Grand Canyon Trip Tips for When You're Short on Time

BY: Christie Succop Eckert |Sep 20, 2022

Couple looking out over Grand Canyon with binoculars

Once you catch your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, it's easy to understand why Theodore Roosevelt called the Arizona wonder "the one great sight which every American should see." Immense rock formations and striated stone walls in shades of red, orange, and brown tower over a ribbon of the Colorado River—the same waterway that carved the crater over some 17 million years or so.

It's a scene that could convert anybody into a nature lover. Trouble is, the site is enormous and your time is likely limited.

Here are some tips for making the most of a single day at the Grand Canyon:

Take a Tour

Putting yourself in the hands of a guide might be the smartest thing you can do if you have a limited amount of time. Tours operate largely out of Las Vegas, picking guests up from their hotels before hitting the road. The drive is a long one (nearly four hours each way), but with someone else doing the driving while you relax on an air-conditioned coach with WiFi, it's a breeze. Check out a couple of our favorite tours below:

Walk the Rim

By far the most popular views are on the South Rim. Don your outdoors gear, grab your camera, and hit the mostly flat trail stretching from Hermit's Rest to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Spend as much or as little time as you'd like on the 13-mile route, which is paved except for about 2 miles. Although the walk is quiet and contemplative, watch your step—there's not always a barrier protecting you from the edge.

People visiting the Grand Canyon at sunset

Hike into the Canyon

With an elevation change of 2,250 feet, the North Kaibab Trail over on the North Rim is narrower, steeper, and more challenging than a hike around the canyon's edge. Spend one to two hours hiking from the trailhead to the Coconino Overlook; if you're ambitious, you can continue on to the Supai Tunnel and beyond. Be sure to bring a backpack filled with lots of water and a snack.

Mount a Mule

For a truly memorable experience, take a guided tour into the canyon on the back of a mule. Knowledgeable wranglers will fill you in on the canyon's history, geologic formations, and ecology. Mule tours can book up quickly, so call ahead to make a reservation.

If You Have Extra Time:

Spend a half or full day floating down the smooth, muddy-brown waters of the Colorado River on a raft—either your own or one borrowed from an adventure outfitter. Nothing offers a more mind-altering perspective on the Grand Canyon than seeing it from the bottom. During peak season, raft rides start at Glen Canyon Dam and end 15 miles down the river at Lees Ferry.

This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated by our editors.