The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most famous natural formations. This 277-mile-long and up to 18-mile wide canyon is considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. Every year, millions of visitors come from around the world to view this geological marvel. These travelers have the chance to hike along the canyon rims, raft the mighty Colorado River, and view the epic Grand Canyon sunrises and sunsets. As glorious as the Grand Canyon is during the daylight, darkness brings out a whole other side to the canyon: the Grand Canyon is excellent for stargazing!
The National Park Service once stated, “half the park is after dark,” in reference to the Gran Canyon. To that end, the park worked towards getting their International Dark Sky Park certification. It took three years to minimize the impact of over 5,000 light fixture in the Grand Canyon area.
In 2019, Grand Canyon National Park was awarded full status as a Dark Sky Park. With this certification, Grand Canyon is the only site in the world to be a National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an International Dark Sky Park. If you want to experience the stunning night skies above the Grand Canyon, here’s everything you need to know to take a stargazing trip to Grand Canyon National Park.
How to Get to Grand Canyon National Park
One of many national parks in Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is located in northwest Arizona. The park is made of two sections: the North Rim and the South Rim. It takes four hours to drive from rim to rim. Additionally, you might want to experience the Grand Canyon Skywalk during the day. This attraction is outside of the park boundaries and is a five-hour drive from the South Rim.
If you are flying to Grand Canyon National Park, you have a couple of options. The two major nearby airports are Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a four-hour drive to the South Rim from Phoenix and Las Vegas is a five-hour drive. Either airport provides an excellent starting place for a Southwest Road Trip: Arizona has seven Dark Sky Parks, making Arizona a great stargazing destination, and nearby Zion National Park and Bryce National Park offer excellent stargazing too.
How to Go Stargazing in Grand Canyon National Park Stargazing
Most Grand Canyon visitors will spend their evening above the canyon rim. This makes getting a horizon-to-zenith view of the sky really simple. Hikers at one of the inner canyon campgrounds may be hindered by canyon walls or trees.
If you are staying in one of the Grand Canyon lodges or campgrounds, it is really easy to go stargazing in the park. All you need to do is head over to the canyon rim and depending on your location move away from any light sources and the sky will come alive with stars.
If you are staying outside the park, drive-in and pick any overlook you would like set-up and enjoy the view.
As the Grand Canyon is one of the busiest parks in the country, it does have a bit of light pollution near the hotels and associated walkway. I suggest trying to stay out of those areas when trying to stargaze.
Where to Go Stargazing in Grand Canyon National Park
Near the South Rim
The South Rim is a popular place to stargaze in the Grand Canyon. Depending on the time of year, select roads such as Hermits Rest are closed to private vehicles. If you are looking to stargaze at one of shuttle-only overlooks, make sure to keep an eye on the time. You do not want to miss the last shuttle bus.
The best star viewing is at the viewpoints toward Desert View. All of these viewpoints will have a great view of the sky and the canyon and you can drive a private vehicle to them. A few have short walks out to the overlook.
Near the North Rim
If you are looking to avoid the crowds but are not ready to hike into the Grand Canyon and spend the night, the North Rim is perfect for stargazing. Only 10% of park visitors visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
There are two main viewing areas on the North Rim, the overlooks along the Walhalla Plateau and along the short Bright Angel Point Trail. The Walhalla Plateau has four overlooks where you can drive up and have a great view of the sky and the canyon. At Cape Royal, there is a short 0.4-mile hike out to the point which is a great spot viewing spot and you don’t have to worry about lights from the cars along the road. The Bright Angel Point is one of the most popular viewing spots given its close proximity to the Grand Canyon Lodge. There is a 0.25-mile walk out to the point.
Within the Inner Canyon
If you are backpacking below the rim of the Grand Canyon, you may want to scout your stargazing spot during the day. Look for a spot that is on a durable surface and provides you a clear view of the sky. Depending on where you are camping for the night, you may lose part of the sky to the canyon walls.
Where to Stay Near Grand Canyon National Park
Hotels near the Grand Canyon North Rim
There is only one hotel located in the park on the North Rim. The Grand Canyon Lodge is one of the grand National Park Lodges. This historic hotel has epic views of the Grand Canyon. Maker your reservation as far in advance as you can.
Outside of the park, hotels are scarce. The closest options are the Kaibab Plateau and Jabob Lake. Both of these options are 30 mins or more away from the North Rim.
Camping near the Grand Canyon North Rim
There is one campground in the park in the North Rim. The North Rim Campground fills most day and reservations are highly suggested. There are two US Forest Service Campgrounds located outside the park. These are DeMotte Campground and Jacob Lake. Dispersed Camping is allowed on select roads as well.
