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Recognized as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon National Park is probably Arizona’s most distinguishable landmark. 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, it can be a bit overwhelming. To explore everything you’d need quite a few days. But what if you only planned a day trip to the Grand Canyon? Let me show you how to visit the Grand Canyon in one day! We’ll focus on the South Rim to make the most out of your trip. Besides, if you won’t be able to see everything, you’ll have the perfect excuse to go back for more… been there, done that!
The Grand Canyon is the one place where I always wanted to go. It was our first trip to the U.S.A. and we were quite young. Aldo wasn’t very happy of the long drive from Las Vegas and on the top of it the temperatures were so high. Being from Naples we thought we were used to the hot weather: it turns out Naples is way less hot than Arizona. Noted! This is how we learned that you need to have plenty of drinks, snacks and good music to roadtrip the USA.
This first visit was a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. While we soon realized that we’d have to get back for more (and we did make it!), we still managed to explore quite a bit at the Grand Canyon in one day. Hence we’re hoping you’ll find our tips useful to make the most out of your trip.
Of course once Aldo got there, it was love at first sight! We ended up adding a longer stay at the Grand Canyon National Park while planning our honeymoon. I’m more than sure that the same will happen to you.
Yet before we start checking out all the amazing things you can see at the Grand Canyon in 1 day, I have bad news for you. The one thing you won’t be able to visit is Havasu Falls! There’s just not enough time.
Grand Canyon tickets and passes
To visit the Grand Canyon N.P. you need to buy a Vehicle Permit for 35$. It is valid for one vehicle and its passengers for seven days, and includes both the North Rim and the South Rim. If you are a biker, your Motorcycle permit will cost you 30$, and if you are hitchhikking, using a shuttle bus, the train or your bycicle, you will be able to buy an Individual permit for 20$.
In case the Grand Canyon is part of a larger road trip in the United States of America, then you can save some money by buying America the Beautiful, an annual pass that will cost you 80$. To make sure it’s worth your money, make a list of all the places you want to see and check if they have been included in this useful list. Generally speaking if you’re planning to visit more than 3 National Parks covered by the annual pass, it’s worth buying one.
You can buy your America the Beautiful pass (it covers entrance, standard amenity fees, day use fees for driver and all the passengers in a personal vehicle) at one of the park’s entrance stations or online.
Renting a huge jeep is not mandatory: the roads are paved and it’s easy to drive inside the Grand Canyon National Park. We have used this online dealer as the prices were way lower than all the others we checked out. Click here to see how much renting a car would cost you: the final price might surprise you!
Start your visit with the Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive in our opinion has some of the best viewpoints on the South Rim. Especially where the Vermillion Cliffs, the San Francisco Peaks, the Painted Desert and the Colorado River come into view. This 25 miles drive is accessible with private vehicles, and offers six developed viewpoints, five unmarked pullouts, camping areas and four picnic points.
You can reach the area also using the free Kaibab Rim Route shuttle bus (Orange line), departing from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. The only point that isn’t accessible with a private vehicle is Yaki Point, that can be reached only using the Orange shuttle bus. This one is a particularly quiet viewpoint during the day, that becomes be pretty crowded at sunset, because it’s popular among the photography enthusiasts.
Unfortunately this also means that you might have to wait in line for quite some time to hop on a shuttle bus to get back!
We have visited the Grand Canyon often and we believe Yaki Point is definitely worth the trip. It’s one of the best views of the Grand Canyon on the Desert View Drive, and in fact it is also known as the Zabriskie Point of the Grand Canyon.
Moran Point – to see layers of geological history
On the Desert View Road you will find some of the best views of the Grand Canyon. Keep driving to get to Moran Point. It’s one of the areas where you can clearly see the three main rock groups in the Grand Canyon.
The first group is the Layered Paleozoic Rocks, sedimentary rocks that make most of the canyon’s depth. The second one is the Grand Canyon Supergroup, the most significant geologic record, visible only in a few spots along the rim. This group of rocks is like an history book on the Grand Canyon: the scientists gathered so much information by studying it! The third group is the Vishnu Basement Rocks, the oldest rock formations in the canyon.
Moran Point is due south of Cape Royal on the North Rim, just 8 miles away in a straight line, but a whopping 215 miles if you’re planning to drive there. It is named after the painter Thomas Moran, who got there in 1873 and spread the word about the Grand Canyon, helping it to become a National Park (in 1919). Would’ve you ever guessed that there was an influencer even before Instagram?
Lipan Point – awesome hiking area
Lipan Point is another beautiful viewpoint you can stop to if you’re planning to explore the Grand Canyon in one day. Located half a mile North on the main scenic drive, it’s the starting point of a few very interesting hikes.
A few steps away from the parking lot you’ll find the entrance to the Tanner Trail. It’s 8 mile long and overlooks the Seventyfive Mile Creek and the Escalante butte. Keep walking South of the Seventyfive Mile Creek and you’ll find an amazing postcard-view of the cliffs below Pinal Point. If you keep going, you will reach the Unkar Delta, at the end of Unkar Creek.
The whole area is quite different from the rest of the angular rocks at the Grand Canyon, because the sandstone erosion turned the landscape into rounded hills. You’ll find amazing photo spots everywhere, but the hike is a long one. If you only have one day at the Grand Canyon, you might not have enough time.
If it’s your first time to the Grand Canyon, then my suggestion is that you should stop at the main Lipan Point viewpoint to take a few pictures, then move on: there’s still so much to see! On the contrary if you’ve already been at the Grand Canyon National Park, then by all means hike the Tanner Trail, especially if you’re visiting in spring!
Hermit Road: a must-add to every Grand Canyon itinerary
Between March 1st and November 30, Hermit Road can only be accessed by the Red shuttle buses, that provide transportation between the Village Route Transfer Station and Hermits Rest. It is 7 miles long with 9 stops on panoramic viewpoints.
The round trip lasts 75 minutes and you can still take decent pictures from the bus, so in case you are too tired, or if you’re traveling with your kids, it’s ok to just enjoy the ride on the free shuttle bus!
Hopi Point – put things in perspective
The fourth stop on Hermit Road deserves attention. It’s the first point where you can have a better perspective of the Grand Canyon. According to Aldo, it looks like a god of some sort has split the Earth in two. From Hopi Point you can see all the way to Havasupai Point and the Great Scenic Divide. The viewpoint has a fenced viewing area that overlooks the Dana Butte, a flat mesa 2000 feet below the overlook.
If Yaki Point is too crowded, your back up will definitely be Hopi Point: sunset here can be definitely epic!
Canyon Rim Trail – bring your hiking boots
On Hermit Road you will find the entrance point to the Canyon Rim Trail, that follows the canyon rim for 7.8 miles, offering you the chance to walk between the viewpoints on both paved and dirt trails. If you decide to go on the Canyon Rim Trail, make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots that also protect your ankles. In this area there’s also a nice paved greenway trail that is perfect if you want to use your bycicle.
Hermits Rest is located a few stops after Hopi Point, right before the road turns back to the Village Route Transfer.
(Note that on the return trip the Red Shuttle Bus stops only at Pima Point, Mohave Point and Powell Point!).
Kids and adults love the small stone structure nestled into a mound of earth that opens onto the canyon. While it looks like an old miner’s cabin, this structure has been built by Mary Colter, one of the Grand Canyon’ most famous architects, in 1914. The details are perfect, you will find a huge fireplace and a front porch. Inside there’s a gift shop and a small snack bar.
The locals told us that in winter the weary hikers sit down beside the huge fireplace to warm up. Almost like modern pioneers. I’m more and more convinced I’ll have to pay a visit to the Grand Canyon in winter!
If you are dessert girls like me, you’ll also appreciate their cookies. They’re freshly baked and delicious. You can buy some here and bring them along with you ask you keep exploring the Grand Canyon!
When is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon?
While the Grand Canyon is absolutely wonderful in every season, I’m sure you want to avoid the huge crowds and the overwhelming heat, right?
In our experience the best time to visit the Grand Canyon is spring, followed right after by fall. While the North Rim is open only from mid-May to mid-October, the Grand Canyon South Rim is open year round!
Some locals claim that Winter is an awesome time to visit the Grand Canyon because when it snows, area is stunning. We have been in mid September and actually liked it very much. It was still pretty warm but not crowded so should we decide to return, we’d definitely opt for a Fall trip. Our one and only visit in July was way too hot, crowded and overall… a bit of a disaster. We weren’t exactly disappointed but we Grand Canyon is never at its best when it’s full of tourists!
If you can’t avoid the summer period, try booking a trip during the week. Also make sure to stay hydrated, wear a hat and apply lots of sunscreen. Summer in Arizona can be brutal!
Where to spend the night if you are too tired
In case you decided visit the Grand Canyon in one day but you feel too tired to drive back to Las Vegas, you can book a hotel inside the Grand Canyon National Park. Why? Well because the next morning you might have some more time to explore, especially early in the morning!
Some prefer to find a cheaper hotel in Williams, and you might definitely do so if you are traveling on a tight budget. In our case, when we are too tired we just want to park the car, walk to the nearest restaurant, take a shower and crash in a comfy bed. Besides, lodging inside the National Park we got to enjoy beautiful sunsets!
One of our favorite hotels at the Grand Canyon National Park is Yavapai Lodge, managed by Xanterra. The lodge is located in the pinyon and juniper woodlands between Yavapai Point and El Tovar, only minutes away from the canyon rim.
Not far from the Yavapai Lodge you will find a general store (where we bought the delicious Desert Tea, organic, low sugar and caffeine free, it’s the perfect drink if you’re planning to hike!), bank and post office. The main lodge has been recently refurbished, so you will find cozy seating areas and a lovely outdoor patio.
In case you’re too tired to keep driving to find something to eat, at Yavapai Lodge you can just forget about your car. They have the Yavapai Lodge Restaurant, which serves hearty Southwestern dishes. To make sure you find a table, book one as soon as you check in!