Of all the attractions in the Southwest, none is more famous than the Grand Canyon, located in the neighboring state of Arizona. Over 400 km long and nearly 30 km wide in places, the Canyon was carved out by the course of the Colorado River over tens of millions of years. Today, it is one of the US's most famous natural landmarks, with Grand Canyon National Park welcoming over five million visitors every year.
Before setting out on a trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, it's worth checking to see whether the park is open and also whether the visibility is good. At the time of writing, for instance, Grand Canyon National Park is closed as a result of the US's government shutdown. When normal operations resume, however, the park should be open year-round. The North Rim is less crowded, but only open during the summer months.
To get to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, begin by taking US 93 southeast into Arizona. At the town of Kingman, change to I-40 and follow the highway east. Finally, take Arizona Route 64 northward toward the Canyon. The whole drive should take just over four hours, meaning that an early start will get you to the Grand Canyon in time to spend the afternoon there.
If you want a more leisurely pace, however, there are some sights along the way which are well worth seeing. Just a short distance east of Las Vegas is Lake Mead, the massive body of water created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. The dam itself is an astounding site; the largest dam in the world, it is famous not only for its spectacular views but for its revolutionary design. Lake Mead Recreation Area is a popular place for swimming and boating.
The towns of Kingman and Williams are good places for tired drivers to stop and stretch their legs. Kingman in particular showcases an interesting aspect of American driving history; it was one of the major towns along Route 66, and still identifies itself as "the heart of historic Route 66". The nearby site of Oatman is an example of a characteristic Western phenomenon, the ghost town. Founded in 1915 around a gold mine, Oatman had been almost completely abandoned by the 1960s. Today, the town is a magnet for tourists who want to experience a piece of well-preserved Western history.
For those who want to take an alternative route to the Grand Canyon, one possibility is to stop in Williams, about 95 km south of the Grand Canyon, and take the train. Sadly, the line's steam engines are now out of regular service, but the Grand Canyon railway is still a good way to see some of the region's majestic scenery.
Adding some stops to a Grand Canyon road trip is a good way to break up the monotony, but it will lengthen the journey. Given the long return trip, some drivers will want to stay overnight. There are plenty of hotels both at the Canyon itself and in Williams, but in peak tourist season they can be busy. It may be wisest to book rooms in advance.
Whether you visit scenic sites along the route or roar across the South-western desert at top speed, a trip to the Grand Canyon is a great way to add some natural beauty -- and some variety -- to a Las Vegas vacation.
(Photo via hdwpapers.com)