Planning a trip to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming, especially when you have limited time. We’ve put together the best grand canyon itinerary to help with that. With so many things to see and do, it can be difficult to decide on the best itinerary. However, with the right plan, you can make the most of your time at this natural wonder.
Whether you have 2, 3, 4, or 5 days to spend at the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of activities and sights to keep you entertained, from hiking and camping to scenic drives and helicopter tours.
In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive itinerary that covers the must-see attractions and activities at the Grand Canyon.
Planning your trip to Grand Canyon National Park
Where to Stay in Grand Canyon National Park:
- Bright Angel Lodge And Cabins – ⇒ Read reviews on Trip Advisor
- Maswik Lodge – ⇒ Read reviews on Trip Advisor
Best Tours and Experiences in Grand Canyon National Park
- 45-minute Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon from Tusayan –
Experience an exhilarating helicopter journey from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim to the North Rim, offering panoramic vistas.
- Grand Canyon Signature Hummer Tour with Optional Sunset Views – Travel in an open-air Hummer, allowing unobstructed views while your guide provides insightful commentary.
- 3-Hour Off-Road Sunset Safari to Grand Canyon with Entrance Gate Detour – Traverse scenic back roads in a comfortable 4WD safari vehicle, bypassing the congested south entrance gate.
Understanding the Grand Canyon
If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, it’s important to understand the natural wonder you’re about to experience. The Grand Canyon is a massive gorge carved by the Colorado River in northern Arizona. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
The canyon is approximately 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep. It is home to a diverse range of wildlife and plant species, including over 300 species of birds, 70 species of mammals, and 1,500 species of plants.
The Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon, is a major reason for the canyon’s existence. The river has been carving the canyon for millions of years, exposing layers of rock that provide a glimpse into the Earth’s geological history.
The geology of the Grand Canyon is fascinating and complex. The rock layers exposed in the canyon range in age from 200 million to 2 billion years old. The oldest rocks are found at the bottom of the canyon, while the youngest rocks are found at the top. The different colors of the rock layers are due to variations in the minerals present in the rocks.
Planning Your Trip
Planning a trip to the Grand Canyon can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. With so much to see and do, it’s important to plan ahead to make the most of your time.
It’s important to make reservations ahead of time, especially during peak season. You can book your hotels, tours, and activities online or through a travel agent. Some popular activities, such as river rafting, helicopter tours, and hikes require advance booking.
The Grand Canyon is open year-round, but the best time to visit is during the spring and fall. The weather is mild, and the crowds are smaller. Summer can be hot and also Arizona has monsoon season from July to August, and winter can be cold and snowy. Check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly.
The Grand Canyon can be hot, especially during the summer months. It’s important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen and a hat. Bring a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
The Grand Canyon is a popular destination, and it can get crowded during peak season. To avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You can also explore the less popular areas of the park, such as the North Rim or the East Rim.
Grand Canyon Itinerary
Before you start planning your trip, decide on the length of your stay. A 2-5 day itinerary is perfect for exploring the Grand Canyon. You’ll have enough time to see the major attractions and enjoy some outdoor activities.
To make the most of your time, consider the following itinerary options:
- 2-day Itinerary: This itinerary is perfect if you’re short on time. You can see the viewpoints around the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (Mather Point to Yavapai Point), walk the Rim Trail to Hermit’s Rest, and do the scenic Desert View Drive.
- 3-day itinerary: With three days, you can add some hikes, like the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, or Ooh Ahh Point (if you didn’t already). You can also take a helicopter or 4×4 Jeep tour. And see the IMAX film in Tusayan.
- 4-day itinerary: Four days will allow you to add more or longer hikes, take part in Ranger programs, and drive to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, about 2 hours 45 minutes away.
- 5-day itinerary: A fifth day will allow you add amazing once in a lifetime activities such as a mule ride into the canyon, a white water rafting trip, or a bike ride along Hermit Road.
Welcome to your first day in the Grand Canyon! Today, you’ll explore the South Rim, which is the most popular and accessible part of the park.
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon is by hiking the Rim Trails. These trails offer stunning views of the canyon and are perfect for those who want to take it easy and enjoy a leisurely walk. The most popular Rim Trail is the South Rim Trail, which stretches for 13 miles along the rim of the canyon.
I like to start the day at Bright Angel Lodge. You can get on the shuttle there up to Maricopa Point and then get out and start your hike along the Rim Trail. You can get on and off the bus as you see fit for your fitness level. Hike or take the bus to all the viewpoints along the way, ending with Hermit’s Rest.
In the afternoon, start your walk at Mather Point, which is one of the most popular viewpoints in the park and offers panoramic views of the canyon. Along the way you’ll pass by several viewpoints and end up at Yavapai Point and the Yavapai Geology Museum. The sunset view along this route is quite amazing.
On your second day at the Grand Canyon, you can explore the eastern part of the South Rim by taking a scenic drive and visiting some of the best viewpoints along the way.
Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive is a 25-mile scenic route that runs from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View Watchtower. This drive offers some of the most spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. Here are some of the must-see stops on this drive:
- Grandview Point: This viewpoint offers panoramic views of the canyon and is a great spot for sunrise or sunset.
