A Perfect 10-Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

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If you ask me about the best way to explore the United States, I won't hesitate to say a road trip. Road tripping is by far the best way to experience everything that America has to offer.

But, with the U.S. being such a huge country, deciding *where* to road trip can be tough. Should you tackle New England and the East Coast? The Deep South? The Pacific Northwest and California coast? Old Route 66?

There are tons of great road trip routes in the U.S. But my favorite part of the country for a short(er) road trip is definitely the American Southwest. You have deserts and mountains and some of the coolest national parks in the country.

A road in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah
Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park in a rearview mirror
Ready to hit the road?

When is the best time to take a Southwest road trip?

One question I've gotten pretty frequently since originally publishing this post is about when to take a Southwest road trip.

Well, technically you could plan a version of this trip for any time of year. Most of the spots included here are open year-round, so it depends more on your schedule, and your tolerance for crowds and extreme temperatures.

Summer is usually the busiest time for travel in the US (especially at national parks), and it gets VERY HOT in this part of the country in July and August especially.

The Watchman at sunset
The Watchman in Zion National Park

In winter, certain places in the Southwest at higher elevation DO get snow and experience colder temperatures (spots like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon especially can get cold/snowy), but you definitely can visit the Southwest in winter!

But as far as the best time for a Southwest road trip? I'd say the shoulder seasons are best. April/May is good, as is September/October. You may run into some wet weather during these seasons, but the crowds will be thinner and you'll be able to fully enjoy everything in this itinerary.

The perfect 10-day Southwest road trip itinerary

So here's my version of a “perfect” 10-day road trip itinerary for the American Southwest, based on a road trip my husband Elliot and I took one year in April.

This itinerary covers roughly 1350 miles of driving.

Before we dive in here, it's important to note that this itinerary does include traversing through or near some indigenous lands in the Southwest. These include the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Reservation, and the Hualapai Indian Reservation. In 2021, it's important to keep in mind the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on these communities. Some of these areas still remain closed to visitors, so please make sure you check as you're planning your trip. For more info, please read this post.

Day 1: Vegas to Zion via Valley of Fire

We decided to begin and end our Southwest road trip in Las Vegas. You could also start in Salt Lake City, Utah, but I find that you can almost always find affordable flights to Vegas, no matter where you're coming from. So Vegas it was!

We landed at McCarran International Airport in the morning (via a direct flight from Cleveland!), took an Uber to the Tropicana Hotel on the Strip, and picked up our Enterprise rental car there. (We opted to pick up our rental car on the Strip rather than at the airport because the rates were MUCH lower.)

Need to rent a car for this road trip? There's no shortage of rental car options in Las Vegas. Keep in mind that you might be able to save money by picking up from a location that's NOT at the airport. I always use RentalCars.com to compare car rental prices in the US. Search for rental cars here.

And then we were out of Vegas! If you've never been to Las Vegas before, you could definitely add on an extra day or two in order to fully experience it, but we were itching to get to Utah.

White Domes Road in Valley of Fire
White Domes Road in Valley of Fire

The drive from Vegas to Zion National Park in Utah takes just about 2.5 hours. 

You could make straight for Zion, or you could make a brief detour to Valley of Fire State Park. Valley of Fire is just off I-15 (which you'll be driving on anyway), and is an incredible park filled with red rock formations. Fun fact: It was Nevada's very first state park.

Even if you just have an hour or two, you can drive the epic White Domes Road and hike out to the Fire Wave – it makes for an excellent introduction to the Southwest.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park
Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park

RELATED: Visiting the Valley of Fire in One Day

Valley of Fire is an hour outside of Vegas, and Zion National Park is another 2 hours beyond that.

Some people will opt to stay in St. George (closer to Vegas) as a base for Zion, but we decided the small town of Springdale would be much more central and better for entering the park early on Day 2.

If you skip Valley of Fire, you could visit Zion in the afternoon/early evening tonight. Or, do what we did and explore Springdale a bit before getting an early night to prep for hiking Zion on Day 2!

Rainbow at Zion National Park
A rainbow in Springdale!

