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Natural Wonders

Fantastic Sights Beyond Grand Canyon

You know the saying, “getting there is half the fun”. Well, a trip to Grand Canyon National Park certainly proves this is the case. In all directions, visitors will be treated to spectacular scenery and phenomenal sights to see.

Below, we’ve tried our best to discern what the must-see sights are for you when traveling en route to and from Grand Canyon National Park. These sights are located in regions outside of the national park and add to your Grand Canyon sightseeing experience. Add them to your Grand Canyon itinerary.

Toroweap (also called Tuweep) Overlook

Toroweap Outlook
View looking west (downstream) from the Toroweap outlook in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. You can see Lava Falls. Photo by John Fowler via Wikimedia Commons

Perched some 3,000 feet above the Colorado River, the view this overlook provides is nothing short of awe-striking. Visitors will enjoy views of the area’s volcanic features, including cinder cones and lava flows. And, below on the Colorado River, one can see the renowned Lava Falls Rapid.

Toroweap is a Paiute term that means “dry or barren valley.” Because the National Park Service manages this area for its primitive values, improvements and services are minimal, and a visit to this area can be challenging. Visitors may access this overlook from Arizona Highway 389 near Fredonia or Colorado City, AZ, or from St. George, UT. Here are the specific routes:

  • Sunshine Route (BLM road #109), the primary access route, leaves Highway 389 about seven miles/12km west of Fredonia. It is 61 miles /100 km long and is the most reliable route, but is subject to washboarding and dust
  • Clayhole Route (BLM Road #5) leaves Highway 389 at Colorado City. It is also about 60 miles /100 km long, but may be impassable when wet
  • And, last but not least: Main Street Route (BLM Roads #1069 and #5) from St. George is about 90 miles/145 km long and is the most scenic route. It may be impassable in winter due to snow on the slopes of Mt. Trumbull.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation on the Utah-Arizona border.
Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation on the Utah-Arizona border.

This area is full of natural wonders and should definitely be included on your Grand Canyon National Park vacation. Located about 135 miles northeast of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, on the northern border of Arizona and the southern border of Utah, Monument Valley is accessible from U.S. Highway 163. Monument Valley lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation and includes much of the area surrounding the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is the equivalent to a national park.

Part of the Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley’s floor is largely Cutler Red siltstone deposited by the meandering rivers that carved the valley. The valley’s vivid red color comes from iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone. Stratified buttes abound and are what give these uniquely-shaped rock formations the “monuments” reference. These “monuments” dot the valley and make this landscape truly a natural wonder. The valley includes large stone structures including the famed Eye of the Sun. If you’re going to experience Grand Canyon, you’ll be grateful you included this area on your itinerary.

Goosenecks State Park

Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park. Public domain photo
Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park.

This is a state park in southern Utah that provides a unique sight that is worth the side-trip from Grand Canyon. This area is located four miles off Utah Highway 261 near Mexican Hat, in the southern reaches of Utah. Visitors will delight while looking into a 1,000-foot-deep chasm carved through the Pennsylvanian Hermosa Formation by the silt-laden San Juan River. The river meanders back and forth, flowing for more than five miles while progressing only one linear mile toward the Colorado River and Lake Powell. The access road is paved. Although this is a state park, it’s quite primitive.

San Francisco Peaks

This is a volcanic mountain range located in north central Arizona, just north of Flagstaff, AZ. The highest summit in the range, Humphreys Peak, stands more than 12,600 feet tall and is the highest point in Arizona. The San Francisco Peaks, referred to by locals as simply “The Peaks,” are the remains of an eroded strato-volcano, and are a beautiful sight and a stark contrast to the Grand Canyon’s semi-arid erosive nature. To include sights of this mountain range while on your Grand Canyon National Park road trip adventure, head to Flagstaff, 59 miles south of the South Rim, accessed by I-40 or I-17, or Highways 180 and 89.

Oak Creek Canyon

This canyon is the second most popular attraction in Arizona and it’s no wonder it is because it in itself is a grand natural wonder. A 12-mile long river gorge, Oak Creek Canyon is located along the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona located between the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona. State Route 89A enters the canyon on its north end via a series of hairpin turns before traversing the bottom of the canyon for about 13 miles until the highway enters the town of Sedona, a beautiful town to spend a little time in. Access this scenic canyon by traveling south from Grand Canyon National Park to the town of Flagstaff. Continue about 5-6 miles south on I-17 before exiting on Highway 89A. Oak Creek Canyon continues south to Sedona, AZ.

Vermilion Cliffs and Paria Plateau

View from Cottonwood Cove looking north past the Teepees across the Paria Plateau, in Coyote Buttes South, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
View from Cottonwood Cove looking north past the Teepees across the Paria Plateau, in Coyote Buttes South, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument by John Fowler via Wikimedia CommonsJohn Fowler via Wikimedia Commons

This sightseeing area is located about 150 miles northeast of Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. The 3,000-foot escarpment of the Vermilion Cliffs reveals seven major geologic formations that resemble a multi-layered cake. This remote, unspoiled 294,000-acre national monument is a geologic treasure of towering cliffs, deep canyons, and spectacular sandstone formations, containing the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon. To get to this amazing sightseeing wonder, take U.S. Highway 89 and U.S. Highway Alternate 89 (89A) from Page, AZ for about 30 miles to the south and west. From Kanab, UT, take U.S. Highway Alternate 89 (89A) south and then east from Jacob Lake to the cliffs. To reach the Paria Contact Station from Kanab, take U.S. Highway 89 east approximately 60 miles. From Page, take U.S. Highway 89 west 40 miles.

Hoover Dam

On the border of Arizona and Nevada is the famous Hoover Dam. Completed in 1935, the dam at the time was the world’s largest electric-power generating station and the world’s largest concrete structure. Hoover Dam, which is named after Herbert Hoover, who played an instrumental role in its construction, is located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. If you’re starting your Grand Canyon trip in Las Vegas, or traveling by car from the southwestern U.S., Hoover Dam is a must-see. It is located 240 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Lake Mead, the lake that is formed as a result of this dam, is the largest man-made lake in the entire United States. It’s quite a sight in its own right.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell
Lake Powell by Wolfgang Staudt via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Powellis the second largest man-made lake in the U. S. resulting of damming of the Colorado River. Straddling the borders of Arizona and Utah, Lake Powell is a premier U. S. destination for boating and other outdoor enthusiasts. Lake Powell, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that spans it, provide stunning scenery to visitors. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via wooden boat in 1869. This is a scenic area and visitors can also view Glen Canyon Dam, near Page, Ariz.

London Bridge

London Bridge (Lake Havasu City), Arizona
London Bridge (Lake Havasu City), Arizona, USA

This is amazing. The official London Bridge, built in 1831, is the London Bridge visitors will see at Lake Havasu in western Arizona. How did the London Bridge end up in Arizona, you ask? After World War II, traffic on the bridge began to dramatically increase, and by 1962, it was evident that the bridge was crumbling into the Thames and was unable to handle the traffic volume over the river. The London government was in financial straits and needed someone willing to buy the crumbling bridge and remove it for them. Enter oil man Robert McCulloch, the founder of Lake Havasu City, who purchased the London Bridge for $2,460,000 and paid an additional $7 million dollars to have the bridge dismantled, shipped to American and reconstructed in its current location. Cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest antique, the famed stone bridge is worth a visit!