Grand Canyon South Rim: 8 Best Things To Do & Epic One Day Itinerary

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Mesmerizing scenery from Desert View Watchtower Grand Canyon South Rim Best things to do in one day beautiful blue sky contrasting against canyon formations

If you only have one day to see as much as possible at Arizona’s world famous Grand Canyon National Park, visit South Rim and follow this guide of the 8 best things to do with easy-to-follow day trip itinerary.

You will begin in the beautifully deep blue hues of civil twilight and end once the burning sun disappears over an unimaginably flat horizon. As night falls and the red canyon rocks cool, you will leave one of the most  jaw-dropping landscapes on Earth satisfied that you hit the major highlights in just one amazing day.

Gaping ravines and unique rock formations are common practice among the US Southwest National Park circuit, but you haven’t seen anything quite like the Grand Canyon before. The scale, depth and remoteness of this grandest of Grand Canyons is immense.

If an artist had painted the Grand Canyon before we knew it existed, it would be considered a masterpiece of imagination. Lucky for us it does exist – and we can all see it in person.

Let’s get into planning your one day Grand Canyon South Rim itinerary!

Our Grand Canyon resources:

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Grand Canyon National Park Factfile

National Park: Grand Canyon
State: Arizona

Address: S Entrance Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023
Telephone: (928) 638-7888

Campgrounds: Desert View, Trailer Village and Mather
Area: 1,218,375 acres

Things to do: Hiking, Rafting, Backpacking, Photography
Major Trails: Bright Angel and South Kaibab

Open: All year
Annual visitors: ~ 6 million (2nd highest in US)

Where is Grand Canyon South Rim?

Stunning clouds forming at sunrise over the Grand Canyon looking east in Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is located in the Northern reaches of Arizona, but accessing either South Rim or North Rim requires extremely different preparation and directions.

To drive from South to North Rim or vice versa is 200 miles (4h 30m). The canyon might only 18 miles wide but it is 277 miles long and you have to drive around!

Grand Canyon South Rim is approached East and West by I-40, North by US-89 and South by I-17 / US-64.

Driving Distances

  • Flagstaff – 79 miles (1h 30m)
  • Zion National Park – 336 miles (5h 50m)
  • Monument Valley – 170 miles (3h 30m) [When GC East entrance is open]
  • Moab – 320 miles (6h 00m) [When GC East entrance is open]
  • Las Vegas – 280 miles (4h 15m) 
  • Phoenix – 230 miles (3h 30m)

Many tourists visiting Grand Canyon South Rim will fly into the region and explore more of the stunning American Southwest.

So, let’s also take a look at which airports will serve your purposes best.

Closest Regional and International Airports

  • Las Vegas McCarran – 278 miles (4h 15m)
  • Flagstaff Pulliam (Only from Denver, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth) – 90 miles (1h 30m)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor – 232 miles (3h 30m)

Las Vegas McCarran International is the most popular airport to fly into for Grand Canyon South Rim. More flight routes and times, shorter driving distance and more package tours available make it a solid option.

However, check flight prices into each airport listed above. Don’t just assume Las Vegas is the best choice. It might well be but at least you’ve done your due diligence.

Logistics resources:

  • Read our ultimate guide to finding cheap flights. We have a lot of flying experience and explain our best money saving secrets.
  • Search for flights using Skyscanner, the best flights search engine with greatest options and monthly search capability. Once you have a list of prices, try to beat them.
  • If you’re renting a car at any airport, we recommend you compare prices first with RentalCars. They are the car rental company we use every time we travel without our own car. Again, try to beat their prices.

Parking and Entrance Fee at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim

Entrance fee and parking at Grand Canyon south rim kristen holding NPS map inside car

Parking around Grand Canyon South Rim village is plentiful but spaces will fill very early in the Summer months of June, July and August. Especially difficult places to park in Summer include all overlooks toward Desert View and South Kaibab trailhead.

Visiting in Spring or Fall gives you a better chance of guaranteeing a parking spot across the Rim.

We were in Grand Canyon National Park in November and parking was never a problem. In fact, we could choose exactly where we wanted to park up, which was useful at sunrise but more importantly at the overlooks.

