Considered among the 7 natural wonders of the world is the breathtaking Grand Canyon. Located in the northwest corner of Arizona we decided to do a day trip from Flagstaff to The Grand Canyon because of the convenience and distance.
Going to The Grand Canyon was an easy day trip from Flagstaff. Since it’s only about an hour and a half drive it gave us the whole day to spend exploring the South Rim which is Grand Canyons most accessible section and it is literally filled with dozens of magical viewpoints where you can just park your car and enjoy the marvellous views the canyon has to offer.
We spent a day there and it was amazing but a few days would have been perfect to do everything. You can camp around The Grand Canyon and spend multiple days exploring and hiking around this natural wonder.
One of the reasons why we didn’t camp there was because we weren’t able to get a camp spot. If you want to camp at The Grand Canyon you need to book in advance! Even in the off-season 😉
We will share info on the day trip from Flagstaff along with extra information about the National Park and where to stay if you plan on going for a few nights and want to camp under the stars.
A perfect day trip from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon
So we decided to go to the South Rim of The Grand Canyon since it’s only an hour and a half drive from the Airbnb we stayed at in Flagstaff and it was very convenient. We actually started the morning with a delicious breakfast at Tourist Home Cafe and then embarked on our trip to the South Rim.
The drive isn’t the most exciting drive you’ll ever take since you are in the desert but as long as you got a good music playlist, audiobook, or podcast the drive will fly by and you’ll be at the South Rim in no time. Then you’ll have the rest of the day to explore the Canyon and hike or drive around and see as many viewpoints as you want.
How to get from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon
We highly recommend that you set the destination to The Grand Canyon Visitor Center to ensure you go to the South Rim and not the North Rim. The drive should only be an hour and a half from the center of Flagstaff.
The drive itself is very easy as you’ll head west on I-40 and then turn right on the AZ-64 North. That will lead you right to the South Rim entrance road which leads right to The Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
There is a big car park next to the visitor center so you can park your car, explore the visitor center, and then walk along the trail for as long as you like before heading to the next viewpoint.
The South Rim is open all year round whereas the North Rim closes in the off-season. So you can explore the South Rim all year round! No matter if there’s snow, rain, or if it’s a beautiful sunny day you can go to admire the natural beauty.
What to bring on your day trip to The Grand Canyon
Obviously, everybody’s trip will be a little bit different depending on the time of year and what type of hiking or exploring you’re planning on doing. So we’ll share a list of things you should generally bring on your trip to The Grand Canyon. We also have a great list of hiking gear in case you may be missing something essential for hiking.
If you plan to do some hiking away from the main trails (we’ll recommend a few hikes below) then you should bring:
- Hiking shoes
- A lot of water
- Plenty of food
These are all recommended for longer day hikes in the canyon. Especially during the summer when the heat hits you hard!
If you plan to just stay in the touristy spots around the South Rim then standard shoes are fine but make sure to bring your camera and anything else that’ll help you get the perfect shots during your day trip. We spent most of our time in those touristy spots and honestly some of our favourite photos from Arizona came from there. I guess there’s a reason why the Visitor Center and the main paths were built there!
Since it is a National Park you do have to pay an entrance fee to get in. But if you’ve read any of our other posts from our US road trip you’ll know we recommend buying an America The Beautiful Pass. It will save you a lot of money in the long run if you plan on visiting multiple National Parks in the country. That way you can pay $80 USD up front instead of $35 USD every time you go to a National Park and save a whole lot of money.
South Rim Grand Canyon viewpoints
When you think about the fact that The Grand Canyon covers no less than 4926 km² (1902 square miles) it’s no wonder where it got its name from. It’s also no wonder that there are endless beautiful spots to hike, camp, and explore – even just around the South Rim!
Below are some of the things we recommend the most!
Even though the Rim Trail is crowded and filled with tourists, you’ll be able to walk in either direction and get some outstanding views. We spent a good portion of the afternoon walking along the scenic and easily walkable trail admiring the views and taking photos.
It’s wild how close you get to viewing the canyon as the paths are just right next to where the cliffs start. You really get a feel for how big the canyon is and how small we are as humans.
Desert View Watchtower
Desert view is also another popular viewpoint since it has the famous watchtower that overlooks the canyon. It’s also the last main viewpoint along the south ridge so it’s a great spot to finish your day.
The parking lot is huge and there is also a bathroom and a restaurant which makes it a good place to go before making your journey back to Flagstaff. And the views are stunning there!
