Last Updated on January 17, 2024 by Kelly
The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, and you might be wondering, “Is it worth visiting if I only have one day to see it?” The short answer is, YES, it’s absolutely worth visiting the Grand Canyon for even one day! You can see many of the most famous sites at the Grand Canyon in just one day. In this post, we’re sharing our one-day itinerary for making the most of a single day at the Grand Canyon.
As any traveler knows, sometime there are “travel fails” along the way. We had originally scheduled two days to be at the Grand Canyon, but because of car troubles during our trip, we had to cut one day out. We were left with just one day to see everything we wanted to see. But the truth is, we accomplished a lot in that one day! We left the Grand Canyon without any major regrets. Now we can share our itinerary with you, because we know firsthand that it can be done! (Even with a toddler!)
First, Make Hotel Reservations for Your Itinerary
First things first. How much you’ll be able to accomplish in one day at the Grand Canyon will greatly depend on where you are staying. If at all possible, we recommend that you book two nights at a hotel within the Grand Canyon Village so you can have one full day at the canyon to see all there is to see. We wrote a comprehensive post on where to stay at the Grand Canyon in order to save you time researching.
For a one-day itinerary, you can maximize your time by staying at one of the hotels in the Grand Canyon Village. The Grand Canyon Village is actually located within Grand Canyon National Park. (Because they’re already within the park, you won’t have to wait in line at the park entrance in the morning.)
The next nearest town with accommodations is Tusayan, which is about a 15 minute drive away. But, depending on the season, you might have to wait in a long line at the park entrance. You could easily save 20+ minutes in the morning by staying in the Grand Canyon Village.
For the itinerary we created below, the two hotels that are closest to the major points of interest within the Grand Canyon are the Bright Angel Lodge and El Tovar Hotel.
One-Day Itinerary for the Grand Canyon South Rim
Here it is, our one-day itinerary at the Grand Canyon!
This itinerary is completely do-able. We saw other “one-day itineraries” on other websites online, and the problem was, none of them were even remotely realistic. They were packed with helicopter tours, mule rides, rafting trips, multiple hikes, visitor centers, and park programming. The one-day itinerary we describe below can truly be accomplished in a single day.
We completed this itinerary ourselves with a toddler, so we are very confident that you’ll be able to do just as much, and likely more, than we did! We edited this itinerary just slightly to add some evening options (dinner, drinks, and star gazing). Because we were traveling with our young daughter, we ended our day earlier for bedtime. (If you know, you know.)
Overview of Our Grand Canyon Itinerary
|Wake up and get ready
|Breakfast (at hotel or whichever restaurant is closest to you in Grand Canyon Village)
|Go to the Village Transfer Route shuttle stop (red line) to complete the Rim Trail. Be sure to see Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, and Hermits Rest.
|Lunch at Fred Harvey Tavern at the Bright Angel Lodge. Visit the Bright Angel Lodge’s Historic Room.
|Walk 10 minutes to Hopi House
|Take the shuttle to Mather Point (or walk along the canyon rim for approximately 1 hour)
|Visit the Grand Canyon Visitor Center
|Take the shuttle or walk 16 minutes to the Yavapai Museum of Geology. The Trail of Time access point is here. Complete the Trail of Time (walking westward) until you reach the Grand Canyon Village. (Approximately 1 hour of walking.)
|Dinner reservations at El Tovar’s Dining Room
|Walk over to the canyon rim to watch the sunset. (Check your weather app or ask a park ranger for specific sunset time depending on time of year you visit.)
|Have a nightcap and/or dessert at the El Tovar Lounge.
|If you have energy for a late night and if weather conditions are good, you can walk to Mather Point for stargazing. Otherwise, return to your hotel and have a solid night’s rest!
Morning at the Grand Canyon
You’ll want to wake up early so you can get a good start to your day and beat some of the crowds. (And if you go during the summer, you will also beat some of the heat!) While most park guests will flock to the visitor center and Mather Point first thing in the morning, we recommend that you see the Rim Trail via the Hermit Road shuttle. The red-line shuttle has 9 scenic viewpoints along the canyon rim that will give you some seriously epic views of the canyon before you. And because you are there in the morning, there will be much less people at each of the view points.
To maximize time, we suggest visiting 5 of the 9 stops. The ones we recommend are Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, and Hermits Rest. Those were just our arbitrary favorites. Feel free to ask a park ranger and customize the stops you want to see! We wrote an in-depth post on the Rim Trail, the overlooks, and how to use the shuttle.
An important thing to note is that there are vault toilets at Hopi Point and Hermits Rest. If you’d like a mid-morning snack, there’s also a snack counter at Hermits Rest that sells sandwiches and cookies.
