Kaibab National Forest, Grand Canyon
There are two ways to get to Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. You can choose the 21st century route via the park’s paved, patrolled and sometimes-crowded south and east entrances. Or, if you value scenery and history over convenience, you can follow the path taken by 19th century visitors who arrived on stagecoaches and horse-drawn wagons via the Grandview entrance. The 30.4-mile Tusayan-to-Grandview Loop offers an alternate and more secluded way into the park, and it also treats travelers to a journey back in time.
From State Route 64 (also U.S. Route 180) in Tusayan, break free from the parade of cars cruising toward the park’s south entrance and head east on Forest Road 302. Controlled burns in this part of the Kaibab National Forest have restored it to how it looked in the 19th century. Meadows are punctuated with monsoon-fueled wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for elk, deer and other animals that frequent the stock tanks near the road.
When you turn left onto Forest Road 310, you’ll be on the original wagon road to the Canyon. The earliest tourists to the natural wonder traveled this road in the 1880s. In 1892, the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stage Coach Line began operations and further developed the road to support a growing number of tourists.
Just beyond the intersection is the Grandview Lookout Tower. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, the tower is staffed during the summer fire season, and visitors can climb the 80-foot stairs and admire the view from the platform. In addition to a raven’s-eye panorama of the Grand Canyon, you can gawk at the subtle pastels of the Painted Desert, the San Francisco Peaks, the forested Coconino Plateau and even Navajo Mountain nearly 100 miles away.
Back on FR 310, continue north to Forest Road 2718. Just beyond this intersection on FR 310 is the Grandview entrance to Grand Canyon National Park and a graded dirt road that leads to the East Rim Drive. From the late 1880s until 1901, when the railroad to the Grand Canyon was completed, the Grandview entrance was the gateway to the park and connected visitors to tent accommodations at Hance Camp (near the present New Hance Trailhead) or a hotel at Grandview Point.
If you’re driving a passenger car, complete the loop by entering the park and taking paved SR 64 back to Tusayan. Otherwise, continue on FR 2718 to a junction with Forest Road 2719, a rough trek over rocky ledges and around deep gullies. A high-clearance vehicle is a must, and four-wheel-drive is also wise for navigating mud and deep puddles during monsoon season. You’ll find numerous pullouts on this stretch of road for primitive forest camping. As you bump along for 6 teeth-rattling miles, imagine what it was like to travel this country in a buckboard wagon. Turn right onto FR 302 and drive west to complete the loop. Soon, you’ll be back in Tusayan and the 21st century.
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 30.4-mile loop
Directions: From Tusayan, go east on Forest Road 302 for 14.3 miles to Forest Road 310 (Coconino Rim Road). Turn left onto FR 310 and continue 2.1 miles to Forest Road 2718. Turn left onto FR 2718 and continue 1.5 miles to Forest Road 2719. Turn right onto FR 2719 and continue 6 miles to FR 302. Turn right onto FR 302 and continue 6.5 miles back to Tusayan.
Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance vehicle is required for forest roads 2718 and 2719, and four-wheel-drive is recommended. Other vehicles may modify the route by entering Grand Canyon National Park and taking State Route 64 back to Tusayan.
Special consideration: There is no ranger station at the Grandview entrance, but park fees still apply if you enter Grand Canyon National Park. You can pay them at the south or east entrance station.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don’t travel alone, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Tusayan Ranger District, 928-638-2443 or www.fs.usda.gov/kaibab; Grand Canyon National Park, 928-638-7888 or www.nps.gov/grca