Visiting the Grand Canyon is one of those bucket list adventures that is almost mandatory if you live in the US. It’s the fourth most-visited national park in the country, hosting over 4.5 million visitors in 2021. And the best way to see it? Take a road trip.
The closest big airport is Phoenix, AZ and it’s 3.5 hours away. Las Vegas is 4 hours away, and in another time zone to boot. So, one way or another, you’re going to road trip to the Grand Canyon. But the wonderful thing about the American Southwest is there are a ton of amazing national parks, monuments, forests, and historic sites to see. So, while you’re here to see the Grand Canyon, you might as well stay a bit longer and check out some of the region’s other amazing sights. Whether you have 3 days or 2 weeks, there’s a Grand Canyon road trip itinerary for you. Buckle up and let’s take a look!
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Quick Intro to Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is appropriately named: it’s a big and awe-inspiring canyon that goes on for miles.
It’s such a fascinating piece of natural landscape that people come from all over the world to see it. Sunrises, sunsets, thunderstorms, and blankets of snow all look amazing here.
But you have to see it for yourself and bask in its hugeness to really appreciate it. Photos just can’t do justice to the truly grand scale of this canyon.
While this guide is focused on Grand Canyon road trip itineraries, we’d be remiss to not give you some background information about the Grand Canyon before we start throwing out things to do and places to see in the park and nearby, like you have any idea what we’re talking about.
We’ll answer a few basic questions and get you up to speed enough to understand the itineraries.
Where is the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon extends across the entirety of the northwest corner of Arizona. Much of the canyon’s 277 mile length is desolate desert.
There’s not much out here because it’s no small feat to build a bridge over a 10 mile-wide canyon with modern equipment.
Pioneers in horse-drawn wagons took one look at it and went around. We don’t blame them!
Grand Canyon National Park has two separate sections.
What many people don’t know is Grand Canyon National Park is actually split into two parts: the South Rim and the North Rim.
The South Rim is easier to get to and has more infrastructure built up, so it’s naturally the most popular.
The North Rim has a lodge and views of the same stunning canyon, looking the other direction of course, but sees just 10% of Grand Canyon visitors. Something to consider if you’re anti-crowds.
When we discuss visiting Grand Canyon in the road trip itineraries below, we are referring to the South Rim.
We will always call out the North Rim specifically as the North Rim.
Grand Canyon has a year-round free shuttle bus system.
The shuttle bus system on the South Rim is a major help for moving visitors around the park as well as reducing pollution.
Park your car once and take the shuttle bus everywhere. The only place they don’t go is along Desert View Road (the east section of the South Rim)
There are four routes: red, orange, blue, and purple. Shuttles all start very early (think 4AM in the summer) and run late (either 30 minutes after sunset or as late as 11PM).
Purple connects the town of Tusayan outside the park’s southern entrance to the central bus hub at the Visitor Center complex.
Leave your car at your hotel and take the shuttle in. Roundtrip loop is about 40 minutes, so it takes 20 minutes or so to get from town to the Visitor Center.
Blue is the park’s Village Route, connecting the Visitor Center with the park lodges, campgrounds, and restaurants in the Village and Market Plaza areas.
It’s also the connector to the Red Route from the Visitor Center. Roundtrip is 50 minutes.
The Red Route is Hermit’s Rest Road. This road is closed to private vehicles from March to November every year, so you have to take the shuttle or walk/hike/bike the sometimes paved, sometimes not Rim Trail.
This route takes 80 minutes roundtrip if you don’t get off the bus, but it also has some of the most popular overlooks and hikes in the park. Well worth the effort!
Also important to note: the eastbound Red Route bus does not stop at every overlook on the way back to the Village. Double check the schedules if you want a specific overlook.
Lastly, the Orange Route is the Kaibab Rim Route. The road up to Yaki Point is closed to private vehicles, all year round.
On Yaki Road, the South Kaibab Trailhead is the most popular trailhead in the park. Most visitors hike down to the Ooh Aah Point and turn around. Roundtrip rides on this shuttle are 50 minutes.
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the park, let’s get to the road trip itineraries already!
