In our Best Way to Visit the Grand Canyon post, we look at al the different ways you can experience the Grand Canyon. The one that stands out, above all, is a Road Trip Around the Canyon Rim! While this is not for everyone, as it takes a considerable amount of time, 3+days it is really the ONLY way to get to experience everything the Canyon Really has to offer. What’s more a Road Trip around the canyon will take you to countless additional locations, not technically part of the Grand Canyon that really should not be missed. This is a journey past some amazing geological features, out into really rural small-town America, and through a multitude of climatic regions with varying Eco-Systems and appearances.
It is a real adventure that takes in so much of this truly remarkable part of the United States, From one extreme to another and endless memories to last a lifetime! If you are looking for an adventure off the beaten path there are ways to avoid the tourists, but you will also find yourself in some of the most-visited parts of the nation. So join us on the best Grand Canyon Roadtrip as we take you around the Canyon Rim, showing you the highlights, before explaining how to plan your own trip, where to overnight, how long to spend at each location and offer our win hints and tips on planning your ultimate Grand Canyon Road Trip!
Best Grand Canyon Road Trip in a Nutshell!
Ok Deep Breath here is the road trip in a sentence. Head out of Vegas through the desert to Zion Canyon, up the Grand Staircase to the Hoodoo formations of Bryce canyon at 9000ft above sea level, then back down to Page Arizona and the mindblowing Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe bend into the Grand Canyon National park to gaze in awe at the natural wonder of the world before heading back towards Vegas on Route 66 Past Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.
How Long does this Road Trip Take?
A lot longer than it takes to say it in a sentence, and longer than it takes to write about it here! In our opinion 3 days, 2 overnights is a whirlwind tour! You can see all the highlights but not really spend much time at the different locales, Hikes and other activities will be limited, overnighting at 4-5 of the different locations will allow much more exploration and the ability to take in some longer hikes and witness multiple incredible sunsets and sunrises! You can extend this trip to take in a whole heap of additional locations (we will add these as diversions) and easily spend a week, even two weeks exploring this amazing corner of the States!
For our description, we are going to start out in Las Vegas. Vegas is easily the most convenient City to kick things off, the large international airport and cheap hire car and cheap accommodation (along with being a Kick-Ass place all by itself) make it the perfect springboard for you Grand Canyon adventures.
We take a clockwise route around the canyon, but you can easily do the trip in reverse.
Section 1 – Las Vegas – Springdale and Zion National Park
- Distance – 165 Miles
- Time – 2.5 – 3 Hours (Delays likely at Zion)
- Roads – I-15 interstate – Hwy-9 Dual carriageway
The First leg has two distant options. One Get the hell out of dodge, early rise, and power straight through to Springdale and The amazing Zion Canyon on the I-15. This works best if you are on a shorter trip and plan to overnight in Bryce, if you are staying longer in Zion, then you can take the more scenic route, past Hoover Dam and up Lake/North shore road. This is a very beautiful, remote, and peaceful drive through the desert with stunning views of Lake Mead. You can also check out the Valley of Fire, it’s a very nice way to start the trip.
However, it is very time consuming, it will add at least an hour onto your journey time, and that is without stops, which is kind of the point. All in this will consume well over a half-day and for many, getting to Zion is key. So we tend to recommend exploring this part of Vegas another time. Hop on the I-15 and get straight to Springdale.
The I-15 is not your typical interstate it is very scenic and quite beautiful. The section up through the Virgin River Canyon is breathtaking (and a little hairy!) and as you drop down into St George and enter Utah, the views over the Pine Valley Mountains and Signal Peak are incredible. After passing through St George, you take Hwy-9 which is a solid 2-lane Highway which shrinks down as you approach Springfield, the gateway to Zion Canyon.
It is essential to get to Zion REALLY early, Parking at the Park is limited, and fills up fast. If the Parks lots are full you have no choice but to head to Springdale and find paid parking options and then catch the shuttle bus back into the park, costly and time-consuming.
