Should I See the West Rim or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?
The most difficult part about choosing a Grand Canyon tour is deciding to visit the South Rim or the West Rim. They are both fantastic places. So, as a way to break this tie, I am going to do a quick rim-by-rim comparison that will ensure you’re paired with the spot that’s right for you.
Do you want things to do or scenery?
The West Rim excels in activities. It is the only place where you can ride a chopper 4,000 feet to the base. Then, if you are so inclined, you can walk upstream and take a Colorado Boat tour.
The world-famous Grand Canyon Skywalk is based here. This attraction is a magnificently engineered glass-bridge that allows you to walk 70 feet past the edge as it suspends you 4,000 feet over the river. Don’t look down if you are prone to vertigo.
More exotic activities here include a chopper ride to a ranch, ATV trail rides, Hummer off-road adventures, and horseback riding. One of my favorite things to do at the West Rim is the Hoover Dam smooth-water rafting trip to Willow Beach.
The South Rim is more serene when compared to the West Rim. What it lacks in “thrills” it makes up in natural splendor. This is the part of the National Park that even the park rangers allude to as the “real” canyon.
There are no heli tours to the bottom at the South Rim. If you want to get to the base, you have to walk. Having said that, the air tours here are exceptional. The helicopter ride from Tusayan goes directly into the center of the Dragoon Corridor, the broadest, deepest part of the Canyon, while airplane trips cover the South, East, and North rims.
There’s also the amazing 1-day Grand Canyon water-rafting trip that runs from April to November. Options include taking a coach or airplane to Page, AZ, and then transferring to a river raft. This is a smooth-water journey so there are no rapids. Children ages four years and older are welcome.
The hiking trails at South Rim are great. Bright Angel, South Kaibab, and the Rim Top trails are the most widely used. For view points, go to Hopi Point, Yaki Point and Mather Point. Most trips include guided tours to these landmarks.
From whence are you starting from?
The West Rim is just 120 miles from Sin City. Helicopters, airplanes, and coaches can make the trip in 45 minutes, 25 minutes, and 2.5 hours, respectively. Grand Canyon National Park is too far for Las Vegas choppers. Your only alternatives are the airplane or the bus.
I highly recommend taking the 45-minute plane ride from Las Vegas to the National Park. It’s fast, comfy, and one of the best deals on the market. The coach is definitely economical, but one-way drive time is 5.5 hours and total tour time is a whopping 15 hours.
Phoenix and Sedona tourists can drive to the National Park in 4 hours and 2 hours, respectively. There are coach, plane, and heli tours from those locales but it’s far more affordable to drive yourself and do an air tour from Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan.
How much time to you have?
West Rim tours from Las Vegas are perfect day trips. The longest tour is one day. Air-only tours are around 4 hours, and that includes hotel pick up and drop off. The Ground Canyon South Rim bus takes 15 hours at a minimum, which is why I cheerlead for the plane trip considering the fact that it will have you back on the Vegas Strip in time for your evening reservations. Trips that originate in Northern Arizona are full-day trips. I often tell travelers to try to book a room inside the National Park and stay the night. This is easier said than done as South Rim accommodations are usually booked a year in ahead of time.
What’s your budget?
Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon West bus excursions are the most affordable and come with lots of add-ons like river rafting, glass walkway passes and helicopter rides. Air tours are more costly, but you also see more of the Grand Canyon in less time. I estimate that what you see on a half-hour heli ride is equivalent to a couple of days on the ground. Plus the aerial views are unbelievable.
Let’s see the canyon!
Grand Canyon tours are loaded with action and beauty. The two best locations are the West Rim and Grand Canyon National Park. The challenge is which rim to visit. If you are beginning from Las Vegas, the West Rim is your closest option. However, if your heart is set on the South Rim, take the 45-minute airplane flight. I advise doing the National Park for travelers starting out from Phoenix and Sedona. The key to making sure you get the trip of your dreams is too book ahead of time and on the Internet. Adhere to this system and you’ll get your canyon trip at a decent price.