The Grand Canyon State: Arizona Road Trip Itinerary

Known as “The Grand Canyon State,” Arizona is a popular destination because of its sunny weather, diverse desert and mountain landscapes, and its rich culture of the American West. Arizona is the perfect state to take a road trip through breathtaking, wide-open spaces with plenty of uncrowded, peaceful places to stop and take it all in. Below is a recommended route through Arizona’s beautiful landscapes.

STATES: Arizona (Southwest United States)
START/END:
Phoenix, Arizona
TOTAL MILES:
1,500 miles/2,400 km
SUGGESTED DAYS:
At least 14
SUGGESTED SEASONS:
October to April
RECOMMENDED FOR:
First-timers to the USA, honeymooners, families, photographers, desert lovers, winter-sun seekers & cowboy enthusiasts

OVERVIEW

Our Arizona road trip itinerary is a round trip loop that departs from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, which has incoming direct flights from major airports around the world, including London. From Monument Valley to the Sonoran desert, from the Grand Canyon to Saguaro National Park, this route covers it all. There’s no perfect itinerary, so just follow the general route and make it your own!

PREPARATION

The summers in the central and southern regions of Arizona can get extremely hot, so we recommend visiting between October and April. Expect all kinds of weather⁠. Though you’ll experience mostly warm temperatures, there are three ski resorts throughout the state, so experiencing snow in places with higher elevation (like Flagstaff and Grand Canyon) is normal.

#1: The Greater Phoenix Area

Arrive at Sky Harbor International Airport and take in the warmth. Feels good, right? From there, pick up your rental car and you can make the decision to spend a few days in the Phoenix area on the front end of your trip or the back end. The greater Phoenix area has a lot to offer from hiking in the Superstition Mountains to a Major League Baseball Spring Training game.

Best things to do:
Paddle near wild horses, go for a hike, stroll through historic Chandler, shop local, mountain bike between Saguaro cacti, or unwind at a desert-inspired spa.

#2: Sedona

4 hours - 186 miles/300 km

There is a more direct drive to Sedona from Phoenix, but we recommend this route, as there are a few great stops along the way, such as Wickenburg, Prescott, and Jerome, a historic copper mining town that was once known as the “Wickedest town in the West.”

Spend a day or two in Sedona to experience everything from extreme Pink Jeep tours and world-class mountain biking, to wine tasting and fine-art galleries. Sedona is known for its vibrant arts community, its energy “vortexes,” and its landscape of steep, red-rock canyon walls above the green pine forests. You’ll find it easy to get into holiday mode, as you unwind in the outdoors with lots of room to breathe.

Best things to do: Stay at a restorative retreat center, visit the photographic Chapel of the Holy Cross, or hop on some of the best red-rock biking trails.

#3: Flagstaff

1 hour - 30 miles/48 km

It’s no wonder people move to Flagstaff and never leave. Besides the fact that it’s only 80 miles to Grand Canyon National Park, there’s also a ski resort 15 minutes away, perfect weather in the summer and fall for all other outdoor adventures, and great performing arts scene. Take a day trip out to Williams, Arizona to ride the Grand Canyon Railway.

Best things to do: Explore Route 66, shop for turquoise jewelry in historic downtown, enjoy a concert in the park, or hike through the pines.

#4: Grand Canyon National Park

1.5 hours - 80 miles/128 km

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for, Grand Canyon National Park! We recommend staying a night or two in the park. The best way to experience the park is by hiking down into the canyon on a trail like South Kaibab. If you’re unable, consider taking a mule ride or biking around the rim.

Best things to do: Ride in a helicopter above the canyon, wake up early and watch the sunrise at Mather Point, or raft the Colorado River.

#5: Page, Lake Powell & Antelope Canyon

2.5 hours - 140 miles/225 km

This next part of your drive is less about the destination, and more about the journey. Along the way to Page, we recommend stopping in Tuba City to explore and photograph Coal Mine Canyon. Keep heading north and make a slight detour to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, where you’ll find places like Marble Canyon. Just outside of Page is Lake Powell, a large reservoir known for its slot canyons, views and water recreation. With all this room to explore and play, you’ll be able to spread out and enjoy the wide-open places as if you have them all to yourself.

Best things to do: Take a hiking tour in Upper Antelope Canyon, enjoy a guided kayak tour on Lake Powell, or photograph the famous Horseshoe Bend.

#6: Monument Valley Tribal Park

2 hours - 121 miles/195 km

Drive a few hours east to visit the Navajo Nation’s iconic Monument Valley. We recommend staying for a night, hiking, and hopefully witnessing wild horses beneath the red desert towers.

Best things to do: Go horseback riding through Monument Valley, camp under the stars with the best views, or find the perfect hiking trail for your group.

#7: Petrified Forest National Park & Winslow

4 hours - 248 miles/400 km

As we’ve pointed out on our map, we recommend breaking up this drive by stopping at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle. From there, you’ll drive south to another beautiful and protected piece of land, Petrified Forest National Park. Then drive west to Winslow, Arizona for a day on the water.

Best things to do: Paddle East Clear Creek in Winslow, hike to Devil’s Playground in Petrified Forest National Park, or experience a tour with a local Navajo guide.

#8: Alpine

2.5 hours - 145 miles/233 km

If you take your trip in the winter, watch out for road conditions in this part of Arizona. More importantly, spend a few days skiing at Sunrise Park Resort, owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Alpine, Greer and the surrounding towns are also great places for a summer escape.

Best things to do: Cross-country skiing in Greer, canyoneering in a canyon outside of Alpine, or mountain biking on the White Mountains Trail System.

#9: Safford, Gila River & Mount Graham

3 hours - 136 miles/219 km

If visiting a family-owned tortilla factory on your Arizona road trip isn’t a priority now, it should be. Safford is home to Mi Casa Tortillas, where they’ll serve you up a fresh tortilla for free if it’s your first visit.

Best things to do: Drive up the scenic Mount Graham and tour its International Observatory or go bird-watching and swimming at Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.

#10: Sierra Vista

2.5 hours - 145 miles/233 km

Not far from the Mexico border, Sierra Vista is a unique mix of culture, outdoor adventure, and ranchland. On your journey south, stop in Cochise Stronghold, a granite-dome and rock wonderland named after the great Apache Chief, Cochise.

Best things to do: Hike the Cochise Stronghold Trail, Spend a night in Bisbee at an eclectic Airbnb or hotel, go wine tasting at one of the many wineries in Sonoita, or visit Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die.”

#11: Tucson

2 hours - 123 miles/198 km

Tucson will be your last stop, so make it a good one and stay for two to three days. You know those giant cacti with the arms that you’ve been obsessing over? Well there’s an entire park just for them: Saguaro National Park. Hike in the early morning or late evening for some of the best lighting and colors in the sky for photography. Experience the local farmer’s market on Sunday mornings or taste the famous Sonoran hot dogs from El Guero Canelo.

Best things to do: Explore the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, take a scenic drive up Mt. Lemmon and stop at the cookie cabin for treats, stay at a local dude ranch.

Back to Phoenix

2 hours - 115 miles/185 km

On your way back to Phoenix, stop at Picacho Peak State Park alongside the highway for hiking, spring flower blooms or feeding ostriches. If you saved the Phoenix area for the end of your trip, make it a relaxing stay. Savour the perfect climate and sunny skies, but know that it will always be here when you come back.

About the Author

Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.

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