Arizona: Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam – Cross Country USA Road Trip (Part 6)
Welcome back to Part 6 of our six week road trip across the United States! In this article, I’ll cover the segment of our trip through Arizona where we visited the Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon National Park, and the Hoover Dam.
A brief recap: we set out from our home in Raleigh in early June and made it back home toward the end of July. In total we spent over six weeks (46 nights!!) on the road and drove 8,200 miles.
Along the way, we visited 14 national parks and a ton of other interesting places. It was quite a busy trip, since we stayed in 25 different airbnbs or hotels and spent more than 100 hours traveling in the van.
To cover the whole trip, I am breaking up the trip summary into thirteen separate blog posts plus a bonus article covering the trip logistics for a six week road trip for a family of five.
Here is a table of contents for our whole trip if you want to check out other parts of our journey (once those other blog posts go live!):
- North Carolina to Kansas via West Virginia and St. Louis
- Colorado: Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Frisco
- Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde National Parks plus Ouray
- Utah: Arches National Park and Capitol Reef National Park
- Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park
- Arizona: Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- California: Los Angeles and Long Beach
- California: Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks
- Crossing the Desert in Nevada and Utah: Hawthorne and Bonneville Salt Flats
- Salt Lake City, Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Yellowstone National Park
- Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and National Museum of the US Air Force
- Road Trip Logistics
Join me for part 6 of our trip across the country as we explore Arizona where we visited the Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon National Park, and the Hoover Dam.
This map shows our starting point at our Airbnb in Page, Arizona. From there, we visited Glen Canyon Dam, The Chains, and Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. Then we drove through the Grand Canyon and spent the night in Williams, Arizona. The next day we visited Route 66 and the Hoover Dam while en route to Las Vegas, Nevada.
After seven straight days exploring local and national parks across Colorado and Utah, we were ready for a couple of more relaxed days in Page, Arizona.
Part of the way through the trip, we consolidated two different hotels stays of one night each into a single stay in an airbnb for two nights. Initially, we had planned to stay in Kanab, Utah after leaving Zion NP. Then head to Page the next day.
We figured out that packing and unpacking an extra time wasn’t worth the slightly shorter post-Zion drive. Instead, we’d just push on and make it to Page, Arizona for a two night stay. This way, we could unpack and relax in the comfort of a nice, spacious airbnb instead of unpacking and packing again two days in a row.
In hindsight, this was a genius move that gave us a nice, relaxing day in Page. Other than grabbing a few grocery items and some takeout pizza for lunch, we did absolutely nothing productive until we set out for some sightseeing in the late afternoon.
We packed a picnic dinner of home-cooked lo mein and steamed veggies and headed out about 5:00 pm. Going out later in the day helped us avoid the strong desert sun and mid-day heat. We also had plans to watch the sunset from Horseshoe Bend park that evening.
Glen Canyon Dam
Our first stop was the Glen Canyon Dam. We went to an overlook just south of the dam. Then we went to the dam visitor’s center. The building itself was closed due to the pandemic. However, we were able to get a good view of the dam and reservoir from the overlook behind the visitor center.
Then we headed to “The Chains”, a scenic spot on Lake Powell just north of the dam. The Chains were nearly deserted when we arrived very late in the afternoon, so we had the place all to ourselves.
The wind- and water-weathered rocks at The Chains lead down about a hundred feet to the water level of the lake. We climbed up, down, and around the rock formations until it was time to head out to our last stop of the evening.
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River
We timed our trip so that we would arrive at the Horseshoe Bend overlook of the Colorado River shortly before sunset. The park charges $10 for parking, so we paid the fee and set out on the 15 minute walk down the trail to the overlook.
The already golden sun really lights up the sky as we arrive at the overlook. We bust out our bowls of noodles, veggies and snacks and enjoyed our picnic dinner as we watched the sun set over Horseshoe Bend. Fortunately, we had no problem finding the perfect seats right by the edge of the cliff (but not too close to the edge!).
A nice calm ending to a relaxing day.
We head back up the trail to our car. On the short 10 minute drive back to our airbnb, we stop by Walmart to grab some sandwich supplies and other food for the next two days.
The next morning we woke up, packed up the van, and set out for the Grand Canyon!
From Page, Arizona, we headed south along US 89. We took a pitstop in Cameron, Arizona for bathrooms and gas, then headed west along Arizona Route 64 to enter the Grand Canyon National Park through its eastern entrance.
The drive down to the Grand Canyon was just under two hours. By the time we entered the Grand Canyon National Park, it was time for lunch. We found a picnic spot at the Desert View area by the eastern park entrance. Once lunch was over, we walked a few minutes down the hill to our first overlook of the Grand Canyon.
The view was spectacular! It looks like a huge gash carved out of the earth by some monstrously large machine. The blue-green Colorado River slithered along the canyon floor several miles away.
We hung out for a while taking in the views at the Desert View overlook. Eventually we made our way back to the car and continued on our drive to the west along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.
On Google Maps, we had bookmarked a half dozen overlooks along the route through the park. We stopped at all of those bookmarked spots plus another half dozen random overlooks that looked promising.
