Grand Canyon Day Trip from Flagstaff

This morning on TripAdvisor the “$64,000 question” had to do with congestion in Grand Canyon Park Village at the South Rim. This poster, who was planning on making a Grand Canyon day trip from Flagstaff, had obviously heard and perhaps experienced first-hand some of the horror stories of years past, like hour+ waits at the entrance gate and making multiple circles around the Village Loop drive in order to find a parking space.

I’m pleased to report that several recent developments have ameliorated that particular problem quite nicely. Check out this video from the Grand Canyon National Park Service to see what they’ve done. The biggest and best development was the construction of a very large parking lot adjacent to the Canyon View Information Plaza. If memory serves, it has roughly 900 spaces, and serves as a “hub” for the Grand Canyon Village Shuttle system. So find a space to park there, hop on the shuttles, and voila! You have an easy (and free!) way to get around to the different Grand Canyon hotels, restaurants, gift shops and other visitor services. Those with more time can take the shuttle all the way out to the West Rim Interchange near Bright Angel Trailhead and transfer to the Hermit’s Rest Shuttle, where more awesome Grand Canyon views await.

Another change made in recent years was the addition of several pre-paid entrance lanes at the South and East entrances to Grand Canyon National Park. Those with America the Beautiful Federal Lands Access Passes or other prepaid park entrance fee tickets are welcome to use these lanes to expedite their entry to the park. But these are only to be utilized by America the Beautiful Pass holders or those who have prepaid the Grand Canyon Park entrance fees elsewhere!  Those who have not paid their fees and attempt to enter the park via these prepaid lanes will be required to go to the back of the “regular” line.

Some more suggestions to avoid the congestion that is still invariably present at Grand Canyon South Rim during the summer months:

  • Time your visit to avoid the peak visitation hours  between 10 am and 3 PM. That’s when the day-trippers from Las Vegas and Phoenix start to arrive, and that’s when parking can be more difficult to find
  • If making a Grand Canyon day trip from Flagstaff, take the “long way in.” As TripAdvisor contributor “MikePinTucson” suggests:

Admission no problem at all if you use the east entrance. We have never encountered more than 2 or 3 cars ahead of us at that entrance.Drive along the east rim drive, stopping at all or most of the viewpoints (do not miss Desert View). Parking can be a problem right around the rim lodges. But if you park nearYavapai Lodge, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. Then you can take the free shuttle to the Village area and the Hermit’s Rest road.

  • Then take the “short way” out: via Highway 64 to I-40 and Williams, or the more scenic Highway 180 which can be accessed at Valle Arizona. Here’s a map of what that total drive would look like:


View Larger Map

The typical Grand Canyon Day Trip from Flagstaff entails a 90-minute drive each way via the most direct route. Using the above route, expect to add at least another 90 minutes onto your drive time; and don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer. The Grand Canyon East Rim is one of the most beautiful drives in Northern Arizona, so don’t be surprised to find yourself stopping at one of the over half a dozen named viewpoints along the Grand Canyon Rim.  But you’re on vacation, so hopefully you’re in no hurry!


28 Responses

  1. Karlyn,

    Would you recommend a day trip tour from Flagstaff through a tour company a better option than doing a day trip to Grand Canyon on our own? I’m sure there are pro’s and con’s of both, but would love your opinion. And, we basically have the same question for Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend.

    We are visiting in October next year and staying in Sedona. Would love any recommendations.



    1. Pam,

      I know the Guides with Grand Canyon Adventures out of Flagstaff are really good.

      So we recommend their Day Tour to the Grand Canyon:

      Also, Grand Canyon Adventure happens to do the Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend too:

      Obviously, you can do both of these on your own too. However, if you would like a Guided Experience where you learn a lot more about Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon…you can’t go wrong with Grand Canyon Adventures.



  2. I will be driving from Las Vegas Friday afternoon to Flagstaff, spending the evening in Flagstaff.
    I hoped to visit the Grand Canyon Saturday. Should I drive up through the East entrance via Desert View Drive? Is Saturday a particularly busy day there?
    What time does the park open in the morning?
    Thank You for your input. I am from the East Coast, so first time out here!

    1. Joseph,

      If you are in Flagstaff, the East Entrance to Desert View Watchtower is a great way to enter, flow through the Park, then go out the South Entrance back to I-40 and Flagstaff.

      The South Entrance is always busier than the East Entrance.

      Technically, Grand Canyon National Park does not have Opening times. You can enter and leave 24 hours per day.

