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! Is it even possible to explore the Grand Canyon in one day? In this article I will show you a useful South Rim itinerary to make the most out of your Arizona road trip. Even one day at the Grand Canyon can be enough if you know how to plan it!
One day at the Grand Canyon: is it enough?
The Grand Canyon is the one place where we always wanted to go.
We got there on our very first trip to the U.S.A…. we were quite young and inexperienced.
Because there was so much to see and do, we could only add a day trip to the Grand Canyon to our itinerary.
At night, that same day, we realized that we’d have to get back for more. Yet while we were there, all we could do was exploring.
Aldo even made sure to stop at all the best viewpoints to take tons of pictures of the Grand Canyon: we felt blessed. This is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it looks even more impressive up close!
While there are many things to do at Grand Canyon South Rim, you just have one day. That means being super selective… and honest with yourself.
Hiking on long trails might not be an option, but you can sneak in a shorter hike if you get there early in the morning.
The one thing you definitely won’t be able to visit is Havasu Falls. There’s just not enough time.
To visit the Grand Canyon in 1 day you’ll have to stick to the South Rim. Note down all the things you absolutely want to do and make sure you add a realistic estimate of how long it’d take you.
Planning a day trip from Las Vegas is entirely possible, but there’s an over 4 hours drive you’ll have to deal with. That means having even less time to hike and hit all the best viewpoints. On the contrary, a Sedona to Grand Canyon day trip is entirely possible, because you’ll only have to drive for a couple of hours.
Some people (including us when we planned our honeymoon) make sure to add a few days at the Grand Canyon at the end of a longer Utah road trip. In this case, I suggest this guide to a Grand Canyon road trip for a complete itinerary.
Grand Canyon tickets and passes 2020
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$.
In case the Grand Canyon is part of a larger USA road trip, then there’s an easy way to save some money.
Buying America the Beautiful, an annual pass that will cost you 80$, is the best way to visit many USA National and State parks for less.
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 in one year, it’s worth buying one.
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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 an expensive 4×4 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!
The best part of Grand Canyon South Rim: 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.
Yaki Point – Unforgettable sunset at the Grand Canyon!
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.
Yaki Point is a particularly quiet viewpoint during the day, yet it gets 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!
That’s yet another thing you should consider when planning a Grand Canyon day trip: avoid the crowded viewpoints!
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.
That’s why you should either go there before sunset or afterwards, when everyone else is leaving.
Moran Point – See layers of geological history
Keep driving on the Desert View Road 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 enjoy 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 13 mile long and overlooks the Seventyfive Mile Creek and the Escalante butte.
As you hike South of the Seventyfive Mile Creek, you’ll be surprised by an amazing postcard-view of the cliffs below Pinal Point. At the end of Unkar Creek you will reach the Unkar Delta.
The Tanner Trail hike will take a minimum of 5 hours. Maybe more, if you’re planning to spend one day at the Grand Canyon in the summertime.
Of course, you’ll have to focus on the Tanner Trail hike, avoiding most of the things you’ve read in this article, if you really want to go.
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.
As I mentioned at the very beginning, some things just don’t fit in a one day itinerary. If you’ve never visited the Grand Canyon, I’d encourage you to make the most out of this day trip by hitting the best viewpoints.
On the contrary if you’ve been there before, you can avoid most of the photo opportunities on the main roads and spend the day hiking. It’s up to you!
Hermit Road: Using the shuttle bus to make the most out of your day trip
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 viewpoint offering a better perspective of the Grand Canyon.
According to Aldo, it looks like some god has split the Earth in two with a huge axe. That’s exactly how he usually describes the Grand Canyon!
From Hopi Point you can see all the way to Havasupai Point and the Great Scenic Divide. This viewpoint has a fenced viewing area that overlooks the Dana Butte, a flat mesa 2000 feet below the overlook.
In case Yaki Point is too crowded at sunset, head over at Hopi Point: it’s usually way more quiet, so you will be able to just sit down and enjoy the view!
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 about 8 miles. It’s a mix of paved and dirt trails that you can hike in a few hours.
If you decide to hike the Canyon Rim Trail, make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots to protect your ankles.
In this area there’s also a nice paved greenway trail that is perfect if you want to use your bycicle.
Note: Hiking the Canyon Rim Trail means entering the park very early in the morning and giving up most of the viewpoints. Remember that visiting everything at the Grand Canyon in one day isn’t possible!
Hermits Rest – toilets, cookies and a gift shop
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 will 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 rangers told us that in winter the weary hikers sit down beside the huge fireplace to warm up. Almost like modern pioneers. Not sure about you, but visiting the Grand Canyon in winter sound super romantic!
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 autumn.
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, this National park is stunning.
We have visited in mid September and actually liked it very much. It was still pretty warm but not crowded so even in future, we’d definitely try another 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 warmer months, try to plan your day trip in the middle of the week.
It’s also very important 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, 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 allows you to enjoy romantic sunsets and gorgeous sunrises!
One of our favorite hotels at the Grand Canyon National Park is Yavapai Lodge. 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: the perfect drink if you’re planning to hike!), a bank and a post office.
The main lodge has been recently refurbished, so you will find cozy seating areas and a lovely outdoor patio.
Lodging at Yavapai Lodge is also great for those who are too tired to drive around in search of something to eat. Forget about your car and just rest. You can dine at the Yavapai Lodge Restaurant, which serves hearty Southwestern dishes.
To make sure you find a table, book one as soon as you check in!
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This post is also available in: Italiano