A park shuttle bus is the only form of motor transport permitted to drive West from GC village to Hermit’s Rest. You can hire bikes and cycle this road but no cars are allowed.

Entrance fee to Grand Canyon National Park for individual access is US$ 35. That covers up to 4 people in 1 vehicle for up to 7 days.

However, if you plan to visit more than 3 or 4 national parks in the next year, we highly recommend you buy an annual National Park Pass called America the Beautiful. It will save you money.

You can read our complete guide to the national park pass to find out how much it will save you.

Best Things to do at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim in One Day

Only having one day at Grand Canyon National Park means limitations will apply to those who seek adventure!

One day is not enough time to hike South Rim to North Rim. Nor is enough time to hike down to the Rim floor on one trail, stay the night and hike back up to South Rim on the other main trail.

You won’t be able to raft on the mighty Colorado, hike to popular Havasu Falls or ride a mule into the canyon. (Unless you only do one of those things and miss the typical highlights).

Okay that all sounds doom and gloom! What about the things you are able to do with one day at the Grand Canyon?

Well, one day allows you to hit the major overlooks, get a taste of hiking into the Grand Canyon and generally be blown away by the scale of this mammoth scar in the Earth’s surface.

We’re going to make the most of your short time at the Grand Canyon, therefore you will begin before sunrise and end after sunset.

Let’s take a look at the best things to do at Grand Canyon South Rim in one day!

1. Capture Incredible Grand Canyon South Rim Sunrise Photography Near Mather Point

Epic sunrise from Mather Point in Grand Canyon South Rim beautifully vibrant morning colors lighting the sky up over canyon formations best way to start one day at the national park

If there is only thing you are able to do at Grand Canyon South Rim, try to make it a spectacular sunrise.

We know it can be difficult if you are only visiting on a day trip from Las Vegas, but if you have the opportunity, don’t miss it!

Mather Point is the most popular place to watch the deep blues of first light transform into daylight as dull colored rocks begin to glow orange and red. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day with partial clouds at sunrise, you’ll be stunned by the stunning array of colors lighting up the sky.

Our advice is to avoid Mather Point because it will be packed full of tourists. Instead, walk a few minutes East (toward the sun) and find a promising rocky outcrop. There may already be someone hidden away also looking for sunrise solitude, if so, continue until you find an empty spot.

Take care around rock edges – especially if you arrive in complete darkness – the drop offs are sheer and vertical.

The sun will draw your gaze, but don’t forget to look back into the Grand Canyon to watch the dramatic scenery illuminate.

2. Hike South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point or Cedar Ridge

Ooh Aah point is the first major checkpoint on South Kaibab hiking trail from Grand Canyon South Rim continue further to Cedar Ridge or turn back here on a day trip

South Kaibab and Bright Angel are the 2 most popular hiking trails for single day or multi day hikes at Grand Canyon National Park, whether beginning at North or South Rim.

If you only have one day at South Rim, you will have to make a difficult decision about which trail to descend into the Grand Canyon and which to miss.

South Kaibab is the steeper, shorter and more direct of the 2 famous trails. There are 3 stop offs on the way to the canyon floor to consider for your day hike.

Rim -> 1.8 miles ‘Ooh Aah’ Point -> 3 miles ‘Cedar Ridge’ -> 6 miles ‘Skeleton Point’. All one way distances.

Consider your fitness level and be aware that there are no water stations on South Kaibab trail. Do not underestimate the strenuous climb back out of the canyon if you try to go for Skeleton Point and back (total 12 miles).

Personally, we hiked down to Cedar Ridge and back so that we had enough time to see everything else in the park.

Views from South Kaibab trail as you descend are extraordinary, the canyon feels more real and less like the world’s biggest photoshopped image or green screen!

If you’re visiting Grand Canyon South Rim just to hike for a day, go past skeleton point and ascend back to the Rim via Bright Angel trail for a total 17 miles. As long as you’re in decent physical condition of course!