      Thank You,


  3. We are planning a very long drive from Toronto Ontario to Grand Canyon in September. Planning to stay in Flagstaff AZ for 3-4 days. Is that enough time to see the most beautiful places in the Grand canyon?
    Could you please recommend the most beautiful places to see in this park so we can plan this trip? Also clean hotels to stay?

    1. Hi Peter!
      Wow, that is certainly a very long drive, and there are a few different ways you can go about it. You should probably plan on breaking up the drive into 4 days each way, at 8.5 hours per day. Or, 5 days at 6.25 hours per day.
      The most straightforward route would be to go through Detroit, MI, Toledo, OH, Indianapolis, IN, St. Louis, MO, Oklahoma City, OK, and Albuquerque, NM. Another option would be to go through Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Omaha, NE, and Denver, CO. Timewise, both routes are similar, but the latter route (through Denver) would afford you the opportunity to visit other beautiful areas such as Breckenridge and Grand Junction (CO), Moab, UT (for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks), Monument Valley, maybe make a quick detour to Page, AZ, to visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, then finally drop down to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff. Of course, you could always take one route there, and one route back. Custom Trip Map
      As for using Flagstaff, AZ, as a “base camp” for visiting the Grand Canyon, it’s an OK plan as long as you’re aware that it takes 90 minutes, one way, via the most direct route to get to the park. In order to hit the most beautiful areas of the park, we actually recommend taking a loop route from Flagstaff, AZ, via US89 through Cameron, AZ, then entering the park via the East gate at Desert View Point. Route map Between Desert View Point and Grand Canyon Village, there are over half a dozen named viewpoints, all with different perspectives and dominant features. Each one is worth a stop, so it should come as no surprise that it could take you 4-5 hours to make the trip from Flag (that’s what we call it around here) to the main commerce area of the park. Time/desire permitting, you might also take the opportunity to visit Wupatki/Sunset Crater National Monument, just North of Flagstaff, whose highlights are a dormant volcano and an Ancestral Puebloan dwelling complex. Once inside the park, we recommend parking your vehicle and utilizing the Village Loop Shuttle to tour the Historic District of the park where the old hotels, gift shops, and museums are located. To exit the park, simply take AZ64 out the South entrance, then US180 back to Flag.
      As for places to stay, hotel choices run the gamut from Motel 6 to Marriott and everything in between in terms of price points and amenities. The highest-rated hotels in the area are the Drury Inn & Suites, Residence Inn by Marriott, Country Inn & Suites, and the Little America. I would recommend reading reviews on Google, Yelp, or travel sites like TripAdvisor to help you make an informed choice.
      When traveling to and from Flagstaff to wherever you decide to go for the day (more on that in a minute…) it’s vital to be aware of what tiime the sun sets. Nighttime driving is strongly discouraged in this part of the US due to local roads being very dimly lit, and the possible presence of deer, elk, and other wildlife that can raise your risk of a collision. Believe me, that’s not something you want to experience in an unfamiliar area that’s pitch black, cold (nighttime temps are starting to dip down into the 40’s and lower at that time of year), where cell service is spotty (IF you can get any bars at all), and help will be a long time coming, not to mention VERY expensive. In September, sunrise occurs around 6:00 AM and sunset takes place just after 6:30 PM. You’ll want to be “wheels up” out of the Grand Canyon by 5:00 PM to ensure that you are back to your hotel in Flagstaff before nightfall.
      You might find that 1-2 days is sufficient to have a fulfilling visit to the Grand Canyon. Unless you are really into hiking, you’d probably find 3-4 days to be overkill. If so, simply devote any extra time you might have to Sedona, AZ. It’s less than 1 hour’s drive from Flag, and is a beautiful area with lots to see and do. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself planning a return visit to the area, just to revisit Sedona! Flagstaff itself has several attractions worth a visit, such as Walnut Canyon National Monument (spoiler alert: LOTS of stairs!), the Lowell Observatory, Riordan Mansion, the Arboretum, and the Snow Bowl Gondola Ride, just to name a few.
      On the way back to Toronto (or on the way to AZ), hop on I-40 and take the opportunity to stop by some of the famous sites on the Eastern side of the state such as Meteor Crater, Winslow, AZ (La Posada Inn, Standin’ on the Corner Park), Petrified Forest National Monument, and Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post.
      I hope that helps, I know it’s a lot to unpack (pardon the pun). If you have any other questions at all, please contact us directly at [email protected].
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  4. Hello
    We plan to drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon during thanksgiving (nov 27th). We would like to do the south rim , any route ideas or tips? What are the must visit points , I do have two kids in tow aged 11 & 7. Thanks in advance.


