Epic Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary

Driving from Houston to the Grand Canyon is a spectacular way to experience the landscapes and culture of the Southwest

With so many possible stops to make, road trip planning can sometimes feel overwhelming. This is why we’ve created this helpful guide for your vacation through the southwest states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

While the Grand Canyon might be the gem at the end of the trip, you won’t want to pass up some of these fun cities, amazing parks, and cool monuments along the way!  

Distance from Houston to Grand Canyon National Park

It’s about 1,300 miles from Houston to the Grand Canyon, South Rim. Different routes may add or subtract a few miles from this total, but the overall driving distance is approximately the same.

How Long Do I Need to Drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon? 

If you were to drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon without stopping, you would be behind the wheel for roughly 20 hours. 

Of course, we highly don’t recommend this, not only for your own sanity and sleep needs but also because of all the amazing stops you have to choose from! 

If you’re trying to get from Houston to the Grand Canyon as quickly as possible, we’d recommend planning for three days of driving. However, if you have time to spare, a road trip to the Grand Canyon could easily become a week or more of an adventure. 

Driving Time/Distance Calculator Houston to Grand Canyon

To help you plot out your driving route and sensible overnight stopping points, use this handy table:

Drive via the I-40DistanceEst TimeOvernight Stop
Houston to Fort Worth, TX262 miles3 hours 50 minStay in Fort Worth
Fort Worth to Amarillo, TX337 miles5 hours 10 minStay in Amarillo
Amarillo to Tucumcari, NM113 miles1 hour 45 minStay in Tucumcari
Tucumcari to Albuquerque, NM176 miles2 hours 40 minStay in Albuquerque
Albuquerque to Petrified Forest, AZ208 miles3 hoursStay in Holbrook
Petrified Forest to Meteor Crater, AZ84 miles1 hour 15 minStay in Winslow
Meteor Crater to Grand Canyon, AZ131 miles2 hours 10 minBook Grand Canyon Lodges
Drive times are est only without traffic and fuel stops

Drive via the I-10DistanceEst TimeAccommodation
Houston to San Antonio, TX197 miles3 hoursStay in San Antonio
San Antonio to Big Bend NP, TX407 miles6 hoursStay in Terlingua
Big Bend NP to Gila National Forest, NM545 miles10 hoursStay near Gila NF
Gila National Forest to Flagstaff, AZ290 miles6 hours 40 minStay in Flagstaff
Flagstaff to Grand Canyon, AZ79 miles1 hour 30 minStay in Tusayan
Drive times are est only without traffic and fuel stops

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - How Long do I Need to Drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon

Best Time of Year to Drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon

Spring is considered the optimal time of year for a road trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon since you can miss the cold of winter and the blistering heat of summer. However, this is also the busiest time of year, so you will be contending with more traffic and tourists. 

Fall is a good option if you still want to have moderate temperatures without as big of tourist crowds. 

If you plan on traveling in the summer, keep in mind that temperatures will often be over 100 degrees during the day. For travelers who don’t mind colder weather, a winter trip may be a great choice since this is the slowest time of year for visiting the Grand Canyon, and there will be way fewer crowds. 

Best Stops on a Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip 

The two main routes from Houston to the Grand Canyon are north on I-40 or slightly farther south on I-10. I-40 is usually picked since you’ll pass through Albuquerque, but for those who have already visited Albuquerque or if you like the idea of venturing closer to the Mexican border and including Big Bend, then the I-10 route is a good option. 

The drives are about the same in terms of length, and we’ve highlighted some spots along both routes so you can make the most of your drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon. 

Houston to Grand Canyon: On the I-40 Route 

If you take the northern route from Houston to the Grand Canyon along I-40, here are some of the parks and cities worth visiting along the way. 

Fort Worth, TX

On the surface, Fort Worth is a fun and modern city, but you’ll also discover a fascinating historical side. 

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - Fort Worth

Once a trading post on the Chisolm Trail, you can now take a step back into the past at the National Cowgirl Museum or learn about early pioneers at the Fort Worth Hall of Fame. Kids will especially enjoy seeing the twice-daily cattle drive! 

About four hours from Houston, Fort Worth makes a great first stop on your drive to the Grand Canyon.