3. Hike Bright Angel Trail to 1.5 or 3 Mile Resthouse

Switchbacks on Bright Angel hiking trail Grand Canyon South Rim Arizona

Bright Angel trail is in fact the most popular day hike at the Grand Canyon because it is closer to the visitor center, easier to access and less steep than South Kaibab.

If you decide to hike down to 1.5 mile resthouse or 3 mile resthouse (double distance for return leg) on Bright Angel, you will be able to fill water bottles with clean water at each stop.

Views in our opinion aren’t quite as breathtaking as South Kaibab but the Bright Angel trail is less steep and strenuous. To reach the canyon floor you will need to hike 9.6 miles, which makes a day return a very long day!

Again, if visiting South Rim to hike, we would suggest you descend on South Kaibab (as it is steeper) and ascend on Bright Angel for a slightly easier climb.

For those who just want a taste of Bright Angel before moving on to other parts of South Rim, hike to 1.5 mile or 3 mile point only before returning.

Hikes into the canyon are not adventurous like those at Zion National Park, but they are filled with epic views.

From May – September in particular, the earlier you begin hiking, the cooler it will be. We hiked in shorts and t-shirt in mid November and still got sunburned!

4. Drive East to Desert View Watchtower

Stunning views from Desert View Watchtower in Arizona

After your South Kaibab or Bright Angel hike, jump in your car and drive 25 miles East to Desert View Watchtower without stopping.

South Rim shuttle doesn’t run along this road so you have to drive. We suggest not stopping because all the overlooks are on the other side of the road, perfect for when you drive back toward South Rim visitor center. Plus congestion in peak season doesn’t need making worse by cars trying to cut across the road to park!

Desert View Watchtower is a 70ft tall cylindrical stone watchtower built in 1932. Inside you will pass by intriguing murals as you climb 85 steps to reach a 360 degree observation platform.

However, views are slightly obstructed by stone and windows, so your best bet is to stand next to the watchtower as you gaze out across the Grand Canyon.

Desert View offers what many consider to be the best South Rim views of the mighty Colorado River.

As you can see in the photo above, the Colorado snakes upstream to the North where it curves around Horseshoe Bend and eventually reaches Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah.

Services here include restaurant and restrooms. We ate lunch here and it was better than we’d expected.

5. Stop at Every Overlook on the Way Back to South Rim Visitor Center

Kristen looking out into incredible landscapes in Arizona

After lunch, begin making your way back to South Rim visitor center and stop off at every overlook you think looks interesting – which will be every single one!

Lipan Point, Moran Point, Grandview Point and Shoshone Point (the latter requires a short hike) are our top recommendations for you to consider.

Yaki Point is also a great stop to make. You will be able to see much of the hike you walked (or missed) earlier on the South Kaibab trail but from a cool elevated position.

Don’t forget to take tons of photographs along the drive back to South Rim village. Each overlook offers its own unique perspective of the magnificent Grand Canyon.

6. Take the Shuttle to Hermit’s Rest Viewpoint

Hermit's Rest arched stones and bell in Arizona

Once you’re back at one of the South Rim parking lots, walk over toward Bright Angel Lodge (close to Bright Angel trailhead) so you can hop on the South Rim shuttle to Hermit’s Point.

If you’re struggling to park anywhere close by, you might have to park near the main visitor center and walk around the Rim Trail. One of the down sides to visiting in peak season!

Take the shuttle until the last stop at Hermit’s Rest. You will find a stone building with fireplace selling gifts and serving hot drinks.

Enjoy the views from Western South Rim but by now it will be mid afternoon and deep shadows will be cast throughout the canyon. Shadows feel cool and almost eerie like as they slowly stretch out further into the vast emptiness below.

If you’re feeling fit and active or didn’t hike into the canyon earlier, walk 3 miles along South Rim to the Abyss but expect it to take around an hour. Otherwise jump on the next shuttle!

Note: You can day hike into the West side of the canyon from Hermit’s Rest. It will be much quieter but the scenery isn’t as spectacular. Also, you can attach bikes to the front of South Rim shuttle buses if you wish to return by bike.

