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

Like many national parks, people will often say that the only way to experience all that the Grand Canyon offers 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 to decide if you’re going to plan a more extended trip for another time. Regardless, there is plenty to do if you have just one day in the Grand Canyon for the best experience in one of the most famous US national parks.

a view into the canyon at grand canyon national park

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 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 higher in elevation, more heavily forested, and closes in the winter months.

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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.

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 visited 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

a girl takes in views while spending one day in Grand Canyon National Park
Taking in the unbelievable views is one of the highlights of spending one day in Grand Canyon National Park.

1. Take in Epic Views on a Scenic Drive

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

2. Hike Into the Canyon

There are 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 good trails when you only have one day in the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail

We chose the easy-to-access 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 hike. We experienced many hikers slipping and falling along sections of the route where ice covered the full path. Your best bet for enjoying this famous .

the halfway house on the Bright Angel Trail, a good, short hike for 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-mile (each way), flat, wide, and paved trail.

South Kaibab Trail

The most difficult of the three 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 park’s history, 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 the Desert View Watchtower is just inside the park. The structure, designed by architect Mary Colter in the 1930s, 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.

Remember 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.

a view of the Desert View Watchtower and the Grand Canyon
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, there are some spectacular sights to see. After three years of provisional International Dark Sky status, the Grand Canyon was granted official certification in 2019. This almost guarantees 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 famous 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! A few different places 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 deeper understanding of the canyon’s geology. And the views from the museum are pretty incredible too.

a view of the Grand Canyon from inside the Yavapai Geology Museum
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 canyon’s history. Starting at the museum, you’ll walk back in history, from present to past. Do you prefer to begin with the earliest days, from the past to the 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 section, but you risk losing a spot once you move your car in peak season. 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 to 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 in the Visitor Center area, where you’ll find 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 vehicle.

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 an excellent 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 trash disposal, 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

  • water ()’
  • sunscreen
  • crampons, if visiting in colder months
  • brimmed hat and sunglasses
  • trekking poles (to prevent swollen hands we all get while hiking)
  • backpack
  • plenty of snacks for hiking and strolling around the park
  • picnic lunch (if you want to skip the onsite restaurants)
  • layers (even if it’s a warm day, it can get chilly in the mornings and in shaded areas)

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. There are also many camping options.

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When Desert View Drive to the park’s East Entrance Station is closed in the winter months, Flagstaff is a bit 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 several 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, staying right inside the park is worth a shot. Reserve a campsite or a room at one of the five 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 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 what to do 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 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 historical 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

Even if you only have time for just one day in the Grand Canyon National Park, these sights and activities will make for an unforgettable visit. From marveling at the canyon’s size and beauty from different viewpoints to hiking some of the most popular trails to experiencing the park’s history and culture, there is something for everyone in this incredible national park. Have you done the Grand Canyon in one day? What was your favorite thing to see or do?

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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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