From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon: 5 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Michael Law and Lana Law
Updated May 11, 2023
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Getting from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is easy and quick. The distance on the most direct route is only 80 miles, and the trip should take about 1.5 hours. However, a wonderful loop route can be created that will give you a great overview of not only the Grand Canyon, but the East Rim, the Little Colorado Canyon, and the Painted Desert.

Other options for getting to the Grand Canyon include taking a tour that takes in all the highlights and lets someone else do the driving, or driving a short distance and taking the historical Grand Canyon Railway to and from the national park.

Traveling in a group of six or less? The most luxurious option is to hire your very own top-end SUV and driver/guide to give you a personalized tour. Watching your budget? The most economical way to get to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff is on a shuttle bus that departs three times a day.

Don't worry about not having transport when you arrive. From March 1 until November 30th, the National Park Service operates three free shuttle routes (Red Route, Orange Route, and Visitor Center to Hermit Road Express Bus) to the most popular areas.

The main route from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, Highway 180, is well-signposted, and you won't need your GPS to tell you the way.

1. From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon by Car

Winter at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Winter at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The option that provides the greatest flexibility is to drive yourself. This will allow you to stop where and when you want, something you will find happens more than you might expect. The most popular and easiest route is to take Highway 180 from Flagstaff. This well-maintained roadway takes you out of historical downtown Flagstaff, past the 12,637-foot-high Mount Humphreys.

The road continues on through the pine forests before descending to the high alpine desert areas and eventually joins up with Highway 64. Turn right and continue north passing through Grand Canyon Junction and the service town of Tusayan before arriving at the park.

You can return the same way, but a better option is to head east from Grand Canyon Village and take Highway 64 along the East Rim (Desert View Drive). Here, you'll come across a wonderful assortment of vistas and the unusual Desert View Watchtower.

Continue along Highway 64 being sure to stop in at the Little Colorado River Overlook and the Cameron Trading Post. Take a break and undertake a bit of retail shopping therapy, filling your souvenir quota with Navajo art and textiles. This is also a good spot to stop for a bite to eat.

Continue onwards and then take a right onto Highway 89 and head south. If you still have the energy for exploring, take the exit for the Wupatki Ruins and see some amazingly preserved pueblos. Continue along this road, and you'll drive through lava country and pass by the towering Sunset Crater before turning left and heading back into Flagstaff.

2. From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon by Tour

Yavapai Geology Museum at the Grand Canyon
Yavapai Geology Museum at the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Flagstaff is the ideal jumping-off spot for trips to the Grand Canyon. Tours are an ideal way to make the trip, just park your car at one of Flagstaff's hotels and let someone else show you all the highlights while you recline in comfort.

The Small Group Grand Canyon Complete Tour From Flagstaff takes approximately 10 hours. The fully narrated tour is led by a knowledgeable local guide and provides insight into the geology, flora, and fauna of the region. Lunch is included at a Navajo restaurant as are all park admissions.

The tour takes in the sights of Sunset Crater, Wupatki Pueblos, lunch at Cameron Trading Post plus a bit of shopping featuring Navajo artwork and textiles, the East Rim, and finally the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Pickup is from any hotel in Flagstaff first thing in the morning. This tour starts in Sedona, so don't be surprised to find people already on your bus when you get picked up.

3. From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon by Shuttle

View over the Grand Canyon
View over the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The most economical way to get to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff is by shuttle bus operated by Groome Transportation. The shuttles leave town three times a day at 7:35am, 12:45pm, and 3:35pm. After the departure from the Groome Transportation office (2646 East Huntington Drive), the shuttles stop at the Amtrak station, Pullman Airport, Williams (Grand Canyon Railway Resort), and Grand Canyon Village (IMAX theater) ending at the Grand Canyon rim area (Maswik Lodge). The trip takes just over two hours.

The shuttles are just that — a ride from one place to another — they do not provide any commentary or narration on the surroundings. For that, you'll need to take a tour. It's also important to note that the shuttles take the faster, but significantly less scenic route through Williams.

Luggage is limited to two bags, with a maximum weight of 50 pounds each, and one carry-on. Pets are not allowed; however, bicycles are permitted if they are packaged appropriately. The park admission fee is not included in the fare and must be paid separately. Reservations 24 hours in advance are not required but are strongly recommended.

The shuttle also runs in reverse from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff. Shuttles leave the rim area (Maswik Lodge) at 10am, 3:15pm, and 6:15pm. The stops back to Flagstaff are the same Grand Canyon Village (IMAX theater), Williams (Grand Canyon Railway Resort), Pullman Airport, Amtrak station, and, finally, Groome Transportation office (2646 East Huntington Drive).

Parking at the stations is free.

4. From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon by Train

Train at the Station, Grand Canyon
Train at the Station, Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of the most delightful ways to visit the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff is to take the historic Grand Canyon Railway. Note that the train does not leave directly from Flagstaff, it leaves from Williams, just over 30 miles to the west of town.

The train ride takes about two hours, and departs each morning at 9:30am and returns back to Williams at 6:45pm. The layover time at the Grand Canyon is three hours, which should be just about perfect for exploring the South Rim and grabbing a bite to eat.

The trip takes place in a lovingly restored train dating from 1901. At the start, don't be surprised if there's a Wild West shootout and the occasional bandit stalking the train along the way.

Choose from six classes of service ranging from basic Pullman cars with no air conditioning, right through to the Luxury Parlor that comes complete with ample space, luxurious seating, and an outside viewing area at the rear of the train.

5. From Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon by Private Tour

Visitors on Mather Point
Visitors on Mather Point | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you want the most exclusive and luxurious way to visit the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff take the Private Grand Canyon Tour. You'll be picked up and dropped off at your hotel in a luxury SUV by your personal driver and guide.

This trip provides insight and access to areas of the park that those taking larger commercial tours will not see, including vistas made famous by the painter Thomas Moran. Other stops include filming sites from famous movies and wildlife spotting. Although these are the regular stops, the trip is completely customizable to satisfy your every whim.

A special lunch is included at the lodge where Theodore Roosevelt used to spend his days when visiting. The tour has a maximum of four participants.