If you have a long vacation ahead of you and don’t know how to spend it, consider a fantastic trip from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon. During this long journey you will have the opportunity to explore some of the largest national parks and forests in West America and the unique wonders of the Mojave Desert.

The journey from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon takes more than 11 hours. The route passes through Yosemite National Park and Iño National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Historic Route 66 and Las Vegas.

The list of places to visit is endless, so read on to see what makes this San Francisco – Grand Canyon trip so special.

How far is the Grand Canyon of San Francisco and how long does it take to get there?

The journey from San Francisco to Grand Canon takes about 11 hours and 30 minutes and covers 785 miles on the quickest route. This means that you have no choice but to interrupt your trip for at least two days, although you will need much more if you want to see everything you need to see.

Route Distance Driving time
Fastest route
(via I-40)
785 miles 11 hours 30 minutes
Step
(above US-95)
840 miles 14 hours and 20 minutes

The most scenic alternative takes you from San Francisco through the Sierra Nevada, especially Yosemite National Park and Iño National Forest, and then through Death Valley and the logging industry in Las Vegas.

This route is about 840 miles long and should theoretically take about 14 hours.

However, some factors are difficult to explain, such as the more difficult roads through the Sierra Nevada (especially when travelling in bad weather) and the traffic to and from Las Vegas.

The city is crowded most of the year. The only thing you can do best to avoid crowds is not to travel on holiday or at the weekend.

In some ways, however, these challenges work in favour of the route – you’ll always want to drive as slowly as possible instead of rushing through all the amazing scenery that makes this trip so picturesque.

However, if you take the shortest route, you don’t have to worry about traffic – the biggest city you pass is Bakersfield, so as soon as you leave San Francisco, you should be out in the open.

The downside of the route is the relative lack of landscape – the forests of Death Valley and California are both too uncomfortable, and if you have time to get around it, you’ll have time to make a more scenic route.

View of snowy mountains, trees and a lake along the Tiogapass through Yosemite National Park.
The passage through Yosemite National Park along the Tiogapass guarantees breathtaking views.

Gudrun Hochmut

Best direction from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon

The best route for a road trip from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon depends on how much time you need. You always take the fastest route, which makes it the best choice when you are looking for speed, but it is not as epic as the Sierra Nevada route.

If you have two weeks or more, consider a longer round trip – with so much to see and do on the way to the Grand Canyon that a piecemeal approach can help you discover more of the countless sights on your way to the Grand Canyon.

Sierra Nevada Road

From San Francisco, take Interstates 80 and 580 past the Reinhard Redwood and Anthony Chabot Regional Parks. Go through Livermore, go through Mantequa on state road 120.

From here you can cross the Stanislaus River and follow it via Oakdale to the right in the direction of Knights Ferry.

After reaching the Red Hills Recreation Area you will soon reach Groveland and enter the beautiful Yosemite National Park, surrounded on both sides by beautiful mountain peaks.

Leave the Tioga Pass at Lake Mono and continue south on Route 395 through the national forest and the diocese of Iño.

At Big Pine take Hwy 168, then Hwy 266 and Hwy 95 along the American Death Valley to Las Vegas. When you’re done, look out over Lake Mead and take American Highway 93 to Kingman, and take a short dive on Highway 66 if you like.

You can also take Route 40 and drive past the Hualapai Mountain Park campsite.

Choose Route 66 through Williams and Bearizona Wildlife Park or stay on the highway until State Route 64 – follow it north to Caibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon.

Fast track

Instead of following Highway 120, continue south on the I-580 to Highway 5. Drive past Henry W. Coe National Park and San Luis Nature Reserve and stop at Bakersfield.

From here you take the Sequoia National Forest and follow Highway 58, then Highway 40 through Mojave National Park and Havasu National Park. Shortly afterwards the two roads converge – from Kingman the route corresponds to that of the Sierra Nevada.

Empty Interstate 40 along Needle Road in Mojave National Park, overlooking the mountains during the muddy lunchtime.
The Needle Highway in Mojave National Park makes you wonder if you took a wrong turn on Mars.

Real Window Creative/Shutterstock.com

Best Stops between San Francisco and the Grand Canyon

There’s no getting away from the fact that you have to stop somewhere on your way from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon. If you pass so many tourist attractions, fortunately you have the choice of many beautiful hotels. Here are a few suggestions:

Enjoy the unique sites of Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is an ideal stopover on the way to the Grand Canyon, especially if you have enough time to explore on your way from San Francisco. Although there are many places to stay, Tenaya Lodge is one of the best hotels for you.

While maintaining simplicity, but at the same time comfort, the cabins are designed to give the essential feeling of a family outing (with a touch of concierge service!).

From the world-class fitness centre to the incredible Ascent Spa, you’ll find everything you need. With 4 restaurants on site and a choice of 2 swimming pools, you can enjoy first class service while making your stay as private as you like.

But what really sets this hotel apart is the wealth of activities on offer here – at the top of Yesemite’s characteristic hiking and skiing areas you can enjoy archery, rock climbing, horseback riding and a host of other activities.

