Camping at the Grand Canyon: What to Know & Where to Go

by Jon D. B.
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Ready for ultimate Grand Canyon camping venture? Prep for the trip of a lifetime with our full camper’s guide.

Whether you’ve never been or are planning a return trip, there’s no place like the Grand Canyon. It’s a wonder of the natural world that has to be seen to be believed: canyons a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide carve through the American West for over 277 miles. And it continues to change to this day, thanks to the splendorous flow of the Colorado River.

Yet with a solid 5-6 million visitors to the national park every year, a mere fraction comes to the Grand Canyon with intentions to camp. The modern resurgence of camping, however, is changing all of that – and there’s never been a better time to camp the Canyon than now.

As such, we’ve gathered the best tips & advice to help fellow campers take full advantage of the many camping options Grand Canyon National Park – and beyond – offers. From camping & RV sites, park regulations, best locations to suit your needs, and more – Outsider.com has your Canyon camping excursion covered. So let’s get to it!

The Grand Canyon: North & South Rims

First things first, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the two sections of the Grand Canyon: the North & South Rims.

Most visitors are familiar with the South Rim. Everything from the Grand Canyon Airport (ADOT) to the Canyon’s train system is located here. Moreover, the South Rim sports year-round access, where the remote North Rim does not. In fact, the NPS states that 90% of visitors only visit the South Rim.

The North Rim, as a result, features far less foot traffic. It’s less accessible, sure, but this may be exactly what entices adventurous campers to go the extra mile(s) to reach its marvelous terrain.

Regardless, choosing one over the other remains a matter of personal choice. You’ll be treated to unmatched views no matter which Rim you select. And camping underneath the remote, star-filled skies of the Grand Canyon amplifies the experience tenfold.

Which Rim is Right For You?

For ease of travel that allows for focus on camping and safety, the South Rim is your best bet. Having a local airport, rail service, hospital, and lodgings makes for ample safety netting. As mentioned, the South is open year-round, as well, and sports considerable open camping opportunities as a result. Moreover, if you’re planning any sort of winter or early spring venture, the South Rim is your only option.

We recommend the North Rim for more experienced campers and outdoors folk looking for a remote, less-crowded adventure. Please heed our caution, however, when we say the North Rim is not the best option for beginners. If you’ve got the know-how and grit, the North Rim is open from mid-May to mid-October. Within, hikers and campers will experience a far wilder side of the Grand Canyon – but you’ll have to drive in on park roads. There’s no local transportation system, airport, or interstates.

Keep in mind that both of these territories stretch beyond the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. As such, some of the recommendations below will be within the Canyon, but not the national park.

CAMPING THE SOUTH RIM

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Yavapai Point on the South Rim overlooking the Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Right off the bat, we’ll say that the camping options within the South Rim are abundant in comparison to the North Rim. If you’re planning to have a vehicle and drive into your camping site, then the following sites are your best bet. Keep in mind, too, that the following are within the Grand Canyon National Park. For camping opportunities outside the park, scroll to the bottom of this South Rim section.

Mather Campground: $18 per site/night

Mather Campground features the Grand Canyon Village. Within, the visitors center, train station, and shuttle busses are close by. Mather is also open year-round for both tent and RV-wielding visitors. There are, however, no RV hookups. If you’re planning to camp from March to November, a reservation is required – and has to be placed up to six months in advance. You can do so at Recreation.gov. Winter camping is first-come, first-served, in turn.

Desert View Campground: $12 per site/night

Desert View is located on the east side of Grand Canyon National Park, about 25 miles east of Mather & the GC Village. As a result, it is a less developed, more remote South Rim experience. DV is open from mid-April to mid-October, but there is no reservation system in place. As such, it is permanently first-come, first-serve. RV camping is available alongside traditional, but without hookups. If you plan to head to Desert View, be sure to get there as early in the day as possible. Spots fill up quickly, and typically well before noon.

Need RV hookups? Go for Trailer Village:

As mentioned, neither of the campgrounds above feature RV hookups or amenities. If you require either/or, it’s best to make a reservation as far in advance as you can at the South Rim’s Trailer Village. You can do so by clicking the previous link.

Want to camp the South Rim outside Grand Canyon National Park?

If being surrounded by RVs and/or dozens of campers isn’t your go-to, camping in more remote grounds outside national park borders sometimes can provide this. Check out the following options if this interests you:

CAMPING THE NORTH RIM

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Late afternoon view of Grand Canyon National Park, Cape Royal, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA, (Photo by Wild Horizons/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Ready for a more challenging, remote experience? Head to the North Rim, where only that adventurous 10% of annual visitors head. Here, you’ll be at an elevation of 8,000 feet in some of the most remote terrain in all the United States. In short: this is an adventure fierce Outsiders will absolutely relish. To do so at a campground and avoid illegal squatting, hit up one of the North Rim campgrounds below:

North Rim Campground: $18-25 per site/night

The North Rim Campground is open from mid-May to mid/late October, depending on weather conditions. To camp here, you’ll need to place a reservation, which you can do by clicking here. There are no RV hookups available, but a dump station is on hand for camping waste.

DeMotte Campground: $18 per site/night

DeMotte Campground is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, and offers phenomenal scenery and camping. There are no RV hookups here, either, so DeMotte is best suited for traditional campers.

Jacob Lake Campground: $18 per site/night

Jacob Lake Campground is located on the main access route to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim off paved highways. It is first-come, first-serve, and features tons of hiking and scenic options on-site.

Need RV Hookups? Head to Kaibab Camper Village

Kaibab Camper Village is a great option for those needing RV hookups, but still wanting a more remote experience. They’re the only option, in truth, as the solo North Rim campground with full RV hookups. They also accommodate big rigs over 40 feet.

Dispersed camping is also available in the North Rim outside Grand Canyon National Park in designated areas.

Backcountry Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

So far, we’ve focused on on-site camping for an important reason: it’s accessible to the public at large through reservations, first-come, first-serve, and doesn’t require further permits.

If you’re looking for a backcountry adventure, however, you have to do it legally – or can face severe penalties. Not to mention it is incredibly bad form for outdoors folk to squat.

***In order to camp inside Grand Canyon National Park – but off-site/not within designated campgrounds – you will need a backcountry permit. These permits are by request & selection only, and are not guaranteed. If you want to apply for one, you can do so by clicking here.

Further Camping Tips & Tricks

That about covers it, folks! We hope you’ve found everything you’re looking for within. But if not, we’ve got you covered with extensive camping tips & tricks here at Outsider.

For one, if you’re looking to hit up the Grand Canyon in less-popular winter months, you’ll need to be prepared. Do so by heading to our 10 Cold-Weather Items You Need for Fall/Winter Camping and Hiking to gear up.

Then see our Winter Camping Essentials to Ensure a Safe, Warm Adventure to be sure you’re prepared.

The following articles can help you prepare, as well:

Happy camping from your fellow Outsiders!

Outsider.com