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Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

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Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

We are planning a road trip in May from San Diego to Grand Canyon with kids. Our plan is to leave from San Diego in the evening and stay overnight in Phoenix (from Google maps it seems we will reach Phoenix around midnight if we leave from San Diego around 7 pm). Next day we drive from Phoenix to Sedona and then onwards to Grand Canyon. We have managed to get a room in a lodge within the national park.

My concern is, whether this will be a practial and comfortable drive? Is it safe to drive with kids at night from San Diego to Phoenix, given the proximity to the border and the desert environment? Also, would a couple of hours in Sedona be enough to cover the highlights? We would like to be at Grand Canyon by early afternoon.

Any suggestions will be much appreciated. Thanks!

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for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
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1. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

You will be fine driving from San Diego to Phoenix across the desert. The route is well travelled and patrolled by the highway patrol.May in the Imperial Valley and Phoenix is downright mild compared to July or August!

There is no need to worry about the proximity of the border.Its just not an issue.

You can easily spend a few days in Sedona. Its a pretty town.A couple hours will barely scratch the surface.You will wish you had more time there.

Good for you on getting reservations inside the park. Best place to be.

Edited: 2:55 am, February 15, 2013
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2. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

I agree that it is perfectly safe to drive at night from San Diego to Phoenix. Of course, the earlier you can start this trip in the evening, the easier it will be to enjoy the desert landscape and the more pleasant it will be for you and your family. I also agree that traveling near the border is not an issue.


- Travel only on the freeways. These have more traffic (and more highway patrolling) than non-freeway roadways at night. Non freeways are still safe but if you should have a flat tire, for example, or need assistance of some type late at night, it might take longer for help to arrive if you were on a less traveled (secondary) road.

- Make certain that your lodging facility in Phoenix knows your estimated arrival time is around midnight, and give yourself maybe an hour or so beyond that time. This helps them to know when to expect you because arriving at midnight is later than probably most travelers would arrive. There is nothing wrong with arriving late, but just let them know your plans. (I usually allow 6 hours from Los Angeles driving straight through - no stopping except for gas.)

- Do not let your vehicle's fuel tank go below the one-quarter mark. When in doubt, fill up your fuel tank. Going up grades might not seem noticeable traveling at high speeds on a freeway, but an uphill grade can suck up alot of fuel more quickly than you might expect.

- Have a paper map with you and thoroughly study your route in advance. Do not rely exclusively on GPS in remote areas, such as deserts (and mountains, for that matter).

- Do not rely on cell phone transmission. You might travel in areas of spotty cell reception. Remember, the desert is vast and sparsely populated between San Diego/Los Angeles and Phoenix.

* * * * *

About your Sedona question: Is two hours in Sedona enough time? My short answer is NO! But drive through Sedona anyway! It is in a lovely scenic area. After you leave Sedona, the drive between Sedona and Flagstaff, AZ via the Oak Creek Canyon (non-freeway route) is very, very beautiful.

Have fun! You will enjoy this trip!

Edited: 3:45 am, February 15, 2013
Chula Vista...
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3. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

NotafanofTA (interesting name) offers some good, common-sense advice for traveling through the more remote areas of the desert southwest.

One additional tip that I would offer up is to have plenty of water and perhaps some snacks (that will withstand the heat--e.g., no chocolate that can melt) with you in the car in case you do have mechanical problems or a flat tire.

The average temperature in Phoenix in May is 32°C / 92° F. When I was there in May 2008, it was 45° C / 114°F. As I'm sure you already know coming from Mumbai, your body needs a lot of water in those temperatures.

It will be a great trip.

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4. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

Wow! I did not expect such prompt responses! You guys are great. Thanks for all the advise. It's really helpful.

I was a bit concerned about the safety aspect because of some similar questions on this on tripadvisor forums. But it seems my fears are unfounded.

