The open road is calling and few road trips are as awe-inspiring as a drive from Southern California to the Grand Canyon if you know how to do it right. From the otherworldliness of Joshua Tree National Park to the mountain biking, hiking, and golfing hub of Prescott, Arizona to historic Route 66 in Williams and the vastness of the Grand Canyon; a road trip through the deserts, mesas, and forests of California and Arizona is hard to beat.
This itinerary goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA.
Begin your adventure in Tinseltown, known for its movie stars, palm trees, beaches, and surf. Take in the Hollywood sign, meander around Manhattan Beach, or head to Malibu to see what stars may come out to play.
Made a national monument in 1936 and finally a national park in 1994, Joshua Tree National Park has long held a mystical quality. A haven for artists, rock climbers, musicians, and adventurers alike, Joshua Tree has long been a sought after destination for those seeking enlightenment and adventure in the desert.
A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row, where turn of the century-style saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries and antique venues.
Learn about the area, once the territorial capital, through the Prescott Heritage Trail & History Hunt Adventure, available at the Visitor’s Center. The 90-minute, self-guided walking tour of the downtown area and important cultural and historical attractions is fun for every age group. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts are equally well served in Prescott. Set amidst the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest, the western town offers more than 400 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Paddle on any of four pristine lakes in the area and enjoy a shoreside, picnic lunch before getting back on the road.
If your family has seen the movie “Cars”, there will be a familiar vibe to this northern Arizona town, located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old timey western shoot outs are staged in the middle of Main Street on weekend evenings. And bear, bison and wolves roam in Bearzona, a nearby, drive-through animal park.
All this, at the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway, where visitors can hop aboard lovingly restored rail cars and be entertained by musicians and the antics of cowboy characters as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.
Whether you drive to the Grand Canyon or arrive via the Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll soon understand why it’s a treasured wonder of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado, the multi-hued rock walls, revealing millions of years of geologic history, descend a mile deep and stretch for 277 miles.
From sunrise to sunset, the canyon is the main attraction. However, with so much to see and do, a stop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center can help make the most of your time while exploring Arizona’s most impressive landmark.
You’ll find information about tours, tickets, park programs and special events. Don’t miss the on-site IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. In 34 minutes, you’ll fast forward through the amazing history of the canyon and emerge eager to experience its grandeur first hand.
To understand more about the Park’s colorful story, the Grand Canyon Historic Village is an important stop. You’ll find many National Historic Landmarks, including the iconic El Tovar hotel, shops and art galleries within the canyon-side village.
Kids between the ages of 4 and 14 can become a Junior Ranger, earning a badge and certificate by completing a list of activities in the park.
Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.
On your return to LA, stop and become overwhelmed by the vastness of Mojave National Preserve. Established in 1994, Mojave National Preserve is home to such wonders as the Kelso Dunes, the Marl Mountains, and the Cima Dome, as well as volcanic formations such as Hole-in-the-Wall and the Cinder Cone Lava Beds.
Here some tips for setting out on a road trip on Arizona highways.