Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest. Nearly five million people see the 1 mile deep (1.6 km) Grand Canyon each year. Most of them (90%) see it from the park’s free shuttle buses or from their car at overlooks along the South Rim.
The South Rim includes: historic Grand Canyon Village, Hermit Road, and Desert View Drive. The South Rim is open all year and is the most accessible part of the park. Elevations average 7000 feet/ 2134 m above sea level. Visitors with respiratory or heart problems may experience difficulties. Walking at this elevation can be strenuous.
A much smaller number of people (10%) see the Canyon from the North Rim of the park, which lies just 10 miles / 16 km across the canyon from the South Rim, (as the California condor flies) but is a 220 mile/ 354 km drive by car – all the way around the canyon.
The North Rim, Averaging 8000 feet/ 2438 m above sea level, rises 1000 feet/ 305 m higher than the South Rim, and because of its remote location, is much less accessible than the South Rim. The North Rim has a short season. Lodging and restaurants are open from May 15 through October 15 each year.
The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River creates a barrier that bisects the park. Even though the average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles/ 16 km, it takes 5 hours to drive the 215 miles / 346 km between the park’s South Rim Village and the North Rim Village.
While the canyon is certainly a geologic wonder that truly must be seen to be appreciated, it is at its best when visitors take time to walk its trails, ride a mule and understand its native peoples. The best times to visit the Grand Canyon are March through May and September through November when daytime temperatures begin to cool and the crowds begin to thin.
If you decide to visit during the summer (the park’s peak season), be prepared for hordes of tourists and very limited lodging availability. You can find deals on hotels during the winter, but much of the park (including the entire North Rim) closes after the first snowfall.