You could spend weeks in Grand Canyon and the area without getting bored. BUT, if you’re like us and it’s a must-see destination that you’re fitting into a road trip and you only have one day, you might not have much more than a day.
If you only have a day, here’s a sample itinerary that will give you a good feel of the canyon and another nearby landmark. The map below shows you staying in Flagstaff, AZ, then heading up to the park and on to Page, AZ for the night. We also show how easily you can get to Zion right after a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Morning: Wake up and head to the Grand Canyon as early as you can. This itinerary involves heading to the South Rim of the park. The North Rim can be just as fun but is more remote and involves more expertise to get round. The South Rim is made for newbies to the park.
Head straight to a hike. Where you hike might depend on the season you are visiting. Most people are going to visit the park in summer because of traditional vacation schedules. This is super convenient for scheduling but does not work well with Grand Canyon weather. When we visited in late June, the forecast was 115 degrees for the canyon rim. It might seem counterintuitive, but going down into the canyon means even warmer temperatures because of the elevation loss (higher elevations = cooler temperatures).
Because you’re reading this blog ahead of time, you can save the ranger station for a visit later in the day, when it’s hot or when the trails are more crowded. We recommend hiking the Rim Trail if you are visiting during the summer. Even at other seasons, this hike is perfect for people with lower fitness levels because it’s flat, or mostly flat, and because the shuttle system allows you to choose whatever distance works for you. Other popular hikes along the South Rim are the South Kaibab or Bright Angel, both of which will bring you down into the canyon (remember most of the effort is required for the hike back up). The nicest part about any of these hikes is that you can turn around at whatever distance works for you. If you’d like a short hike, only go half a mile out, if you’d like a longer one, you can drop for several miles before turning around.
You can pick up the Rim trail up anywhere along Hermit Road and there are access points right in Grand Canyon Village. The entire Rim Trail is just under 12 miles long so if you’re looking for a full or most-of-the day outing, this will work just great. You can hike the whole thing and then snag a shuttle back to your car. The reason we recommend the Rim Trail is that you can really get a sense of the canyon, its vastness, and also how different angles can change your perspective on it.
Afternoon: At the end of the trail (Hermits Rest) is an over-priced but worth-every-penny snack shop. You can snag sandwiches, extra drinks or water, ice cream, and the like. Grab some snacks, catch a shuttle back to your car, and visit the ranger station. If you’re staying near the canyon, there are plenty of places to catch the sunset. But if you’re on the move anyways, we’d like to recommend you take a drive (~ 2 hours) to Page, Arizona to visit Horseshoe Bend.
The hike to Horseshoe Bend is about 2/3 of a mile (for a total of 1.3 miles or so). Directions and parking information are available here. The hike is not terribly strenuous but it is sandy and there are some steep sections. You’ll climb up and then down to the viewpoint, so the return trip will also involve an ascent and descent. The view is simply stunning. If you can swing it, check the sunset time and plan to stick around. There are plenty of hotel options in Page if you are looking for a place to stay for your road trip.
Add-Ons: If you’re road tripping through the area, you might add a visit to Petrified Forest National Park (located right off of I-40) or Lake Powell to your visit. Before or after you visit the Grand Canyon, you can swing up to Utah to explore around Grand Escalante. And Zion National Park is only about 2 hours away, maybe less, from Page. Check out here for a round-up of recommendations for hiking in Zion, as well as nearby Bryce.