Driving to the Grand Canyon from the Bay Area

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Driving from Berkeley to the Grand Canyon

July 2003

We will be driving to the Grand Canyon (south rim) from Berkeley in August. Does anybody have any recommendations as to stops along the way to break up the drive? Little towns with good parks? A good lunch spot along the way? Your favorite hotel to stop-over if you want to do the trip in two days? We know it will be hot, so no need to warn us about that, but we would appreciate any recommendations you have about how to make the drive as fun and/or painless as possible with a 4-year old. Thanks! Looking forward to a HOT summer!

We make the drive to the Grand Canyon about every 2 years to hike the ''big hole in the ground.'' I have enjoyed driving through Nevada, stopping at Boulder Dam for the tour and movie, and walking out on the dam. In Tehachapi is a railroad museum showing the engineering feat of the Santa Fe rail line through that pass.

Laughlin has some nice, cheap casinos (we have stayed at Harrah's)--check the days for cheap rates--with free [or nearly free] food. Since we don't gamble, we simply enjoy the cheap room and board, and their nice pool/sauna/etc.

Have a nice trip! Amy

We've drivn from Berkeley to Grand Canyon several times. Last year with our 6 and 9-year olds we drove I-580 to I-5 to Hwy 58 to I-40, passing through Bakersfield, Mojave and Barstow, and spent the night in Needles. On the way back we stayed in Kingman AZ after hiking out of the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon, then spent a second night outside of Bakersfield. Our only criteria for motels was that they have a swimming pool and not be too funky - Needles has plenty that meet that test and Kingman has some. Barstow has some too. In all three towns you can follow old 66 as it goes through town and find places that are at least a couple blocks away from the interstate and thus quieter.

Food and things to do and see along the way: Harris Ranch at I-5 and Hwy 198 in the Central Valley is 180 miles from Berkeley and has excellent food and is very kid friendly. We always stop there for lunch. Bakersfield has several excellent Basque restaurants. Look in the local yellow pages. They serve enormous meals - we try and eat there for dinner on the way home after backpacking. Flagstaff (which you may or may not get to - the shortest way to the Grand Canyon south rim is to turn north off of I-40 at Williams, 30 miles before Flagstaff) has the best food on I-40 and has an excellent museum, the museum of Northern AZ. On the way back, if you take old US66 west after leaving Kingman AZ you pass through the near-ghost town of Oatman AZ (now with rock and gift shops) and come down to the Colorado River between Laughlin NV and Needles. Turn left to get back to I-40 at Needles, and turn right if you want to go gamble). It's better to do this going west because Needles to Oatman is poorly signed, but Kingman to Oatman to Needles is well-signed. The Oatman cutoff is much more scenic than I-40, and only a few minutes longer in time because it's 10-15 miles shorter in distance. The Providence Mountains State Park (~15 miles N of I-40, about 45 miles W of Needles has a cool cave with guided tours. We stopped there on the way home for a couple of cool hours underground in the middle of a hot day. Between Boron and Mohave you'll have Edwards Air Force Base on your south. Look for wierd planes flying low - Edwards is a test center. West of Mohave the largest set of wind generators in the U.S. (many more than in the Altamont Pass) is south of Hwy. 58. And finally, as Hwy. 58 climbs over the Tehachapi mountains east of Bakersfield it passes a place where the transcontinental train line makes a 360 degree loop in order to change elevation. For kids of a certain age, the chance to see a long freight train making a complete loop so that the engine passes right over the rear cars is probably on a par with seeing the Grand Canyon. The ''Tehachapi Loop'' is quite famous among train fans, and because uphill trains travel slowly there's a good chance of seeing one (or more!)if you stop there for 1/2 an hour or so. I think it's near the Caliente exit, but in any case a web search for ''Tehachapi Loop'' should find it.

Hope this gives you a few ideas for the (generally boring but fast - our kids listened to all of Harry Potter on tape on one trip) drive. Remember that it's seriously hot across the desert and aim to do Mohave-Kingman some time other than midday. We find leaving Berkeley about 9 means Harris Ranch from 12-1, Bakersfield about 3, Mohave about 4, and thus a desert crossing as the day is starting to cool off. David Marcus dmarcus2 [at] mindspring.com

Since we're going to Grand Canyon next week, I can only respond to the last part of your message.

We took a lot of successful, pleasant car trips when the children were small. Here are some ideas:

1. Keep a journal. Have the child dictate what they're seeing/hearing/doing. Draw pictures. Include tickets, programs, dried leaves, photos, post cards, etc. Let child see you and your husband writing and drawing in journal. I have found that what works best for a trip journal is to use the plastic sleeves. Take along a glue stick so you can you can make up some of the pages during the trip and slip the stuff into the sleeves.

