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 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.
As communities re-open after their COVID-19-related closures, keep in mind that some parks, businesses, and attractions may still be closed or have new protocols in place. Before traveling, familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations for the destinations you plan to visit.
Start in 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.
Stop 1: Joshua Tree National Park
Created as a national monument in 1936 and 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.
Stop 2: Prescott
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 the old saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.
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 picnic lunch before getting back on the road.
Stop 3: Williams
This northern Arizona town is 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 weekends. And bear, bison, and wolves roam in Bearzona, a nearby, drive-through animal park.
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.
Stop 4: The Grand Canyon
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.
To understand 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.
Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.
Stop 5: Mojave National Preserve
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.
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons