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One day in Phoenix

Road trip time

You only have one day in Phoenix, Arizona and you don’t know what to do? Drive to the Grand Canyon! The drive takes about 3.5 hours, visit the Grand Canyon in 3 hours, drive back in another 3.5 hours. That is a fully charged 10 hour road trip that will leave you speechless.

Here’s how we did it.

Road trip Phoenix

From Vancouver, BC to Phoenix, Arizona

It was a Thursday in April when we decided to buy tickets for Phoenix, Arizona for the coming Sunday. We decided to take a really early flight from Vancouver to Phoenix so that we can have most of the day to explore once we land in Arizona. The sun was barely rising when our flight left Vancouver at 6 am. We had a short stopover of 40 minutes in Seattle, and after a change of planes, it would take us 3 hours to fly to Phoenix. Everything was well indicated at Seattle airport and with only 40 minutes to change from one gate to another, we didn’t even have to run to make it happen.

  • Seattle Airport

The airport is well equipped with a high speed rail system between terminals. Note that there are 3 routes for the “Satellite Transit System” . This is the quickest way to get from one terminal to another. Use it to be successful in catching short connections. For more information you can visit the Sea-Tac airport website and read more about it.

Click here to open the link for the Sea-Tac terminal overview map.

Our next flight was to Phoenix and it was with Delta Airlines. The pilot was awesome and gave us a heads up when we were approaching the Grand Canyon; you can actually see it pretty good from above, and it looked unreal. It was the most beautiful and grandiose view of a natural element that I had ever seen. We landed in Phoenix at 10:30 am, ahead of schedule and eager to pick up our rental car. We could already feel the heat of the desert on our skin.

  • Rental Car

Our next step was to get to the Car Rental Center to pick up our rental car which we had previously booked online with Priceline. The Car Rental Center is the best invention ever. All of the car rental companies are located in the same building. From the airport, there is a free shuttle that brings you to the Car Rental Center. You can’t get lost, it’s pretty straight forward once you get there. We rented with FOX rental cars, the staff were nice, and so was the price. They offered to upgrade our reservation to a convertible car, and we obviously went for it. Thanks FOX Rent a Car for the upgrade and the quality of your service and professionalism! The car we rented was ready and there were no line ups to pick up the keys. Amazing start!

Roof down in the convertible, unmistakably mandatory. Hat and sunscreen are a must, I’m serious here, you are going to burn. Also bring water with you at all times as you are in a desert, never forget that.

One day in Phoenix

The South Rim is the closest entry point to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix airport. Also, it was April when we did this road trip and the North Rim apparently still had snow around.  And according to the Grand Canyon website the South Rim “features the vast, expansive views most often seen in magazines, websites, Facebook and on TV”. That’s what we wanted to see.

Once you start driving away from Phoenix on highway 17 you are surrounded by desert sands and cactuses. It is mesmerizing. Life is good. About two hours in, the scenery changes. As you now drive on highway 64, you are in the middle of pine trees in the Kaibab National Forest.

In the rear view mirror, all you can see are the snowy mountains tops of Humphrey Peaks.

San Francisco Peaks

It took us about 3.5 hrs to drive from the airport to the entrance of the Grand Canyon South Rim. The anticipation level is high. If you have time, make sure you stop at one of the many gift shops on the highway approaching the Grand Canyon as they are filled with great local art and an array of desert life souvenirs.

Another interesting stop is the IMAX theatre at the National Geographic Visitor Center just before arriving to the Grand Canyon entrance. The 34 minutes movie called “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” is an informative preview to what you are about to witness. It is possible to find 2/1 coupons at the gas station or gift shops, or you can also book your tickets online and get 20% off your entry . It came up to about $10US per person and it was well worth the price. After that, we drove to the entrance of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is about 10 minutes. You will be able to buy your park pass at the gate.


One of the 7 wonders of the world

Once you get to the Grand Canyon, park the car at one of the many designated parking areas, and start walking along the Rim Trail. There are also free shuttles that bring you around the rim of the Grand Canyon if you don’t feel like walking in the heat; they come every 10 minutes and they stop at all the viewpoints. It is not recommended to drive around the Grand Canyon’ South Rim since there is only one road and a lot of tourists stopping; hello waste of time. Use your legs and exercise, it will feel good after all the driving.

Any view along the Rim Trail is beautiful, in fact, you will want to stop at all of them.

At some point on the trail, you will come across the Geology Museum which is also the a Visitor Center. It has plenty of really awesome free information; I absolutely recommend it. There are also some Parks and Recreation staff on site that can answer any of your questions and inform you about the Grand Canyon. Did you know that the Colorado River that runs through the canyon is known to be one of the most notoriously dangerous river to travel on? Also, did I mention that the geology museum is free to enter?

One day in Phoenix

After spending about 3 hours taking pictures and walking around admiring the view, we decide to get back to the car and drive to Grand Canyon Village, which is not even 10 minutes down the road. There are restaurants and hotels in the village but not much else to see. If you need a bite to eat this is a good place to stop as there is not much going on when you drive out of the Grand Canyon site. Be prepared to pay tourist prices. We saw may elks on the drive to the village which was nice, right by the side of the road.

As we drove away from Grand Canyon Village, we came across many viewpoints and decided to stop at the Desert View Watchtower. The sun was starting to go down and we were anxious to get back on the road but we couldn’t say no to one last beautiful view of the Grand Canyon. The Desert View Watchtower, which is also known as the Indian Watchtower at Desert View, is a 70-foot (21 m)-high stone building with amazing views. It is possible to walk up the many stairs of the tower but be careful, the site closes at 5pm so make sure you give yourself enough time to visit.

One day in Phoenix
Grand Canyon South Rim – view from the Desert View Watchtower

After visiting the tower, we decided to drive back to towards Phoenix on highway 64. For most of the drive back, you are on a single lane road along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

One day in Phoenix
Driving alongside the canyon as it disappears into the horizon.

Et voilà ! Here’s how you make it to the Grand Canyon South Rim from Phoenix return trip in one day! The day is long for sure but worth it if that is all you have!


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