A Grand Canyon Road Trip: 8 Suggested Itineraries
The wonderful thing about road trips: there’s no one, single right way to do them.
You could follow the same route and have two very different trips, based solely on which roadside attractions you stop for, where you eat, and where you stay.
There are infinite possibilities for road trip routes to the Grand Canyon because you can start from almost anywhere, the canyon is huge, and it’s surrounded by fascinating landscapes and historical sites.
Today, we’re discussing the most popular Grand Canyon road trip routes, which generally start and end in either Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ.
We recommend a minimum of a 3 day weekend to get your money’s worth out of a Grand Canyon road trip.
But there is so much else within driving distance that you might want to extend your trip for a week or two to enjoy the area! We’ll discuss a few options for that as well.
In all cases, if you can snag a flight the night before your first day off, we highly recommend that. We call this the Day 0 trick.
It requires no extra time off and eliminates a bunch of wasted travel hours from your vacation days.
So, for the 3 day weekend example: fly out Friday night after work (Day 0), get in late Friday to Las Vegas or Phoenix, and spend the night nearby. Start your road trip as early as you want on Saturday (Day 1).
The 3 Day Weekend Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary
Starting off with the fastest Grand Canyon road trip itinerary for all those travelers with limited time off.
This short and sweet road trip really only qualifies as a road trip because the park is so far from major cities and airports.
It’s a 4 hour drive from Las Vegas or a 3.5 hour drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.
There are tons of roadside stops and major attractions along those routes, but this 3 day weekend itinerary is all about FOCUS.
You want to see the Grand Canyon, so you’ll see the Grand Canyon.
Pro Tip: The Day 0 trick is almost mandatory for this itinerary, especially if you’re flying in from the east coast.
(Day 0: Fly in to origin in the evening)
- Drive to Grand Canyon National Park, eat lunch in Tusayan or the park, stop into the Visitor Center, see Mather Point, and explore the Orange Route with a hike to Ooh Aah Point. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Explore the Red Route, drive the Grand Canyon Desert View scenic drive. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Drive back to the airport, fly home
Depending on your good fortune and flight times, you may be able to add another attraction on the third day.
If driving back to Las Vegas, consider stopping in Kingman, AZ for the Route 66 Museum, at the Hoover Dam for a photo and/or tour, or spending some time in Vegas itself.
If driving back to Phoenix, you will pass no less than 6 national monuments along the way.
We loved Walnut Canyon National Monument, a quick hour or so stop in Flagstaff to see ancient Native American cliff dwellings in the canyon walls.
5 Day Road Trip Itinerary: Grand Canyon + City Break
If you take two vacation days and add them to a 3 day weekend, you get a 5 day vacation.
This is a great way to save some PTO but go on a longer, more satisfying vacation.
Here’s how we’d suggest you break it down.
- Fly in and Explore Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Flagstaff.
- Drive to Grand Canyon National Park, arrive no later than lunchtime, stop in the Visitor Center and see Mather Point, explore the Orange Route, and take a short hike to the Ooh Aah Point. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Spend a full day in the park: explore the Red Route (views and hiking opportunities), drive the Desert View Scenic Drive. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Leisurely drive back to your origin city, stopping at attractions along the way.
- Fly home
Day 4 can be as adventurous or as laid back as you like.
Drive back to your origin city and enjoy some down time by the pool at your hotel before your busy travel day.
Las Vegas and Phoenix both have so much to do within their respective metro areas that you could easily spend another day sightseeing in each.
The route back to your origin city is guaranteed to have some interesting waypoints as well.
We strongly recommend the in-depth tour of the Hoover Dam if you’re going back to Las Vegas, and stopping in Sedona is always a good idea if you’re on the way back to Phoenix.
7 Day Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary: See Both Rims!
So, you lucked out and have an entire week for vacation. Booyah!
Now, if you have 5 vacation days, we would always encourage you to pair that with two weekends to give yourself a 9 day vacation.
However, we realize some people prefer a day at home before and after a trip, so they have time to decompress and mentally prepare themselves to go back to their ordinary lives.
