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Los Angeles is a mecca for weekend and week-long road trips, and motoring across the storied Route 66 to get to the Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic of them all.
That’s why we created the perfect 5-7 day itinerary for adventure-loving parkgoers who want to hit scenic side trips, iconic landscapes, excellent lodging, and awesome trails along the way. Some stops are stunning, while others are downright strange. But, hey, that’s the point of a good road trip, right?
This itinerary is best done from October through April when desert temperatures are manageable, hikes are pleasant, and wildflowers are at their best. Though many of the stops are geared towards nature seekers (you are headed for the Grand Canyon, after all), we made sure to include a few more luxe options for those who crave creature comforts when on the road.
Before we dive in, a quick reminder that Grand Canyon is routinely one of the top five most-visited parks in the entire NPS, meaning that if you want to camp or stay inside the park, you’ll want to book your accommodations months in advance before they sell out. Also, remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles when visiting any wilderness area so that they are preserved for future generations.
Los Angeles to Grand Canyon National Park Road Trip by Section
The map above shows our favorite 1,170-mile loop for adventurous road trippers to drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon and back again.
You could easily spend 7-10 days on this route to take your time soaking up the stunning natural marvels along the way, especially if you want to get your hike on in “the big ditch” or check out the new age spa scene in Sedona.
Segment 1: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park
- Distance: 160 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours, 45 minutes
This day mirrors an increasingly popular road trip for outdoor-loving Angelinos who only have a weekend to escape to the desert.
High-tailing it to Joshua Tree is the stuff of Instagram lore these days, but for this itinerary, we recommend heading east down Interstate 10 to check out the park’s less-touristed southern expanse.
Segment 1 Highlight: Hike to Lost Palms Oasis
This moderate, 7-mile out-and-back hike is relatively flat, undulating up and down among Joshua Tree’s famous monzogranite boulder fields. Along the way, you’ll spot a myriad of cacti and many-armed ocotillo shrubs (Pro tip: go in spring when they bloom in elaborate colors). At the turnaround point, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep who like to use the shady palm grove as a literal desert oasis.
Here, you can scramble down the steep slope leading to the palms (follow a faint use trail to the right), or simply admire the beauty from above before turning around.
Related Read: The 10 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Segment 1 Side Trip: Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain
Though it’s a bit off the main road, a pilgrimage to Salvation Mountain is a must for any desert-loving weirdo. To get there, you’ll first traverse a section of the enormous, saline Salton Sea, a relic of a failed real estate project where developers once thought they could build a mini Mediterranean suburb surrounding an accidentally-created manmade lake (it was formed when Colorado River floodwaters breached an irrigation canal).
Then, turn onto Highway 111 heading towards Niland/Slab City, an outpost of nomadic RVers and vanlifers who live off the grid on concrete “slabs” left decades ago by the military. Here, you’ll get up close and personal with Salvation Mountain, the life’s work of Leonard Knight, who built a veritable psychedelic castle as his years-long devotional project to god. Be sure to donate to the project’s nonprofit before heading back toward your lodging for the night.
Segment 1: Where to Stay
If you’re looking to luxuriate in style, the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs is one of the more stunning properties in the area, hitting the perfect price point between budget and five-star. Seeking something more family-oriented? Check out Marriott’s Desert Springs Villas, which has a phenomenal pool for kids who love making a splash.
But if you want to camp in true dirtbag fashion, Joshua Tree’s far-south Cottonwood Campground boasts well-spaced sites with picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and fabulous Colorado Desert views.
Related Read: 10 Chic Airbnb Rentals Near Joshua Tree, California
Segment 2: Joshua Tree National Park to Sedona
- Distance: 334 miles / 363 miles
- Drive time without stops: 5 hours (from Joshua Tree) / 5 hours, 15 minutes (from Palm Desert)
After all that sunshine and hiking in Joshua Tree, you’ll likely need some hardcore R&R in Sedona, but if you’re jonesing for more adrenaline-pumping outdoor recreation, this segment has that in spades too.
Today has the lion’s share of driving, so get up early, grab a coffee, and get ready for some jaw-dropping red rock.
