Roadtrip from Michigan to The Grand Canyon in June. Help me make it awesome!
April 11, 2012 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Looking for activities and places to stop on the way to the Grand Canyon in June.

I'm taking my 11YO and 14YO boys on a road trip to The Grand Canyon in June. We're probably leaving the day after school gets out and will be gone at least two weeks.

PWe're starting to put together the itinerary & I thought I'd ping the hive to identify places to stop along the way, as well as things to do in and around the canyon.

About us.

We'll be camping as much as possible along the way. The one stop we want to make on the way is to see the St. Louis Arch, even if it's only for 15 minutes. Other than that the itinerary is blank.

We'd like to do some gold prospecting or gem prospecting, ala Hiddenite, on the way, but am not sure where to look. We love to camp in places with swimming. We definitely will be hiking to the bottom of the canyon & have tossed around the idea of a couple day rafting trip. We like fossils, nature, wildlife & quirky tourist stops as opposed to malls, arcades, & fine dining. We like to camp in National Parks.

So please, give us your best suggestions for places to see along the way. Bonus for gold prospecting and gem prospecting locations.

posted by bricksNmortar to Travel & Transportation around Grand Canyon Village, AZ (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
*pulls up chair and sits down*

Poke around this site a bit, and look for the book in hard-copy form in bookstores if you like it. It's a guide that focuses on the smaller two-lane highways, and a couple of the routes they lay out follow your planned itinerary.

In particular, you could follow part of the Mississippi Great River Road itinerary from Illinois down to St. Louis and then join the Rte. 66 route, or just start in Chicago and follow Rte. 66 the whole way. (Note: for the Rte. 66 route it follows the route west-to-east in the book.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where are you coming from?
If you're already planning to stop in St. Louis, and it's more than a day after leaving, I'd recommend you stop a little longer and go to the City Museum. It'll let the kids wear themselves out before the long drive. The rolling hills of the Ozarks are interesting, but once you get into Oklahoma the barrenness of the landscape is suffocating.

The Grand Canyon is kinda out of the way, really. Now that I think about it, are you headed down I44 to I40, or were you planning to go across Kansas to Colorado and head through the mountains? I can make recommendations either route.
posted by notsnot at 7:35 AM on April 11, 2012

I now see in the title that you're coming from Michigan...dunno if you planned to hit STL after a long night's drive, or stay somewhere else. EC's advice to run down the River Road is pretty good. You might also consider hopping over to the Misery side in Hannibal for a Mark Twain fix. (Jump back over to the IL side to get down to StL, consider Pere Marquette Park, enjoy the drive down Route 3 from PM Park to Alton, and take the bridge at Alton into STL. It's really neat.)
posted by notsnot at 7:42 AM on April 11, 2012

(dammit, meant Route 100 from PM to Alton)
posted by notsnot at 7:43 AM on April 11, 2012

Between St. Louis and the Grand Canyon area you will drive through the Great Plains one way or another -- which is flat and probably of limited interest. Maybe a stop at the Dodge City tourist complex can be fun for the kids. But however you cross the middle of the nation, I recommend hitting southern Colorado and southern Utah. Too many attractions in there to really start recommending all of them, but look long and hard at the map for scenics (Black Canyon of the Gunnison), quirky touristy (Silverton train), national parks (Mesa Verde, Arches), and native american heritage (Four Corners). Many attractions through there.

That also puts you in prime location to go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. More scenic. Less people. Much better experience than the south rim (and the south rim is great!). Go on line as soon as you read this and see if you can get a reservation at a north rim campground or one of the little log cabins up there.

Near the North Rim are Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. All magnificent. Zion is the best national park in the country IMHO.

Contact the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon to see if you can get a reservation for a campsite or in the bunkhouse. The walk in from the north rim is 15 miles downhill. Walk out to the south rim (8 miles uphill) and get a ride back around to the north rim to pick up your car (or bribe a waiter at the north rim to drive your car around to the south rim and park it there for you).

Walking in the canyon is EXTREMELY arduous. Take lots of water and keep in mind that the downhill part of the walk in the morning is 1/10th as strenuous as getting back up out of there.

But DO walk in, at least partway. The views are incredible. From the south rim, the Bright Angel trail takes you down 3 miles to Indian Gardens where there are trees and water (and you can continue on if desired). The South Kaibab trail from the South Rim has no water, but the trail is on a ridge and thus affords the most incredible views. water.

The area around the Grand Canyon is overflowing with magnificence. You and your sons are gonna love it! Happy trails!
posted by rexknobus at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2012

If you do travel on Old Rt. 66, you will eventually arrive in Williams, AZ. From there, you can catch the Grand Canyon Railway for a 30 minute ride to the Canyon. Package deals are available at the website. Parking is free at the hotel at the southern terminus.

Local performers stage a 'gunfight' in an area next to the station just prior to boarding. There's usually entertainment of one sort or another on the way to the Canyon. On the return trip, the train is typically stopped by 'bandits' who board and walk through the cars, kidding and joking with the passengers.

Your boys will LOVE it.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2012

See Bent's Old Fort in southern Colorado. It's a living museum that teaches about how people lived in the U.S. southwest just before the US invaded Mexico in 1846. You should also go to Great Sand Dunes: you might actually be there when the annual creek is flowing. And since some say that the dunes are the legendary place of emergence in Pueblo origin myths, you should follow up with a trip to Taos Pueblo and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
posted by pickypicky at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2012

Near the North Rim are Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. All magnificent.

Seconding this. Southern Utah is so beautiful. I'd been picturing some boring desert and scrubby mountains, but it is spectacular. Arches is another good one.
posted by soelo at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2012

Stop in Page, AZ for Antelope Canyon -- it's a red rock acid trip. Also good views of Glen Canyon.

Seconding the Taos Pueblo in NM, or Mesa Verde if you go through CO.

Might be more interesting to tatke a slightly southerly route to Memphis then cut through Arkansas which is lovely.
posted by dzot at 10:22 AM on April 11, 2012

seconding rexknobus's suggestion of starting on the north rim and hiking to the south. But either take your boys with you on the trip back to the car or find someone to bring it to the south rim. From what I remember, it's 8 hours or so to go from north to south rim in a car. So we spent a day just waiting for my dad to take the bus to the car and drive back.

Bring water, don't hike in the middle of the day, bring good boots and socks, expect everything to turn rust red by the end of the hike. There are three water stations every 1.5 miles along the train from the south rim. They make the hike up in the end rather pleasant.

The view from the south rim is better than the north. The view from the north is really great. The view from the south is breathtaking.

Zion is fantastic. I think I actually liked hiking there more than the Grand Canyon. Bryce is also worth a day hike- check out the hoodoos.

Also, bear in mind that the trail from phantom ranch to the south rim is covered in dried mule crap. It doesn't matter if you're wearing boots or even decent sneakers, but for the love of god, don't wear sandals on that trail. It's mostly green plant matter, but it is still gross.
posted by Hactar at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2012

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