Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park is the second most-visited national Park in the United States and one of the most famous and easily recognizable landscapes in the world. Grand Canyon has been listed among the world’s Seven Natural Wonders alongside Aurora Borealis, the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Paricutin, and Victoria Falls. The endlessly stacked layers of red rock in Grand Canyon not only hold great beauty, but also lay bare the Earth’s sinews and bone, the very secrets of how millions of years of slow erosion and weathering form the landforms and surfaces that we see all around us. And while in other parts of the world these forces are obscured, making them seem tame, in Grand Canyon we see the very passage of time as something fierce, wild, and unstoppable. Unlike green meadows, trees in bloom, and lush forests, which all have a calming effect, Grand Canyon’s appeal lies in its ability to stir something in everyone who looks upon it. Whether it is a feeling of awe, humbleness, or insignificance, Grand Canyon is one of nature’s greatest works of art, challenging our perception of the world with its very existence.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT GRAND CANYON?
If you only plan on visiting the South Rim, then the best time to visit Grand Canyon would be during the winter months. The hotel rates are much more affordable, and the typical crowds are nowhere to be seen. While the entire North Rim closes after the first snowfall, you can access the South Rim all year-round. The drawbacks are mostly weather-related, although there is a slight chance that you may experience a rare phenomenon known as a “sea of fog”, formally “total cloud inversion”, when a river or a tide of clouds floods the Grand Canyon – a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience of standing above the clouds. It usually happens in December or January. However, if we ignore such rare spectacles, the objectively best time to go to Grand Canyon is either early spring (March-May) or early fall (September-November), primarily due to cool daytime temperatures, thin crowds, and unrestricted access to all areas of the national park.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT GRAND CANYON
At 1,904 square miles, Grand Canyon National Park easily trumps the state of Rhode Island in terms of size, which occupies only 1,212 square miles. Some sections of Grand Canyon are as wide as ten miles, while others are over a mile deep. Today, Grand Canyon is one of the best places to visit in the USA, but it had the power to inspire and awe visitors for thousands of years before European settlers saw it for the first time. For the Hopi Tribe, the site of the Grand Canyon holds great spiritual significance as the place where souls pass on their way to the afterlife. Grand Canyon is also known for its unusually high number of caves, with 335 reported/explored caves and an estimated 700 more yet to be researched.
Conspiracy theorists on the internet often post an old newspaper article from 1909, reporting that an ancient Egyptian temple had been discovered in one of the caves in Grand Canyon. While this is an easily disprovable hoax, with the Smithsonian discrediting the story, the rumor that the government was involved in a massive cover-up is still very widespread. While these rumors are very resilient, there are other real mysteries and surprising facts regarding Grand Canyon’s history. Firstly, the age of the canyon still hasn’t been precisely determined. While older data indicated that the canyon was 6 million years old, newer (controversial) research suggests that the Colorado River first started the process of erosion 70 million years ago.
When it comes to credible archeological discoveries, researchers have discovered prehistoric walls, kivas, stone tools, cotton seeds, and hundreds of split-twig figurines used in religious rituals. All of these point to thousands of years of continuous habitation by Native Americans. The first Europeans to set eyes on Grand Canyon were 13 Spanish conquistadors led by García López de Cárdenas. They were searching for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold, which captivated the imaginations of European explorers in the 16th century.
Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim
The Grand Canyon South Rim is what most visitors, some even unknowingly, see as the true Grand Canyon. The wide, expansive shots of Grand Canyon that are often featured in movies, magazines, and online articles all come from the South Rim. As most visitors come from Phoenix or Las Vegas to Grand Canyon, South Rim is often their first choice as it is the most easily accessible part of the park. It takes approximately 5 hours from Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim.
Furthermore, the South Rim is open year-round and started receiving visitors as early as 1850, way before any other part of Grand Canyon became accessible. Grand Canyon West Rim is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk, but it is located on the Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands, which means it is separate from Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon East Rim is the location of Horseshoe Bend, a (previously) hidden gem that is now becoming one of Grand Canyon’s star attractions. When it comes to the Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim debate, the North Rim certainly has its strong points, such as a more diverse and rich plant and animal life, cooler temperatures (especially in summertime), and significantly thinner crowds, receiving only one-tenth of South Rim’s visitors.
However, the North Rim is open only between May and November, it is a bit harder to reach if you’re going from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon (and other Western cities), it has fewer major viewpoints at only three compared to South Rim’s two dozen, and there are fewer visitor services, which is why the Grand Canyon South Rim is a better choice for first-time visitors and families that rely on convenience and accessibility.
