There are many iconic trails in the west. The Great Western Trail is one of the lesser-traveled routes. The GWT starts at the southern AZ border and extends all the way to the Canadian border. There is no official well-detailed website with information on the Great Western Trail. Some information can be found at gwt.org but it appears to be incomplete. We have researched different routes including a section of the trail near Capitol Reef, UT which is only for quads and single-track vehicles. On this trip, we focused on the section from Williams to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Staircase is an area in Utah we have not explored enough. For more information visit, visitutah.com
This trip was a combination of areas we have explored in the past combined with a few new adventures. It was special because we got to take our friend Ashli from Gaia GPS on her first overlanding trip! We use Gaia to plan and navigate all of our adventures. Check out her personal blog at tentside.com. She recently wrote a great article on getting her Ham license.
There is very little off-roading required on this trip. While 4WD is required in sections, especially when towing a trailer, this is a true Overlanding experience with mostly wide-open dirt roads.
Our meetup point was near Williams, AZ in a popular dispersed camping area. Simple camping, nothing epic but easy to find and convenient to start the trip. If you have additional time starting the Great Western Trail from Jerome, AZ is a good location with lots of history and scenery on the way to Williams.
- Grandview Lookout Tower Grand Canyon South Rim
- Camping at the edge of the Grand Canyon
- Searching for Condors
- Exploring the edges of Lake Powell
- Cliff ascent on Smokey Mountain Road
- Slot Canyon on Cottonwood Canyon Road and the Grosvenor arch
Day 1 –
After a reasonable wakeup time, we headed into Williams to fuel up and meet another couple who was joining us for the night. You can start in Williams or you can drive a few miles to the east and start. We opted for the later to save a bit of time. This portion of the trail is paved until it transitions to a wide dirt forest road. This is a popular area for OHV users so be aware of other vehicles. The crowds will quickly thin as you move north towards the Grand Canyon. There are many dispersed camping opportunities. After enjoying the peaceful drive we reached the historical Grandview Lookout Tower. A slow steady climb up the steps provides a unique view of the South Rim.
Once our visit was complete we headed a short distance south to set up camp. There are many dispersed camping sites in the near area but don’t be surprised if some are occupied on the weekends.
Day 2 –
There are 2 options for this segment. Exit to the north past the Grandview lookout tower to highway 64 or continue on dirt following the GWT. This section of the park was closed during our trip due to Covid-19 restrictions. When open one reason to pass through the south rim is it will give you an even greater appreciation of the tranquility of the north rim. As you exit 64 to the east the small Navajo town of Cameron is a good place to refuel. Your next opportunities are at Gap, Marble Canyon, and Cliff Dwellers. Cliff Dwellers is typically much cheaper than Marble Canyon. The food at both locations is good. I personally love the omelets at the Marble Canyon Lodge. Sadly the Navajo nation was in lockdown. It was an eerie experience compared to all of our other times in the region.
As you turn off of 89a north of Cliff Dwellers to rejoin the GWT there is a closed gate be sure to close it after you pass through. The easy dirt transitions to a small easy 4×4 section as your traverse a small canyon.
After about 30 minutes of driving, you will come to the first of several north rim overlooks. Camping on the edge of the Grand Canyon is an incredibly unique experience. It can get very windy so be prepared.
We explored each overlook and opted to camp at one we had not been to before. After some adult beverages, a great meal of tacos, and a nice sunset it was time to go to bed and ponder what was next.
Day 3 took us to the edge of Lake Powell and our hottest night of camping yet. More in part II!