Greetings from the American Southwest! My sister, Lindsey, and I just completed a very jam-packed 12 day southwest road trip covering Nevada, Utah, and Arizona! A southwest road trip has been on my bucket list for SO long and I’m so glad we were finally able to make it happen this summer. As most of you already know, this part of the country has a lot to offer. And I mean a lot. There’s dozens of national parks, a handful of major cities (including one of the most iconic in the world – Las Vegas), charming towns, underrated state parks, and more. Throw a few deserts in there too.
I’m not going to lie, even 12 days felt a bit rushed, so if you want more time to enjoy these states to their fullest, maybe consider a full 2-week, or even 3-week road trip. We didn’t have this much time, so we condensed popular 2-week road trip itineraries into 12 days. We moved fast, but were able to see all the highlights. I spent weeks researching for this trip, reading close to 50 different blog posts, and consolidating dozens of recommendations into my own. Basically, I did the heavy-lifting for you. When reading this, you can rest assured this itinerary really does cover everything you need to see in the American Southwest. So, without further ado, here’s the ultimate (and I mean ultimate) southwest road trip itinerary!
Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by Red Cliffs Lodge. Red Cliffs Lodge is a riverside resort located in Moab, Utah. The lodge was kind enough to host my sister and me during our stay in Moab and work with me for this portion of our southwest road trip. As always, all opinions here are my own. More about our stay below!
Best Time Of Year For A Southwest Road Trip
Before we jump into the itinerary, I want to cover some key information that will be useful for you when planning a southwest road trip of your own. First, please know that this part of the country is known for its extreme temperatures. This means that a chilly January sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park can dip down to a balmy 30 F, but also escalate to 110 F under the mid-day July sun. Just like many other travel blogs suggest, the best time to visit really is during the shoulder seasons. This would be March-May or September-November. Not only will the temperatures be much more mild in this region during this time, there will be way less crowds.
To counter this, summer is the most popular time to visit the parks because well, it’s a fun thing to do this time of year! Just be aware of the hot temperatures and crowds. My sister and I were here in mid-June and really enjoyed our time, despite it reaching over 100 F most days. Luckily, this part of the country gets dry heat, meaning you won’t sweat! Just be aware of sneaky dehydration.
Budgeting For A Southwest Road Trip
Now that you know to cover Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and the best time to visit these states, let’s talk about budgeting for a southwest road trip. Since this is a road trip, it will be more affordable than a luxury beach vacation, however, things will add up quickly.
First, you’ll need flights, unless you live locally. My sister and I chose to fly into Las Vegas and out of Phoenix. Some people opt to fly roundtrip from the same city, but we found very cheap one-way flights.
Pro-tip: Before jumping right for a roundtrip ticket, be sure to plug in the route as two one-ways. Although you may have to travel on two separate airlines, this is often much cheaper and a good hack for saving money!
The next major cost will be a rental car, unless you’re a local then good for you! Our rental car was not cheap. For starters, we needed it for a full 10 days. Tack on the underage driver fee (my sister and I are 21 and 22), an additional driver fee (so we could both drive), plus the one-way rental fee (which can be avoided if you start and end in the same city), it came to about $1,000. So, $500 each. Not including gas. Not ideal, but absolutely essential for this type of trip.
Be sure to rent your car well in-advance and CONFIRM WITH THE RENTAL AGENCY DIRECTLY! We secured our car via Priceline about a month before our trip and STILL hadn’t received confirmation about our car until the morning of due to a rental car shortage. Luckily, I called the day before and they suggested we show up right at opening to grab the first rental available. Thank goodness we did. It ended up being the only rental there! The plus side? We got a 2020 Mustang convertible. We didn’t complain.
The next cost will be accommodation. You can take this one of two ways. The first: Rent a camper van or plan on tent camping from your car. Camp spots can be booked in the parks for as little as $20/night, making this a very affordable option. Split between my sister and I ($10 night/each), this would’ve been about $120 TOTAL! If you go this route just be sure to grab these spots well in advance. The campgrounds tend to book up about 3 months in advance during peak months.
Due to the extreme heat, we opted for the hotel / motel route. Motels are a cheaper option, and are actually quite nice in this part of the country. Super 8 and Motel 6 are great budget-friendly options if you’re just looking for a bed to sleep in and a shower. We splurged on some hotels, including a nice one right on the strip in Vegas and on a resort in Scottsdale, AZ.
Since this itinerary is a road trip, you will be changing accommodation quite frequently. We stayed no more than 2 nights in one place, and were often changing hotels every night. For the 12 nights we were away, I think we spent about $600 each on accommodation. Again, this could’ve been WAY cheaper, but sleeping with A/C was a non-negotiable for us.
Food / Drink
There are two more costs associated with this trip. The first is food. Again, you can make this as affordable or as expensive as you want. We opted to buy some non-perishable goods at Walmart early on in our trip to eat for breakfast and snacks to cut down on costs. Our bundle of oranges, apples, bananas, granola bars, instant oatmeal, bowls, spoons, water bottles, nuts, and some snacks came to about $50 total and lasted us the whole trip! We bought lunch and dinner everyday. Most days, I tried to keep my lunch costs under $10 by just eating at Subway (they’re EVERYWHERE in the southwest) and avoided charges for coffees and desserts. Dinner was always the most expensive meal, especially in cities like Vegas and Scottsdale. If I could guess, we probably spent about $400 each on food and drinks total.
Pro-tip: Any beverage in Vegas is overpriced. Hit up a liquor store off the strip to avoid overpriced cocktails and buy a case of water at the local Walgreens. It will cost as much as a single water bottle at most hotels.
