Road trip: Austin, TX to the Grand Canyon
November 16, 2015 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I've never been to the Grand Canyon. Isn't that terrible? I have next week off of work and am thinking about taking a road trip to go see it. I've also never been to the Painted Desert or the Petrified Forest, so I ought to do those as well.

Could anyone suggest places to stay/things to do on the route from Austin, TX to the Grand Canyon, and then in the Grand Canyon/Painted Desert area? I'm totally down to AirBNB as well, as I'd like to keep this trip as cost-effective as possible.

Experiences about traveling into that portion of the country during this time of year are also welcomed. Additionally, I'm a lady and I'll be traveling solo, so I would also be open to hearing nightlife recommendations at places along the way. Thanks!
posted by sevensnowflakes to Travel & Transportation around Grand Canyon Village, AZ (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Did this Spring 2014. We went Austin to Roswell and saw the UFO museum (one of them), Roswell to Albuquerque (old downtown area, zoo, quesadilla grill), Route 66, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, the mega crater, Flagstaff, and then up to the South Rim.

It was a blast.
posted by Master Gunner at 9:24 PM on November 16, 2015


I traveled by motorcycle From Austin to Flagstaff a couple years ago. Getting out of texas is really a bummer, the best part are the windmills by sweetwater. If you have a bit more time check out Palo Duro canyon. For the most part North west texas is just crap though.

The best way to save money would be camping or boondocking at walmarts. They let you stay in your car/rv/tent in the parking lot. Other than that you could try AirBNB, but realize that between Austin and Flagstaff is really pretty poor and rural. I just drove until i got tired and found the cheapest motel I could. Sometimes it's worth going on hotwire and seeing if anything comes up in that area and booking that way, i saved $10 a night or so in flagstaff that way.

There isn't much nightlife that way either. When traveling solo I always try to find some bar to hang out at and there really isn't anything that way, a few local watering holes here and there. Of course Albuquerque is a bigger city and has things. Btw, check out the Breaking Bad locations there if you have some time, nobody goes to them and it's just these normal places around town, it's a trip.

The best part of that trip for me was just traveling and being alone in the great expanse of the southwest, it's really beautiful country, as with any trip, don't plan too much, stay flexible and stay open to new experiences.
posted by jonclegg at 10:01 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ok, as for this time of year, be prepared for cold. Temps should be 40s/50s daytime and 20s at night. Drink plenty of water. Even though it's chilly, it will likely still be sunny and you will be spending a lot of this trip at 5000-7000 feet of elevation so staying properly hydrated is important.

When you go to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest, you probably won't be there more than few hours. It's worth seeing but there isn't a lot to do. You'll exit I-40 and enter the park, and once you're done there you'll drive back to I-40 and Holbrook. If it's open while you're in Holbrook, I highly recommend Joe & Aggie's Cafe. Once you get out of Holbrook you can go see the big "Here It Is" jackrabbit of Route 66 fame if you're into roadside kitsch like we are. As you continue east on I-40 you will pass by Meteor Crater. Whether you stop here or not is dependent on whether you want to spend the cash and if you have the time. It's pretty neat.

As for the Canyon itself, you'll be working out of Flagstaff. The downtown area is next to Northern Arizona University and there's several bars and restaurants there. You can get a room in Flagstaff or you can drive 30 miles west in I-40 and get one in Williams. There isn't much to do in Williams but you'll be starting out a half hour closer to the Canyon. If you decide to splurge you can call and see if there are any rooms available at the Canyon lodges on the South Rim. If there are, you'd get some good bang for the buck by staying a night or two there because then you've got a lot more time at the Canyon and you don't have to drive back and forth between Flagstaff or Williams and the Canyon to get another day at the Canyon. You can check for rooms at Tusayan as well (it's a village right outside the South Rim entrance.) There is a lot to see at the Canyon and if you're coming this far you'll likely be glad to have another day. (I hiked it to Phantom Ranch at the bottom and camped two nights below the rim... mind blowing. You won't be able to do that this trip but after seeing the Canyon you might find yourself wanting to do it sometime.)

