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Around the Grand Canyon in 36 hours

Published 30 March 2016

Rachel Locke

Rachel Locke

During a recent trip to Las Vegas, we knew we had to fit in a visit to the Grand Canyon. Hours of research showed up endless possibilities of how and which part of this natural wonder to visit.  Drive, small airplane flight, or helicopter ride? West, South or North Rim?  All offered slightly different ways to experience this incredible place - my mind was officially boggling. 

With less than two days to nail the trip and wanting to see as much as possible, we had a plan: hire a car and circumnavigate the canyon; a total of 680 miles and three different states, in 36 hours.  Were we mad?

Looking over the Grand Canyon

© Rachel Locke

The breathtaking scenery along the drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon South Rim meant the four hour journey flew by, despite the unseasonal thunderstorms which peppered our route.  There was definitely a certain irony in travelling through the desert, in a convertible, with the rain hammering onto the canvas roof and the windscreen wipers on full blast.

Rachel with Hire Car

© Rachel Locke

South Rim

The South Rim is located inside the Grand Canyon National Park. On arrival we paid our $25 park entry, giving us entry for one week and, equipped with obligatory ponchos from the gift shop, made it to the rim. Thankfully, after an hour or so of sitting it out in the Visitor Centre, the thick mist and rain that had blanketed the canyon on arrival began to lift. The weather around here can be so changeable, so it was definitely worth waiting. We were rewarded for our patience as the canyon emerged from its shroud of mist, revealing some of the most stunning views I have ever seen, enhanced even further by the rainbows emanating from the few remaining clouds dotted along the canyon edges.  

Grand Canyon Scenery

© Rachel Locke

We spent the next three hours driving leisurely along Route 64, which hugs the South Rim for over 20 miles. Turning off into the dozens of viewing points which dotted the road (some larger obvious ones such Grandview Point, some smaller and less well signposted), we were treated to one spectacular perspective, and countless photo opportunity after another. For us, this was the ideal way to experience the canyon; at our own pace, from many different outlooks, and relatively crowd-free; in all likelihood thanks to the earlier downpours. We even witnessed a marriage proposal (she said yes!).

Another three hour drive to our hotel in Page on the east side of the canyon took us alongside the Little Colorado River, where we had even more opportunities to pull over and take a couple of short hikes along the narrower canyon rim as the sun was setting.

Horseshoe Bend

© Rachel Locke

Horseshoe Bend

The next morning we were up early and straight off to Horseshoe Bend; about a five mile drive south on Highway 89 out of Page. We were there before 9am; mainly due to our tight schedule, however this proved to be the best idea as we were leaving just as the crowds from the tour buses started to roll in. Horseshoe Bend was possibly my favourite place of the whole road trip- with gorgeous colour contrasts of the turquoise river against the red rock of the canyon which even the early morning drizzle couldn’t dampen.

Grand Canyon sign

© Rachel Locke

Zion National Park

Our next destination took us up into Utah, following Highway 89 northwards, to Zion National Park. Once again, as soon as we turned off the highway, the scenery immediately became breathtaking, the rain lifted, and the blue skies shone through. Once we entered the park the driving became almost alpine, with tight bends winding their way down the sides of the valley, and plenty of spots to pull over and take in the awesome surroundings. Finally getting the top down on the Camaro and the sunglasses on perfected the drive. Parking up just before the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel, we spent a couple of hours taking in the short hike along the Canyon Overlook Trail; a round-trip trail with an outlook over Zion Canyon which truly left us lost for words; had we missed this, we would have most definitely have missed out. We were glad of our trainers- both for the slightly rocky and sandy terrain, but also because of the tarantula we spotted nestling under a rock along the route.

Reflections on the Grand Canyon

© Rachel Locke

Continuing the drive through the canyon gave us the reverse perspective of the earlier view from the Overlook trail- looking up from the bottom of the canyon. There was the opportunity to take a scenic shuttle bus ride along the base of the canyon from the Visitor Centre. We didn’t have time to do this, however we both left feeling that we had managed to get a great flavour of Zion, and that it was more than worth expanding our trip route to take it in, even if only for a few hours.

Rachel and Ed at the Grand Canyon

© Rachel Locke

So…were we mad? Three states, two National Parks, and one Chevy Cabriolet, in 36 hours. Yes, 12 hours of these were spent in the car, and of course, you can only really scratch the surface of what this incredible area has to offer. However, it is possible, and having our own car gave us the freedom to take in places at our own pace, flex our trip to what we wanted to see, and to take in huge swathes of beautiful scenery as we drove. On reflection, I’d definitely do the same thing again- but remember the waterproofs next time.


Drive the Grand Canyon on Round the World Experts' California & Canyons tailor-made Journey.


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