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The Ultimate Grand Canyon Itinerary

The Ultimate Grand Canyon Itinerary

A good Grand Canyon itinerary will help you focus on doing the things you and your family love.

Otherwise, you’re going to step out on an observation deck and stand there for hours with your jaw on the ground marveling at how freaking beautiful it is.

Which is okay.

But there is so much more to do. Guys, you need a plan.

There’s hiking, wildlife spotting, white-water rafting, old weathered prospectors to find--wait, that was a Brady Bunch episode.

You get my drift, though.

The Grand Canyon is so massive, so amazing, you need an idea of what you’ll do when you get there.

Some tours book fast, so you’ll need reservations. There are great hotels, campgrounds, and cabins too.

Dawn at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The best ones fill quickly though.

My favorite air route takes over the Grand Canyon and we get a literal bird’s eye view with pilot commentary if we have a cool one flying us.

The best experience though by far is a well-planned, sturdy shoes-on-the-ground vacation taking advantage of the best this beloved National Park offers.

Most activities and amenities at the South Rim are open year-round. If you go in the summer, expect triple-degree days, especially as you descend into the canyon.

During the summer, it’s best to limit your hikes to early morning and keep them on the shorter side. Always have water with you even for short walks.

Only a few shuttles will be operational in the winter, but it’s also less crowded then. Spring and fall have the best weather and without the crowds of summer.

Packing List for Grand Canyon – What to Bring

To visit the Grand Canyon means to pack and bring the necessary means to enjoy its great outdoor activities without inconvenience.

The Grand Canyon has an interesting climate and depending on when you go, you could have extremely warm weather or it could be snowing and below freezing.

Here’s what you should bring with you to the Grand Canyon:

Grand Canyon Map

Let’s take a look at the map of Grand Canyon National Park to help you get oriented.

Grand Canyon Map

We have some ideas to help you plan the ultimate Grand Canyon itinerary so you don’t miss a thing.

Multi-Day Grand Canyon Itinerary

Ideally, you’ll have more than one day to explore. These itineraries include highlights and make suggestions for overnight stays.

Grand Canyon Itinerary 2 Days

Grand Canyon Itinerary includes hikes and tours.

Park for free in the Park & Ride lots in Tusayan which is a mile away from the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor Center.

Buy your Grand Canyon National Park passes there. An individual permit is $20 per person and kids 15 and younger are free.

Then take the free shuttle to the Visitor Center. If you prefer to drive and park inside, a vehicle permit is $35.

At the center, get their self-guided tour brochure for detailed information about Grand Canyon history.

The free shuttle can also take you to Grand Canyon Village. This lively little town will serve as your home base.

The village was established with the arrival of the steam train in 1901. The original Railway Depot is still standing.

The original train depot in Grand Canyon Village.

You can also visit Verkamp Visitor Center to see the historical exhibits and the Hopi House--a replica pueblo.

If you need gear, you’ll find good outfitters here with the best supplies. Pick up authentic Native American handicrafts and other souvenirs too.

Between meals and shopping trips in the village, spend some time at Yavapai Point which gives some of the best views of the canyon.

Want to start a hike? Bright Angel Trail makes a great day hike on a well-maintained dirt trail.

The Bright Angel Trail

Find the trailhead at Bright Angel Lodge by the mule corral. There may be water stations along the trail, but you should bring your own and some salty snacks.

The views are fantastic along the trail, but don’t let yourself get distracted. The distance you walk down is the distance you have to walk back up.

The trail is steep, so it will take you much longer to return to the top. A good tip for a nice, invigorating hike is to turn around at the 1.5 Mile Resthouse.

That’s a good 2 to 4 hours hike. After this point, the trail is quite steep and will take much longer to do.

Depending on the time of year, you could start this hike late afternoon when the trail gets a little bit of shade, then make it up back up in time for sunset.

Remember, you just want a dip below the rim. If you don’t want to go all the way to the Resthouse at 1.5 miles, then don’t.

Turn around whenever you feel like it. If you don’t want to hike, you can also take a shuttle along the rim.

The driver will stop at places for vista views and photo opportunities. Prefer to walk the rim? That can take four or five hours.

The best sunsets are at Mathi Point but it gets crowded then. Try Hopi Point instead. You can reach it by shuttle.

Sun setting over the South Rim

Here’s a tip: After the sun goes down, it’s chilly up there. If everyone is waiting for the return shuttle, you may have to wait for the next one.

So take a jacket and you won’t feel uncomfortable. After a good first day of hiking or walking, you’ll be ready for the hotel.

A good option is the European-styled El Tovar Hotel located inside the park. It’s a historical property with modern conveniences.

