Grand Canyon North Rim Versus South Rim

There are some places in the United States that I think every American should have to visit, and the Grand Canyon National Park is one of them. It is such an awe-inspiring and, at the same time, terrifying experience, viewing the grandeur and vastness of the canyon.

When I was planning our “Grand Family Vacation” back in 2002, I did a lot of studying on the differences between the two rims, trying to figure out which one to visit. Ultimately, I decided the North Rim would be better for us and, after just now visiting the South Rim, I know I made the right decision.

Here are some of the differences between the two sides that I noticed from our visits:

North Rim

  • The North Rim services are only open from mid-May to mid-October, when the snow is gone. The North Rim is also further from major airports and has fewer services (motels, camping, restaurants, etc.) than the South Rim. For all of these reasons, the North Rim has only about one-tenth of the visitors that the South Rim receives.
  • The North Rim is cooler in the summer, as it is another 1000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim. Because of this, the habitat on the North Rim is alpine, with tall pine trees, grassy meadows, and the resultant animal populations of elk, deer and such.
  • I actually think the views are more spectacular, with the colors showing more in the rock strata, from the North Rim. Maybe this has to do with the angle of the sun?
  • The North Rim buildings are much more rustic in appearance and built to withstand heavy snow loads.
  • The North Rim has fewer services. We stayed in a cabin back in 2002 and at that time there were only one or two motels on the North Rim. For meals, you either bring your own food or you have a choice of one very expensive restaurant or one expensive (and not so great food) cafeteria-style restaurant. If you don’t like that, it is at least 30 miles back to Jacob’s Lake, the nearest town (if you can call it a town) where they have a small campground general store. Other than that, it is miles and miles to any good-sized town where you can find other services. And if you want gas, you had best get it at Jacob’s Lake, expensive though it may be!
  • There are also fewer lookout vista points on the North Rim, and many are not accessible by car. But there are great hiking trails along the rim, down into the canyon, and in the alpine forests north of the rim.
  • Cabin on the edge of a side canyon on the North Rim.

    North Rim view, September 2002

    North Rim view, September 2002

    Charles and Bill participating in a Ranger demonstration on how the Indians “shot” prey with special arrow slinging devices, with David looking on in the background.

    South Rim

    • There are many, many more people visiting the South Rim, but the South Rim is also built to handle many more people. One of the services present at the South Rim that is not at the North Rim is the free shuttle buses that run regular schedules along three different vista routes. You can spend the day riding the buses from view to view, hop off, spend time at any one spot, and another shuttle will appear in 15 minutes to take you to the next grand view. Just be aware that at the end of the day, as everyone is trying to get back to their cars, the buses get very full, standing room only. I suspect in the peak summer months, they are probably standing room only all day long.
    • There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from for eating on the South Rim. Surprisingly, the good was great and the prices were not outrageously expensive (at least not at the Bright Angel Restaurant where we ate).
    • Additionally, the South Rim offers motels, cabins, campgrounds, and RV parks for those who which to spend the night. And a few short miles south of the Grand Canyon Park is the town of Tucsayan, which offers many more restaurants (even some fast food options) and motels.
    • The South Rim has many more vista viewing points, accessible both by shuttle bus and also by car. Just using the shuttle bus system will take you all day to see all the viewing points along their routes.
    • There is also a train, the Grand Canyon Railway, which travels from Williams (about an hour south of the South Rim) to the South Rim and back each day. You can ride to the South Rim, hop on the shuttle buses, tour around, and take the train back all in the same day!

    One reason I love going to National Parks is because it renews my wonder in this great country of ours. Not just that we have such spectacular and varied scenery, but because we value its importance enough to set it aside and preserve it for not just ourselves and our children, but also the rest of the world. A park like the Grand Canyon is relatively easy to access and is open to everyone in the world. And based upon the languages I heard spoken, if you make it accessible, they will come!

    North Rim view, September 2002

1 Comment

  1. Missus Wookie

    The Grand Canyon has been on my ‘must see’ for most of my life, maybe one day…

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