Arizona is a treasure trove of unique landscapes, rugged cliffs, and million-year-old fossils that draw in tourists from all over the US.
The locals can’t recommend that you make time to take on an Arizona road trip itinerary at least once in your life, enough!
You’ll find 24 national parks, monuments, memorials, and historic sites dotted all over Arizona.
In this guide, we unpack some of the best things to do and see at each of three Arizona national parks – Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro.
So pack your bags, and let’s explore this mystical wonderland that is Arizona, or as it’s affectionately known, The Grand Canyon State.
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FREE US National Park Checklist
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Planning Your Arizona National Parks Road Trip
- When to Go: The most ideal times for you to visit these national parks are winter, which runs from December to February, and spring, from March through May.
- Trip Length: 4 days is enough time for you to explore Arizona’s national parks and some of its stunning monuments.
- Fly: For the best flight tickets, check out KAYAK.
- Rental Car: KAYAK is a great platform for you to find cheap rental cars as well.
- Rental Campervan: If you like camping, you’ll probably want to rent a campervan. Check out Outdoorsy for great prices.
- Stay: We’ll discuss your accommodation options at each national park a little later.
- Park Fees: Standard entrance fees typically range between $20 and $35 per vehicle. But you can avoid paying this fee at each park by getting yourself an “America The Beautiful Pass”, an annual permit for all US national parks, which costs about $80.
Where to Start Your Arizona National Parks Road Trip
Now that you’re all clued up on all the planning you need to do for this Arizona road trip, let’s dive into nitty gritty details, like where to start your adventure.
Here are a few options of cities you can fly into:
- Phoenix, AZ (recommended) — This route takes about 11 hours and 10 minutes (one-way) without counting extra stops. Your first stop on this route is Grand Canyon National Park.
- Las Vegas, NV (great alternative) — If you take this route, you’ll drive for about 12 hours (one-way) without the extra stops. The first stop from Las Vegas is also the Grand Canyon.
- Salt Lake City, UT — On this route, you’ll be driving for longer, about 15 hours and 30 minutes (one-way), with no extra stops. But on the flip side, this route gives you the perfect opportunity to explore the stunning Southwest with an Arizona-Utah road trip.
Note: For this Arizona road trip itinerary, you’ll land at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. From there, start driving towards the Grand Canyon, stopping in Sedona and Flagstaff.
Arizona Road Trip Itinerary at a Glance
- Day 1 – Land in Phoenix and drive to Grand Canyon
- Day 2 – Explore Grand Canyon National Park
- Day 3 – Visit the Petrified Forest National Park
- Day 4 – Drive to Tucson and explore Saguaro National Park
This ultimate road trip to Arizona’s national parks covers the best of the state’s rugged, colorful landscapes.
You’ll be starting this road trip through Arizona at the Grand Canyon and ending it at Saguaro National Park, where you can take a domestic flight from Tucson International Airport.
4-Day Arizona National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1 — Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park
- Phoenix, AZ to Grand Canyon: ~ 3 hours and 30 minutes
- Time in Exploring: 2 days (Day 1 of 2)
- Stay: Little America Hotel, La Quinta by Wyndham, Hotel Elev8
- Eat: Fat Olives, The Northern Pines Restaurant, Josephine’s Restaurant
- Fees: Park entry ($35), Red Rock Pass, or America The Beautiful Pass
Once you’ve landed in Phoenix, pick up your rental car and get ready to hit the road.
If you’re not running short on time, feel free to stop at one or two of the most Instagrammable places in Phoenix for a quick photo-op.
Read Next: All US National Parks + Checklist
Morning — Arrive in Sedona
After hours of driving, you’ll appreciate this much-needed stop in Arizona’s Red Rock County.
There are plenty of things for you to do in Sedona.
You’ll find many New Age shops, art galleries, meditation retreats, and even a few easy hikes in Sedona you can quickly do.
The city has local eateries that you’ll love, as well as a number of Sedona boutique hotels that offer all the mod-cons you’ll find in bigger cities.
Before heading off, make a few quick stops at some of the most Instagrammable places in Sedona to snap some epic photos for your feed.
Afternoon — Check-In at Your Hotel in Flagstaff and Drive to the Grand Canyon
About 45 minutes after leaving Sedona, you’ll arrive in the town of Flagstaff.
This quaint city is often used as the base camp for visitors to the Grand Canyon, and it’s not hard to see why.
In addition to having several hotels, Flagstaff is also an International Dark Sky City, making it the perfect place for star-gazing.
If you have some time, explore some of the best things to do in Flagstaff, like wandering through the Historic Downtown or sampling a muffin at Macy’s.
Evening — Arrive in Grand Canyon National Park
The first day of your Arizona itinerary ends with a mesmerizing evening drive through the Grand Canyon.
The Desert View Drive is a scenic road that runs along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
You’ll begin your drive at Grand Canyon Village and head towards Route 64.
By taking this scenic drive, you’ll get to see many of the best viewpoints in the park, like Lipan and Grand View Point, as well as attractions like the Desert View Watchtower.
Tip: You should get a Desert View Drive map to avoid missing any great viewing spots.
Day 2 — Grand Canyon National Park
- Flagstaff to Grand Canyon: ~ 1 hour and 15 minutes
- Time in Exploring: 2 days (Day 2 of 2)
- Stay: El Tovar Hotel, Yavapai Lodge, Grand Canyon Lodge – North Rim
- Eat: Yavapai Tavern, El Tovar Dining Room, Arizona Steakhouse
- Fees: Park entry ($35) or America The Beautiful Pass
Start your day bright and early so you have a full day to explore Grand Canyon National Park.
