The high desert of northern Arizona is home to one of America’s greatest natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. But did you know this is also where the Mother Road, or Route 66, passed through the Southwest on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles?
This curated road trip through the Southwest presents the most iconic and must-see experiences along the world-famous Route 66. It includes the awe-inspiring vistas of the Petrified Forest National Park and concludes with unforgettable experiences along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is a genuine, All-American road trip!
We’ve all seen National Lampoon’s Vacation. The last thing you want to encounter in the desert is drama. But with this helpful guide, you can set any concerns aside.
Here’s how you can explore better in one of America’s most one-of-a-kind landscapes.
DAY 1 – ARRIVAL & HOLBROOK, ARIZONA
Begin your journey at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) just three hours south of our official Route 66 starting point of Holbrook. Rent a car and cruise along state Routes 87 and 260 to experience the magic of the American Southwest. Stop in Payson, the midway point of your drive, for gas, restrooms, and snacks.
Holbrook is nestled within the Painted Desert, a surreal landscape showcasing rock formations of colorful, layered bands. While the natural view is spectacular, search for the icons that dot the trail of the Mother Road. You can’t miss Wigwam Village Motel #6, a collection of 15 steel and concrete teepees built in 1937. Our recommended accommodation for the evening, this symbol of the mid-century kitsch, with vintage cars parked alongside accommodations, offers not only a clean and restful stay but a journey back in time unlike any other.
Stroll through Holbrook on a self-guided walking tour for a time capsule of roadside signs and exquisite mid-century design. Be sure to pass by the Buckets of Blood Saloon, the site of a brutal gunfight between the Hashknife cattle gang and local cowboys.
Just minutes down Hopi Drive, and a short walk from Wigwam Village Motel #6, you’ll find two restaurants, The Butterfield Stage Co. Steak House and Romo’s Mexican American Restaurant. We have no doubt you will be able to satisfy your cravings for both a delicious meal and nostalgia for a bygone era.
DAY 2 – PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK TO WINSLOW, ARIZONA
Get excited for a day filled with short hikes, scenic overlooks, and ancient petroglyphs in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park—just a 20-minute drive southeast of Holbrook. As you’re leaving town, stop at Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood to pick up your souvenirs; this will prevent any temptation to gather petrified wood, which is a crime. Not to mention heavy.
Rainbow Forest Museum
As you enter the park, follow the main park road until your first stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum. Discover wonderful educational exhibits about the region’s natural history and walk along the 0.4-mile Giant Logs trail located behind the museum. You’ll also find the trailhead for two short hikes in the parking area. Long Logs is a 1.6-mile loop trail to an ancient log jam, one of the park’s largest concentrations of petrified wood. You can also see a 700-year-old, eight-room pueblo made from petrified wood on the two-mile Agate House trail.
Crystal Forest Trail
Take an opportunity to experience the Crystal Forest on the 0.75-mile loop trail. Keep your eyes peeled for the sparkling quartz crystals found in petrified wood. As you continue driving along the main park road, consider stopping at the Jasper Forest and Agate Bridge scenic overlooks before arriving at the Blue Mesa Trail. This one-mile trail takes you into the painted landscape of the badlands, offering an up-close view of the sedimentary layers and blue bentonite clay.
Newspaper Rock & Puerco Pueblo
Any trip to our National Parks should include learning about the people who once lived there. An archaeological site, Newspaper Rock is home to the highest concentration of petroglyphs in North America. Explore in awe as you view more than 650 carvings created by generations of the Puebloan people, who once lived in the area between 650 and 2,000 years ago.
Some of the artists who left petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock may have lived at our next stop, Puerco Pueblo. The 0.3-mile paved loop trail is set amidst the remains of a 600-year-old, 100-room pueblo. The south end of the trail also offers another grouping of petroglyphs.
Historic Route 66
A rusted, 1932 Studebaker truck marks our next stop, located on the original Route 66 that once passed through the park. From this point, the park road winds through vast vistas of the painted desert before reaching our exit point. There are two overlooks at Nizhoni Point and Pintado that are well worth the stop.
Leaving the park, exit southwest on I-40, the historic Route 66 towards Winslow. Along the way, be sure to stop at a few of the roadside gift shops and attractions, including the iconic Painted Desert Indian Center, Navajo & Hopi Indian Arts & Crafts Center, and Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Snap a photo atop the giant jackrabbit and grab a drink and souvenir.
Travel slightly further back in time to the golden age of railroad travel, and check-in at the last great hotel built by Fred Harvey—La Posada. The hotel was designed by renowned architect Mary J. Colter as a resting place for travelers on the Santa Fe Railway and painstakingly restored in the late 1990s. End the night with an unforgettable dinner at The Turquoise Room, serving delicious contemporary southwestern cuisine.
DAY 3 – WINSLOW TO GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Start your day with a pick-me-up from Mojo Coffee, and then make your way to the state’s most famous intersection. Marked by a statue of Glenn Frey, the corner of old Route 66 and North Kinsley Avenue was made world-famous by the 1972 hit, “Take It Easy” by the Eagles.
After you’ve snapped a photo or two, head west on Interstate 40 toward Grand Canyon National Park. The first stop along your route is Barringer Meteor Crater, a National Natural Landmark. The mile-wide, 550-foot-deep crater is a wondrous sight. The crater can be viewed indoors from the visitor center, observation decks, or rim tour hikes.
