Everything You Need to Know About Camping at the Grand Canyon

Camping on a platform of rock in the Royal Arch drainage, running water nearby, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is one of those places you have to see for yourself to truly appreciate. At a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, the canyon slices through the earth for 277 miles, carrying within it the roaring Colorado River. Each year, between five and six million people visit the national park, which is split into two sections: the accessible South Rim, with its year-round access, airport, and train system, and the noticeably more remote (and less crowded) North Rim. 

While you could visit the Grand Canyon for a day trip (or book a night in one of the lodges), nothing beats finding a perfect tent site with stunning views and watching the colorful canyon walls come to life in the morning light. Plus, when you're sleeping in the park, it's easier to beat the crowds to the trails and canyon overlooks.

And it doesn't matter if you're a tent camper or prefer a full RV hookup, as there's something for everyone within the park's 1,904 square miles. To help you plan the ultimate trip, we've outlined everything you need to know for camping near the Grand Canyon.

South or North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park is vast, so you'll need to decide if you want to camp on the South or North Rim (it's a five-hour drive between the two). If you're looking to camp somewhere that's easy to reach and open year-round, you'll want to plan your trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. According to the National Park Service (NPS), 90% of travelers opt to visit the South Rim because it has a local airport and rail service, plus it's near the Arizona cities of Flagstaff (a one-and-a-half-hour drive) and Phoenix (a three-and-a-half-hour drive).

That being said, if you want to avoid busy campgrounds and crowded trails, head to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It may be harder to reach — and is closed seasonally from mid-October to mid-May — but you'll experience the more wild (and more secluded) side of the park. To access this area, you'll need to drive in, as there's no in-park airport or rail service. The nearest larger towns are Fredonia, Arizona, and Kanab, Utah (both around a one-and-a-half-hour drive), but don't let the more remote feel deter you. On the North Rim, you'll be at around 8,000-feet elevation in a section that only 10% of the park's visitors make the effort to experience. 

Camping on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

If you have a car and want to drive in, park, and camp on the South Rim, check out Mather Campground or Desert View Campground. The former is located within the busy Grand Canyon Village (where the visitor center, train, and shuttle buses are located) and open year-round to both tent and RV campers. (Keep in mind, there are no hookups for the latter.) From March to November, you'll need to make a reservation up to six months in advance; during the less-popular winter months, the camping is first-come, first-served. Camping at Mather costs $18 per site, per night.

The Desert View Campground is on the less developed east side of the park (25 miles east of  Grand Canyon Village and Mather Campground). This campground is only open from mid-April to mid-October and does not offer in-advance reservations. Both tent and non-hookup RV camping (for vehicles up to 30 feet) is available, and spots are first-come, first-served. The sites are usually full by noon daily and cost $12 per site, per night.

There are no RV hookups at either campground, so if you need all the RV-related amenities, make a reservation at the South Rim's Trailer Village.

Camping on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Campers on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park should head to the North Rim Campground, which is open mid-May through mid-to-late October every year. Reservations for this campground are required and can be made up to six months in advance. A site at North Rim costs between $18 and $25 per night, and while there are no RV hookups, there is a dump station. 

Camping Near Grand Canyon National Park

Just because you're visiting Grand Canyon National Park doesn't mean you have to camp within the park's boundaries. For a more off-the-beaten path experience, check out one of the campgrounds or dispersed camping areas outside and nearby the park.

On the South Rim, there's the Ten-X Campground (minimal amenities, $10 per night), free dispersed camping in the national forest outside the park, and the Grand Canyon Camper Village, with RV hookups and a free shuttle to the South Rim's visitor center. Travelers to the South Rim can also camp on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, Hualapai Indian Reservation, and the Navajo Indian Reservation.

On the North Rim, you can head to the U.S. Forest Service-operated DeMotte Campground (no hookups, $18 per night) or Jacob Lake Campground (first-come, first-served; $18 per night). There's also dispersed camping near the North Rim and Kaibab Camper Village, for those in need of an RV hookup.  

Grand Canyon National Park Camping Regulations to Know

There's a mix of first-come, first-served and reservation camping at Grand Canyon National Park, so make sure you find an option that suits your style. Those who are interested in locking down a campground well in advance (up to six months) should consider the park-operated Mather Campground on the South Rim or North Rim Campground on the North Rim. If you're less of a planner and are open to being flexible (and showing up at the campground early), check out Desert View Campground on the South Rim.

If you want to camp inside the park, but not at one of the three developed in-park campgrounds —  Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, or North Rim Campground — you'll need a backcountry permit, which can be requested online.

Tips for Camping at Grand Canyon National Park

The campgrounds at Grand Canyon National Park tend to be busy from May to October, when the weather is warmer. If you're new to camping (or just don't like the cold), this is the best option. However, you can camp year-round at the park at Mather Campground or by requesting a backcountry permit for winter camping. Winter campers will want to pack along some extra gear and layers, and make sure they're well versed in cold-weather camping.

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