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The drive from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim by car is approximately 4 hours long. You pass through the barren desert landscapes of Nevada into much greener pine forests in the mid northern region of Arizona.
It’s actually quite an easy drive on the highway, and it is possible to drive there and back to Las Vegas in a day(although it would be a long one!). Also if you’re not up to driving yourself and only have a day, you can go on a bus tour from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon as well.
The Grand Canyon has so much to explore and see however, that I highly recommend driving yourself and spending a few days there. You can easily rent a car from the airport in Las Vegas, which is what we did for this trip. So anyway, here’s what the drive was like, and some stops you should definitely check out along the way!
Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Boulder City
Driving Time: 30 minutes
Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam are located in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s a nice small town, and has a little historic section with restaurants and shops if you want to get something to eat. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the Hoover Dam are just minutes away.
Also, if you’re flying into Las Vegas and don’t want to stay in the big city, Boulder City is a great quieter alternative close by with many choices of hotels & motels, etc!
The Hoover Dam has a lot of history behind it which affects so many locations in the area. I highly recommend stopping at a few of the places listed below. And if you’re into history, this is a good book to read that tells you all about the Hoover Dam’s creation.
Things to check out here include:
- Boulder City Hoover Dam Museum – which is free and has a lot of interesting facts on the dam and the area.
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area – Park of the National Park system, so there’s a fee to get in by the lake, but the visitor’s center is free and there are plenty of activities including boating, fishing, hiking trails, even swimming!
- Hemenway Park – A little green park with some shade trees, great place to stop for a picnic and maybe catch sight of some Big Horn Sheep!
- Hoover Dam Visitor’s Center– If you have a few hours to spend, you can stop here and go to the museum and take a tour, or drive across the dam and walk around. The parking lot close to the visitor’s center has a $10 parking fee however, and it’s $10 to get into the visitor’s center, plus $15 for a tour ticket.
- Hoover Dam Bridge – If you want to see a great view of the Hoover Dam for free, and make just a quick stop along your way, then definitely go for a walk on the bridge!
The scenery is quite unique on the whole drive and constantly changing-be sure to take a good travel camera with you to capture all the sights!
Hoover Dam to Kingman, Arizona
Driving time: 1:40
After the Hoover Dam you’ll be driving across the bridge into Arizona. The landscape in and around the Nevada/Arizona border was very mountainous with little vegetation. It looked like big piles of dirt at a construction site to me, although I’m from the east where everything is green! There really aren’t many stops from here until you get to Kingman(in fact I only remember seeing one gas station), so be sure to fill up before you go.
Kingman is one of the 2 main stops along the way to the Grand Canyon. It’s where we stopped for lunch and a small break. We ate a quick meal at a fast food place near a gas station and other small stores. It was pretty packed with a lot of tourists and people coming from LA and Las Vegas. There were also the big Chinese tour buses which are seemingly omnipresent as you make your way to the Canyon.
As we continued on, the view kept changing. Slowly getting greener with some small trees & shrubs now, and more color on the mountain sides as well.
Kingman to Williams, Arizona and Route 66
Drive time via Interestate 40: 1:40
Drive time via Route 66: 2:20
The town of Kingman is also the place where you can gain access to and drive along Route 66 as an alternative to the main highway until you reach Williams, Arizona. It will take longer however, by about 40 minutes, but if you’re not in a hurry and want to drive a part of the famous route, this is a place you can do it! We decided to stay on the highway however, since we got a later start and wanted a bit of extra time to explore the town of Williams, Arizona, which is also on Route 66 and where we’d be spending the night.
The drive on the highway to Williams was easy. There was a decent amount of traffic, but nothing crazy. I thought as we got closer to Williams and the Grand Canyon it would start getting more desert looking, more red rocks-like those you see in pictures of the Canyon. But it didn’t. It got greener. We were entering the Kaibab National Forest as I later found out!
Highlights along the way:
- Drive on Route 66 – will take you about 2:20 mins vs. 1:40 on Interstate 40.
- Visit Williams on Route 66! – Williams really is a great small town to visit with lots of shops and restaurants. It’s also good to spend the night here as all the places are MUCH cheaper than what you can find at the Grand Canyon. And there are a lot of choices(hotels, motels, even a hostel)! The Grand Canyon Rail line also leaves here-if you love trains you can park your car and take a train ride to the Grand Canyon!
- The Kaibab National Forest – which is found all around the Grand Canyon, and the Flagstaff/Williams area. In fact the word “kaibab” comes from the Paiute language and is their term for the Grand Canyon, meaning “mountain lying down”. So you can think of the Kaibab National Forest as the native way of saying Grand Canyon National Forest! If you’re staying over night in Williams, there’s hiking around this area, like up Bill Williams Mountain, just near the town, which is a part of the San Fransisco Peaks.
Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon South Rim
Driving time: 1 hour
Going from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a super easy drive-just straight north on Route 64 for 1 hour! The landscape again surprised me, as whenever I saw pictures of the Grand Canyon, it would be filled with reddish brown rocks, and maybe a little green vegetation here and there. So I was thinking there would definitely be a lot of red rocks all around here, right? Nope! Instead it was what looked like a pine forest and fairly vegetated plains or grassland. But, that made it all the more interesting!
Places along the way here include:
- Town of Valle – which includes an Airplane Museum, a couple gas stations and places to stay, and… Bedrock! Yabba Dabba Do!!! We just drove by and didn’t stop to see it though, it looked a little outdated as well and maybe in need of some fix ups, but apparently there’s a diner, RV park, and little Flintstones like buildings around.
- Town of Tusayan – about 15 mins. south of the Grand Canyon entrance. Tusayan has a lot of places to stay at, unlike Valle. However, they can get full quick unless you book ahead in advance. But, it is an alternative place to stay if you can’t find a vacancy directly in the park and want to remain close by.
Don’t forget, if you’re entering the main part of the park there will be an entrance fee per vehicle. You can also get an annual pass which I recommend if you’ll be visiting multiple National Parks as it’s a lot cheaper in the long run!
For a great place to have your first peak at the Grand Canyon and to see the view in this picture above, I recommend stopping at Mather Point, right near the main visitor’s center.
Also…if you need a detailed guidebook for the Grand Canyon, these are all good ones to choose from:
- Lonely Planet Grand Canyon National Park (updated March 1, 2019)
- Grand Canyon: The Complete Guide
- Frommer’s Arizona and the Grand Canyon
- Fodor’s Arizona & The Grand Canyon
Need to rent a car for the trip from Las Vegas? Check out prices on car rentals!
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