Post-vacation depression is a real thing.
So for those that need the extra couple of days, this itinerary is for you.
For this timeframe you can see both the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon National Park and also spend a few days exploring nearby must-see sights.
- Fly in to Las Vegas, chill in the city
- Drive to Grand Canyon National Park, stopping along the way at Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon Skywalk, or Kingman for the Route 66 Museum. Spend the afternoon in the park at the visitor center, Mather Point, and either the Orange Route or strolling along the Rim Trail. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Full day in Grand Canyon National Park: explore the Red Route, the Orange Route if you missed it yesterday, and the Desert View Scenic Drive. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Drive to Page, see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Overnight in Page.
- Day trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim. Overnight in Page.
- Drive back to Las Vegas, considering a stop in Valley of Fire State Park along the way.
- Fly home
This itinerary works just as well if you fly into Phoenix rather than Vegas. On Day 6 you’d swap a stop in Valley of Fire for a stop in Flagstaff or Sedona.
9 Day Road Trip: So Many National Parks!
This Grand Canyon road trip itinerary is for all our fellow national park bucket list seekers!
When you’ve got a week in a new region and you really want to do some damage to your national park checklist, this is a great option.
Pro Tip: You only need 5 vacation days to go on a 9 day vacation. Use both the weekend before and the weekend after your 5 PTO days for a total of 9 days.
We’ll go ahead and warn you: this is highly ambitious and you cannot fully explore most of these parks with just one day. (Well, maybe this one.)
But you can hit the highlights and see some pretty amazing stuff, and then plan a more in-depth trip later for your favorites.
- Fly in to Las Vegas, NV
- Day trip to Death Valley National Park. Overnight back in Vegas.
- Drive to Zion National Park (lose an hour for crossing time zones). Spend the rest of the day in the park. Drive to overnight in Bryce, UT.
- Visit Bryce Canyon National Park in the morning (early start). Spend the afternoon in Capitol Reef National Park. Drive to overnight in Moab, UT.
- Begin the day in Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky area. End the day in Arches National Park. Overnight in Moab again.
- Drive to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and spend a few hours here. Drive to and through Monument Valley as leisurely as you’d like. End in Page, AZ to overnight, possibly catching Horseshoe Bend at sunset.
- See Antelope Canyon (and Horseshoe Bend if you missed it yesterday) in the morning. Drive to Grand Canyon National Park and take the Desert View Scenic Drive from the east entrance. Overnight in the park or in Tusayan.
- Spend most of the day in Grand Canyon National Park. Drive back to Las Vegas to overnight (gain an hour for crossing time zones).
- Fly home
All said and done, this whirlwind road trip itinerary sprints through seven national parks and three nearby attractions that aren’t national parks but still impressive must-see sights nonetheless.
Day 4 will feel rushed. We suggest doing the scenic drive and a hike or two of your choice in each park, but don’t forget the 2.5hr drive in between parks when you split your day up.
On Day 5, don’t forget that Arches National Park requires advanced timed entry tickets from early April through early October.
9 Day Grand Canyon Road Trip: A More Relaxed Loop from Las Vegas
This 9 day itinerary offers more breathing room than some of the more ambitious routes discussed, and still only requires 5 vacation days.
You’ll still see a lot, but you won’t have to get up super early and stay up late to drive to the next destination to fit it all in.
- Fly in to Las Vegas
- Spend the morning at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the afternoon back in Vegas. Overnight in Las Vegas.
- Day trip out to Death Valley National Park. Overnight in Vegas again.
- Start the day by touring Hoover Dam. Drive to Grand Canyon National Park (lose an hour to time zone change), and catch a few hours in the park exploring the visitor center and Mather Point in late afternoon. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Explore Grand Canyon National Park: the Red Route, the Orange Route, hike to Ooh Aah Point, take in the Desert View Scenic Drive. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Drive to Page, tour Antelope Canyon, and see Horseshoe Bend. Check out Lake Powell or Glen Canyon National Conservation Area if you have extra time. Overnight in Page.
- Drive to Zion National Park and spend the day in the park. Overnight in Springdale.
