Every USA bucket list and Southwest road trip itinerary includes spending at least one day in Grand Canyon National Park. While the intrepid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts may demand more time, those who are on a tight schedule can actually see plenty in just a day trip to Grand Canyon. This will not allow a visit to the canyon floor of course, but it will provide more than enough time to appreciate the grandeur of one of the world’s natural wonders.
Outlined below is a day trip itinerary that ensures you see the highlights of the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Drive. This includes the best locations for sunset, sunrise, picnics, and more.
Understand that one day is only enough to explore the South Rim as the North Rim is over 4 hours away. If you have time to visit that section as well (which I highly recommend), you will want to open our Grand Canyon North Rim guides as well to help plan and inspire your visit:
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Quick Facts About Grand Canyon National Park
- Location: Arizona, USA
- Established: February 26, 1919
- Size: 1.217 million acres (4,926 km²)
- Annual Visitors: 2.9 million (2020) (down from an average of 6.1 million in the four preceding years)
- Visitor Centers: Grand Canyon Visitor Center South Rim (currently closed due to COVID), Verkamp’s Visitor Center, Backcountry Information, North Rim Visitor Center (open mid-May – mid-October) Center
- Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle; $30 per motorcycle; $20 per individual; $80 Interagency Annual Pass
One Day Grand Canyon Itinerary
Sunrise at Grandview Point
You will want to begin your one day in Grand Canyon watching the sunrise from Grandview Point as it bathes the layered landscape in golden light. Most of the viewpoints you will discover in the South Rim section of the national park provide better views of the western horizon than the east, but Grandview Point is a notable exception.
There is no hike necessary to enjoy the view, but there is a trail that begins at the top which may be worth scouting a bit for your favorite composition. Otherwise, just park and wait for the sun to put on its show.
The obvious benefit to beginning the itinerary at sunrise is that you will experience a magical moment to begin your day. However, there are other perks inherent to getting out of bed and on the road so early. First, the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park can get very backed up later on in the day. Second, there is a lot of haze to combat in the canyon itself which is not as noticeable at sunrise as later on in the day. Last, you have a lot of ground to cover in one day, and starting in the morning when the temperatures are moderate and the light is best is well-worth the effort.
Assuming you are not camping within the park, the closest place to stay near the park is in the small tourist town of Tusayan just before you arrive at the gates. Don’t worry, there is 24-hour access in and out of the park. It is a 15-mile (25 minute) drive from Tusayan to Grandview Point, so plan accordingly!
Breakfast at Desert View Watchtower
From Grandview Point, you will want to drive to the end of the Desert View Road. For now, skip the stops and viewpoints in between as they will be much easier to access driving back.
You will reach the Desert View Watchtower in 20-25 minutes (13.7 miles from Grandview Point). Take a moment to stroll around and enjoy the vista while the light is still good, then fuel up for a long day of exploring the rest of Grand Canyon National Park!
Those of you who prefer to bring your own food can sit down and enjoy breakfast from the Desert View Picnic Area. If you have not brought it with you, there is a Market & Deli available here to buy food and coffee. There is also a gas station and restrooms if needed.
Desert View Drive
It is just mid-morning and you have already enjoyed a spectacular Grand Canyon sunrise as well as breakfast with an unbeatable view! When you are ready, begin driving back toward the Grand Canyon Village via the Desert View Drive pulling into the many viewpoints along the way.
You have time to stop and experience all of them, but I consider the best stops on the drive to be Moran Point (see photo above) and Navajo Point (below). That said, there are plenty of unnamed viewpoints that are beautiful as well.
For those of you interested in the history of the Grand Canyon, the Tusayan Museum and Ruins are also along this section of the scenic drive. You will want to check opening days and hours if this is an important stop for your itinerary.
If photography is the main objective of your Grand Canyon day trip, you should consider visiting these viewpoints on the way to the Watchtower. Though I don’t recommend this for most, getting to each of these places as early in the morning as possible will improve the light and shadow play you are able to capture in your photos.
Lunch at Grand Canyon Village
Whether or not you need to stop for lunch already will greatly depend on how much time you have needed while covering the 20+ miles from the Desert View Watchtower back to the Grand Canyon Village. Technically, this is a 25 mile drive that should take about 45 minutes without stops.
Know that there is no reason to rush back early unless you plan on spending a lot of time at lunch, or need a nap / extended break. You will have plenty of time to enjoy the other half of the South Rim at a leisurely pace, particularly if you are not looking to do much hiking.
The Grand Canyon Village is an absolute maze where you can find a market & deli, cafes, restaurants, and even taverns! There are simply too many options to list (search Google for “Grand Canyon Village food” for a full list with reviews). If none of these options sound right, the town of Tusayan is only 15 minutes (6.5 miles) away and has a bevy of options as well, including most chains you would expect to find in popular tourist areas.
