At first glance, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon seem worlds apart—at least in spirit, if not in mileage. (It’s only four hours from Vegas to the North Rim, and a little longer to the South Rim.) But in a strange sort of way, Vegas and the canyon are soul sisters: Both exemplify extremes, and both are best experienced by immersion. Las Vegas is a convenient launching point for a Grand Canyon trip, easily reached by air from most U.S. cities, with a number of tour and travel options for getting to the canyon.
If you’re driving, it’s about 270 miles from Vegas to the North Rim : Take I-15 north for 128 miles to St. George, Utah. Just past St. George, take Highway 9 east 10 miles to Highway 59. Continue east on Highway 59 for 32 miles. The highway number changes at the Utah-Arizona border, becoming Highway 389. Continue east another 33 miles to Fredonia and turn east on U.S. 89A for 30 miles to Jacob Lake. Turn south on Highway 67 for 43 miles to the North Rim.
From Las Vegas to the South Rim  is 280 miles: Take U.S. 93 south to I-40. Take I-40 east to Williams, Arizona. Turn north on Highway 64 and drive 60 miles to the South Rim.
McCarran International Airport (LAS), the primary commercial airport for Las Vegas, is located a few miles outside city limits in Clark County. More than 20 commercial carriers land here, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, British Airways, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. The airport uses two terminals. If you’re looking for a taxi or shuttles to downtown hotels, you’ll find them outside the baggage claim area of Terminal 1.
North Las Vegas Airport (701/261-3801) serves general aviation pilots as well as many of the scenic airlines that fly tours to Grand Canyon.
Greyhound (200 S. Main St., Las Vegas, 702/383-9792 or 800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com ) has connections to Las Vegas from locations nationwide. The bus station is open 24 hours daily.
It seems a bit odd to wander down the Strip, surrounded by flashing neon and porn peddlers, and see advertisements for Grand Canyon tours. But almost everything in Vegas is a commodity, and the canyon is no exception. Tour choices are plentiful and competitively priced.
Papillon Helicopters (702/736-7243 or 888/635-7272, www.papillon.com ) has tour options with or without flights, as does Sightseeing Tours Unlimited (702/471-7155 or 800/377-2003, www.sightseeingtourslv.com ). Coach America/Grayline (702/384-1234 or 800/634-6579, www.graylinelasvegas.com ) has ground tours to the South Rim and Grand Canyon West.
Making reservations through a tour broker can save you some time sorting through the various options: Grand Canyon Today (800/957-6329, www.grandcanyontoday.com ) and Best Tours (702/851-8436 or 866/828-1608, www.besttourslv.com ) represent a wide selection of operators and tours.
McCarran International Airport’s Rent-A-Car Center (702/261-6001) hosts several national car-rental agencies, including Alamo (800/462-5266), Avis (800/331-1212), Budget (800/922-2899), Enterprise (800/736-8222), Hertz (800/654-3131), and Thrifty (800/367-2277). To get to the Rent-A-Car Center, find door 10 or 11 inside Terminal 1 and wait for the shuttle, which arrives every 5-10 minutes. If you’re in Terminal 2, the Rent-A-Car Center is across the road from the baggage claim area.
For travelers using North Las Vegas Airport, Hertz and Enterprise rent cars here.
Bates International (702/737-9050 or 800/732-2283, www.batesintl.com ) is headquartered in Las Vegas. Cruise America (702/456-6666 or 800/671-8042, www.cruiseamerica.com ), Sahara RV Center (702/384-8818 or 800/748-6494, www.sahararv.com ), and several other RV rental agencies have offices here.
If you need to rent camping gear, REI has two locations in the Las Vegas area, on the west side of town in Boca Park (710 S. Rampart Blvd., Las Vegas, 702/951-4488, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.) and in Henderson (2220 Village Walk Dr., Henderson, 702/896-7509, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.).
You can choose among major hotel chains and accommodations convenient to the airport or the interstate, but if you want the full Vegas experience, head for the Strip and its casino hotels. The Stratosphere rises above the northern strip, where the Sahara and Riviera have held court for more than half a century, and Circus Circus has become a family favorite. At the heart of the Strip you’ll find the classic Flamingo, the restructured Caesars Palace, and the luxurious Bellagio. On the South Strip, hotels like New York New York and Excalibur offer entertaining themes at midrange prices.
Dining can be equally adventurous. You’ll find a few bargain buffets like the ones your grandpa raved about, but Vegas dining has evolved to include sushi, nouvelle Chinese, upscale Italian, and creole cuisine. If you’re hoping to spot a celebrity (or a celebrity chef), slip into Harrah’s for
KGB, home of Kerry Simon’s Iron Chef-winning burgers. Simon, dubbed the “Rock-n-Roll Chef” by Rolling Stone magazine, is also behind the menu at
Simon at Palms Place, where you’ll find comfort food with a twist and great views.