Driving to the Grand Canyon
How to get to Grand Canyon NP? Here's info about the best routes!
In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Arizona Hwy 64 from Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon National park,
along with photos of the park and its facilities. Have you planned out your route yet? Maybe the ideas on this page will be helpful in making your decision.
How to get to the Grand Canyon: The Big Picture
Here are the major routes for driving to Grand Canyon Nat. Park
Before you can choose your route to Grand Canyon National Park, you first have to reach Flagstaff, Williams, or Cameron Arizona.
Your starting point will undoubtedly dictate which road you take. In this section of the page, you'll discover the best ways to get to Flagstaff, Williams or Cameron, AZ. (The section below will talk about specific routes to the Grand Canyon from these gateway cities.) Here are a few notes about some of the possible routes you might be traveling:
I-40 to Flagstaff, Williams & Grand Canyon
Interstate 40 is perhaps the most popular way for vacationers to reach the Grand Canyon. Traffic from all of California (and even Oregon & Washington) funnels into I-40 eastbound to reach the cities of Williams and/or Flagstaff.
Coming from the other direction, I-40 arrives in Arizona all the way from the East Coast...North Carolina, to be specific. In other words, most of the visitors coming from the Midwest and eastern USA reach Flagstaff via Interstate 40, traveling through the major cities of Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City, OK; Amarillo, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Interstate 40 Westbound
Western I-40 offers travelers excellent road conditions most of the time. There are four lanes of traffic divided by a wide median, plus wide paved shoulders. Traveler's services are available at regular intervals along the route's length. I-40 passes through a swath of the USA which features moderate weather with 4 distinct seasons. You'll need air conditioning in the summer, but temperatures almost always stay under 100 degrees (unlike I-10, the more southern route, where Arizona temps regularly reach 110-115 degrees F in the summer months.)
Unlike I-10, however, western Interstate 40 does get some snow in the winter. (In fact, your destination city--Flagstaff--has a winter ski area.) Road crews respond quickly, though, and it would be rare that your trip would be delayed by snow and ice along the freeway.
Westbound travelers have a number of interesting landmarks to enjoy along the way, including the Petrified Forest National Park and Meteor Crater. If you would like to get some ideas about things to do along your I-40 road trip to the Grand Canyon, you'll find a number of suggestions on our I-40 Road Trip Planner page.
Need maps of Interstate 40? You can see pictures of Interstate 40, plus also find a good assortment of maps (including printable PDF maps of the states & cities along Western I-40) on our I-40 Maps page.
Interstate 40 Eastbound
If you're driving towards the Grand Canyon heading eastbound from Barstow, California
(which is where I-40 begins,) then the road ahead of you presents some challenges. You'll be trekking through some of the harshest, most rugged portions of Interstate 40's lengthy run.
The scenery is brown most of the way. Between Barstow and Needles, California, services are few. Cell phone coverage is available, but can be spotty because of the mountains. If you break down, it can take awhile for a tow truck to reach you. And yet...you'll make it through safely. The California Highway Patrol monitors the area and is familiar with with the closest means of getting assistance. It just helps the situation greatly if you've inspected your vehicle before leaving home.
Even though you won't find major attractions directly along the highway, there are a few side-trips you can make to enjoy such attractions as Lake Havasu City (home of London Bridge!) and Laughlin, Nevada. If you'd like to view pictures and get further info about possible side-trips you might make, please visit our Things to do in northern Arizona page.
Interstate 17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff, AZ
Visitors from Phoenix, Arizona (and those who have arrived in Phoenix from other cities along I-10) will want to take I-17 northwards to Flagstaff.
Interstate 17 is one of Arizona's most scenic roadways. It whisks you from cactus country all the way to the tall pines of Flagstaff in about 2 hours (from the northern Phoenix suburbs, that is. Phoenix is a large city, and from some of its suburban cities, you'll be looking at a 3 hour drive, instead.)
