Are you ready to embark on one of the most scenic road trips in America? Arizona is home to some of the best National Parks in the USA, and on this Arizona road trip, you’ll get to see three of them!
The three Arizona National Parks are home to giant cacti, rugged mountains, petrified wood, badlands, and of course, one of the deepest canyons in the world.
In this Arizona National Parks road trip guide, I will map out your route, reveal the best time of year to take this trip, and share important visitor information for each National Park, including what to do and where to stay.
While this is an Arizona National Parks itinerary, I share some other public lands at the bottom of this guide that are worth adding to your Arizona road trip.
Arizona National Parks Road Trip Map
How Many National Parks Are in Arizona?
On my map above, you will see five map dots.
One map dot is for Petrified Forest National Park.
One map dot is for the East side of Saguaro National Park while another map dot is for the West side of Saguaro National Park.
One map dot is for the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park while another map dot is for the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Where to Start Your Arizona National Parks Road Trip
The best place to start your Arizona road trip is in Phoenix.
Another option would be Las Vegas but expect to spend a little bit more time in the car.
When to Take an Arizona National Parks Road Trip
The overall best time of year to take an Arizona National Parks road trip is October through April. Summers can get excruciatingly hot in southern Arizona and under the rim of the Grand Canyon.
The only wrench that could be thrown into your plans would be snow and Grand Canyon’s North Rim closure. Northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, is susceptible to snow during the winter months. Also, the North Rim is closed from October 15 to May 15.
Must-Know Tips Before Embarking on Your Arizona Road Trip
- Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings (except in the Navajo Nation).
- Weather changes quickly in the desert.
- Stay hydrated.
- You’ll need to book your Grand Canyon lodging many months in advance.
PRO TIP: You’ll want to purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks pass before embarking on your Arizona road trip; it’s only $80! Entrance to Grand Canyon, Saguaro, and Petrified Forest alone is $85 total. Buy your pass on REI now!
Ultimate Arizona National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
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Arizona National Parks Road Trip Stop #1: Grand Canyon National Park
🚗 Drive Time from Phoenix, AZ to Grand Canyon National Park South Rim: 4 hours
Looking over the rim of the Grand Canyon is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. If you are feeling ambitious, step into the canyon and experience what it’s like to be surrounded by one of the deepest canyons in the world.
There are two rims of the Grand Canyon: North and South.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most popular/crowded and the most accessible, and its services are typically open year-round.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is more remote and higher in elevation, and its services are only open from May 15 through October 15.
While you’re on the South Rim, walk, bike, or take the shuttle to different viewpoints along the Rim Trail. For the more adventurous, take the South Kaibab to Ooh Aah Point (1.8 miles roundtrip) or Skeleton Point (5.6 miles roundtrip).
While you’re on the North Rim, cruise the scenic drive and hike the Cape Royal Trail. For the more adventurous, take the North Kaibab Trail to Coconino Overlook (1.4 miles roundtrip) or Supai Tunnel (4 miles roundtrip).
⚠️ IMPORTANT: If you plan to visit both rims on your road trip, be prepared to drive three and a half hours from the South Rim to the North Rim. Or, you can walk from one rim to another in just 21 miles 😉
Where to Stay on the South Rim
- Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins – Inside the park, this accommodation is located at the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail.
- El Tovar Hotel – Charming hotel that is considered the “Crown Jewel of Historic National Park Lodges.”
- Phantom Ranch – If you want to spend the night below the rim of the Grand Canyon (by the Colorado River!)
Where to Stay on the North Rim
- North Rim Campground – The only campground on the North Rim.
- Grand Canyon Lodge – The only lodge on the North Rim.
- Kaibab Lodge – If you can’t get reservations inside the park, this one is only 5 miles outside of the park.
→ READ NEXT: 8 Best Weekend Trips From Phoenix, Arizona
How Long to Spend at Grand Canyon National Park
If you plan on exploring just one rim, plan on 1-2 days to see the highlights.
If you will be venturing to both the South and the North Rim, I’d recommend 2-4 days.
Arizona National Parks Road Trip Stop #2: Petrified Forest National Park
🚗 Drive Time from Grand Canyon National Park South Rim to Petrified Forest National Park: 3 hours
Petrified Forest National Park is one of the most underrated National Parks in America. From the rolling badlands and one of the oldest petrified forests in the world to the old Route 66 highway and Triassic fossils, Petrified Forest showcases rich examples of history and geology.
For this particular road trip route, I’d recommend starting at the north entrance and driving south, but you can certainly do either.
While you’re in Petrified Forest, drive through the park from North to South (or South to North), stopping at all of the overlooks. I’d definitely make time to hike the best trails in Petrified Forest: Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest. If you have extra time, hike the Painted Desert Rim Trail and Giant Logs Trails, located at each visitor center.
⚠️ IMPORTANT: Petrified Forest has strict hours. They are only open from 8 AM – 5 PM MST. Extended hours are possible during the busy season.
Where to Stay in Petrified Forest National Park
- Backcountry camping – There is no frontcountry, car, or RV camping in the park.
- Best Western Snowflake Inn (south of the park) – Budget option with an indoor pool.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites in Holbrook (west of the park) – Chain hotel with a pool.
How Long to Spend at Petrified Forest National Park
You will only need one day in Petrified Forest National Park. This will allow you to see all of the highlights, including driving the entire scenic drive, stopping at each of the overlooks, and hiking the trails.
→ READ NEXT: One Perfect Day in Petrified Forest National Park 🪵
Arizona National Parks Road Trip Stop #3: Saguaro National Park
🚗 Drive Time from Petrified Forest National Park to Saguaro National Park: 5 hours
Saguaro National Park is another underrated National Park in America. Though it contains the largest cacti in the country, the saguaros aren’t the only spectacle. I was amazed at the mountains and the quiet, remote feel of the park.
There are two sides to Saguaro National Park: the East side and the West side. The East side is known as the Rincon Mountain District while the West Side is known as the Tuscon Mountain District. They are a one-hour drive apart from each other, separated in the middle by the town of Tuscon.
While you’re on the East side, cruise the paved scenic drive (this is my favorite of the two scenic drives), stop at the overlooks (especially Javelina Rocks!), and hike Mica View and Bridal Wreath Falls.
While you’re on the West side, cruise the dirt scenic drive and hike Valley View Overlook, Desert Discovery, Signal Hill, and Gould Mine Trails.
Where to Stay in Saguaro National Park
- Backcountry camping – There is no car camping allowed in the park.
- Days Inn – Budget hotel with year-round outdoor pool and hot tub.
- Country Inn & Suites – Mid-range hotel with a lit outdoor pool and fitness center.
- Lodge on the Desert – Luxury hotel in Tuscon with a year-round outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub.
How Long to Spend at Saguaro National Park
I’d recommend one full day at Saguaro National Park to see the highlights of both sides. Two days would be even better so that you can hike some of the longer trails!
❓Need help deciding which side of Saguaro is right for your visit? Read my Saguaro National Park East Vs. West Guide here!
Other Places to Add to Your Arizona Road Trip Itinerary
There are so many beautiful public lands sprinkled in between Arizona’s National Parks that you will probably want to add them to your Arizona road trip itinerary!
- Page, Arizona – Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell
- Havasupai – Havasu Falls
- Lost Dutchman State Park
- Organ Pipe National Monument
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