ONE DAY IN GRAND CANYON ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Grand Canyon.
Start Your Trip at Grand Canyon Village
Grand Canyon Village is the most well-known point of entry to Grand Canyon National Park. It is easily accessible both by car and by public transport. From Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Village, it takes approximately four and a half hours by car. The historic center of Grand Canyon Village is a National Historic Landmark District. The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is located to the west of the village and is the best place for up-to-date information on trails and hikes.
The Visitor Center also houses several exhibits and historical artifacts, you can grab a cup of coffee there and even rent a bike. Make sure to stock up on water and snacks before heading out. If you are not sure where to start and what to see in Grand Canyon in one day, the best option is to either park near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center or to take the Grand Canyon Village Greenway from Grand Canyon Village to the Visitor Center and start exploring the national park from there.
Make Your Way to Mather Point
After leaving the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, Mather Point is the closest attraction, less than 3 minutes from the Visitor Center parking lot on foot. The proximity to the Visitor Center makes Mather Point one of Grand Canyon’s most popular viewpoints. To get there, just head north across the parking lot and then follow the path until you reach a little plateau. Mather Point is straight ahead, down towards the canyon. Take the time to enjoy the majestic views that seem to extend endlessly into the distance.
Hike East on South Rim Trail
From Mather Point, you can follow the South Rim Trail east and stop at basically every viewpoint and major attraction along the way. For the best experience, you should hike as much as possible and take the shuttle bus when you are tired or short on time. The shuttle buses are free, with the stops clearly marked. When you walk even as little as 100 feet away from the bus stops and the most popular lookouts, you will be able to experience the canyon a bit more peacefully, and as you hike between the viewpoints, you will find several amazing, less frequented spots on the trail. The South Rim Trail itself is paved and mostly flat, which makes the hike relatively easy.
Stop at Yavapai Point
Less than a mile from Mather Point on South Rim Trail, you will come across Yavapai Point, a panoramic vista point with great views of the Colorado River and the layered red ridges rising like spires from the expansive crevasse below. Of all the viewpoints on this section of the South Rim, Yavapai Point is the closest to the Colorado River, guaranteeing the best, unobstructed view of the canyon in all directions. The nearby Yavapai Observation Station has several books and information on Grand Canyon and its geological history.
Continue South on the Trail Until You Reach Grand Canyon Village
After Yavapai Point, keep walking southwest on South Rim Trail until you reach Grand Canyon Village. Once there, you can take a break from hiking and check out Hopi House, a beautiful historic building housing a charming little gift shop with handmade Native American items for purchase. The house was designed to imitate authentic Hopi dwellings. The little details give the building a lot of charm, such as a fireplace built from pieces of broken pottery, as well as the façade and the small doorways.
Lookout Studio is another historical landmark with a gift shop further down the trail. The amazing views from the studio make it more than worth it to stop there, especially since it is a very popular site for taking photos. Just like Hopi House, the building was designed by architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, with the idea to make a house that seems to organically grow out of canyon walls.
Grab a Bite to Eat Before Moving On
Before continuing east towards Trail View Point and Maricopa Point, you should take a short lunch break to gather your energy. The Arizona Room is a cozy, low-key restaurant halfway between Hopi House and Lookout Studio. The place mostly serves modern steakhouse fare, BBQ, and burgers, with a lot of the ingredients such as bell peppers and mushrooms coming from a local farm. The food is good and the staff friendly, with great views of the canyon from any point in the restaurant.
Visit Hopi Point
If your plan is to hike the entire length of the South Rim Trail, just keep hiking west past Lookout Studio and then north alongside Hermit Road. On your way to Hopi Point, one of Grand Canyon’s most famous viewpoints, make sure to also check out Trail View Point and Maricopa Point. The thing that makes Hopi Point special is the fact that it protrudes deeper into the canyon than any other viewpoint south of the Colorado River, offering amazing views both to the east and to the west.
The various rock formations that can be seen from Hopi Point are sometimes referred to as “temples”, such as the flat-topped Shiva Temple directly ahead, the pyramid-shaped Isis Temple a bit to the east, and the Zoroaster Temple to the northeast. Due to its popularity, Hopi Point can sometimes get very crowded. If that happens, consider visiting Powell Point to the east and Mohave Point to the west, both with comparable views.
