Julie United States 4 Comments

If you only have one day in the Grand Canyon, what should you do?

Grand Canyon National Park is enormous. With thousands of acres of land, four rims to visit, plus the option to hike below the rim, there is no way that you will get to everything in just one day.

However, with one day in the Grand Canyon, you have just enough time to see the highlights.

Since the Grand Canyon is so large and different travelers have different interests, we have several itineraries to choose from. Whether you are visiting the Grand Canyon on a quick day trip or have a full day to spend here, get suggestions on the best things to do with your time. 

We have visited the Grand Canyon multiple times over the past 20 years. Tim and I recently hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim (North Rim to South Rim) and Tyler and I have hiked the Grand Canyon South Rim to South Rim. We have been here during the hot summer months and during the busy Christmas holiday season. We have lots of great information to share with you.

Let’s get started.

Quick Facts About the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in the United States. It’s busy all year but the biggest crowds will be here between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

There are 1.2 million acres of land inside of Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River has been at work for 5 to 6 million years, carving out this canyon. For 277 miles, this river twists and turns along the canyon floor.

On a visit to the Grand Canyon, you can take in the sweeping views from the canyon rim, or, journey below the rim on foot or by mule. With more time, you can raft the Colorado River.

But first, before you decide what to do in the Grand Canyon, you have to decide which part of the park to visit.

Which Rim Should You Visit?

It is easiest to think about the Grand Canyon in four sections: the South Rim, the North Rim, Grand Canyon East and Grand Canyon West. Here is an overview of each of these sections.

Sections of Grand Canyon

The South Rim

When you see photos of the Grand Canyon, most likely, these were taken on the South Rim.

For 32 miles, you can drive, hike, or bike along the South Rim, visiting dozens of spectacular viewpoints. For those looking for more adventure, journey below the rim on foot on one of several trails that start on the South Rim.

South Rim View

The South Rim is the most popular area of the park to visit. This is where you will find Grand Canyon Village and its large collection of hotels and lodges, restaurants, and shops. Just a short drive from Grand Canyon Village is Tusayan, a small town that also makes a handy home base for exploring the South Rim.

Because of its amenities and jaw-dropping views, the South Rim is the best section of the park to visit if you only have one day in the Grand Canyon.

The North Rim

Located on the opposite side of the Colorado River is the North Rim. From this rim, you get very similar, sweeping views of the canyon. There are several viewpoints to visit and a few hiking trails to explore.

North Rim Grand Canyon

This part of the Grand Canyon is a beautiful place to visit, but with less to do and its remote location, it’s not the best option if you have just one day in the Grand Canyon.

Pro Travel Tip: Due to its remote location and high elevation, the North Rim is only open from mid-May through mid-October.

Grand Canyon East

Grand Canyon East encompasses a large area of land that sits to the east of the Grand Canyon. It is not officially part of Grand Canyon National Park. In this area, you will find Antelope Canyon, Marble Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and other sites in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

This is a beautiful area to visit but you will not get the iconic Grand Canyon views from Grand Canyon East.

Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon West’s claim to fame is the Skywalk, a glass walkway that is perched high above the floor of the canyon. For those visiting Las Vegas, this is most accessible part of the Grand Canyon to visit. But is it worth it?

In our opinion…no. We visited the Skywalk in 2018. For our family of four, we paid almost $300 for this experience. And the views in Grand Canyon West do not even come close to those on the South Rim or North Rim.

Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk is located on the Hualapi Native American Reservation and it is not officially part of Grand Canyon National Park.

Winner: The South Rim

If you only have one day in the Grand Canyon, we recommend visiting the South Rim. With its breathtaking views, an assortment of hiking trails, lots of cool activities to keep kids happy, and a large number of hotels and restaurants to choose from, it’s hard to beat the South Rim.

Skip Grand Canyon West and its overpriced Skywalk, skip Grand Canyon East because you won’t get the iconic canyon views, and only visit the North Rim if you will be out that way during the summer months.

One Day in the Grand Canyon: Best Things to Do

If you have one day in the Grand Canyon, here are the best things to do on the South Rim.

Visit the Viewpoints

There are dozens of viewpoints along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Each one of these viewpoints offers a spectacular view, but some viewpoints are just better than others. Some offer panoramic vistas, some are less crowded, and some make fantastic sunrise and sunset destinations.