- Moran Point: Named after the famous landscape painter, Thomas Moran, this viewpoint offers stunning views of the Colorado River.
- Lipan Point: This viewpoint offers a unique perspective of the canyon and is a great spot for stargazing at night.
- Navajo Point: This viewpoint offers views of the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.
One of the highlights of Desert View Drive is the Desert View Watchtower. This 70-foot tower was designed by Mary Colter and offers panoramic views of the canyon from the top. Inside the tower, you can explore the murals and artifacts that depict the history and culture of the Native Americans who once lived in the area.
After exploring Desert View Drive, we recommend doing the Ooh Ahh Point hike. It’s easy on the way down, but pretty strenuous on the way back up – about 1.4 miles in total. Sunset view from there is incredible as well.
End your day at Grand Canyon Village for dinner and some stargazing. The Grand Canyon is one of the best places in the world for stargazing, and the park offers several ranger-led programs and events to help you learn more about the night sky.
On the third day of your Grand Canyon itinerary, you will explore the Bright Angel Trail. This is one of the most popular trails in the Grand Canyon, and for good reason. It offers breathtaking views of the canyon and is well maintained, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels.
Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail is a 12.5-mile round trip hike that starts at the South Rim and descends into the canyon. There are several places to turn around if you’re not up for a huge hike, and just want to see the sights. The trail is well marked and maintained, but it is steep and can be challenging for some hikers. It is important to be prepared for this hike by bringing plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
As you hike down the trail, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the canyon. You will also pass by several rest stops and water stations, which are important for staying hydrated and taking breaks. The trail can be hiked in sections, so you can choose how far you want to go before turning around.
If you are an experienced hiker and want to challenge yourself, you can continue down to the Colorado River. This is a strenuous hike that requires careful planning and preparation, but it offers some of the most stunning views of the canyon.
Book a Tour
You can also take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and I promise this will be the highlight of your trip. There’s no more amazing way to see the canyon. We went on a 45-minute flight with Papillon Helicopters.
A 4×4 Jeep tour at sunset is another tour you can book that will leave you stunned. This 3-hour off-road tour takes you along scenic back roads in a comfortable 4WD safari vehicle, avoiding the busy south entrance gate. Stop to admire the views from Yavapai Point, Pipe Creek Canyon, and Duck on a Rock Overlook, then time your arrival to watch the sunset from Grandview Point.
Day 4: Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon
On your fourth day at the Grand Canyon, you can explore the area surrounding the canyon. Take a road trip to one of the many towns or attractions surrounding the Grand Canyon to get a fuller experience.
A must-see destination nearby is Page, Arizona, home to Lake Powell and the famous Horseshoe Bend. This area is perfect for water-based activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing. You can also explore the nearby Antelope Canyon, a stunning slot canyon that is a photographer’s dream.
On your last day at the Grand Canyon, you can choose to explore other fun activities available in the area. Here are some suggestions:
- Helicopter Tour: Experience the Grand Canyon from a different perspective by taking a helicopter tour. You can choose from various packages that offer different routes and durations, but they all guarantee a breathtaking view of the canyon.
- Mule Ride: Take a mule ride down the canyon and explore the trails that are not accessible by foot. This guided tour is an excellent way to see the canyon up close and learn more about its history and geology.
- Imax Theater: If you want to learn more about the Grand Canyon and its formation, head to the Imax Theater located at the National Geographic Visitor Center. The theater features a 34-minute film that takes you on a journey through the canyon’s history and beauty.
- Biking Trails: If you have some energy left, you can explore some of the biking trails. The best trail to bike is Hermit Road, it is well maintained and has great views. There are places, like Bright Angel Bicycles, in the canyon to rent bicycles to make your experience easier.
- Shopping: If you want to take a break from the outdoor activities, you can head to the Grand Canyon Village and explore the shops and galleries. You can find souvenirs, Native American crafts, and artwork.
When planning your 2-5 day Grand Canyon itinerary, it is important to keep in mind some practical information to make your trip as smooth as possible.
National Park Passes and Entrance Fees
To enter the Grand Canyon National Park, you will need to purchase a park pass. An individual permit is $20 per person, and children 15 and younger are free. You can buy your park pass at the park entrance or at the Park & Ride lots in Tusayan, located a mile from the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor Center.
South Rim Entrance and Hours of Operation
The South Rim Entrance is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, hours of operation for visitor centers, museums, and other facilities may vary depending on the season. It is recommended to check the park’s official website for up-to-date information on what is open and hours of operation.
Campsites and Reservations
If you plan on camping, there are several campsites available within the park. Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village and is open year-round. It is recommended to make reservations in advance, especially during peak season (April to November). You can make reservations through recreation.gov.
Hikes and Trails
The South Rim Trail is a popular hiking trail that offers stunning views of the canyon. It is a paved trail that is approximately 13 miles long and runs from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. There are also several other hiking trails available within the park, ranging from easy to strenuous. It is important to be prepared for your hike by bringing plenty of water, snacks, and appropriate gear.
