The #1 Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary

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When it comes to exploring the best natural beauty on the Southwest Coast, there is plenty to uncover from The Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree National Park.

The iconic Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, is a mere 361.2 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, which is famous for its rock formations and unique Joshua tree population.

road winding through Joshua tree national park california

It takes about 5.5 hours to drive between the two parks, crossing state borders between Arizona and California, so it makes sense you’re going to want to stop along the way and make a national park road trip of it.

We’d recommend you plan at least 10-14 days to do a road trip from The Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree, to really make the most of the sites in this region.

In this guide, we share our highlights of these two iconic national parks, and share some ideas for what to see on the way from the Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree.

The Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary

As mentioned, the distance between The Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree is quite a long one, so we recommend breaking it up and seeing some other popular sites in the region on the way.

Above is a map of where we visited on our Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree road trip.

We stopped in Flagstaff, Sedona, Kingman, Pirate Cove, and finally Joshua Tree.

There were other places we could have stopped, which I’ll mention in more detail below.

1. Stop 1: Grand Canyon National Park South Rim

pink Hopi Point sunset Grand Canyon

Before we dive into the stops between The Grand Canon and Joshua Tree, let’s quickly talk about why you shouldn’t rush off from the Big GC.

Most people visit The Grand Canyon for the West Area, where you will find the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk.

However, there are some other sites in the national park that are worth exploring.

For example, in The Grand Canyon South Rim, there is a lovely trail called the Bright Angel Trail, which is what we did before setting off on our road trip.

girl walking on snow Grand Canyon
Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon

It was lovely to visit the Grand Canyon in the winter – everything was slower and the later sunrise and early sunset times meant we could be more easeful. 

Hiking did prove to be difficult as all trails going down into the canyon were covered in ice and snow.

girls walking on bright angel trail covered in snow
Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon
girls walking on snow on Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail

We managed a little hour adventure down the Bright Angel Trail moving at a slow pace up against the canyon wall to ensure we were safe and protected.

It was great fun and once again the girls enthusiasm to take on the challenge along with their responsibility with it amazed me.

There’s something about the quiet repetitiveness of walking. It has an uncanny ability to harden yet soften you at the same time.

It hardens your physical body, your stamina and your resolve, yet it opens up a space for you to live more gently.

To contemplate and marvel.

It’s about simplifying, removing all distractions and disconnecting from things that matter.

All that matters is the scrunching of the gravel underneath your feet, the quiet rustle of the breeze, the awe inspiring natural surroundings and the funny conversations you can have with your children.

There’s no need to put off time with them for other demands. You can listen, learn more about them and of course answer all their curious questions as best you can.

As Savannah said to me, “”I love hearing the sound of walking over the trail.”

I love how she recognizes the tranquility and value of that already.

family walking on paved south rim trail at grand canyon
South Rim Trail

The South Rim Trail was another easy one to walk and enjoy the gorgeous canyon views.

We took advantage of the two scenic drives along the South Rim for stunning views and sunsets.

Do not miss the Desert View Drive and the Desert View Watchtower.

The views there were my favorite with the pink and reddish rocks and the bright green Colorado River snaking through the canyon.

We even had a rainbow appear!

colorado river running through grand canyon. View from Desert View watchtower
Desert View watchtower
colorado river running through grand canyon. View from Desert View watchtower

We loved all the Elk lazing about in the snow covered forest on our last day when the snow was really coming down and we had to head out.

The deer sure didn’t care and weren’t going anywhere.

elk sitting in the snow

Stop 2: Horseshoe Bend

Tips for visiting Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a bit of a detour from route to take from The Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree, but it’s only about an hour’s drive North and well worth it.

Located close to the border with Utah, Horseshoe Bend is a natural wonder that defies simple description.

This iconic scene was created by a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, which carved into the sandstone and made picturesque scene.

There is a hike to Horseshoe Bend, which we don’t recommend in the winter, as there is an edge of the 1,000-foot cliff! We share more tips in our complete guide to visiting Horseshoe Bend, Arizona.

Stop 3: Williams

train running through Williams az

Located just 54 miles South of The Grand Canyon is the small town of Williams, which is a great stop for lunch or a coffee. It takes about an hour to drive there from The Grand Canyon.

You may have already stopped in Williams to take the Grand Canyon Railway to the park, but if not, be sure to stop off here on the way back.

It’s famous for its quirky Route 66 attractions, from classic Americana-style boutique stores and diners, to Pete’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum.

