grand canyon national park views

The Perfect Family Itinerary for One Day in the Grand Canyon + the 10 Best Sights

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Like many national parks, people will often say that the only way to experience all that the Grand Canyon has to offer is by spending multiple days at the park. But for most of us, that’s not possible. Or you might want to get your bearings, so you can decide if you want to plan a bigger, longer trip for another time. Whatever the reason, there is plenty to do if you have just one day in the Grand Canyon that will give you the best experience this park has to offer.

About the Grand Canyon National Park

It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and while scientists can’t pinpoint the exact age, they do know that the canyon spans almost 2,000 square miles. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most popular and heavily visited, and spans from Hermit Road (on the West Rim) to Desert View (on the East Rim). The North Rim is a bit higher in elevation, more heavily forested, and closes in the winter months.

When planning what to do in the Grand Canyon in one day, plan for either the North or the South Rim, as visiting both will be tough. Since most people choose the year-round South Rim, our list of the best sights and activities for one day in the Grand Canyon are all located at the South Rim.

Quick Facts

Grand Canyon National Park

Open dates/times: The South Rim is open year-round, 24 hours a day, but the North Rim closes in the winter months
Peak Season: June, July, and August are the busiest months; January and February have the lowest visitation
Temps: summer months are hot, with highs reaching over 100°; temps dip into the 50s-60s in the winter months
Visitor Numbers: it’s the second most popular national park, with nearly 6 million visitors in 2019
Closest Cities: Flagstaff, AZ is about 1.5 hours from the Grand Canyon; Phoenix is about a 4-hour drive
On-site Amenities: both lodging and restaurants are available within the park

10 Things to See and Do in One Day in the Grand Canyon

taking in the views of the Grand Canyon is one of the highlights of spending one day in the Grand Canyon
Taking in the unbelievable views is one of the highlights of spending one day in the Grand Canyon

1. Take in Epic Views on a Scenic Drive

Ride along the scenic Desert View Drive, making sure to stop at the viewpoints and overlooks to take in the views. In the winter months, this is an out-and-back drive from the Visitor Center when the East Entrance Station is closed. In the summer, make this your route into the park from Flagstaff.

2. Hike Into the Canyon

There is a lot of areas for hiking throughout the Grand Canyon National Park. These three popular hikes are just a few options for exploring more of the canyon. Stop by the visitor center or ask a ranger for additional recommendations for trails that are good when you only have one day in the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail

We chose the popular Bright Angel Trail for our one day in the Grand Canyon National Park. The trailhead is located at the Village, the western-most area of the park. Hikers descend into the canyon on a series of switchbacks.

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Use caution on this trail in the colder months, as ice builds up on the shaded areas of the trail. We experienced many hikers slipping and falling along sections of the trail where ice covered the full path. Your best bet for enjoying this famous hike in the off-season is to pack crampons to wear in the icy areas.

the halfway house on the Bright Angel Trail is a good distance for hiking when you have one day in the grand canyon
The halfway house is a perfect turnaround point for a short hike on the Bright Angel Trail

Rim Trail

This easy trail is a great hike for families with young kids or less experienced hikers. Hike just a portion of the 13-miles (each way), which is flat, wide, and paved.

South Kaibab Trail

The most difficult of the 3 trails is also the shortest at just 1.5 miles each way. Hikers are rewarded with the most spectacular views at Ooh Aah Point, about a mile into the trail.

3. Catch the Sunrise at Mather Point

Mather Point is one of the first overlooks you’ll come to once getting into the park, and is a perfect spot to see the sunrise over the canyon early in the morning. Hopi Point is another highly recommended spot for sunrises.

4. Learn About the Park at the Visitor Center

We always recommend a stop at the visitor center for any national park. It’s where you can learn more about the history of the park, the layout, and other things to do. You can also get recommendations and tips from the rangers, and pick up a few park souvenirs while you’re there (we collect stickers and Christmas ornaments!). If they are showing a film about the park, it’s always worth fitting that into your itinerary.