Total driving time: 2.5-3.5 hours (3.5 if you opt to stop at Valley of Fire)

Fees: $10 Valley of Fire entry; $35 Zion entry by car, $20 Zion entry if you take a shuttle from Springdale (if you decide to visit today)

Where to stay: We stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/Springdale. The hotel has fantastic mountain views, comes with free breakfast (complete with fresh waffles!), and is just minutes away from a shuttle stop that will take you into Zion for free – which is great during busy times since you won't have to worry about the parking lot being full. (Read reviews in TripAdvisor | Book here)

Another good hotel option is Springhill Suites by Marriott, or you could book one of these yoga-inspired suites at Nama-Stay, or a cute cottage at Red Rock Inn Cottages.

If a vacation rental is more your speed, you could try this townhouse in Springdale (great for families), or this tiny home near Zion (better for couples or solo travelers).

Where to eat: We hit up Oscar's Cafe (within walking distance from our hotel) for delicious burritos.

Pro tip: You absolutely will want to get yourself a National Parks Pass for this trip. They cost $80 and are good for one year (you can buy them online, or at the first National Park site you visit). You'll save lots of money on this trip (potentially more than $100!) if you have one!

Day 2: Zion National Park

Wake up early to catch the free shuttle into Zion National Park, the first of the Mighty 5 parks you'll visit on this road trip. From March through early autumn, no private vehicles are allowed to use the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, so you'll need to pick up another shuttle at the Visitors Center in order to head further into the park.

What you decide to do with your day really depends on your interests, the makeup of your group, and whether or not you're up for any intense hiking or not.

View from Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
To see views like this, you'll need to hike!

Zion is known for its rust-red mountains, winding canyons, and epic hikes. The most popular hikes in Zion are Angels Landing and The Narrows, both intense hikes that should only be attempted if weather conditions are good. (The Rangers at the Visitors Center can let you know about incoming weather and trail closures.)

Elliot and I tackled Angels Landing early in the morning, which is a 5.4-mile hike that includes a 1500-foot elevation gain and half a mile of using anchored chains to pull yourself up along a narrow spine of rock. It's NOT an easy hike, but is one of the most iconic in the Southwest – and we didn't regret doing it.

View of "The Spine" of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
Halfway through the Angels Landing hike – it's epic!

RELATED: I Hiked to Angels Landing and Didn't Die!

Angels Landing took us about 4 hours to complete, meaning we had time in the afternoon to ride the shuttle around the rest of the park and do a shorter hike (we chose the easy Lower Emerald Pool Trail that starts at Zion Lodge) before having a relaxing evening in Springdale.

Waterfall at Emerald Pools at Zion National Park
Lower Emerald Pool

If you decide to do The Narrows, the hike will take you just about all day.

If, on the other hand, you decide the strenuous hikes aren't really for you, check out the easy and moderate hikes on Zion's hiking guide. There are plenty to choose from that range anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours to complete, all with great Zion views.

RELATED: 5 Things to Do in Zion National Park That Don't Involve Hiking

Pa'rus Trail in Zion National Park in Utah
The Pa'rus Trail is a nice easy option.

Total driving time: 0 hours (yay free shuttles!)

Fees: $35 Zion entry by car, $20 Zion entry if you take a shuttle from Springdale (if you didn't visit yesterday)

Where to stay: We once again stayed at La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/Springdale. I also think Springhill Suites by Marriott, one of these yoga-inspired suites at Nama-Stay, or a cute cottage at Red Rock Inn Cottages are good options here.

Where to eat: After a day of hiking, we rewarded ourselves with pizza at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co.

Day 3: Zion to Bryce

Head out of Zion on Day 3 via the Mount Carmel Highway (the stretch of Route 9 between Zion's entrance and Highway 89) that includes some great scenery and a 1.1-mile-long tunnel. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep (but if you're going to pull over for photos, make sure you do it at designated pull-out spots!).

Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park
Mount Carmel Highway

The drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park only takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes, meaning you'll have plenty of time for photo stops and no need to rush.

Once you get to Bryce Canyon, head straight into the park for some sightseeing! Bryce Canyon has some nice hiking trails, too, though it's better known for its 18 mile scenic drive and lookout points like Inspiration Point, Natural Bridge, and Rainbow Point.

Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park
Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon

I recommend driving all the way out to Rainbow Point first, and then working your way back to the park entrance, stopping at all the viewpoints along the way. When you get to Sunset Point, take the 1-mile rim trail to Sunrise Point for some of my favorite views.

