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If you’re planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon, you may be wondering what is the best city to start the journey from, Las Vegas or Phoenix?
The drive from Phoenix to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is approximately 3.5-4 hours and passes through desert, forest, and red rock scenery. Driving to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas takes approximately 4.5-5 hours and passes the Hoover Dam, Route 66, and Grand Canyon West.
So you know you want to see the Grand Canyon, but you don’t know where to start? Both Phoenix and Las Vegas make excellent jumping-off points for visiting the Grand Canyon. However, there are many things to consider.
Keep reading for some considerations when planning a road trip to Grand Canyon National Park from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Las Vegas or Phoenix To Grand Canyon
While the Grand Canyon has a North and West Rim that are visited by many people each year, it’s the South Rim that is the most popular due to its location, spectacular views, ease of access, and abundant infrastructure for accommodating tourism.
The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park can be conveniently reached via just a few hours of driving from either Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ.
Which city you’ll want to choose to be your starting point will depend on several factors, including time, driving distance, things to see and do along the way, and the cost to fly into each of these cities (if you’re flying).
Let’s look at each of these factors in detail.
Phoenix and Las Vegas: Time and Distance To The Grand Canyon
The following table compares the approximate times and distances between the Grand Canyon South Rim starting from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.
|City to Grand Canyon South||Distance||Diving Time|
|Phoenix||229 miles (369km)||3.5 to 4 hours|
|Las Vegas||280 miles (451km)||4 to 4.5 hours|
From Phoenix to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is approximately 230 miles, or around 3.5-4 hours, along well-traveled interstate highways.
The South Rim is around 280 miles from Las Vegas, a drive of around 4.5-5 hours, also along interstate highways.
Since the driving times and distances to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon starting from either Phoenix or Las Vegas are quite similar, distance should not be the determining factor when deciding which city to start your Grand Canyon road trip from.
The scenery, as well as the things to do and see along the way, should play a bigger role in determining which city to start from.
Las Vegas or Phoenix to Grand Canyon: How Scenic Is The Drive?
When trying to decide between Las Vegas or Phoenix to begin your Grand Canyon trip, you may want to think about what kind of scenery you’ll be passing along the way.
From Phoenix, you will marvel at the Saguaro Cacti on the hillsides just outside the city. As you get closer to Sedona, you will begin to notice more trees (and the temperature will begin to drop!), until you get to the red rock vistas in and around Sedona, AZ. Once you reach Flagstaff, AZ, you will find yourself in a pine forest.
Alternatively, the scenic view on the drive from Las Vegas will be mostly high desert landscapes. So as far as scenery is concerned, you’ll have a bit more variety in the scenic landscape as you travel from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.
Next, let’s take a look at some of the interesting stops you can make along the way from each of these desert cities.
Things To See On The Drive From Phoenix To The Grand Canyon
If you want to take your time and explore a little more of Arizona, there are several scenic stops along the way. (However, If you want to stay on an interstate highway most of the way, that is an option, too.)
Montezuma Castle & Jerome, Arizona
If you like history, check out the Montezuma Castle National Monument and see the ancient cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people, a unique feature of the southwest desert.
Or if you are into ghost towns, take a ghost tour of the old mining town of Jerome, Arizona, and check out the local art scene or grab a bite to eat at a variety of restaurants.
See the map below to find out where these two side-trips are located from the main route of Interstate 17.
Red Rocks of Sedona
As you continue north on I-17, your next potential stop will be in Sedona, Arizona.
Sedona is probably the most popular spot to stop (or might be worth an overnight itself). Sedona has it all–a vibrant arts community, hiking trails, steep red rock buttes, pine forests, great restaurants, energy vortexes, you name it.
The route from I-17 to Sedona from the Village of Oak Creek (exit 298) is known as the Red Rocks Scenic Byway. This route will take you off the interstate but includes a lot of stunning scenery.
Note: Parking in the scenic town of Sedona is extremely limited for large vehicles like trailers or RVs. If you’re in a recreational vehicle, the best way to see Sedona is to stay at one of the nearby campgrounds and take a tour of the area.
After visiting Sedona, you’ll continue north to the Grand Canyon’s south entrance.
Thing To See On The Drive From Las Vegas To The Grand Canyon
The route from Las Vegas to the south rim of the Grand Canyon contains a lot of interesting things to see and do, as well.
Visit Hoover Dam
As you are driving to the South Rim, you will pass over the Colorado River and next to Hoover Dam in between Nevada and Arizona. The Hoover Dam and the view of the dam and Lake Mead from the bypass bridge are not to be missed and are right along the way.
For more information about visiting Hoover Dam and the bypass bridge, check out my in-depth article here.
Explore Grand Canyon West
A huge potential bonus for starting your trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas is the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon twice on the same trip! The west rim of the Grand Canyon is on the way to the south rim when driving from Las Vegas.
You can stop at Grand Canyon West before heading into the National Park. The West Rim includes hiking trails and the famous glass-bottom Grand Canyon Skywalk that soars out over the canyon.
