Arizona National Parks Tour – What you need to Know
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Arizona National Parks Tour – What you need to Know
Adventurers seeking a classic Southwest experience often head straight to Arizona in hopes of exploring the iconic Grand Canyon. Carved by the mighty Colorado River, this imposing canyon is one of the most prominent landmarks in the United States. Traveling from Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park is well worth the trek. Arizona also has two other jaw-dropping national parks that are must-sees for anyone traveling in Arizona. An Arizona National Park road trip has plenty to offer outside of the Grand Canyon. The trip will have you gazing at the largest cacti species in the country at Saguaro National Park and marveling at fields of fossilized wood at the Petrified Forest National Park. To help plan your journey, we’ve compiled an epic 5-day Arizona National Park road trip, beginning at the Escape Camper Vans in Phoenix!

Travel Time for an Arizona National Park Road Trip from Phoenix

This Arizona National Park National Park road trip encompasses three incredible national parks. It would take about 13 hours to drive without stopping, spanning 798 miles. With so much to see in each park, we recommend a minimum of five days to complete this journey.
Directions Tips: TOTAL MILES: 798 miles TOTAL TRAVEL TIME: 5 days, driving 13 hours

Best Time to Visit Arizona’s National Parks

All three national parks in Arizona can be enjoyed throughout the year. We ideally recommend traveling during the shoulder seasons. In shoulder seasons, campgrounds and popular trails will be less crowded, and the weather is usually perfect for long days of exploring.

Spring

The best time to embark on an Arizona National Park road trip is from March through May. This is when the weather is lovely, and the crowds aren’t in full force yet. Just keep in mind that the parks fill up quickly during Spring Break. Late May through early June is a perfect time to visit Saguaro National Park. The stunning Saguaro cactus flowers are typically in bloom in the spring.

Fall

The autumn is also a great time to travel through Arizona, as the heat is far less intense than in the summer. Crowds will slow down in September, so finding campsites will be easier.

Winter

The winter is another good time to visit Arizona’s national parks without the overwhelming crowds. The downside is that the weather will be cold, and you risk snow affecting your travel plans. Check seasonal closures for all your destinations. Some destinations may close due to weather conditions. For instance, in the winter, the only way to travel from Phoenix to Grand Canyon is through the South Rim. While this time of year requires more flexibility with your plans, seeing the canyon with a dusting of fresh snow is magical.

Summer

While the summer is when many people decide to venture out on an Arizona  National Park road trip, we urge you to reconsider. The sweltering heat makes enjoying the stunning desert landscape much more challenging. Especially considering there is often little to no shade. Additionally, this is when crowds are at their peak, so campgrounds and trails will be crowded. However, it may be worth visiting Colorado’s national parks instead if you want to travel during the summer.

Preparation for an Arizona National Park Road Trip

This Arizona National Park road trip will lead you through diverse desert landscapes. Planning is crucial to maximizing your trip, especially during peak season.

Camping

Finding available campsites inside the Grand Canyon is notoriously difficult during the peak season. Unfortunately, neither Saguaro nor Petrified Forest National Park allow camper vans at their campsites. While there are campground options outside the parks, they tend to fill up quickly. If you cannot make a reservation, we recommend checking out the dispersed camping (or free camping) options near each park.

Groceries,

Restaurants and grocery options in and around many of Arizona’s national parks can be minimal. Before hitting the road, stock up on groceries in Phoenix and buy quick, easy-to-make meals. Remember to bring plenty of water since you’ll spend the next five days in the desert; not all campgrounds provide potable water.

Supplies

In addition to a kitchen kit for easy meal prepping at your campsite, you’ll want to check out the rest of our available add-ons before jetting off. Since shady campsites are not guaranteed on this trip, add a door canopy for extra sun protection. Since you will be visiting three national parks, consider also picking up a National Parks Pass. It’s good for a year, and you will have gotten your money’s worth by the end of your trip.

Navigation Tools

Remember to pack portable chargers if you’re using your phone as your GPS. Downloading offline will be handy, as you’re bound to encounter long stretches without reception. As an extra precaution, pick up a park map at each stop. Not only do these make great (and free) souvenirs, but they’ll also help navigate more remote trailheads and campgrounds.

Which Camper Van is Best for an Arizona National Park Road Trip?

Escape Camper Vans offers a wide range of camper van models. There are models available from our Phoenix location. The Del Mar, Mavericks, and Mesa all come fully equipped with queen-sized beds and kitchenettes. Spend time comparing each van before deciding which is best for your travel needs.

Itinerary Stops for an Arizona National Park Road Trip

Day 1: Phoenix to Saguaro National Park

After picking up your van from Escape Camper Vans in Phoenix, it’s time to get behind the wheel and make your way to your first national park. Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson, Arizona, only 1 hour and 40 minutes south of Phoenix. The park is famous for containing and protecting the largest cacti species in the United States- the Saguaro. These towering cacti grow to an average of 40 feet. We recommend spending wandering around the nearly two million of these impressive giants! Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections, east and west. While the west side is smaller and the east side sees more visitors, we recommend exploring both areas.