Posing at Sunset Point at Bryce Canyon National Park
Sunset Point

Be aware, though, that Bryce is at a higher elevation – warm layers are a must! (Elliot and I visited in mid-April, and there was still some snow left over at some of the lookout points!)

Natural Bridge at Bryce Canyon National Park
Some leftover snow at Natural Bridge

Total driving time: 1.5 hours

Fees: $35 Bryce entry

Where to stay: There are very few options when it comes to hotels right near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. We stayed at the Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book here), though Ruby’s Inn right across the street is also popular.

Where to eat: We visited Bryce in April, which is still more or less off-season in this part of Utah. Because of that, many things were still closed for the winter. We ended up having dinner at Ruby's Inn (they have a decent buffet) and picking up some snacks at their general store since nothing else was open.

Day 4: Bryce to Moab via Goblin Valley

We took Day 3 off from hiking, but there's one hike definitely worth doing at Bryce Canyon: the Navajo Loop Trail. This trail will take you down into the canyon, right among all the orange hoodoos.

Hiking the Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hiking at Bryce Canyon

The hike starts at Sunset Point, and can be joined up with the Queen's Garden Tail to end at Sunrise Point.

We tackled this hike on a foggy, wet morning, and it took us about 2 hours to complete. It makes a great morning hike before you set off on the road again, though you could probably do it on Day 3, too, if you're not too sore after Zion.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park in the fog
A foggy hike in the Queen's Garden

RELATED: A Foggy, Soggy Morning at Bryce Canyon

After our hike, we packed up all our things and headed further east. Our destination for the night was Moab, but we made a detour on the way to Goblin Valley State Park.

There are two ways to get from Bryce Canyon to Goblin Valley, but we opted to take Route 12, which takes you through Escalante and meets up with Route 24 so you can briefly drive through Capitol Reef National Park.

On the way, consider stopping for lunch at Kiva Koffeehouse, which is a super cool cafe within Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument (about 1.5 hours from Bryce). They serve up homemade soups, breads, and pastries, and also have a full espresso bar – a perfect lunch break amid some typical Utah scenery.

Kiva Koffeehouse in Utah
Kiva Koffeehouse

You *could* spend some time in Capitol Reef National Park, but we opted to go to Goblin Valley instead since it's a place far fewer people seem to know about.

We got to Goblin Valley in the afternoon, and spent an hour or so exploring The Valley of Goblins. This is a large area filled with short, squat hoodoos that have been dubbed “goblins.” Even through Bryce is also known for its hoodoos, the ones in Goblin Valley are entirely different.

Goblin Valley State Park in Utah
Valley of the Goblins
Goblin Valley State Park in Utah
Hanging out with some goblins

From Goblin Valley, it's another hour and a half to Moab, where you can base yourself for the next couple of nights.

Total driving time: 5.5-6 hours

Fees: $20 Capitol Reef entry OR $15 Goblin Valley State Park entry

Where to stay: Elliot and I stayed in a cute apartment rental in Moab (like this one), but there are also plenty of hotels and motels in town (along with lots of restaurants) to choose from. Check out the La Quinta Inn and Suites Moab, or the Holiday Inn Express Moab.

Other cool vacation rentals in the area include this Adobe home with a hot tub and incredible views, and this 3-bedroom house that's right in the center of Moab.

Where to eat: We grabbed dinner at Moab Brewery, touted as the town's largest restaurant and only microbrewery. They have a bunch of beers to choose from (mostly ales and IPAs), and even brew their own root beer in-house.

Day 5: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park tends to get overlooked by visitors to this part of Utah because Arches is also so close to Moab. But I firmly believe you should dedicate a full day to each park.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park
Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Canyonlands actually has two main sections of park – Island in the Sky and The Needles – which are about 60 miles apart. The Needles is more suited to hikers, so I recommend spending your day at Island in the Sky to mix in sightseeing with a little hiking. This section of Canyonlands is only about 45 minutes from Moab.

View of Canyonlands National Park

Start out your morning with a visit to Mesa Arch. Many photographers will get here before sunrise in order to watch the arch be lit by the first orange glow of morning, but it's much less crowded if you visit slightly later in the day.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch around 10:30 a.m.

