The iconic El Tovar hotel at the Grand Canyon won me over with its historic charm, location steps from the rim, and enhanced cleanliness protocols

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  • Dating back to 1905, El Tovar is one of Arizona's most iconic hotels, directly overlooking the Grand Canyon.
  • I spent a night at El Tovar in late November and enjoyed the lack of crowds the winter brings. 
  • During peak times rates can jump to the $400s, but you can snag entry-level rooms for as low as $189 in the winter. 

A stay at Arizona's historic El Tovar hotel just might make you feel like you've found yourself at the edge of the world. Nestled mere footsteps from the rim of the majestic Grand Canyon, this 78-room chalet-meets-villa essentially gives you VIP, all-day access to this world wonder. That means you can take your sweet time lapping up views of its great expanse, which is a notable bonus come sunrise and sunset.

That's exactly what guests have been doing since this legendary hotel, a registered National Historic Landmark, was erected in 1905. Since its inception, it's housed countless park visitors, including some very noteworthy names like Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey.

Having been in Arizona for the last decade, I've made the four-hour trek from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon on numerous occasions. It's basically a rite of passage for all those who come visit me, and a personal excuse to get another glimpse of this geological wonder. I've been there mid-summer (a cool reprieve from the blazing desert heat), in the height of autumn surrounded by falling leaves, and even mid-blizzard (a total accident, but worth seeing the ridges covered in a snowy blanket).

I can tell you firsthand that while there's technically an "off season" for visiting the Grand Canyon — December through March — there's really not a moment throughout the year when you won't find yourself appreciative of the views. In fact, staying here off-peak,  when the crowds are thinner, is appropriate amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition to fewer people staying during the low season, you can enjoy lower rates. In fact, the cost difference per night can result in substantial savings. For example, during January the price of a standard room ranges between $189 and $278, whereas in the summer prices usually hover in the low to mid $400s. 

I recently stayed in an entry-level room in late November and was impressed with the stunning location and thorough new COVID-19 protocols. While I've visited the Grand Canyon numerous times, this was my first time staying overnight, and I would highly recommend El Tovar and its historic charms to future visitors.

  • The first impression
  • The room
  • On-site amenities
  • What's nearby
  • What others say
  • What you need to know
  • The bottom line
  • Book El Tovar Hotel starting at $189 per night

Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the El Tovar Hotel.

I knew going in that El Tovar was historic and had a sort of wintry lodge aesthetic, but driving up to the hotel immediately made me wholly appreciate its architectural novelty.

The four-story hotel was designed by Charles Whittlesey, whose goal all those years ago was to appease European tastes while affording some of the best views in the world. The result was a medium-sized boutique hotel that's meant to feel like a hybrid between a cozy Swiss Chalet and an elegant Norwegian Villa.

It's quite handsome with its log and brick exterior, and stepping inside transported me to another era. The lobby was dimly lit and wood-laden, with animals mounted on the walls. The rolling fireplace greeted me as I walked to the front desk to check-in.

I was relieved to see new COVID-19 protocols were being followed right away. Check-in was done with a staff member, but there were partitions. Signs requiring masks were also located throughout the lobby, along with hand sanitizer and signage noting how many people could be in certain areas at one time.

The check-in process was easy and speedy and I was off to my room in no time.

Part of what makes El Tovar special is its dedication to maintaining that original historic aesthetic. Adding to its uniqueness is the fact that no two rooms are exactly alike; each is appointed with its very own set of decor and trimmings. However, no matter your room allocation, you can expect quaint, old-timey elegant charm versus slick amenities and modern furniture. Some might qualify the rooms, and the hotel itself, as dated, but I would argue that's the very draw.

I stayed in a standard, entry-level room, which featured a Queen-sized bed in a sturdy wooden frame along with matching wooden chairs, a large TV cabinet, and a quaint desk. My favorite part of the room was the large windows, which were dressed in powder blue curtains and striking floral valances, and let in plenty of sunshine.