There are three sections to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: Desert View Road, Grand Canyon Village, and Hermit Road, all stretching along 32 miles of road. Along these roads are dozens of spectacular viewpoints to visit. With one day in the Grand Canyon, there is no way that will get to all of them. And honestly, they do start to blend together after you see a bunch of them.

Here is a narrowed down list of the best South Rim viewpoints.

Near Grand Canyon Village

To get between these viewpoints, you can walk the Rim Trail or take the shuttle (Kaibab Rim Route, orange line).

  • Mather Point – most popular viewpoint on the South Rim; expect huge crowds and decent views
  • Yavapai Point – panoramic views with less crowds than Mather Point
  • Yaki Point – Stunning views of the Grand Canyon and you can see the South Kaibab Trail weaving its way to the Colorado River
  • Ooh Aah Point – located on the South Kaibab Trail and it is one of our favorite viewpoints of the Grand Canyon

Yaki Point

Yaki Point

Along Hermit Road

Hermit Road is 7 miles long. From March 1 to November 30 you must take the Grand Canyon Shuttle (red line). During the winter months, you can drive to the viewpoints but parking can be limited.

  • Powell Point – jaw-dropping views with outcroppings of rock that make great photo spots
  • Mohave Point – more amazing views; there are several different photo spots that offer slightly different views
  • Pima Point – another great location for panoramic views of the Grand Canyon

Powell Point Sunrise

Powell Point (and yes, Tim is wearing a Santa hat)

Along Desert View Road

The Grand Canyon Shuttle does not travel to these viewpoints so you will need a car. This road is 25 miles long. If you are entering or leaving the Grand Canyon through the east entrance (for example, if you are also visiting Page, Arizona or Monument Valley), you can visit these viewpoints as you drive to/from Grand Canyon Village.

  • Shoshone Point – Great spot to leave the crowds behind; short hike to the viewpoint
  • Grand View Point – The name says it all
  • Moran Point – Explore the rocky outcroppings to find your favorite photo spot
  • Desert View Point – Easternmost viewpoint on the South Rim; climb the watchtower for 360° views

Desert View

Desert View Point

For a full list of the viewpoints, with photos from each of them, take a look at our post about the Best Viewpoints on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Walk the Rim Trail

The Rim trail is a flat, mostly paved trail that heads along the edge of the rim. It is 13 miles (21 km) long, stretching from Hermit’s Rest to the South Kaibab trailhead. As you walk this trail, you can see the viewpoints from Hermit Road and near Grand Canyon Village.

You can walk all or just a part of the South Rim Trail, using the shuttle to hop your way down the trail.

Go for a Bike Ride along Hermit Road

Touring Hermit Road by bicycle is one of the best family friendly things to do in the Grand Canyon. You can visit the viewpoints on your own schedule and it’s much quicker than walking the entire 7 miles.

Bright Angel Bicycles has a package where you can rent bicycles for one day. With their Hermit Shuttle Package, you cycle from Hopi Point to Hermit’s Rest. A shuttle transports you back to the Grand Canyon Village so you do not have to bike 14 miles round trip. This is a great option for families with kids and those who do not want a long bike trip.

Hike Below the Rim

One of the best ways to experience the Grand Canyon is to go below the rim. There are two trails that start near the Grand Canyon Village, the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail.

Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail is a very popular trail. It is easily accessible, starting right in the Grand Canyon Village. This trail starts on the rim and ends at the Bright Angel Campground near the Colorado River. It is 9.5 miles long and descends 4380 feet.

Bright Angel

Bright Angel Trail

With one day in the Grand Canyon, I don’t recommend hiking the entire Bright Angel Trail, since this will take the majority of the day. Here are four shorter day hike options.

1.5 Mile Resthouse: Distance: 3 miles round-trip. You will rapidly descend from the rim on a switchback trail. The view is good, but honestly, it’s not spectacular. Much of the Bright Angel Trail descends through a canyon, so you don’t get those sweeping views like you get from the rim. This hike is more about the experience going below the rim than having a stunning view.

3 Mile Resthouse: 6 miles round-trip. Descend further into the canyon. The views do not change much from the 1.5 Mile Resthouse hike.

Hiking Trail Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail between 3 Mile Resthouse and Indian Garden

Indian Garden: 9 miles round-trip. Just past 3 Mile Resthouse, the trail “levels out.” You are still walking downhill, but at a lower grade than on the first part of this hike. Indian Garden is a small campground with water. The NPS website recommends going no farther than this point in the summer.