- Drive to Valley of Fire State Park (gain an hour from time zone change) and spend the day in the park. Continue on to overnight in Las Vegas.
- Fly home
Red Rock Canyon has a timed entry system during its peak season from October through the end of May. The entry fee is covered by the America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
Zion National Park operates a free but mandatory shuttle bus system for the inner canyon from March through November and some busy weeks/weekends. Check their website for the current shuttle schedule.
When you enter Zion on Day 7 during this timeframe, you’ll have to drive to the Visitor Center first, park, and hop a shuttle to get to trailheads for popular hikes like the Narrows and Angel’s Landing.
The Grand Circle Road Trip – 10 Day Minimum
There are so many amazing sights to see in the Arizona/Colorado/Utah region!
Getting to them all is one giant circular route through northern Arizona, the southwest corner of Colorado, and southern Utah, and it’s become known as the Grand Circle.
This is easily one of the most epic Grand Canyon road trip itineraries out there, but it does not leave a lot of extra time for exploration.
You can still do this itinerary with only 5 vacation days, but you have to pair it with a 3 day holiday weekend to get the 10th day without using PTO.
Of course, you can extend this itinerary if you can wring a few more PTO days out of work.
- Fly in to Las Vegas
- Drive to Grand Canyon National Park (lose an hour to time zones). Overnight in Tusayan.
- Drive through Monument Valley and overnight in Cortez, CO.
- Visit Mesa Verde National Park in the morning, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in the afternoon, and drive to Moab, UT.
- Spend the day in Arches National Park. Overnight in Moab.
- Explore the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park, with a side trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. Overnight in Moab.
- Drive to and spend the day in Capitol Reef National Park. Afterward, drive to and overnight in Bryce.
- Spend a full day in Bryce Canyon National Park. Drive to and overnight in Springdale.
- Explore Zion National Park. Drive to and overnight in St George.
- Drive to Las Vegas (gain an hour for time zone change). Fly home.
The itinerary above is the basic Grand Circle, but if you’ve got the time, it’s easy to add on several more parks.
Death Valley National Park is within driving distance of Las Vegas. Petrified Forest National Park could be added between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.
Both Great Sand Dunes National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park could be added in Colorado before heading to Moab.
Don’t forget the national monuments and other historic sites! There are a ton of these, as well as state parks, that you’ll likely pass on your way to the other parks.
10 Day Southwest Road Trip from Las Vegas
Heavy on national parks, this southwest road trip itinerary uses the Day 0 trick to allow for two full days in one of the national parks. (We chose Zion in the example.)
Feel free to shift the itinerary to spend two days in whichever park you choose.
(Day 0: Fly into Las Vegas)
- Day trip to Death Valley National Park. Overnight in Las Vegas.
- Day trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 30 minutes from downtown Vegas. Overnight in Las Vegas.
- Drive to Valley of Fire State Park and spend the day here (bring a lunch!). Drive up to Springdale late afternoon/evening (lose an hour to time zone change). Overnight in Springdale.
- First full day in Zion National Park: Hike Angel’s Landing. Overnight in Springdale.
- Second full day in Zion National Park: Hike the Narrows. Drive up and stay in Bryce tonight.
- Spend a full day exploring Bryce Canyon National Park. Drive to Page to overnight.
- Tour Antelope Canyon and see Horseshoe Bend in the morning. Grab an early lunch in Page before driving to the Grand Canyon North Rim for the afternoon. Drive back to overnight in Page.
- Drive to and spend a full day exploring Grand Canyon National Park. Overnight in Tusayan or Williams.
- Drive to the Hoover Dam and take a tour. Optional stop at the Grand Canyon Skywalk along the way. (Gain an hour from time zone change.) Overnight in Las Vegas.
- Fly home
Remember that Red Rock Canyon has timed entry in the winter, and Zion has mandatory shuttles from March to November.
As of 2022, the Angel’s Landing hike requires a permit to hike the portion from Scout Lookout up to Angel’s Landing. It’s incredibly popular and done by lottery, so may the odds be ever in your favor.