7. Shuttle to The Abyss and Walk to Mohave Point

Just before sunset at Mohave Point Grand Canyon South Rim gorgeous yellow hue and deep dark shadows cast in the canyon epic one day itinerary

Whether you walked or shuttled from Hermit’s point to the Abyss, we highly recommend you walk the next portion toward Mohave Point.

It should be getting into late afternoon by now and the sun will be low in the sky to your left. As you walk North and the Grand Canyon opens up to your West, beautiful yellow light is absorbed by the rocks and contrasts strikingly against deep dark shadows.

It’s just a 1 mile walk to Mohave Point but go slowly and stop often to peer out across the canyon below. Grand Canyon South Rim becomes even more magical at both sunrise and sunset.

If it’s getting close to sunset, walk this section a bit more quickly so you get round to the next point in time!

8. Walk from Mohave Point to Hopi Point Finding a Spot to Watch an Amazing Grand Canyon South Rim Sunset

Sunset Hopi Point Grand Canyon South Rim best way to end a one day itinerary

Hopi Point is regarded as one of the best places to watch sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim – but everyone knows that information. Pardon the pun but that means Hopi point will be hopp-ing!

Walk along the Rim trail between Mohave and Hopi points but as soon as you see a rocky outcrop you like the look of, stop there and settle in for sunset.

Don’t walk all the way to Hopi point because it abruptly turns East and you can no longer see the sun. Also, the further away from the shuttle stop at Hopi point you are, the quieter it will be.

Sunset over the Grand Canyon is mind numbingly mesmerizing. This is where you need to pull out the bottle of wine you’ve been carrying around in your backpack all day!

Photography at Grand Canyon South Rim

Horses walking on a dusty track in Arizona

Photography at Grand Canyon South Rim is about as easy as it gets! The vastness and openness of both the canyon and sky makes it hard to go wrong. Here are a few basic tips to remember:

  • Watch your horizon – the perfectly straight line of North Rim means you have to nail the horizon otherwise it’s the first thing people will notice.
  • Sky and canyon – try out using rule of thirds or splitting the scene into 2 obvious halves and see which you prefer. With no clouds, put your horizon on the top third, but with clouds you have more freedom to experiment. Remember shadows will be in your bottom third most of the day.
  • Canyon shadows – from mid morning to sunset, shadows are unavoidable at Grand Canyon South Rim. That’s why it’s best to shoot early and late, save the middle of the day for hiking and driving.
  • Sunrise and sunset – we have to admit we did prefer sunrise, partly because it’s much quieter than sunset but also because the colors were more vibrant and striking. Do not forget your tripod in low light! And don’t forget the canyon itself (looking away from the sun).
  • Inside the canyon – Some of the best photographs of your day will be taken from inside the canyon, don’t forget to keep looking up as you descend. You also might see mule passing by as we did.

Read our complete guide to sunrise and sunset photography at Grand Canyon South Rim for the best locations and tips for an unforgettable experience.

Grand Canyon South Rim One Day Itinerary

Now you know exactly where to go and in which order. But to make things easier, let’s look at a rough itinerary for your one day visit to Grand Canyon South Rim. It will help you to visualize each section and understand how long to allocate for each part.

You might have to alter slightly for earlier or later sunrise / sunset times depending on the time of year you visit.

In 2020, sunrise times range between 5.10am (June) and 7.39am (Dec) at Grand Canyon South Rim. Don’t forget to check sunrise times the night before. Arrive to the parking lot 15-20 minutes before Civil Twilight (not sunrise).

Sunset at South Rim ranges from 5.13pm to 7.49pm in 2020. If you have time, stay for incredible stargazing once the crowds and light diminish.

Note: We are assuming you stayed within driving distance for sunrise the night before. See accommodation next for best areas to stay.

  • 5am-7.30am: Walk around close to Mather Point and find the best spot to set up.
  • 8am – 11am: Hike South Kaibab or Bright Angel trail to either of the checkpoints and return in good time.
  • 11am-11.30am: Drive to Desert View Watchtower.
  • 11.30am-1pm: Look around Desert View and grab lunch at the cafe / restaurant.
  • 1pm-2.30pm: Stop at each of the viewpoints along the drive back to South Rim visitor center.
  • 2.30pm-3.30pm: Make your way to Hermit’s Point by shuttle.
  • 3.30pm-4pm: Look around Hermit’s Point and grab a drink.
  • 4pm-5.30pm: Shuttle to the Abyss and walk to Mohave Point.
  • 5.30pm-7pm: Walk from Mohave Point to Hopi Point stopping along the way for sunset.