From there, drive to the viewpoints at Grand View Point and the Green River Overlook. Elliot and I also did the short hike out to Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park
Upheaval Dome – scientists still aren't 100% sure how this was formed!

On your way back to Moab, be sure to stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, which offers up dramatic overlooks of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.

Total driving time: 2-3 hours (including driving in the park)

Fees: $30 Canyonlands entry; $20 Dead Horse State park entry

Where to stay: Check out the La Quinta Inn and Suites Moab, or the Holiday Inn Express Moab for hotels. For vacation rentals, check out this cute cottage rental, this 3-bedroom house downtown, or this Adobe home.

Where to eat: We grabbed some delicious wood-fired brick oven pizza from Zax Restaurant & Watering Hole in Moab.

Day 6: Arches National Park

Located even closer to Moab (only 15 minutes from town), Arches National Park is really the star in this part of Utah. And for good reason: the park has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, along with pinnacles, cliffs, and balanced rocks all in a brilliant orange-red hue.

Arches National Park in Utah
Arches National Park in all its glory

If you've never been before, definitely spend the first half of your day driving the 18-mile-long scenic road through the park, stopping off at some of the viewpoints and shorter walks out to the arches. Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, and Double Arch would be my top picks.

North Window arch at Arches National Park
North Window Arch

We went back into town for lunch, and then got take-away sandwiches for a picnic dinner because…

The most iconic hike at Arches National Park is the hike to Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park and the symbol of the state of Utah. Most people tackle this hike at sunset, when the setting sun paints the 65-foot arch an incredible rusty orange color.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Look how huge Delicate Arch is!!

The hike is tough going up, so allow yourself 1-1.5 hours to reach the arch in time for sunset. We got there about an hour early and enjoyed a little picnic as we watched the sun go down.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunset

RELATED: Iconic Utah: A Sunset Hike to Delicate Arch

Total driving time: Maybe 2-3 hours (including driving in the park)

Fees: $30 Arches entry

Where to stay: Again, Elliot and I stayed in a cute apartment rental in Moab (like this one), but there are also plenty of hotels and motels in town (along with lots of restaurants) to choose from. Check out the La Quinta Inn and Suites Moab, or the Holiday Inn Express Moab.

Other cool vacation rentals in the area include this Adobe home with a hot tub and incredible views, and this 3-bedroom house that's right in the center of Moab.

Where to eat: We loved breakfast at Peace Tree Juice Cafe, and got our picnic sandwiches from Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro.

Day 7: Moab to Page, AZ via Monument Valley

After nearly a week of exploring Utah's national parks, it's time to wave goodbye on Day 7. Today you'll be crossing over into Arizona – but the great scenery will only continue!

Your destination today will be the town of Page, Arizona, but I would be a terrible travel blogger and awful Southwest superfan if I didn't insist that you stop at Monument Valley along the way.

Note: As of early 2021, Monument Valley Tribal Park is still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. No word on when it will reopen to the public, so be sure to plan accordingly.

A Mitten at Monument Valley

Located on the Utah/Arizona border, Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley) is a Navajo Tribal Park renowned for its towering sandstone buttes. You may even recognize it from old Western movies, since it was a favorite filming location for directors like John Ford.

John Ford Point at Monument Valley
This is actually called John Ford Point.

Elliot and I arrived at Monument Valley before lunchtime (it's only a 2.5-hour drive from Moab), and took in the views from The View hotel before meeting up with our tour guide from Navajo Spirit Tours for a guided tour of the valley.

Dragon Eggs at Monument Valley
Where's Khaleesi to hatch these Dragon Eggs?

RELATED: Monument Valley: A Must-Visit in the Southwest

You absolutely CAN explore the 17-mile Valley Drive in your own vehicle, but if you really want to learn about the park and see some of the backcountry (which is not accessible to normal visitors), you'll need to book a guided tour.

I personally think a tour is a must-do in order to understand the Navajo history of this place.

Totem Pole in Monument Valley
Totem Pole, which you'll see on a backcountry tour of Monument Valley.

After our tour was over, we drove the remaining two hours to Page to arrive just around dinnertime.

Total driving time: 4.5 hours

Fees: $20 Monument Valley entry; $75 Navajo Spirit Tours Monument Valley tour

Where to stay: We stayed at the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel, which has a really cool view from the pool. The Days Inn & Suites Page Lake Powell and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Page – Lake Powell Area are also highly rated – but note that hotels in Page sell out extremely quickly during the high season, so this is one place where you definitely want to book as far in advance as possible.

