Day Trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim (plus Hoover Dam!)
The first time I laid eyes on the Grand Canyon, I was flying 35,000 feet, in a commercial airliner, staring down through a tiny window. The pilot came over the intercom and informed everyone we were flying over one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Woah! I thought, if it can be this vast from this far away, imagine how crazy it is up close. Luckily, I didn’t have to imagine for long. My husband and I had a trip to Vegas coming up that August. Right then, I decided that I was going to pursue a day-trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon South Rim is approximately 4 hours from Las Vegas. Yes, that is a lot of time in the car for one day (8 hours total). But it’s doable with the right attitude and expectations. Also, I don’t recommend attempting this with young children.
Below are some helpful tips for your day-trip.
Ways to get from Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim
There’s a few options. It all just depends on your preference.
Rent a Car
This is your budget friendly option that allows you your own schedule and the MOST time on foot inside the Grand Canyon. I spent a lot of time researching the other two options below. But, my priority was to spend as much time exploring the Grand Canyon as possible. This allowed us almost 8 hours in the park. The other options will limit you to 4 hours or less. **Note: We left at 7 a.m. and arrived to the park around noon. It took about an hour to park, pack our bag with water and snacks, and take the shuttle to the trailhead.
There are many touring companies that you’ll see advertising up and down the Las Vegas strip. But based on my research, the Grand Canyon Tours Co has the best deal and provides you with the most time in Grand Canyon National park. Their tour to the Grand Canyon South Rim picks up and drops off at your hotel in Vegas, and provides breakfast and lunch. On board the bus is a restroom plus movies & entertainment. The tour will take a quick stop at the Hoover Dam and then UP TO 3 hours at the Grand Canyon National Park. This may be a good option if you are traveling with children or don’t care about fitting in a long hike.
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You technically don’t even have to spend 8 hours in a car or bus, if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks. For around $400 per person, you can take a helicopter tour leaving from Las Vegas. There are a few cheaper tours available as well. But cheaper also means even less time in the park. Either way, you will have a MAXIMUM of 2 hours to explore the Grand Canyon on foot. But the tours do come with other luxury options, like a champagne lunch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon plus pick up and drop off in a limo.
Stop at Hoover Dam
Whether you are on a Bus Tour or you rented your own car, you will have the opportunity to stop off at the Hoover Dam on your way to Grand Canyon South Rim. Recognized as one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements in the 20th Century, the Hoover Dam is the highest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere. Fun Fact: If humans were to disappear from Earth tomorrow, what monument of human civilization would survive the longest for other intelligent life to find and examine? Well, architects suggest it would be the Hoover Dam.
Set aside about 30 minutes to tour the area. You could easily spend more, but if you are like me, you’ll want to maximize your hiking time at the Grand Canyon.
Best time of year to visit Grand Canyon South Rim?
Grand Canyon National Park is, understandably, one of the most popular vacation destinations in the U.S. And with that, come the crowds. Summer is the park’s peak season. I would recommend visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim in either the Spring or Fall. There will be less crowds and the temperature will be much cooler for your day hike. If you are hiking in the summer, BRING LOTS OF WATER!
Which trail to choose for your day hike?
Choosing which trail to hike on your day trip can be tricky. I recommend checking out this site that goes into detail about each trail that is offered as a day-hike at Grand Canyon South Rim. For this particular trip, I chose the South Kaibab Trail. It claims to have some of the most dramatic views and compared to the 2 other GC trails I’ve been on, I agree.
South Kaibab Trail-Difficulty Rating: Hard
You can access this trailhead using the Orange shuttle bus (Kaibab/Rim Route). We parked in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center lot and waited about 10 minutes for the shuttle. This hike was unbelievably beautiful. But, as the saying goes, what goes down must come back up. The steepness of the trail going down can be very misleading. The hike was only 3 miles roundtrip, but it took us nearly 5 hours to finish. Be sure to factor at least twice the amount of time it takes you to hike down into the canyon, to come back up. And of course there will be lots of stopping for pictures and water breaks. Also, there are no shady spots, so wear sunscreen. They recommend you don’t go past Cedar Ridge point for a day hike during the summer. Here is a link to all the important details about this trail.
Bright Angel Trail – Difficulty rating: Intermediate
Grand Canyon South Rim’s most famous trail! This trail is the most popular way to hike down to the Colorado River. Therefore, it has much more foot traffic. There is some shade on this trail and also has more designated spots for rest. It also provides water about 1.5 miles into the hike (during the summer/peak season only). I was 5 months pregnant when I hiked Bright Angel, and although we did take lots of breaks on the way back up, it was not AS difficult as South Kaibab trail. It had stunning views, but in my opinion, the views from South Kaibab are a little better. Here is a link to all the important details about this hike.
What to Wear and What to Bring
It should go without saying, but lots of water and comfortable shoes are the most important items to bring for your hike. Your clothing will depend on the time of year, but comfort is key. Bring your trail map, sunscreen, snacks, and maybe a hat or sunglasses. We brought a small backpack and would trade off carrying it. Don’t forget your camera. And again, lots and lots of water.
Want to stay overnight last minute?
After a 5-6 hour hike, you may decide you’re too pooped to drive 4 hours back to Las Vegas late at night. Depending on the time of year you visit, you may not have many last minute options, INSIDE the park. There are only 6 lodges inside the park and are often completely booked, even up to a year in advance. Still, it may be worth calling to see if there are any last minute cancellations. Here’s a link to the 6 GCNP Lodges.
You might also check into hotels in the teeny, tiny town of Tusayan (about 15 minutes from Grand Canyon Village). But those accommodations tend to fill up fast as well. After that, your next best place for a last minute hotel will likely be in Williams (which is 1 hour away). I admit we DID look into a hotel at Williams, but by the time we reached the town, my husband felt he had enough energy to push through. We made it back to Vegas around midnight.
Dos and Don’ts for Grand Canyon South Rim
DO watch your footing and be careful about taking photos. Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. And something like 10-15 tourists a year have FATAL falls from backing up too close to the edge when taking photos. DON’T be that guy.
DON’T feed the wildlife. There are lots of warning signs at the Grand Canyon South Rim about this. Yes, I’m aware my husband is feeding the wildlife in the picture below. But we had missed the warning signs before this photo was taken. The squirrels, although seemingly friendly and not at all afraid of humans, CAN BITE.
DO come prepared with your trail map. Knowing which Trailheads have restrooms and water fountains can make or break your hike.
DON’T attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day. Especially in the summer.
So there you have it! If you are stretched for time, a day trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim can be a great way to check your Grand Canyon National Park adventure off your bucket list. We also did a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Sedona. Check back later for that blog post…coming soon!
Happy and safe travels!