Day Trip To Grand Canyon: Itinerary & Best Things To Do
Are you planning a day trip to Grand Canyon National Park?
The Grand Canyon is one of North America’s most spectacular natural wonders. It is a must-see destination for anyone traveling through Arizona.
With its breathtaking views and mesmerizing geological formations, there’s no better place to experience the raw beauty of nature. Whether you’re looking for a hiking adventure or just want to photograph the canyon and its stunning features, the Grand Canyon is an American bucket list item in all respects.
To help you plan your Grand Canyon day trip, we’ve asked our friend Jenny of Traveling In Focus to guide us on an ideal itinerary.
Day Trip To Grand Canyon: One Day Itinerary
With careful planning, you can make the most of only one day at the Grand Canyon and get a fantastic glimpse into this incredible landscape.
From hiking trails to scenic overlooks, here’s how to see the Grand Canyon in one day, so you don’t miss any of the highlights.
Things To Do In The Grand Canyon In The Morning
The morning is one of the best times to visit the Grand Canyon. Here’s some suggestions of what to do when seeing the Grand Canyon in a day, starting at the break of dawn.
✔️ Sunrise at Mather Point
Starting your day with sunrise at Mather Point is a great way to experience the canyon in all its glory. This viewpoint has some of the best views of the canyon’s colorful and vast landscape.
The overlook is the perfect place to watch the sun rise over this majestic natural wonder and is a fan favorite.
It is also easy and quick to get to from the main South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. Tickets to enter the park can be purchased right at this entrance.
Park at the visitors center and walk to the rim of the canyon. Look left, and you will see the fenced outcropping that is Mather Point. It is less than a 10-minute walk from the car park.
Tip: Mather Point is the most well-known spot for sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Try to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise to get a good place to enjoy the show.
✔️ Hike a bit of Bright Angel Trail
While the weather is still cooler at the break of the day, it’s the perfect time to hike down into the inner rim. Hiking in the inner rim is not suggested in the heat of the day due to the difficulty of the hikes and the fact that the inner rim can be up to 20° F warmer than the upper rim.
Our suggestion is to hike some of Bright Angel Trail. It is considered strenuous but is less steep than the alternative South Kaibab Trail.
Bright Angel Trail goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon. But we aren’t suggesting you take the whole trail, as that would take an entire day (if not two).
Instead, we suggest you take a small portion of the trail to get a different perspective of the Grand Canyon.
Fun Fact: Only 1% of people venture below the rim of the canyon. Yet it is incredible and provides an entirely different experience.
Great turn-around points would be at the 1.5-mile resthouse (3 miles roundtrip) or the 3-mile resthouse (6 miles roundtrip).
The starting point for the hike is located at Bright Angel Lodge. You will have to catch a shuttle to the lodge during the summer months.
If you think this hike is too challenging or have more time in the morning after completing it, our next suggestion is to walk some of the Rim Trail.
✔️ Wander along the Rim Trail
Wandering along the Rim Trail is a great thing to do when trying to see Grand Canyon in one day.
This nearly 13-mile trail stretches from Hermit’s Rest to South Kaibab Trailhead on the upper rim, with plenty of points along the way for taking in the views. You’ll pass by various landmarks such as Maricopa Point, Powell Point, and Hopi Point.
You’ll also find plenty of places to sit and enjoy the views along the route. The path is paved nearly the entire way and is considered an easy trail that is wheelchair accessible.
You will be unlikely to want (or have the time) to hike the entire trail. We suggest deciding how much of it you want to walk and taking a shuttle to your starting point.
Then hike the Rim Trail back to the visitor center for your next stop.
Things To Do In The Grand Canyon In The Afternoon
If you’re taking a day trip to the Grand Canyon from more than a couple hour’s drive away, chances are you’ll be visiting in the afternoon. Here’s some suggestions for activities during an afternoon visit.
✔️ Swing by the Visitor Center & Grand Canyon Village
Now that things are warming up outside, it is the perfect time to stop by the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and look around Grand Canyon Village.
Head to the visitor center to get your national park book stamped. Spend a few minutes talking to the rangers if you have any questions.
If you want to purchase lunch, both Mather Point and Yavapai Lodge are located close to the visitor center and serve food. Or you are welcome to eat your packed lunch at any of the benches and picnic tables in the area.
If you want to tour Grand Canyon Village, you can take the shuttle service around to visit the hotels and shops in this area.
✔️ Desert View Scenic Drive with Viewpoints
The Desert View Scenic Drive is a great way to explore parts of the canyon we haven’t seen yet.
This 23-mile drive stretches from the South Entrance to the East Entrance. It offers breathtaking views of the canyon along the way.
You’ll pass by notable sites such as Lipan Point and Moran Point, making for a truly memorable drive through one of America’s most iconic landmarks.
We suggest leaving the visitor center and driving the route without stopping until the Desert View Watchtower. This is the final stop before exiting the Grand Canyon National Park in the east.
Then start your slower journey west along the route, stopping at all the viewpoints and overlooks along the way. While driving west, all the stops will be on your side of the road, making access easier.
If you take your time with the drive and stop at all opportunities to get out and enjoy the views, this drive could take as long as 4 hours.