If you prefer a vacation rental stay, check out this newly remodeled 2-bedroom home, or this home near Horseshoe Bend that can sleep 5.

Where to eat: Definitely go get yourself a sampler plate at Big John's Texas BBQ in Page!

Day 8: Page, Arizona

Page is a tiny little town that packs a big punch. Not only is it near Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but it's also just a short drive from Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.

Start your morning off with a visit to Horseshoe Bend. It's just a 10- or 15-minute drive from your hotel, and is one of the most Instagrammable places you're likely to visit in the Southwest.

A short hike will take you from the parking area to an overlook 1,100 feet above where the Colorado River makes a massive bend through a deep canyon.

Posing at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

The hike to the lookout isn't long (only about 3/4 of a mile), but it's almost entirely sand, so keep that in mind when you're planning your time AND your footwear.

Feet hanging over the edge at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona
These shoes are not the best for hiking in sand!

(Note that the above photos were taken at Horseshoe Bend before the new viewing platform was built; I did not hop any fences or barriers to take these photos, because those things didn't exist at this site until fairly recently.)

Before lunchtime, I recommend booking a tour out to Upper Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon actually has two sections (Upper and Lower), but it's the Upper canyon that has the famous light beams that you see in all the photos.

Note: As of early 2021, Antelope Canyon is still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. No word on when it will reopen to the public. As an alternative, you could consider a visit to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument today instead.

Upper Antelope Canyon
Light beams in Upper Antelope Canyon

Because these canyons are located within the Navajo Nation, you can ONLY visit Antelope Canyon as part of a guided tour. Tours of the Upper canyon during prime light-beam-viewing hours (usually 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) sell out quickly and can be crowded, even when you're visiting in shoulder season. (Elliot and I went in April, and all the photography tours and most of the midday tours were sold out weeks before we even left.)

So book far in advance if you really want to visit Upper Antelope Canyon.

Upper Antelope Canyon
To get a people-free shot like this, you need to be willing to elbow your way to the front of the group!

RELATED: Is Antelope Canyon Really Worth Visiting?

Spoiler alert: I DO think Antelope Canyon is worth seeing, but just be aware that you'll be sharing the experience with a lot of other people.

Light beam in Upper Antelope Canyon
Also, shooting up is a good way to avoid getting people in your canyon shots.

In the evening (or in the afternoon if you decide to skip Antelope Canyon), you could consider booking a sunset cruise on nearby Lake Powell, or maybe rent a kayak or standup paddleboard. (Just note that if you go to Lake Powell, you'll have to pay an entrance fee into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.)

Lake Powell near Page, Arizona
Lake Powell

Total driving time: 1-2 hours

Fees: $10 for parking at Horseshoe Bend (new fee implemented in April 2019); $55+ for an Antelope Canyon tour; $30 Glen Canyon entry; $45+ for a Lake Powell cruise

Where to stay: The Days Inn & Suites Page Lake PowellHoliday Inn Express & Suites Page – Lake Powell Area, and Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel are all good bets if you want a hotel; for a vacation rental, check out this newly remodeled 2-bedroom home, or this home near Horseshoe Bend that can sleep 5.

Where to eat: We had yummy Mexican food at El Tapatio, and good burgers at Slackers.

Day 9: The Grand Canyon

When my sister and I did a road trip in the summer of 2011, we visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from Page. It's a much quieter experience (only 10% of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the North Rim), but still just as epic.

Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon North Rim

However, when Elliot and I did our road trip in April, visiting the North Rim wasn't an option since the only road leading to this part of the Grand Canyon closes for the winter and is only open from mid-May through mid-October. For that reason, we decided to spend a day at the South Rim instead.

It's actually quicker to reach the South Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park from Page than it is to reach the North Rim, so it worked out well for us, timing-wise.

We started out at Desert View at the east entrance to the Grand Canyon (where we got caught in a blustery snow flurry!), and made our way along Route 64, stopping at all the viewpoints on the way to Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim visitor center.

