San Diego to Grand Canyon National Park Road Trip Guide


Take a road trip from the west coast city of San Diego with its sandy beaches to the Grand Canyon National Park’s legendary geological wonders. San Diego is known for its world-famous attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, and warm sunny weather year-round. Plus, your destination at the Grand Canyon National Park won’t disappoint. The Colorado River cuts through the breathtaking canyon, and provides scenery that you will never forget!

The route from San Diego north and east on Interstate 8, and along CA-78, I-10, US-60, AZ-71, AZ-89, I-40, and Highway 64 takes you through desert wilderness, lush green areas along the scenic Colorado River, and amazing National Forests and Parks. Be prepared for heavy traffic in the San Diego area and wide-open spaces as you leave the southern California region.

This trip can be made at any time of the year, as the climate at both the starting and destination points and along the route is warm and dry most of the time. Expect extremely hot weather during the summer months.Your vehicle should be well maintained and stocked for desert travel. Plenty of public and private RV campgrounds along the way provide excellent amenities and natural and man-made wonders, and there are some truly unique points of interest to take in on your desert adventure through California and Arizona.

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Road trip length: 3-5 days
Recommend rig: any
audience: all

Point of Interest

Grand Canyon National Park

Prepared to be speechless and filled with awe as you stand on the precipice of the Grand Canyon. This geological wonder, carved by the Colorado River millions of years ago, is one mile deep, 277 river miles long, and up to 18 miles wide. The immense size of the canyon amazes visitors, and the colorful canyon walls and winding river below are a spectacular sight.

There are several viewing points along the South Rim of the canyon, which is where you approach from on your trip from San Diego. The South Rim sites are open all year round. You can also travel over to the North Rim; however, it is closed during the winter, so plan your trip accordingly if you want to explore the north side of the canyon as well. It takes several hours to reach the north canyon sites.

The south canyon sites are the most frequently visited, and traffic congestion and limited parking can be a factor for RV travellers. There are plenty of RV campgrounds in the region, but they should be reserved well in advance as they book up fast.

Prescott National Forest

As you proceed east along Highway 10, and then north on Highway 89, you will see the Prescott National Forest to your left. This Arizona National Forest contains 1.25 million acres of wilderness and is bordered by three other national forests.

The Prescott National Forest contains diverse ecosystems which include desert habitat at lower elevations, chaparral trees at moderate elevations, and change to juniper and ponderosa pine forests at higher elevations. RV campers can be accommodated at several National Forest campgrounds including the Yavapai Campground, Lynx Lake Campground, and the Mingus Mountain Campground.

Enjoy hiking or floating down the Verde River, which has rapids ranging from class I to class IV, while visiting the region. Special activities for equipped enthusiasts include off-highway vehicles trails, horseback riding trails, target shooting, and hang gliding which provide alternative activities in the wilderness area.

Check out the Highlands Center for Natural History which provides interpretive information and nature-based education specific to the diverse wilderness habitat and wildlife of the National Forest. The amenities and sites at the Prescott National Forest are available all year round.

Blythe Intaglios

While passing through the town of Blythe, be sure to take a brief excursion north on Highway 95 to view the Blythe Intaglios. The Intaglios are giant figures that have been carved into the desert floor, north of town. The figures, also referred to as the Blythe Geoglyphs, are of unknown origin and date, but attributed to Native American peoples that lived in the area prehistorically, and were believed to have a ceremonial purpose.

The largest figure is about 170 feet in length. Figures include human, and four-legged animal figures, and a spiral. Some of the figures are protected by chain-link fences, and they are best viewed from the air by helicopter. Check with local tour companies in Blythe to make arrangements for aerial views of these haunting ancient geoglyphs.

While exploring the desert area from the ground, keep an eye out for geodes which are commonly discovered in this part of the California desert.

Salton Sea

As you head east on Interstate 8 into the California desert, you will approach the city of El Centro and the rich agricultural lands of the Imperial Valley on the south end of the Salton Sea. Salton Sea is a shallow saline lake in the Salton Basin that was created when the Colorado River broke through irrigation structures between 1905 and 1907, causing the river to fill the basin and flood the surrounding farms and settlements, as well as the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Currently, the lake averages 35 miles long, and 15 miles wide, although it can be larger in wet years. The lake's average depth is 30 feet. The lake is so shallow that a small drop in water level causes thousands of feet of the lake bed to become exposed, creating air pollution from dust which is quickly stirred up by winds in the region.

Visitors staying in the area can camp at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area where RV hookups are available and can be reserved. The area was once the site of large recreational developments that are now more of a curiosity, as abandoned resorts and developments have been left deserted. The area still attracts many tourists who can explore the “ghost resorts”, and Salton Sea’s nearby geological features, which include mud pots and mud volcanoes. The mud pots are the result of a geothermal field of acidic mud that bubbles up, and sometimes erupts over the rim. It's quite a unique site, so don't forget a camera to capture this “post-apocalyptic” landscape.

Sea World

A trip from San Diego would not be complete without first visiting the amazing attractions at SeaWorld. This California aquarium located in Mission Bay Park spans 190 acres, and features marine animal displays, aquariums, rides, and interactive attractions, in a beautiful setting.

Touch a shark at Explorer’s Reef, learn about the plentiful sea creatures and marine animals housed in the aquariums, and be amazed by playful dolphins, quirky penguins, and majestic orcas. Check out Ocean Explorer where family-friendly rides abound, and attractions like the Electric Eel and Tidal Twister roller coasters provide thrilling fun for the more adventurous!

Learn about how Seaworld Park rescue programs have helped over 35000 animals. The weather in San Diego is sunny and warm most of the year, and a trip to Seaworld, San Diego Zoo, San Diego beaches, and luxurious city parks can be enjoyed all year round. Numerous privately run RV parks are available in the metropolitan area, and weekend camping is available at Mission Trails Regional Park just east of the city.


From glorious southern California beaches to the awe-inspiring sights of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon, a road trip from San Diego to the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is filled with interesting sites and haunting natural desert wilderness and features. Although the trip takes you along easily navigable interstates, and state highways, you will encounter urban traffic at the beginning of your journey and tourist traffic at the end.

If you have a large motorhome or holiday-trailer you may want to set up base at a campground away from the San Diego attractions and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which have limited parking spaces for large units. This road trip is accessible through the year, although some involvement weather may be encountered in the winter at the canyon, and very high temperatures are common in the summer months.

When you arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park please note that while the South Rim is accessible year-round, the north rim is closed during the winter months.

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