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From Sedona to the Grand Canyon: 4 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Michael Law and Lana Law
Jun 30, 2021

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From Sedona to the Grand Canyon South Rim is just over 100 miles, and although the trip should take 2.25 hours, it will most likely take much longer due to the incredible scenery along the way. Beautiful vistas will have you turning off the highway and grabbing your camera more often than you may expect.

A variety of transport options are on offer and include self drive, tours, and a shuttle/train combo. The highway route is very well marked, and two options present themselves at Flagstaff. The route along scenic highway 180 is recommended for the incredible variety of landscapes, ranging from soaring mountains and tall pine forests to wide-open, high desert plains with Pinon Pines.

Be prepared for some sections of busy single-lane roads and limited passing opportunities, especially for the first half of the trip. If you are in a rush, it will only end in frustration; slow down and get into a Sedona Zen state of mind before heading out.

The purpose of your trip may define the type of transport option you choose. Self drive offers the greatest flexibility. If you'd rather sit back and relax and let someone else worry about the driving, take a tour. To mix it up a bit, take a shuttle/train combo and get the best of both modes of transport. If budget is not an issue, take a private guided tour in a luxury vehicle.

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1. From Sedona to the Grand Canyon by Car

View over the Grand Canyon from Desert View Drive
View over the Grand Canyon from Desert View Drive | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Driving the route from Sedona to the Grand Canyon starts on the twisty and winding Highway 89A. Set deep in Oak Creek Canyon, this scenic route takes you past some of Sedona's best hiking trails and campgrounds. Eventually the road meets the end of the canyon, and you'll begin a steep, twisty ascent, complete with very tight hairpin bends and drop-offs. Note that the highway has a 50-foot overall limit, and it is strongly recommended that large RVs not take this route.

Stop in at the rest areas at the top of the ascent to relax at the wonderful viewpoint out over Oak Canyon; occasionally local artisans will have their handmade goods for sale. The road then continues on to Flagstaff, an ideal place to grab a coffee or a snack, or to take a walk around the historical center of town. Follow the signs for Highway 180, and as you head out of town keep an eye out for 12,633-foot-high Mount Humphreys, home of Arizona Snowbowl, one of Arizona's best downhill ski resorts.

The road then descends past smaller peaks and eventually emerges from the forest into the high desert scrub and pinyon pine trees. Take a right where Highway 180 joins Highway 64, and pass through Grand Canyon Village before entering the park and the South Rim area.

An alternate route, about five minutes faster, is to exit onto Interstate 40, head west, and take the exit for Highway 64 north at Williams. This route is easier due to the divided highway section but much less scenic, as you'll miss the peaks north of Flagstaff. A good option is to do a loop where you take Highway 180 on the way there and the Highway 64 and Interstate 40 combo on the way back to Sedona.

2. From Sedona to the Grand Canyon by Tour

Tourists on Mather Point at the Grand Canyon
Tourists on Mather Point at the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you don't have your own car or the thought of a 4.5-hour round-trip drive on twisty roads gives you pause, a tour is an excellent option. Sedona is a tourist town and has a wonderful assortment of first-class operators providing well regarded tours that include hotel pickup and drop-off.

One good option is the Sedona/Grand Canyon Deluxe Tour. Limited to 14 people, it has an exclusive feel. The tour heads up Oak Creek Canyon and through Flagstaff and on to the Grand Canyon. At the South Rim, you'll have time to wander around and soak up the views and perhaps grab a bite to eat.

The tour then continues along the South Rim, stopping along the way at the famous Desert View Watchtower. From here, the drive leads onwards through the Navaho Nation, stopping in at the historical Cameron Trading Post for a bit of shopping before finally finishing back in Sedona.

If you are interested in the Native American history of the region, the Full-Day Grand Canyon Complete Tour is a good option. This tour, which runs in the reverse direction of the one described above, takes in the fascinating natural volcanic phenomenon at Sunset Crater and the historic ruins at Wupatki, and includes a stop at Cameron Trading Post, where Navaho artisans showcase their work. The tour then runs along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon past the Desert View Watchtower before stopping in at Grand Canyon Village, where you'll have time to wander around and be astounded by the stunning views. The trip then departs and returns back to Sedona.

3. From Sedona to the Grand Canyon by Train

Grand Canyon trail at the railway station at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon trail at the railway station at the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Railway buffs and those looking for something a bit different may want to take the train to the Grand Canyon. The train carriages, dating from 1901, have been beautifully restored to their original glory. The train passes through forested areas and then emerges to the high desert plains, eventually stopping at the South Rim railway station. The entire route is narrated by knowledgeable and friendly train staff. Keep your eyes out for a pre-departure Wild West shootout and possible bandits along the way!

Although the train does not leave from Sedona, it does leave from Williams, approximately 75 minutes away. Independent travelers with a car can drive to Williams and purchase Grand Canyon Railway train tickets and take the train to and from the Grand Canyon.

Another option is to take the Grand Canyon Railroad Excursion from Sedona, which is a full-day tour that includes all transportation. This tour provides transport from Sedona to Williams, a one-way train trip to the Grand Canyon, and then coach transport from the Grand Canyon along the East Rim and back down through the Navaho Nation with a stop in at the Cameron Trading Post for shopping before returning to Sedona.

The train departs daily at 9:30am and returns back to Williams at 6:45pm. The train ride itself is two hours, 15 minutes each way. You'll have three hours to explore the Grand Canyon. During the busiest season in the summer, additional departures from Williams may be added.

It's best to book the train well in advance during the high season that runs from April through September.

4. From Sedona to the Grand Canyon by Private Shuttle with a Guide

Grand Canyon and the Colorado River
Grand Canyon and the Colorado River | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For the ultimate in personalized service and to get to hidden spots where mass market tours can't go, sign up for a private shuttle. The Private Grand Canyon Tour from Sedona takes place in a late-model luxury SUV, and hotel pickup is included. One of the highlights is a lunch (included in the price) at a historic lodge, once the hideout of President Teddy Roosevelt.

Your driver will work with you to ensure you see all the highlights plus some that most people don't get to see. The private shuttle service has a maximum of six people. Park admission is included in the rate. The trip takes anywhere from eight to 12 hours.

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