How to Spend One Day at Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps one of the most well-known destinations in the United States. Today I am going to walk you through how to spend one day at Grand Canyon National Park.

We have visited the Grand Canyon twice now, and both times we only spent one day in the park. As large as the park is, most of it is not accessible (hello canyon haha!) so you won’t need as much time as you would think.

Ok, let’s go ahead and jump into how you could spend one day at Grand Canyon National Park!

Spending one day at Grand Canyon National Park

When to visit Grand Canyon National Park

We visited in both October and December. The weather in mid-October couldn’t have been any better! We definitely recommend visiting the Grand Canyon this time of year to avoid the bigger crowds and the relentless summer heat.

Our first day at Grand Canyon National Park

December was also nice but it was a lot colder. We went around Christmas which meant there were a lot more people but we still had a nice visit.

Visit the Grand Canyon visitor center

When you first arrive at the Grand Canyon south entrance, be sure and stop at the visitor center first. Not only can you get maps and information from the national park service employees, but this is also the perfect place to park and walk out to Mather Point.

Mather Point is a 5-minute walk from the visitor center and provides stunning views of the Grand Canyon. This is where we saw the Grand Canyon for the first time! Plan to spend at least 15 minutes at Mather Point to take in the views and take pictures.

Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Book a helicopter tour or a hummer tour at the Grand Canyon

We decided to book a helicopter tour flying over the Grand Canyon and it was AMAZING! This was a huge bucket list item for me and getting to cross it off with family was extra special! It was our main focus of the day and we thoroughly enjoy it.

We booked our tour with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours and decided to do the North Canyon with Hummer tour. It was roughly 30 mins of time in the helicopter and then 2 1/2 hours in the hummer.

Helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon

Helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon

Our tour started at the Grand Canyon National Park Airport. We arrived 30 mins before our tour to sign paperwork and watch a safety video. Afterward, we headed out to board the helicopter!

Each person is assigned a seat in the helicopter to balance out the weight properly. I was lucky enough to be assigned the front passenger seat with the pilot. It was really fascinating watching him get the helicopter ready for flight. There are so many levers, dials, and switches!

It was easily one of the most incredible things I’ve experienced in my life! Flying in a helicopter over such a breathtaking view is really hard to accurately describe. I will admit, however, that it was a little nerve-wracking at first haha! The takeoff is very different from an airplane and wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I got comfortable pretty quickly.

As you’ll see if you watch the video, the first part of the flight is over the Kaibab National Forest. You are not permitted to fly directly over the Grand Canyon National Park, so we had to go around it to get to the part of the Grand Canyon where flying over is permitted.

Check out our YouTube video for footage of our helicopter tour!

We started from the South Rim and flew along the Dragon Corridor to the North Rim and then back again. I could see the Colorado River far below us snaking its way through the Canyon. There were so many different fascinating views to take in as you flew through the rugged Canyon walls!

The flight itself lasted about 30 mins and was just the perfect amount of time for us. We really enjoyed it and would love to go back and do it again with our future kids someday!

Hummer tour around the south rim

The hummer portion of our tour was fulfilled through Buck Wild Hummer Tours out of Grand Canyon Village, Arizona. We boarded a hummer, along with one other family of three, and set off into the park. Our driver doubled as a tour guide and pointed out interesting facts about the park.

The hummer tour lasted about 2-2 1/2 hours and included several stops at different overlooks along the South Rim. Tucker enjoyed not having to drive and search for parking, but we didn’t necessarily see or do anything that we couldn’t have done on our own. Overall, we enjoyed it, and we’re still glad that we did the combo tour.

One day at Grand Canyon National Park

Go on a hike in Grand Canyon National Park

Although there are not as many easy hiking trails in Grand Canyon National Park as some of the other national parks, there are still several bucket list hikes that you shouldn’t miss if you’re up for the adventure. The most common hikes are:

  • South Kaibab Trail | moderate | 2.8 miles round trip
  • Bright Angel Trail | hard | 15.3 miles round trip
  • Grand Canyon Rim Trail | easy | 6 miles round trip
  • Rim-to-Rim: North Kaibab to Grand Canyon Village Hike | hard | 24 miles round trip

Read about 19 incredible national park hikes in this post here.

Visiting the Grand Canyon in one day

Stop at the El Tovar restaurant for dinner

The El Tovar is one of the few restaurants in Grand Canyon National Park and was the only one currently open when we visited. Reservations in advance are usually required, however, they were only taking in-person reservations. We got to the restaurant shortly before they opened, and ended up being seated within 30 minutes. Finding a parking spot was the most difficult part!

The restaurant is inside of the elegant El Tovar Hotel and, if you’re lucky enough to sit near a window, provides breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon outside. We both enjoyed the Chicken El Tovar, one of their signature entrees. The desserts looked delicious, but we were too full to try them haha!

El Tovar restaurant at the Grand Canyon

The restaurant is a bit of a splurge at around $60 total for both of us, but it was the perfect way to end our day visiting the Grand Canyon! Also, consider stopping by the Yavapai Geology Museum next door.

We really enjoyed visiting Grand Canyon National Park and can’t wait to go back and explore it even more in the future! I hope this day trip itinerary inspires you to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon, it’s definitely a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list! Which of these things will you add to your Grand Canyon itinerary?

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Much Love, Janae xoxo

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