Stop 4: Flagstaff

View of the Meteor Crater, Flagstaff, Arizona
View of the Meteor Crater, Flagstaff, Arizona

From Williams, travel 33 miles to Flagstaff in Arizona (35 minutes of driving) where you can spend a couple of days exploring all the sites.

Flagstaff is a city surrounded by nature. It’s where you will find San Francisco Peaks and the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort.

It’s also a great place to go stargazing as it’s a certified dark-skies city. Who knows, you may even spot a UFO!

Stop 5: Sedona

family hiking the Bell Rock Path -
Hiking to the Bell Rock Vortex

No trip to Arizona is complete without visiting Sedona in Arizona. It’s famous for its vortex sites, which are healing energy pockets

From Flagstaff, Sedona is a 45 minute drive (29 miles) and can easily be seen in a day or two.

Aside from the vortex sites, Sedona is also full of red sandstone formations and winding rivers. It’s a desert paradise with breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

Sedona is one of my favorite places in the USA. We spent five days there and enjoyed hiking to spectacular viewpoints and soaking in those red rock views.

Read our travel tips for Sedona: Don’t miss the thrilling Broken Arrow pink jeep tour and Verde Canyon Railroad experience. Here are the best things to do in Sedona with kids, and a guide to the Sedona vortex hikes

Stop 6: Seligman

old cars outside gas station in Seligman

You’ll want to turn back on yourself a bit to head to Seligman, a 109 mile journey from Sedona (about 2 hours driving).

This is a unique place in that it’s a census-designated place (in other words, it’s a ghost town), on the northern border of Yavapai County.

What makes Seligman unique is the quirky gift shops, which are bursting with bric-a-brac items and Route 66 memorabilia.

Stop 7: Kingman

Kingman Diner

From Seligman, head towards Kingman, which is about 72 miles from Seligman and takes just over 1 hour to drive.

Kingman is another tiny town on Route 66 and is where you will find the Route 66 Museum, set inside the Powerhouse Visitors Center.

Check out the Locomotive Park and the Kingman Railroad Museum to learn about the town’s railroad history.

Take a detour up to Hackberry General Store, a museum along the famous Route 66 featuring rustic, nostalgic items from the 1970s.

Stop 8: Mojave National Preserve

sand dunes in Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave National Preserve is about 1.5 hours drive from Kingman (83 miles) and is well worth a stop.

The Mojave National Preserve is a sprawling preserve that is made up of the towering sand dunes of the Kelso Dunes and ancient rock formations in the Clark Mountains – the geological diversity of the region is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Beyond its natural wonders, the Mojave Desert boasts a vibrant history, with evidence of ancient human presence evident in petroglyphs left behind by indigenous tribes.

We stayed at Pirate Cove Resort while we explored Lake Havasu City and Mojave National Preserve.

Stop 9: Lake Havasu City

parasailer on Lake Havasu City

Drive South to Lake Havasu City, a 72 mile journey that takes about 1.5 hour to drive from Mojave National Preserve.

The city is renowned for the iconic London Bridge, which was transported and painstakingly reconstructed here, creating a unique juxtaposition of Old World charm against the rugged desert backdrop.

Beyond this architectural marvel, Lake Havasu City has tons of outdoor activities to occupy yourself with, from leisurely beachcombing to adrenaline-pumping water sports.

The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, and there is always a bar with live music, plenty of art galleries with regular events, bustling local markets, and more, making it a worthwhile destination to spend a few days.

Stop 10: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees in the desert

After a two night break at Pirate Cove Resort on the border of Arizona and California we headed to Joshua Tree National Park, a 2 hour drive from Lake Havasu City (149 miles).

Just like we fell in love with the Saguaro Cactus in Tucson, we fell in love with the Joshua trees here.

What gorgeous trees that can be seen throughout the National Park amongst the outcropping of rocks. The scenery is unique and spectacular.

We enjoyed a few short hikes: the Hidden Valley Trail, where cattle rustlers used to hide their stolen cattle, and the Barton Damn.

girl on trail with joshua trees
Joshua tree national park
girl on rocks on Hidden Valley Trail

The sunset from Key Views was out of this world. I am so glad we decided at last minute to turn back form the really long Pinto Basin Drive to go here instead.

key views Joshua Tree National Park

Following your gut takes you to your heart’s happiness.