Although it could be described as cheap, it would be far-fetched, but the hotel is very accessible given its size – it has much more to offer than just a convenient location, which is more than some of the other resorts in the area can say.

You have a night of your life in Las Vegas.

After hours of driving through natural and picturesque landscapes, Las Vegas is a great place that will change your journey. Although it’s only a short walk across the Strip to find a great (and surprisingly accessible) hotel, there are few places near the Venetian.

As if the European/Italian theme isn’t clear enough from the architecture, this hotel really is a driving force, with a real gondola to drive – an incredible view as you sail is probably the most conventional landscape to be seen in such a large metropolis.

Tourists who really enjoy a gondola ride on the Canal Grande at the Venetian Hotel Las Vegas
Enjoy a gondola ride on the Canal Grande at the Venetian Hotel Las Vegas

Nick_Nick/Shutterstock.com

As far as the hotel itself is concerned, the nicknames hardly do any justice – it has beautiful interiors, great rooms, elegant restaurants and bars, ten outdoor pools, a mandatory casino and much more – you’d think the Venetians could and would take care of it.

What’s more, the location right on the Strip should make planning nights incredibly easy – if you can even force yourself to leave this incredible hotel. Think twice if you’re tempted to grab your wallet and you won’t be disturbed.

What to see on a trip from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon

With over 1,600 miles of land to bridge from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon between the two routes, there is an incredible amount to discover. Although it is difficult to record everything, here are some of the places you should visit:

  1. Reinhardt Redwood and Anthony Shabo Regional Parks – These two beautiful parks have mahogany forests on the coast and are perfect for walking and picnicking.
  2. Del Valle Regional Park is a natural park that lends itself to water and land sports and entertainment.
  3. Yosemite National Park – With its epic mountains, beautiful wetlands and valleys, this is probably the most picturesque place in all of Inner California.
  4. Monomer is a salt lake known as an important habitat for numerous bird species and is largely characterized by unique tuff towers.
  5. Iño National Forest – This great forest is the highest point in Nevada and one of the oldest trees in the world.
  6. Bishop – is a pretty big city compared to its closest neighbors. The bishop is an important passageway for anyone travelling in the Sierra Nevada.
  7. Death Valley National Park is the warmest place in America to see incredible desert formations, although it is probably best to avoid them during the summer months.
  8. Red Canyon Rocks National Park – As the name suggests, the red rocks in this area give Las Vegas a beautiful desert backdrop and attract attention with their architecture.
  9. Las Vegas – Although the city is probably best known as the gaming capital of the world, there is something for everyone in Vegas because of the wide variety of entertainment and nightlife.
  10. Sloan Canyon National Park – Exploring this area is very useful because you will have the opportunity to see several hundred rock paintings, which are estimated to be several thousand years old.
  11. Lake Mead National Recreation Zone – If you want to participate in water activities in Nevada or Arizona, it will be difficult to find a better place than this artificial lake.
  12. Kingman and Williams – History buffs will appreciate the depth of Historic Route 66 in these two cities.
  13. Bearizona Wildlife Park – Fewer stops and more rides, this park has a large and beautiful variety of wildlife just waiting to be photographed as a souvenir.
  14. Kaibab National Forest – With its countless species of beautiful trees and flowers, the Grand Canyon Lock Forest is a great way to end this journey.
  15. Vermillion Rock National Monument – The landscape of this monument is characterized by its unique smooth rock, giving even the greenest parks and forests a chance to get away for their money.
  16. Henry W. Coe State Park – This park has some of the best hiking trails in this part of the states, and is picturesque for the price.
  17. Bakersfield – The largest city on the highway has many great museums and parks that you should not miss.
  18. Mojave National Nature Reserve – This area includes great Joshua forests, unique volcanic formations and the ghost town of Kelso.
  19. Havasu National Nature Reserve – This reserve has attracted a wide variety of animal species due to its presence in the desert, a rare river.

Beautiful sandstone cliffs, white sacks and undulating red-white cliffs of Vermillion Rocks Canyon that reflect the water at sunset
Visit the Vermillion Rocks National Monument and marvel at the unique smooth rock.

Elena_Suvorova/Shutterstock.com

Best time to travel from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon

It can be difficult to determine the best time to travel from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon because the length of the trip means that a lot of planning is needed to get to the trip itself.

To start with, if you want to drive from April to October, the Tiogapas closes some time before the winter season to prepare for the high snowfall in November.

In winter a fast route could be taken, but the Northern Slope and other CG tourist sites will not be accessible because of the snow.

It’s also worth mentioning that Death Valley is almost a must on this scenic route, but in summer you might want to stay away from it because of the extreme temperatures.

A similar problem will occur on a faster route, as the summer heat can make the second half of the journey more difficult. At this time of year it is also best to avoid the low, warm parts of the Grand Canyon.

In the end, all this means that you will probably have to make this trip in late spring or early autumn – so you can travel on your own and explore the canyon.

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