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.
- About the Grand Canyon National Park
- 10 Things to See and Do in One Day in the Grand Canyon
- Getting Around the Grand Canyon
- A Suggested Itinerary for One Day in the Grand Canyon
- Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon National Park
- Where to Stay When Visiting the Grand Canyon
- The Best Places to Find Restaurants Around the Grand Canyon
- Other Things to do Around the Grand Canyon
- Frequently Asked Questions
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.
10 Things to See and Do in One Day in the Grand Canyon
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 hike in the off-season is to pack crampons to wear in the icy areas.
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 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 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, just inside the park, is the Desert View Watchtower. 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.
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. The Grand Canyon was granted official certification in 2019, after 3 years of provisional International Dark Sky status. 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.
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 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 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 at 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 (bring Nalgene bottles to refill at the bottle filling stations in the park)’
- crampons, if visiting in colder months
- brimmed hat and sunglasses
- trekking poles (these help prevent swollen hands we all get while hiking)
- 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, and 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, 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 what to do at the Grand Canyon in one day, consider additional time for some area highlights near the 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
Is one day enough for the Grand Canyon?
What is the best month to visit Grand Canyon?
How much does it cost to visit the Grand Canyon?
How long should you spend at the Grand Canyon?
What is the most beautiful part of the Grand Canyon?
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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