How To Extend This Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree Road Trip

If you have more time at your disposal and want to explore more national parks and nature sites, then you could extend your trip by the following ways:

Tips For Road Tripping in an RV

aerial view of Pirates Cove Resort Needles California (3)
Pirates Cove Resort Needles
  • If you can help it, don’t leave your slides out to your RV during a snowstorm. As we were accessing Goldie while we were staying in the Yavapai Lodge, we had put our slides out and kept them out. What a hassle sweeping off all the snow that had gathered on top of them when it was time to leave. We couldn’t close them until it was all off.
  • Don’t stay in an RV park in extreme weather. It’s just not worth the risk of a potential pipe burst in the travel trailer. Once we saw the temperatures were going to dip into the teens and as low as 5F, we knew it was time to leave the Grand Canyon. We know Goldie can handle a low of 23 but we didn’t want to risk going lower and her breaking. We’d then be screwed without a home and a ruined America Unplugged RV trip. So we bailed out of there three days earlier.
caravan and truck driving through the snow
  • I don’t like leaving the van to stay in a hotel, but if I do, get one with free parking.
  • California fuel is expensive!! As soon as we crossed the border from Arizona to California the fuel went from $2.40 to $4.40. We put the car in reverse to fill her up in Arizona! That’s an insane price difference. The crowds have also returned. There are more people in California than my entire country of Australia, so you bet we’re noticing it.
  • Get your own food from grocery stores and pack a picnic. There are usually picnic areas with picnic tables in most of these stops – it’s a great way to save money.
  • If you have kids, be sure to take them on the Range Programs. The girls embraced the Junior Ranger programs in the Grand Canyon and the Joshua Tree National Park. I love how this program engages kids to the experience they have with nature. Through it they learn all about the flora and fauna, but more importantly how to value national parks and why they should.

Where To Stay Between The Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree

Below are where we stayed when we visited The Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.

Yavapai Lodge

trees in front of a lodge in the snow

We jumped out of Goldie for three nights to experience Yavapai Lodge. We wanted to see if it was a good option for you when you visit the Grand Canyon! Guess what? It is.

Even though I missed Goldie, I did like our stay at Yavapai Lodge. It’s a basic hotel room but the rooms were clean and comfortable – you won’t be in them much – and the service was excellent.

We really enjoyed the Yavapai Tavern in the main lobby area and ate there a couple of  nights and watched the Super Bowl. You can sit by the fire and use their lobby Wi-Fi.

They don’t have it in the rooms because Grand Canyon – go out and explore it.

It’s also centrally located between the Village and the Visitor Center. You could walk (or bike) to either (maybe a mile each way), but there is a shuttle stop here.

It’s also right next to the biggest general store in the park.

Pirate Cove Resort

rvs beside river at Pirate Cove Resort Needles California (2)

Pirates Cove Resort is in the middle of the desert on the Colorado River. It’s spectacular scenery and perfect for those who love off-roading, atv adventures, camping and boating.

Pirates Cove is set up for summer fun with its outdoor adventures and river beach. Sadly, it was too cold for us to really enjoy it and it was very quiet.

Although we left on the day an event was starting for the weekend that was going to attract 1,200 people!!

This RV resort is massive. Our camp site was isolated and two miles away from the main area where the restaurants are. It was so pretty and peaceful.

I loved watching the sunrise over the river early each morning. It was fantastic to stay by the Colorado River after seeing the masterpiece it carved up in the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River is the border between Arizona and Colorado. It’s also the time zone change from Mountain to Pacific. I loved rising early and having an early sunrise and sunset.

Twentynine Palms RV Resort

Twentynine Palms is a nice RV resort with cottages just outside the Joshua Tree National Park.

There are loads of amenities including a really warm indoor pool, sauna and fitness center.

Final Thoughts

two girls sitting on bench looking at grand canyon views.
South Rim Grand Canyon

As we were watching the spectacular sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, I watched my girls soak it up and play at the same time.

I”m so thankful they have the opportunity to be with nature in this way. They won’t realize yet the calming influence it has on their life.

Sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, California
sunset in Joshua Tree National Park

I hope they forever understand how nature can bring them so much joy and peace and how easy it is to access it within the often utter confusion of life.

I’m grateful I get to spend this time with them and show them the sites between The Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.

Nature is helping to turn them into fierce warriors wrapped in a gentle softness.

woman looking at view of Hermits Rest Drive Grand Canyon

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