We will be traveling to the west coast with 15 days on hand and have to cover Los Angeles, San Diego, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe (and hopefully also Yosemite park). We have scheduled 8 days for LA, SD, GC and LV. I was originally planning to drive to Las Vegas from San Diego during the day. But then I happened to hear about Sedona and it seems quite interesting, so I'm trying to gain some additional time by driving in the night and travelling via Phoenix to pass through Sedona and spend some time there before heading on to Grand Canyon.

It will be little rushed, but I suppose the best we can do with the limited time on hand. At least we will get an impression of the place and the kids can be inspired enough to plan on returning in the future!

I looked up things to do in San Diego and found the zoo, legoland, Gaslamp quarter, the beach & boardwalk on Misson beach. I'm thinking of spending a couple of days in San Diego and then heading out for Phoenix between 6 and 7 in the evening. The calender states sunset time in May around 7:30 pm with twilight till 8 pm, so hopefully we will be able to see the landscape for some time while on the road.

Uden, The...
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5. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

Without traffic delays already count on at least 6 hours to drive between San Diego and Phx. You''ll be driving over the mountains on I8 first from San Diego. Steep roads. Use lower gear driving down hill instead using your breaks all the time. You''ll get to sealevel near El Centro.

You''ll be arriving very late in Phx. Maybe try an hotel along I17 in North Phoenix. Gives you a headstart next day.

San Diego
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6. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

I wonder why you would leave so late?

Perhaps you want the children to sleep in the car??

As Tet says there are some mountains to cross and although the road is not scary it will be dark and unfamiliar to you so take it slow!

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7. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

Well, the desire to visit Sedona came up after travel plans were frozen. We would have left from San Diego the following morning traveling north and east towards Los Angeles and onwards to GC. We are now planning to leave the evening before so as to gain some time and visit Sedona before reaching GC by afternoon.

I guessed that the I8 might be very desolate at night time, hence the concern. Plus it is so close to the border!

San Francisco...
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8. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

The best thing in Sedona if you are there for a very short time are the jeep tours and if you could plan your trip around that, it would be great

There is no issue driving freeways close to the Border. Perhaps something you are seeing on TV or in the news makes it sound scary.

I think Phoenix is boring. yes it is enroute but if we were driving, we would just continue to Sedona and stay there and enjoy the few hours there instead of driving there the next morning

San Diego...
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9. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

"I looked up things to do in San Diego and found the zoo, legoland, Gaslamp quarter, the beach & boardwalk on Misson beach. I'm thinking of spending a couple of days in San Diego and then heading out for Phoenix between 6 and 7 in the evening."

Hi UKJ - Legoland is not in San Diego. It's in Carlsbad which is approx 45 minutes North of SD. You will pass it when you are driving south from LA.

The Gaslamp Quarter is a place to eat / drink basically. It does have some bldgs with beautiful architecture and is a short walk to the Marina & Bay.




Coronado is just across the Bay



You might also enjoy a visit to Cabrillo Nat'l Monument with stunning views, hiking trails & tidepools.


Balboa Park is next door to the Zoo and has a lot to offer.


I don't know how old your kids are - we have a Children's Museum downtown SD just a couple of blocks from the Bay.


As said, don't worry about the 8 Fwy being close to the border. You won't even know it when you're on the Freeway. Just stay on the freeway late at night and stop at well lit roadside gas stations, etc.

San Diego...
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10. Re: Driving from San Diego to Grand Canyon (south rim)

I get that you're trying to make the most of your time, but if you're so nervous about it, why make the drive through the desert at night? I agree with everyone else, as long as you have plenty of fuel and enough water for each person, it's a safe drive. But it is still the middle of nowhere, on an unfamiliar road in the middle of the night. Personally, as the sun starts to set and we're the only car on a dark stretch of desert highway with very few exits, all I want to do is 'get there'. If mountain and desert driving are new to you, you probably won't enjoy it in the dark. My point is, if it's making you nervous, change your plans. Even knowing it's safe, you'll probably still find the drive a bit nerve wracking. Also, I'd allow 6 hours to Phoenix.