However, the views from the window themselves weren't that great. I essentially had an aerial view of the parking lot. I wasn't disappointed by this since I was well aware that was the case when I booked a non-view room. Plus, I didn't plan on spending much time in my room and the best canyon views were just steps outside the hotel's front door.

The bed was quite comfortable (something I'm very picky about) and there was little to no noise that carried through walls, the door, or even through the windows — a pleasant surprise in such an old property. 

The ensuite bathroom was quite spacious — about a third of the size of the hotel room itself —and featured retro-looking black and white tiles, a simple white pedestal sink, and a bathtub/shower combo. There were individually packaged hand soap, shampoo, and conditioner available, though they weren't particularly noteworthy.

Though I didn't really use it, there was free, standard Wi-Fi service and the cell phone reception was good. There was no fridge and no mini bar, though a little ice bucket was set out. Due to COVID-19, the coffee maker had been removed from the room, too.

The room felt very clean and safe. In addition to the coffee maker, notepads, and magazines being removed, there were signs indicating that housekeeping staff was no longer staying overnight. Rigorous cleaning still took place every day, but it was also easy to opt-out of the daily room cleaning service and/or turn-down.

As mentioned, I stayed in an entry-level standard room, which was relatively small. I would not recommend it for a family of more than three, but it felt cozy and welcoming.

Be aware that while the hotel is right at the doorstep of the canyon, most of the rooms do not actually have great views. If seeing the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your bed is your primary objective, you'll need to book well in advance and be prepared to shell out for a suite starting around $635 per night for uninterrupted scenery. As a plus, the suites do also come with separate sitting areas and private porches, which helps make the cost feel more worth it.

Some reviewers mentioned that they booked a non-view room but lucked out at seeing bits of the Grand Canyon, so you could roll the dice or ask the front desk ahead of time for one of these rooms if available.

For families or couples who want more space than the standard rooms afford but don't need a full suite, Deluxe rooms start at $312 during the winter and have much more lounge room available. 

Compare room types and prices for El Tovar Hotel

Since the main attraction here is the outdoors, the bulk of this hotel is dedicated to rooms, though there are a few notable on-site amenities. Near the entrance is a gift shop, which is loaded up with goods from local artisans, books about the canyon, and a range of giftable souveneirs. There's also a tiny newsstand on the opposite side of the front entry lounge, which has a selection of snacks, toiletries, and other essentials.

El Tovar's most notable on-site amenity is its historic fine dining room, which is constructed from native stones and Oregon pine. Its decor is the very embodiment of a rustic Swiss chalet, only instead of snowcaps out the window, you'll get a picturesque glimpse of the multi-layered Grand Canyon. And when you're not gazing out the window, you can enjoy beautiful murals on the walls which depict customs from the Hopi, Apache, Mojave, and Navajo Native American tribes.

I enjoyed an elegant dining experience, complete with white linens and a menu with classics like Salmon tostada and Prime Rib Hash, as well as rotating specials. All dining was still done indoors, but during my visit, waiters were masked and maintained appropriate distance. Additionally, it was apparent that tables had been removed and separated to allow for proper distancing.

While the food was decent, I wasn't blown away, especially considering the cost. You're really paying for ambience, views, the convenience of not having to drive anywhere, and a home-cooked comfort meal. You can expect to pay about $125 for two entrees, an appetizer, and two glasses of wine, which is hefty for an okay meal.

That doesn't seem to deter most guests though, and it's a popular place to dine, especially since options are limited within the park. Many visitors staying at other nearby hotels even come to enjoy a meal with a view, so I recommend making reservations roughly a month in advance. They do take walk-ins on the day-of starting at 5 p.m., which can be hit or miss. You're more apt to get a seat this way during the off-season.

Anyone staying at El Tovar is coming for the views. In that sense, the greatest attraction is obviously the canyon itself. To really enjoy the national park during non-pandemic times, I recommend signing up for a guided bus tour. You won't be able to cover as much ground by foot, but during COVID-19 that is the safer option.

It's also absolutely worth walking around the Historic Village, of which El Tovar is a part. Explore the Grand Canyon Train Depot, the Lookout Studio, the Buckey O'Neill Cabin, and the Red Horse Cabin.