Segment 2 Highlight: Devil’s Bridge Hike
As one of the most popular (and Instagrammed) hikes in the Sedona area, we recommend hitting the 1.8-mile trek to Devil’s Bridge early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
That way, you’ll enjoy breezy temperatures and (hopefully) less-crowded views of the area’s iconic vermillion cliffs. Best of all? The hike is pet-friendly and ends atop a massive sandstone arch that rises 52 feet above the ground below.
Related Read: Red Rock Hiking: 16 of the Best Sedona Hikes
Segment 2 Highlight: Trail House
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A new addition to Sedona’s hip outdoor-savvy scene is Trail House, an adventure concierge service helmed by the posh Enchantment Resort, boasting some of the best guides in town.
Choose from gorgeous excursions like mountain biking through rust-red sandstone pinnacles, hiking Sedona’s canyons, or rock climbing some of the grippiest sandstone in the state.
Segment 2 Side Trip: Prescott
Prescott is a history buff’s dream! With over 700 homes and buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, visitors here will feel like they’ve stumbled into the Wild West of yesteryear. Play cowboy for the day and stroll along old-timey Whiskey Row to toss back spirits in turn-of-the-century style saloons.
Or, if nature’s more your scene, go for a paddle along one of the area’s four pristine lakes, surrounded by fragrant ponderosa pines.
Related Read: 12 Best Cabin Rentals in Prescott, Arizona
Segment 2: Where to Stay and Eat
Sedona is something of a magnet for high-end spa resorts with a spiritual edge, and we feel it’s the perfect place to splurge on a little R&R after all the hiking on this desert-centric road trip. Enchantment Resort just reopened their sister spa property, Mii amo, which features luxe casitas and incomparable spa treatments, like their bespoke High Desert Enzyme Wrap and dreamy sound healing sessions.
If you’d rather stay at the original Enchantment Resort, you won’t be disappointed. From its incredible pool views to its chef-driven on-site restaurant, Che A Chi, this lodge is a pretty epic one-stop-shop to experience the magic of Sedona. For special occasion dinners, we also heartily recommend Cress on Oak Creek, which truly wows with its five-course tasting menu and cuisine inspired by the southern regions of Italy, France, and Spain.
Of course, there’s a way to do a more wallet-conscious version of Sedona while still enjoying its towering crimson outcroppings and phenomenal trail access. Stay at The Wilde Resort and Spa, then book a CBD massage at Amara Spa before jetting off to an awesome (and unpretentious) Mexican dinner at Café José.
Segment 3: Sedona to Grand Canyon National Park
- Distance: 110 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours
Once you finally arrive at Grand Canyon National Park, you’ll likely want to stay for two or three days to fully enjoy the park’s history, scenic drives, and miles of jaw-droppingly gorgeous trails.
As such, we’ve included a few extra “highlights” in this segment, with the multi-day traveler in mind.
Segment 3 Highlight: Hike to Ooh Aah Point
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail heading below the rim, but there’s an even better hike if you want amazing views.
The also popular South Kaibab Trail — although less crowded than Bright Angel — switchbacks down for 1 mile to the aptly-named Ooh Aah Point. Here, you’ll find some of the best views in the entire park.
Related Read: 11 Unforgettable Things to Do at the Grand Canyon
Segment 3 Highlight: Cruise or Bike to Hermits Rest
At the Grand Canyon, private vehicles can only make the scenic drive to Hermits Rest in December, January, and February, when crowds are at their lowest. We highly recommend steering your car onto this incredible, vista-filled road if you happen to make a winter visit to the park.
But, if you’re venturing to the canyon in spring or summer, fear not. The National Park Service operates a free shuttle the rest of the year that allows visitors to hop on and off whenever the mood strikes. The folks at Bright Angel Bicycles will also be happy to rent you a two-wheeler if you’d prefer a quieter, human-powered journey.
Segment 3 Highlight: Grand Canyon Railway
If you’re traveling with young kids (or the young-at-heart), the Grand Canyon Railway, which leaves on daily trips from Williams to the national park, is a must-see.
Featuring vintage rail cars dating back to the 1920s and 1950s, it’s a truly unique way to arrive at this fabled National Park and proves the journey is just as magical as the destination.