6. Visit the Desert View Watchtower

The scenic Desert View Drive runs from the Visitor Center to the East Entrance Station, where, just inside the park, is the Desert View Watchtower. The structure was designed by architect Mary Colter in the 1930s and stands tall over the canyon. The watchtower is filled with fascinating designs, including the Hopi Mural. April 2020 update: much of the Desert View area, including the watchtower, is closed due to COVID-19. Check the NPS website for the current status.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to access the Desert View Watchtower from the South Station Entrance in the winter months when the road to the East Entrance Station is closed for the season.

The Desert View Watchtower dates back to the 1930s and is filled with Southwestern-inspired design

7. Catch an Unforgettable Sunset

… and stay for some stargazing. If you can stretch your one day in the Grand Canyon into the evening hours, it’s there are some spectacular sights to see. After 3 years of provisional International Dark Sky status, the Grand Canyon was granted official certification in 2019, which almost guarantees you will see some impressive starry skies after dark.

8. Join an Organized Tour of the Park

The park offers guided tours on foot, bike, bus, Jeep, van, or mule. Check the NPS website for more information on tour options that work for one day in the Grand Canyon.

The popular Pink Jeep Adventure Tour offers 2 and 3-hour tours of the Grand Canyon, with stops at the most epic scenic views.

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Want to go really big? Try out a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon! There are a few different places that offer tours, such as the highly-rated Maverick Helicopters.

8. Yavapai Geology Museum

Geology lovers will love the exhibits, detailed topographic maps of the park, and interpretative panels that give visitors a much deeper understanding of the canyon’s geology. And the views from the museum are pretty incredible too.

The views from the Yavapai Geology Museum are incredible (photo courtesy of NPS)

9. Stroll Along the Trail of Time

While at the Yavapai Geology Museum, take a stroll along the 3-mile (flat and paved) Trail of Time to learn about the history of the canyon. Starting at the museum, you’ll walk back in history, from present to past. Want to start from the earliest days of history, from past to present? Start the walk at the Grand Canyon Village.

10. Ride the Grand Canyon Railway

Make your trip into the park part of the adventure, and skip the long lines into the park with a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. The train leaves Williams AZ daily. Click here to see the current schedule and make reservations.

Getting Around the Grand Canyon

There is a bit of distance between each area of the park. There are parking areas in each area, but in peak season you risk losing a spot once you move your car. The most efficient way around the park is by shuttle or bike.

A Suggested Itinerary for One Day in the Grand Canyon

Start with an early arrival so you can make sure to get good parking and avoid precious time just sitting in traffic to get into the park.

Park near the visitor center and take the short walk to Mather Point where, if you’re there early enough, you can catch the sunrise over the canyon. After Mather Point, spend some time at the Visitor Center area, where there are shops, museums, and cafes.

From there, you can head west to the Village. Get there via bike (rentals are available at the Visitor Center), shuttle, or car. (We recommend bike or shuttle on the extra busy days, since you may not get another parking spot if you move your car.

There are more shops to visit in the Village, if you have the time. We suggest taking a short hike on the Bright Angel trail. The halfway house in the canyon is a great turnaround point and spot for a picnic lunch.

If you can’t get there early, an afternoon arrival will set you up perfectly for sunsets and stargazing. Follow the same itinerary, but skip the sunset!

Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon National Park

Practice Leave No Trace principles. This includes proper disposal of trash, not feeding or disturbing wildlife (especially the social little rock squirrel, who isn’t at all shy about asking to share your snack – they DO bite!), and not taking anything home from the park, like rocks or flowers.

The sun is fierce at the Grand Canyon. Wear plenty of sunscreen, and bring enough to reapply throughout the day. Bring plenty of water for everyone in your group. The longer you’re there, the more you’ll need.

Get a park map from the ranger at the entrance to help you navigate the park.