Things to Do in Saguaro National Park

Desert Ecology Trail Located on the park’s East side, this short, paved loop trail is a perfect place to admire the iconic cacti of Saguaro. Bajada Loop Drive This scenic drive through the west side of Saguaro is a great way to explore the park’s striking desert landscapes. The 6-mile stretch of road will lead you to breathtaking viewpoints, popular trailheads, and several picturesque areas to pull over and enjoy a picnic. See the Signal Hill Petroglyphs– One of the most popular sites in the park is Signal Hill. Over 200 historic Native American petroglyphs dating as far back as 1550 can be found here.

Where to Eat Near Saguaro National Park

Ocotillo Cafe– 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743: Located inside the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, this is one of the closest restaurants to the park’s west entrance. The menu features hearty Southwestern cuisine made from local ingredients, perfect for refueling after exploring. Cielo’s– 306 N Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85711: Delicious, Southwestern fare is served in a lovely patio setting at this popular eatery in Tucson. The restaurant is celebrated for its award-winning margarita, so pair a refreshing cocktail with your meal.

Campgrounds near Saguaro National Park

While Saguaro National Park contains six campsites, none allow vehicle camping. However, several developed campgrounds are nearby, along with numerous dispersed campsites in the area. Camp Saguaro– 12150 W Calle Seneca, Tucson, AZ 85743: Just 4 miles from the park entrance. This campground offers flush toilets, hot showers, and a dishwashing sink. This site is open year-round, and reservations can be made up to twelve months before your visit, though they are not required. Molino Basin Campground– Catalina Hwy, Tucson, AZ 85749: This campground operated from October to April. This scenic campground features a mix of first-come, first-serve sites, and reservable camping spots. Amenities include restrooms, picnic tables, grills, and food storage lockers. There isn’t any potable water at this site, so make sure you have enough before arriving.

Day 2: Petrified Forest National Park

After breakfast at your campsite and one last glimpse at the towering Saguaros, hop back in your camper van. You are heading four-and-a-half hours through Arizona’s captivating desert terrain. Located about 250 miles from Tucson, the Petrified Forest National Park will greet you with an otherworldly landscape. Known for containing striking Triassic fossils, this often overlooked park is divided into two distinct sections. In the southern portion of the park, wander past petrified wood dating back to 200 million years ago! In the north, you’ll feel like you’re walking on another planet as you explore the vibrantly colored hills of the Painted Desert. If you’ve ever dreamt of embarking on a Route 66 road trip, now’s your chance to get a taste of “America’s Main Street.” A portion of Route 66 road runs through the park. So, don’t miss the opportunity to experience this iconic road while making your way through the Petrified Forest.

Things to do in Petrified Forest National Park

Blue Mesa Trail– This ethereal, 1-mile loop trail takes you below the mesa’s rim and along the mesmerizing painted hills of the badlands. You will see a tremendous amount of petrified wood while on this hike. Crystal Forest Less than 1 mile long, this quick loop trail is the best place in the park to admire its famous petrified wood. Wander past thousands of crystalized pieces of wood in various colors and sizes. Puerco Pueblo Trail– This popular hike leads to the ancient ruins of the Puerco village. The village dates back 600 years and is thought to have housed 200 people. This short trail also features many petroglyphs, allowing for an even deeper look at the pueblo’s past. The Painted Desert Rim Trail– For the most phenomenal views of the painted desert, head to this unpaved, 1.1-mile trail along the desert’s rim. Gawk at the vibrant hues of the enchanting hills, and keep an eye out for desert wildlife.

Where to Eat Near Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert Diner– 1 Park Rd, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ 86028: There aren’t any eateries inside the park, and this convenient diner is one of the only options near the park entrance. Their menu offers a range of breakfast and lunch options, making it a perfect stop before or after a long day of hiking. Bienvenidos Restaurant– 2600 Navajo Blvd, Holbrook, AZ 86025: Located just off Route 66, this casual restaurant serves some of the best food in the area.

Campgrounds near Petrified Forest National Park

Vehicle camping is not permitted anywhere inside the Petrified Forest. However, there are many opportunities for dispersed camping in the area. If you prefer a developed campsite, these are two popular options near the park: Gateway to the Petrified Forest– 7551 Ramada Rd, Holbrook, AZ 86025: As its name implies, this RV resort and campground are located near the park. Facilities include showers, BBQs, and picnic tables. The site operates all year, and you can make reservations on their website. Crystal Forest Gift Shop & Campground– 6493 Petrified Forest Rd, Holbrook, AZ 86025: This is perhaps the quirkiest campground you’ll encounter during your trip, as it’s just a large gravel lot behind a gift shop. The year-round site is only available for self-contained vehicles, and spots are first come, first served.

