Going on an LA to Grand Canyon road trip is probably one of the most famous bucket list items ever. It’s the stuff of dreams… or movies. These must-see stops are worth the detours to make this epic trip even more spectacular.
Have you ever wanted to do the whole Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas drive? Or fancy yourself a couple of fugitives on the run like Thelma and Louise (minus the driving off the edge of the canyon)? The LA to Grand Canyon road trip is truly like something from the movies. It’s on lots of people’s bucket lists, and for good reason too.
LA, Las Vegas and Arizona are all incredible cities. They’re just so crazy and iconic that everyone has something to say about their time there. And of course, the Grand Canyon is a famous wonder of the world located between Vegas and Arizona. But what I loved most wasn’t the the end points, it was the journey between LA and the Grand Canyon.
If you’re driving on the l-40 E, the distance between LA and the Grand Canyon is 480 miles. This takes approximately 7.5-8 hours, when there’s little traffic. But there’s a whole lot to see if you’re willing to stop and take detours.
On the LA to Grand Canyon road trip, you can see retro diners, TONS of Route 66 photo spots, natural beauty, cowboy towns and a whole lot more.
LA to Grand Canyon Road Trip in 15 Stops
See national parks, craters, and of course – the infamous route 66 on my LA and the Grand Canyon road trip itinerary.
1. Santa Monica Pier, California
The Santa Monica Pier is like stepping into a postcard with its classic Ferris wheel and endless ocean views. You’ll probably have seen it as the backdrop for many films and TV series. I couldn’t resist trying some of the carnival games and grabbing an ice cream before starting the LA and the Grand Canyon road trip.
The vibe here is just buzzing – street performers, the sound of the waves, and that fresh sea air. It’s the perfect spot to kick off an epic journey! There’s also plenty of supermarkets and coffee shops to stock up before you start driving.
We popped into one of the restaurants on the pier and had a delicious chowder, served in a sourdough loaf. So good!
2. Palm Springs, California
About three hours’ drive from Santa Monica Pier you’ll arive at Palm Springs. This place is a retro dream. You can feel like a movie star from the golden age of Hollywood lounging by a chic poolside.
The architecture here is a feast for the eyes – all sleek lines and popping colours. It’s a weird mix of pure relaxation mixed with a touch of glamour. You can do lots of different activities too. Whether you’re here for the spas, the golf, or just to soak up the sun, Palm Springs is a little slice of paradise.
Here are the best things to do in Palm Springs while you’re there.
3. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Next up, Joshua Tree National Park. It’s like landing on a different planet! Those quirky Joshua trees look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. They’re actually a type of Yucca, named by Mormons in the 1850s who thought they looked like Joshua’s arms pointing to the promised land.
The rock formations are absolutely stunning – perfect for a bit of a climb or just to gawk at. If you’re starting your journey at night, you’ll also see incredible starry skies too. The park is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, so you can head there any time.
4. Amboy Crater, California
As you venture further – about an hourish or so from Joshua Tree National Park – make a stop at Amboy Crater in the Mojave Desert. Now, this was a surprise and probably one of my favourite stops on the LA and the Grand Canyon road trip!
It’s not every day you get to see a real-life volcanic crater.
Trekking up to the rim, you can feel like a proper adventurer. The views from the top are incredible and totally worth it. The landscape is so rugged and raw, it’s like being on the set of a sci-fi movie. If you’re up for a bit of a hike and some stunning scenery, Amboy Crater is your spot.
5. Route 66, California to Arizona
Cruising down Route 66, this is when you’ll feel like you’ve jumped into a classic American road movie. This iconic stretch is a treasure trove of quirky roadside attractions and neon-lit diners.
Make sure you take a picture at one. I couldn’t help but stop for a snap at every vintage gas station and kitschy souvenir shop. It’s a journey through time, filled with nostalgia and a sense of adventure. Route 66, you’re a true legend!
You can also take a photo stood on the Route 66 sign painted on the road too. It’s quite a touristy thing to do, but there weren’t any crowds when I was there. I feel like it’s compulsory on any road trip from LA to Vegas or LA to the Grand Canyon.
6. Kingman, Arizona
Ok you’re now officially in Arizona and out of California. Kingman is a gem on Route 66. It’s like stepping back in time with its vintage charm.
I loved wandering around the historic streets, popping into quirky shops, and learning a bit about the area’s rich history. It’s the place where Clark Gable got married while filming Gone with the Wind in 1939 and various films and TV shows took place (episodes from Prison Break, The Sopranos and The Big Bang Theory, and some scenes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
The local museums are a treasure trove of Route 66 memorabilia too. And the classic American diners? Don’t even get me started – the milkshakes are to die for!
7. Williams, Arizona
Continue along Route 66 to Williams. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Grand Canyon’, it’s a quaint little town with a big personality. The main street is like a scene from an old Western movie, complete with saloons and cowboy hats.
And the Grand Canyon Railway? It’s like stepping into a time machine. It’s definitely worth going to visit en route, and makes a nice change from being in the car all the time.