Arrive early! The lines at the South Entrance Station start to get really long as early as 9 am. Click here for the park’s live webcam on the current line to get into the park! (Scroll down about 1/2 way through the page)

What to Pack for Your Visit to the Grand Canyon

Where to Stay When Visiting the Grand Canyon

Flagstaff, a nearby college town, is located just an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon. It’s a great place to be centrally located to other Arizona highlights, like Sedona, Jerome, and Winslow. National hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG brands, as well as many camping options.

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When Desert View Drive to the East Entrance Station of the park is closed in the winter months, Flagstaff is a little further drive than in the summers. For our late March visit with an RV, we opted for a stay at the KOA in Williams, AZ to take advantage of the short, easy drive into the park. There are also a number of 2- and 3-star lodging options in Williams, where a section of Historic Route 66 runs through town.

Just Outside the Park

Looking for a unique glamping experience? Under Canvas has a location nearby and is a short drive from the park in Grand Canyon Junction.

In the Park

While these can be tough to get in the busier months, it’s well worth a shot to stay right inside the park. Reserve a campsite or a room at one of the 5 lodges in the park. If you’re up for a real adventure and have more time to spend at the park, check out Phantom Ranch, located in the canyon and is accessible only by foot, mule, or raft.

The Best Places to Find Restaurants Around the Grand Canyon

We almost always pack up a picnic for our national and state park visits. If we don’t have a place to shop for and prep our lunch, we may even find a nearby sub shop for ready-made meals.

Restaurants in the Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is one of the national parks with everything you need right in the park, including food. Find pizza, sandwiches, snacks, coffee, and even a steakhouse in the park. There is also a small grocery store near one of the camping areas.

Where to Eat Outside of the Park

There are a handful of fast food options, like McDonald’s, less than an hour from the park in Grand Canyon Junction.

Other Things to do Around the Grand Canyon

When planning for what do you at the Grand Canyon in one day, consider additional time for some area highlights near the park.

Bearizona Wildlife Park

A highly rated, and often recommended, wildlife park in Williams AZ. The drive-thru park is fun for the kids and might be just what everyone needs after spending a full day walking around the national park.

Historic Route 66

Downtown Williams is also the home of a section of Historic Route 66. Visit the shops, restaurants, and historic sights along Route 66. The Route 66 Zipline is also right downtown.

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Flintstones Bedrock City

A bit of Saturday morning cartoon nostalgia sits in the middle of the desert, not far from the Grand Canyon, and is an easy addition to your one day in the Grand Canyon itinerary. But you’ll have to hurry because it’s rumored to close down soon!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is one day enough for the Grand Canyon?

While there are plenty of things to do at the Grand Canyon to fill a few days there, you can get the Grand Canyon experience in just one day. This is plenty of time for a short hike, spending time at the visitor center, and taking in the incredible views.

What is the best month to visit Grand Canyon?

The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is in the spring and fall months when the temps are cooler and the crowds are fewer. Try to avoid visiting in the summer months (June through August) when visitors battle high temperatures and a crowded park.

How much does it cost to visit the Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon National Park entrance fee is $35 for a personal vehicle. It is good for 7 days and covers all passengers in the vehicle. If you plan on visiting a few national parks, it may be worth purchasing an $80 annual pass for entrance to all national parks. More information on the annual pass and how to get a free annual pass is found on their website.

How long should you spend at the Grand Canyon?

If you are simply interested in soaking in the majestic views of the Grand Canyon and learning a little bit more about the park, you can probably do this in just a few hours. If you want to truly immerse yourself in the Grand Canyon experience, plan to spend a few days exploring all the park has to offer. This includes a visit to both the North and South Rims of the park.

What is the most beautiful part of the Grand Canyon?

The canyon, of course! But you’ll want to take in those views from a few different vantage points, include down into the canyon via one of the hiking trails.

Click below to save these ideas for what to do at the Grand Canyon in one day on Pinterest!

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2 thoughts on “The Perfect Family Itinerary for One Day in the Grand Canyon + the 10 Best Sights”

  1. This Grand Canyon itinerary is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  2. Pingback: 25 of the Absolute Best Hikes in America's National Parks | Alex on the Map

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