Grand Canyon South Rim Itinerary Map

This map was made with Wanderlog, a trip map maker

Click into this interactive map, zoom in / out, scroll around and click on any icon to see details of attractions throughout the one day Grand Canyon South Rim itinerary.

We always find that spending just a few minutes working out where things are really helps when we arrive.

Other Things To Do At Grand Canyon South Rim With More Time

Mather Point at sunrise is busy with tourists who can't miss an epic sunrise

If you’ve planned in 2 or 3 days at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim, there are a number of ways you can best spend your time. Let’s take a look at the most popular:

  • Helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon – Info
  • Rafting on the Colorado River – Info
  • Mule Ride into the Canyon – Info
  • Hike from South Rim to North Rim and shuttle back – Info
  • Hike to Havasu Falls (extra cost but worth it) – Info
  • Skywalk (not worth the money) – Info

Best Time to Visit Grand Canyon National Park South Rim

Strange mist and cloud engulfing canyon in Arizona

Grand Canyon in Spring and Fall

The best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. There will be fewer people than in Summer and temperatures will be far more manageable. Sunrise isn’t too early and sunset isn’t too late so you can plan a one day itinerary more easily. It can get cool or even cold at night so layers are key.

Grand Canyon in Summer

Hot and busy but often the only time families can book trips so sometimes unavoidable. Take plenty of water and sunscreen, expect crowds and hike early in the morning to avoid the heat of afternoon. Summer does mean warmer evenings and more daylight to hike further.

Grand Canyon in Winter

Very quiet which would be to many people’s taste. Some of the most amazing photographs of Grand Canyon National Park are when there’s a light dusting of snow settled on the orange and red rocks. Take plenty of warm gear, especially if hiking into the canyon. The park is open year round but check for road closures before visiting.

Where To Eat Near Grand Canyon South Rim

Soup and sandwich perfect lunch near Desert View Watchtower Arizona

Okay, we’re going to be completely honest, finding a decent place to eat is hard work around Grand Canyon South Rim!

Inside the national park you can expect to find the usual types of quick serve restaurant / cafe to cater for the masses. That being said, the soup we got at Desert View was pretty good (pictured above).

  • Some of the lodges in South Rim village have their own restaurant or sports bar.
  • Along the rim you will find one or two coffee shops with good ratings.
  • Hermit’s rest has a very small cafe and Desert View has a canteen-style menu.

Nearby Tusayan offers a more diverse (but not much better quality) culinary scene. We can’t recommend a particular restaurant as the must eat place in town because we didn’t find it ourselves.

Williams is 60 miles away, which of course isn’t exactly a pop out for lunch drive, but if you’re entering or leaving via Williams, eating here is our top recommendation for food near the Grand Canyon South Rim.

Choose between Little Chicken Spot, Anna’s Canyon Cafe, Bayou by You and Red Raven. All great choices.

Where To Stay Near Grand Canyon South Rim

Awesome rock formations jutting out with sheer cliffs on Arizona day trip

As with all US National Parks, booking a place to stay can be the most frustrating part of planning your trip.

We highly recommend taking a look at our complete list of the 6 South Rim park run lodges, along with detailed lists of the top rated hotels in each nearby town / city.

Read: Top Rated Hotels and Lodges On and Near Grand Canyon South Rim

Grand Canyon lodges fill up very quickly. Our advice is to book as soon as you have dates but shop around to find a hotel to suit your budget.

Let’s take a brief look at hotels near Grand Canyon with highest guest ratings:

Closest Option – Tusayan

Tusayan is located just 7 miles from South Rim entrance, which means you can easily drive in and out of the park for sunrise, lunch or stargazing.

There are 6 hotels in Tusayan for you to choose between as the best alternative to staying inside the National Park. Of those 6, the Grand Hotel and Best Western have the highest guest ratings.

