Many famous sites around the world are hyped up so much that when you finally visit they fail to live up the expectations that you have set. The Grand Canyon is not one of them. Our Grand Canyon day trip from Sedona was undoubtedly the highlight of our Arizona road trip itinerary.
When planning our route, we initially thought that we’d be able to spend an hour or two at the Canyon, snap a couple of photos and be on our way. Instead, we were absolutely mesmerised by the beauty of this natural wonder and ended up spending close to 8 hours walking and driving around looking at different and unique viewpoints.
If you love hiking and the outdoors, visitors should definitely not plan to see all of the Grand Canyon in one day. However, if you’re short on time and only have one day available for your visit to the Grand Canyon then it’s definitely worth spending a few hours driving here to see this incredible site.
You can do a day trip from Phoenix, Williams, Sedona or Flagstaff, particularly in the warmer months when the days are longer. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this natural wonder and seeing the highlights of the Grand Canyon in a single day!
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Getting to the Grand Canyon
Due to a lack of public transport options in Arizona, you’ll need to have your own transport or take an organised tour to Grand Canyon National Park.
If you’re not from the area and are planning on renting a car, then the best way to find a good deal is by browsing on Rentalcars.com. The platform aggregates prices from all the major car hire companies to ensure you don’t pay more than you have to.
You also have the option of renting a campervan or RV from Outdoorsy which has a huge selection available in this part of the world and a great choice if you’re on a longer road trip like from LA to the Grand Canyon.
Sedona to Grand Canyon
A day trip to the Grand Canyon from Sedona is a popular option as Sedona is a great base for exploring Arizona. Driving from Sedona to the Grand Canyon will take approximately 2.5 hours each way meaning that you shouldn’t spend too long lying in bed in the morning!
If heading back down south after visiting the Grand Canyon, you can potentially save some time by spending the night in Williams or Flagstaff to cut down on driving time.
If you prefer a guided tour from Sedona, then there are a number of options such as this small-group tour or this deluxe tour which also includes a stop at Oak Creek Canyon. You can also organise a private tour.
Phoenix or Scottsdale to Grand Canyon
A day trip from Phoenix will see you driving 4 hours one way and 8 hours return trip so this option certainly isn’t for everybody!
This option is best if you’re not visiting in winter when the days are shorter unless you are happy to get a very early start!
If travelling from Phoenix, it might be worth considering booking guided transport so you can relax on the way up to the Grand Canyon and ensure you are able to enjoy your Grand Canyon day trip to the fullest!
Flagstaff or Williams to Grand Canyon
Another option that you might not have considered is to spend the night in Flagstaff or Williams instead.
Williams is a short one-hour drive to the Grand Canyon along the AZ-64, while you will need to allocate an additional half-hour if taking a day trip from Flagstaff.
If staying in Williams, you also have the option of taking the train to the Grand Canyon. The tourist train has several different classes of carriages to choose from and provides a luxurious way for travellers to enter the park.
The disadvantage of the train is that for part of the year, there is only one departure each day. Even in peak season, there are only two departures meaning you only have a limited amount of time to enjoy the Grand Canyon in all of its glory.
If you don’t want to drive to the Grand Canyon, then there is the option of taking an organised group tour to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff.
Grand Canyon Day Trip Itinerary
It should come as no surprise that the Grand Canyon is absolutely enormous which means it’s simply not possible to see everything that is on offer in just one day.
I, therefore, recommend visitors only spending one day at the Grand Canyon to stick to certain sections of the South Rim only, particularly if you’re planning to spend the night in Phoenix or Sedona.
Morning: Walk along the Rim Trail
When arriving at the Grand Canyon you will be directed to the Visitor Centre where the majority of visitor parking is located.
From here, it’s only a couple of minutes’ walk to Mather Point, which will be your first glimpse of the majestic canyon! Unfortunately, it will likely also be the most crowded part of your visit!
Many tour buses and visitors who only want to do a quick photo stop of the Grand Canyon will park at Mather Point before driving off. Luckily, you don’t need to walk far to feel as if you have the whole Canyon to yourself!
I recommend visitors start their day by walking along the Rim Trail from the Visitor Center to the Grand Canyon Village. The Rim Trail is 2.1 miles/3.4 kilometres long and as the name suggests, follows the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!
The trail is flat, well-paved and accessible to people of all ages making this walk quite a leisurely stroll rather than a difficult hike. The only thing to be aware of is that parts of the trail can get icy in winter so make sure you wear appropriate hiking shoes for the Grand Canyon.
As you walk on the Rim Trail, you will completely forget about all the tour buses you saw at Mather Point as it will feel as if you have the Canyon all to yourself, particularly in the less-visited winter months. Be prepared for the walk to take longer than you expect as there are plenty of fantastic photo opportunities!
