Many people travel to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon because it’s one of the natural wonders of the world and truly amazing to see but there are many other beautiful places in Arizona that are just as stunning. Arizona is one of the ‘big square states’ in the western part of the USA, with California to the west and Mexico to the south. New Mexico is to the east and Utah is to the north.
Most people in this vast state live in Phoenix, near the centre of the state, or Tucson in the southeast. Arizona is a state for road tripping, and one of the most spectacular Arizona road trips is near Phoenix. The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly has some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the state. It’s home to some of the most spectacular landmarks in Arizona. It showcases some of the most beautiful areas of the state with a balance of natural beauty, Native American history and charming towns.
- Arizona Road Trip
Arizona Road Trip
Arizona has a high population of immigrants from Mexico and a substantial number of indigenous, or Native American Indians, from several different tribes.
Some areas of the state are governed by Native American tribes and travellers who enter are subject to the tribal laws (you’ll visit them on this Arizona road trip).
What many people don’t know before they visit is how diverse the state is in terms of geography.
Mention Arizona and most picture the desert, and while Phoenix is a desert, not all of the state is.
There are areas of high-elevation desert and areas with pine-tree forests that get lots of snow.
This geographical diversity is appealing to those who live in the desert in Phoenix as it provides an excellent opportunity to visit the snow within a couple of hours’ drive.
The best place to start an Arizona road trip is from the capital city of Phoenix, which is the fifth-largest city in the United States.
Unlike New York City, Chicago, and some of the other large U.S. cities, Phoenix is a bit of a sprawl, similar in layout to Los Angeles.
The city covers a lot of land and though there are some great areas for walking, there isn’t one central downtown with the public transportation you’d expect.
As a result, if you fly to Phoenix, you’ll want to rent a car to spend time in the Phoenix metro area.
There is a large international airport, which makes it easy to get to Phoenix and to rent a car.
Plan to spend a few days as there are a lot of fun things to do in the Phoenix area.
The city is surrounded by mountains that are perfect for hiking, and you will enjoy visiting museums, horseback riding in the desert, hot air ballooning or a relaxing spa day.
Phoenix is a resort town with a lot of incredible spas and some of the best hot springs in Arizona.
Once you have seen the sights, get ready to head out on a road trip but be prepared for the beauty and diversity of Arizona to blow your mind!
This Arizona road trip is north of Phoenix and covers a fair bit of the top half of the state.
Phoenix to Grand Canyon
There are lots of places offering a mix of Native American history, American settler history and natural beauty when heading to the Grand Canyon. Here are my top picks:
Native American Ruins
There are two ruins heading north from Phoenix worth ticking off your list.
Montezuma’s Castle is a cliff dwelling built high on the side of a cliff and is easily accessible from the highway.
The other is Tuzigoot, which is a structure that you can climb down into to see how the Native Americans created homes in this arid landscape.
This artist’s enclave is known for its strikingly beautiful red rocks.
Hike around the stunning buttes and hills, shop directly from the artists and enjoy the natural beauty all around.
Oak Creek is a soothing respite from the tourists and where you can get in touch with your inner “woo” investigating the many spiritual and crystal shops or see if you can sense a vortex.
This old mining town carved into switchbacks in the side of a small mountain almost became a ghost town until some of the artists in Sedona wanted a slower pace with a quieter area.
Jerome is now a vibrant little town with some incredible artists including a glassblower and a pottery thrower.
There’s also a great winery, Caduceus Cellars.
This small university town offers a lot in a compact space.
The San Francisco Peaks are nearby with skiing and the highest mountain in the state, Mount Humphrey (it’s a 14k footer!).
Then, there’s the quaint historic downtown area with lots of great shops and restaurants.
Flagstaff is a high elevation with pine forests and cooler weather than in Phoenix.
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Of course, the Grand Canyon is on this list, and there is something truly magical about it. The mighty Colorado River carved this canyon and it’s massive.
When you’re standing over the Grand Canyon, you’ll see that it extends as far as your eyes can see.
It’s an incredible landmark in the USA and something everyone should see at least once.
When you look down into the canyon, it’s hard to believe what appears to be such a tiny river etched the canyon walls over hundreds of thousands of years.
It’s an amazing experience to feel the power of water and see what it can do.
The river isn’t quite as small as it appears from the top of the canyon walls. It goes to show you just how massive the Grand Canyon truly is.
What To Do In Grand Canyon
The best way to soak up the grandeur of the Grand Canyon is to hike down into it.
Choose from several hiking trails in the canyon and a few that lead down to the Colorado River, where you can stay at Phantom Ranch.
Others lead to different areas, and they are shorter hikes, though all are considered at least moderate or strenuous.
Don’t go hiking if you are not prepared as there can be temperature swings here and there is no water available on the way down.
Make sure you bring plenty of water and the right gear.
Hiking to the canyon floor is no small feat, and it’s something you should definitely train for before considering but luckily, hiking isn’t the only thing you can do at the Grand Canyon.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Walk the rim — The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a long path with stunning views. Check out how friendly the squirrels are! They come right up to you for a snack (which, while tempting, it’s not a good idea to feed them for their sake and yours).
- Enjoy the sunsets — Looking out on the canyon as the sun is setting (or rising) is simply breathtaking. The canyon lights up in colours that seem unnatural, and the views change throughout the day.