This means leaving Vegas very early, do not plan to arrive at Zion after 10 pm, and the earlier the better! We hate telling you to get up early on your vacation but if you can leave Vegas before 6 am you have the best shot at getting a parking spot at Zion! But even that is cutting it fine as the Time difference means you lose an hour from Vegas Time! See our tips below on managing the Time Zone Changes around the Canyon!
If you are planning the long route, then this is less important, plan to arrive at Springfield whenever you choose as you will be staying in Springfield/Zion so these issues are overcome with hotel parking and getting a jump on any day-trippers from Vegas!
Our first main Stop is the seriously beautiful Zion National Park. The secret is out on this once overlooked park and it now ranks as one of the most visited parks in the United States! This means it’s Busy! It is easy to see why, as you approach the Valley the red canyon wall loom out of the distance. The Virgin River has carved deep rifts into the soft red sandstone and the Park has a look very unlike any other.
The main activity in the Park is Hiking and there are several iconic and unique trails. The Narrows takes you up through the main canyon following the Virgin River before the trial runs out and you continue the hike knee-deep in the river. The Canyon walls close in and hikers find themselves walled in, as the canyon looms 1000ft above them and only a few feet wide.
Or hike the infamous and terrifying Angels Landing, a knife-edge ridge, only a foot wide in places, with 1000ft sheer drops either side and just a chain handrail to hold on for. Rewarded by simply mind-blowing views at the summit while you contemplate the terrifying return leg!
The Riverside walk and Canyon overlook trail are more moderate hikes, with Riverside walk being like a mild version of the Narrows and Canyon overlook still having the incredible payoff similar to Angels Landing. These are just the highlights and there are hundreds of trials and hikes all over Zion, head over to the NPS page for full details.
After spending time exploring the Park we head off Via the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This narrow road heads straight up one of Zions Cliff faces, zig-zagging it’s way up the valley, Finally when the wall gets too steep the road heads into a tunnel and actually through the rock itself. As you emerge from the other side you enter the Eastern section of the park. The highway continues here through the white peak tops and mesa’s of this far less eroded valley, it is quite a contrast to the main valley but still very beautiful. Thee are several slot canyons in this area you can explore as you head out of the park at the East entrance.
Diversion – Dixie Forest and Ceder Breaks National Monument
From Zion we head up to Bryce Canyon, the Zion-Mount Carmel highway takes you out the east entrance, but there is an alternative option of heading up to Kalob Canyon (Still part of Zion NP) via backtracking onto the I-15, from here you can head through the Dixie Forest and explore the Ceder Breaks National Monument before heading over to Bryce. It is a longer route but incredibly scenic, we explored this area when the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway was temporarily closed due to rockfall in 2019!
Section 2 – Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
- Distance – 87 Miles
- Time – 2 Hours (plus time for stops along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway )
- Roads – Zion-Mount Carmel Highway( Mountain Pass) – Hwy-89 Rural single lane Highway
Once out f the park at the east entrance follow Hwy 9 until you reach Carmel. Leaving the Valley behind the landscape changes dramatically. You are now in real Rural America. Ranches and Farmland emerge from the scrub and as you approach Mount Carmel Junction the Next step in the Grand Staircase rises above you.
Taking Hwy-89 North at the Junction you now head into real Cowboy Country. Rural Utah looks like very little has changed in many years and the road passes rolling pastures, horse ranches, and quoting farmhouses, churches, and villages. The harsh desert you left in Nevada has given way to a green and wonderful landscape that leads to a much simpler way of living for its residents.
As you continue north the elevation keeps rising as you step up the Staircase. Eventually, as you top at Bryce canyon, Pine forests have taken over and the temperature has plummeted. Even in May snow is a possibility! One trip we took the tire pressure warning like came on as the temperature differentiated was SO severe it affected the tire pressure! Inflated in the warm air of Nevada the freezing nighttime temps caused it to drop so much the warning light came on! +100°f to 10°f (40° to -10°c)
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is a remarkable place, the Hoodoos, tall pillar-like rock formations are bizarre and really alien-like in appearance. Formed over millennia by the slow chipping away of the frost these Pillars sand watch like a timeless stone army.