Rejoining Interstate 40, there are several ruins of iconic roadside stops along the Mother Road. First are the ruins of an abandoned gas station leading to the Apache Death Cave. The cave can be explored but at your own risk. This is followed by Twin Arrows Trading Post; now, just two giant arrows stick up along the roadside. This interchange is also home to the new Twin Arrows Casino. Are you feeling lucky?
Further along our journey is the Grand Canyon Deer Farm. This beloved petting zoo has been a Route 66 must-see for generations. Where else can you pet and hand-feed deer? If the Deer Farm wasn’t enough wildlife for you, Bearizona Wildlife Park is just a few miles away. Drive through the park for a comfortable encounter with wolves, bears, bison, and mountain goats.
If you prefer wines over wildlife, take a detour to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards in Cottonwood. Visit the tasting room to sample and learn about some of the state’s finest wines!
Next stop, Grand Canyon National Park! Check-in at the pet-friendly Yavapai Lodge, located in the heart of Grand Canyon Village. Yavapai Lodge is a short walk from the South Rim and shuttle service, making it the perfect adventure base for your time in the park.
With a late afternoon arrival, settle in and enjoy a casual dinner at Yavapai Tavern. From the Brown Sugar Bacon Burger to the Tavern Street Tacos, this southwestern cuisine will have you returning every night of your stay. Don’t forget to try the local beers too! After dinner, take a quick walk to Yavapai Point. You won’t find a better spot to watch a fiery sunset over the Grand Canyon.
DAY 4 – GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Let the real adventure begin! Start your first, full-day Grand Canyon experience with a guided four-hour tour along the Rim Trail. Led by knowledgeable guides, you’ll learn about the wildlife, geology, history, and heritage of the native peoples while taking in the spectacular views of the canyon. Guides will not only help you get your bearing but will offer tips to make the remainder of your time in the park extraordinary.
Stop by the Canyon Village Market & Deli for freshly made sandwiches and salads before taking in the historic sites and natural wonders of the South Rim. Begin at the Yavapai Lodge and walk along the Rim Trail to Verkamp’s Visitor Center. From there, continue along the Rim Trail, visiting the Hopi House, Lookout Studio, and Klob Studio. Then hop on the Hermit Road Route shuttle bus near the Bright Angel Trailhead. Along the route, get off the shuttle at various points of interest such as Maricopa Point, Hopi Point, and The Abyss before reaching Hermits Rest. Here, you’ll find an old miner’s cabin, now a gift shop, designed by famed architect Mary Colter in 1914. Depending on how much you want to walk, the Canyon Rim Trail is eight miles from Hermits Rest to Grand Canyon Village.
You could skip a few of the sites along the South Rim to free up enough time for a sunset helicopter tour of the canyon at the end of the day. Tours leave from the Grand Canyon Park Airport, and you’ll need to arrive about 45 minutes before your flight, so plan your time accordingly.
DAY 5 – GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Pack your cameras and lace up your boots. Today you’re going to see some of the most spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. Marked by a prominent watchtower built in 1932, the Desert View area is one of the park’s hidden gems. Begin your second full day in the park by exploring the historic sites and shops dotted throughout this walkable settlement on the South Rim.
The Desert View Watchtower is a National Historic Landmark, designed in the Pueblan architectural style and adorned with murals by a Hopi artist. With access to the tower’s lower level, peek through the reflectoscopes by each window and browse the retail store when you’re done. But save your shopping for the Desert View Trading Post. In addition to travel necessities and ice cream, authentic Native American goods can be purchased here. For a more substantial bite to eat, visit the Desert View Market & Deli.
Located just a few steps from the watchtower, brace yourself for panoramic views as far as the eye can see. The Desert View Point scenic overlook is set directly above the Colorado River’s “Big Bend” and offers spectacular views of the Marble Platform plateau, Painted Desert and the flat-top mesa Cedar Mountain.
After a morning in Desert View, take some time to explore any area of the park you’d like or simply relax back at the lodge. The real magic will happen after the sun sets. If you’ve booked the Explore Better Grand Canyon Stargazing Package, you have all the essentials to view the Milky Way in an official Dark Sky Park. Sit back, relax and watch as thousands of stars come twinkling into view. Far from the artificial lights found in cities, the night skies look painted on.
DAY 6 – GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK & DEPARTURE
The Bright Angel Trail is an absolute must-do when visiting the Grand Canyon. While some will hike to Indian Garden and beyond, we recommend a shorter hike to either the Second Tunnel or the 1½-Mile Resthouse, depending on your experience and physical abilities.
Start your day before sunrise and be ready to head down into the canyon as soon as it’s light enough or bring a headlamp. Your early wake-up will be rewarded with the outdoor adventure of a lifetime. Admire the spectacular views appearing around every twist of the trail and early morning light reflecting an array of colors from every rock outcropping. Having started your hike before 5:30 a.m., you’ll be back at the Yavapai Lodge before 10:30 a.m., just enough time to get cleaned up and ready to check out at 11 a.m.
After a morning filled with unforgettable adventures, it’s back to our go-to spot for lunch. You guessed it! Grab a bite at Yavapai Tavern, and then make a last pass through the gift shop for local Native American collectibles, apparel, jewelry, and more.
Yavapai Lodge to both Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport and Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport is approximately a four-hour drive, that’s worth every second.