We spent approximately three hours completing this activity because we wanted to get back in time for lunch. (And I am sure you will too!)
Afternoon at the Grand Canyon
During the afternoon, you’ll spend time in the Grand Canyon Village. When you disembark from the shuttle, you will be close to Bright Angel Lodge, so we recommend dining there for lunch. The Bright Angel Lodge is a national historic landmark. In addition to getting some good food, you should stop by the History Room to see some cool artifacts from some of the early pioneers. The fireplace in the History Room is also meant to replicate the rock layers of the Grand Canyon.
From the Bright Angel Lodge, it’s just a 10 minute walk to the Hopi House. Architect Mary Colter was tasked with creating an “Indian Arts Building”. She modeled the building after traditional dwellings of a Hopi village that were 1,000 years old.
After visiting Hopi House, it’s time to visit Mather Point. (This is probably one of the most famous viewpoints of the Grand Canyon South Rim.) You can either walk along the canyon rim to reach it (approximately one hour from Hopi House), or you can easily take the shuttle. There will undoubtedly be a lot of tourists there, but there is a large viewing area and you are sure to get great photos.
After visiting Mather Point, step into the nearby Visitor Center.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.
Evening at the Grand Canyon
You can then walk or take the shuttle to the nearby Yavapai Museum of Geology. (If you’re ahead of schedule, feel free to pop-in if it’s open to look around!) Right next to the Yavapai Geology Museum is the entrance to the Trail of Time. This is a trail you do not want to miss. It was one of the highlights of our entire road trip!
The Trail of Time is an interpretive trail right along the canyon rim that will give you a visceral sense of the Grand Canyon’s geological history. Each meter along the trail represents one million years in time! Throughout the trail, there are bronze markers embedded in the path that will teach you about the canyon’s timeline. There are also examples of the layers of rock along the trail. It’s also a paved trail and it is ADA accessible. We had no problem taking our stroller for this part of the journey. And if you are walking this path in the early evening like we did, it’s likely that you are seeing the Grand Canyon during golden hour. (The best!) We wrote an in-depth blog post on the Trail of Time.
After completing the Trail of Time, you’ll probably be ready for dinner. We recommend that you make dining reservations at the El Tovar Dining Room. This is a rustic hotel and you will definitely feel like a luxury experience within the national park. There is a dress code there, so you may need to stop by your hotel room and change before dinner. (Another advantage to staying at the El Tovar Hotel for this itinerary.) Formal attire is not required, but flip-flops and shorts are discouraged. Most guests wear business casual. At the time of this writing, prices for an entree range from $14 (mediterranean entree salad) to $47.50 (peppercorn crusted prime filet).
If the timing is right, you might want to take a short walk to the canyon rim to enjoy the sunset. (When we went in June, the sunset was around 7:50pm.) Stay awhile and enjoy the magnificent views as you contemplate your day. The incredible thing about the Grand Canyon is that it looks completely different throughout the day, and you’ll see much more red tones during the sunset.
Late Night at the Grand Canyon
If you’re up for it, you can walk back to the El Tovar Lounge for a night cap and dessert. Just looking at the menu, we would want to try the Grand Canyon Mule cocktail and the Homestyle Apple Streusel Pie.
And if you have energy after that (and if weather conditions are good), walk over to the rim one last time to do some star gazing.
What if you have two days at the Grand Canyon?
If you completed our epic one-day itinerary above, you are probably already feeling pretty happy about your trip to the Grand Canyon. With a second day, you’ll have the opportunity to add in some pretty unique experiences. Here’s a list of a few add-ons if you have another half-day or full day at the Grand Canyon:
Ride a Mule
When we think of the Grand Canyon, we think of mules walking down a dusty trail. Did you know that you can book a mule trip down to the canyon? They sell out quickly, so be sure to make your reservation ahead of time! There are some restrictions for riders (age, height, and weight), so be sure to inquire when you make reservations. You can purchase a two-hour mule ride that will take you along the canyon rim. There is also a lottery for the chance to take a mule down to Phantom Ranch, which has a dining room on the canyon floor. What a unique experience!
Raft the Colorado River
Rafting trips are currently closed due to covid at the time of this writing, but be sure to see if they are open when you plan to make your trip. They offer some smooth water tours that are sure to give you a completely different view of the canyon! If you have never been whitewater rafting before, this is your time to try it! I have very fond memories of my first rafting experience at Glacier National Park with my family when I was 15 years old. The memories will last a lifetime!
Desert View Drive
If you have a vehicle, follow Desert View Drive toward the East Entrance of the park. There are tons of places to pullover and get a great view of the canyon. Many of them are unnamed pullouts. You might want to drive slow so you can spontaneously decide to pull over whenever you see one. These lookouts tend to be less crowded than the ones near Grand Canyon Village, so you will likely have a more secluded and intimate experience.
