Most scenic route from San Diego to Flagstaff

Most people when they think of driving from San Diego to Flagstaff, think of the I-10. The I-10 is the most direct route and takes you through some pretty cool places like Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert. Surely, there must be a more scenic route from San Diego to Flagstaff? This post will guide you through it.

453 min — about 8 hrs


Table Of Contents

  • Anza Borrego Desert
  • Apache Trail
  • Oak Creek Canyon
  • Red Rock Scenic Byway

Anza Borrego Desert

Travel Overview: 1 hour 29 min — 87 min

Before you start your journey to Anza Borrego Desert, do your research to avoid disappointment in terms of crowds. There are restrictions and guidelines to follow that you need to be aware of ( Take precautions as you explore the outdoor activities. Stay on the designated trails and leave them in their state. Take note of seasonal closures in some parts of the park. 

Expect some dry lake beds, badlands, and mountains. The peak is full of cactus and yucca. Fossils are in the wilderness. You have so much to experience, from views to desert plants. 

In the desert are deer, foxes, sheep, and eagles. Hiking spots are part of the park and horse trails. If you don’t have the energy to take walks, you have the horse as an alternative. 

Travel Overview: — 0 mi

Driving towards Apache Trail. Stop in Gila Bend, AZ.

Day 2

397 mi — about 7 hours, 59 mins

Apache Trail

Travel Overview: 2 hours 5 minutes — 121 min

The Apache trail runs through the superstitious mountains of San Diego. The Apache trail has an unpaved road. Alongside the desert, and mountains are Canyon Lake and Apache lake. Expect to see some cliff drops with safety barriers. 

Take precautions as you follow the Apache trail even when driving. Avoid large RVs, SUVs, or caravans. Use vehicles meant for challenging terrains ( Apache trail is ideal for hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, and dog friendly. 

Oak Creek Canyon

Travel Overview: 3 hours 6 minutes — 166 mi

Oak Creek Canyon is a river gorge in northern Arizona between Flagstaff and Sedona. The canyon is close to the Grand Canyon because of its scenic beauty. Use state route 89A to enter the canyon on its north end.

Parts of the canyon have wilderness areas as part of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. Multiple campgrounds, picnic areas, and recreation areas within the canyon. Grab your swimsuit as you prepare yourself for swimming in Oak Creek. If fishing is your hobby, tie your rods onto your car. 

For hiking, many trails lead into side canyons or up to the canyon rim. There is a nice view over the canyon and Northern Arizona. There are many swimming holes, hiking trails, and restaurants for your age. Hiking in Oak Creek Canyon is for the views of Oak Creek Canyon.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Travel Overview: 44 minutes — 27 min

That is a beautiful road that leads to numerous historical and geological features. It comes with adventurers and lovers of beautiful sceneries. This park has beautiful sights, including the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

It is an easy way since all locations have signs. Look out for some sightseeing, hiking, biking, and golfing. There are also two vortexes to check out, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock in the Village of Oak Creek. The village has restaurants, galleries, and some shops to visit. Stop by Coconino National Forest. It comes with many scenic overlooks.

You can stop at the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center for some maps. These guide you on trails, hiking, and some scenes worth passing by. Get ready to be distracted by the gorgeous scenery. Use many lookout points for a beautiful experience along the way. 

The center is one mile south of the Village of Oak Creek. It opens from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Drinking water and restroom facilities are available on-site. The byway is free to access and takes 20 minutes to drive the route, but you can spend hours on the scenery. 

Schnebly Hill Road

Travel Overview: 26 minutes — 14 min

You have to drive from Sedona to the gate multiple times. Know your weather before you decide to start the tour. Due to bad weather, you might not be able to go further. You should know if the road is closed. The drive from Flag and dropping down into Bear Wallow Canyon is amazing.

Try to avoid driving through Schnebly Hill in a low-clearance vehicle. It is rough, watch your line and take it slow. You can get a spot at the gate to park, where the Pink Jeep Tours. The road is full of rocks and ditches. If you are an average driver,  you won’t make it. 

An off-road vehicle is a bonus since you have to navigate this road. There is nice scenery along the way that you can’t afford to miss. You can use a bike or hike if you don’t mind the dust.

Driving towards Flagstaff, AZ. Stop in Sedona, AZ.

Day 3

22 mi — about 34 mins

  • Flagstaff, AZ

Travel Overview: 34 minutes — 22 mi

Stop in Flagstaff, AZ.

Flagstaff comes with multiple outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, disk golf, camping, boating, and rock climbing. All these activities are seasonal. 

During the winter months, Flagstaff is ideal for skiing and snowboarding. If your family enjoys snow play, this is the right time. Get ready to experience some endless outdoor adventure. The city is 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and close to seven national parks and monuments. Take your time and make sure you are not in a rush. 

Allow it to be a destination full of activities to keep you busy both indoors and outdoors. Make sure you are safe by packing your hiking boots and trekking gear. Flagstaff has locally-owned shops, restaurants, and galleries. Spare some time for shopping as you get to experience local food. 


How far is Flagstaff from San Diego

It’s 487 miles from San Diego to Flagstaff. That’s about 7 hours, 8 minutes to drive. Check a real road trip to save time. It also depends on the transport you are using. A train takes more time than driving your car.

San Diego to flagstaff train

There is one daily train from San Diego to Flagstaff, and it takes around 14 hours and 12 minutes. The train service comes from Amtrak. Traveling by train gives you comfort during your journey. 

San Diego to flagstaff flights

You can get an affordable flight if you book your flight as early as 90 days earlier. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport is the closest airport to Flagstaff. Prices and availability can change anytime. To secure your bookings well, book for a round trip, meaning you should plan your visit so that you will not miss some scenes.

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