When you get inside the park, there is the west rim viewpoints that I think you can drive to this time of year; if not there are shuttle buses. When you leave to park to go back to Flagstaff, if you have a few hours of daylight left, I would drive out the east entrance and take that highway to Highway 89 and back to Flagstaff. The east rim viewpoints are fantastic... well they all are, really. If you are going to drive that east route back to Flagstaff, as I mentioned, make sure you have a few hours of daylight left. This way you have time to see the sights and time to drive back safely.

Depending on how much time you have, you may be able to go see Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. It's a gorgeous area but it's about 2.5 hours each way from Flagstaff. Sedona is a 30-45 minute drive from Flagstaff if you want to check it out. The drive on 89A is beautiful.

Have a safe trip. You'll find that the photos you've seen of the Canyon can't do it justice.
posted by azpenguin at 10:06 PM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I did this a couple years ago, taking a slightly circuitous route to the North Rim and back. Aside from what's already been suggested, I stopped at Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon (doesn't compare in sheer magnitude to the Grand Canyon, but the hoodoos make it look utterly different), and Mesa Verde National Park (spectacular Pueblo ruins, and enough greenery to be a welcome change after miles and miles of desert).

On the off chance you're interested in astronomy, there are a few neat exhibits at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. And if you want to go a little further afield, you could visit the Very Large Array (notably featured in the movie Contact) about 50 miles east of Socorro, NM.
posted by teraflop at 10:22 PM on November 16, 2015


Keep your tank topped up, and maybe extra gas (and roadside assistance!). Things get pretty far apart! I did it in Feb many years ago, also as a solo f, and it was beautiful. (I had snow, def too cold to camp!)
posted by jrobin276 at 11:12 PM on November 16, 2015


about 50 miles east of Socorro, NM.

(derp -- I meant west, as 5 seconds of looking at Google Maps will demonstrate)
posted by teraflop at 12:45 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I Flagstaff, make sure to budget a day to spend at the Museum of Northern Arizona. I regret not having spent more time there.

You could also spend some time around Page (Antelope Canyon) and Canyon de Chelly.
posted by notsnot at 6:54 AM on November 17, 2015


I took the same route as Master Gunner a couple of years ago -- through Carlsbad and Roswell up to Albuquerque and across. If you're not interested in Carlsbad Caverns, you could stop by Palo Duro Canyon, outside Amarillo, on your way to I-40.
posted by bradf at 7:43 AM on November 17, 2015


We drove from Oklahoma on I-40 and hit a snowstorm west of Amarillo (after dinner at the Big Texan). Terrifying. Watch the weather reports and be ready to stop and wait.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:05 PM on November 17, 2015


Petrified Forest is actually a really cool place! It's just that all the good hiking is cross-country. There's not a well-developed trail network. See my comments in this thread.

There is snow on the ground at the South Rim right now. Be prepared for icy trails below the canyon rim. As you descend into the canyon temperatures warm up and ice becomes less of an issue at lower elevations. Also, if you are hiking the Bright Angel Trail, be advised that water spigots have been shut off for the winter at 1.5-Mile Rest House and 3-Mile Rest House.

For an easier hike, I'm a fan of the Rim Trail between Pima Point and Hermits Rest. The views from Hopi and Mojave Points are also excellent. All of these are located on West Rim Drive, which is accessible only by free shuttle bus. It doesn't open up to private vehicles until December.

East Rim drive is open to private vehicles. Stop at the Tusayan Ruin Muesum along East Rim Drive ... it's a small museum and I think it does a nice job.

If you stay near the South Rim for one night, consider doing a loop where you enter the park through the South Entrance (near Tusayan), and exit through the East Entrance (en route to Cameron). Then take Highway 89 back to Flagstaff, stopping at Wupatki National Monument.

Interested in a ranger program? Here is the schedule for fall 2015.

For a cheap room in Flagstaff, try Grand Canyon Hostel. It is centrally located, and you have the option of a bunk or a private bedroom with shared bathroom. I've stayed there several times when I've gone into Flag. There is also the Monte Vista in Flagstaff; IIRC rooms there start around $70 or $80 per night. If you want to stay at either place, reserve in advance. During busy weekends they fill up.

If you're only spending one day at the canyon, pack your lunch the day before. Dining options near the park are limited.
posted by compartment at 8:21 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


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