Private Vehicle Restrictions
During peak season (April to November), private vehicles are not allowed on the park’s scenic drive. Instead, visitors can take the free shuttle bus, which runs regularly and stops at several viewpoints and trailheads. However, private vehicles are allowed on the scenic drive during the off-season (December to March).
Boat Rentals and Tours
If you are interested in exploring the Colorado River, there are several boat rental and tour companies available. Diamond Creek, Pearce Ferry, and Lees Ferry are popular launching points for river trips. It is important to note that some areas of the river are only accessible by permit.
Maps and Resources
To make the most of your trip, it is recommended to bring a map of the park and other resources such as guidebooks or brochures. The park’s official website also offers a wealth of information on hiking trails, camping, and other activities within the park.
Driving to the Grand Canyon is the most popular option. It gives you the freedom to explore the area at your own pace. The Grand Canyon is located in northern Arizona, and it is easily accessible from several major cities in the region, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.
If you are coming from Phoenix, take I-17 north to Flagstaff, then take US-180 northwest to the Grand Canyon. The drive takes about 3.5 hours. If you are coming from Las Vegas, take US-93 south to Kingman, then take I-40 east to Williams, and finally take AZ-64 north to the Grand Canyon. The drive takes about 4.5 hours.
When planning your Grand Canyon itinerary, one important consideration is where to stay overnight. Fortunately, there are a variety of options available to fit any budget or preference.
If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, El Tovar is a historic hotel located right on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It offers stunning views and upscale amenities, but keep in mind that it can be quite pricey.
Another option is Zion Lodge, located in nearby Zion National Park. This rustic lodge offers comfortable accommodations in a beautiful natural setting.
If you’re on a tighter budget, there are plenty of chain hotels in the area, such as the Holiday Inn, Best Western, and Motel 6. These hotels offer basic amenities and affordable rates.
When it comes to dining options at the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of choices available to suit all tastes and budgets. From casual cafes to fine dining restaurants, you’ll find something to satisfy your hunger after a long day of hiking.
Grand Canyon Village
The Grand Canyon Village area has the most dining options within the park. Here you’ll find a mix of casual and fine dining restaurants, cafes, and grab-and-go options. Some popular choices include:
- El Tovar Dining Room: This fine dining restaurant is located in the historic El Tovar Hotel and offers stunning views of the canyon while you dine. The menu features a mix of American and European cuisine, with options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Bright Angel Restaurant: This casual restaurant is located near the Bright Angel Lodge and offers a mix of American and Southwestern cuisine. The menu includes burgers, sandwiches, salads, and more.
- Arizona Room: This casual restaurant is located in the Bright Angel Lodge and offers a mix of American and Southwestern cuisine. The menu includes steaks, seafood, and vegetarian options.
Tusayan is a small town located just outside the park’s entrance. Here you’ll find a few dining options, including:
- Canyon Plaza Resort: This resort offers a restaurant and lounge with a mix of American and Southwestern cuisine. The menu includes burgers, sandwiches, salads, and more.
- We Cook Pizza and Pasta: This casual restaurant offers pizza, pasta, and other Italian dishes.
There are a few other dining options located throughout the park, including:
- Desert View Trading Post: This grab-and-go option offers snacks, sandwiches, and drinks.
- Hermit’s Rest Snack Bar: This grab-and-go option offers snacks, sandwiches, and drinks.
- Phantom Ranch Canteen: This canteen is located at the bottom of the canyon and offers meals for overnight hikers. Reservations are required.
What are some recommended hiking trails for a 2-5 day Grand Canyon itinerary?
The Grand Canyon offers a variety of hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous. For a 2-5 day itinerary, some recommended trails are the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, and North Kaibab Trail. These trails offer stunning views of the canyon and can be customized to fit your desired length and difficulty level.
What are some family-friendly activities to do at the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon is a great destination for families with children of all ages. Some family-friendly activities include hiking along the Rim Trail, visiting the Grand Canyon Village and its museums, taking a mule ride, and attending ranger-led programs.
Is 3 days enough time to fully experience the Grand Canyon?
While 3 days is enough time to see some of the highlights of the Grand Canyon, it may not be enough to fully experience everything the park has to offer. It is recommended to spend at least 4-5 days to explore the park in depth and engage in various activities.
What are some recommended stops on a 4-day Grand Canyon itinerary?
For a 4-day itinerary, some recommended stops include hiking the Bright Angel Trail, visiting the historic Phantom Ranch, exploring the Desert View Watchtower, and taking a scenic drive along the East Rim Drive.
What are some tips for planning a 5-day itinerary at the Grand Canyon?
When planning a 5-day itinerary, it is important to prioritize your must-see destinations and activities. Consider including longer hikes, such as the Rim-to-Rim Trail, and exploring some of the lesser-known areas of the park. Be sure to book accommodations in advance, as they can fill up quickly during peak season.
Be Prepared For Travel
Planning is the most important part of any successful trip. Do it the easy way:
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited over 75 countries. Her work has been published in numerous guidebooks, websites, and magazines.