The Grand Canyon runs east to west so if you want to see both rims in one trip, you will need to either drive for hours or hike for days. The south rim is the most popular and easiest to access, and it has many more viewpoints than the north rim. The north rim closes during winter and it's significantly less developed, but it's also MUCH less crowded and many visitors prefer it over the south rim.
Below are my recommendations for both - scroll halfway down to find the north rim section
Best time to visit: Year Around
Recommended Hikes: Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Rim Walk
Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Biking, Auto-Touring
Where to stay: Campgrounds and rustic hotels in the park and just outside the park boundary
The Grand Canyon south rim is one of the most popular national parks in the country and it is a year around destination. Summer months are very hot and winter months are very cold with snow, but the gates are open all year long. Spring and fall are ideal for the most comfortable weather. Be prepared for massive crowds at the south rim if visiting on a weekend or around holidays.
Must See Attractions:
The Grand Canyon south rim is a park of viewpoints, all of which are just a short walk from parking areas or shuttle stops. They are all similar as they all look out to the same canyon, but they are also somewhat unique. Don't hesitate to pull the car over at any of them - they are all worth seeing.
There are two primary hiking trails that lead down into the canyon from the south rim, and both are challenging hikes as they have big elevation gains when hiking out. Most visitors can enjoy the entire south rim without hiking down into the canyon. Seeing every viewpoint will require two full days.
Desert View Watchtower - a beautiful structure designed by architect Mary Colter in 1932. The watchtower is located at the furthest east viewpoint on the south rim. Visitors can go inside and climb the tower up three levels for an even better view of the surrounding landscape. It takes about 40 minutes to drive to the watchtower from the main village.
Rim Walk - There is a walking and biking path along most of the south rim, running from one viewpoint to the next. Sections of it are very crowded, especially near the Village and visitor centers, but the further out you go, the less crowded it will be. The section that runs out to Yaki Point from the visitor center is an especially great option for walking or biking.
Hermit's Rest - this is the furthest west viewpoint, and it features another small historic building designed by Mary Colter called Hermit's Rest. There is a small store here where you can buy food and other products, There are 9 official viewpoints/shuttle stops between Hermit's Rest and the village. The round-trip shuttle route takes about 80 minutes without getting off at any stops. During the winter, the road is opened to private vehicles, but may also be closed for snow. The road is only accessible via shuttle during spring, summer, and fall.
The shuttle system at the south rim is extensive and necessary to use when the park is crowded. It's best to lock down a parking spot in the Village early in the day and then use the shuttles to get around. Parking lots everywhere can be full throughout the day, so avoid moving your car once you park. There is no charge to use the shuttles.
There is no shuttle service east of Yaki Point. This part of the canyon has exceptional viewpoints that are very different from what is seen at western Hermit's Rest. You should be able to find parking at the viewpoints out here, even during peak season. It takes about 40 minutes to drive from the main village to the Desert View Watchtower, one-way.
Hiking into the canyon is doable at the south rim. Prepare for a significant increase in temperature as you climb down into the canyon and a punishing climb out. Hikers can hike to the river from the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trailheads, but the park encourages people not to hike all the way down and back out in a single day. Read more about these routes in the hiking section below.
The Grand Canyon Village is huge. It has several museums and hotels, a post-office, a large general store, and multiple places to eat. There are gas stations outside the park's southern gate and at the Desert View Watchtower.
You can rent bikes in the Grand Canyon Village. Biking is a good way to cover more ground and escape the crowds.
Drinking water is available throughout the Village and at Hermit's Rest and Desert View Watchtower. Bring your water bottle to fill up.
Where to Stay:
There are two campgrounds at the south rim. Mather Campground is located right in the village and it can be reserved online in advance here. The other is a first-come-first-served campground near the Watchtower (Desert View Campground) which is closed during winter months.
There are several hotels/lodges in the village - some of them are right near the rim and some rooms will even have views of the canyon. Book them online here.
Hiking at the South Rim
Rim Walk - This is the most enjoyable hike at the south rim, and it can be as short or as long as you please. There are constant views of the canyon with limited elevation change and some shade from trees. It runs along most of the rim, from Hermit's Rest all the way down to Yaki Point. The sections of this trail near Grand Canyon Village are very crowded but the further you walk from there, the fewer people there will be. Biking along this route is a great way to cover more ground in less time.
