At 420 miles away, the Grand Canyon—one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world—is no small side trip from Los Angeles. The least stressful way to get to the national park from LA is to sign up with a tour company that includes transportation. However, planning a DIY trip is also doable and there are many ways to get there by driving, flying, or taking the bus or train.
Unless you're driving there yourself, all other modes of transportation will probably mean passing through Flagstaff, Arizona, the city closest to the park. Keep in mind that you may ultimately need to rent a car in Flagstaff and drive the rest of the way to the park yourself.
If time is a factor, having a car will give you the most freedom to navigate and explore the 1.2 million-acre park, but it's up to you whether you want to drive your own car or hop on a direct flight to Flagstaff and rent a car when you get there. Neither option is particularly expensive, with many one-way flights starting below $100, which is about the same amount you'd spend on gas and other road trip expenses.
If money is a factor, you might assume the bus would be a more cost-effective option, but even at its cheapest, it's almost as expensive as flying, takes 13 hours, and usually is not a direct route. You could also take an overnight train directly from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, but this tends to be just as expensive as the bus and takes about 10 hours. Not to mention, once you arrive in Flagstaff by train, bus, or plane, you will still have to find a way to get to the park, which is 82 miles to the north.
How to Get From Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon
- Train: 13 hours, 30 minutes, from $65
- Plane: 1 hour, 30 minutes, from $27
- Bus: 13 hours, from $55
- Car: 8 hours, 486 miles
If your heart is set on train travel, Amtrak runs a nightly train service from Los Angeles' Union Station to Flagstaff on their Southwest Chief Route. It leaves LA around 6 p.m. and gets into Flagstaff around 5:30 a.m. the next morning. Many people prefer traveling by train as it gives them a chance to enjoy the scenery rolling past their window, but keep in mind that this is an overnight journey and you probably won't be seeing much.
You can book an economical coach seat or pay a higher rate for a Superliner Roomette that accommodates two passengers with fold-down beds with meals included. The return train departs Flagstaff at about 9:30 p.m. and gets back to LA shortly after 8 a.m. the next day.
The closest airport to the Grand Canyon is the Flagstaff Pullman Airport, which you can fly direct to from Los Angeles via multiple airlines including American, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, United, and Spirit. On Spirit, rates can be as low as $27, but consider the airline's strict baggage policy before you book.
Direct flights run all week and are available throughout the day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., so you shouldn't have trouble finding a flight that meets your itinerary's needs.
Greyhound offers bus service to Flagstaff, with buses departing at various times. Some routes require a transfer in Phoenix or Las Vegas and some are direct. It's a long journey that takes 13 hours, but free Wi-Fi is available, so you can stay connected and keep yourself entertained.
If you are considering the bus, it's worth looking into tour packages from various companies that can shuttle you there for a price that's not that much more expensive than the bus and often include meals and transportation around the park.
If you have your own car or even if you rent one in LA, driving is still the most economical way to see the Grand Canyon. Most first-time visitors explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as Grand Canyon Village provides various lodging, camping, and eating options. Also, it's closer to LA. However, if you've already toured the South Rim or you want to escape the crowds, the North Rim is your better bet. Keep in mind, that the North Rim is not accessible in the winter when route 67 is closed for the season.
Driving directly to the South Rim takes about 8 hours, barring traffic. Start out traveling east on Interstate 10 if you're coming from downtown LA, on Interstate 210 if you're coming from the Valley, or on State Route 91 if you're coming from southern beach towns or Orange County. Then, take Interstate 15 north toward Las Vegas. In Barstow, take Interstate 40 east to Flagstaff. Arizona State Route 64 (just before you get to Flagstaff) takes you to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
To get to the North Rim, depart LA in the same way you would for the South Rim, then stay on Interstate 15 until you get to Washington, Utah (about an hour and a half north of Las Vegas). Exit on Route 9 East (State Street) and take it to Utah State Route 59 South, which will become Arizona State Route 389 South when you hit the border. In Fredonia, turn right onto Arizona State Route 89A South. Then, at the Kaibob Plateau Visitor Center, turn right on Route 67 south (Grand Canyon Highway). Here, you'll find the Jacob Lake Inn and Restaurant and the last gas station before you hit the North Rim.
There's so much to see and do in the Grand Canyon, that one day is really not enough time to take it all in. There are many ways to see the canyon, from helicopter tours that will give you the best aerial views of the park to camping tours, which will let you immerse yourself in its wonder.
If you're working with a short timeframe and want the best views for a photo-op, make sure to prioritize the Mather Point Overlook on the South Rim and the Coconino Overlook on the North Rim.