Tours & Activities
The last cost you’ll want to account for is activities! Luckily, this trip is extremely hiking /exploring-heavy meaning… FREE! Lindsey and I spent most of our days driving to overlooks in our car, doing hikes, swimming, and checking out the various downtowns. We both probably spent between $100-$200 on souvenirs / goods in the various towns and another $200 each or so on tours. You could easily go without this cost, but I think there are a few tours in this region that are worth the money. For example, we loved the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona (which I cover in more detail below). This was about $100 each including tip. Other more expensive, but popular tours include a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, white water rafting, etc. I also recommend setting aside some money to see at least one show in Vegas.
Pro-tip: It costs $35 per vechile to enter each national park. This will also add up quickly so I highly recommend purchasing an America The Beautiful Parks Pass in advance. This pass only costs $80 and is good for up to a year! In the year, you can visit any national park you want an unlimited amount of times! It also covers up to 4 passengers in one vechile, meaning my sister and I could share it. We split the cost of $40 each. This paid for itself on day one.
All in, this trip wasn’t the cheapest. But, we knew that going in since we were away for so long. If you add in gas and other miscellaneous fees, it came to about $1,500 each. I want to be transparent here so you can plan accordingly. It was well worth our money, but not as cheap as we initially assumed it would be.
What To Pack For A Southwest Road Trip
Before I jump into the day by day itinerary, I think it’s important to cover what to pack for this type of trip. Since you’re constantly on the move on a USA road trip, it’s so important to not overpack and to stay organized. I highly recommend bringing packing cubes or several trash bags with you to keep your dirty shoes and clothing separate from the clean. Additionally, sorting everything into smaller bags will help keep essentials consolidated and easy to move in and out of the hotel rooms.
If you’re interested in reading my packing list for road trips, enter your name and email below! A downloadable packing list will be made immediately available to you via Canva! It’s useable for any road trip!
Know Before You Go
The last section of information I wanted to include in here before I cover the southwest road trip itinerary is a “know before you go” tip section. There are quite a few things I wish I knew before departing on this type of trip that I’d like to share:
1. Lack Of Cell Service
I knew this part of the US was remote, but wow! We barely had service for 12 days straight. This is another perk of staying in hotels. We loved having WiFi every night. Just be aware of this when venturing into the parks. You’ll want to make a clear plan ahead of time and stay in groups.
2. Download Maps In Advance
I recommend doing this for the drives because there will definitely be portions that are completely off the grid! My sister and I often screenshotted directions in advance, but pre-downloading Google Maps is a good strategy too. You can also do this with hiking.
3. Carry Hand Sanitizer
This will be essential for using the bathroom anywhere in the parks! Luckily there’s outhouses at most trailheads, so don’t worry about not being able to go, but definitely worry about the cleanliness! They weren’t all pretty. Hand sanitizer in your backpack AND a big one in the car will prove itself to be essential.
4. Bring A Refillable Water Bottle And Refill It Often
Sure we bought some plastic water bottles and jugs to refill with, but having a refillable water bottle AND Camelbak are so important for hikes. It’s recommended to have one gallon per person per day. I recommend buying a large Camelbak bladder and keeping that full in your hiking bag at all times, in addition to one or two water bottles in your cup holders.
5. Take Advantage Of The Visitors Centers
Not only are the park rangers the true experts here, the Visitors Centers are a great way to begin your adventure in any national park. First, this is where you should refill your waters at the start of the day. And second, this is a great place to firm up your plans! The park rangers will know exactly which trails are open that day, the conditions of the park, special events, etc. They also provide free maps and resources to anyone who asks. You can also buy souvenirs here!
6. Reapply Sunscreen
The sun is so strong in this part of the US, even in the winter. Pack sunscreen with you and reapply it often. You’ll be suprised how burned you can get even at 7 am on some of the trails.
7. Don’t Over Do It
I know this probably seems like common sense. It’s also pretty unavoidable on a trip like this, but really don’t push it. Give yourself a lazy morning every few days to sleep in and take some days off from hiking. Try to rest in the afternoon to avoid peak heat and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
8. Make Sure Your Car Always Has Plenty Of Gas
As mentioned above, there will be several remote drives on this southwest road trip, so grab gas whenever you can! We never let our tank dip below half just in case.
Alright, 2,000 words later….let’s jump into the ultimate southwest road trip itinerary!
The Ultimate Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
The last note I want to make before jumping into the complete itinerary is that there are THOUSANDS of variations to this trip. People fly roundtrip in and out of Vegas, from Phoenix, come down from Salt Lake City, drive along Route 66, drive in from Colorado, etc. Some people visit only a few of the parks and spend multiple days at a time exploring just one. My goal for this trip was to cover as much of these 3 states as I could, especially the national parks. Because of this, this trip moved quickly, but allowed us to see SO much. Most of the itineraries I read left out a key stop, such as the Grand Canyon or Vegas, and I found that this itinerary allowed us to see all the highlights of a southwest road trip.
Day 1: Home To Las Vegas, NV
Home → Las Vegas, NV
This southwest road trip is going to kick off in Vegas! I did this on purpose because Las Vegas has a great airport right downtown that you can fly directly into from most cities in the US, plus it’s better to explore the strip at the beginning of the trip before you get too burnt out. You’ll want to spent 2 nights /2 days here!
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
There are TONS of accommodation options in the city. If you want to save money, chain hotels off the strip are a great option, but if you want to make the most of the city, you’re going to want to splurge on the strip. I recommend staying somewhere central. For example, Mandalay Bay is wonderful, but it’s located all the way to the left. My sister and I stayed at the MGM Grand, a perfect option in terms of cost, location, and offerings. It was cheaper than the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace for example, but still had several pools, a well-known casino, etc. We got a great deal because we stayed mid-week!
Where To Eat:
Every hotel in Vegas has awesome restaurants, but most of them require reservations in advance. We ended up eating at Eataly for lunch, and Wolfgang Puck at MGM for dinner. Each hotel also has food courts which is another good option for lunches.
