If you are planning to visit Arizona, a road trip is an ideal way to see this state. It is full of changing colors and landscapes from the flatter tan deserts of the south, blue badlands of the Petrified Forest and the gaping Grand Canyon cut into the evergreen forests of the north. You can drive along the famous Route 66, see the most intact crater site on earth, visit the red rocks and energy centers in Sedona and look at a Native American dwelling carved into the side of a sandstone mountain. Read along for my winter northern Arizona road trip itinerary. It would work any time of the year, but it was a treat to see the Grand Canyon dusted in snow and I appreciated not having to fight with crowds. I hope my trip helps you with Arizona road trip ideas and inspirations.
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Driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon
We ended up in Arizona because I went to visit my grandmother and great-grandmother in Las Vegas. My kids had never seen the Grand Canyon, so the idea of this road trip was born. If you are driving to Las Vegas from California, make sure to read about the last alphabetical street in the US, Zzyzx Road which you will pass.
Here are a few things worth checking out on your Grand Canyon road trip
A Visit to the Hoover Dam
When it was built in 1935, this was the largest dam in the world. Now it is #2 in the US after California’s Oroville Dam. The Hoover Dam, originally the Boulder Dam, controls the water of the Colorado River and provides hydroelectric power. It lies on the border of Arizona and Nevada. It is really big and with the impressively high Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge right behind it is really a sight to see. The dam creates Lake Mead, the US’ largest reservoir.
Sadly the day that we visited two things were true— the waters of the Colorado River were really low and the winds were 60 MPH. We could walk across the bridge, but tours were cancelled due to the winds and the elevator was closed.
There is a Visitor’s Center, a Powerplant Tour and a Dam Tour. Doing all three takes about 2 hours as long as you don’t have to wait for a tour time. They each have separate fees. Check their website for specifics including buying Powerplant tickets. Dam tour tickets are only available on-site. Children under 8 are not allowed on the tours. As you drive in from Nevada you will see a parking structure and you walk to the dam from there.
Since the tours were closed and we had walked across the dam in the past, we didn’t want to pay to park. If you drive over the dam onto the Arizona side there are viewing areas where you can park for free!
Explore Seligman, Arizona
A good half way stop between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, you will experience one of the most fun areas of a US road trip- Route 66. And Seligman is at its genesis and has exactly the kitsch you expect from Route 66- motels, diners and vintage cars. You can even check out their 1950s museum.
We had a fun lunch in the Roadkill Cafe. It has a typical diner menu, but all the names of dishes are a spin on road kill. My above average BLT was called Treads and Breads; a French Dip goes by No Luck Buck. With large portions and drinks in mason jars, this place is spot-on for a Route 66 road trip. For more ideas read The Best Things To Do in Seligman, Arizona.
At the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the two things I have seen in the world where I thought pictures did not do it justice. The other is Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s glacier lagoon. If you haven’t seen it, it needs to go on your bucket list now! Read more about my visit to the Grand Canyon in March.
If you are in Las Vegas, which rim of the Grand Canyon is easier to visit?
The Grand Canyon is huge— 277 miles long— so, there are many ways to approach it.
Here is a basic overview of them:
- North Rim– Less touristy, about 4 1/2 hours from Las Vegas, closed in the winter.
- South Rim- Commercial, but offers more tours, lodging and activities. Due to the elevation being lower, it offers better views of the enormity of the canyon and the height of the north rim. The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon south rim took us about 4 1/2 hours.
- West Rim– Unlike the other two rims which the National Park Service runs, this Hualapai Indian Tribe own and operate the west rim. This is where the sky walk is that will allow you to walk out over the Grand Canyon rim with just glass below you, but each experience here will cost you money, including the higher price of entry into the park. It is much closer to Las Vegas— around a 2 1/2 hour drive.
Exploring Berringer, the Meteor Crater
My son studied this crater in 5th grade and was very interested in seeing it, so we were sure that we needed to make this stop. Although not the biggest crater in the world, Arizona’s Meteor Crater is the most preserved meteor impact site on earth. It is almost a mile across. To protect the crater, visitors can no longer go down into the crater, but you can take a guided tour along the rim to look into the crater and appreciate its size.
The day we visited the winds were 110 mph! Crazy fast winds like this aren’t uncommon around this crater on a hill above the desert. On days like this the very informative museum is open as well as the movie in the theater. You can still go out to overlook the crater, but we couldn’t take the guided hike. The staff will also do a presentation of the same material usually presented on the hike by the chunk of meteor in the lobby.
Just standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona
Until the 1970s Winslow, Arizona was a bustling town. When route 40 diverted traffic in 1979, the town became a bit of a ghost town. Some rehabilitation efforts were started and people began to visit the town as a tourist attraction.
Standing on the Corner Park in Winslow, Arizona
The main reason people now know of this town is from the Eagles’ song Take It Easy written by Jackson Brown and Glenn Frey. The park didn’t exist when the song came out, but was built as a way to increase traffic to the area. It has a bronze statue of Frey and a red, flat-bed Ford truck. Maybe if you go, a girl will slow down to take a look at you…
We tried to find our way using Trip Adviser’s directions which were way off. Follow your GPS to 2nd (the old Route 66) and North Kinsley Avenue. For a more authentic ode to Brown’s original Sedona road trip that inspired the song, go to a random corner and feel the nostalgia of days gone by… just be sure to play the song as you visit.
A winter visit to The Petrified Forest National Park and The Painted Desert
This is one of the prettiest places I have visited in the US. Read all about it.
We did not have time to stop in Flagstaff, a pine-laden city so different from how I pictured Arizona. You can explore some things to do in Flagstaff here.
Align your energies in Sedona, Arizona
Nestled between striking red rock buttes and steep canyon walls Sedona is arty and hip. New Age believers flock to the area searching for energy vortexes concentrated in the area. Even if you aren’t a believer, the beauty of the area will increase the positive energy you are feeling.
Read about how we spent our 24 hours in Sedona.
Our last stop before we headed back to California was Montezuma’s Castle. These native american cave dwellings built into sandstorm cliffs are neither a castle or have anything to do with Montezuma. Subscribe or stay tuned for more about our visit to see them.
How travelling to Arizona in winter affected our road trip
I really hate heat and the idea of travelling to Arizona in the summer fills me with dread. I also love my nature with a side of peace and quiet. For these reasons, visiting Arizona in the winter was a great decision for my family. We certainly got some weather, especially in the northernmost portions of our drive. Both the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff are at high elevations. We got snow in both places and the temperature was around 30 degrees F. That being said, it was still not too cold and didn’t last for a long time. The small amount of snow was still easy to drive in and added to the natural beauty of the spaces that we saw. Due to the open spaces, you could really watch the rain come in, which was quite spectacular. The storms also came in pockets and were soon gone.
You will want to bring along a warm jacket, gloves and a hat. I didn’t bring my New England winter coat, just my fall coat.
Find the perfect Arizona Hotel for your trip now:
I hope you enjoyed following along with this road trip. The US is just asking to be seen this way with its wide open spaces full of historic and beautiful stops. Check out my Ultimate US Road Trip Guide for more US road trip ideas. Make sure to read all my Arizona posts here or follow me on Instagram to see my trips as they happen.
What is your favorite spot on an Arizona road trip?