Phoenix has an elevation of around 1,100 feet, while Flagstaff's elevation is nearly 7,000 above sea level. It's easy to see that you'll be doing some pretty steep climbing in spots along the way! This 4-lane divided highway leaves metro Phoenix with saguaro cacti abounding on all sides. You'll enjoy feasting your eyes on these well-loved plants. As you ascend, you'll make your way through several changes of scenery until you finally arrive at the thick forest of Ponderosa pines which surrounds the Flagstaff area. If you're driving in the summer's heat, you'll be glad to reach the heights! But in the winter, you'll discover that the sandals you put on in Phoenix just aren't going to be adequate in Flagstaff...where your boots and jacket will suddenly look very welcome!
US Highways 191 & 160 from southern Utah and Monument Valley, AZ
Grand Canyon visitors coming from Colorado and other northern states may choose to arrive via Interstate 70. Near the town of Moab, Utah...a vacation town that's got its own share of outstanding scenery at Arches National Park...you'll turn southwards from I-70 onto US 191. This scenic highway leads through interesting red rock formations and is the gateway to Canyonlands National Park, the Four Corners and Mesa Verde NP. Some of the area's most popular attractions are marked on the Google Custom Map above. If you're not sure about which tourist sites you'd like to visit, you can get info about attractions along US 191 on our Utah National Parks Vacation page.
After leaving southern Utah and entering Arizona, you'll leave US 191 and pick up US Hwy 160. This road runs through some of Arizona's most unique and most-visited scenery: the stunning red rock formations of Monument Valley. You will see quite a number of interesting rock formations simply by staying in your car and keeping your eyes peeled. Or, you may visit the Monument Valley Tribal Park of the Navajo nation, where you will be able to enjoy a visitor's center and see still more enjoyable examples of nature's wonders.
By the time you reach the town of Kayenta, you will have left the Monument Valley area. You should note that Kayenta is the town with the most services between southern Utah and Flagstaff. You may want to eat, gas up and use the restroom there, because services will be sparsely located after that point.
After passing Tuba City, you'll pick up US Highway 89 and head south for a brief while. Then at Cameron, AZ, you'll head west on Route 64 to the Grand Canyon National Park's eastern entrance. Or, you may continue southwards on US 89 and arrive at Flagstaff in about an hour.
Routes to Grand Canyon from Interstate 15
Vacationers traveling along I-15 may leave the freeway at several different points (see map above.) Once off of the freeway, you'll be traveling on well-maintained 2-lane highways. Depending on what you would like to see along the way, you may stop at one of several outstanding attractions. These include Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion's National Park. Cedar Breaks National Monument is a small but attractive feature you might like as an add-on to your trip, as well. For further information about these attractions, you might like to view our Utah National Parks Vacation page.
If you're heading to the Grand Canyon's north rim, then you'll have to get there by traveling along US 89A, then heading southwards on Arizona Hwy 67.
Routes to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff & Williams, Arizona
3 main routes to the park from these popular gateway cities
There are 3 main routes to the Grand Canyon from the gateway cities of Williams and Flagstaff, Arizona.
As you can see in the Google Custom Map above, two of these routes leave from Flagstaff, and the third one takes off from Williams.
1.) Williams is the gateway city closest to the Grand Canyon, and the Highway 64 route to the park from Williams is the shortest, most direct...and generally the quickest. The one drawback you might or might not face is heavy traffic. Everybody else thinks that this is the best route, too!
In fact, there's a somewhat predictable traffic pattern along Route 64...almost like "rush hour." Travelers staying in Williams wake up to greet the new day, and then head out on the road to the Grand Canyon while the day is still young. (Conversely, travelers who have spent the night at Grand Canyon National Park wake up refreshed and begin their journey back to Williams in the other direction.)
During the middle of the day, traffic thins out. In the busy summer vacation season, it may not get all THAT thin, but during the off-season it does. The photos of Arizona Hwy 64 that you see in the slide show at the top of this page (and to your left) were all taken during the mid-day slack period. As you can tell, traffic traffic can be very good!
