Grand Canyon: things to see in a day. Which rim is better?

October 13, 2020 /
What to See in One Day at the Grand Canyon

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

You only have 24 hours to visit the most famous U.S. national park? Don’t worry, even though time is of the essence, you will still be able to enjoy some of the most incredible panoramic views of that you have ever seen. How? The purpose of this article is to answer this question: what are the things to do at the Grand Canyon? What to see in a day tour?

Let’s start with a premise: the Grand Canyon is a deep and immense gorge; an abyss that separates two sides: the North and South Rim. The canyon widens and narrows along its endless path, reaching a distance of more than 15 miles between the North and South Rim.

Just from this basic description, you will have already gathered that you cannot pass from one rim to the other as easily as you would cross a river. If you’ve ever thought of driving around the Grand Canyon to see both sides of the river, forget it! It’s an impossible feat to accomplish in one day. So, what should you do?

Grand Canyon South Rim or North Rim: which one is better?

You have to choose, but how? Is it better to visit the South Rim or the North Rim (and there is also the West Rim, but for now let’s not complicate things too much…)? It depends.: the short answer is this: the south side is definitely more touristic but also more convenient and there are more services available; the north side is less crowded but also not as easy to access. Let’s see if we can give you more details.

Grand Canyon South Rim: Why should you visit it?

Grand Canyon things to do
What to See at the Grand Canyon: Desert View

The South Rim is the part of the Grand Canyon that is most visited by tourists. There are several visitor service facilities, such as the Grand Canyon Village, where you will find accommodations, restaurants and a visitor center. Although it is the most touristy area, it should not be overlooked: certain amenities are convenient and the view from the edge, though it may be somewhat obstructed by crowds, is truly breathtaking.

There are numerous viewpoints along the edge, including Desert View, Buggeln, Grandview Point, Mather Point (where the visitor center is located), Yavapai Point, Hopi Point (particularly beautiful at sunset), Shoshone Point and Hermits Rest. You can visit many natural observatories on the South Rim by following the Rim Trail (the route of the entire South Rim). One can also choose to travel along the ridge by car stopping at the observation points along the way.

Climate and Temperatures
Want some information about the best time to visit the park? Read our tips on the  best time to visit the Grand Canyon!

The best spot is probably Desert View, the highest point in the South Rim. There stands a unique stone observation tower decorated with murals of Native-American legends that was built in 1932 by Mary Colter. We recommend you go to the top of the tower to enjoy the stunning 360° view.

You can also take advantage of the Grand Canyon’s free shuttle service to visit this area.

If you want more information on this region of the Grand Canyon, read our guide on the Grand Canyon South Rim. If you are looking for accommodations in the area, we have also published an article on the subject: see the article below.

Where to stay at the Grand Canyon (South Rim)

Grand Canyon North Rim: Why should you visit it?

grand canyon day trip in a day
What to See at the Grand Canyon: Cape Royal

The North Rim is quieter, taller and more exposed, but it also less accessible than the South Rim. Accommodations remain closed from October to mid-May and the park itself is closed during the winter. You won’t find museums, buses or shuttle services here, so if you want to enjoy the beautiful views your only option is to backpack.

On the north side there are many hiking trails to choose from and the most fascinating views can be admired along the Bright Angel Point (the easiest), Widforss Trail,Cape Royal Trail and the legendary North Kaibab Trail. It is important, especially for this last trail mentioned, that you come prepared (with water, breathable clothing and self-discipline) and be mindful about the time. Remember that it often takes twice as long to get back! If you want to know more about this region, read in our article on the Grand Canyon North Rim!

If you are looking for a campsite, you can find accommodations at the North Rim Campground, while if you are looking for a unique hotel you can stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge, a stone and wood hotel perched on the edge of the canyon, with large windows offering a 180° view of America’s most famous national park. For more basic accommodations in the surrounding towns and cities, check out our tips on where to stay at the Grand Canyon (North and South Rim).

