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One Day at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim

How to make the most of a short visit to the iconic national treasure

The Grand Canyon Village Historic District presents a mix of not-to-be-missed cultural, architectural, and natural sites.

If you have but one day to spend at the Grand Canyon, you’ll be missing a lot. After all, the national park encompasses 1,904 square miles. And the canyon is six million or so years in the making. But you can make the most of your limited time at the canyon’s South Rim — the hub of visitor activity in Grand Canyon National Park — by following these suggestions.

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  • Make your first stop the national park visitor center for an orientation to the canyon’s geology, flora, fauna, and human history. An excellent film traces the formation of the canyon, and interpretive rangers are on hand to answer questions.
  • A short walk from the visitor center is Mather Point, among the park’s most spectacular vantage points. It’s also one of the world’s great spots to view the sunrise. If you’re feeling energetic, rent a bike from nearby Bright Angel Bicycles and cycle the Rim Trail about 1.5 miles to Grand Canyon Village Historic District.
  • If you’re less energetic (or just time-pressed), hop on a free shuttle departing every 10 to 20 minutes from the visitor center to the Historic District. The area presents a mix of not-to-be-missed cultural, architectural, and natural sites. Pick up a free self-guided walking tour map for interpretive notes on key sites.

Among the highlights:

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  • The Rim Trail. The path meanders 14 miles along the precipice of the canyon.  Since you’re short on time, concentrate on the portion that runs through the village to the Bright Angel Trailhead. It’s level and paved and allows unimpeded views of the canyon.
  • El Tovar. This classic dark-timbered Swiss chalet-style 1905 hotel is one of the national park system’s most iconic lodges. Enjoy a meal in the famous dining room,  select a Native American handmade memento from the gift shop, or just sit back and relax in front of the lobby’s massive stone fireplace. You can climb the stairs to the mezzanine to observe comings and goings from above.'Hopi House. Located across from El Tovar, this red sandstone gift shop, also built in 1905, takes its design inspiration from a traditional Pueblo Indian dwelling. You’ll find a range of arts, crafts, and souvenirs. Be sure to check out the second floor, where high-end Native American-made art and jewelry are for sale.
  • Bright Angel Lodge. Less grand than El Tovar, this homey 1935 log structure just a five-minute walk along the Rim Trail from El Tovar, is spectacularly situated on the canyon’s rim. Don’t miss the History Room with its Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railway-era artifacts. In the late 1800s and 1900s, Harvey made the West a hospitable place for visitors, thanks to his Harvey House restaurants and lodgings. They were strategically located near Santa Fe Railway depots (including the one at the South Rim).
  • Kolb Studio. The intrepid Kolb brothers were photographers who, from the early 1900s, snapped photos of tourists descending into the canyon on mule back and sold the prints to them upon their return. Their home is perched over the rim in spectacular fashion. Its lower level, originally the theater,  is now a gallery with rotating exhibits open to the public.
  • Mule rides. If time allows, take the four-mile three-hour Canyon Vistas ride (reserve in advance). Seeing the canyon via the back of a sturdy mule is a time-honored experience. This trip winds along a little-used rim-top trail, each turn revealing another heart-stopping vista.
  • The Bright Angel Trail. You won’t have time to hike much of the canyon’s most popular trail, but it’s worth venturing down a switchback or two just to say you’ve been in the canyon. Watch for ancient red pictographs on the wall above the first tunnel.

For more information, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.