Several Trails lead down into the Hoodoo maze where you are likely to bump into one of the fairly tame Mule Deer that inhabit the canyon. From the overlooks above the Canyon the view is breathtaking, the sea of spires, colored Red, orange, and while, flows off to the plain below, Utah’s vast rolling landscape surging miles off into the distance.
The Park is quite a bit smaller than say Zion or Grand Canyon NP, and the journey is a good way out of our tour around the Canyon, but this is the sort of sight few ever get to experience in person and one you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Bryce also serves as a great place to overnight. This is one of our two essential overnight destinations. Accommodation is fairly cheap, if basic, and you get to see Bryce at it’s best.
The canyon comes alive at sunrise and sunset and staying in Bryce gives you both. The Sunset can seem a little disappointing as the sun goes down behind the canyon, dipping into the forest and not really giving a sunset at all, but be patient and you will see the colors of the canyon really pop into life as the light begins to fade. Sun up is very different as our dearest Star makes her appearance right in front of the canyon. Rising up over the Utah plain bathing the canyon in glorious light.
Remember to pack warmly, however, as in the heat of summer, despite possible scorching days it can and does still hit freezing at night! In winter it’s unlikely to break freezing even during the day!
Diversion – Utah’s Big 5!
Hitting Zion and Bryce ticks off two of Utah’s Big 5 National Parks. This hitlist of natural wonders will keep any nature lover happy for years. From Bryce, it is easy enough to continue on into Utah and tick off Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks, onto the itinerary and pick up back at Page, Arizona. This addition will also allow you to hit Monument Valley, which really should be a National Park too!
The Downside? Well, it’s an additional 600+ Miles and probably a good 2-3 Extra days, but it is well worth the extra adventure!
Section 3 – Bryce Canyon – Page Arizona
- Distance – 150 Miles
- Time – 2.5 – 3 Hours
- Roads – Hwy-89 Rural single lane Highway becoming an endless horizon, vanishing point style roadway
After Sunrise, or after spending time exploring the canyon it is time to relocate. For now, we have explored the Northside of the Grand Canyon, and unless you take the North Rim Diversion below, not actually seen the Grand Canyon. As we head south we finally find the Colorado River, the Canyon’s creator, and start to pick up the early parts of this grand rivers work!
The first section of the Highway is a retrace of our last leg, back through rural Utah. After Mount Carmel Junction the Scenery starts to change, the greenery falls away and the arid red Arizona Desert starts to seep through. The roads stop following the contours of the valleys and instead start following arrow-straight lines, the strips of black tarmac vanishing off over the horizon. This is what US road trips are meant to feel like!
As you near Page, you will cross the Mighty Colorado at the foot of Lake Powel, Take a moment to stop here and enjoy your first glimpse of the beginnings of the GC!
Diversion – North Rim
Adding an extra 100+ miles onto your drive to Page, Az is the detour down to the North Rim if the Grand Canyon. This is one of the only places you can access the North Rim (by Car). It is a peaceful and quiet part of the Canyon with stunning views and few tourists. It is however the EXACT same part of the Canyon as the South Rim, just the Other side! With Strong Binoculars, you can literally see each part of the park across the canyon.
This makes the North Rim, less essential. You can easily skip this long diversion and Still get to see the Canyon at it’s best.
Page, Arizona – Antelope Canyon
Page, Az is the first real piece of civilization you will have come across since St George, while Page is a City, it is barely so, more of a large town, But there are Gas Stations, supermarkets and everything you would expect in a small American City. It is the perfect place to restock, refuel, and prepare for the next leg. It is also about halfway through the trip.
The City itself is pretty forgettable. (although there is a great BBQ place in a converted gas station!) But the real reason for stopping here is Antelope Canyon.
Just outside of the City this slot canyon cuts its way through the bedrock in a way that is quite unlike anything you will have ever seen. The Canyon rose to popularity after National Geographic featured the “THE WAVE” and several photos of the Canyon have sold for millions of dollars.
You can read more about visiting Antelope Canyon here, although Photography Tours have been discontinued!
