Did you know that it’s possible to drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in a truck camper or a Jeep? It’s true. Located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, we first heard about 4×4 road when Nissan and Hellwig announced a media day trip on the road as part of the 2017 Overland Expo West festivities. We weren’t able to make it due to other commitments, but we were determined to tackle this drive before year’s end. Happily, we were able to complete it and camp at the bottom a few weeks ago with a couple of friends, Alex and Julie Blasingame, in our truck campers. What’s great about Diamond Creek Road, is that it isn’t particularly long nor is it that difficult (unless you attempt to tackle it during the summer monsoons when flooding and wash outs can be a significant problem). Airing down your tires isn’t necessary either due to frequent grading and the short, 22-mile-long distance to the bottom of the canyon.
Finding Diamond Creek Road is pretty easy. The drive begins in Peach Springs, Arizona off historic Route 66. A permit is required to drive on the road and camp along the Colorado River. Permits are obtained at the Peach Springs Lodge, conveniently located across the street from the start of the road, which also bears the designation Indian Reservation Route 6. The price to camp overnight for two adults is $54 ($26.75 per person plus tax). Some may balk at the cost, but when you consider the incredibly scenic destination, the excellent condition of the road, and the cleanliness of the camping facilities, the cost is well worth it. Unlike camping at U.S. national parks, a reservation to camp at the bottom of Diamond Creek Road isn’t necessary nor is it required. The permit covers everything. When we camped there a few weeks ago, we were the only people there and this was on a Friday night. It was pretty cool.
Diamond Creek Road follows Diamond Creek, a small tributary of the Grand Canyon that flows year-round. The road, which parallels the creek, cuts through Peach Springs Canyon, which begins about 6 miles from town. The canyon is pretty wide at this point and gradually narrows and deepens the closer you get to the bottom. The changes in elevation along the drive are pretty stark. The elevation in town starts at a lofty 4,970 feet and gradually falls to a lowly 1,358 feet at the bottom, a drop of nearly 3,600 feet. This difference means you can see as much as a 15 degree difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the route (in the summer, temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees along the Colorado River). Not surprisingly, the changes in fauna along the route are pretty dramatic—the pinion pines and junipers in town gradually give way to clusters of prickly pear cacti and ocotillo as you get near the river.
Diamond Creek Road is pretty easy to navigate. The first 2 miles are paved and pass through a residential part of town. The rest of the road is fairly well graded with the surface smooth enough to accommodate small SUV’s. The road crosses Diamond Creek about a half-dozen times, so a fair amount of clearance is required to navigate through the crossings. When we were there in late October, the water was only 5 inches deep, but this level can rise dramatically after a heavy rain, so it’s best to be prepared. There are also some rough and rocky patches along the way, including some washboarding, but if you take it slow you’ll be fine (the speed limit on Diamond Creek Road is 25 mph). Most of the vehicles we saw on Diamond Creek Road were Jeeps and pickup trucks. Our truck campers were the largest rigs and only RV’s we saw during our two-day visit. From start to finish, the total length of the trip took about two hours.
The facilities at the bottom of Diamond Creek are pretty basic, but who cares when you’re camping in such a neat location. The landing consists of a flat beach with picnic tables for day use. Unfortunately, camping on the beach is not permitted. A designated area for dispersed camping is located a short walk from the beach. The “campground” consists of about a dozen covered picnic tables with simple vault toilets and that’s about it. There are no services. The camping at the Diamond Creek Campground is about as primitive as it gets. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you for your visit. Boating isn’t allowed at the location though the Hualapai Indian’s launch river rafting trips there nearly everyday for around $200 per person. We didn’t fish when we were there, but I’m told you can catch rainbow trout, channel catfish, and largemouth bass there on a regular basis. Swimming in the river is permitted though there are no lifeguards. Make sure your permit is handy. Reservation officials will ask to see it at least once during your visit.
Be prepared for any kind of weather at the bottom of Diamond Creek, including heavy winds. When we were there, the winds were particularly powerful and kicked up quite a bit of dust, but by the evening the winds had died down and the next day the winds were calm enough to fly a drone. During our time there the highs were in the mid-80’s with lows in the upper 50’s, nearly perfect.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time at Diamond Creek. The scenic drive and amazing location makes it a terrific excursion for a day or two, especially in a truck camper. If it’s not on your bucket list, and you enjoy everything that the Grand Canyon has to offer, you need to add it. Not many people can say they’ve driven to the bottom on the Grand Canyon, and if you haven’t done so, this is one of the few places you can do it. Sure, this part of the Grand Canyon isn’t as colorful and dramatic as the South Rim, but it’s still a pretty cool experience. It’s an entirely different perspective and view when you see the Grand Canyon from the bottom. On the truck camper difficulty scale, with 1 being the easiest and 10 the hardest, I’d have to give Diamond Creek Road a difficulty rating of 2. For the scenery and experience, I give it a 10.