You can click on either of the hotels below to check prices, or click the button to check prices for all 6 hotels in Tusayan.

Next Closest – Valle (Grand Canyon Junction)

Valle is located 29 miles from South Rim entrance, which will take around 35 minutes to drive. It is the second closest place to stay after Tusayan but there are very few amenities in Valle.

There is one hotel and one ‘glamping’ option.

Click on either of the options below to check prices:

Route 66 – Williams

Williams takes the bronze medal but only in terms of distance. It is located 60 miles from South Rim entrance, which means driving time to South Rim is over an hour.

However, Williams has the best food and hotel options of the bunch by a landslide.

Williams works well if you are arriving from further South West, spending a night, driving into Grand Canyon for sunrise and a full day, then moving on North East to Page. Staying here allows you to eat at a great restaurant and have flexibility over where you stay.

With around 40 hotels, Williams has a hotel to suit every budget. The 2 with highest guest ratings are La Quinta and Best Western Plus.

If you’re looking for something a bit different, take a look at adults only ‘Sheridan House’ or Wild West Themed ‘Trappers Rendezvous’.

Click on any of the recommended hotels to check prices or click the button below to see all hotel options in Williams, Arizona.

Grand Canyon South Rim Camping

If you’re visiting between May and September or want to be closer to the action to make life easier for getting sunrise / astro photography, consider staying at a Grand Canyon South Rim campground.

The other major benefit of course is costs associated with camping are much less than hotels, you just have to sacrifice comfort and convenience!

If camping in early Spring or late Fall, be prepared for cold nights with plenty of layers and extra blankets. First hand experience allows us to confidently inform you – you will need them!

Here are your campground options:

Mather Campground

Located inside Grand Canyon South Rim village and the ideal place to set up tents / small RV’s. No hookups provided here and places fill incredibly quickly, particularly in Summer. You can book ahead up to 6 months, our advice is book as soon as you know your dates.

• US$ 18 per night / site and 30 ft maximum RV or trailer.

More information on booking Mather Campground here.

Trailer Village

Opposite Mather campground is a site dedicated to RV’s with hookups. This ideal location comes at a premium for RV’ers. Options to bundle breakfast into your site.

• From US$ 55 per night / RV and up to 50 ft maximum length.

More information on booking Trailer Village here.

Desert View

Close to Grand Canyon East entrance and Desert View Watchtower (with awesome Colorado River views) is a smaller campground with jut 50 sites. Reservations can not be made, it is first come first served and they usually fill up before noon.

• US$ 12 per night / site. Tents and RV’s up to 30 ft but no hookups provided.

More information about Desert View Campground here.

Mark and Kristen Where Are Those Morgans hiking in Grand Canyon National Park Arizona
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We hope this helped you plan your one day visit to the legendary Grand Canyon South Rim!

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.

-Happy Travels-

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Valuable Resources For Your Next Trip

  • Booking Flights: Skyscanner is our preferred flights booking search engine, finding the best and cheapest flights has never been easier | Skyscanner
  • Booking Hotels: Booking consistently offers best prices around the world, along with a genius program and mobile discount | Booking
  • Rental Cars: When we hire a car at an airport or in the city, we always use Rental Cars for best value and most options | Rental Cars
  • Travel Insurance: Never leave home without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. World Nomads is our preferred travel insurance provider | World Nomads
  • Photography Gear: Peak Design is one of our favorite brands, we love their innovative camera accessories and travel photography equipment | Peak Design

Leave a Comment


Graham Bedford November 5, 2020 - 1:13 pm

The Grand canyon South rim looks fantastic, it seems to me you could spend a life time exploring the Grand canyon and still not see every nook and cranny, amazing views in every direction.

Mark & Kristen Morgan November 5, 2020 - 6:59 pm

It is amazing, Graham. One of the only times we found ourselves stunned and speechless. Next time we visit, our plan is to hike to the bottom of the canyon, possibly on a photography tour, raft on the Colorado and soak up those awesome sunrises and sunsets. Hope you get to visit one day too!


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