One Day at the Grand Canyon: Is It Enough?

One day at the Grand Canyon West Rim might not seem like enough, especially considering the park in northern Arizona spans more than 1 million acres, and the canyon is 277 miles long. But, you can manage to squeeze in a lot with one day at Grand Canyon National Park, if you plan ahead.

Even a Grand Canyon West Rim day trip is better than nothing at all, and 24 hours is enough time for a hike, photos at the scenic lookouts, a walk along the rim, and a memorable sunrise or sunset.

Whether you only have a weekend to explore or are passing through on an Arizona road trip, this Grand Canyon itinerary will help you pack a lot of action into a short amount of time. It starts at sunrise, but if you arrive later in the day, just squeeze in as much as possible in the time you have.

Watch the Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

Wake up while it’s still dark out to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon, which happens as early as 7:05 a.m. in November (check the times here). While you may be tempted to snooze the alarm clock and skip the cold morning air, sunrises are a lot less crowded than sunsets here, so you’ll have a better chance at finding a quiet spot to watch the pink-hued sky.

Mather Point at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center has a great view east since it sticks out into the canyon. You’ll have plenty of company at this popular lookout, but you can walk along the Rim Trail until you find your own spot.

Consider leaving your car at the visitor center at this point and taking the free shuttle buses around the park for the rest of the day since the lots here typically fill up by mid-morning during summer and holiday weeks.

Hike or Bike at the Grand Canyon

With one day at Grand Canyon National Park, you can use a few hours for one of the best Grand Canyon trails below or along the rim. If you start your hike early in the morning, you’ll see fewer people on the trail and it won’t be as hot out. Remember to carry water and snacks, especially when hiking down into the canyon where amenities are scarce to nonexistent.

Rim Trail

The Rim Trail runs for 12.8 miles one way along the edge of the canyon between Hermits Rest and the South Kaibab Trailhead. Parts of the trail are accessible, and shuttle buses run the entire length, so you can customize a hiking distance to suit your abilities and check out a few of the different viewpoints along the way.

South Kaibab Trail

This path goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon, but for a day hike in summer you’ll want to head back by the Cedar Ridge viewpoint. This makes for a 3-mile roundtrip hike. Keep in mind that it can take twice as long to walk up as it did to go down. There are basic toilet facilities at Cedar Ridge but no water and little shade on this trail.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel is often combined with South Kaibab on long treks since both go to the canyon floor. This one covers 9.3 miles, but for a day hike, consider turning around at the resthouses at 1.5 or 3 miles. The first is more than 1,000 feet down and the second 2,000 feet, so the climb back up is hefty. Water is sometimes available on this hike every 1.5 miles or so, and toilets are at the 1.5 and 4.5-mile stops.

Hermit Road Greenway Trail

A section of the Rim Trail, the Hermit Road Greenway trail connects the final three lookout points at the west end of the park. It spans nearly 3 miles and is paved, accessible and multi-use for walkers and cyclers. Bikers can also pedal down Hermit Road, though buses share the path from March through November and cars the rest of the time. Bike rentals are available from a counter at the visitor center. Buses have racks for a couple of bikes, so you can catch a ride to and from the trails, or you can book shuttle transportation and tours with the rental company.

Take a Scenic Drive

After a busy and physical morning, you’ll be ready to take it easy and stay out of the sun for a bit. Use the hottest time of day for a scenic drive at the Grand Canyon to explore some West Rim viewpoints.

What to see at the Grand Canyon in one day should include the 22-mile-stretch of Desert View Drive. The route runs between the visitor center and the eastern park entrance and has a handful of quieter vistas and picnic spots beyond where the bus runs, perfect for exploring by car. Along this route is the Tusayan Ruin, the site of Ancestral Puebloan remains and a free museum with ancient artifacts. The final stop before the exit is the 1931 Desert View Watchtower, where you can climb up to an observation deck to see the Colorado River running through the canyon.

Stroll the Trail of Time

If you haven’t taken time to walk along the rim yet, the late afternoon is a great time to do so. The Trail of Time section is easy to tackle, spanning about 1.5 miles of geology exhibits. Start at Yavapai Point and walk toward the Verkamp’s Visitor Center. Just past Verkamp is a handful of lodges and places to grab dinner before sunset. This is the perfect short and easy way to see a lot of views on a day trip to Grand Canyon National Park.

Watch the Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Every Grand Canyon West Rim itinerary should end with a picture-perfect sunset. The National Park Service recommends several points along Desert View Drive and Hermit Road for incredible sunset views. Be sure to arrive at least an hour early to stake out a spot and watch the sky and canyon changing colors. Be mindful that the shuttle is busy leading up to sundown, so it might take a little longer to catch a ride.

If you plan to leave the park after twilight, the views from Lipan, Navajo and Desert View on the east end may be your best bet, as you’ll be able to park there and leave right after, without having to wait for the shuttle. Plus, the east-west vistas are incredible and the area might be less congested. If you opt for this route, combine it with the scenic Desert View Drive from earlier so you don’t have backtrack.

Along Hermit Road on the west end, Hopi Point is one of the most popular sunset spots. You’ll have to take the red line here, as cars cannot drive this road during the busy season (March-November). If Hopi is too crowded, walk west a mile to Mohave Point, where you’ll catch a glimpse of the river. Along the trail between the two, you’ll likely find a peaceful place to sit, but the views at Hopi and Mohave are best for seeing all the sunset colors. Toward the end of the red line, Pima Point juts out into the canyon and is a little less crowded.

Attend a Nighttime Ranger Program

If you want to really stretch your one day in Grand Canyon out, you can join a ranger-led event in the evening. The agenda varies but includes things like night hikes, stargazing and presentations about nature and conservation.

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