Plateau Point: 12 miles round-trip. At Indian Garden, take the Plateau Point Trail to Plateau Point for a stunning view over the Colorado River.

Visit the national park website for more information on these hikes.

Pro Travel Tip: Hiking down the Bright Angel Trail is going to be a lot faster and a lot easier than hiking back up. Make sure you start early in the day, bring plenty of salty food and water, and plan to give yourself plenty of time for the return hike back up to the rim. If this is your first time hiking, especially during the summer months, consider turning around at 1.5 Mile Resthouse or 3 Mile Resthouse.

South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail also starts on the rim and ends at the Colorado River. It is shorter and steeper than the Bright Angel Trail (it’s 7 miles long with 4800 feet of elevation loss). It is also more spectacular, in my opinion. There is a lot more exposure on the trail, which gives you expansive, jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon.

Here are day hike ideas for the South Kaibab Trail.

Ooh Aah Point: 1.8 miles round trip. Amazing viewpoint! Tyler and I were here at sunrise and this is one of my favorite spots in the Grand Canyon. It’s a very steep descent to get here (and a hefty climb back up to the rim later in the day) but it’s worth it for this view.

Ooh Aah Point

South Kaibab Trail

Cedar Ridge: 3 miles round-trip. Enjoy more ever changing views as you descend farther into the canyon.

Skeleton Point: 6 miles round trip. The NPS website recommends going no farther than this point as a day hike. From here, it’s still a very long ways to go until you reach the Colorado River.

Visit the national park website for more information on these hikes.

Bright Angel or South Kaibab? If you only have time for one trail, without a doubt, the winner is the South Kaibab. The views are much better and this trail tends to be a little bit less crowded, since you have to take a shuttle bus to get here. For most of the hike on the Bright Angel Trail you are in a canyon, so you don’t get the same expansive views like you do on the South Kaibab Trail.

Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails in One Day

Even though the National Park Service discourages it, it is possible to hike from the South Rim to the South Rim in one day. But this is not a decision to be made lightly.

The entire round-trip hike is 16.5 miles with a massive descent at the beginning and nearly a mile of elevation gain at the end. This is a long hike with a huge amount of elevation changes. During the summer months, this becomes a very dangerous hike.

I would only attempt this hike if you are very fit and have lots of hiking experience. This is not a hike for newbie hikers and weekend warriors. But, if you are fit and fast and are looking for epic way to spend one day in the Grand Canyon, this is a hike to consider.

Rim to River to Rim Hike

Tyler on the South Kaibab Trail, below Skeleton Point

Watch the Grand Canyon IMAX Movie

This is a great, low-key activity to add to your list of things to do. In the IMAX theater in the Visitor Center, you can watch 34-minute movie about the Grand Canyon. It’s not quite as thrilling as seeing the Grand Canyon from the viewpoints or hiking below the rim, but this makes a great midday activity to do during the summer, since you can escape the heat in the air-conditioned theater. Learn more here.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Flight

A Grand Canyon helicopter tour can be a thrilling way to experience the awe-inspiring views and stunning beauty that the Grand Canyon has to offer. This allows you to see parts of the Grand Canyon that you cannot see from the South Rim viewpoints.

You can take a flight that starts and ends on the South Rim. There are also options to take a helicopter flight from Las Vegas over the South Rim. This is a lot pricier, but if you are short on time, this is an unforgettable way to experience the Grand Canyon.

Yavapai Museum of Geology

Learn about the history and formation of the Grand Canyon in this museum which is located in the historic Yavapai Observation Station. It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so it makes a nice activity to do midday. Plus, you can enjoy another stunning view across the Grand Canyon from the large picture windows.

Walk the Trail of Time

The Trail of Time is a short walk (1.7 miles) that is actually a portion of the Rim Trail. It starts at the Verkamp’s Visitor Center and ends at the Yavapai Geological Museum. Along the way are 13 information panels that explain the geological history of the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise, Sunset and Star Gazing in the Grand Canyon

From one of many viewpoints, watch as the sun rises over the Grand Canyon, lighting it up in warm hues of reds, pinks, and oranges. Or, at the end of the day, behold the view as the sun descends toward the horizon, washing the canyon in warm light and making it glow just before nightfall.