10 Day Arizona Highlights Road Trip
Arizona just has so much to see! This road trip itinerary focuses solely on Arizona sights.
Phoenix and its neighboring cities create a ginormous urban area that has quite a lot to explore. You won’t get to all of it in one day, but there is decent and affordable public transit to get around.
- Fly in to Phoenix
- Explore Phoenix and its huge urban area, including Tempe and Scottsdale.
- Day trip to Tucson to see Saguaro National Park. Drive back to Phoenix to overnight.
- Drive to Sedona and spend the day hiking and exploring. Overnight in Flagstaff.
- Day trip to Petrified Forest National Park. Overnight back in Flagstaff.
- Start the day at Walnut Canyon National Monument. Drive to Page. Tour Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend in the afternoon. Overnight in Page.
- Day trip out to Monument Valley. Overnight back in Page.
- Drive to Grand Canyon National Park. Enter via the Desert View scenic drive, stop at the visitor center and Mather Point, and explore the Orange Route. Overnight in Tusayan.
- Spend most of the day in Grand Canyon National Park, exploring the Red Route. Drive back to and overnight in Phoenix.
- Fly home.
What’s life without options? In this instance, you could swap the second day in Grand Canyon for a second day in Sedona.
Hiking in Grand Canyon is not for everyone, so your time may be better spent hiking in Sedona.
Which Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary is Right for You?
At this point, you might be a bit overwhelmed. You want to do all the things, but you’re a responsible adult that has bills to pay and mouths to feed (even if it’s just you and your dog).
Here are the top 3 excuses we often hear for staying in analysis paralysis and not choosing an itinerary.
Excuse #1: “I don’t have enough PTO for this.”
Remember: you can do a Grand Canyon road trip with just a 3 day weekend, no PTO required!
Even if you live on the east coast of the US and have to fly out to Arizona first.
East coasters have the time zone advantage when flying east to west, even if without nonstop direct flights.
Flights leave at like 6PM and arrive in Las Vegas at midnight, or if you’re an early bird, leave at 6AM and get in by noon.
That means you could leave Friday after work, arrive in Vegas Friday night to sleep, and then have a full Saturday and Sunday to road trip before heading back Sunday night or Monday morning to Vegas and catching a midday flight home on Monday.
The time zone difference on the way back to the east coast is annoying, but you should be able to catch a noon flight in Vegas and arrive at your home airport by mid-evening.
Excuse #2: “This sounds expensive.”
This excuse irks me. It sounds expensive?
Have you even tried to price it out first, or are you just going back to the safety of your I-can’t-afford-anything-so-I-won’t-try-to-afford-anything-but-I’ll-still-complain-about-it life?
Of course, we understand that having the funds to travel is a privilege, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have the funds or access to travel. That’s not what we’re arguing here.
This excuse is almost always thrown out by people that actually do have some extra income; they just have no idea how to budget or no discipline to save.
Travel is about priorities. You have to prioritize it and then budget for it. It’s not just gonna happen if you don’t plan it.
Yes, it’s going to take some longer than others to save up for it, but there are plenty of travel options to make trips more affordable, if you plan them right.
Excuse #3: “This sounds too complicated.”
Maybe it’s not the PTO or the expense. Maybe you’re just intimidated by the number of stops on the itinerary, having to coordinate it all yourself.
You can do hard things! (Read that again.)
Choose your favorite itinerary above, and the bulk of the planning is already done.
Now all you have to do is plug-and-play by choosing flights and a hotel or campground in each overnight spot.
Organizing isn’t your forte? No problem. I’m a pro at it, and I have this amazing trip organizer that will keep it all straight for you. ⬇️⬇️
I Found My Perfect Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary! Now What?
Congrats! The hard part is over. Now it’s simple plug and play.
Pick your dates, book your flights and rental car, and choose your hotels in the cities noted on your itinerary.
It really is that easy!
Now that you’ve got the base itinerary, here are some in-depth guides for destinations mentioned.
- Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon: Which is the Best?
- See Everything in Bryce Canyon National Park in One Day
- Where to Stay near Zion National Park
- Everything You Need to Know to See Horseshoe Bend