There are so many different ways to take in the beauty and magic of the Grand Canyon, and camping there under the stars is one of the best. If you’re car camping, in particular, you can also add creature comforts to the natural grandeur. In short: You can have a grand outdoor experience without the need for ultralight backpacking gear or high levels of endurance. It’s low effort, high reward. And speaking of rewards, as Stefanie Payne puts it in A Year In The National Parks: The Greatest American Road Trip: “There will never be a photograph of the Grand Canyon that can adequately describe its depth, breadth, and true beauty.”
Payne is right. Photographing the canyon is like taking a picture of a sunset: It never quite compares. There is nothing like actually seeing the Grand Canyon with your own eyes and immersing yourself in its environment for a few days. Follow the full-rundown guidance below on car camping around the Grand Canyon, both inside and outside the national park. (And if you’re keen on camping between the rims or down below, near or on the Colorado River, there’s also no shortage of world-class backpacking and multi-day boating options.)
North or South Rim?
When visiting the Grand Canyon, you’ll need to choose which rim to target (they are separated by a 4.5-hour drive). The South Rim is the more popular starting point, and is far more developed with multiple hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds (the North Rim has only one campground and one lodge). Located 3.5 hours north of Phoenix, the South Rim has all the amenities you’ll need and is accessible all year, while the North Rim (4.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas; 6.5 hours south of Salt Lake City) offers a much quieter, more remote, and more limited experience, as it closes during the winter. That information alone might be enough to help you decide which rim to visit, but just know that incredible camping opportunities exist on either side.
Many reservations can be made over a year in advance, and that foresight is often key for booking a trip at the campgrounds listed that are inside the park. Each campground has specific rules on how best to book, if there are any first-come, first-served sites, how to make reservations, and how far ahead of time to do so. In general, your best bet is to visit Recreation.gov at least six months to a year (seriously) before your trip.
When To Go
You can visit the Grand Canyon all year. The North Rim is closed in winter, but the South Rim stays open (just be prepared for cold weather and snow-covered ground in winter). During peak season (summer), the canyon is quite crowded, yes, but only in certain places, and it’s possible to find solitude anytime of year if you go the dispersed camping route. The cooler temperatures of spring and fall always make it a little more pleasurable to spend your days and nights outside, but if you’re camping in the forest you’ll find plenty of shade.