One of the best side trips you can take from Las Vegas is visiting the Grand Canyon; after all, it is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, a national park, and a UNESCO World Heritage site – simply put, it is truly incredible and an unmissable experience.
But if time is limited and you are not visiting the Grand Canyon as part of a larger road trip through Arizona, you are probably asking yourself, should I visit the West Rim or the South Rim?
What’s the difference, you may ask? They are two entirely different sections of the greatest natural wonder in the United States. Both offer spectacular views of the canyon beneath, but some key differences exist.
- The south rim is located inside the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
- Grand Canyon West is on Hualapai Reservation in Mohave County, Arizona
- The closest entrance to Grand Canyon National Park is approximately 4 hours away from Las Vegas, whereas Grand Canyon West, you are looking a little over 2 hours away by road.
Now that you know the major difference, let’s compare the two in more detail so you can decide which might be the best experience for your family road trip.
- This guide should be read in conjunction with our complete family guide to the Grand Canyon
Driving Distance To Grand Canyon From Las Vegas
The biggest factor to take into account is how much time you have available for your Grand Canyon experience.
A trip to Grand Canyon West from Las Vegas involves around 4 hours of drive time total (there and back), and with a stop of 2-3 hours at the key attractions, you can comfortably complete this journey within a half day. This will leave either your morning or afternoon free for other fun family activities in Las Vegas (we have plenty more of those ideas here!)
Top Tip: If you don’t want to be caught up with the tour bus groups, plan to be there right on opening time at the start of the day or 2 hours before sunset. The tour groups and greatest crowds are experienced in the middle of the day, and food choices out there are limited.
In contrast, Grand Canyon National Park is a 4-hour drive to the South Entrance. And then the queue to get in; frankly, if you’re not in that queue well before 9:00 am, or you’re prepared to time your entry until after 3:00 – 4:00 pm in the afternoon and drive back in the dark, it’s a MUCH taller challenge to fit in South Rim as a one day trip from Las Vegas.
Don’t get us wrong, if you’re an efficient traveler, it can be done in a day, but not comfortably (remember bathroom breaks, fuel stops, etc!), Allow at least 12 hours.
- If you’re worried about driving distance, go with Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon Tour Or Taking Your Own Car
If you are looking to join a coach or small tour group option to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, you’ll undoubtedly find more options to Grand Canyon West.
Not all tours will make this clear when they advertise “day trip to the Grand Canyon”, so if it really means something to you to ‘tick off’ the national park, be conscious that this is NOT located at Grand Canyon West.
Taking a tour may cost you more per head but has the convenience of not needing to hire a car and drive; you need to way up your cost per person for a group vs. hiring a car and self-driving, plus fuel.
And, of course, tours come with the normal disclaimers; it may have bucket loads more convenience but you’ll spend many parts of your day shuffling along with a larger group to factor in and waiting on other people, having them in your pics, you know the drill!
Entrance Fee Grand Canyon South Rim Vs West Rim
When it comes to cost, there’s a hands-down winner here.
The Grand Canyon National Park incurs a $35 entry fee PER VEHICLE, valid 7 days. You can negate this if you already have an America the Beautiful pass or any other national park concessions such as Military of the 4th Grader Pass.
On the other hand, Grand Canyon West comes with a fairly hefty entry fee PER PERSON. It depends on the number of ‘experiences’ you want to enjoy, but you’ll be looking at starting prices of $49 per person, $66 per person including the famous ‘Sky Walk’.
- So, the Grand Canyon National Park is undoubtedly cheaper for a family, but weigh this up with the extra fuel cost for traveling much farther.
Moving Around Inside West Rim vs South Rim Grand Canyon
Getting around inside Grand Canyon South Rim is easier to some extent (once you’re past the entry queue) because you can drive your car to each of the key attractions (albeit in peak seasons, there are several sections where you’ll need to use shuttles as main roads are closed to vehicular traffic).
In Grand Canyon West, you must park at the visitor center and use the internal shuttle bus between the key attractions, no exceptions. The wait for shuttle buses can be excruciatingly long in the heat but there’s no other way to get around.
Queues and Crowds
Let’s face it, visiting any natural wonder as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, you are realistically going to expect queues no matter which part you choose to visit. Visiting off peak season is the only way to avoid crowds at both, but not avoid them completely; this is not a hidden gem!
