The El Tovar Hotel has been on my radar for quite a long time.
Situated on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, this is the place to stay for national park lovers and those who want easy access to the wonders of the Grand Canyon.
I finally got to experience what it was like staying at this historic hotel and below, I’ll tell you all about it.
There are a handful of hotels/lodges that you can find located right on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
- Bright Angel Lodge
- Maswik Lodge (1/4 mile from rim)
- Thunderbird Lodge
- Kachina Lodge
- El Tovar Hotel
Each of these can offer a different type of room ranging from cozy historic units with a shared bath to standard lodge rooms with a private bath and satellite TV.
The “crown jewel” of these hotels is the El Tovar Hotel.
That’s mostly because of the ability to book special suites with great views and its history dating back to its 1905 opening.
The El Tovar was part of the initial wave of “destination resorts” that were built in newly-accessible areas like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
These were made possible by the railroads like the Santa Fe Railway, which played a major role in the creation of the hotel.
A former Harvey House hotel, El Tovar also has the most interesting and unique architecture out of any of the properties with a fusion of rustic Western-Swiss themes and southwestern Indian accents.
There’s a reason it was featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and why it was visited by presidents like Theodore Roosevelt.
It’s just a special place.
The El Tovar Hotel is home to 78 rooms and has a lot of different room types including quite a few types of suites.
We booked a queen room for $400 per night including all taxes and fees (when we booked, we were required to make a 50% deposit).
I really wanted a suite but we did not find availability when we were searching for rooms several months out.
While it would be pricey at about $900 per night, I’d love to stay in the El Tovar Suite, which has a massive private balcony with rim to rim views from the third floor.
You can see some of the balconies in the image above. I’m pretty sure the views from these would be pretty solid. But it’s ridiculously hard to find open dates for that suite.
Location: South Rim of the Grand Canyon
The El Tovar Hotel is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which you don’t want to confuse with the North Rim that is located approximately four hours away (where you can find the Grand Canyon Lodge).
If you want to get even more specific, the El Tovar Hotel is found just feet away from the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village.
If you’re trying to soak up every bit of the Grand Canyon that you can, it really is hard to beat the location of the El Tovar Hotel.
It’s right next-door to the Hopi House, Verkamp’s Visitor Center, and also very close to the Grand Canyon Rail where you can board vintage rail cars in true western style.
If you want to venture down into the canyon, it’s a super convenient place to stay for an early start on the Bright Angel Trailhead.
If you’re feeling really adventurous you can go for an epic hiking adventure down to the river and back but most people should probably settle for going down no farther than Indian Garden or even the 3 mile house.
And of course, it’s located right on the Rim Trail which you can take in either direction (east or west) for sweeping views of the canyon.
This location means that as soon as you step out of the hotel you are only steps away from admiring the magnificent views of the canyon.
While the Grand Canyon is pretty amazing in the daytime, it truly is something special at sunrise and sunset.
It’s not always easy to linger around here during twilight hours, so being able to basically roll out of bed to admire these views is priceless.
Plus, you never know what kind of wildlife might come roaming up to the property for some early morning grazing.
We arrived a little bit prior to the official check in time but were able to get a room at about 1:30pm. If you’re not able to get early check in, you could just relax on the patio or go for a stroll along the rim. Getting a bite to eat is always an option, too.
When you arrive, you’ll make your way through a dim lobby lounge and the front desk area will be on your left.
Since we were visiting in October, the lobby was accented with fall leaves and I’m pretty sure they get into Christmas as well. They’re pretty festive around here.
There are two things you need to know about check in.
The first is that there is no guaranteed parking for your vehicle.
We were visiting on a busy fall day and struggled to find parking anywhere in the vicinity of the property.
Eventually, we found a spot but it was at the Bright Angel Trailhead.
For that reason, you might want to arrive before the afternoon rush and try to avoid moving your vehicle once you find a spot.
Luckily, the shuttle busses can get you just about anywhere you would want to go so you don’t have to drive to get to some of the various look out points, trails, etc.
The second thing to be aware of is that there are no elevators!
The hotel will offer you bellman to assist with your luggage so it should not be a problem for some people. But if stairs are a problem, book a room on the first level.
The queen room
Our room was on the smaller side but honestly I thought it was a pretty solid hotel room considering this is essentially a basic room at a historic lodge in a national park.
It appeared that the “queen” bed was a bit on the small side, though.
We measured it out and it came out to a few inches under the standard dimensions for a queen bed of 60 inches.
