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How to Take an Epic Grand Canyon Road Trip

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Heading out on a road trip with family or friends is an absolute pleasure, whether you’re an avid traveler or not. With iconic vistas and offbeat attractions across the United States, the country offers an endless list of unusual and eye-catching destinations to explore.

Though there’s no shortage of beautiful places in the country, one destination that tops each traveler’s road trip bucket list is — the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is, indeed, incredible and grand. Widely known as one of the Natural Wonders of the World, this is a can’t-miss destination if you’re in Arizona.

But the question is, what’s the best way to explore this unusual creation of nature? The answer is — a road trip.

Taking the Grand Canyon road trip enables travelers to get off the beaten path, cherish natural wonders & local communities, and make the most out of their journey.

Are you planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon?

There are several routes to pick from to plan an epic Grand Canyon road trip, depending on your interests and exactly how much time you have.

No matter your preferences, we will describe the best tips to plan an unforgettable Grand Canyon road trip.

This post will include all the details required to plan a smooth and enjoyable road trip to the Grand Canyon.

What You Need for Your Grand Canyon Road Trip 

Whether you’re a frequent traveler or not, it’s always hard to pack everything you may need on a road trip. To help you save energy and time, we have put together a list of items you require on your Grand Canyon trip.

Let’s take a quick look:

1. Good Shoes

The first and most important item you require on your canyon trip is quality shoes. As you know, the trails are steep and rocky; it’s essential to wear breathable shoes with sturdy soles. 

These ankle boots from Merrel should off you support for your ankle, comfort for your sole, and airflow for your toes!

Remember to always check your shoes in the morning for scorpions and spiders!

2. Sandals

The weather at the canyon is unpredictable and can get hot in no time, making it challenging to walk in boots or sneakers. The best option is to keep an extra pair of sturdy sandals in your backpack. You can put them on when you feel trapped in your shoes. 

KEEN makes some very hardy and comfortable sandals to offer your feet protection without them stewing.

3. Sunscreen

Exploring the Grand Canyon involves a lot of exposure to direct sun.

Whether you’re hiking along one of the famous canyon paths or canoeing down the river, you’re going to face plenty of sun rays, which may cause sunburn. To protect your skin from the sun, make sure to apply sunscreen throughout the visit. You can also consider wearing sunglasses and a sunhat for maximum comfort.

Any brand with an SPF over 50 is good enough, but we really like this Sun Bum stuff – it smells great!

4. Packing Cube

No matter your trip size, packing cubes are a total game-changer. You can use them to avoid overpacking and keep yourself organized on the trip.  You can pick up this great set from Amazon for less than $25!

5. Refillable Water Bottles

Refillable water bottles are a necessity, particularly in the canyon. As you may know, the canyon doesn’t sell bottled water, but you can find multiple water-filling spots throughout the park.

Therefore, remember to bring refillable water bottles with you.

6. Portable Charger

Another thing that you need to keep handy on your canyon trip is a lipstick-sized portable charger. As you will use your phone for music, communication, photos, and videos throughout, carrying a backup battery is a wise option to keep your phone on and working.

Considering how much sun you’ll be facing, you might consider getting a solar charger and becoming a roving mini-solar power station!

7. Quick Dry Towels

Another thing you shouldn’t miss to pack is a quick-dry towel – one of the most valuable travel accessories ever. Whether your adventure includes hiking, river rafting, or canoeing around the canyon, you will feel happy to have a towel like this one. Since it is compact and lightweight, you can fit one easily in your backpack.

Also, you can use a towel to keep you cool while hiking.

This microfiber one from Rainleaf is great for travelers as it has its own lightweight case!

8. Plastic Bags

Bring small plastic bags to keep your phone, camera, or other things dry if you’re planning to do water sports in the canyon. You can also use them during rainstorms.

9. Sleeping Bag

If you’re hiking or camping at the canyon, make sure to keep sleeping bags in your backpack. As the temperature drops really low at night, sleeping bags can keep you warm and safe.

This lightweight, 4-season option from Farland is perfect; it comes in different colors, is waterproof, has its own storage bag, and offers warmth and comfort in virtually every type of weather.

10. Binoculars

Another thing you can consider carrying along is a pair of binoculars. It will make it easy for you to catch sight of the park’s faraway natural rock formations and condors.