2. Take along a spray bottle of water -- when somebody gets hot, this helps. But it has to be one that only has a gentle spray; not the kind that will send a stream. I got one for each child at a beauty supply store.

3. In Mom's bag is lotion, chapstick, pencils, a notebook with paper, magazines to cut up, special snacks, new car toys.

4. Each child packs a backpack with books, writing/drawing stuff, stuffed animals, healty snacks, bottle of water, car toys (from a box at home that is ONLY used for trips. Car toys don't have parts: etch-a-sketch, magnetic checkers, puzzles with pieces built in, etc.) My neighbor had a holder for each child that hooked over the front seat headpiece with pockets to store their stuff in -- that's probably better than a backpack.

5. Pillow and a crib blanket (smaller than from their beds at home, but familiar and comforting.)

6. A flat space to write/draw on.

7. Everybody has their own space -- NEVER move seats!!! (Grownups can switch to drive as long as they don't fight about someone touching their stuff!)

Have a wonderful trip. Happy Traveller

I thought of more:

8. Outline the trip beforehand for your child. ''It will take us 2 days of driving all day to get there. We'll leave when it's still dark and you can sleep, then we'll stop for breakfast and drive some more . . . '' Each day you can tell them what to expect.

9. Show him the map and trace your route. This is a visual representation of time and helps him figure out how long he'll be sitting in that seat.

10. My mother always led us in singing -- I think it's a wonderful tradition and bonding activity. Story telling, especially about when you were little, passes the time. Read a great book out loud. Take along stories on tape and music. Play all the traditional car games: ''I'm going on a trip and am taking an A...'', I Spy, find things outside that start with A,B..., license plates, most cars of red vs white vs blue.

11. 5 minutes stops at roadside rests to run as fast as you can, throw a frisbee around, turn summersaults. . .

Have fun! More Happy Traveller

Having just taken a long driving trip to Breckenridge, Colorado (a little more northern route than you probably will be taking), I would suggest staying in Best Westerns motel/hotels along the way. The hotels were very clean, great swimming pools (which really helped get out the energy of my 2 and 4 year olds after driving for 7+ hours a day), they always had a coffee pot in the room and 3 out the 4 stays they had a fridge. My husband and I were very impressed with the quality of service at each place we stayed (Wendover-NV, Vernal-UT, Truckee-CA, and somewhere else in southern Utah, which was kind of a blur after 13 hours of driving). Sorry I couldn't be more of a help regarding the route itself, but I think it is worth it to spend a little bit extra for the Best Westerns, and will do so on every long drive when I can. Have fun! Kerri

We drove to Prescott AZ (2 hrs S of GC; time identical; route 95% the same) in late May (the fri B4 memorial day) early june from Oakland. We have a then 2.75 year old daughter - very active. Also along was out 12yr old Lab. I was 6 mos preg. Drove the whole way there in 10.5 hours (return took 1 hour longer) Route: 5S 58E 40E. Tips:

*Left VERY early in the AM(6AM) with breakfast in the car - chunky cheesy scrambled eggs and Krustez mini pancakes (a Special treat!) Given the heat that AZ is having this time of year, I might even consider an evening start and drive most of the night to max sleep time.

*Took a portable DVD player with Monsters Inc, Sound of Music, Mary poppins. routed audio thru sterio system with a sony CD-to- cassette adapter. We all sang along. LIFE SAVER!!!!

*She enjoyed her LeapFrog activity thingy

*We put her in a pull-up to avoid accidents if she fell asleep. She never did wet as the stops were potty-manditory!!!

*Snacks, snacks, snacks - tried to have a good mix of high protein - nuts, hard boiled eggs, turkey sandwiches - include special treats - she was BIG into lolly pops - I used them a quick melt down defusers 1-2X ea way. Generally tried to avoid sugars/cookies, etc

*We stopped in Bakersfield and Kingman AZ for gas and potty - about every 3-3.5 hours. We stopped, ran around hard in the parking lots, walked the dog, got popcicles - 20-30 min. each stop. We did not try to find anything special in terms of parks as this is BARREN land. Needles looks (ed) green (50 min earlier than Kingman)so they might have something.

*If they are sleeping, keep driving.

*Bring huge amounts of water.

Disclaimer - we KNEW that we and our daughter could manage this trip as we had driven back from CT 9/11 when she was 12 mos old and had did it fast - 2 900+ mi days. Even with that - we were prepared to cut this trip in half and stay in a hotel somewhere if needed. My advice is to be prepared to cut the trip up as needed/improvise with your plans. I would look at what worked for you in the past with road trips of any length/what keeps your child occupied now. Have fun and stay cool!!! Liz