What To Do:
Now for the fun part. First, you can’t leave Vegas without gambling. Every hotel on the strip has a casino, with the most famous being the one at Caesar’s Palace. We played the slots at quite a few, which I recommend doing. Next, you’ll want to hotel hop a bit. The “attractions” in Vegas are the hotels, so I recommend checking out a few. My sister and I explored the most famous ones: the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, and the Venetian, all on day one.
Visit The Bellagio
At the Bellagio, be sure to walk around the Bellagio Conservatory. If you head out the main entrance you can also snap a shot of the iconic Bellagio view, which has the fountain, Paris, and Planet Hollywood in the backdrop. Once you’re done indoors, watch the Bellagio fountain show! It goes off every 30 minutes from 3-8 pm and every 15 minutes from 8-12 am. You can’t miss it. Especially at nighttime.
Gamble At Caesar’s Palace
Next up is Caesar’s Palace, which is located right next door, although be warned – everything in Vegas is further than it seems. The sidewalks here aren’t very direct, meaning you’ll end up weaving in and out of the hotels to get anywhere.
Caesar’s Palace is known for its casino, like I mentioned above, and the Forum Shops! These luxury shops are complete with indoor fountains and a sky ceiling. I highly recommend walking through here.
Explore The Venetian
Next, work your way across the street and over a pedestrian bridge to the Venetian. We just walked around St. Mark’s square here, but you can also pay to take a gondola ride! I can ensure you it’s not like the real thing, but still pretty cool.
Day 2: Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, NV
Time In Car:
< 1 hour
Where To Stay:
We stayed at the MGM Grand for a second night.
Where To Eat:
There’s a CATCH at the Aria on the strip that we tried to eat at for dinner, but ending up just getting sushi take out today!
What To Do:
Here are my recommendations for the second and only full day in Vegas!
Photo At The Vegas Sign
Begin your second day in Vegas bright and early at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign! This sign is located at the very beginning of the strip on the left (opposite of the STRAT), about a 3 minute drive from Mandalay Bay. We made the mistake of walking here thinking it was close. Again, “close” in Vegas is 30 minutes for .5 miles. Just Uber. There’s a drop off spot right in front. This sign is super iconic to the city and made for a great photo, so despite the hassle, I do recommend it.
Pro-tip: There’s always a very long line of tourists waiting for their turn to grab a solo shot in front of the sign, so I recommend just walking up to the side and grabbing your own photos!
Seven Magic Mountains
Next up is the Seven Magic Mountains! If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically an Instagrammable art installation located in the middle of the desert. It’s about 30 minutes from the strip, so you’ll have to drive or Uber, but be warned – there’s NO CELL SERVICE HERE! Meaning, you need to ask your driver to wait for you or you’ll be stranded. Luckily, you only need about 15-20 minutes here to grab your pictures and enjoy the scenery, so it’s a quick stop. It’s also free. It was nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the strip for a bit, so I recommend it!
Once we were back on the strip it was time for lunch and to relax! We hung out by our hotel’s pool all afternoon, which is something I HIGHLY recommend doing to beat the heat! It was 105 F when we were in Vegas, so cold drinks by the pool were the move.
A Show & The Bars
The last thing I recommend doing in Vegas is seeing a show! They’re usually around $100 each, so not cheap, but beyond worth it! Vegas has some of the most iconic shows in the world, including Cirque de Soleil and David Copperfield. After our show, my sister and I spent the rest of the night at the Chandelier Bar at the Cosmo, which was amazing.
Day 3: Las Vegas, NV To Zion National Park
Las Vegas, NV → Hoover Dam → Valley of Fire State Park → St. George, UT → Zion National Park
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
The jumping off point to Zion National Park is the town of Springdale, UT – stay here! It’s so cute and the perfect place to shop around. There are tons of hotel and motel options downtown, plus camping in the park. My sister and I stayed at the Zion Park Motel, which I definitely recommend. It had an awesome location and although it was very basic, it was also super affordable for the night.
Where To Eat:
There’s tons of coffee shops here, so I recommend that for breakfast. We went to MeMe’s Cafe downtown for lunch and Bit and Spur for dinner. This dinner was by far one of the best we’ve EVER had, so it’s an absolute MUST! Try their homemade guac, prickly pear margs, and enjoy the southwest food and view!
What To Do:
Leave Vegas early in the morning. This is the first day you’ll need the rental car on the southwest road trip. Be warned: There are severe rental car shortages during the summer months in this part of the US due to high demand, so make sure you confirm your car ahead of time and arrive first thing in the morning to pick one up! From here, drive an hour outside of the city to Hoover Dam.
Visit Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is a famous concrete arch dam that stretches over the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona. Exploring this area was really enjoyable, so I recommend driving over the dam itself (from NV to AZ), walking across the nearby bridge to get a view of the actual dam, and swinging by the Visitor’s Center. We spent less than an hour here.
Valley Of Fire State Park
Next up on the list for today is the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. This park is located about 1.5 hours from Hoover Dam and is on the way to the national parks in Utah. Since it’s a state park, your parks pass won’t work here. Instead you’ll have to pay $10 at the entrance. Most people would recommend setting aside at least a half day to explore here, but for the sake of time, we only stayed for an hour or two. It was also too hot when we visited to do any major hikes.
After entering the park, I recommend driving right to Mouse’s Tank Road. This is the most iconic road in the state park and will provide you with the best views. There are several overlooks here and short hikes you can take to enjoy the views. After several failed attempts, I finally found THE view that everyone takes a photo of…
Pro-tip: It’s located across the street from the trailhead of the Rainbow Vista Trail. The path is unmarked, but you’ll see a short, heavily trafficked foot path of people who’ve been here before.
