My flight lands in Las Vegas at 10:35 a.m. Assuming an hour to get my luggage and my car and get out of the airport, I hope I can get to Hoover Dam by 12:30. They have guided tours, but depending on the crowds and the timing, I may skip the tour and just stop to explore on my own.
From the dam to Tusayan, where I’m staying the first two nights, is about 3 1/2 hours, so I should get there by 6:00 or 7:00. If I’m closer to 6:00, I might be able to enter the Grand Canyon for sunset, which is at 7:22 that evening.
Lonely Planet offers suggestions for how to visit the Grand Canyon in one or two days:
One Day: Catch a predawn shuttle to see the sun come up at Yaki Point, then head back to the Village for coffee and pastries at the Deli at Marketplace. Swing by the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, stroll the Rim Trail from Mather Point to Yavapai Observation Station and the Trail of Time exhibit, then make a beeline to El Tovar Dining Room to beat the lunchtime crowds. In the afternoon, catch the shuttle to Hermit’s Rest and hike about 10 minutes down the Hermit Trail to look for ancient fossil beds, then catch the sunset at Hopi Point.
Two Days: Follow the one-day itinerary, capping the day with dinner in the elegant Arizona Room and an overnight stay in the Village (book well ahead). The morning of day two, hike into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail, stopping at Cedar Ridge for a picnic. Wrap up your Grand Canyon adventure with a drive east along Desert View Dr, stopping at viewpoints, the Tusayan Ruin & Museum and the Watchtower.
I’m really only there for the one day, but I might pick and choose from both itineraries.
As a solo hiker in not the best shape and not accustomed to altitude, I will need to limit my hiking to shorter, less difficult trails. The Rim Trail is mostly level, and it can be combined with shuttle buses to various points along the way, so I can hike some portions and ride the bus to the next. I’ll most definitely do at least some portions of that trail. All the other trails descend into the canyon, and that means steep ascents on the way back. The Hermit Trail is described as “Unmaintained steep trail requires caution.… For experienced desert hikers. Hiking boots recommended.” But maybe I could do ten minutes down and back? Bright Angel Trail is “considered the park’s premier hiking trail. Well maintained, graded for stock, with regular drinking water and covered rest-houses, it is without question the safest trail in Grand Canyon National Park.” I could hike about three quarters of a mile with an elevation drop of about 600 feet, or 1.5 miles to the “good turn-a-round for first time canyon hikers, casual hikers, and late starters.” The South Kaibab Trail has a spectacular view point called Ooh Aah Point after just under a mile and an elevation drop of 600 feet. At 1.5, and another 500 feet down, miles, there’s another great view point: Cedar Ridge. The trail “offers wonderful views all along the trail making it very easy to lose track of how far down you have hiked. Additionally, the steepness of the trail is very misleading on the way down. Plan on taking twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. Cedar Ridge has great views and is an ideal day hike.”
A lot will depend on weather. Average high temps in May are above 90 degrees in the canyon.
I am also looking into a helicopter or airplane tour. I might do that on Sunday morning before I leave.
I’m not worried about having enough to fill my short stay at the Grand Canyon. In The Rough Guide to Southwest USA, they say “in the 1920s the average visitor stayed for two or three weeks, whereas these days it’s more like two or three hours — of which forty minutes are spent actually looking at the canyon.”
This is also from The Rough Guide:
While no one is disappointed with their first stunning sight of the chasm, visitors often struggle to understand what can appear as a remote and impassive spectacle. They race frantically from viewpoint to viewpoint, constantly imagining that the next one will be the “best,” the place from which the whole thing will finally makes sense. The secret to transcending that initial frantic excitement is to slow down, to appreciate whatever small portion of the canyon may be displayed in front of you at any one moment, and to allow enough time for the bigger picture to develop.
That might be the best advice for traveling anywhere. I just hope I remember to follow it.