There are some trails and overlooks accessible from the village as well, but I consider these to be the worst in the park. Mather Point is the most visited, but the view is not as impressive as those you have seen, the light will be horrible this time of day, and the crowds make it difficult to enjoy. That said, there is no harm in having a look for yourself if you feel inclined.
Take your time, reset the senses, and continue on for the second half of your Grand Canyon day trip when ready!
FIND MORE GRAND CANYON INSPIRATION: Best Photography Locations in the Grand Canyon
Catch the Shuttle Bus to Hermit’s Rest
You have driven enough for one day in Grand Canyon! Leave your car parked in the village and catch the free shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest.
There are some important things to note about visiting Hermit’s Rest and the west section of the South Rim!
The first thing you need to know is that this road is closed for visitor traffic. Those who have physical disabilities can get a gate code from the visitor center, but the only other way to view this section of the park is by foot, bicycle, or shuttle bus.
Regarding said shuttle bus, it is free to ride. However, note that it is only operational from March 1 through November 30, closing for the winter months.
The easiest place to catch the shuttle bus is from Mather Point, but there are other options as well. Just ask for directions to the red line!
Much like we did on the Desert View Drive, I recommend staying on the bus all the way to the last stop at Hermit’s Rest and visiting the viewpoints on the way back instead of on the way there.
Walk Along the Rim Trail
The road from the village to Hermit’s Rest is only 8 miles and can be walked entirely via the Rim Trail. Now, I don’t suggest you walk all 8 miles, but if time is plentiful and the weather is pleasant, you may want to consider at least stretching your legs a bit at this point.
Visit the Hermit’s Rest tourist shop, take in the views, then either catch the shuttle bus back stopping at the viewpoints this time, or go for a stroll on the Rim Trail! If nothing else, consider the short 1-mile walk from Hermit’s Rest to Pima Point, where you can hop back on the shuttle if you like.
This Grand Canyon day trip itinerary ends by watching sunset at one of my favorite viewpoints in the entire national park. If you still have a few hours and the energy to spare, consider walking another 1.8 miles from Pima Point to Monument Creek Vista. From here, you can once again catch the shuttle bus.
Sunset at Hopi Point
We end our fun-filled one day in Grand Canyon with sunset at Hopi Point. While nearly every viewpoint along the South Rim provides clear westerly views for sunset, this one is the best of all!
In addition to having a spectacular foreground where the Colorado River leads your eyes straight to where the sun is setting, you will also have beautiful scenery to the North and East. The reason this is important is that the late light is actually best facing North, where the canyon layers will be accentuated by the contrast from the angular light. In addition, you never know which clouds will light up most dramatically so having a variety of directions to look can make a big difference.
There are bathrooms and trash cans at Hopi Point should you need them. Don’t worry about missing the last shuttle bus home either – they run up to an hour after sunset!
If you arrive at Hopi Point early, take a quick walk along the Rim Trail to Powell Point. You can actually see Powell Point from where you are, but you may as well journey the 0.3 miles to have a look while you wait.
When the sun has set and the colors have faded, catch a shuttle bus back to the village to retrieve your car and put a bow on a successful day trip to the Grand Canyon.
EXPLORE MORE OF THE GRAND CANYON: Complete Guide to Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon Day Trip – Organized Tour
This blog post is designed to help you plan your own one day itinerary for Grand Canyon. However, if you don’t fancy having to plan your own trip or fuss over the practicalities, then you have the option to take an organized tour. I’ve put together a list of some of the top-rated Grand Canyon day trips which you’ll find detailed below:
- Grand Canyon Helicopter Landing Tour – 4.5 hour tour from Las Vegas. Soar over the Grand Canyon and take in the natural marvel from above, allowing you to appreciate its grandeur, before landing on the canyon floor to appreciate it up-close.
- Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour – 45 minutes from Grand Canyon Village. Experience amazing bird’s eye views of the Grand Canyon as you depart from the South Rim and climb up over the North Rim.
- Grand Canyon South Rim – 15 hour tour from Las Vegas. This full day trip from Las Vegas first stops at Grand Canyon Caverns. From here it continues on to Grand Canyon National Park where you’ll have 3 hours to explore the South Rim.
- Grand Canyon West Bus Tour with Optional Skywalk – 11-12 hour tour from Las Vegas. Explore the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as enjoying a scenic drive through Joshua Tree Forest and visiting Hualapai Ranch.
- Grand Canyon Classic Sightseeing Tour – 10 hour tour from Flagstaff. Take in views from both the East and South Rims of the Grand Canyon in this full day tour.