St. George, Utah
Welcome to Utah! If you drive another 1.5 hours you’ll hit the town of St. George, Utah. This city is one of the largest in southern Utah and is another common place to stay when visiting Zion. My sister and I just drove through here, but it was the perfect place to fuel up on gas and grab some groceries. The Walmart was super affordable and had everything we needed for the southwest road trip!
Zion National Park
By the time we actually pulled into Zion it was about 6 pm, meaning we had just enough time for a short sunset hike. I highly recommend doing this to avoid the crowds and extreme heat. My sister and I drove straight to the Kolob Canyons section of the park. This area is the least visited in the park and is highly underrated. For starters, no one is here! It’s also beautiful. I recommend doing the Timber Creek Overlook hike. It’s quick and easy (about 1 mile round trip) and will bring you to one of the best overlooks I’ve ever seen. From here, head into Springdale and call it a night!
Day 4: Zion National Park To Bryce Canyon National Park
Zion National Park → Bryce Canyon National Park → Tropic, UT
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
Bryce is a much smaller national park than Zion so there’s less to do. Camping within the park is still an option, although spots fill up months in advance. The two towns nearby are Bryce Canyon, UT and Tropic, UT. We stayed at Bryce UpTop Lodge for the night. It wasn’t the nicest motel ever, but it was super cheap, so go for it.
Where To Eat:
Going off the previous point, there’s less here. We did Subway for lunch in Bryce Canyon and went to Showdowns for dinner in Tropic, UT. This place was actually awesome. It’s a restaurant in a rustic barn with wonderful food and live country music!
What To Do:
Begin your day bright and early in Zion National Park with a big hike! There are dozens of hikes in Zion, but the two most famous ones are Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, which runs through a river. My sister and I opted for Angel’s Landing for times sake because the Narrows is a 8-9 mile hike. Most people in the park seemed to be doing the Narrows though (I could tell from the waterproof shoes and hiking poles), so I wish I had more time. If we did two nights in Springdale, I would’ve loved to do both on our southwest road trip.
Hike Angel’s Landing
Angel’s Landing is a ~5 mile roundtrip hike that begins on the West Rim Trail. This trail is heavily trafficked and pretty doable, although some of the switchbacks are quite steep. Once you reach the top of this trail (after about 2.5 miles), you get to a summit. Most people choose to stop here and enjoy a snack, the views, and use the bathrooms. If you’re feeling adventurous, continue on for another .5 miles up Angel’s Landing – a narrow, extremely steep path that runs up the side of a ridge.
This hike is NOT for those of you who are afraid of heights. Not only are you up super high, but you’re essential scaling the edge of the mountain ridge the entire time. The worst part wasn’t the lack of footing or fear of falling, but all the people! There’s only one way up and one way down, meaning you have to make space for people on both sides. Oh yes, there’s also a chain to use to climb up! And it just happens to be the same chain to use to come down. So basically, you have to fight to get even a few fingers on this thing. Although the crowds were annoying, it also made me feel weirdly safe because god-forbid, if you were going to fall, there would be about 30 hands there to catch you.
I recommend attempting this early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Not only was it congested, it took me about 1.5 hours to get to the top because of all the waiting. My crowd of 20 couldn’t climb up until we let a crowd of 20 descend down by us first. Once I finally made it to the top, though, it was beyond worth it. The views are insane and luckily the entire way down only took about 30 minutes.
Pro-tip: The main road to run through the park is the Zion Canyon Road. Not only is this road the most scenic in the park, it’s also the only way to access popular places like Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and the Zion Lodge. The downside? No cars allowed (unless you’re staying at the lodge). This means you’ll have to make your way to the Visitors Center to grab a shuttle into the park. The shuttles are completely free and run regularly, but do fill up fast. We got there at 7 am and still had to wait about 45 minutes. Oh ya, and the parking lot at the Visitors Center fills up by like 6 am. You can try your luck at the overflow lot next door at 7 am (we got lucky), but if you’re any later you’ll have to take a shuttle from downtown at 8 am.
Explore Downtown Springdale
After a full morning of hiking, we ate lunch downtown at MeMe’s and shopped before leaving Zion. The fastest way to get to Bryce Canyon, which was only 1.5 hours away, was actually through the park, so we got one last scenic drive in this afternoon.
Sightseeing At Bryce Canyon
Once we were settled in at Bryce and showered, we made our way into the park for a bit of sightseeing. We were both pretty burnt out at this point, so we opted for some overlooks instead of hikes. I highly recommend checking out Inspiration Point (there’s upper and lower lookouts) and the natural bridge. Both are easily accessible from the parking lots nearby. Tonight we ate dinner at Showdowns in Tropic, which was mentioned above.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park To Capitol Reef National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park → Bryce Canyon, UT → Torrey, UT
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
Capitol Reef is the least explored national park of the Mighty 5 in Utah, so there aren’t too many options here. We stayed at the Capitol Reef Resort which was quite expensive, but had an amazing location, pool, and even wagons / teepees to stay in! Staying in an unique accommodation at least once is a must on any southwest road trip!
Where To Eat:
There’s not too much going on in Torrey, UT so we did Subway again for lunch and ate dinner at the Rim Rock Patio, which is located right across from the Capitol Reef Resort. This place had an awesome atmosphere, complete with corn hole, horse shoe, live bands, and bomb pizza. Lots of locals were here!
What To Do:
As mentioned previously, Bryce is much smaller than Zion, but I still recommend doing a good hike here to make the most of your time on the southwest road trip. Begin your morning at the Visitor’s Center to fill up waters, use the restroom, and confirm your plans with a park ranger. Then head to Sunrise Point for a hike along the Navajo and Queens’ Garden Trails. The combination of these trails is the most popular hike in the park. This is what I recommend doing:
Hike The Navajo & Queen’s Garden Loops
Drive to Sunrise Point and park near the General Store. The lot here is huge, so you should have no problem. Most people begin their hike at Sunrise Point, hike down the Queen’s Garden Trail to the Navajo Trail, ending at Sunset Point. DO IT BACKWARDS! By going counterclockwise, you avoid climbing up the extremely steep switchbacks at Sunset.