Section 4 – Page, Arizona to Grand Canyon National Park South Rim
- Distance – 150 Miles 64 closed
- Time – 2.5 – 3 Hours 64 closed
- Roads -Hwy-89 Dual carriageway – Hwy 64 – Desert View Drive
No Sooner are you back on the Road After Page, we are stopping again. This time for the magical Horseshoe Bend. Not technically part of the Grand Canyon this icon of American Scenic Views is a must stop. The Deep, perfectly Shaped Canyon with vivid green waters flowing through the bend is a stunning sight and not to be missed. Read more here.
Back on the 89 and the road heads down south, red rock cliffs rise in the distance, and glimpses of the canyon come in and out of view as the faults in the land are laid bare. At Bitter Springs the Road heads down a mountain pass and the whole Colorado River Basin opens up in front of you, it’s a wonderful sight and real reminder of how BIG the American Wilderness really is! This is Big Sky Country!
After many miles on this seemingly endless highway toy reach Cameron. Don’t blink or you will miss it, but at least it is something on what is otherwise as desolate (and beautiful Highway) Here you take a right in the desert View Highway, Hwy 64. This Hwy lives up to its name as you start heading toward the Grand Canyon. It is a more rolling an interesting road. It first follows the Little Colorado River offering views of the “Little Grand Canyon” before heading straight towards the East Entrance. Get excited as you are about to witness the full spectacle of one of the 7 natural wonders of the World!
We hate to do this, but we need to add a caution in here. We know most people are pretty good at following speed limits but Hwy-89 is a doozy. With arrow-straight dual carriageway on perfect blacktop, with nothing to hit for sometime miles around, the temptation is to let the foot sink a little lower than usual, let that speed creep up and start ticking those miles off a bit faster. It’s understandable, 90-100 mph is probably quite safe n this stretch of road.
Unfortunately, the State Troopers know this too well, and this Hwy is used as a catchment area for some pretty zealous Speed enforcement. We have come a cropper to this before and paid a heavy ($500+) fine for our transgression. But with the Officer threatening arrest, we got off lightly. The bottom line, speeding here is a bad idea! We extend this to most Highways on this trip but the 89 is a special trap for speeding motorists.
Grand Canyon National Park
So Far we have come an awful long way without actually seeing the Grand Canyon, That is about to change. Coming in at the east entrance gives you the chance to visit the Desert View Watchtower. The View here is seriously impressive and gives some of the most expansive views of the entire canyon, up towards Marble Canyon and over 30 miles down the canyon.
The Desert View road then continues along the rim with various pull-outs and viewpoints along the way. Once at the Grand Canyon Village you can then explore the Canyon.
Visiting the Grand Canyon National park is a topic way beyond this article and would take several articles in itself, but be assured this is the highlight of your road trip, and you can spend aware from a few hours to several days exploring the Park.
Tusayan is the second of our compulsory overnights. The Chances are you git to the Park late (hopefully just in time for sunset) and really the park is pretty far away from anything. So overnighting here gives you the chance to watch the sunset, hang around in the park after dark to see what wildlife appears and see the mindboggling array of stars that appear under this DARK sky and get back into the park early morning to grab a sunrise!
Accommodation is basic as are dining options but it’s all cheap and we find roughing it a bit adds to the experience. This really gives you the canyon in all it’s best lights (literally) and when you finally head off feel you have got the best out of this wonderful National Park
Section 5 – Grand Canyon National Park to Las Vegas – Route 66
- Distance – 296 Miles
- Time – 5 Hours +
- Roads – Hwy 64 – Rural Highway – Route 66 – Historic Highway – Hwy 93 – Dual Carriageway.
The final leg is a big push and the longest section of the whole journey, plan a full day for this one!
Highway 64 out of the park is a good highway but it’s very rural and often busy. The road cuts through the forest surrounding the canyon and wildlife sightings are regular, and at night dangerous. Once at the I-40 you could just hightail it to Vegas. But we think the extra hour or so journey time is well worth it to cruise along the historic Route 66!
There is not much to see specifically along this part of the road, but with the 66 the journey is the destination. and you can just enjoy rolling along one of the most famous roads in the world!