Grand Canyon West is about an hour’s drive off the main route but will give you an entirely different view of the Grand Canyon. I’ve included some more information about Grand Canyon West further below in this article.
Drive Historic Route 66
As you continue heading east, you can stop for a little historic Americana at the Route 66 Museum in Kingman, AZ.
In Kingman, you can get on the famous Route 66 if you want to take a slight detour from the interstate. Along the way, you can check out the Grand Canyon Caverns just after the town of Peach Springs. The dry limestone caverns can be a relief from the heat of the desert.
Whether you take the complete Route 66 side-trip or not, you’ll want to stop in the town of Seligman. It is the ultimate Route 66 town.
After a stop in Seligman, you’ll continue on until you turn north at Willams, AZ, and head to the south entrance of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon by Locomotive
An exciting option for visiting the South Rim of the canyon without driving all the way there is by train!
The drive from either Phoenix or Las Vegas could get you to scenic Williams, AZ, on Route 66. For a fun “old west” experience, you can take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the South Rim (but watch out for train robbers!).
The Grand Canyon Railway station in Williams includes a hotel, an RV park, and a pet boarding facility. The train runs daily to the Historic Grand Canyon Village, where you’ll have several hours to explore the South Rim.
What Is The Closest Airport to the Grand Canyon?
The closest airport to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the Flagstaff Pullman Airport (FLG). However, because it is a smaller regional airport, you will find it expensive to book a flight there. In addition, because there are fewer daily flights, it will be difficult to book a flight when you want it.
Finally, getting a flight to FLG will almost certainly not be a direct flight, so you will have to layover somewhere and get a connecting flight. So while the airport is only 90 miles from the Grand Canyon’s south rim, it will take just as much time as flying into a larger nearby city and driving, all while being more expensive.
If you want to road trip it to the Grand Canyon after a flight, your best bets are going to be Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Fly Into Las Vegas or Phoenix For Grand Canyon Trip?
Unless you live nearby, most visitors to the Grand Canyon begin a road trip by flying into either Phoenix Sky Harbor Intl. Airport (PHX) or Harry Reid Intl. Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. From there they will usually rent a car or an RV and drive to the Grand Canyon.
Is it Cheaper to Fly Into Phoenix or Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is almost always cheaper to fly into than Phoenix. Since Las Vegas is a city built around tourism, there are more daily flights coming into Sin City than Phoenix. Because of this, it’s quite a bit easier to snag a good airline deal.
Other Considerations: North & West Rims of The Grand Canyon
Although I’m primarily covering visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim from Vegas or Phoenix in this article, there are a few things that should be mentioned about the North and West Rims as well.
Grand Canyon North Rim From Phoenix or Las Vegas
Accessing the North Rim from Phoenix is quite a trek. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is approximately 350 miles and a 7-hour drive from Phoenix. Visiting the North Rim from Las Vegas is much more convenient as it’s only about 265 miles and a 4.5 to 5-hour drive.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has far less infrastructure such as places to stay and things to do and therefore has fewer crowds. Also, the north side of the canyon has a higher elevation and sees a lot of snow during the winter. Because of this, the North Rim is closed in winter, from around October through May, and State Route 67 is closed approximately November through May.
If you’d like to know more about visiting the North Rim from Las Vegas be sure to check out my article The Grand Canyon From Las Vegas (North, South & West Rims) where I cover more about visiting each rim of the canyon from Vegas.
Grand Canyon West From Las Vegas
If you are pressed for time or only want to make a quick day trip to see the Grand Canyon, you can visit the Grand Canyon West Rim from Las Vegas. The West Rim is only 130 miles from Vegas, with a drive time of around 2.5 hours.
Keep in mind that Grand Canyon West is located on the Hualapai Reservation and is not an official part of Grand Canyon National Park. However, you’ll still see some amazing canyon views. Be aware that private vehicles are not allowed, but shuttles run from parking lots to the welcome center, and visitors must pay an entry fee.
Many thousands of people visit Grand Canyon West from Las Vegas as part of a day trip each year. A lot can be seen and done at the West Rim in a day or two. If it’s your only opportunity to get to the Grand Canyon, don’t pass it up.
Las Vegas or Phoenix to Grand Canyon – My Personal Take
Las Vegas or Phoenix to the Grand Canyon? I may be a bit biased, but I would choose Las Vegas every time as my starting point for a driving trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Long before I lived in Las Vegas, I would always look forward to beginning or ending a southwest road trip in Las Vegas.
Spending a night or two in Las Vegas on either end of a trip is like a vacation within a vacation. There’s so much to do and see here.
7 Reasons to Start a Trip to The Grand Canyon From Las Vegas
- Cheaper flights
- Less expensive rental cars
- A great place to rent an RV (find out where to rent an RV in Las Vegas)
- The Las Vegas Strip
- Downtown Las Vegas
- World-class restaurants
- Luxury shopping
Having said that, whether you want to do a road trip and explore the southwest or just get to the Grand Canyon in as little time as possible, both Phoenix and Las Vegas are great spots to start your adventure.