The great gorge is accessible from two sides, north and south. Most of the more than five million visitors per year choose to go to the South Rim, which has many more tourist facilities than the north side and, accordingly, tends to get action-packed during the summer season and even some winter weekends. The North Rim is a quieter and more remote place and preferred by people who wish for a more serene, less crowded experience.
The access road to the North Rim is frequently closed during winter due to snow. Both rims can get very cold in the winter, and nights are cool even during summer months. Hiking inside the canyon below the rim, however, is quite another story, as summer temperatures near the Colorado River at the bottom may reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Hikers, in particular, will face extreme changes in climate and should be prepared for these.
THE SOUTH RIM
If you, like the majority of visitors, approach the canyon from the south on Highway 180 via the nearby towns of Flagstaff or Williams, you will most likely stop at Tusayan, a commercial area consisting mainly of gas stations, motels, fast food restaurants and the Grand Canyon Airport. The main attraction here, however, is the Grand Canyon IMAX Theater , which is highly recommended. The theater features one of the best films in the nature genre, drawing you right into the chasm and taking you on a vertiginous flight between the canyon's walls. A few miles further north, at the park gate, you will be requested to pay your $20 entrance fee per vehicle, or $10 per individual (pedestrian, bicycle, etc.). An Annual Grand Canyon Pass is available for $40.
Grand Canyon Village
Your first stop inside the park should be the Park Headquarters and Visitor Center , where an abundance of books, films and slides will help you to get better acquainted with the park, and rangers will be available to answer any Grand Canyon question you might have. You can stock up on supplies at Canyon Village Marketplace & Deli just south of the Visitor Center , then go on to see the historic El Tovar Hotel . For those who don't suffer from vertigo, the Grand Canyon Skywalk offers a breathtaking view of the chasm through its glass bottom. From the village, you have the choice of exploring the canyon using either the West Rim or the East Rim Drive.
East Rim Drive
This 26-mile drive skirts most of the canyon's south rim, offering several overlooks to get a better view. Among the best viewing areas en route are Yaki Point , thrusting out beyond the rim for a good look at canyon formations, and Grandview Point with its panoramic wide-angle views. A visit to the Tusayan Ruins and Museum provides fascinating information about the ancient Native American cultures in the area. The drive ends at the Watchtower at Desert View, a visitor complex containing services and a campground with views of the Painted Desert to the east and the Colorado River deep down inside the gorge.
West Rim Drive
This drive stays a little closer to the edge than its eastern counterpart and also offers a greater variety of canyon views. Note that it is closed to private vehicles in the summer, when a free shuttle service from Grand Canyon Village takes over transportation, meaning you can always hop on the bus if you get tired after choosing to hike the eight-mile Rim Trail .
THE NORTH RIM
While the South Rim is open 24 hours, 365 days a year, facilities on the north side close down from late October to mid-May. You can still visit the North Rim in winter, provided the access road is not closed by snow, but be advised to bring a thermos with hot coffee or tea! The best time for visiting the North Rim is actually the fall season, when the Kaibab National Forest turns into a dazzling showcase of yellow leaves trembling on aspen trees. A cross-canyon shuttle connecting north and south rim in both directions is available May through October for $60 one way, $100 round trip.
Visitor facilities on the northern edge are all clustered in the relatively small area around Grand Canyon Lodge , a rustically elegant castle-style hotel with terrific views from its terraces and dining rooms. It's also the North Rim's visitor center, booking center for mule rides and various other activities. A quarter-mile paved trail leads from the Grand Canyon Lodge to Bright Angel Point , famous as the best spot for seeing sunsets and sunrises over the canyon.
The inner canyon is accessible by so-called 'Corridor Trails' connecting the rims. The trailhead for the North Kaibab Trail is about two miles north of the North Rim visitor area. The North Kaibab Trail descends deep into the canyon, then links with Bright Angel Trail for the steep ascent up the South Rim. It is one of the busiest trails, but there are many less-traveled trails in remoter areas of the canyon. Keep in mind that all hiking in the Grand Canyon is strenuous, and it is imperative to carry plenty of water, food snacks, sunscreen and, vitally important in the summer, a shade hat. Also remember that the Backcountry Office requires a permit for overnight travel below the rim ($20 per person).
