Naturally, this is really going to depend on how you are planning on getting to the Grand Canyon region in the first place. One of the most popular ways to see the Grand Canyon is to do an excursion from Las Vegas, but this can be in a rental car, it might be by tour bus, and some people also take helicopter trips. A shorter day trip from Vegas would be to visit the West Rim and the Grand Canyon Skywalk – but this is very much a packaged attraction, and it’s quite different to the Grand Canyon National Park itself, which is some four hours’ driving to the east.
It is also popular to visit the Grand Canyon from Phoenix, and many people also do this in a tour bus or using a rental car.
This Grand Canyon car advice is based on people who are arriving in the Grand Canyon area by plane, by bus or by train, and who therefore don’t already have their own set of wheels available. In terms of flights, it’s worth pointing out that there are actually many different airports which server the Grand Canyon area, and out of these, there are 2 main airports which are actually billed as serving the Grand Canyon with commercial service. The first of these is simply known as the Grand Canyon airport, and this is the closest to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. From here, a short taxi transfer will take you directly to the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. Although the Grand Canyon airport is mainly used for sightseeing flights, it’s also possible to get a commercial flight here from Phoenix. Grand Canyon West airport mainly serves the Skywalk, and is not considered in our Grand Canyon car rental advice.
The major airport serving the Grand Canyon is situated just outside the town of Flagstaff, Arizona, and this airport has scheduled service from Phoenix as well as a very small number of other cities in the South West. However, many visitors to Arizona might well prefer just to fly to Phoenix and then pick up a rental car there – this avoids the expense of the flight up to the Grand Canyon, and is also much greater choice of car hire options in Phoenix.
So there’s actually quite a good chance that if you arrive in the Grand Canyon area without a car, you might well become by bus, or arriving by Amtrak train. Amtrak provide Thruway coach service from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon National Park, whereas it is also possible to disembark in Williams, Arizona.
In Williams, you will find the boarding point for the Grand Canyon express heritage rail service, which operates direct to the South Rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. For this reason alone, we recommend to visitors that a rental car here really isn’t necessary, although if you don’t fancy the expense of the Grand Canyon Railway (this is a private service and it isn’t cheap), then the bus service will still get you there.
Do you need a car to visit the Grand Canyon? This all adds up to giving you very few reasons to hire a car to visit the Grand Canyon, if you don’t already have one with you in the first place. It’s obviously worth pointing out that the Grand Canyon National Park itself is somewhere that has to be explored on foot (or by raft if you prefer, but no car is needed for this either). If you are looking into visiting the American Southwest and travelling around various different locations, then the chances are that you already would have made the decision to get a rental car by the time you reach the Grand Canyon. For example, we can’t really recommend picking up a hire car in the Grand Canyon and then using it to drive over to Monument Valley, when you make so much more sense to pick up rental car in Phoenix, or if your itinerary prefers it, then in Las Vegas, Albuquerque New Mexico or even Denver, Colorado.
Do you need a car in the Grand Canyon? Therefore, our Grand Canyon car advice can only be not to get one!