Diversion – Oatman, Arizona
At Kingman, the road forks off for Vegas, but if you stay on the 66 you can head up the mountain pass to Oatman. This forgotten little town has reinvented itself as a living museum and has a salon, feel mules, and live gunfights! It really is a fun little place to head to and check out a place time forgot!
The Diversion will add a good hour or two to this leg
Diversion – Grand Canyon West Rim
After everything you will have seen on this trip, it can be hard to recommend heading to the West Rim. We explain the differences in our West s South Rim article and while we like the Grand Canyon West, it is a poor relation to the South Rim, in fact it’s a poor relation to Bryce and Zion as well!
On the whole, we recommend skipping, it’s a long detour away from the road to Vegas and you will almost certainly be disappointed. But if you want to see it all, then the west rim needs to be ticked off too!
Diversion – Hoover Dam
Highway 93 goes straight over the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge giving amazing views of Hoover Dam, so no one will miss out, but it’s well worth pulling off here and taking a closer look. However you are likely to be very tired by now and want to head straight to your Hotel, but it really is with the time to check it out.
Back in Vegas
After days on the road and ut in the wilderness, it’s great to be back to civilization. Check into your hotel order a stiff drink and make the most of the creature comforts! Vegas is not for everyone, but after a wild adventure it can feel surprisingly homely and a BIG spa bath will help get the road grime out of your pores!
Alternate – Route 66 to Santa Monica!
Another Alternative is to not actually return to Vegas at all, but continue the on the 66/I-40 all the way into Los Angeles and Eventually Santa Monica. This is a great addition and there is plenty to see along the way, although most of it is barren desert, that in itself is worth exploring. Ghost towns, Dust Devils, Volcanic Craters, Mountian passes, and of course the destination of Los Angeles.
Park Entry Fees
This route takes you through 3 National Parks (even more if you follow some of our diversions and alternates) We think the National Parks are great value, but it can get tiresome paying at EVERY park you hit. The best solution to this is the “America the Beautiful Pass”
This amazing pass gets you into every National Park along with most state parks and national monuments. At $80, it will save you over $25 just on the big three listed here and gives you a full year to hit thousands of other locations across the states!
- Grand Canyon National Park – $35
- Zion Nation Park – $35
- Bryce Canyon National Park – $35
- America the Beautiful Pass – $80 – $25 Saving
You can buy the Pass online ahead of the trip or at the park gate of your first park, either way, it really is a no brainer even if you only use it on this trip! Remember Entry Fee and Pass Prices are PER CAR not per Person, as we said they are fantastic Value!
Vegas has many Car hire firms with all the big companies present. McCarran Airport is a Major hub and prices are really cheap. Check Out RentalCars.com for prices that are normally the cheapest around and offer FREE cancellation should you change your plans or just find a cheaper price!
As this is a round trip there are no issues with One-Way Fees, but if you are venturing off and planning to return elsewhere this can be an additional charge! The good news is One Way fees between Nevada and California are usually free so if you are heading to LA afterward (or anywhere in Cali) this will not be an issue.
The fact you are heading through Utah and Arizona as well is not an issue for USA Car hire, as long as you return to Nevada/California for your return, otherwise the fees can by up to $500!!! Check the small print of your Rental, although RentalCars.com now includes one-way fees in the headline price!
Tips Tricks and Saftey
Time Zones are a big problem for planning this trip. Utah operates on a different Time Zone to Nevada and Arizona and this can cause issues with planning. For example, if you plan to leave Vegas at 7 am to arrive in Zion at 10 am (3 Hour Drive) you will actually arrive at 11 am! It can also cause issues with timing sunsets and heading to Page to catch your Antelope Canyon tour!
It really can get confusing, we try to Stay on Nevada time and adjust times in Utah by -1hr. So for example, if we plan to be in Zion for 10 am we adjust it to 9 am. Bryce sunrise at 6 am? change it to 5 am and keep your phones and watches on Nevada time. That way once you are back in Arizona things are back to normal.
This actually only works in the Summer, as during the Winter Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time, so when Nevada (and Cali) Change Arizona Doesn’t. This then aligns with Utah who does observe DST. It can all get insanely confusing!