Make Hermit’s Rest Viewpoint Your Last Stop
There are several other great vista points along Hermit’s Rest route, such as the Abyss, known for its sharp vertical drops, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, and Hermit’s Rest. The latter is famous for its unique rustic rest stop, designed in 1914 by Mary Colter. There is a small snack bar there, as well as restrooms and a gift shop. In winter, you can buy hot chocolate and warm yourself next to the fire in the fireplace. Hermit’s Rest is not as packed as some other sections of Grand Canyon National park, which is certainly a major plus. Just a couple of minutes down the trail, you will find Hermit’s Rest Viewpoint, a scenic spot with amazing sunset views. Mohave Point may be the only other viewpoint with better western exposure and a more beautiful sunset.
Return to Grand Canyon Village for Dinner
Ideally, you will want to stay at Hermit’s Rest Viewpoint until sunset and then take the shuttle bus back to Grand Canyon Village. There are several small hotels where you can stop for dinner next to South Rim Trail with a view of Grand Canyon. One of them is Bright Angel Lodge, a landmark property that was also designed by Mary Colter. Located on the cliffside, the entire lodge complex of cabins and a central building is an invaluable part of the Grand Canyon Village National Historic Landmark District. In spite of its significance, the lodge offers quite affordable dining options, with the menu replicating several items from the early days of Grand Canyon National Park. The Packer’s Stew is a particularly popular dish.
El Tovar Dining Room, also in Grand Canyon Village, is a bit more upscale. The restaurant belongs to El Tovar Hotel, the oldest property in Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. Some of the hotel’s famous visitors include Albert Einstein, western author Zane Grey, and President Theodore Roosevelt. Today, El Tovar Dining Room is a veritable fine dining haunt, although not as overpriced or pretentious as you may expect from a place of its reputation.
WHERE TO STAY IN GRAND CANYON?
The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon
149 State Highway 64, Tusayan, AZ 86023
Located in Tusayan, only 2.2 miles (5 minutes by car) from the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is an exclusive, 5-star property with a fitness center, hot tub, evening entertainment, 24-hour front desk, and free Wi-Fi. Although the hotel’s spacious, comfortable rooms are well-designed, the shared areas are the real highlight, featuring high-quality custom stonework with rustic wooden accents. The service is world-class, and the staff extremely friendly, helpful, and attentive to detail. The saloon serves exquisite, well-made drinks, while high-quality American food and specialties such as the excellent lobster ravioli can be found at the on-site steakhouse.
Little America Hotel Flagstaff
2515 East Butler Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
In close proximity to i-40, Little America Hotel Flagstaff occupies 500 acres of Ponderosa Pine forest, with beautiful, spacious rooms spread among the conifers and little paths that lead to the main building. Guests can take advantage of free Wi-Fi in all rooms, as well as free transport services to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. The hotel has an outdoor pool, a business center, and a Restaurant and Bar which is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a great selection of appetizers and cocktails to boot. Highlights include the comfortable, beautifully decorated rooms with comfortable beds. Some rooms come with a balcony offering amazing views of the forest.
Red Roof Inn PLUS+ Williams – Grand Canyon
642 East Route 66, Williams, AZ 86046
In addition to free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a private bathroom, a desk and a TV in each room, Red Roof Inn PLUS+ Williams – Grand Canyon also features a hot tub, a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, and a 24-hour front desk. The hotel, only an hour away from Grand Canyon by car, is easy to find, while free parking is available in front of the rooms. The property is extremely well priced, especially considering the fact that the rooms have been recently updated and feel like new.
GRAND CANYON DAY TRIPS
If a day of hiking and admiring the views from scenic outlooks isn’t really your cup of tea, you may want to choose one of several more exciting things to do in Grand Canyon or alternative ways to explore the National Park. For example, there is a Grand Canyon All-American Helicopter Tour from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon, pairing a scenic flight over the canyon with an unforgettable view of the city skyline. Alternatively, you can experience your own Old West adventure aboard the Grand Canyon Railway across the grand Northern Arizona landscape. You can find out more about these exciting offers in our article covering the best Grand Canyon day trips.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING GRAND CANYON
-In case you plan on hiking in Grand Canyon, make sure to wear sunscreen. The Arizona sun can be very dangerous, especially considering the elevation, max. 7,522 feet (2,293 m) above sea level.
-At various points throughout Grand Canyon National Park, you may come across Gila monsters, a species of venomous lizard. They are usually black with yellow or light brown stripes and a thick tail. The lizards are sluggish and pose very little threat in spite of their bad reputation. Also, they are protected by state law in Arizona.
-Be careful near the rock squirrel. While Gila monsters look more fearsome, visitors to the park are much more often bitten by the squirrel than any other animal.
-Since Grand Canyon uses the Mountain Standard Time zone (MST), sunrise comes very early in the morning during the summer months.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).