Good binoculars have always been pricey, and a great set will be in the hundreds of dollars. That means this Nikon set is one of the best deals you’ll find!

11. Park Entrance Fees

While the South and North Rims are part of the Grand Canyon National Park Service, the West & East Rims are under the Navajo Nation and apply separate entrance fees. Therefore, remember to keep some change with you.

12. Food

Last but not least, make sure to pack enough food depending on your trip length and activities to stay active and energetic. You can also take some snacks, energy drinks, and energy bars to provide some pep in your step.

If you’re looking for camping-specific meals, ReadyWise makes some lovely menus, some having their own carry pouches. It’s a step up from MREs, but that said, they too have their place on a Grand Canyon road trip.

See Related: Minimalist Travel Accessories

Emergency Gear to Carry on a Grand Canyon Road Trip

Apart from the regular or daily use items, you also need to pack emergency gear for your Grand Canyon road trip. 

1. First Aid Kit

The first aid kit is essential for every road trip. When you’re out and about doing activities in the canyon, accidents can happen anytime.

Be prepared for all unexpected calls by tossing a first aid kit in your backpack. 

2. Bug Sprays

Bug sprays are the best thing you can use to make the most out of each scene across the canyon instead of spending hours on end swatting skeeters.

There are so many bug sprays available on the market these days made from natural ingredients, making them entirely safe for use. 

3. Blacklight Flashlight

Carrying a blacklight flashlight is essential for your own safety during the Grand Canyon road trip. A flashlight can help you make strange and dangerous creatures glow at night, for example, scorpions and poisonous spiders.

So, keep a blacklight flashlight handy and use it at night to avoid stepping on such tiny creatures. 

4. A Knife or Multi-use Tool

A knife is a multipurpose tool and one of the key essentials for any trip. You can use a knife to cut food, light fire, signal aircraft, and meet all manner of survival needs in a pinch. Never go camping without one!

Multitools come in all shapes and sizes from keychain accessories to an overgrown Swiss Army Knife with hammers and axes! Pick which one seems most appropriate for your needs – better get, get both!

5. Activated Charcoal 

Activated charcoal pills will come in handy if you find yourself sick after drinking or eating anything on the canyon trip. These pills will eliminate all the unwanted toxins from your body in no time, helping you keep on your feet and enjoy every bit of your journey.

Towns to Visit on a Grand Canyon Road Trip

Because of the massive size of the Grand Canyon National Park, there are numerous towns travelers can use as an entry point or base camp. This section has mentioned a few closest towns to the canyon with old-school lodging and great restaurants.

Visiting these spectacular towns is the best deal to give a great start to your canyon trip. 

1. Grand Canyon Village 

Inside the national park, Grand Canyon Village is the closest town situated on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This historic place features multiple gift shops and five hotels, including El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Kachina Lodge, and Thunderbird Lodge. 

This historic block on the rim provides varying accommodation options, such as Yavapai Lodge, Trailer Village RV Park, Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, and Market Plaza.

Offering all the amenities to ensure a comfortable stay, these accommodations fill quickly and are more costly than staying outside the Grand Canyon.

2. Grand Canyon Junction or Valle

Around 25 miles south of the Grand Canyon National Park’s south entrance at the junction of two paths leading in from Williams and Flagstaff, Grand Canyon Junction or Valle is a small, beautiful community.

The town includes a couple of gas stations, limited amenities, one hotel (Grand Canyon Inn and Motel), and multiple glamping and camping sites. Plus, staying in the town is cheaper than in several other regions across the canyon.

Book your lodge in the town and take the Grand Canyon Railway to the south section. Once reached, you can use the free park shuttle buses to explore sites around the national park.

3. Cameron

Around 30 miles from the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon South Rim, Cameron is another small community. Though amenities are somewhat limited, you will find a place to stay at Cameron Trading Post and Motel, as well as a handful of places to eat, and fill up your gas tank in the town.

4. Tusayan

A striking resort town near the South Entrance to the Grand Canyon, Tusayan offers multiple places to eat, campgrounds, and lodging accommodations. Tourists, hikers, or bikers from different regions often stay in this beautiful town. The community also has various stores and craft & gift shops.

Visitors looking for a luxury stay should try the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, or the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel. For mid-range and budget travelers, check out the Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon.

