The Grand Canyon is larger than the state of Rhode Island and an entire mile deep. It’s HUGE! As you draw close to the edge of the rim, it’s easy to get insane vertigo, it’s a long, long, long way down.
This itinerary is for the traveler who wants to see more – far more – than you can get from a bus tour stopping by from another state, but hasn’t quite reached backcountry hike status yet.
It’s the perfect way to ease into hands-on travel, or maybe not easy, since you’ll likely be sore afterward!
Note: I like to travel fast, so this itinerary is a full 3-day itinerary, absolutely jam-packed with activities.
If you’d like to take it a little slower, I’d recommend spreading this itinerary out over 4 or even 5 days! Some bonus options are included at the bottom in case you want to add in some extra sights.
Here is my 3-day Grand Canyon south rim itinerary, true to what my friends and I tackled a few months ago.
However, feel free to modify it as you wish. I prefer non-stop travel, so prepare to be exhausted if you’re going to follow this one to a tee!
Good morning. Today’s plan is the most relaxed out of all of the days, gotta take baby steps, with the most strenuous activities culminating on the last day. For now, let’s take a ride.
Desert View Drive
The Desert View Drive is a 25-mile scenic drive that runs east from Grand Canyon Village but is full of beautiful vistas and expansive viewpoints – the perfect introduction to this natural wonder of the world.
You can either take your own car, or the Grand Canyon’s shuttle, which will run the whole way to the end of the drive as well!
Because the canyon will be on your left, I recommend driving all the way to the end of the trail (marked by the Desert View Watchtower) and then making all your stops on the way back.
Here are all the prettiest stops along the Desert View Drive, going backward:
- Desert View Watch Tower (endpoint – was closed for construction when we went)
- Navajo Point (you can see the Big Bend in the Colorado River from here!)
- Lipan Point
- Moran Point
- Grandview Point
Take your time, soak in the Grand Canyon, and be careful if you’re looking over the rim!
I think Navajo Point and Moran Point were my favorites; they offer a couple of spots to actually climb down a couple of meters in the canyon with pretty much zero risks, and also makes for a great picnic spot (we brought chips and salsa!)
As you hit all these viewpoints, you might find yourself becoming less and less impressed with the vastness of the canyon because you’ve been seeing the same thing for a couple of hours.
My favorite trick when this starts to happen is to stare out into the canyon and look for a tree. Once you’ve found that teeny tiny tree, think about how large you are compared to the size of a tree near you – and then scale yourself down to how large you would be compared to that tree all the way out in the canyon.
It gives me a renewed sense of awe and wonder every time!
Shoshone Point Trailhead
You’ll have some free time after that, but an hour or so before sunset, pull up at the Shoshone Point Trailhead.
It can be a bit hard to find and doesn’t look like much, just an unmarked dirt path with a makeshift lot, but this may be my favorite rim point in the entire Grand Canyon because it seems that almost no one really knows about it!
The trail is about a mile one-way and opens up to just the most incredible sunset views overlooking the enormous canyon, and sitting on the rocks without tourists bothering you or crowding around is a dream come true.
There’s also no railing to spoil the sense of immersion (just be careful, of course). Take a seat, watch the sun go down, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Today marks the beginning of the actual hiking! Don’t worry, today’s is still quite reasonable, tomorrow will be the real challenge.
South Kaibab Trail
You’ll want to get up early to go hike the South Kaibab Trail, the most popular trail on the Grand Canyon south rim – and for good reason! You get to descend through winding switchbacks, treated to a stunning view of the endless canyon pretty much the entire time.
Keep in mind that however far you decide to go down, you’ll have to make the climb back up, and it takes twice as long to hike back up to the rim than it does to scurry down.
There’s also no water stops along the trail itself and very little shade, so make sure to bring your bottle nice and full! Don’t forget to bring food, your body will need the energy.
The South Kaibab Trail runs all the way to the Colorado River, but you should NOT attempt to hike nearly that far and back in one day.
There are plenty of well-marked viewpoints to turn around along the length of the trail. The further you go, the thinner the crowd will get.
- Ooh-Aah Point (1.8mi rt)
- Cedar Ridge (3mi rt)
- Skeleton Point (6mi rt) – do not hike past here for a day hike.
Remember that hiking back up will most likely be in the heat of midday, without much shade, up a steep incline while you’re already somewhat fatigued.
Because of the elevation change, the hike feels much longer than it really is. We hiked this trail in summer and the sun was entirely unforgiving!
Eat some well-deserved lunch while sitting out at Yavapai Point or the Trail of Time, which is a short, paved trail with benches and a great place to eat!
Just make sure to leave the place cleaner than you found it. A nap might be in order too!
For sunset, stake out your place at Mather Point early – it’s one of the most popular sunset points in the entire park, so there will certainly be tourists flocking to it.