Here are some cool points of interest along the drive:
This point is furthest from the Colorado River, so there are plenty of buttes and ravines to look at from the viewpoint. If you have time, this is also the access point to the Grandview Trail. (It is 12.5 miles long and recommended for experienced hikers.)
The point is named after Thomas Moran who helped to make the Grand Canyon famous with his paintings. Moran’s first trip to the canyon was in 1873. Much of his artwork is currently owned by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. At the point, you will see colorful layers that make up the canyon.
Tusayan Museum and Ruin
Currently closed due to covid at the time of this writing, but we hope it hopes soon! When you visit, you’ll be able to see the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village. The museum holds artifacts that are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old! It’s important to learn about the indigenous people of the area during your visit.
If you’re interested in seeing the Colorado River, Lipan Point will give you the best view of the river winding its way through the canyon. You might even be able to hear the water rushing through Hance Rapid, which is nearly four miles away from Lipan Point.
From Navajo Point, you will be able to see Desert View Watchtower from a distance. Navajo Point is also a popular place to watch the sunset. This is also the highest of the viewpoints along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, so you are guaranteed a great view of the canyon.
Desert View Watchtower
Mary Colter, who was also the architect behind Bright Angel Lodge, created the Desert View Watchtower to honor the Ancestral Puebloan towers. It’s not a perfect copy of any singular tower she saw in the southwest, but rather a blend of many of the designs she witnessed.
Within the tower is the Kiva Room, which was first created to be a rest area for guests. She intentionally built a round fireplace in the center of the room so that the fireplace would not block any of the views of the canyon. She also created an observation area on the top floor of the watchtower.
Get an aerial view of the canyon when you book a helicopter tour! You will fly over the Kaibab National Forest, South Rim, and Colorado River. The tour is approximately 45 minutes long and departs from Grand Canyon National Park Airport. At the time of this writing, it costs $299 per person.
What to Bring to the Grand Canyon (Packing List)
You’ll want to bring a pair of binoculars to see all of the details across the canyon and on the canyon floor. You’ll also want to bring an insulated water bottle to keep your water cool for as long as possible. Sun protection is important, so bring your favorite sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. To take some epic photos of the canyon behind you, be sure to bring a selfie stick. Finally, bring a first-aid kit to carry in your day pack. If you only have one day at the Grand Canyon, you don’t want to slow it down because of a blister!
Tips for the Grand Canyon
Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’re going to be walking all day long, and you don’t want a blister to slow you down! Don’t wear new shoes or flip flops. Wear a pair of shoes that have been broken in. I wore a pair of Teva Sandals during our trip and they were super comfortable. When I go for a longer hike, I like to wear Columbia Hiking Shoes. I’ve had my Columbia boots for years and they’ve held up well!
Bring lots of water. (More than you think you’ll need.) If it’s hot and if you’re engaging in exercise, you will need a lot of water. We like to bring insulated water bottles so that our water is nice and cool.
Bring lots of snacks. You’ll need a lot of energy for a full day at the Grand Canyon, so make sure that you are eating between meals.
Make sure your car is in good condition. If you hit a pothole (like we did) and need to fix a flat tire and broken wheel while at the Grand Canyon.
Dress in layers. The Grand Canyon has variable weather, and you will be outside all day. Make sure that you can comfortably switch between changing weather conditions. Be prepared for intense sun, rain, wind, or snow depending on the season!
Make sure your phone and camera are fully charged. (Nothing is worse than running out of battery and missing a good shot!) We like to bring a remote power bank just in case. Also make sure you have sufficient storage on both devices. (Learn from me!) Back up your photos regularly so you will not have to worry about losing or damaging your phone or camera.
Bring a pair of binoculars! We wish we would have had a set so we could have seen more of the canyon’s details.
Practice safety at the Grand Canyon. Do not feed the wildlife. (Most animal injuries are from feeding the squirrels!) Do not get closer than 6 feet to the canyon rim. (No photo is worth your safety!) Do not throw objects into the canyon. (You could hurt hikers or wildlife below.)
When out in nature, always follow Leave No Trace principles. Leave nature exactly as you found it. Do not take rocks or other objects home with you. (If everyone did that, what would be left?) Do not litter. Stay on marked trails to keep the delicate ecosystems safe.
Summary: One Day at the Grand Canyon
We spent one day at the Grand Canyon, and we were able to see many of the major sights in one day. If you only have one day, we recommend that you take the shuttle to Hermit’s Rest along the Rim Trail and that you hike the Trail of Time. We hope this post inspires you to visit the Grand Canyon, even if you’re short on time.
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please look up such information directly from each vendor or institution for the most current information.