Foggy Grand Canyon
Grandview Point (2016)
Desert View at the Grand Canyon South Rim
Desert View watchtower (2011)

After checking out the visitor center and nearby Mather Point, we hopped on one of the free park shuttles that travel along the South Rim. These shuttles are a great stress-free way to access trails, viewpoints, and other points of interest, some of which are only accessible by bus.

Looking out over the Grand Canyon

We hopped on and off the Red Route bus all afternoon, visiting amazing lookouts like Maricopa Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Pima Point, and more. We even did a short hike between two of the shuttle stops along the Rim Trail just to get our legs working.

Mohave Point at the Grand Canyon
Mohave Point

If you want to catch a great sunset at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Hopi Point is the most famous spot, but you can find great views at Yaki, Pima, and Yavapai Points, too.

Sunset at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at Mather Point (2011)

We then decided to drive to Flagstaff for the night in order to save some money on a hotel (it's NOT cheap to stay anywhere near the Grand Canyon during most of the year).

If you book far enough ahead, though (or if you're traveling in the off-season), you can find a hotel room in the small town of Tusayan, which is just outside the South Entrance. (On my third trip to the Grand Canyon, this is where I stayed, and it's very convenient to the park!)

Total driving time: 4 hours

Fees: $35 Grand Canyon entry

Where to stay: We stayed at the Sleep Inn in Flagstaff simply because it was affordable and convenient. If you book far enough in advance, I can also recommend the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn in Tusayan, which has fun things like a bowling alley on-site and is closer to the park.

Day 10: Drive back to Las Vegas

Day 10 is when our Southwest adventure came to an end. The drive from Flagstaff back to Las Vegas is just under 4 hours, meaning you can easily book your flight home in the afternoon/early evening, which is what we did.

If you're not planning to leave tonight, you might want to add on a stop at the Hoover Dam on your way back.

Elliot and I were both sad to say goodbye to the Southwest, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might not be our last trip there.

Total driving time: 4 hours

Driving in Utah

BONUS: Sedona, Arizona

If you have an extra day or two, consider adding in a stop in Sedona, Arizona, after you visit the Grand Canyon. It's less than an hour south of Flagstaff and is a super cool town in red rock country.

My sister and I spent two nights in Sedona on our cross-country road trip in 2011, and we both loved it. (And I've since been back in the winter, too, and it's just as great!)

Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona
Red rocks in Sedona

Some things to do in Sedona (especially if you visit during the warm summer months) include: taking a Sedona Trolley tour, getting out into the red rocks on a Pink Jeep tour, splashing around at Slide Rock State Park, visiting a vortex, and possibly hiking in Red Rocks State Park.

In the winter, you can still do some hikes, driving tours, and spend time shopping around Sedona (I really like the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village).

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona
Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

Fees: $15 for trolley tour; $20 Slide Rock entry; $20 Red Rocks entry

Where to stay: Check out the Arabella Hotel (mid-range), or the Amara Resort & Spa (luxury). For rentals, this home with a courtyard and hot tub is great.

Where to eat: Get a sandwich at Sedona Memories Bakery Cafe, or try some cactus fries at the Cowboy Club Grille. The Elote Cafe is also highly recommended.


Southwest road trip tips

Check out my list of road trip tips for ALL my tricks for road tripping in the U.S.

But here are the tips that are most important for this trip in the Southwest:

  1. Buy a National Parks Pass. If you noticed, this road trip itinerary has you visiting 5 or 6 national parks, all of which charge a per-car entrance fee. You can save some money by getting a National Parks Pass either before you leave or when you arrive at Zion. The pass costs $80, and then is good for an entire year at any NPS-managed site. It's a great deal, and will save you at least $55 on this road trip alone.
  2. Make sure you have extra water. Dehydration is not a joke, and can be a very real threat if you’re traveling out West during the summer. Always have extra water (pack a cooler in your trunk!), because you never know when you might need it. Most national parks will have water bottle filling stations, but be sure to have a reusable water bottle (I love my Camelbak Chute) or a hydration pack with you – and fill up at every opportunity.
  3. Don't forget your travel insurance. For any major trip (and especially one where you’re going to be driving through unfamiliar territory), I always recommend purchasing travel insurance. If you rent a car (or drive your own), your car should be covered in case of an accident. But what about all the other things that could potentially happen to YOU? I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance – because you just never know!
Road in Sedona, Arizona

What to pack for a Southwest road trip

Some of this depends on what time of year you go; the Southwest can get extremely hot in the summer, and quite cold in the winter. But in general, here are some of my must-haves for this sort of road trip:

For more road trip packing recommendations, head over to this post: USA Road Trip Essentials: What to Pack for a US Road Trip


READ NEXT: 25 Things to Do in the Southwest USA to Put on Your Bucket List

Have you ever road tripped in the American Southwest? What are your favorite stops?