To do this, ignore the start of the Queen’s Garden Trail at Sunrise Point and instead walk 0.5 miles along the Rim Trail to Sunset Point. From here, head down into the canyon (down the switchbacks) until you reach a split. You can choose to go along the Two Bridges trail here or to Wall Street. Either way, look out for Thor’s Hammer as you make your way down – it’s the most popular hoodoo in the canyon! I recommend exploring Wall Street. The scenery is overall cooler, and the path brings you right through some slot canyons. Work your way down here, along the Navajo Trail, until you reach the Queen’s Garden Trail. Continue on through here back up to Sunrise Point, where you end right at your car! This entire loop is only about 3 miles and will allow you to see so much.
Old Bryce Town
After hiking, make your way downtown for lunch and to explore Old Bryce Town. This pioneer, wild wild west shopping center has a few eclectic shops, horses to see, and ice cream. Swing through here before leaving town – it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area.
From Bryce, Capitol Reef National Park is a 2 hour drive northeast. We were too tired to explore the park this evening, so we opted to hang out at the resort instead. The Capitol Reef Resort has a wonderful pool and is located right across the street from the Rim Rock Patio, which was a fun spot to hangout at!
Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park To Moab, UT
Capitol Reef National Park → Dead Horse Point State Park → Canyonlands National Park → Moab, UT
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
Moab, UT is an absolute MUST on a southwest road trip! Not only is it the jumping off point to Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park, it’s also super charming. The town of Moab is quite compact, with one main road running through the downtown. Here you’ll find quaint cafes, boutiques, and dozens of hotels. Most people opt to stay in a chain hotel right downtown for convenience, but I was lucky to be working with the Red Cliffs Lodge for this portion of my trip and opted to stay along the Colorad0 River!
The Red Cliffs Lodge is a luxury resort located about 20 minutes from downtown Moab along the Colorado River. The property is complete with a restaurant, winery, pool, horse corral, and dozens of river-side cabins. The lodge hosted my sister and I in one of their King Cabins along the river for two nights. I couldn’t recommend staying here more! The cabin was so cozy. It had not one, but TWO bath tubs, a comfortable king bed, full kitchenette, fireplace, and lounge chairs on a private deck overlooking the river. I highly recommend staying in one of their cabins, eating at the restaurant on site, and doing a wine tasting. The winery here, Castle Creek Winery, is actually the largest exporter of wine in Utah!
Where To Eat:
As mentioned above, the restaurant at the Red Cliffs Lodge, the Cowboy Grille, is delicious and has amazing views of the Colorado River! I recommend eating here for dinner if you’re staying in the area. In downtown Moab, I recommend Pasta Jay’s for Italian, the Moab Garage Co. for lunch and coffee, and Love Muffin Cafe for breakfast.
What To Do:
Today was one of the busiest days you’ll have on your southwest road trip, as this itinerary recommends that you cover Capitol Reef National Park, Dead Horse State Park, and Canyonlands National Park all in ONE day! The average person would probably prefer to spend a few days at each of these places, but I prefer to see as much as I can when I travel! Also, no one can see an ENTIRE national park anyways, even if you have a week, so I always recommend just enjoying the highlights.
Scenic Drive At Capitol Reef
The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park is a 8 mile road that runs directly through the park. This road is where most of the overlooks are, and also splits into a few dirt roads. Everything I read online mentioned visiting the Capitol Gorge portion of this park, so I was very motivated to make it here on our southwest road trip. A little too motivated. The dirt road here is rough. And I mean like major potholes and small boulders rough. Our mustang made it about .5 miles before we had to turn around. Apparently there’s awesome hikes and even more epic scenery of the Waterpocket Fold at the end of this road (it’s 2.5 miles one way), but we didn’t make it. If you try it, be sure your car has very high clearance.
Pie At The Gifford Homestead
After exploring the scenic drive, swing by the historic Gifford Homestead for a photo op and PIE! This area of the park is beautiful and the pie here is to die for. They serve mixed berry, cherry, and peach, all made with fresh fruit from the orchards in the park. We had mixed berry and loved it. Be sure to grab some vanilla ice cream to go with it.
Drive To Dead Horse Point State Park
After leaving Capitol Reef, drive 3 hours to Dead Horse Point State Park. This state park is probably the most famous in Utah and is definitely worth the visit on a southwest road trip, especially because it’s only 10 minutes away from the main entrance of Canyonlands! My sister and I only spent about an hour here – again we covered a lot in a little bit of time. Although there are lots of hikes here too, we just drove straight to Dead Horse Point to enjoy the overlook. There’s restrooms here and several places to enjoy the insane views.
This park got its name for a pretty sickening reason. For reasons unknown to most people today, pioneers used to leave horses for dead at the point in this park in the 19th century. They would use the 3 sides of the cliffs to block them in, and would build wooden fences to barricade them in on the 4th side. Since these horses were left without food or water in the scorching sun, they passed away within days. Hence the name, Dead Horse State Park. Weird, huh?
Explore Canyonlands National Park
From the entrance of Dead Horse Point State Park, the main entrance to Canyonlands National Park is only a 10 minute drive, so visit them both! A note about Canyonlands: It’s huge! And I mean HUGE! It’s split into multiple sections, with Island in the Sky being the most popular and the Needles and Maze being the most remote (must be accessed by 4x4s). I recommend sticking with the Island in the Sky section. There is a nice Visitor’s Center here, several overlooks, and a few short, well-known hikes.
The two overlooks Lindsey and I went to were Grand View Point and the Green River Overlook. Both offered insane views of the hundreds of canyons below (hence the park’s name) and the Colorado River. These two overlooks + a scenic, slow drive through the park took us about an hour. At this point, it was after 7 pm and time for our last adventure of the day. We drove to Mesa Arch for a sunset hike!
