If you’re planning your first trip to Las Vegas, odds are the Grand Canyon is somewhere in your itinerary. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States. Although the Grand Canyon (Arizona) is in a different state than Las Vegas (Nevada), you can easily drive to the Grand Canyon from Vegas. After living in Vegas for sometime, the most common question I get besides “Which buffet is the best?” is “Should I go to the West or South Rim?”.
The West Rim, home of the transparent Skywalk bridge, is privately owned and managed by the Hualapai Indian tribe, while the South Rim, also known as Grand Canyon National Park, is managed by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Since it is a four-hour drive from the West Rim to the South, it is rare for travelers to visit both, and important to know the differences between the two before making a decision.
DRIVING TIME - West: 2.5 hrs vs. South: 4 hrs
When time is not an issue, most people choose to visit Grand Canyon National Park (the South Rim), which requires 4 hours of driving one-way. If you leave at 7 a.m., you’ll likely arrive back in Vegas around 9 p.m. or later. If you’re short on time, a half-day trip to the West Rim (2.5 hours of driving one-way) might make more sense to you.
For visitors from outside the U.S., driving might not be your thing (I know how scary it is to drive on the opposite side of the road). Don’t worry: there are plenty of guided Grand Canyon tours to choose from that will save you the hassle of driving!
PRICE - West: $47 vs. South: $15
At just $30 per vehicle or $15 per person, the South Rim is definitely the better deal! For a family of five, going to the South Rim will not break the bank, and you’ll have plenty of money leftover to buy food and souvenirs.
At the West Rim, entrance alone costs $46.95 per person, and that doesn’t include Skywalk admission, which is going to cost you a total of $71.38 per person. That’s around $300 for a family of five!
SCENIC VIEWPOINTS- West: Only 2 vs. South: 28
You can enjoy free hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus service at both sites. However, there are only two canyon viewpoints at the West Rim, versus four bus routes and 28 viewpoints at the South Rim. The South Rim definitely has more to offer and better views of the Grand Canyon and, if you are planning to stay overnight, there are plenty of restaurants and lodges inside the national park, too.
THINGS TO DO
Whether you’re a retired senior, an adventurous hiker, or a busy parent of toddlers, you will find no shortage of fun things to do at the South Rim. From the informative multimedia visitors center to geology museums, luxurious hotels, tent and RV campgrounds, and over 20 hiking trails, Grand Canyon National Park is an all-around great destination for everybody. West Rim attractions include the Skywalk, helicopter rides, horseback riding, and water rafting, all of which are a little pricier than the South Rim’s offerings.
KID-FRIENDLY - West: NO vs South: YES
If you have small children, you’ll need to be especially vigilant at the West Rim, as there is little to no railing and plenty of rocky, unpaved roads. Be prepared for dirty shoes! The South Rim seems much safer and child-friendly as far as road condition (paved main roads) and railing along the viewpoints.
FOOD CHOICES - West: Limited vs South: More options
Although admission to the West Rim includes lunch, you only have two choices for the main dish and the restaurants nearby all offer the same menu. Meanwhile, the South Rim hosts a variety of restaurants at wide price range. From hotel restaurant to local cafe to convenient store snack counter, you can find it all at the South Rim.
Here’s a simple comparison table to help you with the big decision! You’re welcome! ;)
West Rim (Skywalk)
South Rim (Grand Canyon National Park)
|Maintenance||Private company (Hualapai Indian Tribe)||Government (National Park Service)|
|Driving Time (One-way from Vegas)||2.5 hr||4 hr|
$71.38/person (w/ Skywalk admission)
|Things to Do||Less||More|