    1. Nisha,

      This is a qualified answer based upon Weather. If all is going well…then take Highway 89 North and come in the East Entrance where you will be at Desertview Watchtower immediately. Discover the Grand Canyon the way Coronado discovered it in 1540 A.D., then visit Grandview…you will see Navajo, Lipan, and Moran on the way…enjoy as many as you’d like. Then you’ll see some views right next to the Road and be able to turn right into the Grand Canyon Village area: Don’t miss Yavapai Point, the Grand Canyon Village, and then take the Shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest. Here’s the page/map: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/hermit-road.htm (I like the Hot Chocolate out at Hermit’s…it’s more about enjoying it at that Location!)

      In the Grand Canyon Village you can walk from the Yavapai Point Museum along the rim trail to Verkamp’s Studio…and you will see the Trail of Time on Grand Canyon Geology. You can continue to walk to Hopi House, El Tovar, down to Bright Angel Lodge, then Lookout Studio and Kolb Studio. Depending on trail conditions try a little bit of the Bright Angel Trail. Be sure there’s No Ice on the Trail for safety sake.

      I think that’s the quick overview.



  5. Hello,

    Thank you in advance for your help. We are flying into flagstaff around In October noon on a Thursday and wanted to enjoy the grand canyon before going to phoenix where will we staying. Do you have a suggested route and suggested method of transpo (is car rental best?) Thanks again! 🙂

  6. Hi we are traveling by car from Bryce Canyon, down to Flagstaff and then to Sedona and want to stop at the Grand Canyon on our way. We will be in the area of GC in early June mid week. We prefer to drive the more scenic route out of the GC down to Flagstaff but I am confused about what is the best route overall within Grand Canyon park itself. Specifically, what advise do you have about what entrance to take into the Grand Canyon (prefer not the busiest), ease of parking, etc.

  7. Coming from Las Vegas in a rental and have several days to stay. Do you advise staying near the southern rim? And wil the shuttle take you from the hotels there around the other rims of the park?

  8. We are coming from San Diego, want a short stop, no more than 3 hours and then continue on to Flagstaff. What would be the shortest way to do this? As in, what should I put into our GPS, stop to see and way to exit?

    1. F.Siler,

      You will want to follow this route on Google Maps:

      It takes you in the South Entrance after departing I-40 at Williams, Arizona then takes you out the East Entrance to Highway 89 at Cameron, Arizona before sending you back South to Flagstaff, AZ.

      This will give you about as much time on the South Rim as Chevy Chase took in Vacation:

      Enjoy your Visit,


  9. We will be coming to Flagstaff in couple weeks but want a quick trip from Flagstaff to see Grand Canyon. Will not have all day to see it. Would you recommend just going to Dessert View. We are in our 70s and just want to stop by and not lot of walking

    1. Glenda,

      No problem…just go to Desertview from the East Entrance…and if you feel like you want to see more then you can continue on to Navajo Point, the Tusayan Ruins, Lipan Point, Moran Point, and maybe even Grandview Point.



  10. If I am flying from San Diego and meeting several folks (who will be driving through the night) from the same departure location what airport do you recommend I fly into? We are talking about sometime the 1st week in July. We anticipate to stay someplace in the Flagstaff area, maybe with family.

    1. Nancy,

      Most of the Major Flights from San Diego to the Grand Canyon area take you to either Phoenix or Las Vegas. Then you would have to Rent a Car and drive to the Grand Canyon. It’s usually 4 1/2 hours from Las Vegas and about 4 hours from Phoenix.

      American Airlines (operated by Skywest Airlines) flies from Phoenix to Flagstaff. So, based upon on what you have described. I would look into flights that go from San Diego to Flagstaff on American Airlines.

      Skywest Airlines is one of my previous employers when they used to fly to Page, Arizona via Flagstaff.

      Choose either a Hotel that has Airport Pickup or you will need to Rent a Car in Flagstaff.

      I hope that helps.

      Thank You,


    2. You can fly directly into Flagstaff. There is a connecting flight in Phoenix. We fly from San Luis Obispo into Flagstaff often.

  11. Thank you, for this GRAND INFORMATIVE SIGHT????it will make mine(been there w/late husband) and now will be taking our 13 yr.old grandson to this most momentous adventure????Thank you for y’alls hard work????

  12. Thanks for the info, our time is tight. Is 3 hours 44 minutes the approx time from start to finishing the east side?

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