Honestly, after enjoying the sunset at Shoshone Point without dozens of people around, I couldn’t really get into the spirit of Mather Point. Still, it was a really beautiful viewpoint!
Head home and sleep early, because tomorrow is an EARLY day.
Head out before sunrise, because it’ll be worth watching the new day today!
We were scheduled to drive out to Hopi Point and catch the sunrise there since we hadn’t been to that viewpoint before. Unfortunately, the road was blocked and we were running short on time, so we decided to swing back to Shoshone Point instead.
You can either grab the sunrise at the end of the trail or wander off-trail to explore some more hidden quiet spots – we did both!
Bright Angel Trailhead
Eat some snacks, grab your water, and head out to the Bright Angel Trailhead. This is the big momma trail, and it’s going to take pretty much the whole day!
The Bright Angel Trail descends straight into the Grand Canyon. Yesterday’s South Kaibab Trail was the warmup for this one, which is about 10 miles long one-way down a steep incline, and runs all the way to the Colorado River!
Like the South Kaibab Trail, it is NOT recommended to try and hike all the way to the river in one day, especially during the summer when the heat saps the life straight out of you. And like before, the return hike will take 2 to 3 times as long as the way down.
There are water and rest stops along the way, but make sure to bring a full bottle (or two!), food, and something to protect you from the sun!
The popular turnaround points are at 1.5 miles, 3 miles, and 5 miles. Most people turn around at the 3-mile mark – the trail really starts to descend after this point, and the terrain around you will completely change.
As my friend and I passed down towards the 5-mile point called the Indian Garden, the landscape transformed around us, tall, thick green grass, deciduous trees, and a refreshing cold creek to run along.
The best part is that the creek is freezing cold, and pouring cold water all over yourself feels unbelievably good!
After you pass Indian Garden, however, there’s practically no shade all the way to the end of the plateau, from where you can look down into the river running below—so I seriously wouldn’t recommend it in the summer unless you’re an experienced hiker going for a 2-day hike!
Seriously, there was a temperature reader at the base of the 5-mile valley, and it was 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
We turned around at the end of Indian Garden to have a clean 10-mile round trip hike, and the whole thing ended up taking the better part of a day—by the time we got back to the top, it was dinnertime!
When To Hike
On a side note, I would recommend hiking Bright Angel as early in the day as possible—hiking 5 miles straight back up at the hottest part of the day was not the most intelligent move on our part.
But if you have the energy, I cannot recommend Bright Angel enough. Watching the Grand Canyon transform into a rich green ecosystem around you as you hike down into the canyon is an unforgettable experience.
If you can stay awake long enough for the sky to get dark, go out and watch the stars on this last night. You can see the Milky Way clear as day in the summer, and the stars are absolutely heavenly!
Just make sure you have a jacket or two it gets quite cold at night. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get any good pictures (looks like our astrophotography needs some practice), but it should give you a good idea of how beautiful the night sky was!
And there you have it, an incredible, action-packed, thrilling Grand Canyon 3-day itinerary! I hope you fall in love with it as much as I did, something about the natural wonder and beauty of the place has an irresistible pull.
Have Extra Time? Here Are A Couple Of Extra Suggestions!
Bike Hermit Road
Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles in the summer, so you’ll need to take the bus or bike along if you’re heading there during high season. Bright Angel Bicycles near Mather Point rents out bikes by the hour or overnight, as well.
Check Out The North Rim
The North Rim is way less popular than the south rim – you won’t find trails as well-marked, and little to no restaurants, restrooms, lodging, and water fountains.
However, if you’d like to have a more naturalistic experience, the Cape Final Trail (4 miles roundtrip) and Widforss Trail/Viewpoint (10 miles roundtrip) both look absolutely stunning.
However, it takes multiple hours to drive to the North Rim from the South Rim because you have to drive around the canyon, so keep that in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What Should I Pack?
- If it’s summer, bring all your light, breathable clothes for those hot hikes!
- Make sure to have a hat, sunblock, walkable shoes, and plenty of water/snacks on hand.
- Sunglasses to help protect your eyes during the glare of midday aren’t a bad idea either if you’re light-sensitive like me!
- You should only need a thicker jacket/blanket if you’re planning on going stargazing.
- And make sure to download your maps offline – while Grand Canyon National Park has probably the best service out of all the national parks I’ve visited, there’s no service at some points, especially the deeper you go.
Q. What Was Your Favorite Part Of The Park?
A. For viewpoints, definitely Shoshone Point (both sunrise and sunset). And for trails, definitely the Bright Angel Trail!
Shoshone is just stunning no matter what time of day you’re there, and it feels so natural with the lack of railing and people, but it’s also very safe.
And Bright Angel Trail is just incredible to see, with amazing views and the magical transforming landscape – not to mention it feels incredibly rewarding.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit the Grand Canyon. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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