If you only have one day to spend in the Grand Canyon, you want to make it count! The first thing is to choose which rim of the Canyon to visit. Most tours visit the South Rim, and this is where most of the facilities and services are located. The South rim is also open all year round (though portions might be closed due to the weather conditions). On the other hand, the North rim is more remote and rugged, making it a great way to avoid crowds. It’s also great for more experienced hikers and returning visitors.
If you are a first time visitor, and want to have a whirlwind tour of the biggest canyon in the Unites States, I would suggest visiting the South Rim.
Stop at the Visitor Centre
The park entrance fee is $20 per individual or $35 per vehicle. Once you are in the park, head to the visitor centre. This is the best way to learn about the geology of the places you are about to see, pick up maps as well as talk to the rangers there about what would suit you best. Spend a few minutes to pick out a few things you definitely want to see, rather than trying to cram it all in.
If you drive into the park, I highly recommend making use of the free shuttle buses inside the park. This way you can avoid the hassle of finding parking at each view point, which can be very hard in the peak seasons.
Enjoy the view from Mather Point
Right next to the main visitors centre is Mather Point, with a magnificent look over the Grand Canyon.
Walk the Rim Trail
The view points can get quite busy at times. Walk the Rim Trail for some lovely views without the crowds! This trail is 3.4km (2.1 miles) between the main visitor centre and the Grand Canyon Village and is mostly flat. If you don’t want to walk the entire length, it is possible to walk between two view points and take the shuttle the rest of the way.
We really enjoyed walking this trail at a leisurely pace. Not only do you get some great views of the canyon, it also offers a good opportunity for wildlife spotting!
Go below the Canyon Rim
If possible, take a hike that goes below the rim. Very few visitors do this, and it can be a great way to get a new perspective of the canyon. One of the quickest ways to do this is to go on the Bright Angel Trail. While the entire trail is a strenuous multi-day hike, day hikers can do part of the trail, with the 1.5 Mile Resthouse making a good place to rest, enjoy the views and turn back around (round trip around 3 hours). [Note: Keep a close eye on the weather, as conditions can change quickly. We planned to do this trail, but decided not to because of a thunderstorm. Follow the Park Rangers advice and read up on how to hike smart here.]
Explore the village
Once you have enjoyed the various hikes and view points, head to the historic Grand Canyon Village. The El Tovar hotel is a great place to enjoy a meal in the village. Even if you don’t plan on eating here, it is worth looking around this old and elegant building. You can read more about the history of the hotel here.
While you are in the village, also be sure to look around the Railway Depot and browse and pick up any souvenirs (including some very beautiful and very expensive handwoven Navajo rugs!) at Hopi House. If you are interested, you can find information on a self guided walking tour of the village here.
For dinner, you can either eat within the park, or for more options head to Tusayan. The town is 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon, and is the best place to find affordable food and lodging while still being within a stones throw of the national park.
While you are in the area, you might want to consider visiting the Antelope Canyon. Read my complete guide for the Antelope Canyon here.
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