Another, perhaps more fun, option is to rent or bring your RV and use one of the comfortable RV parks in and around Grand Canyon Village.

You’ll be steps away from spectacular views and wildlife.

After a well-deserved rest, aim to wake up early to catch the sunrise. Mather Point is a good place to do this.

Then take the shuttle from the Visitor Center to the South Kaibab Trail for another dip below the rim.

South Kaibeb Trail hike led by ranger.

Like Bright Angel, the South Kaibab Trail is steep. You can get wide open views at Ooh-Aah Point at just under a mile, then turn back.

Or, you can go down another half mile to Cedar Ridge which is a good, doable half-day hike. Restrooms are available there too.

Beyond that and you’re looking at a pretty strenuous hike which isn’t recommended during the summer months.

Back up at Grand Canyon Village, get rehydrated and go for a bike ride or walk along Hermit Road.

Grand Canyon Itinerary 3 Days

Have time to do a Grand Canyon Itinerary 3 Days plan? For your third day, add a car ride along Desert View Drive.

The Desert View Drive is 25-miles of scenery going east from Grand Canyon Village. It’s lined with one jaw-dropping view after another.

Check out the drive here from our YouTube channel on the historic Highway 64 scenic byway during a snowstorm.

Grand Canyon National Park: Hwy 64 Scenic Byway [HD]
Watch this video on YouTube.

You can drive your own vehicle or take the shuttle. The drive ends at the Desert View Watchtower.

The Watchtower at the end of Desert View Drive.

On the way back, stop at Navajo Point and look out at the stunning blue Colorado River as it cuts through the orangey-red canyon.

Bring a picnic lunch or snack and think about tiny you are compared to your immediate world of rushing water and mighty canyon.

Later, find the trailhead to Shoshone Point. It’s a bit over a mile east of Yaki Point on Desert View Drive and it looks like a little parking lot.

Walk a mile along the unpaved trail through forestland. Past the forest, you’ll be treated to an incredible view and a peaceful sunset all to yourself.

See Related: The Ultimate Sedona Itinerary

Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon Itinerary

If you have even longer, maximize your trip in the Southwest using this Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon itinerary.

Entrance to Zion National Park

This itinerary is good for adults as it involves quite a bit of hiking and works well in either the spring or fall.

Winter would work if you’re comfortable being in the snow.

Spend the night in St. George, Utah. The Ramada by Wyndham is an excellent choice and at a reasonable price.

Get your start in Zion National Park with an Angel’s Landing Hike. This strenuous hike is also the most iconic.

The steep trail with narrow sections has outstanding views. You can park at or take a shuttle to The Grotto Trailhead.

You need a pass for entry into Zion which costs $35 per car or $20 for those arriving without a vehicle.

For two miles, the West Rim Trail to take you to the top is paved. After that, it’s a couple of more miles of switchbacks followed by a narrow ridge.

There are anchored chains to help you climb to Angel’s Landing. If you don’t want to do this part, then don’t!

The chain trail leading to Angels Landing in Zion.

Hike to Scout Lookout, enjoy the view, then turn around or keep going along the West Rim Trail.

This climb to Angel’s Landing is not for inexperienced hikers or those afraid of heights.

But if you decide to press on, you’ll get unforgettable views of the main canyon.

If you’re coming in late spring or summer, head to The Narrows for another outdoor adventure.

The Narrows in Zion

The Narrows is a part of Zion Canyon in a section with a 1,000 foot wall and, in some place, a river less than 30-feet wide.

You can see the river from the paved Riverside Walk. You can also get in the Virgin River at the Temple of Sinwava.

Then wade through The Narrows as far as Big Spring.

The water hike to Big Spring will be a 10-mile round-trip all-day hike. You don’t have to go that far of course.

If you try this hike in the winter or early spring, be aware that snowmelt can cause colder and higher water levels. And sometimes the area will be closed.

Fall will have the best weather, but the water will be cold.

Zion National Park will take one to two days, depending on the weather and how much you want to hike.

After Zion, pack up for the drive to Bryce, Utah, for an overnight and a day in Bryce National Park.

You could extend your stay near Zion. But Bryce has unique options for stays with tranquil canyon views in Tropic at the base of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The entry fee to Bryce Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle. There is one main 18-mile road running north/south through the park.

Bryce National Park, Utah

Most of your overlooks will be off this road--Sunrise, Sunset, Bryce and Inspiration. Do an easy hike or walk around the rim.

You can choose more strenuous, longer hikes that originate from the Bryce Amphitheater.

Another fun, zero tech option for exploring is to hire a wrangler for guided 2 to 4 hour horseback rides into the amphitheater.

A trail ride into Bryce Canyon.

There’s a nice Visitor Center for ranger talks and more information on tours. The park is open year-round.

