This Scenic Road Trip Route To The Grand Canyon Is Honestly Just As Gorgeous As The Destination

If you're taking a trip to the Grand Canyon, planning to drive from Phoenix in your own or a rented vehicle, you're in for a real treat. The road trip we're recommending is not just a means to a destination — it's an epic journey through spectacular landscapes, passing some natural and human-made wonders along the way. The 242-mile trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon begins on I-17, which takes you north through a tawny stretch of desert studded with iconic saguaro cacti, their arms outstretched to the sky. As you head north, you'll start climbing up into barren rocky plains that have a haunting beauty all their own. 

Now might be a great time to stop in Rock Springs just off the highway to dust off and grab some refreshments. For nearly a century, weary travelers have congregated at the Rock Springs Cafe to eat, drink, and satisfy their pie cravings. The cafe, nicknamed "The Pie Capitol of Arizona," sells more pie than any other establishment in the state. An interesting stop on the stretch of I-17 between Rock Springs and Sedona is Arcosanti, "an ongoing experiment in architecture, ecology, art, and community that you won't find anywhere else in the world," according to its website. The museum-like location offers daily tours of its fascinating grounds and also has a gift shop where you can purchase a world-famous bronze and ceramic Arcosanti windbell.

Montezuma Castle to Sedona

After I-17 passes through Camp Verde, another must-visit is Montezuma Castle, a National Monument established in 1906 to preserve a multi-story residence that the Native Sinagua People built into the side of a limestone cliff about 900 years ago. The site is not only a visual marvel, but also a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of the Sinagua people, who learned how to flourish in the harsh desert. Shortly after leaving Montezuma Castle, exit I-17 and take AZ-179 north toward Oak Creek. 

You'd reach the Grand Canyon more quickly if you stayed on 1-17, but you won't want to miss AZ-179, which is known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. This part of Arizona is simply stunning. Cliffs and rock formations take on fiery colors, which intensify as you head toward Oak Creek Village. Once at the village, stretch your legs and take the 1.5 mile hike on the Bell Rock loop, which leads you around one of the most recognizable red rock formations in Arizona. And yes, it rather resembles a bell. Get back on AZ-179 and head into Sedona, where you'll be met with jaw-droppingly gorgeous red rock scenery and plenty more hiking opportunities, along with shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and some world-class spas and resorts. Sedona is a magical place to stay for a night or two, if your itinerary allows it. 

Sedona to the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, take AZ-89A N through Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff. This road is breathtaking any time of year, but especially when the autumn foliage lights up the inner canyon. A great place to stop for a hike is the West Fork Trail, which is 9.5 miles north of Sedona on 89A. This little gem of a trail enchants hikers as it twists and turns up the canyon, with each vista more spectacular than the last and reflections of the red- and gold-streaked cliffs in the creek's slow-moving waters. 

Continue up Oak Creek Canyon on 89A , merge back onto I-17 N, and head toward Flagstaff, a university town with a laid-back mountain vibe that's another great place to spend a night. From Flagstaff, take US-180 W past Arizona Snow Bowl, northern Arizona's premier downhill ski destination. Now you're in mountain country, with thick pine forests and rolling meadows at eye level and the majestic San Francisco Peaks towering above you. The tallest mountain in the group, Humphreys Peak, rises to an impressive 12,633 feet and is the highest point in Arizona. From here, you're only 79 miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. At the intersection of US-180 and Snow Bowl Road, take US-180 W to AZ-64 N, which will lead you the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon, if your eyes can even handle any more beauty.