Day 3-4: Grand Canyon National Park

After an early wakeup, pack up your campsite and make the 3-hour drive to the crown jewel of Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park. This geological wonderland spans 278 miles and is (unsurprisingly) one of the most visited national parks in the country. The Grand Canyon is divided by the North Rim, South Rim, Grand Canyon East, and Grand Canyon West. However, the South Rim is the most popular area and a great starting point for first-time visitors.

Things to Do in Grand Canyon National Park

Hike the Canyon Rim Trail– This 13-mile trail along the south rim’s edge is the perfect way to get acquainted with the Grand Canyon. Walking along the well-maintained path, you’ll encounter countless viewpoints and breathtaking overlooks. Bright Angel Trail– Celebrated as being the most popular hike in the Grand Canyon, this trail leads you down below the canyon’s rim. As you descend, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the inner canyon. South Kaibab Trail This steep, 7-mile hike stretches from the rim to the Colorado River. It is renowned for its spectacular canyon views. This trail will also lead you to Ooh Aah Point, one of the park’s most notable viewpoints. Drive along Hermit Road– The Grand Canyon isn’t lacking in scenic drives, and this 7-mile road is one of the most popular in the park. While taking the shuttle is required during peak season, you can drive in the wintertime. The scenic pathway contains nine magnificent Viewpoints, including Powell Point, Pina Point, and Hopi Point, a trendy option for sunset!

Where to Eat Near Grand Canyon National Park

Yavapai Dining Hall– 11 Yavapai Lodge Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023: This cafeteria-style eatery is conveniently situated inside the park. They serve breakfast or dinner, making it a perfect pre-hike or post-hike spot. El Tovar Dining Room– 1 El Tovar Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023: For an elevated dining experience inside the park, look no further than El Tovar Hotel’s cozy restaurant. Warm up by the fireplace as you enjoy a hearty meal in a rustic yet elegant setting. Remember that reservations can be made up to one month in advance and fill up quickly.

Campgrounds Near Grand Canyon National Park

While the Grand Canyon contains several camper van-friendly campgrounds, finding available spots can be difficult. If you’re visiting without a reservation, check out our helpful guide on finding last-minute campsites in the park. Mather Campground– 1 Mather Campground Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023: Located in the south rim, this is one of the park’s most popular campgrounds, featuring over 300 campsites. Facilities include flush toilets, potable water, and a dump station. Open year-round, most reservations must be made in advance. However, there are 15 first come, first serve spots, which open up at 8:00 am each morning. Ten-X Campground– Unnamed Road, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023: Situated just four miles outside the Grand Canyon’s south rim, this site is usually open from May through September. It features a mix of first-come, first-serve, and reservation-only sites. This quiet campground features vault toilets, picnic tables, and grills but no showers, dump stations, or hookups. Desert View Campground– Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023: Near the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance, this site runs from April until mid-October. However, it does require advanced reservations, which can be made up to six months before your trip. Facilities include flush toilets, a seasonal camp store, and potable water.

Day 5: Drive Back to Phoenix

Sadly, today marks the end of your Arizona road trip. After breakfast, return to the Escape Camper Vans in Phoenix. If you have extra time, make a pit stop in Sedona about halfway through your journey back to Phoenix. The enchanting city offers incredible hikes, numerous art galleries, and fantastic dining options. If you head straight from Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park, the drive should take about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Just remember to bring your camper van back by your pre-arranged drop-off time.

Why Rent a Camper Van for an Arizona Road Trip?

For the quintessential Arizona road trip experience, you can’t go wrong with renting a camper van! Compared to a traditional RV, a camper van will allow you to be much more mobile and enjoy far more freedom on the road. These are some of the top reasons why a camper van is the way to go for your Arizona adventure: Added Flexibility: Our camper vans are far more compact than a traditional RV, so they’re much easier to maneuver along remote desert roads. This added mobility will make your life easier and your trip more enjoyable. More mobility allows you to reach more secluded trailheads, squeeze into tight parking spaces, and find available campsites. No Need for Electric or Sewer Hookups: Because our camper vans are self-contained, sewer and electric hookups are unnecessary. Traveling in an RV means hunting for campsites with hookups. This can make finding a suitable campsite much more difficult. Easier to Drive: The size of an RV can be intimidating if you’re not used to being behind the wheel of a large vehicle. However, our camper vans are similar in size to a big family SUV, making the learning curve less daunting. With so much time spent on the road during this trip, this added comfort will make the experience far more enjoyable.

Reserve With Escape Camper Vans for Your Arizona National Park Road Trip

Admire ancient petroglyphs, hike through breathtaking desert canyons, and be mesmerized by the Painted Forest. With so many diverse landscapes to explore and sights to discover, an Arizona National Park road trip will be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. Get ready to embark on the ultimate Arizona National Park road trip!