➡️ Don’t miss all the scenic lookouts and trails with this self-guided driving, walking, and shuttle tour of Desert View Scenic Drive.
Things To Do In The Grand Canyon In The Evening
At this point, you have gotten to do quite a bit at the Grand Canyon. From hiking to a scenic drive to the visitor center, you should feel like you have had a well-rounded experience.
And if you are ready to call it a day, you certainly don’t need to stay until nightfall.
But if you missed sunrise, or want to experience sunset and some truly magical stargazing, then staying into the evening is right up your alley. And as a bonus, the temperature begins to cool down again, and some of the crowds start to disappear.
Late afternoon/early evening might also be the perfect time to plan a guided tour of the canyon. A helicopter ride is going to be epic this time of day.
🚁Book a helicopter tour over the South Rim (Voted 5/5⭐on 1500 reviews)
✔️ Sunset at Yavapai Point (or Hopi Point)
The end of your epic day begins with a stunning sunset at Yavapai Point.
Yavapai Point is ideal for watching the sun dip below the horizon, offering gorgeous sunset views of the canyon’s inner gorge. As the sun gets low, the dips and peaks of the canyon become more distinct and look even more surreal than during midday.
Like the sunrise spot, Yavapai Point is extremely close to the visitor center, making it an ideal location if you are tired from the day.
Our other recommendation is Hopi Point. It will also have incredible views, but you must ride the shuttle in summer to reach the viewpoint.
If you don’t have a long trip home ahead of you, we absolutely recommend staying to enjoy some stargazing to end your full day within the park.
Grand Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park. Therefore, stargazing is incredible here. Stars are clear and bright, and the milky way can often be seen.
If you are going to try your hand at photographing the night sky, make sure you bring your tripod and shutter release. And do some research on the best camera settings before you arrive so you can take the best possible shots.
Desert View Watchtower is one of the best places along the South Rim to photograph stars.
Tip: Wait at least 1.5 hours for full darkness before trying to photograph the night sky. Light from sunset lingers well past when the sun lowers below the horizon.
Day Trip To Grand Canyon: FAQs
Now that you feel confident about how to spend one day in Grand Canyon National Park, let’s talk about some logistics.
Is the Grand Canyon worth a day trip?
Yes, absolutely! A day trip to the Grand Canyon is a great way to experience a taste of what the canyon has to offer without spending too much time away from home.
Even with limited time, there is so much you can experience. From the stunning views at the rim overlooks, to adventurous hikes, a day trip to the Grand Canyon is absolutely worth doing.
There are also plenty of nearby attractions to explore in addition to the canyon itself if you decide to dedicate a bit more time to exploring the area.
Popular attractions not too far away include Havasupai Falls, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend.
Tip: We only recommend you add one of these to the itinerary if you will be doing an additional day. Otherwise, you are spreading yourself too thin and won’t have time to enjoy any of the sites.
Can you make a day trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon?
Yes, it is definitely possible to make a day trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.
You can visit either the South Rim or the West Rim.
The West Rim of the Grand Canyon will be the closest option if you are short on time or want to make the most of your day trip. This section of the canyon is on Native American reservation land and is not part of the national park system. But it still has incredible views (and the skywalk!).
The West Rim is just over two hours from Vegas.
But if you have your heart set on visiting the actual national park and want to do our suggested itinerary, you will need to head to the South Rim. It takes just over four hours one way to travel from Las Vegas to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
It will be a much longer day than visiting the West Rim, but you should still be able to spend 3-4 hours at the canyon.
➡️ Book a One-Day Grand Canyon Tour from Las Vegas
Can you make a day trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon?
Yep, a day trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon South Rim is definitely possible.
The drive is about 3.5 hours. So, similar to visiting the South Rim from Vegas, you will have quite a long day with the driving.
But if you are willing to put in a 12-hour day, you can still spend about 4 hours in the park to see the highlights.
Is that enough time? Only you can decide that for yourself. But it would be long enough to do several of the items on our itinerary, though some you will only be able to do a portion of (like the scenic drive).
If you were willing to leave Phoenix early or end your day quite late, you could add sunrise or sunset to your day. We wouldn’t recommend both due to time constraints.
Can you make a day trip from Sedona to the Grand Canyon?
In fact, Sedona is one of the closer places to make a day trip to Grand Canyon National Park. At just under a 2.5-hour drive (one-way), you will have plenty of time to spend in the canyon.
With the shorter drive from Sedona, there is no reason you couldn’t have around 7 hours at the canyon unless you have some other time constraint. This would make your day trip from Sedona to Grand Canyon around 12 hours round trip.
This is plenty of time to do the things on our suggested itinerary. You may want to choose only sunrise or sunset (not both).
➡️ Book a Sunset Tour of Grand Canyon from Sedona
The Wrap-Up: Day Trip To Grand Canyon
No matter how you spend your day at the Grand Canyon, it will definitely be an experience you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
From sunrise at Mather Point to sunset at Yavapai Point, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore and experience all the canyon has to offer.
So don’t wait; plan your day trip today and make memories that will last a lifetime!