Mesa Arch is the most famous site in Canyonlands and is most popular at sunrise because the sun peaks directly through the arch. Unfortunately we didn’t make it here for sunrise (which I hear is SO worth it), but we did get to see it. The good thing about this hike is it’s a 0.7 mile loop from the parking lot, so it’s super easy. The arch is beautiful, but a bit scary if you get too close as it drops off into a canyon below. Don’t miss it!
Day 7: Moab, UT
Arches National Park → Moab, UT
Time In Car:
< 1 hour
Where To Stay:
You’ll definitely want two nights in Moab on your southwest road trip because there’s a lot to do in the area! We stayed at the Red Cliffs Lodge again tonight.
Where To Eat:
We got lunch at the Moab Garage Co. today, which I highly recommend!
What To Do:
Today is a full day in Moab. Begin your morning nice and early at Arches. And I mean like 6 am early.
Hike To Delicate Arch
First, you’ll want to beat the heat. Second, the crowds at Delicate Arch can be brutal. As the official symbol of Utah (it’s on the license plate!), Delicate Arch is one of the most popular hikes in the area. It gets super crowded super quickly, so I recommend getting there at like 8/9 AM latest! Some people like to be here for sunrise, meaning they’re hiking in the dark at 5:30 am. We weren’t this extreme, but we were on the trail by 7.
Delicate Arch is only reachable by hiking, so you’ll have to do the 3 mile round trip hike to get here. The first and last portions of the hike are quite flat and easy. The middle third, however, is quite steep. You have to climb up the surface of a giant rock, so it’s quite tiring and easy to loose the trail. Just follow the crowds and the markers.
Towards the very end of the trail you’ll have to go around a bend that opens up the arch. DON’T! At least not yet. On your right you’ll pass a window arch (a cut out in the rock located about 10 feet above the trail). CLIMB IT! This little cut out gives you the perfect view of the arch below, with NO people! My sister and I hung out here alone for several minutes before other people caught on. From here, we did round the corner for the main view of the arch and waited in the photo line. This took about 20 minutes but was worth it to get up close and personal with it! You don’t realize how large this arch truly is until you’re standing right under it! Be sure to do this on your southwest road trip!
Explore The Windows & Double Arch
After hiking down from Delicate Arch, hop in the car and drive to the Windows! The Windows are a series of arches located adjacent to one another. From the car, the loop to visit all 3 is less than a mile. Start to the left at the North Window Arch, which is located about .10 miles from the parking lot. Next up is the South Window Arch, followed by the Turret Arch on the right. From Turret Arch you can easily return to the parking lot.
Across the road (about a 7 minute walk), from the parking lot is Double Arch! I think this was my favorite stop because of how unique it was! From the lower parking lot located here, it’s a 0.25 mile walk up to the arch. You can actually scale the rocks here quite a bit to get nice and high for the best view. It’s so impressive! And HUGE!
Balanced Rock is also located right in this area which is cool to see!
Optional: Garden Of Eden
We barely drove through here, but this section of Arches offers even more overlooks and hikes. If you’re feeling energized and want to explore more, definitely visit this area to round out your time in the park. By the time my sister and I visited here it was already 11 am, so we were ready for brunch and headed back down into Moab.
Enjoy Downtown Moab
Moab is awesome not just for its nearby parks, but for its shops and cafes. Spend the rest of the day exploring the town. We did some shopping here before heading back to the lodge for an evening wine tasting and dinner!
Day 8: Moab, UT To Page, AZ
Moab, UT → Monument Valley → Lake Powell / Antelope Canyon → Horseshoe Bend → Page, AZ
Time In Car:
~ 6 hours
Where To Stay:
Stay in Page, AZ tonight! If you want something more unique, you can stay in a wagon at the Shash Dine Eco-Retreat! This place is owned by a sweet Navajo couple and will give you a very authentic experience, complete with a bonfire, sheep, and the most beautiful starry night you’ll ever see. Want something a bit more comfortable? The Super 8 Motel downtown was very affordable and recently renovated.
Where To Eat:
Sunset 89 in Page, AZ was amazing for dinner! I recommend one of their noodle dishes and to sit outside to enjoy the views of Horseshoe Bend below. This view was one of our favorites on the southwest road trip.
What To Do:
Today is another busy day covering a lot of ground. I recommend leaving Moab nice and early, around 7/8 am, grabbing breakfast and gas on the way out. Drive 3 hours south to state #3 – Arizona! Not only is there a Instagrammable “Welcome to Utah” sign here, you can visit the iconic Monument Valley.
Visit Monument Valley
Pro-tip: Visiting soon on a southwest road trip? All of Navajo Nation is shut down to tourists because of COVID-19, so unfortunately, Monument Valley is closed to visitors. We originally planned on visiting though, because it is right on the way to Page, so I left time for it in this itinerary. Apparently you don’t need a ton of time here, it’s just a scenic drive and a great place for photos. Maybe if you have time, go for a quick run to recreate the iconic scene from Forrest Gump!
Kayak In Lake Powell
From Monument Valley, drive another 2 hours to Lake Powell. Lake Powell runs through Utah and Arizona and is an adventure hot-spot in the Page, AZ area. Lindsey and I chose to visit so that we could explore Antelope Canyon, something you should definitely make time for on your southwest road trip itinerary.
Visit Antelope Canyon
Pro-tip: Antelope Canyon is split into two sections, Upper Canyon and Lower. Upper is more famous and can only be accessed with a tour group and an official Navajo guide. Similarly to Monument Valley, this is all still shut down because of the pandemic. Instead, you can access Lower Antelope Canyon from Lake Powell!