South Rim Grand Canyon camping
There are a few options if you want to stay at the Grand Canyon. So if you don’t plan to do the day trip from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon and want to spend a few nights camping under the stars in the desert then we’ll share a few great places to camp.
Personally, if we had the time we would have loved to stay a few nights at The Grand Canyon and be able to explore some of the longer hikes that take place in the canyon. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time, and there weren’t any spots available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay there!
So here are the best places to camp at The Grand Canyon.
Mather Campground is open all year round for anyone wanting to stay a night or two but they do recommend booking in advance during the summer months since it can be really busy. For a cheap $18 USD a night you can have your own campsite near The Grand Canyon under the stars. The campsite allows tents and RVs but a maximum length of 30 feet per site.
There are no hookups or anything but it is conveniently located near The Grand Canyon visitor center and close to a lot of hiking! So if you’re trying to get the most out of the canyon and explore as much as you can then definitely book a spot at Mather.
Trailer Village Campground
If you’re looking for hookups and all that extra stuff then we definitely recommend staying at Trailer Village Campground. It has everything you need to make your camping experience enjoyable in The Grand Canyon. Sites start at $52 USD a night and are totally worth it if you have the time to camp at the canyon.
We did do it in a day from Flagstaff but our plans were booked in advance so we had to make the best of what we had. We would have loved to stay a few nights so that’s why we incorporated the campsites in the blog. If you have the time you should try to plan to stay for a few nights and enjoy this amazing wonder of the world.
South Rim hiking trails
There is so much hiking to do in The Grand Canyon so if you’re one to go and explore then this will be perfect for you. There’s really nowhere else on Earth like this place so make sure you take advantage of it.
Go explore the trails and enjoy having the world to yourself… or at least it feels that way. The canyon is so vast and large that you’ll feel like a little ant hiking your way on these trails.
Since there’s so much hiking to be done we decided to share three hikes below with different difficulties. We’ll let you decide which hike you’d like to do!
Grand Canyon Rim Trail easy hike
We already mentioned the Rim Trail since it’s right next to the visitor center and is super easy to get to. And honestly, we think the views from the Rim Trail are some of the best in the whole canyon. The trail is almost always swamped with tourists because of its accessibility but it’s perfect if you just want to get a feel for the canyon and walk around a little bit.
The Rim Trail is a 8.7 km / 5.4 mile out and back trail that is fully paved and very easy to walk on. It has some of the best views of the whole canyon so if you only have time do spend a few hours walking around then do the Rim Trail.
South Kaibab Trail moderate hike
If you’re looking to get a little bit off the beaten path to enjoy some hiking in Arizona’s Grand Canyon then check out the South Kaibad Trail. It’s a fairly busy trail but nothing like the Rim Trail and you will have a lot more space for yourself to truly enjoy hiking in The Grand Canyon.
We recommend checking the weather before you go. During the winter months, it can be a little icy but in general, it’s a very manageable hike that should take between 3-4 hours to complete. Enjoy the panoramic views and bring some water since it is a 5 km / 3.1 mile return hike with a fair bit of elevation gain to it.
Bright Angel Trail hard hike
Here’s a little bit of information before deciding if you want to do this hard hike in the South Rim. There are water stations and restrooms located at the trailhead and also a few times along the hike. It is an absolutely exhausting hike and we would highly recommend doing it in two days. But if you only have one day then you could choose to do a portion of the hike since it’s a 28.5 km / 17.7 mile return hike (likely in blistering heat).
We recommend doing the Bright Angel Trail in summer because it can be icy during winter. But start in the morning so you can beat the heat. And wear your best hiking boots if you plan to hike the Bright Angel Trail. This is a great hike with magnificent view points and awesome views of The Grand Canyon. We would highly recommend it!
Summary of a day trip from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon
- The South Rim is open all year round.
- Plan accordingly and bring the right gear depending on the season.
- Book your camping ahead of time if you are wanting to stay a few nights.
- Stop by The Grand Canyon Visitor Center and find more fun things to do.
- Check out viewpoints and explore the fun hikes we mentioned above.
- Head back to Flagstaff and plan your next national park trip.
We’ve covered everything from camping, hiking, and other things to do during your day trip from Flagstaff to The Grand Canyon and back. If you have more questions about where to go next or other fun hikes in Arizona then let us know. We do have a favorite Tucson waterfall hike and also an awesome hike in Phoenix that we recommend!
Enjoy The Grand Canyon and feel free to let us know in the comments if you found any awesome lookout spots or other great hikes you did in the area. We love to learn new things about the areas we’ve visited!
We hope you enjoy Grand Canyon as much as we did and stay safe out there!