Insider Tips From Local Experts

Scottsdale Stories

From Scottsdale to the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, a mile deep, and up to 18-miles wide. Yet it still manages to startle you.

Unlike aboveground features, you don’t glimpse it off in the distance then watch it grow large and magnificent the closer you get. You don’t see the canyon at all on your approach. Not until you emerge from the forest and stand right there on the rim as the world falls away at your feet and your heart pounds a terrifying drumbeat against your chest. Gazing into the abyss, it feels like you’re peeking at God’s diary.

Nothing prepares you for the size or scale or rawness or the intensity of the colors. Nothing prepares you for the complexity of the patterns, those sloping terraces of temples and thrones, castles and domes that spill endlessly downward into ancient depths. Listen carefully because silence is louder at the Grand Canyon than anywhere else. Here’s our insider’s guide to taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon from Scottsdale.

How to get there

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Grand Canyon National Park is about 4 hours from Scottsdale. If you only have a day, you may want to let an experienced guide handle logistics. Tour operators like Detours American West and Across Arizona Tours offer epic single day outings to the Grand Canyon with a range of options from which to choose. You can ride in comfort while someone else does the driving, chooses the stops, and provides insightful information. These are scenic drive-and-view excursions, especially ideal if your time or mobility is limited.

If you’re more of a DIY adventurer, here are tips to get you started.

There are two routes to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The south entrance is reached through Tusayan on State Route 64. To access the east entrance, travel through Cameron, also on 64, entering the park at Desert View. South Rim is open year round. (A visit to the remote and seasonal North Rim requires an additional four hours of driving.)

What to do

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Despite the crowds, getting around on the South Rim proves remarkably easy thanks to a free shuttle bus system. Buses run from before sunrise to after sunset on an almost continuous loop. They follow three routes, stopping at visitor centers, overlooks, lodges, restaurants, and trailheads. Park and ride the comfy shuttles to keep road traffic to a minimum.

Better yet, plan on walking. The Rim Trail serves as a main artery. This mostly paved, 13-mile path passes through Grand Canyon Village and extends west to Hermits Rest and east to South Kaibab Trailhead at Yaki Point. Hike as far as you like and then hop on a shuttle bus to return. For most of its length, the trail lies only a few yards from the canyon edge so you’ll enjoy magnificent views. Away from the hubbub of the Village, you’ll experience a quiet personal connection to the Grand Canyon. Isn’t that why you came?

For a short hike below the rim, head down the switchbacks of Bright Angel Trail to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse. Or descend on South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge. Both are 3-mile round-trip hikes. Wear proper shoes and carry plenty of water.

A Grand Canyon mule ride is an iconic Southwestern experience. The most accessible option, and easiest on your backside is the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride, which meanders through woodlands along the rim for 4 miles. You’ll spend two hours in the saddle, enjoy big views, and learn some lore from the wranglers—all before lunch. This trip does not descend into the canyon.

There are no bad viewpoints to witness a sunrise or sunset at the Grand Canyon. But you absolutely can’t go wrong greeting the dawn at Mather Point, Yaki Point, and Rim Worship Site. Some primo sunset viewing spots include Pima Point, Powell Memorial, Lipan Point and Desert View.

Bright Angel Bicycles & Café rents bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs, offers guided tours, and dishes up healthy food and smoothies.

Where to stay

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Designed to resemble a European hunting lodge, elegant El Tovar Hotel is a crown jewel of the national park system. El Tovar Dining Room is a renowned fine dining restaurant with exquisite canyon views.

Bright Angel Lodge is made of log and native stone, incorporating dozens of rustic cabins just footsteps from the canyon edge. The lodge includes a restaurant, saloon, gift shop, and soda fountain. Maswik Lodge sits back from the rim about a quarter mile in the pine forest. A large lodging complex, the main building also includes a pizza pub and food court.

If you’d prefer to stay just outside the park itself, the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn is poised just minutes from the South Rim park entrance. The Inn’s Southwestern décor includes historical photos of the park’s early days for a taste of yesteryear. After a day at the Canyon, refuel at any of the Inn’s four restaurants, including the Canyon Room and Desert Lounge & Grill.

Roger Naylor is an Arizona travel writer and author. His latest book is Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State. He is a member of the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame. For more info, visit