Lindsey and I chose to rent a double kayak from Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks. This company also offers SUP rentals, plus guided tours, but we wanted something self-paced. We kayaked in Lake Powell for about 30 minutes before reaching the official entrance of Antelope Canyon. Once inside, the water was much calmer and we paddled for another 45 minutes or so before reaching at the end. At this point, the water stops and you can hike! We docked our kayak and hiked for about 15 minutes in the canyon. We were in a bit of a time crunch with our rental, but apparently the slot canyon gets very narrow (and picturesque) about 1 mile in.
I believe the entire hike is 1.5 miles in, so 3 miles round trip. Make sure you pack lots of water because all the paddling + a 3 mile hike could push you over the edge. It definitely did for me. Despite hydrating and swimming, I still managed to get heat exhaustion and really didn’t feel well the rest of the day after this. I’m glad we made it to the very end of the canyon, but I probably shouldn’t have pushed it.
Sunset At Horseshoe Bend
It costs $10 per vehicle to enter Horseshoe Bend and takes about 1.5 miles of walking round trip to see it. Although you’re probably going to be exhausted at this point, I highly recommend doing this at sunset! There are tons of spots along the overlook here to enjoy the sunset at Horseshoe, which got its name because of the way the Colorado River bends around the canyon below. Once you’re here, stay awhile and enjoy the views below. This was our last stop of the day on our southwest road trip before dinner and a good night’s sleep!
Day 9: Page, AZ To Sedona, AZ
Page, AZ → Grand Canyon National Park → Sedona, AZ
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
For the next two nights you’ll want to stay in Sedona! There are lots of accommodation options in Sedona, ranging from budget hostels to luxury wellness resorts. Lindsey and I stayed at the Desert Quail Inn downtown and really enjoyed it. It was pretty affordable, in a nice location, and also had a pool!
Where To Eat:
There are tons of dining options in Sedona! We ate lunch this day at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center just for convenience and ate dinner once we arrived in Sedona. The number one recommendation I read online was Elote Cafe and after eating here, I can vouch it’s an absolute MUST! This high-class southwest / Mexican restaurant is so popular they actually book up months in advance. My sister and I were unable to get a reservation so last minute, so we just did take out! This allowed us to still try the food and be able to relax in our hotel room. I couldn’t recommend it more!
What To Do:
I recommend leaving Page early this morning for the 2.5 hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park. Luckily Page is a pretty big town, so you’ll have no problem grabbing a coffee and gas before hitting the road. My sister and I drove to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Visit The Grand Canyon’s South Rim
Grand Canyon National Park is ginormous, as the canyon itself is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide! There are four sides to the canyon: the south rim, north rim, east rim, and west. The west rim is a popular place to visit from the Vegas area, but the south rim is by far the most popular. Don’t even worry about trying to visit the other parts, this area is plenty!
If you enter the park from the east entrance (we did), your first stop should be the Desert View Watchtower. There’s a marketplace here, restrooms, and you’ll get your first sweeping view of the canyon! From here, drive along the scenic, 23-mile Desert View drive. There are dozens of overlooks here, so be sure to pull over a few times before reaching the South Rim Visitor’s Center.
South Rim Visitor’s Center
The Visitor’s Center is the perfect place to fill up waters, use the restrooms, chat with a park ranger, and get lunch. There are a few lunch options here serving to-go sandwiches and drinks.
After lunch, walk 0.5 miles from the Visitor’s Center to Mather’s Point. This point is the best place to watch sunrise in the park, but is wonderful during the day too. Lindsey and I hung out here for awhile, taking in the views.
Grand Canyon Village
Next up is Grand Canyon Village. There’s a general store here to grab a snack at and some souvenirs. From here, drive to the train station and park nearby to hop onto the Hermit Road Shuttle. Similarly to Zion, this road is one of the most scenic in the area and can only be visited by shuttle. There are several overlooks here, but only 3 of them have stops with returning shuttles, so plan accordingly. If you were to ride for the entire loop, it would take about 1.5 hours. We didn’t have enough time for this, so we just hopped on /off at the first few overlooks and really enjoyed the scenery here!
National Geographic Visitor’s Center & IMAX Movie
Before you leave the Grand Canyon for good on your southwest road trip, drive one mile into the town of Tusayan, AZ to visit the National Geographic Visitor’s Center. This place has a small cafe, plenty of souvenirs, and the Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets IMAX movie. This 35 minute movie is the perfect way to end your day at the Grand Canyon.
Dinner In Sedona
From the south rim, Sedona is another 1.5 hours south. I recommend eating at Elote Cafe before settling in for the night!
Day 10: Sedona, AZ
Time In Car:
< 1 hour
Where To Stay:
We stayed a second night at the Desert Quail Inn in Sedona.
Where To Eat:
Most restaurants in Sedona need reservations, but on your second day, swing by the Secret Garden Cafe for brunch! You can walk right in and sit on their patio in the back. You can’t leave here without trying their quiche! It was to die for! For dinner, Lindsey and I went to Butterfly Burger… so good!
What To Do:
Today is a full day in Sedona on the southwest road trip! Sedona is a super unique place. Its vibe is an intersection of southwest, Navajo tradition, art galleries, health and wellness, adventure, and spirituality.
Pink Jeep Tour
To kick off the adventure portion of the Sedona visit, I recommend starting the morning with a Pink Jeep Tour! These jeeps can be found all over the southwest, in places like the Grand Canyon and Vegas, but began in Sedona. The swanked-out Jeeps bring you throughout the red rock canyons surrounding the city, which is a great way to see places that even locals don’t! Be warned though – this ride is ROUGH! We did the Scenic Rim 2.0 tour, meaning it was only 2 hours long, but very rough. If you have a bad back or a weak stomach, I’d skip it. The views were great though and the ride was a blast!
Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village
Next up is brunch at the Secret Garden Cafe and shopping at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village! This Spanish-inspired shopping village had me feeling like I crossed a border! The galleries here are amazing. There’s also a few coffee shops and live music here as well.