Towards the end of the afternoon and early evening, traffic heading back to Williams from the Grand Canyon picks up and can get relatively heavy even during the "off season" (especially when the weather is good.) As you can tell from the photos, Highway 64 is a well-maintained, 2-lane road. It has a FEW passing zones (on hilly segments only) where faster cars can pass the slower ones safely. Otherwise, faster cars line up behind the slower ones and long lines of cars build up. Some hazardous drivers may take chances at passing the cars ahead of them. That doesn't mean you need to avoid the road (because all 3 routes to the Grand Canyon have only 2-lanes,) but when traffic is heavy, you should keep a watchout. There's a reason that signs on the road tell you to "use headlights both day and night." It will help you spot cars who may be in YOUR lane of traffic (headed right at you) as they try to pass the slower vehicles ahead of them!
Highway 64 is easy to spot from Interstate 40, and the exit is well-marked. (This is also the same exit you'll use if you want to visit the Bearizona drive-through wildlife park...which is only 1 block south of I-40.) To reach the Grand Canyon, on the other hand, you'll need to head north from I-40.
To Grand Canyon via US 180
From the city of Flagstaff, you MAY first head to Williams, and then take Route 64
(described above,) which is what some people choose (because they want to stay with the major route.) But, this isn't the only road you may take.
2.) From Flagstaff, you may ALSO choose US Highway 180. Despite being a federal highway (rather than a state road,) it's actually not quite as wide. Yes, it's got 2 full lanes, just like AZ Rte 64. However, the shoulders aren't as wide...which means they are REALLY narrow. The shoulders won't fully accommodate a car, much less an RV. However, if you need to stop, Route 180 does have some wider spots at intervals where you may turn out.
The major reason that tourists choose US 180 is because it's more scenic than Arizona 64. Also, if you're coming from Flagstaff, you may save some miles and time by taking this "diagonal" short cut. You will have to wind through the streets of Flagstaff before leaving the city, however...which means you may get into some traffic or lose your way if you don't follow the signs carefully.
After leaving the Flagstaff suburbs, you'll venture through a forest of Ponderosa pines before heading to lower elevations. It's a beautiful respite, but all too short. By the time this route meets up with AZ Highway 64 (in the little town of Valle,) then US 180 is lower in elevation and the scenery has become less grand.
To Grand Canyon via US 89
3.) Heading due north from Flagstaff, you may catch US Highway 89. As it runs through the city of Flagstaff, US 89 is a 4-lane, undivided thoroughfare. But, once it leaves the city, Highway 89 narrows down to 2 lanes (with occasional passing lanes.) You'll run through some hills, then the road becomes flatter as you travel northwards.
Since US Hwy 89 is obviously the longest way to get to the Grand Canyon, why would anyone take it? There are 2 reasons. For one, US 89 passes directly by the entrances to Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument and the Wupatki National Monument. Sunset Crater features a small-but-attractive lava floe with a delightful boardwalk that allows you to walk around the floes easily. It's stroller-friendly and wheelchair accessible...and if you have kids with you, they'll probably be fascinated (and so will adults!) The small visitor's center is visually unimpressive, but tells a tale of this volcano's eruption that's quite riveting.
The Wupatki National Monument features Indian ruins instead of lava, which might seem strange (since they're relatively close to one another.) You can head to the Wupatki visitor's center to learn about the ancient inhabitants of this area and take in a quick view of some ruins. Or, if you have more time, you may add a visit to a different and larger ruins area...but it does require good health to descend & ascend multiple flights of stairs to reach this other area.
Heading north from Sunset Crater and Wupatki, US Highway 89 is relatively straight and somewhat ho-hum as far as scenery goes. Once you take the turn-off to the Grand Canyon, the route doesn't immediately burst upon vistas of the Grand Canyon, either. But, you WILL save time entering by the park's East Entrance, where there is generally very little line (if any) to get in. And, you'll soon reach the services at Desert View village...which include gas, food, stores and a campground. (Note: if you'll be camping while you're at the Grand Canyon, you can see photos of the campgrounds and get further info on our Grand Canyon Camping page.)
From the village heading westward towards the center of the park, you'll be driving fairly close to the rim of the Grand Canyon. There are several vista points where you can park and peek over the edge...and they're much less crowded than the viewpoints in the center of the park. These vista points give you good additional views of the canyon, but they still won't replace a nice visit to the heart of the park (where the canyon is wider...and vistas resemble more like what you've seen in pictures all your life.)
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