In the winter and early spring, some of the road and trails may be closed after snowstorms.

After a night or two for Bryce Canyon National Park, make your way to the Grand Canyon.

We gave you a South Rim itinerary already, but the North Rim is only a 3-hour or so drive away.

A snowy North Rim

The North Rim is also open only May through October. If you make the drive to the South Rim instead, it’s approximately 300 miles away.

Not terrible, but plan for half a day’s drive. Hopefully, you’re planning well in advance because one of the best places to stay at the North Rim books fast.

The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only hotel at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. It’s a rustic, but pretty lodge with dining and a set of cabins.

The North Rim Campground is also available. No hook-ups are offered, but RVs are allowed and there is a dump station.

Fees start at $18 per site, per night.

For your North Rim hike, choose Bright Angel Point Trail. It’s steep in places but offers incredible canyon views.

Grand Canyon North Rim View

Only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors see the North Rim, so don’t worry about big crowds. The Visitor Center has maps and more information about the area.

Grand Canyon Itinerary for Family Vacations

With just a few adjustments, our itineraries will work perfectly for family vacations. Teenagers can likely handle the hiking and climbing fine.

But smaller ones may not be up to the same adult-sized challenges.

The Best Grand Canyon Itinerary Safe for Kids

Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids is mostly like going anywhere as a family with a few special considerations.

Boy and girl looking at the Grand Canyon.

You want to include the journey as part of the fun and adventure. Take it slow and let everyone enjoy the beauty and mystery of the park.

If you are planning a summer vacation, be mindful of the heat and crowds on weekends.

Also, remember the North Rim is only open from mid-May through October. After October, the snowfall is too heavy to travel to the North Rim.

When traveling with toddlers, consider bringing along a harness or some type of carrier. It’s so easy to get too close to the edge and disaster.

But don’t worry, there are Grand Canyon activities for toddlers that will keep them safe and engaged.

Kids may not be up for many hikes unless they’ve trained and helped plan for them. If that’s the case, consider hiking to the canyon floor and camping for the night.

People with camping gear hiking the Grand Canyon.

Then take the next day to hike back up. This is a strenuous hike that will take the family a few hours.

Reserve your campground reservations about a year in advance and carefully plan your gear list.

One of the Grand Canyon kid-friendly activities to do in Grand Canyon Village is to see the Hopi House.

Hopi House exterior in Grand Canyon Village
Hopi House, Grand Canyon Village

The Hopi House is a replica of a Native American pueblo where you can buy handicrafts.

A Navajo dance troupe also performs traditional dances throughout the day.

Another fun thing to do with the family is to take a helicopter to the canyon floor.

If you’re traveling with kids over the age of 9, and they are not petite for their age, you can take a guided mule tour around the rim.

Mules for guided South Rim tours.

This will take approximately two hours. The mules are specially chosen and trained for the job and are treated well.

Times and the number of riders are limited, so book well in advance.

White-water rafting along the Colorado River is one of the Grand Canyon family-friendly activities your kids, 8-years and older, won’t forget.

Take a drive south for a couple of hours to Sedona for hiking through the red rocks and playing in the water at Slide Rock State Park.

Explore the ruins at Walnut Canyon too. If you don’t need to stay in the park, you can take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Ariz.

It’s an exciting trip your pre-teens will love and you’ll even get “train-robbed” by bandits.

Williams will remind you of Radiator Springs in the movie Cars. Your kids will love that.

Street through Williams, AZ.

You can also stay in family-friendly Flagstaff, a 90-minute drive away. Not a bad distance for a day at the South Rim.

Finally, be aware you’ll be spending most of your time in the desert with very little options for food.

To keep kids and toddlers from getting hungry, hot and cranky, pack plenty of snacks and liquids.

See Related: World Nomads Travel Insurance Review

Grand Canyon Activities for Toddlers

Don’t put off the trip because you think there won’t be Grand Canyon activities for toddlers when even the littlest ones can appreciate the splendor.

Man hiking with toddler carrier on his back.

The moment your toddler breaks into a grin at first sight of the canyon and says, wow, or the equivalent, you’ll be glad you came.

With toddlers, you’ll want those precious lodging reservations inside the park. That will make managing gear, feedings and naps so much easier.

Take advantage of your toddler’s early-bird tendencies and get going as soon as possible in the morning to beat crowds.

In fact, be early everywhere. Plan to use the free shuttles as much as possible and use snacks, games and toys to distract your child while you wait.

Make as many reservations as you can for meals. Bike trailers are available to reserve too.

With a little planning, the whole family can experience the Grand Canyon no matter their ages. You’ll have fun memories and adorable family photos too.

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