Next on the itinerary is to do something spiritual. I leave this vague, but you really can’t leave Sedona without tapping into it’s uniquness. Some people stay at wellness resorts, others do yoga or get a massage. Lindsey and I opted for an aura reading at Mago Cafe! The women working here were amazing. They offered us Kombucha samples, gave us 10-minute massages, and read our auras. Turns out I have very creative, communicative energy… shocker!
Day 11: Sedona, AZ To Scottsdale, AZ
Sedona, AZ → Scottsdale, AZ
Time In Car:
Where To Stay:
For the last night of the trip, Lindsey and I stayed at the Saguaro in Scottsdale! We opted for Scottsdale instead of Phoenix because Scottsdale has a bit more to explore and is a nicer place to stay. It’s essentially a resort town known for its golf courses and hotels, and should be a must on any southwest road trip. The Saguaro is a trendy, boutique hotel located right in Old Town Scottsdale complete with 2 pools and complimentary welcome drinks.
Where To Eat:
Old Town Scottsdale has dozens of dining and bar options all within walking distance of one another. Lindsey and I chose to eat Italian at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. If you save room for dessert, I recommend the Sugar Bowl across the street!
What To Do:
Today was our last full day of the trip!
Cathedral Rock / The Spiritual Vortexes
We began the morning in Sedona by visiting one of Sedona’s spiritual vortexes, or the four points in Sedona that are said to radiate energy. Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon are swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex. I recommend visiting at least one during your time here. We hiked ~2 miles round trip at Cathedral Rock this morning which had wonderful views but was quite steep!
In & Out Burger
Lindsey and I went to a cafe for breakfast and checked out of our inn before driving the last 2 hours of the trip down to Scottsdale. Our first stop was to In & Out – an absolute MUST if you’re visiting the west coast!
Old Town Scottsdale
After checking into your hotel in Scottsdale, I recommend spending your last day of your southwest road trip enjoying Old Town! Old Town is a neighborhood is Scottsdale full of art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and bars. There’s a lot to see here, so enjoy it! Watch the heat though – the Phoenix area gets very very hot during the summer months.
Day 12: Phoenix, AZ To Home
On our very last day, Lindsey and I just did the quick drive from our hotel in Scottsdale to the Phoenix airport (about 15 minutes) to fly home. We didn’t get the chance to explore Phoenix much, although I hear Camelback Mountain is a good hike to do. We just returned our car and flew home.
Pro-tip: Returning a car at the Phoenix airport? Allocate at least 30 extra minutes than you normally would. The rental car return center is no where near the airport. You’ll have to drive past the airport an extra 10 minutes and then take a shuttle to your terminal.
A little over 9,000 words later and we’ve reached the end of my ultimate guide to a southwest road trip! I hope you all feel inspired to plan a trip of your own to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and use this guide to do it! You should have all the information you need to map out a route, book hotels and dinner reservations, and pack accordingly. Have so much fun on your southwest road trip, and as always – feel free to leave any questions or comments below!
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What an amazing road trip and experiences! The Southwest is definitely well-worth the time and money to explore. It’s so unique and beautiful. Thanks for putting together this very comprehensive guide!
What an incredible road trip! I’d definitely love to try out this itinerary and see the best of the Southwest! Staying in a wagon looks like so much fun! What an amazing experience! Thanks for the great guide!
Wow! I can tell that you put a lot of work in this blog post! Its very useful and informative so thank you for that. And your photos are amazing as well 🙂 Well done!
This itinerary looks incredible. I am particularly intrigued by the gorgeous parks in Utah. Would love to visit and hike these parks. I would minimize my stay in LV and spend more time in the parks. Stunning! Thanks for sharing.
This is such a thorough guide! I especially loved reading about Page because I’m hoping to plan a trip to visit Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell soon. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
What an awesome road trip! The only places I haven’t visited are Arches, Moab and Antelope Canyon. They all looks so gorgeous and jaw-dropping views of nature! Great itinerary and tips!
I’m glad you enjoyed it Cris! I loved my time here and hope my post encourages everyone else to visit!
Thanks for the kind note, Hannah! I hope you can check some of these destinations off your list!
Thank you so so much! I certainly did – took me a few weeks to complete!
Yes, I wish I had 1-2 more nights in the Zion area. We did 2 nights in LV because I had never been, but I don’t think I’d do this again. Thanks so much for reading!
Hi Brittany! I hope you have an amazing time in Page! Such a fun, adventurous place to visit.
Thanks Vanessa! Hopefully you can go back and do Moab- I think it was my favorite stop of the trip.
Greetings from ohio.
Your blog was very helpful information to me. In 2017, my husband, sister in law and our 10 year old nephew drove from erie pa to the smoky mountains in Tennessee for the weekend. Then started our cross country trip to see the Grand Canyon, horseshoe bend, Yellowstone, mount Rushmore and Mesa verde. We camped most of our 15 day trip. The best was outside the Grand Canyon, we camped in the Grand Canyon nation forest took showers in the park and washed our laundry. We also drove to Sedona for a few hours. We had a great time but we were so intrigued with utah on our drive, we knew we had to go back to actually explore it and see the national parks. This Thursday aug 5, we are flying to Las Vegas. My sister in law and our now 14 year old nephew are meeting us there. We are spending 2 days in vegas then heading to utah to see the national parks. Your insight and info was one of the most informative blogs I have read. Thank you for sharing it. So glad it popped up on my Google news feed. Loved all your pictures too. I’m taking a notebook to write in so I dont forget anything.
Have a great day and a blessed rest of your summer.
Thank you so much for your kind comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my post and I hope you have a wonderful trip.
This southwest road trip guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!
I’m so glad to hear this! Thank you so much for your support, so happy it helps!