The best thing about the town is easily The Grand Canyon IMAX Theater. Part of the amazing National Geographic Visitor Center, it’s a giant screen presentation of the canyon, providing guests with a chance to enjoy virtual rafting and climbing through the canyon routes.

5. Flagstaff

A place full of fascinating cultural education and historical sites along with adventures, Flagstaff is around 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon.

Surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, the town offers an exciting presentation of the Native American culture. It provides several accommodation options, from motels to hotels to bed & breakfasts and more.

The most popular lodging in the area is the Little America Hotel, but I’d also check out the super cool and modern Hotel Elev8 Flagstaff.

6. Jacob Lake

Located within a beautiful ponderosa pine forest on the Kaibab Plateau, Jacob Lake offers outdoor fun, plenty of wildlife, some historical sights, and an easy route right to the Grand Canyon. At the intersection of Highway 89A and 67 leading to the canyon, this town gives easy access to the national park.

One can enjoy hiking, hunting, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities in the town. Coming to the lodging, there’s not a huge amount in town proper. The Jacob Lake Inn includes a bakery, dining, and comfortable rooms featuring all the needed amenities, and accommodating staff.

You can also stay at the nearby Jacob Lake Campgrounds if you want to rough it.

These towns reflect unique culture, attractions, and activities that make an exceptional addition to your adventure and have a more customized Grand Canyon road trip experience.

Another gorgeous attraction to explore during your Grand Canyon road trip is Bryce Canyon National Park, just 97 miles from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

Facts About the Grand Canyon

Horseshoe Bend Scenery at the Grand Canyon

Before getting into the details to plan a successful trip to the Grand Canyon, let’s browse a few facts about this spectacular spot. 

  • The Grand Canyon National Park is spread over 1.2 million acres of land, making it enormous and one of the most widely-known national parks globally.
  • Temperature changes tremendously within the canyon. From the lowest point to the top of the canyon, the temperature can vary by over 25 degrees. 
  • Despite being widely famous across the globe, this is not the world’s deepest canyon. It comes after the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepa and the Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru. 
  • The age of the Grand Canyon isn’t known. Some scientists believe it was formed six million years ago, whereas some say it is 70 million years old. No one is sure about the age of the canyon. 
  • The canyon is home to pink rattlesnakes; they are only found in the Grand Canyon! 
  • The Grand Canyon is still changing shape; the Colorado River is causing it to change over time combined with rain and wind.

The Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon

If the Grand Canyon National Park is at the top of your list, you must be wondering—what’s the best time to visit it? 

The right time to visit the Grand Canyon National Park depends on what you want to do there. Whatever is in your mind, the best times to explore this wonder are spring, March through May, and autumn, September through November. 

During these seasons, the crowds are much thinner and daytime temperatures are cool, allowing you to enjoy every bit of your journey.

How Long is a Road Trip to the Grand Canyon?

Driving to the Grand Canyon is an adventure in itself. There are several routes to pick from to make your journey as exciting and glorious as the experience you’ll have at the final destination.

However, the length of the road trip depends on where you’re starting from. 

For instance, the road trip to the Grand Canyon from Los Angeles takes nearly 8 hours without stops. Similarly, the driving time from Louisville to the Grand Canyon is around 25 hours.

Additionally, both the South Rim and North Rim are around 270 miles from the Las Vegas Strip; both drives take nearly four and a half hours on average. 

Best Places to Visit on a Grand Canyon Trip

Spread over thousands of acres of land with lots of attractions, it is almost impossible to explore the entire Grand Canyon National Park in one day. If you want to visit the canyon thoroughly, you should plan a few days trip. 

Since the Grand Canyon is so extensive and different travelers have varying interests, we will mention the highlights of the canyon here.

These are some attractive places to visit on a Grand Canyon trip and have an unforgettable experience.

Let’s take a closer look. 

Which Canyon Rim to Visit? 

As you may know, the Grand Canyon has four rims: the North Rim, the South Rim, Grand Canyon West, and Grand Canyon East.

Here’s an overview: 

1. The North Rim: Located opposite the Colorado River, this section offers sweeping views of the canyon and some hiking trails to explore. 

2. The South Rim: This is the most visited section of the canyon. You can hike, drive, and bike along the rim for around 32 miles, exploring multiple eye-catching viewpoints. The South Rim also includes Grand Canyon Village and its unique shops, restaurants, and lodges. 