The above links have a handy visual aid showing what the time zone is during the year (+- UTC) so you can easily see how they align!
There is a further complication that Naaj Nation time is the Same as Utah, but technically you are in Arizona! But we find this is pretty irrelevant as they adjust to Arizona time for any tourist tours they offer (Antelope)
Bottom Line is it is enough to make your head spin, but it is essential to understand if you want to time things correctly!
Parking at Zion
We mentioned Parking at Zion. If you get late the only option can be to park in Springdale and catch a bus into the park, before transferring to another bus to head up Valley rd (everyone needs to do this). Two buses and an extra expense are not ideal. If getting there early is just not possible, or something goes wrong and you are late, then if the park is still letting people in, try the parking lot, as people come and go all the time so space may open up. You may have to circle a good few times and even follow hikers back to their cars as they prepare to leave. it can take perseverance but you should get a space.
We highlighted Speeding earlier on, and especially in Arizona. It really isn’t worth the risk. If you use Google to calculate times you only need to hit the speed limits to make those times, raging along at 90mph will only get you to your destination 5-10mins before the Sat Nav states, it really isn’t worth the risk when huge fines and possible arrest is the consequence.
Slow down take in the scenery and enjoy the drive, you are one a road trip, so enjoying the road is the whole point. Rushing to your destination is just the wrong concept and you will miss the joy the road!
Soe Parts of this trip are utterly hundred of miles from anywhere close to civilization. When things go well this is no problem but should the worst happen you could be out there for a while. Ensure you have supplies and adequate clothing for all eventualities. You will normally be on a major trunk road so getting assistance is not a huge problem, it’s just it could take hours even days before you are back on your way!
Water, Food, and warm clothing are a must. Even in the Scorching desert, it can get cold if you have a problem at night!
It is important to ensure all overnights are booked in advance as if you leave this to chance you could be in for a hard time finding last-minute accommodation. While most people will assume this there is a culture still of just hitting the road and seeing what is available. This is a costly mistake. However it’s still important to retain an element of freedom and flexibility, this is why we use Booking.com most of the time. The prices are always competitive, often the cheapest by a long way and the free and hassle-free cancelation means if plans chance you can easily cancel or change your booking with zero cost.
It is worth noting a lot of hotels have a final check-in time, if you are running late and are not going to get t a hotel till late, this is usually not a problem but rin ahead and let them know.
We have mentioned the huge differences in climate this route takes you through. From the scorching desert to High Mountain plateaus with freezing temps even in summer! It can be quite the Journey. Snow is possible year-round and storms heavy rains, heatwaves, and even dust storms all possible!
The key is to be flexible and well prepared. Warm Clothes and food and drink and be prepared for the unthinkable such as having to sleep in the car. It probably will not happen, but it’s best to be ready! We don’t mean carry sleeping bags or anything silly but just be mindful you may not get to where you are going due to extreme weather!
Even things are not extreme the weather can have big impact on the trip. Rain, cloud, and fog can all descend and render the most wonderful vistas nothing more than a grey out! it is terribly sad when this happens but there is nothing that can be done. Try and face the disappointment with humility and push on. Rest assured you are covering such a big area, if one part is awash out the chances are the next location will be better!
Bad weather can affect your trip even if it happens when you are not there. Roads can be washed way, late snows can block passes, and flash floods can make areas inaccessible! Always have back up routes and plans and be ready to think on your feet.
It is very unlikely everything will go to plan, so be ready to adapt and be flexible to adjust to a changing situation to make it fit your plans the best! Trust us anything that can go wrong has gone wrong to us at some point. The key is to shrug it off move on and find another highlight of the trip. Oh and if you work out how to do that perfectly, let us know, we have had our fair share of melt-downs over trivial stuff!
Have Your Say
Are you planning on visiting the Grand Canyon? Planning a Road Trip around the Rim? Or just looking for great Roadtrip Ideas? Let us know what you are planning to do? Maybe you have already visited the Canyon or down a trip around the Rim? Let us know in the comments below, and if you have questions on our Road Trip Itinerary fire away in the comments below!