Many routes through Arizona will include a Phoenix to Grand Canyon drive and there are few better routes to take in this southwestern state than from the capital city up to one of the most spectacular natural monuments in the entire world.
And though the Grand Canyon is reachable in about four hours direct from Phoenix and doable as a (very long!) day trip, there is so much to see in between these two places that it is well worth making a proper road trip of it.
It will give you the time to appreciate just how diverse and beautiful the state is and take you by some of the highlights (and hidden gems!) that lie between the capital and its iconic canyon.
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Planning a Phoenix to Grand Canyon Road Trip
Before I get into all of the amazing places to see on this road trip, we need to discuss some logistical planning. And first on that list is one of the most necessary — how you’re going to do this drive!
If you don’t have your own car to do this road trip, it is highly likely that you’re going to need to rent one. There isn’t a lot of public transit to rely on in Arizona and you’re going to find it necessary to have your own car to make all of the stops in this article.
If you need to rent a car for your road trip to the Grand Canyon, then we suggest using RentalCars.com to find deals. This platform aggregates prices across major car hire companies to ensure that you get a great deal on your car rental.
If you’re interested in taking a campervan or a motorhome on this drive, then make sure to check out Outdoorsy for a wealth of RV rental options — you’re sure to find something that suits your needs and budget!
It is also worth mentioning that the vast majority of this drive is along well-established highway (the Interstate 17) that needs no particular driving skills to navigate.
It is all fairly populated, so you don’t need to plan too far in advance in regards to fuel stations, etc. There are very few things that you need to be overly aware of when doing this drive — so just buckle up and enjoy!
Once you get to the canyon, you can plan to drive around the stops or you could also opt to use the shuttle service offered by the national park. Or, for an unforgettable view of the Grand Canyon, consider booking a helicopter tour.
Distance from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
The distance on the drive from Phoenix to Grand Canyon South Rim and Grand Canyon Village is 229 miles (369 kilometres) and the drive time is approximately 4 hours by car if going non-stop without traffic. However, you will be missing a LOT of what the state has to offer along the way.
So while the drive time is only about four hours, if you make all of the stops on this list, it can actually take about 7-9 hours.
That is why we recommend doing the drive over a few days in order to really get the most out of all of the things to see along the way.
Plan to spend one day driving up to Sedona from Phoenix and stopping at all of the places to see along the way, spend a couple of days in Sedona, and then continue on to Flagstaff or the Grand Canyon itself after that. You can also make some of the stops on the way back down to Phoenix if you’re not continuing on elsewhere after visiting the Canyon.
Stops Between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon
All the stops below are listed in order of proximity to Arizona’s capital, however, they are not all located on the same highway and may require significant detours depending. Make sure to map out your route ahead of time if you would like to visit all of these stops — it should likely be spread out over the course of a few days!
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
The first stop on this list is located just past the town of Payson, Arizona, about an hour’s drive from Phoenix along the AZ-87 highway — the Tonto Natural Bridge.
Arizona is packed to the brim with incredible natural sites and beautiful scenery and you’re sure to be awestruck by the cascades of saguaro cacti as you drive north on the highway. However, one of the most underrated natural sites in the entire state is undoubtedly the Tonto Natural Bridge.
The incredible site is believed to be the world’s largest natural travertine bridge and stands at a whopping 56 metres (184 feet) at its highest point. Depending on the weather, your itinerary and the season, there are also a number of hiking trails that can take you to the foot of the bridge and around it, all very well maintained.
If you’re trying to stick to a tight schedule on your drive, then you can also admire the bridge from a number of different viewpoints just off the parking lot — meaning that you can get a myriad of different perspectives of this incredible natural site while not sacrificing accessibility.
So if you’re looking for an interesting and a little off-the-beaten-path place to visit on a road trip to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix, then you can’t go wrong with the Tonto Natural Bridge.
Skirting back west onto the I-17 on your route up to Grand Canyon National Park, your next stop on this road trip should be in the experimental town of Arcosanti.
Located about 110 kilometres north of Phoenix (about 70 miles) and slightly southeast of the city of Prescott, this is an excellent place to visit if you’re interested in local art, handicrafts and interesting ways of life.