The Main Grand Canyon Attractions
This list is not limitless, but here are some of the key points of interest at each:
Grand Canyon South Rim
- Walk the Trail of Time
- Hire a bike or e-Bike to explore on two wheels
- Visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology
- Attend one of the ranger-led information sessions
- Take one of the hiking trails into the canyon (heed warnings about trail difficulty and conditions before you set out with the kids)
- Drive to the scenic viewpoints, including Desert View Watchtower
Grand Canyon West
- The Skywalk Bridge at Eagle Point- a glass walkway over the canyon (not going to lie, as spectacular as it might look, our team consensus is this is remarkably underwhelming)
- Guano Point – an abandoned mine on a small peninsula marks one of the best points for 360-degree views of the Grand Canyon.
- Additional add-on activities include a zipline, hike trails, and helicopter and pontoon tours.
- You can enjoy rafting on the Colorado River with Hualapai River Runners in a separate section of the Hualapai Reservation.
- There’s no winner per se here; it’s up to you what you want from your Grand Canyon experience, you will get some epic photos at both, but a little more freedom in your exploration in the National Park.
Staying Near The Grand Canyon
If you want to turn it into an overnight trip, both Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon West offer accommodation options for families; the former has more extensive facilities within the park.
Grand Canyon South Rim has multiple lodges and campsites to choose from, suiting different budgets, but you must pre-book these many months in advance. There are also several more RV parks and motel-style accommodations just outside of the south entrance in the town of Tusayan, or a little further away in Williams.
Near the West Rim, in contrast, there are two options near the entrance: an RV Park and basic cabins. A nearly 2 hour drive away is the Hualapai Lodge on Route 66.
- Hands down, if you want an overnight trip of longer, you may as well travel as far as the National Park; staying nearby works well for beating the crowds if you rise early or stay until late.
Last Minute Planners
If you don’t like to lock in your itinerary until the last minute when you know what the weather is up to and how much free time you have, West Rim might be your better choice.
We’ve found even in the peak of summer, you could still get tickets via the Grand Canyon West website the night before.
Grand Canyon National Park, like many of the most popular national parks in the US, DOES need some pre-planning. You do not need a timed permit or entry slot (as of 2023!).
Factor in that it’s not just the 4-hour drive out to the Grand Canyon but queues and parking; it’s simply put, more of a mission if you’re traveling with kids (isn’t everything!) Not quite Disney level – but pre-planning, especially in peak school break periods, is a must, particularly if you want to stay in the national park.
- Grand Canyon West is your preferred choice if you like to be spontaneous in your travel plans.
The Verdict – Which is Better Grand Canyon South vs Grand Canyon West
The Family Road Trip team has hotly debated this! We have all tried them both and taken them in as day trips from Las Vegas and separate longer road trips through Arizona and the mountain states. There is no overall winner as both have awesome and appealing factors, and it depends on your travel plans.
But, if we had to be pragmatic, as a day trip from Las Vegas, you can’t go wrong with visiting Grand Canyon West. You certainly will not be left short on wow factor (though your pocket and your patience may be left a little lighter).
If you truly want to experience the Grand Canyon, though, take a little longer and thoroughly experience the park on foot with more signage and insights into history, the South Rim is likely going to be your better choice.
More Grand Canyon FAQ’s
No, whichever section you wish to explore incurs an entry fee for either the National Park or the Hualapai Reservation.
Unless there are particularly heavy snowstorms, the South Rim and Grand Canyon West are open year-round; Grand Canyon North Rim, within the National Park has a higher altitude and is only open in the summer months.
Yes, by road it is close to a 4 hour dirve as you’ll need to loop back onto the I-40.
More Tips, Reading, and Inspiration
- For a more comprehensive look at the Grand Canyon National Park, we’ve put together this comprehensive family guide to the Grand Canyon – including the North and South Rim sections.
- Take note if you are traveling between the two states, Arizona does not observe summer time; therefore, in the summer months, Nevada and Arizona are in the same time zone; in winter, Arizona is an hour ahead.
- Sticking around in Vegas? These are our favorite fun activities with kids in Las Vegas.
- If you want to stay closer to Las Vegas for a ay trip, check out these spectacular scenic views in Nevada and Nevada scenic driving routes we recommend
- Another national park that’s possible to visit on a day trip from Las Vegas is Zion – we have a comprehensive road trip guide Vegas to Zion here.
- Where are you starting your journey from? We also have longer road trip itineraries from Denver to Grand Canyon, San Diego to Grand Canyon, Houston to Grand Canyon, and Sedona to Grand Canyon.
- Did you want to fly as close as possible to the Grand Canyon? LAS may be one of the larger nearby international airport, but check our these other airports close to the Grand Canyon.
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