Where to stay at the Grand Canyon (North Rim)

Grand Canyon in a day: Trails and Tours

best things to do in grand canyon
One Day at the Grand Canyon: Day Trips

Hiking Tours

Since you only have one day to enjoy the Grand Canyon you will have to forgo the long and demanding hiking tours (That is the case if you can’t get there in the morning, around 6:00 am, to complete an exhausting day-long hike). To understand what excursions you can do independently within the time at hand, please read our article on the best Grand Canyon trails (North and South Rim), where you’ll see the duration time, trail type and degree of difficulty of each trail.

At the South Rim, those with little time and little desire to organize their own hikes can join one of the organized tours that depart from Tusayan, about ten minutes south of the Grand Canyon Village. Tours include pick-up at the hotel and an IMAX movie about the park’s history.

Organized Tours Available

If you’d like to have a broader overview of the Grand Canyon day tours (and other options), we’ve published an article listing them all: you’ll find it at the link below.

Info and tips on Grand Canyon tours

Below are the most popular and suitable for a 24-hour visit to the park:

South Rim by Bus

As an alternative to the shuttle service (mentioned above), coach excursions are available along the edge of the South Rim, organized by Xanterra, which also provides sunrise and sunset trips to Yavapai Point.

South Rim by Jeep

4×4 Jeep rides on the edge of the canyon are also becoming popular. They are ideal for adventurous families and are not too expensive. Take a look at the link below if you are starting your trip at Tusayan. Pick-up from the town’s hotels is included.

More info about the Jeep tour

The Grand Canyon by Helicopter

There are airplane and helicopter tours that allow you to fly over the beautiful Grand Canyon for 30 minutes or more. You will have to consider how much you’re willing to spend… they usually depart from Las Vegas, but there are also others that start directly at the park. For more info, check out our in-depth section at the link below.

Flights departing from the park

Rafting in Colorado

If you are willing to explore beyond the North and South Rim, there is also the possibility of doing a little rafting in Colorado, but usually you have to book about a year in advance. Rafting trips offered by Hualapai River Runners, which are fairly expensive, depart from Diamond Creek (Peach Springs) in the heart of the Hualapai Reserve to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Websites of the main tourist agencies active in the USA have some packages that include rafting activities: for example, we recommend the Arizona Highlights Day Trip and a self-guided day tour leaving from Las Vegas. More info below:

Rafting in the Grand Canyon (from Las Vegas)

Early Grand Canyon: Lees Ferry

Wilderness River Adventure (based in the town of Page) organizes boat tours along the stretch of Colorado that “inaugurates” the Grand Canyon, a little further north. It starts under the Glen Canyon Dam, passes through Horseshoe Bend and ends at Lees Ferry (Marble Canyon), which is considered the starting point of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon…Mule Rides

Finally, there is one last excursion that is quite unique. If you don’t weigh more than 200 lbs (clothes included) you can enjoy an excursion riding a mule! Mule rides are offered by both Xanterra and Grand Canyon Trail Rides.

Daily Excursions from Las Vegas

The trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is a popular choice for those traveling on the West Coast, but in our article about the Las Vegas – Grand Canyon roadtrip, you will find that few people decide to drive on their own, especially if they only have one day. Solutions? Well, as previously mentioned in the section about rafting, there are many daily excursions from Las Vegas. They are quite appealing, because they allow you to save 4 hours of travel by car and return within a day. By the way, the majority of these tours include pick-up and return service to the hotel, with all the advantages of being accompanied by an experienced local guide. Here are some useful links:

If you are looking for excursions that are not limited to the Grand Canyon, but include other natural wonders in the surrounding area, I recommend this article that offers information about some interesting tours from Las Vegas to the Parks.

What else? Grand Canyon Skywalk!

grand canyon south rim or north rim
What to see at the Grand Canyon: The Skywalk

The Skywalk is a transparent suspended platform that overlooks the Grand Canyon, allowing for a beautiful walk with an intimidating view. Where is it located? It’s found in an area known as West Rim, on the Hualapai Reservation. The view, as it was mentioned, can be exciting, and we have described it for you in an article. You can find it at the link below:

Grand Canyon Skywalk: Wander through the Clouds of the Grand Canyon

To conclude: A Few Tips for Your Overnight Stay

Those unfamiliar with the area will want to know where to find accommodations at the Grand Canyon or nearby. Don’t miss out on these overnight tips.

lorenzo puliti
lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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