The Grand Canyon is the second most popular National Park in the United States and its physical area is massive, larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, or 3 times bigger than Singapore.
Most of the area inside the Grand Canyon is inaccessible by car, foot, or boat. Of the areas available to visit, the main ones are the West Rim, South Rim, and North Rim.
While these may sound vaguely similar, they have a lot of differences.
Considering the North Rim is closed half the year and is far off the tourist trail, we will focus on the difference between the Grand Canyon Canyon West Rim and the Grand Canyon South Rim.
Where are the West and South Rim?
The West Rim is at the western edge of the Grand Canyon. About 2 hours from Las Vegas, the West Rim is the most easily accessible section of the Grand Canyon. The west rim is near the area where the Grand Canyon ends.
The South Rim is at the eastern edge of Grand Canyon National Park, near where the Grand Canyon begins. It is far from all major urban centers, over 4 hours from Las Vegas, over 4 hours from Phoenix, and 2 hours from Flagstaff.
It is called the South Rim because it composes the southern edge of the Grand Canyon.
How are they similar?
The West and South Rim are quite different but have a few similarities. The fundamental similarity is that they both have splendid views of the Grand Canyon. If it is your dream to visit the Grand Canyon and you want to check it off of your wish list, both sections will do that.
What are the differences?
Despite both sections offering views of different sections of the same canyon, there are countless differences between the West Rim and the South Rim. The major difference is:
Grand Canyon South Rim is part of Grand Canyon National Park, while the West Rim falls outside the park. The entrance fee is a sizable difference, it is $50 per person at the West Rim and $35 per car at the South Rim.
The activities offered at each location vary; the South Rim is best for sightseeing and hiking, while the West Rim is best for helicopter rides and walking on the Skywalk.
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For hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, or getting iconic photographs of the Grand Canyon, the South Rim needs to be your destination.
For helicopter rides, ziplines, walking on the canyon floor, walking above the canyon on the Skywalk, or taking a boat ride in the Colorado River, the West Rim is going to be your best bet.
Whether you choose the West Rim or the South Rim, joining a tour to the Grand Canyon is a great way to relax and let the tour operator do all the work.
|Grand Canyon South Rim||Grand Canyon West Rim|
|Distance from Las Vegas||5 Hours||2 Hours|
|Best Attraction||Sweeping Grand Canyon Views||The Skywalk Glass Bridge|
|Annual Visitors||5 Million||2 Million|
|Cost||$35 per vehicle, free with National Park Annual Pass||$50 per person ($80 with Skywalk ticket)|
|Hiking||Hike into the canyon||Walk on the Skywalk|
|Photography||Great for catching the layers and colors of Grand Canyon||No cameras or phones allowed on the Skywalk|
|Visit with MaxTour||2 Day Grand Canyon Antelope Canyon Tour||Grand Canyon West, Hoover Dam, Seven Magic Mountains Day Tour|
|Camping||Camping inside the park||No Camping allowed|
|Lodging||Inside the Park, also in nearby towns Tusayan, Williams, and Flagstaff||Grand Canyon Western Ranch, but no towns nearby|
To help you choose which one is best for you, try answering these questions.
Where are you traveling from?
As we mentioned above, the Grand Canyon is a long drive no matter where you are coming from. If you are coming from Las Vegas and only have one day, the West Rim is an excellent choice.
If you are coming from Arizona, the South Rim is going to be closer. Anyone doing a longer road trip from California, Utah, or Arizona should stop for at least one day at the South Rim.
How Long Do You Have to Spend at the Grand Canyon?
If you have a few days to spend at the canyon, and you don’t mind a long drive, the South Rim is an excellent choice. If you only have one day from Las Vegas, a day trip to the West Rim is a good option.
If you only have half a day and you are coming from Las Vegas, a helicopter tour or airplane tour are your only options.
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If you have one day from Las Vegas, both the South Rim and the West Rim are accessible. If you are driving your own car in one day, don’t try to go all the way to the South Rim and back, choose the West Rim instead. There are many affordable bus tours to the South Rim that will let you relax and they will do almost 10 hours of driving.
What is your budget?
How much you have to spend unfortunately drives many decisions when traveling, this is also the case at the Grand Canyon.
If you are traveling on a tight budget, the South Rim should be your destination. For a $35 entrance fee per vehicle, you and a vehicle full of family or friends can see most of what the South Rim offers. If you are looking for accommodation on a budget at the South Rim, check out nearby towns like Williams or Flagstaff and skip Tusayan, or even better grab a tent and do some camping.
If you have a larger budget for your Grand Canyon trip, think about going to the West Rim. For an entrance ticket and a ticket for the Skywalk, the regular price is around $80 per person. There are plenty of other ways to part with your cash at the West Rim. A helicopter ride with a landing on the canyon floor and a boat ride down the Colorado River would be high on our list if budget isn't a hindrance.
How badly do you want to see the Skywalk?
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is one of the most iconic destinations at the Grand Canyon and it can only be found at the West Rim. lf checking the Skywalk off of your wish list is high on your list of things to do while in Vegas, you must visit the West Rim.
Be aware that when visiting the Skywalk, you may not bring your phone or camera, as all belongings must be kept in a locker prior to stepping out onto the skywalk. Don’t think you are going to get great photos for your social media feed while on the Skywalk. They do have a professional photographer that will take photos for you to purchase.
Do you want to do some hiking?
There is not any real hiking at the West Rim, so if you want to do some, the South Rim is where it’s at. With dozens of trails of all difficulty levels, hikers of all abilities will find some of the best trails and vistas in the United States at the South Rim.
Do you want to see the iconic Grand Canyon?
When you see photos of the Grand Canyon, they take all of them from the South Rim. If you want to see the iconic section of the canyon, you need to go to the South Rim. The South Rim has the best views of the Grand Canyon and the best photo opportunities.
Do you want to do some camping?
They only allow camping at the South Rim, if you want to do some camping you need to go there and book far in advance, campsites inside the park sell out early. Pack warm, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is almost 8,000 feet of elevation and it gets cold at night, even in the winter.
Do you want to see wildlife?
There isn’t much wildlife at either rim of the Grand Canyon, however, you can see some at the South Rim. Elk, deer, eagles, ravens, and the occasional coyote are what we mostly encounter at the South Rim. The South Rim is also in a beautiful forest, making it a pleasant break from the surrounding desert.
There is very little in the way of trees or wildlife at the West Rim.
In The End
In the end you can’t go wrong when choosing between the Grand Canyon West and South Rim. If the pressure was on and we had to choose, we would choose the South Rim for its sweeping vistas and colorful landscape.
That being said, we have had many guests join us on our 2 Day Grand Canyon Antelope Canyon Tour that goes to the South Rim and they wanted to know when we were going to the Skywalk. To say they were disappointed to learn that we would be skipping the skywalk is an understatement. If this is you, and you want to feel your knees shake as you step out on glass over a 4000-foot drop, the West Rim is for you.