Grand Canyon National Park is huge and planning a quick trip here can be overwhelming. Where should you go? What should you do? And is two days really enough to get a taste of this incredible natural wonder? Don’t worry, we have you covered. From the best places to watch the sunrise to hiking down into the canyon to finding solitude on two wheels, we’ve put together an amazing 2-day itinerary that makes the most of a short trip to Grand Canyon National Park.
There are four distinct areas of the Grand Canyon and they are all several hours apart by car. If you have limited time, it’s best to pick one area to fully explore rather than spending your days driving between them. Most visitors head to the South Rim since it’s more developed and has plenty of camping, lodging and restaurants. This itinerary takes place entirely on the South Rim. If you have time for a longer trip, combine this itinerary with a visit to the North Rim, Grand Canyon West or perhaps a backpacking or rafting trip all the way at the bottom of the canyon.
Watch the Sunrise at Hopi Point
While you’ll be able to see the rising sun paint the canyon from pretty much any point on the South Rim, Hopi Point is one of the best locations in the park to watch the sunrise. Located along Hermit Road, Hopi Point juts out farther into the canyon than any other point along the road, giving you an uninhibited view of the canyon and the Colorado River below. March through November, Hermit Road is only accessible by shuttle, bike or foot. The park’s free shuttles start running at 4 a.m., giving you enough time to get to Hopi Point for sunrise even in the summer months.
Breakfast with a Side of History at El Tovar Hotel
Thanks to your sunrise mission, you’ll be up nice and early to enjoy a hearty breakfast at El Tovar Hotel. El Tovar was built in 1905 and remains a world-class destination. Built to resemble a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian villa, this hotel’s storied past includes being owned by the famous Fred Harvey Company and welcoming famous guests from Albert Einstein to President Bill Clinton to Oprah Winfrey. Breakfast is served from 6:30-10 a.m. No reservations are necessary, but plan to arrive close to opening so you can snag one of the tables located near the windows with a stunning view over the canyon. You’ll find traditional breakfast choices with a southwestern flair on the menu with items like huevos rancheros, pancakes made with blue cornmeal, espresso beverages and breakfast cocktails.
Hike Into the Canyon on Bright Angel Trail
You’ve gazed out across the Grand Canyon from the rim, now it’s time to descend into it. Hike down the famous Bright Angel Trail before it gets too hot. This incredible trail stretches 9.9 miles down the canyon, eventually reaching Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River far below. The full long and arduous hike isn’t recommended for a day trip. Instead, opt for a 3-mile roundtrip hike to 1.5-Mile Resthouse and back.
Park in the lot on Village Drive Loop, where you’ll find the trailhead near Kolb Studio. Enjoy stunning views of the inner canyon as you hike 1.5 miles, descending more than 1,000 feet in elevation. If you’re lucky, you may see a mule train bringing supplies to Phantom Ranch at the canyon’s bottom. Be sure to bring at least two liters of water per person and don’t start down the trail if temperatures are forecasted to be very hot. While the hike down likely won’t feel too strenuous, you’ll need to climb back up all that elevation you lost on the way back to the rim. Plan to take twice as long on the way back as you took on the way in.
Yavapai Geology Museum
Cool off at the Yavapai Geology Museum, where you’ll get a unique perspective on the canyon’s formation. The museum is located at Yavapai Point right on the rim and has big picture windows looking out over the canyon. Displays at the bottom of the windows help explain what you’re seeing. You’ll learn about the different layers of rock, decode the history layered in the canyon walls and understand how the mighty Colorado carved this iconic park. There’s also a bookstore and gift shop here and an amphitheater which hosts ranger programs.
Bike along the Rim
Rent a bike at Bright Angel Bicycles (bikegrandcanyon.com) and ride Hermit Road, which is closed to all traffic, except shuttles and official park vehicles March through November. This ride is the perfect way to enjoy the fresh air and see some of the South Rim’s most stunning views, all while experiencing a rare sense of solitude at this popular park. Bright Angel Bicycles rents traditional adult and children’s bikes, bike trailers and adult eBikes.
This route is perfect for riders of all levels as there are a few options to tailor it to your abilities. Bright Angel Bicycles offers a shuttle service to Hopi Point, where you can then bike 5.5 miles to Hermits Rest at the end of the road before getting picked back up. For a longer ride, you can rent at Bright Angel Bicycles and take the park’s free shuttle to the beginning of Hermit Road. From here, you can bike the full 7 miles to Hermits Rest. Those looking for a longer ride can follow the park’s greenways from the shop to Hermits Rest for an approximately 21-mile roundtrip ride. The best part about this route? If at any point you get tired, you can hop on the park’s free shuttles equipped with bike racks.
Be sure to leave enough time to grab an ice cream at Hermits Rest before heading back.
Climb Desert View Watchtower
Head to the east side of the park, located 23 miles from Grand Canyon Village, and climb Desert View Watchtower. As you climb four flights of stairs to the top of the 70-foot tower, check out the Hopi murals decorating the walls. Designed by famed architect Mary Colter, you’ll soak in a unique perspective from the top. The tower is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., though the upper floors were closed until further notice as of July 2022.
The lowest floor of the tower is called the Kiva Room and is designed to look like a traditional Native American kiva. Cultural demonstrations from Native American artists take place in the Kiva Room or other nearby locations on certain days throughout the summer. Check with the information desk for a schedule.
Take a Historic Walking Tour
The Grand Canyon Historic Village District is full of historic buildings that tell incredible stories if you take the time to listen. Take a self-guided architectural tour of this area by downloading the NPS App (www.nps.gov/subjects/digital/nps-apps.htm) and listening to the Grand Canyon Historic Village audio tour. It’s a good idea to download the tour before heading to the park as cells service and WiFi can be spotty. Start with the Santa Fe Railway Station and end at Kolb Studio. The entire walk is approximately 0.5 miles, and you can go in many of the buildings to cool off or get a snack or drink as needed.
Along the way, you’ll learn about the visionary architects that built Grand Canyon Village, including pioneer Mary Colter, as well as the famous Fred Harvey Girls.
Attend a Ranger Program
Head to the McKee Amphitheater most evenings between Memorial Day and Labor Day at 8 p.m. for an evening ranger program on a variety of topics ranging from wildlife to history to astronomy. A knowledgeable park ranger will help you better understand this incredible place. Check at the visitor center for the day’s topic.
After the ranger program, don’t forget to look up. Grand Canyon National Park is an International Dark Sky Park, meaning it has some of the darkest skies in the world. You’ll be amazed at the number of stars you’ll see.
And if you need a detailed map to help you plan and visualize where you want to go, you can buy one of three Grand Canyon maps made by Trails Illustrated at REI.com.