
At the North Rim, the North Rim Campground is only open May 15 – October 31. Advanced reservations are highly recommended due to the short season and can be made at recreation.gov. This campground does not have hookups.
Didn’t plan ahead and make reservations? Get to the South Rim’s Desert View Campground early and try your luck at one of 50 first come, first-served sites. This campground does not offer hookups and can accommodate vehicles up to 30 feet in length. The Desert View Campground is located 26 miles from the Grand Canyon Village but offers its own set of draws. The Desert View area of the park is home to unparalleled views of the Colorado River and has its own visitor center and ranger programs.
Explore the Depths of the Canyon (in the air-conditioning!)
Not up for a hike down to the bottom of the canyon? Don’t worry. You can still experience the wonders of the canyon floor just steps from your vehicle. The Grand Canyon Visitor Center in Tusayan, Ariz., located just minutes from the park entrance, offers a 34-minute IMAX movie on the canyon’s history.
When summer afternoon temperatures soar, this is the perfect opportunity to cool off in the air conditioning and experience this national park from a different point of view. From March 1 – Nov. 1, showtimes are every hour on the half hour between 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. During the winter months, the first show is at 9:30 a.m. and the last show is at 6:30 p.m. Buy your tickets at www.explorethecanyon.com.
Although the Grand Canyon is in Arizona, it is very close to the southwestern border of Utah. Make it a road trip and venture north to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. Learn more at www.myutahparks.com.