Las Vegas/Grand Canyon Loop: Fun Road Trip or Death Trap?
February 25, 2010 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Mid March road trip from Vegas to Grand Canyon: fun times or deadly road trip?

I'm headed to Vegas March 7 and planning to stay in town for a couple of nights. My boyfriend and I would like to drive around for a few days and are thinking of driving from Vegas to Valley of Fire, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Laughlin and back to Vegas. So basically we have from Tuesday am to 5pm Friday when we need to be back at the airport. As a Midwesterner, I have no idea what to expect from these roads and elevations at this time of year. Is this a good itinerary for a trip, or a Bhutan death march?
posted by pantarhei to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I made the trip from Vegas to the North Rim in January and it was fine. A little snow when we hit the canyon, but nothing intense.
posted by nitsuj at 10:45 AM on February 25, 2010

My wife and I have been adding to our list of travel commandments after every trip we take. One of them, is always stay longer than twice the time it takes you to drive (not counting sleeping hours) that may be a good rule to look at as you are planning out your stops.

As a midwesterner, you'll probably equate bad driving weather with overcast skies and snow. In the desert, its not so clear cut. Watch for black ice and slick spots if the night has been chilly. That could happen on a brilliant clear morning and send you off into the dirt (I've done it before in New Mexico)

You'll also experience changing elevations, which can deliver wildly differnet driving conditions within a few minutes...

don't drive like a rental car idiot and you'll be fine.

Enjoy the sun!
posted by johngalt at 11:00 AM on February 25, 2010

Not sure what you're worried about specifically -- heat? Snow? Flash floods?

If it's heat: I drove in almost this exact same area in July once, and the heat wasn't that bad. I suffered more in the heat than my car did (but that's only because I was idiotic enough to try wandering around in Arches National Park armed only with a 14 oz bottle of water and intermittent stints in my car's air conditioning).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on February 25, 2010

Best answer: North Rim of the Canyon is often closed south of Jacob Lake this time of year, and this year is a doozy for snow in northern Arizona. They were airlifting supplies to people and cattle in the arizona strip (land between the canyon and the utah border). Neither the south or north rim has interstate close by and both are accessed through some of the less densely populated areas in US, especially the north rim. This part of the world can get real remote real fast if you get in trouble. Cell phone coverage can be sporadic at best. I would recommend checking with National Park service and Arizona Department of transportation before you go and make sure you pack warm clothes, some water and food just in case. All the locals travel with basic gear in summer just in case. The south rim is a little less remote but still 100 miles to the closest town (flagstaff or williams) of any consequence. The roads will often close if any type of weather comes in and it is not a matter of a couple of hours till the state police come by-it can be a while.

That being said if the weather is clear and the roads are clear and you have a reliable car capable of handling questionable road conditions you will be fine. If you are only used to interstate travel in populated areas this is not the time of year, especially this year, to learn.

If you do go will be rewarded with enjoying some very nice scenery and wildlife without a lot of crowds or company. A good alternative to avoid driving bad roads in the middle of nowhere is to take the train from williams to the south rim. Not to expensive and it is a nice way to relax and enjoy the scenery. It is the Grand Canyon Railway and I believe you can make reservations online.
posted by bartonlong at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @EmpressCallipygos - Snow in the mountains is the biggest issue for me.

@baroniong - thanks for the train suggestion. Didn't know about that one.
posted by pantarhei at 11:10 AM on February 25, 2010

Instead of the North Rim, head over to Page/Antelope Canyon. I've been there in March; it's nice, and there's a lot fewer tourists. THen you can head down to the South Rim and back to LV.
posted by notsnot at 11:30 AM on February 25, 2010


Climate: As the north rim is on average 1,300 feet higher than the south, the climate is significantly different. Summer temperatures are usually about 5-10 degrees lower, nighttime frosts may occur any month of the year and in winter/spring the approach road is closed by snow, although intrepid visitors may still reach the canyon by two or more days cross-country skiing. The visitor season is usually limited by the weather to only 6 months each year, from mid May to mid October.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:52 AM on February 25, 2010

It is a gorgeous part of the country. The red rocks with some snow on them are especially beautiful.

Unless it is actively snowing or has just snowed, the roads should be clear. But keep on the maintained roads and heed advice from ADOT. Because the storms creep up you should monitor the weather before you leave Vegas and while on the road (radio can be dreadful but try and tune in every few hours near the top of the hour for updates).

I can't help but think about my friends that went to the Grand Canyon in the winter. It wasn't snow that was the problem but fog and clouds at the canyon itself. You know that picture everyone takes the South Rim with the canyon in the background? Their version of that photo showed <1>
To me, you can skip Laughlin (and I say this as a person who used to live in Bullhead City many moons ago). The only reason to go over that way is if there's an especially long wait at the security checkpoint at Hoover Dam.
posted by birdherder at 11:54 AM on February 25, 2010

The North Rim road is definitely shut in March - check the NP website. Death Valley will be warm during the day!
posted by A189Nut at 11:58 AM on February 25, 2010

*smacks forehead* YEAH! March? Do Death Valley! Perfect time to do it. The nights aren't too cold. The days aren't too hot. There may be wildflowers, and it's before the winds kick up in April.

(look at my askme history for recommendations on DV)
posted by notsnot at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2010

I've done similar routes many times in March. All will be very easy driving. The only exception may be the North Rim, which is sometimes not accessible in March is there's heavy snowfall (or recent snow melt).

Definitely seconding Death Valley -- the wildflower bloom should be spectacular this year with all the rain this winter.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:06 PM on February 25, 2010

You might consider Toroweap. The warnings about the potential for bad weather and isolated location still apply, and you'd probably want a 4WD vehicle to do the dirt road, but it's 3000' lower than the North Rim and lower than the South Rim too, so your chances of avoiding snow problems are better. And you still get a 3000' deep view of the canyon. Unfenced. Un-narrated. It's pretty cool.

Here's an old GrandCanyon/Southern Utah/Northern Arizona AskMe thread that's got details on this and other options.
posted by weston at 5:22 PM on February 25, 2010

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