Phoenix to Grand Canyon and Utah National Parks Road Trip

Watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.

Watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.

The Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Meteor Crater are all within easy driving distance of this road trip itinerary.

Start: Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix area is golfer’s heaven, with over 100 courses in the metro area. There’s 50 miles of trails on nearby South Mountain, as well as desert tours and hot air balloon adventures in this city that mixes cowboys with urban chic.

Night owls can descend upon Old Town Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix or hit Mill Avenue near the Arizona State University campus. But if summer heat isn’t your bag, you can drive north to the cooler environs of the Mogollion Rim, which is nicely forested with ponderosa pine, not saguaro cacti.

Stop: Sedona, Arizona

Driving north on Interstate 17, you’ll roll past Sedona and its stunning Oak Creek Canyon, not to mention the town’s spas, vortexes, gurus, clairvoyants and meditation centers. On northward to Flagstaff, near the towering San Francisco Peaks at 12,633 feet. Grand Canyon National Park, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Meteor Crater are all within easy driving distance, or you can enjoy Flagstaff’s restaurants, nightspots and other cultural, recreational, entertainment venues.

Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona

Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. This is what remains of a collision that rocked the American Southwest with the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT.

Stop: Grand Canyon

Getting to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon involves a westward jog on I-40 to Williams, the last town located on Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. Car buffs are invited to “Cruise the Loop” around Williams. After visiting Williams, take a run north on Highway 180 to the Grand Canyon’s famed South Rim.

At the South Rim, you’ll find the visitor center (Canyon View Center), a large bookstore, and ample restrooms, all within a short walk of Mather Point.

Stop: Page and Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Lake Powell by Wolfgang Staudt from Saarbruecken via Wikimedia Commons

From the South Rim, visitors can drive east and north to Page, Arizona, through the Painted Desert and along the Echo Cliffs. Page overlooks Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, and serves as the hug of the “Great Circle,” a collection of national parks and monuments in a tri-state region.

From Page, you can drive northwest on U.S. Route 89 through the southern reaches of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or you can drive southwest on Alt. 89 past the Vermillion Cliffs, up onto the Kaibab Plateau in the Kaibab National Forest. At Jacob Lake, you can drop south to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, or continue north and west to Fredonia and across the state line to Kanab, a popular neighborhood for movie directors who want to shoot westerns, drama or science fiction scenes.

Stop: Zion National Park

Seventeen miles north is the resort community of Mt. Carmel Junction, which is 12 miles east of Zion National Park. State Route 9 will take you to the park, via the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, an engineering marvel of the 20th century, 5,613 feet  through solid rock. If you’re driving a big RV rig, be sure and make advance arrangements for a guided escort through the tunnel.

Stop: Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s a short drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon City is Ruby’s Inn and Adventures, at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. Stay at two hotels, an RV park, tipis, cabins, or the campground. Go on a horseback or ATV guided tour of the park or rent bicycles.

Stop: Capitol Reef National Park

Head east to Capitol Reef Country. A diversity of landscape like no other in Utah, Capitol Reef National Park and surrounding area has red rock formations, arches, plateaus, meadows, forests, lush green valleys and astounding deserts.

Stop: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Your last two national parks on this trip sandwich the city of Moab. It is the gateway town to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, as well as Dead Horse Point State Park, and the cool waters of the Colorado River.

More: From a walk past life-sized dinosaurs at Moab Giants to rafting the Colorado River, your family trip to Canyonlands and Arches national parks will be full of adventure. Here are our top nine family activities to do in and around the Moab area.