8. Flagstaff, Arizona
Next, head to Flagstaff, about 40 minutes’ drive from Williams. This picturesque mountain town is a great base for exploring the surrounding natural wonders. It’s surrounded by forests and mountains, making it a perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
You’ll love the laid-back atmosphere and the friendly locals here, which is very different from LA vibes. The historic downtown is full of cute shops and cafes – ideal for a leisurely stroll to stretch those legs. And at night, you can see so many starts it’s like you’re in a fairytale – or camping.
9. Sedona, Arizona
A detour to Sedona is well worth the time. The stunning red rock formations and vibrant arts scene are truly captivating.
Most people feel a real sense of peace and wonder exploring this magical place. There’s lots of galleries and art studios to wander round, and the town just feels kind of spiritual and relaxing. It’s such a different atmosphere to California and all the busier places you’ll have seen on the LA to Grand Canyon road trip.
10. Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona
On your way back from Sedona, drive through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon. The winding road with its lush scenery and towering cliffs is like a green oasis in the desert.
You could stop for a picnic by the creek and just soak in the tranquility. It’s a fantastic spot for a bit of hiking or just to chill and enjoy nature. This canyon is a hidden gem that’s not to be missed on your LA to Grand Canyon road trip, even if you are on your way to see another canyon.
11. Meteor Crater, Arizona
Make your way to Meteor Crater. It’s hard to believe that this massive crater was caused by a meteor! Standing on the edge, looking down into the vast bowl, you’ll realise how small you actually are in the grand scheme of things.
The interactive exhibits are super interesting – you’ll learn a lot about meteors and space. This unique and awe-inspiring stop is definitely worth a visit.
12. Painted Desert, Arizona
The layers of colours in the hills and cliffs are simply stunning – like a natural painting. You just have to stop and take it all in.
The changing light throughout the day makes the landscape look different every time you glance at it. It’s a truly mesmerising sight.
13. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Nearby is the Petrified Forest National Park, where you can explore the fascinating landscapes filled with ancient, fossilised trees. The colours and patterns in the petrified wood are so intricate and beautiful.
Wander around the trails, like a palaeontologist on a discovery mission. It’s a unique and fascinating place.
14. Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Horseshoe Bend is one of those places that you see in photos and think, ‘No way it looks like that in real life’. But it does! The view of the Colorado River curving around the rock is spectacular.
Standing on the edge, looking down at the emerald-green water, I felt like I was on top of the world. It’s a bit of a walk to get there, but trust me, it’s worth every step.
15. Grand Canyon
The last stop of the LA to Grand Canyon road trip is a surreal experience. You’ve seen photos of it, but it’s not until you’re there that you realise how huge it is.
It’s also really quiet, which makes the walk around the rim really peaceful. I didn’t opt to do the skywalk, but it is great if you want to add on to the experience.
I did however go on a helicopter ride, which was pretty fun and terrifying at the same time. If you have anyone in your group that’s afraid of heights you might want to give this one a miss. Equally if you’ve got some thrill-seekers then do it!!
The best places to see between Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon
The list above shows just how many charming, retro towns, and incredible natural beauty there is to see when driving from LA to the Grand Canyon. If you were to fly, or even go directly there without stopping, you might miss out on some truly amazing views.
I also feel like the west coast of the US is all about road trips too. It’s about stopping at diners and bars, talking to locals, sleeping under stars and seeing no one for miles. It’s just you and the open road.
If you’re doing this trip solo, then make sure you check out my top tips for a solo road trip. Or if you’ve driving with your partner, why not have some fun road trip games for couples in mind for the lengthier drives in between stops?
Quicklist of stops on my LA to Grand Canyon road trip
- Santa Monica Pier, California
- Palm Springs, California
- Joshua Tree National Park, California
- Amboy Crater, California
- Route 66, California to Arizona
- Kingman, Arizona
- Williams, Arizona
- Flagstaff, Arizona
- Sedona, Arizona
- Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona
- Meteor Crater, Arizona
- Painted Desert, Arizona
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
- Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
- Grand Canyon
How long is it from LA to the Grand Canyon?
The drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon is a bit of a trek, but it’s well worth it. You’re looking at about 8 hours on the road, covering roughly 480 miles. Of course, this depends on the route you take and how often you stop along the way. If you fancy a leisurely drive with plenty of sightseeing, you might want to spread the journey over a couple of days.
How much does it cost to drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon?
The cost of driving from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon can vary, depending on a few factors like your car’s fuel efficiency and the current price of petrol. On average, you might spend around £100 to £150 on fuel for a round trip. Don’t forget to factor in any additional costs like food, accommodation if you’re planning an overnight stay, and any cheeky little detours you might take along the way.
Is it better to take the train or drive to the Grand Canyon?
The classic train vs car debate! Taking the train, specifically the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, is a charming and relaxed way to travel. It’s a fantastic experience, especially if you’re a fan of scenic views and a bit of old-world charm. However, driving gives you more flexibility to explore and make impromptu stops. If you’re keen on sightseeing and enjoy taking the scenic route at your own pace, driving might be your best bet.
How many days is enough to see Grand Canyon?
To really soak in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, I’d recommend at least two to three days. This gives you ample time to explore different viewpoints, take a few hikes, and maybe even enjoy a sunrise or sunset over the canyon. If you’re up for more adventure, like a helicopter tour or a rafting trip down the Colorado River, you might want to extend your stay a bit longer. But even if you’ve only got a day to spare, it’s still absolutely worth the visit!