Have you always wanted to experience Arizona’s stunning red canyons and famous Old West charm for yourself? Are you unsure of how to even begin planning this kind of bucket-list trip?
Well, you’re in luck. This definitive road trip guide is here to take the guesswork out of planning, and help you through the best of the region’s wild landscapes and exceptional hospitality. From the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon to the sparkling turquoise waters of Lake Powell, Northern Arizona delights solo adventurers, couples in love, and rambunctious families alike. The best part? The mild year-round weather makes it the perfect escape from those brutal northern winters.
Welcome to Grand Canyon Country
Start your journey in iconic Williams, Arizona. This small town with a big heart is known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s all it is. Nestled in Arizona Pine Country, Williams is a charming escape brimming with things to see and do. In the words of local historian Jim Harvey, “Williams is the real thing.”
Route 66 history buffs get their kicks along the storied highway’s best-preserved stretch, reveling in a perfect slice of midcentury Americana complete with soda fountains, neon lights, classic cars, and quirky vintage shops.
Be sure to take the whole family when you visit the nearby Bearizona Wildlife Park, where you can get up close and personal with the animals of the Southwest from the safety of your car. Get to know majestic bison, rugged mountain goats, and whimsical black bears. Guided bus tours are also available, offering a windowless view of the animals. Regular feedings make sure all the creatures get nice and close.
And those of you looking to de-stress with a few rounds of golf will find the perfect sanctuary in the lush, pine-rimmed championship course at Elephant Rocks Golf Course.
When you’re done soaking up all the fun Williams has to offer, hop aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, departing daily from downtown Williams. Since 1901 this train has transported travelers on an enchanted journey to the heart of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Step into the past in one of the train’s lovingly restored passenger cars and witness authentic characters and musicians who bring the Old West to life. The good-for-nothing Cataract Creek Gang has even been known to rob a train or two as it makes its way to the canyon.
Explore the South Rim
With more than five million visitors a year, the South Rim is the most visited side of the canyon, and it’s easy to see why. Seeing the sun set over the South Rim is something everyone should experience at least once. One look and you’ll understand how the canyon ended up on the list of the world’s seven natural wonders. But the wonder doesn’t stop there. The South Rim offers endless opportunities to get deep into the splendor of the world’s most famous canyon.
Kick off your adventure at the National Geographic Visitor Center and immerse yourself in the world-famous IMAX movie Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. The six-story screen and more than 12,000 watts of digital sound will send you soaring high over the canyon’s rim and down into the raging currents of the Colorado River.
When you’re ready to experience it for yourself, hike the Bright Angel trail or take a traditional mule ride down to the Colorado River and watch the climate, wildlife, and topography change with the elevation. Other options include mountain biking, horseback riding, Jeep tours, white water rafting trips, and even skydiving for you daredevils out there.
Hang out on the West Rim
It used to be that the best view you could get of the canyon was standing at the edge, but all that changed with the Skywalk, a 3-meter-wide horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that juts 21 meters out into the canyon at Grand Canyon West. There’s no feeling quite like walking out onto that incredible feat of modern engineering and staring straight down into the depths of the canyon. Talk about a bucket-list experience.
In addition, Grand Canyon West is owned and operated by the Hualapai Indian Tribe, giving you a chance to learn about the traditions of the canyon’s first human inhabitants. Sample Hualapai inspired dishes like pan-seared quail with roasted squash and prickly pear gastrique; watch gorgeous traditional dances; pick up a beautiful piece of Hualapai art to remember your trip.
At the end of another adventure-filled day, curl up by a bonfire for s’mores at the Hualapai Ranch. Then wander off to one of the ranch’s rustic cabins and let yourself drift off to sleep to the howls of coyotes beneath a thick blanket of stars. Be sure to wake up in time to catch the warm golds, purples, and reds of the sunrise as they send the night’s shadows dancing across the canyon walls.
If you’re looking for a quieter, more remote Grand Canyon experience, then the North Rim is waiting for you. More rugged than its neighbors, the North Rim’s crisp air has a way of seeping into your blood and leaving you feeling like a brand-new person. Settle into an authentic Old West log cabin at the North Rim's Grand Canyon Lodge and watch the soaring pinks and creamy yellows of the sunset many consider to be the canyon’s most spectacular.
Jump back in time
Once you’ve had your fill of mind-blowing canyon views (remember you can always come back) head south to the picturesque Mormon Lake Lodge. If you look up “perfect little Old West cabin” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of this place.
Breathe in the fresh pine air and feel the stress of everyday life leave your body. Watch as the horse-drawn stagecoach rolls by the 1880s saloon where you’re sitting and drinking something appropriately Old Western, like a maybe a sarsaparilla, and then head over to the Mormon Lake Lodge Steakhouse for a prime piece of meat grilled over an open-pit mesquite flame. Plus, trail rides and bike and canoe rentals round out this destination within a destination near Flagstaff.
If the saloon and stagecoaches leave you wanting to spend some quality time in the past, then try going fifty-thousand years into the past, when a meteorite came crashing to Earth, leaving a massive crater in its aftermath. Meteor Crater is the cavernous 168 meters deep hole that remains and is the best-preserved meteorite crater in the world. It also happens to be just outside of Flagstaff.
Life is better at the lake
End your trip by relaxing near the sapphire skies, red rocks, and turquoise waters of magnificent Lake Powell.
Will you rent a houseboat and discover secret beaches? What about getting your blood pumping while wakeboarding or waterskiing? Or maybe you just want to spend a romantic evening with your honey at a twinkling waterfront restaurant. Whichever paths you take on Lake Powell, the Antelope Point Resort & Marina has got you covered. With resort amenities and concierge services, it’s the best way to access all the glorious views, romantic escapes, and unlimited family fun waiting for you at Lake Powell.
Whatever your dream Northern Arizona vacation looks like, the wild red canyons, towering pines, and glittering blue waters are waiting for you. So, why delay? Start planning your Grand Canyon adventure today.