- Check out the viewpoints — There are a number of viewpoints that you can walk out onto to get amazing views of the canyon. They all provide very different views, so it’s a great idea to go out on a few of them to really see what the canyon is all about from above.
- Take a helicopter ride over the canyon — If you’re feeling daring, a helicopter ride provides one of the most incredible views over the canyon. There are also small aircraft you can ride as well.
- Admire the sunset from Tovar Lodge — This historic lodge offers some amazing sunset views. It’s hard to believe soil and rock come in so many colours!
Driving time: Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is 3.5 hours.
Side trip option: Horseshoe Bend
The area north of Flagstaff offers incredible beauty like nowhere else in the country.
Head towards Page, where gorgeous red rocks abound and stop at Horseshoe Bend, a picturesque horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River.
In Page, visit the striking red-rock slot canyon, Antelope Canyon.
You are required to go with a Native American guide which is a great idea to learn some of their history.
The canyon glows in colour, changing dramatically with the rising and setting sun.
Continue north to Glens Falls Dam then to the massive Lake Powell where you can go kayaking, swimming, or rent a houseboat to relax on this beautiful lake.
You can also visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon and if you continue on into Utah, visit Zion and Bryce Canyon, two of the most stunning national parks in the country.
Grand Canyon to Monument Valley
On the way to Monument Valley, Cameron is a good place to stop for fuel.
There’s a great shop with lots of Native American objects and interesting souvenirs to pick up to remind you of this trip.
Your next stop after the Grand Canyon (or Page, if you have the time to head north beyond the canyon) will be the incredibly picturesque Monument Valley.
There isn’t a lot along the way from the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley, and most of this stretch passes through Navajo Nation, so keep an eye on your speed.
You may not have heard of Monument Valley, but you certainly have seen the striking images of it.
It was a hotspot for filming in old western movies and is a really interesting place to visit.
Monument Valley borders Arizona and Utah and is a dramatic landscape etched from rock hundreds of thousands of years ago.
It’s desolate and beautiful with striking red-rock buttes.
A permit is required to visit Monument Valley, and there are parts of this area that require a Native guide including Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa.
There is a 17-mile dirt loop that you can drive around to see the area, and you are welcome to hike in most areas of the valley.
Driving time: Grand Canyon to Monument Valley is 3 hours.
Side trip option: Four Corners
If you’re up for more driving, Four Corners is only an hour-and-a-half further.
This is the point where the four ‘big square states’ of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet.
Canyon de Chelly
The final destination on your Arizona road trip is a visit to Canyon de Chelly, which is smaller than the Grand Canyon but even more beautiful.
It’s much less touristy than the Grand Canyon, which makes it quite appealing.
It’s near the small town of Chinle, where you can stop at the visitor’s centre for information about Canyon de Chelly and the local tribes.
You are not allowed to enter the canyon without a local native guide, so ask for a recommendation as you will not want to miss going into the canyon.
Drive the canyon rim, and there are a lot of areas where you can pull off to take pictures.
Two of the most popular are the Sliding House Overlook, where you will see a cliff-dwelling Native American ruin and Spider Rock Overlook.
This one is a breathtaking showcase of one of the most spectacular views in the canyon and Spider Rock spire.
From this viewpoint, the canyon looks like a green patchwork quilt, and so different from the Grand Canyon.
Once you have your orientation set, explore the hiking trails, and you are allowed to go on from this point without a guide.
One is the White House Trail which takes you to the White House ruin, where you’ll see where people once lived and the difference in lifestyle to cliff dwelling.
When you go in the canyon, you’ll understand why they don’t want you to go without a local guide.
Driving is challenging, and the guides weave around the water on paths well known.
Even still, you’ll see jeeps that got stuck as the waters do shift.
Going with a guide is an excellent way to learn about the Navajo and, if you’re lucky, you might get invited into a home to see how they live.
Driving time: Monument Valley to Canyon de Chelly is 2 hours.
Canyon de Chelly to Phoenix
Having fun yet? There’s still lots to see while driving back to Phoenix if you have the time.
- Petrified Forest National Park — What could be cooler than fossilised trees? This park is filled with trees that turned to stone long ago. You can hike on some great trails through this unique park.
- Sunset Crater — This is the impact site of a large meteor that hit the earth a long time ago. Visit the site and see how massive it is.
- Winslow and Route 66 — Drive along historic route 66 for a step back in time and if you’ve heard the famous song by the Eagles referring to a street corner in Winslow, Arizona, well, you can visit that, too!
- La Posada Hotel — This hotel not only has one of the best restaurants in the state, the Turquoise Room, but it’s one of the last great railroad hotels remaining in the United States. It has an impressive art gallery and museum.
Once you get back to Flagstaff, you have the opportunity to see any of the earlier side trips on the list you didn’t have a chance to at the start of this road trip.
Head up to the Page area or head south back to Sedona, Jerome and then Phoenix.
Driving time: Canyon de Chelly to Phoenix is around 5 hours.
When to Go Driving in Arizona
This Arizona road trip takes you through some varied climates.
Phoenix is scorching hot in the summer months from May to September.
Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly can get quite cold in the winter months from November to March.
The most temperate months in all of the areas are in the spring and fall. April or October would be the best time if you don’t want hot temperatures or a high likelihood of snow but if you do want hotter or cooler temperatures, choose the months accordingly.
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