The Valley of the Sun includes Phoenix and its surrounding communities, about 230 miles south of Grand Canyon in Arizona’s central desert. The sun shines more than 300 days a year above Arizona’s largest city. Popular with winter visitors, the Valley of the Sun is known for year-round golf, Cactus League baseball in the spring, and blistering temperatures during the summer.
To get to the canyon, about 4–5 hours away, take I-17 north to Flagstaff. From Flag, drivers can choose between I-40 west to Williams, Highway 180 northwest to Valle, or U.S. 89 to the park’s East Entrance .
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is served by more than a dozen commercial carriers, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, British Airways, United, Continental, Delta, Southwest, and US Airways, with connections to Flagstaff’s Pulliam Airport (FLG) via US Airways. Sky Harbor has three separate terminals for commercial flights, and getting around the airport is a bit tricky. If you need to make a connection on an airline located in another terminal, you can use the interterminal shuttle. Ground transportation, including hotel vans, taxis, light rail, and intercity shuttles, is located in each terminal’s baggage claim area. Here you’ll also be able be to catch the rental-car shuttle, which will transport you to the Rental Car Center.
Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) is connected to Sky Harbor Airport, the Greyhound Station, and the Metro Center Transit Station via Amtrak’s Thruway connecting bus system. Both Amtrak’s southernmost route, the Sunset Limited, and its Texas Eagle line stop at Maricopa, a town on the Gila Indian reservation about 20 miles south of Phoenix. You’ll need to arrange another form of transportation to get the rest of the way to Phoenix.
Greyhound (2115 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602/389-4200 or 800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com ) makes daily trips from Phoenix to Flagstaff, where you can make connections to Williams or Grand Canyon. The Greyhound station, open 24 hours daily, is near the Phoenix airport.
Arizona Shuttle (877/226-8060, www.arizonashuttle.com ) makes several trips a day from Sky Harbor Airport or the Metro Transit Center to Flagstaff. From Flagstaff, they provide twice-daily service to Williams and Grand Canyon Village .
Open Road Tours (602/997-6474 or 800/766-7117, www.openroadtours.com ) is based in Phoenix, with a second office in Flagstaff. They offer a single-day tour to Grand Canyon and Sedona as well as several multiday canyon tours with options for adding a smooth-water float or a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. Canyon Tours (800/301-7152, www.canyontours.net ) handles reservations for several companies that offer single-day and multiday tours to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. Grayline (800/276-1527, www.grayline.com ) no longer offers tours originating in Phoenix, but they do book Grand Canyon tours from the company’s Tucson location, about 120 miles south.
Most national car-rental agencies have service desks at the Sky Harbor’s Rental Car Center (1805 E. Sky Harbor Circle S., 602/683-3741), including Alamo (602/244-0897 or 800/462-5266), Avis (602/261-5900 or 800/331-1212), Budget (602/261-5950 or 800/527-7000), Enterprise (602/225-0588 or 800/736-8222), Hertz (602/267-8822 or 800/654-3131), National (602/275-4771 or 800/227-7368), and Thrifty (602/244-0311 or 800/847-4389). To get to the Rental Car Center, look for the rental-car shuttle outside your terminal’s baggage claim area. All rental-car agencies use the same shuttle system. A handful of rental agencies don’t have service desks in the Rental Car Center; they offer van service to their off-site locations from the center.
If you expected the Valley of the Sun, Arizona’s snowbird capital, to have numerous RV rental agencies, you’d be right. Cruise America (480/464-7300 or 800/671-8042, www.cruiseamerica.com ) has offices in nearby Mesa. Other rental agencies include Arizona Sunshine Coaches (602/482-0835), Arizona Travel Center (602/208-6121), and Ultimate RV Rentals (800/622-2201, www.ultimatervrentals.com ).
REI has two stores in the Phoenix area, in Paradise Valley (Paradise Valley Mall, 12634 N. Paradise Village Pkwy., Phoenix, 602/996-5400, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.) and Tempe (1405 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480/967-5494, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.). Both rent camp stoves, tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. The Tempe store also rents mountaineering gear and snowshoes.
You’ll probably want to get closer to the canyon before finding a place to hit the rack, but if you’re planning to spend some time in the Phoenix area, you’ll have a dizzying number of accommodations choices. Most major chains are represented here, and rates are usually cheaper May-mid-September, when Phoenix is sizzling hot and most everyone in the Valley of the Sun escapes northward. If you’re planning to catch a Diamondbacks or a Suns game, get a place to stay in Phoenix’s renewed downtown, which has risen from urban decay like, well, the proverbial phoenix. For Southwestern resort-style accommodations, neighboring Scottsdale is home to dude ranches, spas, and golf kingdoms like the Phoenician and Westin Kierland.
Before heading north, where most adventures take place outdoors and not on your palate, you might want to fortify yourself with some ethnic food. The Phoenix area has Cuban, Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, and other global cuisines, but the local specialty is Mexican food, from taco stands to trendy cafés. Macayo’s is a dependable local chain, but if you like it hotter, try Los Dos Molinos, which offers fiery New Mexico-style dishes. At Via de los Santos you’ll find the classic neighborhood restaurant experience (and outrageously inexpensive margaritas).