Amarillo, TX

With an authentic Wild West feel, Amarillo has some cool historic landmarks tastefully combined with a sophisticated modern feel. It’s one of the best stops along the Historic Route 66, and has a bit of everything from upscale dining venues to cowboy adventures. 

It’s not a bad idea to spend a few nights in Amarillo during your drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon. 

This city is the gateway to Palo Duro Canyon, the second-longest canyon in the United States. Just because you’re seeing the Grand Canyon doesn’t mean you should pass up Palo Duro! Plus, it’s usually less crowded than the Grand Canyon, so you can enjoy a more natural experience. 

Cadillac Ranch is another iconic site in Amarillo. These ten painted and decorated Cadillacs have turned into a permanent installation of desert art and have been featured in a number of movies and music videos. It’s a great place to get some photos of your Southwest road trip and one of the most unique places to visit in Texas!

Tucumari and Route 66 Monument, NM

As you drive along Route 66, you’ll want to stop at the Route 66 Monument and Route 66 Museum located in Tucumcari, New Mexico

The museum is fascinating to learn about the origins of this famous road trip in the Southwest, plus there are some awesome classic cars on display that both kids and adults will enjoy! 

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - Tee Pee Curios

If you have more time to spend in Tucumari, you might also want to take a driving tour of the city to spot all the amazing murals (over 40 in total) which decorate many of the buildings. There are a few motor inns making it worthy of an overnight stop. 

On your way out of town, be sure to stop for some unique souvenirs at Tee Pee Curios to commemorate your drive along Route 66.

Albuquerque

Visiting Albuquerque could be an entire trip in itself, so it’s worth setting some time aside to explore this city as you make your way from Houston to the Grand Canyon. 

Unless you’re afraid of heights, everyone should try going on one of the famous hot air balloon rides over the city for some stunning views of the desert landscape. 

Back on the ground, there’s, even more, to explore at the Albuquerque Zoo, which is a popular attraction for families, or the Petroglyph National Monument, where you can learn about the fascinating prehistory of the region. 

Albuquerque has a great combination of modern style and historic charm. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped between worlds as you make your way between the fascinating Old Town, filled with adobe buildings dating back to the city’s founding in 1706 to the upscale shops and restaurants of the vibrant downtown area.

Petrified Forest National Park

Although it’s not as well-known as some national parks, Petrified Forest offers a unique experience that will probably surprise you. 

This is the only national park directly on Route 66, and it’s well worth a stop as you make your way from Houston to the Grand Canyon. 

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - Petrified Forest National Park

The unique landscape of the park is covered in colorful remains of petrified wood and encompasses some areas of the Painted Desert of Arizona. Just driving through the park itself will give you an appreciation for the amazing landscape, and there are some great overlooks along the way which are perfect for photographs. 

If you have a bit more time, you can get out to hike some of the trails or stop by the Painted Desert Visitor Center, which has some of the fossils discovered in the Petrified Forest. 

Note that there is no camping permitted of any sort in Petrified Forest National Park. You’ll want to look at options in Holbrook as your nearest town of size.

Meteor Crater National Landmark

The enormous Meteor Crater about 40 miles east of Flagstaff is one of the most incredible landmarks in the United States, especially considering its truly out-of-this-world formation! 

Almost a mile wide and about 550 feet deep, it’s hard to imagine the catastrophic impact this meteor had when it crashed into the Earth about 50,000 years ago. Scientists estimate that the explosion would have been more devastating than an atomic bomb. 

It’s definitely worth getting tickets so you can walk right to the edge of the crater to appreciate the impressive size for yourself. Kids will also love visiting the Discovery Center & Space Museum, which has fun interactive experiences, including a 4D immersive theater!

You could press on through to the Grand Canyon from here, but we’d recommend you stay in nearby Winslow overnight or head on to Flagstaff before completing your Grand Canyon road trip.

Before we dive into your end destination, let’s see where you can stop on the more southern route, before reaching Flagstaff.

Houston to Grand Canyon: On the I-10 W Route

Taking the southern I-10 route while driving from Houston to the Grand Canyon will give you a chance to see some of the impressive landscape of the Southwest. The downside, there are some much longer driving distances and fewer accommodation options en route.