At sunrise, Hopi Point, Yavapai Point, Mather Point, and Mohave Point are all popular. I think that Ooh Aah Point is gorgeous at sunrise.

At sunset, if you want to get away from the crowds, try Shoshone Point (the view may not be quite as stunning as Yavapai or Hopi but the hike to get here will keep the viewpoint quiet) or one of the other viewpoints on Desert View Road. These also make great places to go stargazing once the sun sets.

One Day in the Grand Canyon Itinerary Suggestions

“One day” in the Grand Canyon can mean a lot of different things. Will you just be passing through quickly, like the Griswalds in National Lampoons Vacation? Or will you have more time…a full day in the park, maybe even an overnight stay?

Depending on how much time you have in the Grand Canyon, here are our suggestions on great ways to spend your time.

Grand Canyon Day Trip

With Just a Few Hours

The first time we visited the Grand Canyon was on a day trip. Tim and I flew from Maryland to Phoenix, Arizona, had lunch in Sedona, and we arrived at the Grand Canyon in the early afternoon. We spent a few hours visiting the viewpoints on the South Rim before driving to Las Vegas. It was a very long day and I’ll never forget my first view of the Grand Canyon.

If you will be driving past the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and only have a few hours to spend, I recommend putting your time into visiting the viewpoints. Pick one section of the South Rim. The viewpoints around Grand Canyon Village are the easiest to visit, since you will park here and can easily get around by shuttle. If you are driving to/from Grand Canyon East, visit the viewpoints along Desert View Drive. And finally, if you have a little more time, hike, bike, or take the shuttle along Hermit Road.

Mohave Point Sunrise

Mohave Point

With A Half Day in the Grand Canyon

If you have more than just a few hours, visit one section of viewpoints and then hike a short distance below the rim. My top pick is the short hike out to Ooh Aah Point. It’s only 1.8 miles round trip. From Ooh Aah Point you are treated to sweeping views of the Grand Canyon, a much different perspective than what you get standing on the rim.

How to do this: Park at the Grand Canyon visitor center. Get your first view of the Grand Canyon at Mather Point. Ride the shuttle (orange line) to Yavapai Point. Once finished, ride the shuttle (orange line) to Yaki Point. Enjoy the view, and then walk or ride the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Do the round trip hike to Ooh Aah Point and then ride the shuttle back to the Visitor Center.

Grand Canyon Day Trip from Las Vegas

It is possible to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a day trip from Las Vegas, but it will either be a very long day or a very expensive day.

It takes about 4.5 hours to drive from Las Vegas to the South Rim. So, that’s 9 hours in your car. Doable? Yes. Worth it? Maybe not.

If you can, spend one night at the Grand Canyon to give yourself more time.

But if it does sound worth it, here is a highly rated tour from Las Vegas that also includes a quick photo stop at Hoover Dam. 

If 9 hours in a car sounds crazy, but you still want those South Rim views, you can take a helicopter tour from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. These day trips take about 7 to 9 hours and cost roughly $500 per person, but you get amazing aerial views of the Grand Canyon plus a little bit of time on the South Rim. Get more information in our post about Grand Canyon helicopter tours.

One Full Day in the Grand Canyon

If you have one full day in the Grand Canyon, here are two suggestions on how to spend your time, depending on the type of traveler you are. Plan to spend at least one night at the Grand Canyon, but two nights is ideal, since it allows you to experience the Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset.

Grand Canyon Highlights

Sunrise: Watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon from one of the viewpoints on the South Rim or from Ooh Aah Point on the South Kaibab Trail.

Mid-Morning: Hike out to Ooh Aah Point (if you did not do that yet) or walk the Rim Trail.

Midday: Have lunch. Take a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon (midday is the best time for photography). Or, watch the IMAX movie in Tusayan or visit the Yavapai Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village.

Afternoon: Walk, bike, or take the shuttle to the viewpoints along Hermit Road.

Evening: Have dinner. Watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon.

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon with kids: This itinerary works well. I recommend the IMAX movie (over the helicopter flight or Geology Museum) since it’s a nice, low-key activity to do midday.

Hike South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

For Hikers and Adventurous Travelers

If you like hiking, I recommend putting the majority of your time into a day hike. Hike out to Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail for panoramic views of the Grand Canyon. Or, hike the Bright Angel Trail out to Plateau Point. The views along the Bright Angel Trail are nice, but in my opinion, the South Kaibab Trail is the better of the two.