For the more adventurous-minded folks, consider taking a mule ride either down into the canyon itself or simply around the rim. Alternatively, you can book a rafting tour. This involves a scenic flight from the Grand Canyon Airport (just outside the park) to nearby Page, Arizona. For $465 per person, you'll also enjoy a guided tour of Antelope Canyon's breathtaking sandstone slots, a 15-mile smooth water float along the Colorado river, and two meals. 

Of course, there are also ample trails you can hike and explore for free, including a trail that goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon and starts right near the hotel.

Check flight prices to The Grand Canyon on Expedia

Arizona's iconic El Tovar has 3,600 reviews and a 4 out of 5-star rating on Trip Advisor. On the site it's also voted the top hotel at Grand Canyon National Park. Guests commented on its incredible views, its authentic aesthetic, and its cleanliness. Primary complaints were about the small size of the room and some awkward layouts, the cost compared to value, and apathetic staff.

On Expedia.com, El Tovar received a 4.1 out of 5 stars with about 600 reviews. Again, guests were most pleased with the location, views, and its historic charm. Others also commented on the comfortable beds. Chief complaints include unfriendly or unhelpful staff and the pricing. Some recent reviewers speculated that COVID-19 might have something to do with the hotel losing some of its "mystique" and the less-than-desirable service, since staff is lower than usual.

Read reviews, compare prices, and book El Tovar Hotel on TripAdvisor

Who stays here: Because of its location, El Tovar attracts families and couples of all age groups interested in exploring this natural wonder. 

We like: The history of this iconic hotel has been prioritized and maintained in its century-plus existence. The restaurant was also a nice place for drinks and dinner and a satisfying way to spend the evening, despite the high price.

We love: The location. Mere footsteps from the canyon, in the mornings and evenings you essentially feel like you have the canyon to yourself. Take advantage of your proximity with coffee at sunrise or a sunset stroll.

We think you should know: Finding a place to park was tricky since there's technically no on-site parking. While parking is free, come with the expectation that you might need to circle for a bit. 

We'd do this differently next time: If I were doing a longer stay, I would splurge for a spacious, mid-tier Deluxe room.

The hotel has strict new COVID-19 policies in place and adhered to them throughout my stay. Some of the new safety measures include:

  • Staff gets daily temperature checks
  • Cleaning measures are enforced, including sanitization of hard surfaces in rooms and shared public spaces. The cleaning products and techniques used follow EPA guidelines.
  • Hand sanitizer is located throughout.
  • Certain in-room amenities have been removed, including coffee makers, notepads, and magazines
  • Housekeeping staff is no longer staying overnight
  • All employees are trained on COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols. Those working in housekeeping, food and beverage, hotel operations, and security are getting more comprehensive training, as well

Living in Arizona, I can tell you that not every store, restaurant, and hotel abides by the COVID protocols they put in place, but at El Tovar it was clear they were being careful. During my stay, it also appeared like guests were following protocol. Masks were worn by staff and guests, in-store limits were imposed (and abided by), and the dining hall had been "made over" to make for a safer experience. 

If you're looking for a stay at the Grand Canyon, El Tovar is one of your best options. It boasts historic charm, sweeping views, and a cozy atmosphere. The price is what you'd expect for a three-star hotel located steps away from a natural world wonder, but there are discounts to be found in the winter season.

While the dining room and common areas have excellent views and the Grand Canyon itself is just steps away, it's important to know that most rooms here don't actually directly overlook the canyon. Unless you plan to spring for a top-tier suite or luck out, expect to wake up to a parking lot.

That said, most guests don't come here to spend the day in their room. The obvious draw here is the easy access to the park and its ample trails and outdoor offerings. In that regard, El Tovar delivers in spades since it's impossible to stay any closer.

Additionally, the hotel is currently adhering to strict COVID-19 guidelines that made me feel very safe throughout my stay. As someone who lives in Arizona and frequently has guests looking to visit the Grand Canyon, I'll certainly be recommending this hotel to those looking to do more than a day trip.    

Book El Tovar starting at $189 per night

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