Arcosanti is most famous for the unique bronze bells that are cast here, however, there is a lot else that is interesting about the concept of this town.
Originally founded in 1970 by famous Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti was meant to be a settlement that was founded on the concept of arcology — a concept developed by Soleri that combined ecology with architecture.
The majority of the funding of Arcosanti comes directly from the sales of the hand-cast bronze bells that are made there and also from donations from visitors. You can take a tour of the interesting commune while visiting Arcosanti and purchase one of these unique bells for yourself — the perfect souvenir to bring home from your Arizona road trip!
Located about a 45-minute drive northeast of Arcosanti lies the lovely city of Prescott, Arizona. If you’re interested in just how diverse ecologically the state of Arizona is, you will be astounded at how different the feel of Prescott is from the way Phoenix is just 100 miles to the south.
Prescott is famed for its “Wild West” history and has a lovely, walkable downtown and historic area that is very much worth exploring.
There are countless house museums to explore where you can learn about the history of this city and you can even check out the bars on the iconic Whisky Row. This area has a number of saloons that date back to the Gold Rush era in the mid-19th century and it is super interesting.
The Palace Restaurant and Saloon on Whisky Row is actually known to have been a spot frequented by the infamous lawmen Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and his brother, Virgil, the latter of whom was actually the constable of Prescott at one time. Having been opened in 1877, the saloon is considered to be the longest-operating business in the state of Arizona.
Prescott has plenty to offer visitors, but do make sure to pronounce the town correctly — it is pronounced Press-KITT rather than the more logical Press-KOTT.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Skirting back west onto the I-17 as you make your way north to the Grand Canyon, the next stop on this list is another testament to the vast and deep history that lies within Arizona.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, in particular, harkens back to pre-Columbian times and will have anyone second-guessing themselves when it is said that there is no “history” in the United States.
Montezuma Castle is a collection of cave dwellings that are carved into a cliff just outside the town of Camp Verde in central Arizona. Dating back to the 12th century CE, they were originally inhabited by the Sinagua people — a native tribe that was related to the Hohokam.
When the dwellings were first discovered by Europeans in the mid-19th century, it was (wrongly) assumed that they were inhabited by the Aztec and thus named after the famous Aztec king, Montezuma, and the name has since stuck.
This site is now a national monument and it is truly an interesting place to visit. Countless Native American tribes can trace their roots back to the Sinagua people who once lived here and Montezuma Castle serves as a testament to just how much there was in Arizona long before Europeans came.
Situated between Prescott and Flagstaff, the next stop is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Located at the top of Cleopatra Hill in the Verde Valley, Jerome makes for an excellent stop if you’re driving from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix (or vice versa!), as it offers just another slice and insight into Arizona’s complex and multifaceted history.
Once home to the largest copper mine in the state (and Arizona came upon early wealth as being a major resource for copper), Jerome is known as the “wickedest town in the west” and was, at one point, the fourth-largest city in Arizona with a population of over 15,000 people.
Today, Jerome’s population doesn’t ever top 500 people, however, and the major mine ceased operations in the 1950s. The town is now a tourist hub, welcoming in tens of thousands of visitors every year and a haven for local artists.
So if you’re interested in learning about some of Arizona’s history and are also keen to support local artisans, then Jerome makes for an excellent stop on a Grand Canyon to Phoenix road trip!
One of the most popular places to visit in the entirety of Arizona and one of my personal favourite cities in the state, there is no road trip to the Grand Canyon that would be complete without making a stop in the gorgeous city of Sedona.
Located in Northern Arizona about an hour south of Flagstaff, Sedona is famed for its iconic red rocks and New Age vibes.
Known for being home to a number of psychic vortexes, Sedona is a wonderful haven for New Age followers and outdoor lovers alike. There are countless hikes for all activity levels, beautiful scenery to take in, and a lovely city centre to explore.
There are great restaurants, local artisans, cool shops and so much more on offer in Sedona that it’s worth spending a day or two here to really get the most out of the city.
