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The canyon from above with the river running through
Photograph: Flickr/Tim Felce/CC

5 gorgeous ways to get from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

Sure, you can get from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon by car, but there are way more awesome ways to make the trip

By Shoshi Parks
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Part of what makes the Grand Canyon so spectacular is its isolation in the vast Arizona desert. The closest city, Flagstaff, is a good 75-miles from Grand Canyon National Park’s southern rim, while Phoenix lies more than 200 miles away. So despite being one of North America's most iconic wonders (with about 6 million visitors every year!) getting to the Grand Canyon without a car is a surprisingly complicated web of planes, trains, and buses—or you could always spring for a helicopter. But if you're planning to make the trip, here are the best ways to get from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. 

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Best ways to get from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

A highway through the desert
A highway through the desert
Photograph: Flickr/Ken Lund/CC

1. Car

There are three routes from Phoenix to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the closest (and most crowded) section of the Grand Canyon. Each way takes about the same amount of time—about 4 hours—so the route you choose depends more on how you want to kick-off your adventure.

For 230 miles of straight freeway driving, head north on Interstate 17 towards Flagstaff then merge onto I-40 West towards Williams. At State Route 64 (Exit 164), go north towards the Tusayan, a one-horse town a mile south of the park entrance. Take advantage of classic Southwestern high-desert landscapes with a detour. From I-40, take Exit 201 onto Highway 89 towards Cameron then head west onto State Route 64 at the roundabout until you reach the park’s eatern entrance at Desert View. 

For a forested route through the mountains, stay north on I-17 through Flagstaff. Hang left on US 180 then right onto SR 64 at Valle towards the park entrance. Highway 180 is at a high enough elevation that it can be ice over when temperatures drop below freezing. If you’re traveling to the Grand Canyon in winter, consider driving one of the other routes to the South Rim.

If you’re headed to the Grand Canyon in search of serenity, consider skipping the busy South Rim for the under-visited North Rim, a 350-mile, seven hour drive from Phoenix. The trip starts out heading north on I-17 to Flagstaff then east on I-40 before taking Exit 201 onto US 89. At Bitter Springs, head left on US 89A to Jacob Lake then continue on SR 67 to the North Rim.

A plane waiting at the gate
A plane waiting at the gate
Photograph: Flickr/Artform Canada/CC

2. Plane

Flagstaff Pulliam is the closest commercial airport to the Grand Canyon but once you land, you’ll still have 75 miles to negotiate before reaching the South Rim. Luckily, finding transportation from the Phoenix to the National Park isn’t a challenge. If you want your own transportation in the national park, rent a car in Flagstaff. Several national agencies, including Enterprise and Budget, have offices on site. If you prefer to remain car-free, Groome Transportation runs scheduled shuttles from Flagstaff to the town of Tusayan about a mile south of the South Rim. For more flexibility (and a higher price tag), Grand Canyon Shuttles will drive you to the South or North Rim at your convenience with an advance reservation. They’ll even drop backpackers off at a trailhead. Amtrak runs train service from Flagstaff to Williams, about 65 miles west of the South Rim. From there, hop the intensely scenic Grand Canyon Railway straight to the national park’s Grand Canyon Village.

The Grand Canyon Airport, located eight miles south of the park’s South Rim, is a more straight-forward option for getting to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. But with only private and charter planes like those run by Grand Canyon Airlines landing at the airport’s single runway, the convenience will cost you. 

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A train at Union Station
A train at Union Station
Photograph: Flickr/A.Davey/CC

3. Train

Amtrak’s closest stop to Phoenix is Flagstaff, 145 miles to the north. But if you snag a Groome Transportation shuttle to the historic Flagstaff Train Depot on Route 66, you can hop the train east. Amtrak only runs as far as Williams, 65 miles from the Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. There, transfer to the scenic Grand Canyon Railway, a charming 2.25 hour ride through the high-desert to the edge of Grand Canyon National Park. One-way tickets start at $32 and trains depart daily at 8:30am or 9:30am (both during peak tourist seasons) and return at 2:30pm or 3:30pm.

A Greyhound bus
A Greyhound bus
Photograph: Flickr/Roadsidepictures/CC

4. Bus

There are no regular direct bus routes from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon but if you’re traveling with a squad, National Bus Charter Phoenix will book trips for between 18 and 56 passengers. If you’re going it solo (or with a small group), your best bet is to take a Greyhound or FlixBus from one of three bus stations in Phoenix to Flagstaff, a 2.5 hour ride up I-17. When you arrive in Flagstaff, either take a Groome Transportation shuttle straight to Grand Canyon Village or walk next door to the train depot where the Amtrak leaves daily on a 45-minute journey to Williams. From there, transfer to the Grand Canyon Railway for a gorgeous 2.25 trip to the national park.

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A helicopter lifting off in the desert
A helicopter lifting off in the desert
Photograph: Flickr/Prayitno/CC

5. Helicopter

If your Grand Canyon #lifegoals don’t include hiking or backpacking its trails, consider a helicopter tour. For just under $400/person, 360 Adventures runs a three-hour fly-over tour from Phoenix throughout the year. If you want a little time on the ground, they also have a full-day option that combines a flight to the canyon with a hike below the rim for $667/person. Other companies, including DETOURS of Arizona, Maverick Helicopters and Papillon Grand Canyon Tours offer similar quick-but-spectacular adventures.

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