3. Grand Canyon West: With limited views of the Grand Canyon, this section of the national park claims to be famous for its Skywalk. 

4. Grand Canyon East: Grand Canyon East covers a large section of land. You will find Marble Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and other sites on this rim.

Though it’s a beautiful part, it doesn’t offer iconic canyon views. 

After looking at the overview of these four rims, it’s no surprise that the South Rim is the best area to visit. Offering lots of panoramic views, hotels, restaurants, hiking trails, and fun activities, no other rim can beat the south section.

Overall, if you are just on a one-day trip to the canyon, make sure to explore the South Rim.

Geological Museum

The Geological Museum is one of the most informative and exciting exhibits in the canyon. It describes the visible layers of the rock in detail as you look out of windows. You will find huge diagrams demonstrating the formation of the canyon.

You can also see the hiking trails from the windows, including a side route to the Colorado River and a path to the Plateau Point.

Visitor Center and Mather Point Overlook

Tourist Strolling at Grand Canyon Visitor Center

If you’re entering from the south, head directly to the Visitor Center for an exciting experience. It reflects a brief overview of the Grand Canyon and its history.

Then, take a short path that will lead you to Mather Point Overlook, offering a couple of viewing spots and incredible vistas of the canyon.

Desert View Watchtower

Brown Brick Desert View Watchtower and Desert Plants

This is the first stop if you’re entering from the east. Desert View Watchtower is a full-service stop with a trading post and general store.

However, the major attraction of this site is the Indian Watchtower, which is 70-foot long.

Bright Angel Hiking Trail

Man Standing on Bright Angel Hiking Trail

Bright Angel Hiking Trail is the most famous hike in the Grand Canyon. It’s a long hike, but people generally choose to walk down the trail for a few miles to get the hiking feel. The round trip to Bright Angel Campground is almost 19 miles, which requires nearly two days.

Rim Trail

Landscape View at Rim Trail

This is a mostly paved walking route that follows the canyon’s rim for around 13 miles. The Rim Trail runs from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. Offering outstanding views along the trail, this is one of the most picturesque walks in North America, with a mix of sun and shade from trees.

Hermit Road Drive

Hermit Road is a scenic 7-mile drive along the rim, boasting multiple viewpoints.

If you’re visiting between December and February, you can take this drive in your car. You will have to use the park shuttle service from March to November.

Though the list is extensive, these are some of the top attractions you can’t miss if you’re visiting the Grand Canyon.

See Related: Where to Stay in Grand Canyon National Park: Best Areas

What to Do on a Grand Canyon Road Trip

This unique Grand Canyon National Park offers magnificent views from within and the top. There are so many activities to do in and around the canyon.

No matter what kind of traveler you are, this place offers something for everyone.

1. Hiking

There are plenty of hiking routes throughout the canyon, ranging from more accessible to complex. Those who are not up for hiking can explore one of the spectacular lookout points along the rim, as it doesn’t require hiking at all. 

2. Biking 

People who love biking can ride along the beautiful hermit road. Simply rent a bicycle for a day and go on a long bike trip. This is one of the best family-friendly activities to do at the canyon. 

3. Other Adventurous Activities 

There are numerous exciting options for adventure lovers, such as river rafting, canoeing, kayaking, donkey & horseback riding tours, and others, at the base of the canyon. They can also go for helicopter tours to explore this breathtaking canyon from above.

See Related: How to Go on a Road Trip With Kids

What to Wear on a Grand Canyon Road Trip

Hikers Wearing Comfortable Clothes

When it comes to visiting the Grand Canyon, (or anywhere for the professional traveler) comfort is vital. But if you’re going there for the first time, it could be a challenge to dress appropriately for the terrain and weather. 

As you may know, the climate at the canyon is rough and unpredictable; it is recommended to be prepared for every challenge. Whatever plan you have for your canyon trip, you can make your journey a great success by putting on the right comfortable clothes.

In the Winter: If you’re traveling in winters, make sure to wear a warm hat, jeans, a long-sleeved shirt with a sweater or jacket, and quality shoes or even boots (best for snow). 

In the Summer: As the weather is cool, opt for t-shirts, shorts, good shoes, sunglasses, and a hat. Also, consider taking a light sweater or jacket as the temperature may vary significantly at different sites.

Whatever your vision, remember to make a layout beforehand to turn your journey into an epic experience.

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