Each overlook offers a different vantage point to view the canyon spread in front of you.
Grand Canyon Village (central area)
By late afternoon, we reached the center of the park where the Grand Canyon Village is located. We parked near the visitor center and took a short hike down to the Mather Point overlook which once again offered amazing views of the canyon.
We were hoping to wrap up our trip with a quick visit to the Yavapai Geology Museum which is only a mile west of the Visitor Center. However the museum closes at 5 pm and we knew we wouldn’t make it in time. So we called it a day and hopped in the car to head south to our hotel for the night in Williams, Arizona.
It’s worth noting that there are several more overlooks to the west of the Visitor’s Center. To access those overlooks, you must take a shuttle bus. Since we arrived to the center of the park in the late afternoon, we didn’t have time (or energy!) to get on the shuttle bus. I’m okay with that as the overlooks started to look the same at some point.
We had a short but good visit to the Grand Canyon and saw the highlights on this visit. There are plenty of hiking trails that carry you into the canyon or along the canyon rim, but we didn’t opt for any of those.
It was really hot when we visited and several other tourists literally died within days of our visit, so I’m okay with our strictly auto-based tourism (along with a few short hikes down to the overlooks).
From the Grand Canyon, the drive to Williams is just over an hour. Along the way we enjoyed the rolling hills of northern Arizona. The landscape is a lot more green in the north compared to the dry desert environs that I always associate with Arizona. However, wildfires dotted the area so we had to contend with hazy skies and reduced visibility at times.
From Williams, Arizona, we had an intentionally circuitous four hour drive in front of us to get to our next lodging spot of the trip. We were headed for Las Vegas, Nevada where we would have a whole week to relax and take care of some routine maintenance on the car.
For the drive to Las Vegas we decided to skip the interstate and take the scenic Route 66 instead. It’s only a 30 minute detour versus the more direct route along Interstate 40, so why not, right?
It’s a nice drive through the countryside but we didn’t really see much of what I assumed would be a touristy experience. So after a Taco Bell pit stop in Kingman, Arizona, we headed northwest along US 93 toward Las Vegas.
Along the way, we stopped at Hoover Dam for an afternoon of sightseeing.
The last time we were at Hoover Dam was about ten years ago, so a lot of stuff has changed. The Interstate 11 bridge over the Colorado River is now complete for one thing. We parked at the Boulder Dam Bridge parking lot and walked up to the bridge. Great views of the Hoover Dam from up there!
But wow, was it ever hot. Well over 100F and bright and sunny. Fortunately the bridge was a thousand feet up from the river so a breeze helped ever so slightly in our attempts to avoid heat stroke.
Due to the pandemic we had heard the dam tours weren’t being offered. Or maybe they were offered but they had limited capacity and you had to get there early to buy tickets. And it wasn’t a complete tour anyway (because of the pandemic). All of it was pretty confusing but to be expected I suppose.
We skipped whatever tour(s) were (or were not) being offered and opted for the free, open air self-guided tour of the top of the dam. I struggled to choose between the $10 paid parking or the free parking 200 feet further away but up a few flights of stairs. In the end, the 1-2 minute additional walk was worth it to avoid the $10 fee, in spite of the 105F+ temperature.
We had a breezy but sweaty walk down to dam itself. Fortunately there is a shelter over the central part of the dam walkway so at least we were sweating in the shade! Peering over the edge was a dizzying experience due to the 700 foot drop straight down to the toe of the dam.
On the upstream side where Lake Mead abuts the dam, the water levels are much lower than they were about 20 years ago, the last time the lake was “full”. Due to a multi-decade drought in the southwestern United States, the lake has been draining slowly over the years. The water level currently sits about 140 feet below the “full” water elevation.
Having adequately enjoyed the free outdoor sauna experience to its fullest, I told the rest of the family to wait in the shade while I fetched the car. Several minutes later I swooped them up in the minivan and we continued our journey west to Las Vegas.
Along the route, I spotted the massive Copper Mountain solar farm that provides over 1 gigawatt of electricity. The fields of solar panels stretch for over ten miles along the floor of the desert. From a distance, these solar panels look like a lake!
From the Hoover Dam, we drove for about an hour through the desert before reaching our Airbnb in Las Vegas.
We spent two nights in Page, Arizona. While in Page, we visited the Glen Canyon Dam, a nearby lakeside rocky area known as The Chains, and the Horseshoe Bend overlook of the Colorado river.
After leaving Page, we traveled south and then west to the Grand Canyon National Park. We visited at least a dozen overlooks on the Canyon Rim drive and took in the stunning size of the canyon below. At the end of the day, we headed to our overnight stop at the Gateway Hotel in Williams, Arizona.
The next day, we drove along historic Route 66 on the way to the Hoover Dam. At the dam, we visited the bridge overlook of the Hoover Dam. Then we visited the dam itself. After a scorching hot day at the Hoover Dam, we headed west to Las Vegas, Nevada where we would stay for a week of rest and relaxation.
Have you ever visited the Glen Canyon Dam, Grand Canyon, or Hoover Dam?
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