Related Read: These Scenic Train Rides in Arizona Will Blow Your Mind
Segment 3: Where to Stay
Whether you’re into glamping, lodges, or good old-fashioned pitch-a-tent style camping, there’s something for everyone when they come to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
For glamping, head over to Under Canvas Grand Canyon to enjoy roomy safari-style tents with West Elm furnishings, spa-inspired bathrooms, private decks, and complimentary evening s’mores. The site also has a health-conscious on-site restaurant and an adventure concierge ready to help get you booked on local excursions into the park.
For lodging, the Best Western Premiere Grand Canyon Squire Inn is pet-friendly — just don’t take them on any unpaved trails! and located right outside the park. Plus, it offers a fitness center and pool for traveling families and gym rats.
If you’re like me, and you prefer to camp when you’ve set out on a national park road trip, you’ll want to book a spot months in advance, since Grand Canyon is one of the most popular parks in the entire country. Of the many in-park campgrounds, Mather (year-round) and Desert View (seasonal) are best for their unparalleled access to the park’s incredible sights.
Segment 4: Grand Canyon National Park to Mojave National Preserve
- Distance: 321 miles
- Drive time without stops: 4 hours, 50 minutes
For this last nature-centric day of road-tripping, you’ll be traveling along a historic stretch of the storied Route 66 Highway.
Be sure to grab a hearty diner breakfast in Williams, Arizona, and check out the gift shop kitsch before driving west towards Los Angeles. Also, if you’re short on time, the drive from Grand Canyon to LA could be done in one long 8-hour day.
Segment 4 Highlight: Kelso Dunes
Not only will you finally see hundreds of Joshua Trees along this last stretch of highway, but you’ll also have the opportunity to giddily run up and slide down the popular Kelso Dunes.
To find them, you’ll pop off Interstate 40 and head north on Kelbaker Road towards the Kelso Dunes Trailhead. From there, it’s a 3-mile (round trip) trek with 600 feet of elevation gain. Bring plenty of water since the dunes get baked by the sun and the trail is considered strenuous. Hiking this path in the summer is not recommended.
Segment 4 Side Trip: Las Vegas
Of course, if you’re dying for some bright lights and big city action at this point of the trip, Las Vegas is just a stone’s throw north — okay, more like 2-hour drive, but who’s counting? This is also a great airport to fly in and out of if you’re coming from out of town and would rather not suffer the madness of LAX.
Grab a cocktail, play the slots, or simply catch some rays at a daytime pool party. This is a city that never sleeps, and there’s a show, attraction, or restaurant to suit just about everyone’s taste. Unsure what show to see? Check out the all-new Speed of Dark in the arts district for a thrilling immersive circus journey.
Related Read: 15 Amazing Hikes Near Las Vegas, Nevada
Segment 4: Where to Stay
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Camping in Mojave National Preserve is a much easier affair than both Joshua Tree and Grand Canyon, and the two largest areas are first-come, first-serve. Of the two, Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is more scenic, surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock formations.
If you’re seeking a hotel or Airbnb, there’s not much in the area, but Barstow and Needles have a few budget options. We love this guest suite in Newberry Springs for those who’d prefer to overnight with a real mattress and just-like-home amenities.
Segment 5: Mojave National Preserve to Los Angeles
- Distance: 193 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Okay, so this segment is mostly about getting you back home in one piece, but if you’re aching for one extra stop before you’re back in the big city, here’s what we recommend.
Segment 5 Highlight: Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area
A haven for boaters, hikers, car campers, and anglers hoping to catch trout and largemouth bass, Silverwood Lake is a lesser-known gem tucked away in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains at a lofty elevation of 4,000 feet.
It’s a great spot to unwind from all that driving and cool off and stretch your legs. Just double-check park algae warnings before swimming or using the water to cook.
Related Read: 11 Best Scenic Drives in Southern California
Segment 5 Side Trip: Deep Creek Hot Springs
One of the most popular stops along the Pacific Crest Trail, Deep Creek Hot Springs are a riverfront haven for soak-loving hikers.
There are two ways to get to these rock pools along a fork of the Mojave River: park for free and hike 12 miles (round trip) from Hesperia, or pay $10 per person for day-use parking at Bowen Ranch and hike a steeper 1.75-miles downhill, crossing the river, and resting your tired bones in warm mineral water before returning up the same trail back to the car.
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