This is a small settlement at the intersection of U.S. 89A and State Route 67, the road leading to the North Rim. It's also the place where you might end up staying overnight if you haven't made reservations for camping or lodging in the summer. The Forest Service's Jacob Lake Campground is usually available till late afternoon, and you still may find vacancies at the commercial Kaibab Lodge Camper Village. From here all the way to the canyon is a huge area of still largely unexplored wilderness, with trails where you're more likely to meet squirrels, deer, bears and mountain lions than humans.
Restaurants at and near the Grand Canyon are smart enough not to try and outshine their surroundings. After all, no mille-feuille, no matter how magnificent, can cast a shadow on the spectacle known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, so rather than compete, chefs and restaurateurs here have learned to complement by developing a symbiosis between their food and service and the scenery.
Grand Canyon Village
The El Tovar Dining Room , just 50 feet from the South Rim is the grand dame of dining at the Grand Canyon and has offered the area's most sophisticated dining for nearly a century. Built by hospitality industry baron Fred Harvey in 1905, the restaurant quickly gained a reputation for meals as magnificent as the view outside the windows. At one point, the Harvey Company even maintained its own herd of cattle for the express purpose of providing diners with fresh dairy products. Today, the El Tovar Dining Room maintains a worldwide reputation for fine dining and treats its guests to an incredible selection of Arizona-inspired and European-styled fare. From their renowned cornmeal and blueberry waffles for breakfast, to Western game, Angus beef and Arizona trout at dinner, each meal is painstakingly prepared by a talented culinary team.
Likewise, the Arizona Steakhouse at Bright Angel Lodge promises diners the finest beef, poultry and seafood, mesquite-grilled to perfection. Savoring prime Western beef here in cowboy country is an experience you won't soon forget.
Speaking of experiences that will forever be emblazoned in your memory, a meal at the Phantom Ranch Canteen will, undoubtedly, be the highlight of your Grand Canyon visit. It is not that the menu is so unusual, or that the service, while efficient and friendly, is extraordinary. The real treat is that only a select few ever get to eat here. Why? Because you need to find your way to the Grand Canyon floor in order to have a meal at this intriguing eatery. The restaurant is only accessible by hiking, rafting or by using a mule train. This is truly a meal you will be telling your grandkids about. Keep in mind that, due to logistics, your meals must be ordered and your lodging reservations confirmed long in advance of your arrival at the adjoining Phantom Ranch .
The focus at the Grand Canyon is on sightseeing, so many area restaurants concentrate on fueling up hikers for their forays into the Canyon and the Kaibab Forest, or refreshing them on their return. The Maswik Cafeteria/Lounge/Sports Bar is the perfect place to 'carbohydrate-load' before you head out on a day's adventure, or to pick up trail treats to take along. The Bright Angel Restaurant offers a relaxing respite whether you want to dip into an ice cream sundae, have a leisurely lunch or sip a late afternoon cocktail.
With these natural wonders surrounding you, why not pack a picnic and hit the trails? The General Store & Deli will supply you with everything from snacks, sandwiches, salads and beverages to camping and fishing gear, just as they've been doing since they first opened their Grand Canyon general store in a tent, in 1905.
Just 60 miles south of the Canyon, in historic Williams, even more adventures-in-eating await you. Rod's Steakhouse is truly an Arizona institution, serving top-notch steaks for more than a half century. Pancho McGillicuddy's is another favorite local hang out both for its Sonora-style Mexican cuisine and its spectrum of specialty drinks that nearly rival the Grand Canyon itself in their colorful hues. It is located in the building that lays claim to being the city's longest-running commercial operation. When it is time to ease those aching muscles after all that hiking, there's no better places to sit back and sip a specialty coffee or cold beverage than the Grand Canyon Coffee & Cafe .
For a family favorite , there is the Pizza Factory where you can chow down on thin or thick crust pizza, wings, and a salad bar. For a taste of the old west and a thick steak, Miss Kitty's Steakhouse & Saloon serves up barbeque and a full bar in a saloon straight out of 'Gunsmoke'. If you're in the mood for the drinking without the dining, stop by World Famous Sultana , with the state's oldest liquor license.
From a quick croissant at dawn before you hit the hiking trails, to lunchtime picnics at one of the Canyon's scenic points, or a romantic repast with faultlessly formal service, the Grand Canyon area offers the ideal victuals for every visitor. So rest assured that, as you nurture your soul with the area's stunning natural beauty, the restaurants, cafes and cocktail lounges stand ready to nourish your body and satisfy your spirit.