If you are very fit and fast, consider hiking the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. It’s a big day, but you get see the Grand Canyon from the rim and the Colorado River. It is truly an unforgettable experience.

Pro Travel Tip: If you like the idea of going rim-to-rim, it’s absolutely worth it to add an extra day to your time in the Grand Canyon to do this hike. Most people do it in two days, spending the night at Bright Angel Campground near the Colorado River. Hiking from rim to river to rim in the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite national park experiences of all time. Learn more in our guide on the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails.

Colorado River Grand Canyon

Colorado River

How to Get Around the South Rim

Several shuttles that operate in and near Grand Canyon Village. You will use these shuttles to get around the South Rim.

Map of GC Village

In Grand Canyon Village, there is a large parking lot that is open for day trippers and those coming in from Tusayan. On the park map, you will see other parking lots, but these spaces are reserved for visitors who are spending the night in one of the lodges and for staff members.

Pro Travel Tip: The parking lot near the visitor center fills up fast!! Plan on getting here by 9 am in order to get a spot.

From the visitor center, there are three different shuttle lines. To get around the park, you will use the orange and blue lines. If you are staying in Tusayan, the purple shuttle connects Tusayan with the visitor center (this is a seasonal shuttle and does not operate during the winter months).

To visit Hermit Road, take the blue shuttle to the Village Route Transfer station to transfer to the red line.

If you are staying at a hotel in Tusayan, leave your car parked at your hotel and ride the free shuttle (purple line) into the park.

The shuttles are free and you can ride them as much as you need to. Click here to learn more.

When to Go

The Grand Canyon can be visited year round. Peak season is during the summer months and during the holiday seasons of Easter and Christmas. During these times, expect large crowds, traffic jams to enter the park, and hotels booked to capacity.

Spring and fall are great times to visit the park. The weather is pleasant and the park isn’t overly crowded.

From June through September, expect hot conditions and large crowds.

Winter is the off-season. Crowds will be low, but so will the temperatures. Snow is a possibility, but that will only make the Grand Canyon look more magical.

Where to Stay

There are five hotels located in the Grand Canyon Village (El Tovar, Thunderbird Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, and Maswick Lodge). Staying here gives you the advantage of easy access to the shuttles, short walks to several of the viewpoints, and no hassles driving into and out the park every day. However, the hotels get mediocre reviews and many people say they are expensive for what you get.

Click here to view the lodges and get updated pricing. These hotels fill up very far in advance. Make your reservations 4 – 6 months in advance.

You also have the option to stay in Tusayan. From Tusayan, it is a 15-minute drive into the park. There are several hotels to choose from as well as some restaurants.

We stayed at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan. It is the highest rated hotel in the area. The hotel looks impressive from the outside and the lobby is very nice but the rooms are nothing special. On Booking.com it is listed as a 5-star hotel but it looks and feels a lot more like a 3 to 4 star hotel. However, the rooms are clean and quiet and fit our needs.

The Best Western and the Holiday Inn Express are two more hotels to try in Tusayan.

View over Bright Angel Trail

Practical Information

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The entrance fee is $35 and is valid for 7 days. This fee also includes the visit to the North Rim.

Pro Travel Tip: Check for trail closures, road closures, and get important updates before your visit on the official national park website.

More Information about the Grand Canyon:

 

Visit More National Parks:

If you are planning to spend one day in the Grand Canyon and have any questions, comment below!

 

One Day Grand Canyon Travel

Grand Canyon One Day Itinerary

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 4

  1. This is so detailed, thorough, informative, helpful and easy-to read! I especially love your personal experiences and beautiful photos. My son and I just got back from a road trip that included 5 national parks, and a few national monuments and state parks. We had 2 half-days at the Grand Canyon. The first was spent stopping at viewpoints along the South rim east of Mather point, ending up at Mather point for the sunset. The next half day was spent hiking partway down Bright Angel Trail. We didn’t get as far as we wanted because there was a thunderstorm, it started raining and we weren’t prepared for the weather. Next time we want to try your favorite South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point (I love that name!). Thanks for all the great info on the Grand Canyon. I look forward to reading your other articles,too!

    1. Post
      Author
    1. Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *