Planning the perfect Grand Canyon itinerary can be a bit overwhelming when you consider all that this incredible natural area has to offer. Between the sprawling canyons, vibrant stone formations, and rushing Colorado River, it’s no wonder the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited National Parks in the world.
From hikes showcasing glorious vistas to some of the best stargazing in the world, 2 to 3 days in the Grand Canyon is the perfect way to enjoy one of the United States’ greatest natural wonders.
One of the perks of visiting the Grand Canyon is the balance of untouched nature and well-maintained infrastructure; you can enjoy off-the-beaten-path camping adventures, the comfort of elegant lodges, or a mix of both!
However you choose to spend your time, this itinerary will help you make the most of your visit.
How Many Days in the Grand Canyon?
One of the first questions that comes up when planning a trip to this stunning National Park is how many days to spend in the Grand Canyon.
It’s common to rush up to the Grand Canyon for a whistle-stop tour. Many will just see some of the viewpoints, walk a bit of the Rim Trail and then head out. However, it is so worth it to to spend a bit more time.
While you can visit the Grand Canyon as a day trip, most visitors find that 2 days in the Grand Canyon is enough time to see the most popular sites while still fitting in some more casual hikes. For those interested in longer hikes and exploring some of the park’s hidden gems, you’ll want to schedule 3 days in the Grand Canyon.
This Grand Canyon itinerary will focus on seeing the park’s highlights in the first two days, including some of the best sunset and sunrise views, a few lovely hikes, and must-see vistas.
For those planning a 3-day Grand Canyon trip, the last day of this itinerary will offer a few day-long adventures that take you into the canyon and get you up close and personal to the beauty of this breathtaking destination.
Getting To & Around the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is located near the northern border of Arizona and can be accessed from the southern or northern end. The South Rim entrance is open year-round and is located 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona.
You can access this entrance via route 64, whether coming from I-40 or US-180. The North Rim is closed from December 1st through May 15th, but when it is open, it can be accessed via Highway 67 and is located 30 miles south of Jacob Lake.
You can reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in about a four-hour drive from Phoenix, but there are plenty of great places to stop off along the way.
The Sedona to Grand Canyon drive is about 2 hours and the drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon West Rim is roughly 4 hours. You can also reach the national park by driving from Los Angeles in about 7.5 hours and San Diego in about 8.5 hours. You can easily loop in a visit to the Grand Canyon with a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah.
No matter which entrance you use, it’ll cost $35 USD per car for a weeklong pass (unless you have an America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80 USD per year and gives you unlimited access to all National Parks in the United States).
When visiting the Grand Canyon, if you can afford to rent a car, it’s by far the preferable option. You can browse options on Rentalcars.com for cars to hire or check out Outdoorsy for RVs or campervans.
If you are not taking a car, there is a train from Williams, AZ that takes guests to the park via the Grand Canyon Railway. You can pre-book tickets here.
There are a variety of free shuttles that operate around the South Rim, and a few seasonal North Rim shuttles, but a car will give you greater access and freedom in exploring the Grand Canyon. You can also rely on guided tours of the area such as this jeep tour or this private tour.
The park can be a bit tricky to navigate, so pay attention to your maps. Luckily, if you do take a wrong turn, most side roads either loop back to the main road or offer plenty of easy turn-around spots, so it’s easy to remedy should you end up on the wrong road.
Overall, the roads are well-maintained and easy to drive. This Grand Canyon itinerary focuses on the warmer seasons, since it’s the easiest and most enjoyable time to visit the park, but if you are visiting anytime from November through May, keep an eye out for icy roads.
This is more of a concern in deep winter, but depending on the snowfall that year, it’s something to be aware of in late fall and early spring as well. No matter when you visit, keep an eye out for wildlife. It is also worth noting that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed to visitors from mid-October to mid-May.
Elk and mule deer have a tendency to cross the roads in search of food, so drive slow and keep your eyes on the road!
2 to 3 Days in the Grand Canyon Itinerary
Whether you are spending 2 days in the Grand Canyon or are planning a 3-day Grand Canyon trip, there is plenty to do and see in this stunning park. Below, we’ve created an ideal itinerary that will allow you to see some of the parks top attractions while also taking you off the beaten path to the more hidden wonders the park has to offer.
Day 1 – Desert View Drive, Tusayan Ruins, Trail of Time & Sunset Viewpoints
Desert View Drive & Watchtower
The Desert View Drive is a 23-mile scenic drive that takes you past some of the Grand Canyon’s most beautiful views along the South Rim. Starting your visit with cruising along Desert View Drive is a great way to get an overall look at what makes this park so spectacular.
Along the route, you’ll pass six different designated canyon viewpoints—great for gazing at the beauty of the canyon and capturing some photos—including the famous Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, and more. There’s really no better way to see the Grand Canyon.
At the eastern end of the drive sits the Desert View Watchtower. The tower was constructed in 1932 and is inspired by the architecture of the Puebloan people who lived in the canyon many generations ago.
The watchtower provides some of the best birds-eye views of the Grand Canyon, but the tower is more than just another viewpoint. The bottom of the watchtower is home to one of the best retail shops in the park (away from Grand Canyon Village), so it’s a great place to do some souvenir shopping.
Desert View Cultural Demonstrations
Within the Desert View Watchtower is the Kiva Room, a room is modelled after the Indigenous kiva: a large, circular, underground room often used for spiritual ceremonies, cultural rites, and political meetings. The Kiva Room in the Desert View Watchtower hosts regular cultural demonstrations.
These demonstrations include indigenous jewellers, painters, potters, weavers, silversmiths, and beyond.
Make sure to check out the Desert View Cultural Demonstrations schedule before visiting to see what will be on offer while you’re at the Grand Canyon!
Tusayan Ruins & Pueblo Museum
About three miles west of the Desert View Watchtower, halfway between the tower and Moran Point, lies the Tusayan Ruins and Pueblo Museum. The ruins are 800 years old and feature the remains of what was once a living area, storage rooms, and kiva for the Indigenous Pueblo people who once lived in the area.
Studies of the ruins have shown that the area was inhabited for 20 years, starting in 1185. The ruins were uncovered by geologists in 1930 and are now open for visitors to explore vial a trail that wanders through the area.
In addition to viewing the ruins, you can visit the Tusayan Pueblo Museum and learn more about the people who once lived there. The museum has been temporarily closed, but make sure to check before your visit, as there are plans to open the park soon.
When it opens, you can see artefacts and traditional handicrafts dated from 2000 to 4000 years ago and learn about the prehistoric community that thrived in what is now the Grand Canyon National Park.
Walk the Trail of Time
In addition to the history of the people who lived in the Grand Canyon, the park has a fascinating geological history. The Trail of Time allows visitors to stretch their legs and enjoy breath-taking vistas overlooking the canyon while learning more about how the canyon was formed and continues to change over time.
The 2.8-mile trail is paved and accessible to hikers of all levels. Each meter of the walk represents one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history and as you walk the trail, markers show you how the Colorado River turned a small divot into the longest in the world.
If you’re visiting during peak tourism season (aka June or July), there will likely be ranger tours on offer, so if you’re interested in learning about the history and geology in greater detail, head to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center or ask at the front desk of any of the lodges to see what ranger tours are being offered and when (the schedule changes regularly).
Sunset at Hopi Point or Mohave Point
Some of the Grand Canyon’s greatest attractions are the sunrise and sunset views. Many points along the South and North Rim jut into the canyon and boast views of both the eastern and the western sky, meaning they offer incredible views for sunrise and sunset.
A quick Google search will pull up at least a dozen options of places to watch the sunset, and in all honesty, there’s no bad choice. That said, if you’re only planning on 2 days in the Grand Canyon, you’re going to have to make some choices, so we’ve narrowed it down to two favorite sunset spots: Hopi Point and Mohave Point.
Hopi Point is one of the most popular sunset views in the Grand Canyon, and with good reason. It’s very accessible (the viewpoint is just off the parking lot) and it offers sweeping views of the canyon, over which you can watch the sky shift from blue to pink to orange.
However, if you’re looking for an equally stunning view without the crowds, Mohave Point is a great option. The view is just as good, but it requires walking down a short, paved trail to reach it. It’s still easy to get to, but the short trail means that it doesn’t get quite the same level of crowds that Hopi Point draws in.
Wherever you choose the watch the sunset, get there early to get a good view and make sure your camera is charged… it’s going to be gorgeous!
Day 2 – Mather Point, Mule Ride, South Kaibab Trail & Stargazing
Sunrise at Mather Point
Whether or not you’re a morning person, including a sunrise is a must during your 2 to 3 days in the Grand Canyon. Sure, it requires waking up a bit early, but you’ll face way less of a crowd and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views as the morning sun paints the entire canyon with a soft pink glow.
Watching the shadows disappear as the sun rises feels like something out of a movie and the rainbow colors that cross the stone walls of the canyon will take your breath away.
Mather Point is a short walk from the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center and offers expansive views of the canyon, making it a great place to watch the sunrise.
Geology Glimpse: South Rim Village Ranger Program
Since you’re already up early for the sunrise, take advantage of the morning and head to the Yavapai Geology Museum for the South Rim Village Ranger Program.
Every day, a ranger guides visitors on a 30-minute tour known as the “Geology Glimpse”. The program is free and an experienced ranger will teach you about the geology of how the Grand Canyon was formed, what makes the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon one of a kind, and how time will continue to shape the park you see today into something unrecognizable.
It’s a short, easy program full of fascinating information that will help you better understand the Grand Canyon.
The Canyon Vistas Mule Ride
One of the Grand Canyon’s most unique offerings are the mule rides that travel along the rim of the canyon. The Canyon Vistas Mule Ride is a 2-hour ride that costs $160.26 USD per person.
In addition to a mule, a guide, and a truly unique experience, you’ll get a souvenir water bottle to commemorate the experience. Reservations are required, so call in advance to plan your ride.
Hike the South Kaibab Trail
By now, you’ve gotten tons of views of the canyon, and it’s time to go over the edge and get a new perspective.
The South Kaibab Trail is an easy day hike that will take you below the lip and into the inner edge of the canyon. This is a great way to get a sense of just how big that canyon is and see its beauty through a different lens.
The South Kaibab Trail is a 6-mile round-trip trail, but there are tons of viewpoints where hikers can turn around if they’re looking for something shorter (like the Ooh-Aah Point or Cedar Ridge).
Exiting the canyon requires a bit of a climb, but the rest of the trail is relatively easy and accessible to hikers of a variety of levels.
Stargaze & Learn about Dark Skies
The Grand Canyon is a certified International Dark Sky Park, which means the park has made efforts to limit light pollution and maximize the amount of the night sky visible from the national park. In layman’s terms, this means the Grand Canyon is an incredible place to stargaze.
Depending on the weather, you can even see the Milky Way, various star clusters, galaxies, and seasonal meteor showers.
The park offers occasional stargazing tours, but they change regularly, so it’s best to check with the visitor’s center when you arrive. However, even if there are no tours on offer, simply going outside and enjoying the beauty of the night sky is well worth your time.
Day 3 – North Rim, Colorado River Rafting or Havasu Falls
Your first 2 days in the Grand Canyon were dedicated to learning about the park, exploring some scenic viewpoints, and enjoying beautiful hikes. For those planning a 3-day trip to Grand Canyon, your third day can be a great opportunity to explore some of the park’s harder-to-reach points.
Things like exploring the North Rim, rafting the Colorado River, or visiting Havasu Falls require at least 3 days in the Grand Canyon, though some will even extend their trip to 4 or 5 days to fully experience these extended offerings.
Explore the North Rim
While the South Rim is the most popular spot for visitors to the Grand Canyon, there’s plenty of beauty to explore on the North Rim as well. Driving from the South Rim to the North Rim is a day in and of itself; it’s a 4.5-hour drive that covers 220 miles, so if you’re planning to visit, you’ll want to wake up early.
On the North Rim, you’ll find tons of hiking trails that take you over the rim of the canyon, a paved trail to Bright Angel Point, and the North Rim Visitor’s center, which is home to an exhibit, bookstore, and gift shop.
Visiting the North Rim is a great option for those seeking a different perspective on the canyon and is especially nice for people who are heading north on their trip after the Grand Canyon.
Raft the Colorado River
The more adventure-minded visitors will enjoy a day of rafting the Colorado River. There are plenty of multi-day river excursions for those looking to raft and camp along the base of the canyon but Grand Canyon West offers one-day adventures for anyone who wants to add a little adventure to their Grand Canyon visit.
Not only is the rafting an adrenaline-filled day of fun, but you’ll get to see the canyon from the bottom, a truly unique and spectacular view of the Grand Canyon’s towering beauty.
Visit Havasu Falls
Realistically, visiting Havasu Falls is a 2-day adventure, so in order to add this to your trip, you’d either have to replace day 2 of this itinerary or add a day 4 to your trip.
Still, it’s such an incredible experience, it’s worth mentioning.
To visit Havasu Falls, you’ll need a permit and a fair amount of comfort with hiking, but your reward is a cerulean waterfall tucked between the Grand Canyon’s formidable rock structures.
Once there, you can swim, paddleboard, or just take in the beautiful views while you rest and enjoy a picnic. Though it does add an extra day to your visit, it adds so much more than that to your experience.
Where to Stay near the Grand Canyon
Little America Hotel Flagstaff – If you’re after a luxury base near the Grand Canyon, then this hotel is an excellent option. They have a range of lovely rooms on offer – all furnished in a lodge-like style, and there is an on-site swimming pool and a restaurant on offer, as well. Click here to see their availability
Hotel Elev8 – This hotel is a great mid-range option for those looking to explore the Grand Canyon. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and there is even an on-site swimming pool to splash around in! Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’re after a private rental near the Grand Canyon, then there are countless options to choose from — such as this beautiful home near Williams or this cosy cabin in Flagstaff. Click here to check availability.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels near the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the United States’ most famous attractions, and with good reason. In addition to being downright gorgeous, there is tons to do while you visit. From hiking and stargazing to mule rides and white-water rafting, your time in the Grand Canyon will be anything but boring!
Are you planning a trip to the Grand Canyon? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!