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Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is one of the most well known United States National Parks and can be visited in just one day. And for good reason, it’s truly stunning! Many flock to see the Grand Canyon in person year round. (Typically it is a lot busier in the summer months!) However, there are several other things that you should keep in mind when planning on spending a day (or more) at Grand Canyon National Park.
Where to go? North Rim vs. South Rim
The North Rim visitor centers and areas are much smaller compared to the South Rim. Most people visit the South Rim. It’s definitely do-able to visit the South Rim in one day. Many consider the South Rim to be the “True Grand Canyon”. The best thing about the South Rim is that there are so many different viewpoints to admire the canyon and the Colorado River. The South Rim is the most easily accessible from Phoenix/Scottsdale, Sedona, AZ or even Las Vegas, NV making it an easy choice for a one day visit added onto one of those locations. The South Rim is also open year round, where the North Rim closes during the winter season. And yes, the Grand Canyon does experience snow & ice if you visit during that time of year. During your day here you can also prearrange a tour if you choose to do so making the most of your time.
One Day at the Grand Canyon
If you plan to spend one day at the Grand Canyon, be sure to maximize your time by following these tips. You could definitely spend a longer amount of time at the Grand Canyon, however spending one day there you can be sure to check out a few viewpoints along the South Rim trail, go to the visitor center, and catch the sunset.
Plan to get there early
When we visited from Sedona, AZ we woke up early. We were on the road leaving by 7 AM to drive two hours to the South entrance of the park. We arrived to the Grand Canyon by 9 AM and it was perfect timing, although somewhat brisk earlier in the day.
It was somewhat cold in January. There was a considerable amount of snow & in some spots it was extremely icy! Definitely, walk with caution if you visit during this time of year. We actually saw someone slip and fall down onto a ledge 20-30 feet below and have to get rescued. Don’t be that person! Proceed with caution and wear well gripping shoes. It isn’t worth a picture or video if it could be that dangerous venturing to an icy area with no guard rails or safety precautions.
We visited the South Rim, which is the only part of the Grand Canyon that is open year round. The North Rim is only typically open from December to May. Check with the National Park Service on specific dates prior to your trip to be sure of opening days.
If you plan to get a later start, that’s your preogative, but be prepared for the possibility of waiting in a long line to even enter the park! When we left on our way to Flagstaff then Sedona it was 3 PM and the line to get into the park stretched all the way to the last traffic circle in Tusayan. (The distance from the South Entrance and Tusayan is about 5 miles!) We did visit over a holiday weekend, but in the summer I’m sure crowds could even be worse. So be prepared that this may be a possibility.
Come Prepared: Pack essentials
Regardless of the season, be sure to pack day essentials with you! Whether in your vehicle or a backpack that you can carry along with you during your time there.
You will want each person to have a water bottle (considerably more water if it’s during the summer season). A light snack (granola bar, protein bars, fruit snacks, jerky) is great to have if you’re spending a majority of the day there. Even if you plan on grabbing a bite after the park, if there’s congestion and traffic it may take longer than you anticipate to get out of the park. It’s always good to be prepared as no one likes a hangry travel companion!
Come Prepared: Dress appropriately
Wear appropriate clothing for the weather. It gets really windy close to the south rim where you’ll be walking. In the summer wear heat protectant clothing and a hat. Especially if you’re visiting earlier in the day you’ll also want a light water resistant jacket. In other seasons, a warmer jacket and clothes to protect from the wind including light winter gloves or mittens and a winter hat. Regardless of the season you will want to ensure you’re wearing shoes that fully cover your feet and have a considerable amount of grip. (Sneakers, hiking boots etc.) Definitely leave the flip flops at home! There are several spots that you can walk out on that don’t necessarily have guard rails and there is loose gravel and things that could cause you to lose your footing. You will for sure want stable shoes to fully enjoy your day at the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon: South Entrance
Driving from Sedona or Phoenix you will arrive to the Grand Canyon National park via the South Entrance. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, the closest entrance for you is going to be the West Entrance. Be sure to check depending on the time of year you’re visiting that the entrance you’re planning to access is even open. During the winter months, only the south entrance is open so plan accordingly!
National Parks Pass
In order to visit any National Park, there is an entrance fee. However, you can purchase a yearly pass and visit the National Parks an unlimited amount of times throughout the year. Additional pricing on visiting can be found from the Grand Canyon NPS.
Grand Canyon shuttle buses
If you’re planning on parking at the visitor center you can grab a shuttle bus to help you get around. It’s really handy and it’s what we did while we were there. You just hop on a shuttle bus to take you to a far point of the rim trail then walk along the trail back to the visitor center. Then from there hop on another shuttle bus to the other end of the trail. Once you’ve walked to the end then make your way back to the visitor center from the other side of the trail. You can walk the whole trail, but using the shuttle buses are a really convenient way to maximize your time. (If you’re traveling with older less mobile people or kids it just makes sense to utilize the shuttle buses!)
Grand Canyon’s Best Scenic Viewpoints
There are 50 named view points along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some of the best scenic viewpoints along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are Mather, Hopi, Shoshone, Powell, Yaki, Ooh Aah, Moran, Desert view & more. There will be many spots along the trail that aren’t even viewpoints that the light will hit just perfectly for a photo or to stop and admire the view. So keep your eyes peeled as you’re walking along!
Mather point is considered to be one of the main view points along the South Rim. It’s located near the visitor center and there’s a specific shuttle bus stop right at Mather Point making it really easy to access as well. While at the Grand Canyon, other than the visitor center this was the area and lookout along the trail with the most people so keep that in mind when visiting as it may get crowded.
Hiking along the South Rim Trail
The South Rim Trail is located along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for approximately 13 miles. It wouldn’t even necessarily (in my opinion) be considered a hike. It’s more of a leisurely walk along a paved path. But, that being said it’s definitely something that’s easy to do and accessible for everyone! The views along the South Rim are stunning. You walk a little farther and then you’re presented with another absolutely stunning vantage point. Repeat that scenario along the whole trail for an enjoyable day at the Grand Canyon! Seeing the Grand Canyon blanketed in snow with lighter crowds was definitely a magical experience.
Make the most of your day with a tour
If you’re tight on time, booking a tour to get additional context and see some incredible views is a great option! There are many different vantage points to experience the Grand Canyon from including a helicopter tour from above.
Grand Canyon Village
By paying a little bit of a premium, you could also decide to stay in the National Park. The advantages to staying in Grand Canyon Village is the opportunity to see the sunrise and sunset out over the Grand Canyon without having to drive really early and leave really late. Grand Canyon Village a small city located within the National Park. It caters to those who are visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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