Take the time to go for one of Sedona’s iconic hikes, including to the Devil’s Bridge or Oak Creek Canyon, or, just to take in one of its vortexes without too much effort, catch the sunset at the airport viewpoint. Browse local shops at the Tlaquepaque Village or even get your fortune told at one of the countless psychics that call the city home.
Sedona is a wonderful place to visit and a must-see on any trip to Arizona.
The final city on the way to the Grand Canyon and a great place to spend the night if you want to save some cash instead of staying closer to the National Park is Flagstaff — Arizona’s Alpine city. While it is possible to stay in Sedona over Flagstaff when visiting the Grand Canyon, it does involve a longer drive and you don’t get to experience to this cool town.
Known for being a summer haven for Phoenicians escaping the heat, you will be forgiven for assuming the climate here wouldn’t even exist in Arizona — if you visit in the winter, expect there to be several feet of snow!
Flagstaff is a bustling college town with a lot of cool things to offer visitors and has a distinct youthful energy that you’re sure to enjoy.
Home to Northern Arizona University, there is a young population here and a lot of cool things to see and do because of it. It is also a stop on the historic Route 66, meaning there are a lot of nostalgia shops and things to explore here, as well.
The town is also home to its own ski resort, meaning that it’s a great place to hit the slopes if you happen to visit in the winter months. It is also a great jumping-off point for exploring the Grand Canyon as accommodation is typically less expensive than it is closer to the rim and it is located only about an hour’s drive south of the Park.
Sunset Crater National Monument
And finally on this list of places to visit between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon road trip Sunset Crater National Monument, a beautiful dormant cinder cone volcano that lies just outside of the Flagstaff city limits.
While you’re sure to get your fill of amazing natural scenery at the Grand Canyon, you really would be remiss if you didn’t take the time to detour slightly and explore this area.
Sunset Crater is another of the “hidden gems” in Arizona that, like the Tonto Natural Bridge, often gets overlooked in lieu of the state’s more iconic natural sites.
Take the time to explore the visitor’s centre to get to know a bit more about the history of this cinder cone and make sure to go on the short hike around the perimeter of the volcano. Keep in mind that due to conservation efforts, it is not possible to hike to the summit of the volcano.
From here, you can make your way up to Williams (where you can catch the Grand Canyon Railway) and then finally arrive at the Grand Canyon itself!
Where to Stay Between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon
If you want to find the perfect place to stay while driving between these two destinations, Sedona and Flagstaff are the most obvious choices.
You can make a few of the stops on the way to Sedona, spend a day or two in the city itself, before heading on to Flagstaff and up to the Canyon.
Where to Stay in Sedona
Sedona Village Lodge — A great choice if you’re looking for an affordable option in expensive Sedona, this hotel is centrally located and situated within easy reach of many hiking trails. They have a range of basic, yet clean and comfortable rooms available, and they come very highly rated.
Sky Ranch Lodge — If you’re looking for a more luxe option in the red rocks of Sedona, then this is a great choice for you. Centrally located in the midst of all of the action in Sedona, they have a range of lovely rooms available and a great bar and restaurant on site.
A Sunset Chateau — If you are looking for a luxury escape, then this bed & breakfast is the ideal place to stay in Sedona. Located close to hiking trails and the shops and restaurants of the city centre, they have a number of great amenities and a great breakfast included in the room rate.
Private Vacation Rental – This is a great option in Sedona or really anywhere in Arizona if you’re after some privacy and self-catering facilities. There are a number of places to choose from such as this lovely private cottage near all the hiking trails.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Sedona
Where to Stay in Flagstaff
Hotel Elev8— Perfect for mid-range travellers looking for a comfortable place to stay. They have a great location close to the downtown area, a range of clean and comfortable rooms on offer, and a great swimming pool and sauna on site!
Little America Hotel — If your budget allows for a high-end option, then this hotel is a great option. They have a swimming pool, a delicious restaurant and a number of great, spacious rooms to choose from.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Flagstaff
There are so many incredible things to see and do while driving from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon that it is impossible to fit them all in. However, make sure that you take the time to explore some of the splendours that lie in northern Arizona as you drive from the capital city to the state’s most iconic natural site.
Are you planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!