Hotels near the Grand Canyon South Rim
There are six hotels in Grand Canyon National Park. The lodges include Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, Maswik Lodge, and Yavapai Lodge. These hotels range in price and are located in the Grand Canyon Village area. Make your reservations as soon as possible.
Just outside of the Grand Canyon is the town of Tusayan which has a range of small and chain hotels.
Camping near the Grand Canyon South Rim
There are three campgrounds on the South Rim. Mather Campground and Desert View are NPS campground. Sites at Mather can be reserved while most of Desert View is first-come-first-serve. Trailer Village is a private campground which offers full-hookups.
Outside of the park is the U.S Forestry service TentX Campground. Dispersed Camping is allowed on several of the Forestry roads.
Hotels in the Grand Canyon
The only non-tent accommodation options below the rim of the Grand Canyon is Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch provides BASIC dormitories and cabins at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Reservations are made via an online lottery 15 months in advance.
Camping in the Grand Canyon
All camping below the canyon rim requires a backcountry permit. There are several campgrounds options such as Bright Angel, Indian Garden, and Cottonwood Campground. There are also non-campground options for experienced hikers.
What to See & Do During the Day in Grand Canyon
What to See in Grand Canyon National Park
All visitors to the Grand Canyon come to see the view. There are great overlooks dotted along both canyon rims. On the South Rim, there are shuttle buses that will take you on a leisurely ride to Hermits Rest and help you explore a range of museums such as the Kolb Studio and Yavapai Geology Museum.
What to Do in Grand Canyon National Park
There are a lot of things to do in the Grand Canyon. There are a range of hiking trails for all skill and endurance levels. Travelers need to balance these factors when deciding what to do. A good friend once told me: “Hiking below the rim of the Grand Canyon is optional. Hiking back up isn’t optional once you have gone down.”
Far too often, rangers in the Grand Canyon have to perform life-saving rescues. Most of these operations stem from hikers overestimating their ability, not carrying enough water, wrong footwear and a host of other preventable reasons. Please come prepared and if you think something is out of your skill level. It probably is and you should turn back.
South Rim Day Hiking Options
- Rim Trail – This 12-mile hiking trail runs along the South Rim. The trail is reasonably flat and shuttle stops are available all along the route so you can make the trail as short or as long as you would like.
- Bright Angel Trail – Most popular trail in the park. Heads down into the canyon. The full trail requires backpacking but the hike to Indian Garden makes for a 9-mile round trip hike. There are rest houses every 1.5 miles and the hike to the first rest house makes for a great introduction to hiking below the rim.
- South Kaibab Trail – A steep and popular trail. Like Bright Angel, there are day trip options ranging from 1.6 miles (Ooh Aah Point) or 6 miles to Skeleton Point.
North Rim Day Hiking Options
- Bright Angel Point – A short 1-mile paved hike out to one of the best canyon viewpoints.
- North Kaibab Trail – The only North Rim trail that leads to the Colorado River. The full trail is NOT a day hike. But you can get some incredible viewpoint by hiking a mile or two down the trail.
- Widforss Trail – A 5-mile level hike thru the aspen forests that ends with canyon views.
Other FAQ about Stargazing in Grand Canyon National Park
When is the best time to go stargazing in Grand Canyon?
There is no bad time of year to stargaze in the Grand Canyon. The summer season provides the best weather for stargazing. This is also the most popular time to visit the parks and on clear nights viewpoints near the Grand Canyon lodges can be filled with people.
If you are looking to avoid the crowds consider heading up to the north rim or plan your visit in the spring or fall. No matter the season, be prepared for cooler temperatures. The Grand Canyon gets surprisingly chilly after sunset.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Grand Canyon? When?
The Grand Canyon is an epic place to see the Milky Way. Summer is the best time of year to see the Milky Way.
Is there a dark sky festival in Grand Canyon?
Yes, yes there is. The Grand Canyon Star Party typically takes place during June and lasts for eight days. The 2020 Grand Canyon Star Party will be held from June 13-20. The party is held on both the North and the South Rims. The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association and Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix provide telescopes and astronomy programs all week long. Learn more about the Grand Canyon Star Party.
Is the Grand Canyon National Park open at night?
Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The South Rim is open year-round with full services. Select South Rim roads are limited to shuttle buses during the summer season. The North Rim is open year-round but the roads are closed to vehicles from December to mid-May.
The entrance stations are closed at night but you are still required to have a valid Grand Canyon entrance receipt or National Park pass when in the park.
Are there guided night tours in Grand Canyon?
There are no formal stargazing tours in the Grand Canyon National Park, and professional guiding is regulated by the National Park Service. However, you are welcome to enjoy the stars from any of the Grand Canyon Overlooks.
Other Grand Canyon Stargazing questions? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo credit: Kristin M Caldon for NPS via Flickr