That was a bummer because it made it difficult for us two to get comfortable. So unless you think you’ll be fine with a smaller queen, I would definitely try to book a king or two queens.
Nevertheless, the bed was comfy in a very fluffy type of way.
The room came with your standard hotel features including: a phone, alarm clock, glasses, ice bucket.
It also had a TV with standard satellite TV programming.
By the TV, you can find a room service menu, which offered pizza delivery from 4 PM to 8 PM. The pizza comes from the Maswik Food Court, which is located at the Maswik Lodge about a quarter mile from the rim.
There was a table with two sitting chairs where you could find the coffee maker.
Outlets were not plentiful near the bed so we had to move this table closer to us so that we could plug electronics into the lamp’s outlets. (You can use the alarm clock on the other side of the bed which has some outlets.)
There’s a closet with an iron, iron board, safe, and room for your luggage.
One thing I was worried about was the Wi-Fi as I had seen reports of it being pretty spotty.
However, I was able to get work done without any problems at all.
If you want to do a bunch of downloading or streaming that might be a different story but I was still able to watch YouTube videos for example.
We also had solid cell phone service which made up for any potential shortcomings of the Wi-Fi.
So this was a very different experience from my recent lodge experience in Glacier Bay National Park where we were without Wi-Fi and cell phone service in our room.
As for the view, we did not have a view of the Grand Canyon but instead we looked out over the parking lot. There’s also a ladder that ran directly outside the window to the roof which was an interesting site.
Sidenote: there is a back entrance to the hotel in this parking lot which can make it a little bit easier to navigate when coming from the parking lot in the back.
The bathroom surprised me in a very good way with its classic look.
We tried out the different dining spots located both in the hotel and in the nearby lodges. Overall, I would say that you can definitely get some quality meals although not every place was a hit.
The first restaurant we tried was the Fred Harvey Burger, which is located at the Bright Angel Lodge. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I ordered the Fred Harvey Burger, which came with fries and a potato bun.
It was a nice meal to have after being on the road for six hours but I wouldn’t rank this as one of the best burgers out there.
Keep in mind that there could be a long waiting time so I would head to make a reservation a couple of hours prior to your desired meeting time.
In our case, the waiting time was about one hour.
Next, we tried out the Arizona Steakhouse, which was in a beautiful venue that offered partial views of the rim wall. It’s also located at the Bright Angel Lodge.
It’s still a little confusing to me because they don’t have steaks listed on the menu but instead offered one as a special. Just a little odd for a steakhouse if you ask me.
The menu also features beer and wine selections produced from local artisan brewers and vintners.
Reservations are recommended here and we made them for the earliest time available which was when they opened for lunch. However, it looked like people without reservations were able to get in without an issue.
I went with something light which was a turkey wrap ($16.50) that I thought was a perfect quick option for lunch.
Brad tried the New York strip steak ($38), which he enjoyed but it was wayyy over cooked for a rare steak.
Then, there was the El Tovar Dining Room, which offers fine dining.
This is the premier dining venue at the South Rim, where they also serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It’s also the most formal of all of the dining places.
While it sounds like you need to dress up for dinner from the restaurant’s description, casual dress was accepted just fine during our visit.
We enjoyed a really nice dinner during our stay. I went with a special short ribs dish (~$41) while Brad went with the lamb shank ($~37).
The portions were more than plentiful, food very flavorful, and the service was top notch making this a pretty memorable experience. I would recommend not passing it up.
To make your experience even better you should do two things.
First, definitely make reservations as far in advance as you can because all of the slots can fill up for both lunch and dinner.
Also, when you make a reservation you can request one of the tables with a view of the canyon if that’s the type of thing you’re into.
Here’s a look at the view:
Personally, I would avoid booking a reservation during sunset so that you can take in the views from outside.
Inside the lobby, you’ll find a gift shop and a smaller news stand where you can pick up snacks and drinks.
There is definitely no shortage of gift shops anywhere in the Grand Canyon but it is nice having one in the lobby so close to your lodging.
Here’s a look at the news stand.
The year prior to this visit we hiked from the rim to the river and back up to the rim in one day which was definitely a memorable and challenging hiking experience.
We were hoping to do something similar during this day but unfortunately life happened and made that an unrealistic option for us.
Despite the disappointment that came from that, I really loved this stay.
Hanging out at the rim during sunset is a really cool vibe and there’s something to be said about just looking off into the vast openness of the canyon that’s hard to explain.
Now that we live in Arizona, we try to make an annual visit to the canyon and I think this is a perfect place to stay for such an occasion.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.