There are a few lodges within the park, so you can spend the night there and save on the driving time from Flagstaff.
Morning — Hike the Rim Trail
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, you’ll want to start your adventure by exploring one of the park’s best hiking trails.
Stretching 13 miles across the South Rim, from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest, this trail offers many of the best overlooks in the park.
Take the park’s red route shuttle bus to explore the best of the Rim Trail with ease.
This route begins at Bright Angel Trailhead and stops nine times on the way to Hermits Rest. This portion of the Rim Trail has the best views and often fewer crowds.
Afternoon — Helicopter Tour
Another fantastic way to explore the Grand Canyon is to see the majestic gorge from the sky.
Take a scenic helicopter tour and get the most stunning panoramic views of the South and North rims.
You’ll also get glimpses of the ponderosa pine-filled Kaibab National Forest and the mighty Colorado River as it meanders through the canyon.
Late Afternoon (Optional) — Kayaking on the Colorado River
If you’re keen on a thrilling outdoor adventure around the Grand Canyon, nothing beats kayaking between towering rugged cliffs along the Colorado River.
You’ll find many tour outfitters that offer white river rafting tours around the Grand Canyon.
These range from one-day to multi-day trips, as the river runs over 1,450 miles across many states.
So, make sure to plan ahead if you’re interested in rafting along the Colorado River.
Evening — Catch the Sunset
Wrap up your last day in the Grand Canyon with a stunning sunset over the expansive gorge.
Many viewpoints along the South Rim, like Mather and Hopi points, offer great sunset views.
Get a less-crowded sundown experience with an off-road sunset safari through the Grand Canyon.
Or, opt for a sunset hiking adventure deep below the canyon for 360-degree views of the gorge, showered with bouncing lights of kaleidoscopic hues.
Day 3 — Petrified Forest National Park
- Grand Canyon to Petrified Forest National Park: ~ 3 hours
- Time in Exploring: 1 day
- Stay: Brad’s Desert Inn, Best Western Arizonian Inn, Days Inn by Wyndham
- Eat: Mesa Italiana Restaurant, Tom & Suzie’s Diner, Mr Maestas
- Fees: Park entry ($25) or America The Beautiful Pass
The closest city to Petrified Forest National Park is the town of Holbrook, renowned for its Native American charm.
This is the best place to eat and stay for this part of your road trip in Arizona.
Morning — The Colorful Hills of the Painted Desert
Petrified Forest National Park is simply divided into two parts.
In the northern half, you’ll come across colorful badlands and a sea of blue-banded rock formations that will blow you away.
Explore this section of the park by driving on the Petrified Forest Road, and taking short hikes along the Painted Desert Rim Trail.
Make a few stops during your hike, like at Kachina Point and the Painted Desert Inn, a Pueblo Revival–style adobe museum dotted with Hopi murals.
Afternoon — The Petrified Logs
Spend your afternoon in the southern portion of Petrified Forest National Park, walking among ancient tree logs and wood.
They’re preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged under the riverbed about 200 million years ago.
Feel free to take on several of the best hiking trails in this part of the national park, like the Jasper Forest, Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, and Long Logs trails.
These trails take you through hundreds of millions of years of tree trucks turned into solid, sparkling quartz-like rock.
Evening — Dinner in Holbrook
End your time in Holbrook with a hearty meal to reward yourself for all the hiking you did today.
Many of the restaurants in Holbrook are located right next to Route 66, so not only are you getting a classic American meal, but you’ll also get picturesque views of this historic road.
Day 4 — Drive to Tucson and Explore Saguaro National Park
- Holbrook to Saguaro National Park: ~ 4 hours and 30 minutes
- Time in Exploring: 1 day
- Stay: Hotel McCoy, The Tuxon Hotel, Hilton Tucson East
- Eat: Bobo’s Restaurant, Maynards Kitchen, 5 Points Market & Restaurant
- Fees: Park entry ($25) or America The Beautiful Pass
- Your final day of this Arizona trip itinerary ends with unbelievable views of giant saguaros, but you’ll have to wake up super early to have enough time to explore both the park and Tucson.
Morning — Tucson Mountain District
The Saguaro National Park is split into two distinct regions. The Tucson Mountain District is more popular as it is more densely populated with saguaros.
Spend your morning in this region, hiking or biking through scenic routes like the Valley View Overlook Trail.
Also, hop into the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for a brief lesson on the ecology of this region and its towering saguaro cacti.
Afternoon — Rincon Mountain District
Head over to the other section of the park, the Rincon Mountain District, to spend the rest of your day in relative solitude as you wander around the sparse saguaros.
This portion also has fantastic sunset spots, like Javelina Rocks.
You’ll need to take a moderately challenging hike to get to Javelina Rocks. Along the way, you’ll scramble up a few boulders for an excellent vantage point of the saguaro desert and the city.
Keep your eyes peeled for the tiny pig-like javelinas, as they usually come out to play at dusk.
Evening — Explore Tucson + Dinner in Tucson
For the rest of your day in Tucson, you should definitely head into the town to mingle with the locals and explore some of its hidden gems.
The town is jam-packed with interesting museums, botanical gardens, quirky theaters, and plenty of places to eat a wholesome dinner.
Wrapping Up Your Perfect Arizona National Park Road Trip
There you have it. From one of the deepest gorges in the world to colorful mineral-tinted landscapes and 60-foot-tall saguaros, Arizona’s national parks deserve to be on every American Southwest bucket list.
Whether you’re looking for great hikes below the Grand Canyon, want to see ancient tree trucks turned into solid rocks, or are just keen for a walk among giants, Arizona’s got you covered.