Nonetheless, those up for a unique adventure, here are a few of the top places to stop along this scenic drive to the Grand Canyon from Texas: 

San Antonio

With a great combination of museums, delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, and fun outdoor activities, San Antonio is a perfect place to stop for an afternoon on your drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon. 

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - River Walk

Visit the famous Alamo site to learn about the history which makes San Antonio stand out in U.S. history. Afterward, explore the River Walk, where you can see other historic buildings, and find a restaurant to refuel before you continue your drive.

Big Bend National Park

If you’re on a road trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon, it’s not a bad idea to set some time aside to explore other national parks along the way. In terms of scenic national parks, Big Bend definitely ranks high on the list!  

This stunning park in southwest Texas combines the craggy landscape of the Chisos Mountains with the rugged beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. 

It’s well worth camping or spending a few nights in one of the nearby lodges to hike and explore the cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon or relax and rejuvenate in the natural thermal hot springs in the park.

  • Looking at more tops before you get to Big Bend? We have this detailed Houston to Big Bend itinerary to help you get the most out of this long Texas leg of this epic road trip!

Gila National Forest

Another treasure of the Southwest that’s worth visiting on your drive from Houston to the Grand Canyon is Gila National Forest

There are endless opportunities for hiking the trails to get views of Whitewater Canyon and the rugged desert mountain scenery. Gila National Forest is actually New Mexico’s first designated wilderness area and covers almost 3.3 million acres! 

USA Houston to Grand Canyon Road Trip - Gila National Forest

New Mexico is already famous for its beautiful night sky, but there might not be a better place for stargazing than at the Cosmic Campground in Gila National Forest, which is designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary! 

Other attractions of this wilderness area include natural hot springs, horse-back riding tours of the mountains, and amazing swimming holes located in some of the canyons. 

Pro Tip: There aren’t any major cities near Gila National Forest, so if you’re hoping to spend a day or two here on your trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon, your best options are camping or staying at one of the lodges near the wilderness area.

Flagstaff

Not far from the Grand Canyon itself, Flagstaff is one of the top cities to visit along the famous Route 66. 

The city has a combination of outdoor activities, historic landmarks, and modern flare. It’s also a certified dark sky city and is a popular place for astronomers and night-sky enthusiasts. 

Visit the Lowell Observatory and learn about the discovery of Pluto, which happened right in Flagstaff! 

Thanks to its elevation, Flagstaff has cooler temperatures than other places in Arizona, and outdoor activities include hiking and swimming in the summer or skiing at the Arizona Snowbowl in the winter. 

It’s also a great base to explore some of the historic sites of the Southwest, such as the ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings of early Native American tribes who lived in the area. 

The South Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon is only about an hour and a half away from Flagstaff, and there are numerous guided tours that depart from the city. 

Where To Stay Visiting Grand Canyon

Many choose to stay in Flagstaff and then day trip into the Grand Canyon, though be warned, if you’re doing this, you want to set off super early or later in the afternoon as the queues from around 9:00 AM onwards are LOOOOOONG!

If you weren’t quick enough with a national parks lodge booking, a better option is to stay in Tusayan, just outside the South Entrance. There’s a reasonable range of affordable hotels, motels, and RV Parks here, putting you at the gateway to the greatest natural wonder in the United States.

More Tips for Road Tripping from Houston to the Grand Canyon 

  • Note that this US road trip itinerary will see you crossing several time zones! Texas follows CST/CDT, New Mexico follows MST/MDT, whilst Arizona stays in MST year round; so in summer, you’ll be winding your clocks back twice!
  • Keep in mind that nighttime temperatures in the Southwest can get cold even in the summer. Make sure you pack some warm clothes, especially if you plan on camping. 
  • Always make sure you have enough water during hikes; dehydration can become an issue, so fill up extra water bottles before setting out on an outdoor adventure. 
  • Make reservations for accommodations well in advance, especially if you’re traveling during peak tourist season. Campgrounds, lodges, and hotels around the Grand Canyon and other national and state parks will fill up quickly. 
  • Not sure if you should also visit the West Rim and the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk? Here are the key differences between Grand Canyon West Rim vs South Rim in the National Park.
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