There are also a number of exhibits where you can learn more about the geological makeup of the Grand Canyon.
The Trail of Time is an exhibit on the Rim Trail which allows visitors to understand how the rock formations have changed over millions of years.
Visitors can also stop at the Geology Museum which is about a third of the way along the trail if they want to warm up or cool down and learn more about the landscapes of the area that you’re visiting.
By the time you make your way to the Village, chances are you would have developed a bit of an appetite! Luckily, there are a number of spots to grab lunch here!
A great place for a sit-down lunch is at the Harvey House Cafe at the Bright Angel Lodge which is a casual restaurant that serves a range of sandwiches, wraps and burgers.
The staff here are super friendly and the portions are massive so it’s a great place to fuel up after a hike. Expect to pay about $10-20 per person here.
If you’re travelling to the Grand Canyon on a budget, then I recommend packing lunch or stopping at the General Store in the Market Plaza to pick up some groceries.
Afternoon: Pick a bus loop to explore
One of the great things that makes it possible to see a lot of the Grand Canyon in a day is the fantastic infrastructure that exists at the park.
When arriving at the Grand Canyon you will be given a detailed map that contains all the viewpoints and details of several bus loops that operate within the park which is included in the entrance fee.
As you only have one day at the Grand Canyon I recommend sticking to one section of the park only and seeing as much of that loop as possible.
One option is to explore the red bus loop that goes from the Village to Hermit’s Rest with nine fantastic viewpoints along the way. Our favourites along the loop were Maricopa Point and Mohave Point while the final stop at Hermit’s Rest has a snack bar, gift shop and toilets. Keep an eye out for elks along the red bus loop!
The red bus loop only operates during the months of March to November but if you’re visiting during the winter months then you can self-drive this section or even hike the 11km (6.8 miles) to Hermit’s Rest if you’re feeling particularly active!
If you’ve walked the Rim Trail in the morning then you can take the blue loop back to the Visitor Center and pick up your car at the end of the day or if the road is open to Hermit’s Rest.
Another option is to explore the Orange Loop that departs from the Visitor Center or the Geology Museum on the Rim Trail and goes to Yaki Point.
Visitors also have the option of driving along Desert View Drive, east from the Visitor Center, and stopping along several other viewpoints to the well-known Desert View Watchtower. If you choose to drive you will not be able to access Yaki Point as that road isn’t open to private vehicles.
Exploring either the Red Loop or Desert View Drive as the sun begins to set is one of the highlights of a tour of the Grand Canyon as the rocks completely change colour and it gives you a unique landscape that you wouldn’t have seen throughout the day.
Have More Time?
If you have 2 days to spend on your Grand Canyon itinerary then I suggest spending two to three hours exploring whichever bus loop you didn’t get a chance to see on your first day.
You can either do this first thing in the morning when crowds are low or as it gets closer to sunset so you can enjoy the changing colours of the rocks!
Another great activity if you only have two days at the Grand Canyon is to hike partly down the South Rim. The two trails that go down into the Canyon are the Bright Angel Trail which is located next to the Village or the South Kaibab Trail which is located east of the Visitor Center.
The park explicitly says that it is not recommended to attempt to hike all the way to the bottom and back in one day, however, you can do a portion of the trail in one day.
If you’re fortunate and have three days to spend, then you can arrange to camp one night at the bottom and then hike back up the next day. Alternatively, you could take a day trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which is a lot less visited compared to the popular South Rim. This will allow you to also loop in a visit to Antelope Canyon.
If your budget allows, then I’m sure a helicopter tour from the South Rim or an airplane tour would be an amazing way to see this incredible site and give you a unique perspective which wouldn’t be possible if only hiking around.
You can also take a sunset hummer tour that takes you to some of the best lookout points as the sun sets.
Alternatively, you drive from the Grand Canyon towards Vegas and visit places like Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
Where to stay near the Grand Canyon
If you want to base yourself close to the Grand Canyon but want to keep costs down then it’s best to stay in Williams or Flagstaff where accommodation is significantly cheaper than staying within the park. Some of the best places to stay near the Grand Canyon are:
SureStay Hotel – a clean and basic budget hotel located in Williams with breakfast included in the nightly rate.
Hotel Aspen Flagstaff – a hotel located in Flagstaff which has a wide range of rooms available, around-the-clock check-in and a good breakfast included in the room rate.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to find other hotels near the Grand Canyon!
Visiting the Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the things you must do on a trip to the South West. Whether you only have time for a day or are able to spend a couple of days exploring, it definitely worthwhile to make the effort to come here!
Are you planning on spending a day at the Grand Canyon? Or have you recently visited? Let us know in the comments below!