- The Grand Canyon Classic Tour – 10 hour tour from Sedona. Visit both the East and West Rim from Sedona. Marvel at the spectacular views of the Colorado River Gorge and the buttes of the South Rim.
- Grand Canyon Day Tour – 13 hour tour from from Phoenix, Scottsdale & Tempe. Cruise along the historic Route 66 to reach the Grand Canyon. Spend 3 hours exploring the South Rim.
DISCOVER MORE OF ARIZONA: Saguaro National Park
Practical Information for Planning Your Grand Canyon Day Trip
Grand Canyon South Rim Map
To help you plan your one day in Grand Canyon, I’ve put together a Google map of all the places mentioned within this blog post. Click here or on the image below to open the map in a new tab.
You can also find NPS maps of the Grand Canyon here.
Getting to Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon is located within the state of Arizona. To reach the Grand Canyon South Rim, you can take the I-40 from the east or west, US-89 from the north, and 1-17 / US-64 from the south.
Below are drive times and distances from some of the most common starting locations:
- Williams – 59 miles (1 hour)
- Flagstaff – 79 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Sedona – 114 miles (2 hours)
- Phoenix – 228 miles (3 hours 30 minutes)
- Las Vegas – 279 miles (4 hours 30 minutes)
If you’re planning to fly to Grand Canyon, the most common option is to fly to Las Vegas McCarran airport. Although it is still 277 miles (4 hours 20 minutes) from Grand Canyon South Rim, it has the most options for flights, as well as rental cars and tour packages available. Flagstaff Pulliam and Phoenix Sky Harbor are closer airports but offer less flight options.
There are also options for travel by bus and train. Check the NPS website for all your available travel options.
Lastly, you can reach the South Rim by one of these Grand Canyon tours from Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix or other nearby locations.
When to Visit Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and there’s no right or wrong time to visit.
Summer months, as well as spring break and the holidays, are considered peak season. During these times the park is very crowded, hotels are often fully booked, and parking can be difficult.
The shoulder seasons of spring and fall can provide the best time to visit the Grand Canyon. With the exception of spring break, the number of visitors is far less, making for a much more enjoyable visit. Additionally, the weather is much milder and more comfortable for hiking. In spring you may also catch the wildflowers in bloom and in autumn the fall colors.
Winter is the quietest time to visit Grand Canyon, but also the coldest with the possibility of snow. However, this means hotels are easiest to book and you may get to admire the canyon with a magical snow dusting.
Where to Stay in Grand Canyon National Park
While this itinerary is designed to help you see the best of the Grand Canyon in a day trip, there’s still plenty more to see! Therefore, you may wish to spend a night (or longer!) before/after your day in Grand Canyon.
To maximize your time at the park, it’s worth considering staying within the National Park. However, the downside to this is that reservations are required in advance.
Camping in Grand Canyon South Rim
There are three developed campgrounds within the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park:
- Mather Campground (open year-round; reservations required during peak season Mar 1 – Nov 30)
- Desert View Campground (open mid-April through mid-Oct; reservations required)
- Trailer Village (open year-round; provides the only in-park RV hookups; reservations recommended a year in advance during peak season May – Oct)
Lodging in Grand Canyon South Rim
There are various options for lodging within Grand Canyon South Rim. All of the lodges in Grand Canyon Village are open year round but reservations well in advance are recommended, particularly during spring break, summer months, and fall weekends. Most are also within walking distance of the canyon rim.
The hotels available in Grand Canyon Village are:
Accommodation near Grand Canyon South Rim
Located 7 miles (11km) from the South Rim, the closest place to stay outside of the park is Tusayan. While still close to the Grand Canyon, the hotels in nearby Tusayan tend to offer better value for money as you’re not paying the premium for staying within the park. Additionally, during peak season (March 1 – September 30) a free shuttle bus is offered every 20 minutes between Tusayan and the South Rim Visitor Center.
Some of the top rated hotels in Tusayan include:
Click here can find current availability and prices on accommodation in Tusayan.
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Final Thoughts on One Day in Grand Canyon National Park
You are going to be exhausted from a full day in Grand Canyon, but hopefully the photos have convinced you of the merits of this day trip itinerary. Regardless of what else you experience on your road trip through the southwest, I promise you will never forget watching the sun rise and set over the Grand Canyon!
If you found this travel guide helpful and/or inspiring, we have many more National Park guides as well as others specifically for the Grand Canyon. Landscape photographers will be particularly interested in our guide to Grand Canyon Photography, and those of you venturing onward to the North Rim will want to read our comprehensive guide to the North Rim.
Most importantly, we hope you have a safe and successful visit and welcome any feedback you have that could help improve our guide or just flatter our egos! 🙂