So you want to see the Grand Canyon but you only have one day (or less) to do it. No worries — that’s definitely enough time to get a good taste of the canyon if you check out a few of the experiences below.
1. See Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets at the IMAX® Theater in Tusayan, AZ.
This is a great way to begin your visit to the Grand Canyon and develop a true appreciation for just how spectacular it is. Sit back in air-conditioned comfort while a giant six-story movie screen and digital surround sound take you on a life-like trip through the Grand Canyon over time. Soar like an eagle over the rim and dive into the depths of the craggy canyons. Take a whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River and sense the raging currents thundering around you.
2. Get a closer view of Grand Canyon at South Rim Visitor Center
Once inside Grand Canyon National Park, the South Rim Visitor Center is a great place to begin your personal exploration of the Grand Canyon. Start with a short walk over to Mather Point Lookout (pictured above) and feel your lungs expand to capacity in a gasp as you try to comprehend the sight before you. From here you can wander along the paved and relatively flat Rim Trail for many more jaw-dropping views of the canyon. If you want to cover more ground quickly, jump on one of the free shuttle buses that stop in front of the visitor center. The map you receive at the entrance gate shows you which bus line (coded by color) goes where.
3. Experience a bird’s eye view from a helicopter
The Grand Canyon is massive and there’s a lot to see. Whether you’ve lived in the area your entire life or this is your first visit, a helicopter tour will help you gain a more thorough appreciation of the canyon in a very short time. You will learn how it was created, what kind of weather is found throughout the canyon and even the wildlife that lives in the area. Most importantly, you’ll see more of the canyon in a short amount of time than you can by any other means.
4. Take the free shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest
The further you get away from the visitor center, the fewer people (and more of the canyon) you’ll see. Hermit’s Rest is the westernmost point in Grand Canyon National Park that’s accessible by vehicle. You can’t drive your own vehicle there between March 1 and November 30 but you can take the free Red Route shuttle bus from the Grand Canyon Village. You can also ride a bike or walk there.
The distance is about 7 miles ( km) one way and takes about 80 minutes (round-trip). There are nine different points along the way to step off the shuttle and look around before the next bus comes along – roughly every 15 minutes during the day.
Want a more open air experience? Ride the shuttle out to the end and then walk all or a portion of the paved Rim Trail back to the Village.
5. Cruise a bike along Rim Trail
If you enjoy the exhilaration of two wheels under you and the open air blowing in your face, jump on a bicycle and go for a cruise on the gentle, paved Rim Trail. From Grand Canyon Village, the trail runs roughly seven miles to the west and five miles to the east with numerous points to stop for breathtaking views and refreshments. If you don’t have a bike or didn’t bring your bike with you, you can rent one or book a guided bicycle tour from Bright Angel Bicycles.
6. Take a hike on Bright Angel Trail
Stat keepers like to point out that of the 6 million or so visitors to the Grand Canyon each year, only about 10% venture more than a mile below the rim. And just 1% hike all the way down to the Colorado River in the floor of the canyon. Bright Angel Trail can help you become either a ten-percenter or a one-percenter; meaning you can hike it all the way to the bottom of the canyon if you wish. And if time permits. For people in good shape, it’s about a 12-hour hike down and back.
Some hikes require advance reservations or permits, but not Bright Angel. Just make your way to the trailhead in the South Rim Village and start walking. The most important tip to remember is the one clearly posted on many a sign in the Grand Canyon — Hiking down is optional, hiking up is not. Translation: only hike as far down as you’ll have energy for hiking back up. More importantly, carry along plenty of water and abide by this rule of thumb: turn around and head back up when your water supply is half gone.
Insider’s tip: After you pass through the short tunnel at about the half-mile mark, look for the the ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock above your left shoulder .
Remember: Hiking down is optional, hiking up is not.
7. Catch a sunrise or sunset at Yaki Point
Located just a short shuttle ride from the South Rim Visitor Center is Yaki Point — a favorite viewpoint of the Grand Canyon with photographers. While you can visit this unique vista any time of day, it will really leave you awestruck when the sun is rising or setting. For the best experience, you’ll do well to plan on arriving a half hour before the official sunrise or sunset and hanging around for 30 minutes after. The only way to get to Yaki point is via the free Orange Shuttle bus, which you can board at the South Rim Visitor Center or a number of other clearly marked stops.
8. Pan the horizon from Desert View Watchtower
Like an oasis for travelers, the Desert View Visitor Center awaits people arriving at the Grand Canyon’s south rim from the Flagstaff and Four Corners regions. Desert View is one of the best vantage points for non-hikers to see the Colorado River as it winds through the canyon. Desert View is uniquely situated high above an elbow in the river, offering visitors spectacular views of the river as it gushes in from the north, before redirecting a virtual right angle to the west. See Desert View up close>>
Although the Grand Canyon is huge, you don’t need to commit a big chunk of time to truly appreciate its magnificence. All you need is a day (or less) and a good plan. Work a few of the experiences above into your visit and you’ll walk away with memories of the Grand Canyon that you’ll be able to cherish forever.
Ready to go? Tap the map for directions to the Grand Canyon South Rim. ↓