Bright Angel Trail - The most popular route to go down into the canyon. This trail goes all the way to the Colorado River (and continues on to the north rim), and also forks off to a viewpoint called Plateau Point which overlooks the river. The Bright Angel Trail descends quickly and steeply into the canyon before it starts to move out towards the river, so you have to invest a lot of vertical feet right away. There is drinking water available at three rest-stops along this trail. Read more about the hike here.
South Kaibab Trail - The other major hiking trail into the canyon which meets up with the Bright Angel Trail at the Colorado River. This trail runs along a butte which extends way out into the canyon before descending, making it quite different than the Bright Angel Trail. I personally think the views offered on the South Kaibab Trail are better than the Bright Angel Trail. However, there is NO WATER available along this route. The trailhead is near Yaki Point, which can only be reached via shuttle. Read more about the hike here.
Best time to visit: Summer (North Rim is closed winters)
Recommended Hikes: Widforss Trail, North Kaibab Trail, Cape Royal/Angel's Window
Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Auto-Touring, Escaping the crowds of the south rim
Where to stay: Cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge or the North Rim Campground
The north rim of the Grand Canyon feels completely different than the south rim. It is 1,000 feet higher in elevation and the rim is three times further away from the Colorado River. It feels like much more of a landscape than a viewpoint; all the rock formations visible in the distance from the south rim are up close and personal at the north rim. The crowds are significantly smaller at the north rim compared to the south rim. Due to an average of 12 feet of snow per year, the north rim is closed during winter, usually opening for the season in May of each year.
Must See Attractions:
Grand Canyon Lodge - I don't normally recommend man-made attractions, but this is a must-see. It is a beautiful building with a restaurant, bar, and seating right on the rim, overlooking the canyon. This is a great place to sit and relax at any time of day. Bright Angel Point is a quarter-mile walk from here.
Cape Royal - the furthest point you can drive to at the North Rim. From the parking lot, it's a short and flat walk out to Cape Royal and Angel's Window viewpoints. Look for the south rim's Desert View Watchtower on the horizon across the canyon.
Point Imperial - a nice viewpoint of the eastern canyon - this is a good place to be during sunset, although the sun will be setting behind you. The colors in the canyon are best after the sun is no longer visible but before it gets too dark.
The north rim is a summer park - park services start to shut down in mid-October, but the gates remain open to day visitors until the first major snow closes the road, or until December 1. Everything starts to open up again in mid-May the following year.
If you have your heart set on hiking down to the Colorado River - the north rim is not the place to do it. You can hike down into the canyon from the north rim, but the walk to the river is 8 miles longer than it would be from the south rim.
A trip to the north rim can be combined with a trip to nearby Zion National Park. The city of Page, AZ is worth visiting as well - home to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, both of which can be seen in a single, long day trip. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is right near the north rim as well.
There is a general store and gas station near the campground, and food/drinks available at the Lodge (these start to close mid-October)
Drinking water is available at the campground and at the lodge and visitor center. Eastern viewpoints like Point Imperial and Cape Royal do not have drinking water available, so fill up before heading out that direction.
There is no shuttle service at the north rim.
Where to Stay:
The best options are in the park at either the North Rim Campground or the Grand Canyon Lodge/cabins. Both are right near the rim, but the lodge and cabins are pricey. There is camping and small hotels just outside of the park boundary and further up the road in the small town of Jacob Lake.
Hiking at the North Rim:
Widforss Point - This is a really enjoyable hike with a great endpoint - it's about 10 miles round trip and offers good chances to see wildlife and unique views of the canyon. Read more about this hike here.
North Kaibab Trail - This is the one route from the north rim than descends into the canyon. Day hiking to the river is not possible from the north rim, but it can be be done as an overnight backpacking trip. There are some cool landmarks you can reach day hiking on this trail, including the Supai Tunnel and the Redwall Bridge. Beware - It's easy to underestimate the hike out compared to the hike down. The trail is hot and has a steady incline. Read more about the hike here.
Cape Final Trail - A nice mid range hike at about 4 miles round trip; the end point is a great view but it's similar to the views at Point Imperial and Roosevelt Point, which can both be reached in a car. I recommend Widforss Point over Cape Final if you are debating between the two. Read more about Cape Final here.
Uncle Jim Trail - I haven't done this one but it looks like another nice moderate hike at about 5 miles roundtrip. Read more about this hike here.
All of the north rim hiking routes can be seen in detail on the North Rim park map link above.