Pin it for later:

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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  1. Hi,

    Love your post!!! We’re planning a similar trip this May. Can you tell me which car rental company you used/where was it located?

    Thank you:)

      That’s a great question! We rented from Enterprise, and picked up our car at their location inside the Tropicana Hotel on the Strip. (It was quite a bit cheaper to pick up at this location than from their desk at the airport!)

    Thank you so much for this itinerary. I just took my 18 year old daughter on this trip and it was amazing. We did skip Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon because they were closed due to Covid-19 but we spent some extra time in Moab, climbed Looking Glass Arch and visited Rockland Ranch (where they film 3 Wives, 1 Husband, my daughter is a fan). We couldn’t climb all the way up Angel’s landing because the trail was iced over which we were not prepared for. But winter is such a great time to visit these parks, most were practically empty! We came within feet of a pack of bighorn sheep at Zion and elks at Grand Canyon. The only change I would make is to make the trip backwards. Only because we both felt the Grand Canyon was disappointing after visiting all the other places and it had by far the most tourists. You made planning our trip so much easier and the drive from Bryce to Goblin is fantastic! Thanks again!

      So glad to hear you had a good trip, even if a couple spots were closed. Winter really is a great time to visit the Southwest! Thanks for the feedback on doing this backwards – that of course is always an option!

    This was AWESOME! Thank you so much! We are from Cleveland and flying into Vegas for this same trip for our Honeymoon. We needed to cut the trip short from 14 to 10 so this was super helpful thank you !

      Great to hear! Happy I could help – hope you have an amazing trip!

    Thank you so much for sharing this blog! My husband turns 40 in a few weeks and we decided to follow your itinerary for our upcoming trip! We had to make a few modifications with covid and the Navajo area closed, but are planning to follow this. We are also from Ohio, Cincinnati, and have friends in Cleveland so we visit from time to time. I was curious for this route how is cell phone service? And at the parks how is service? I’m planning to get an atlas but hoping not to use it.

    Thanks!

      I’ve been to this part of the US several times now, and don’t remember any particularly long stretches without service. I don’t recall what service was like IN the parks (too busy enjoying the scenery and taking photos!), but getting to them was fine from what I remember!

    Facebook is now reminding me of the fabulous trip we took a year ago that followed your itinerary. At the time we were questioning whether to do it (it’s a long way from here in Australia and our $ exchange rate was poor). But now with COVID stopping us from leaving Oz we are so glad we did! Irreplaceable family memories.

    Great itinerary and such detail. Considering going on this adventure but maybe skip antelop and add Sedona. Trip would be Early to mid November 2020 (couple weeks ) .
    Any thoughts on this timing ? Snow , to cold ? Closed for season ??

    Thank you. ( solo traveler )

      Hey Don! If you’re planning this for November, you’ll likely have to skip Antelope Canyon anyway since I believe it’s still closed because of COVID. You also probably won’t be able to take a tour at Monument Valley (I would avoid it, at least, because it’s a Navajo park and the Navajo Nation has been hit really hard by COVID). Otherwise, all the national parks are open and the weather shouldn’t be too cold in November – though I would bring some warm layers for the higher elevation sites just to be safe!

        HI Amanda, Thank you so much, Such a great itinerary and taking all the “guess” or I like to call Stress work out of it. I hope all the Road Driving is filled with some scenery then I think time goes by quicker. Sounds like an amazing trip and may just pull the trigger and Add Sedona with the exclusion of Monument and Antelope. Also considering flying out of phoenix vs drive back 🙂

        thank you again

    My husband and I are considering this. We plan to go out the end of September 2020. I did check and the National parks are all open currently. I wanted to see Antelope Canyon but it is closed for now. It’s a bit overwhelming planning this during Covid. Overall, it looks like most things are open. Did you do any camping? We are debating on that versus booking hotels.

      I have not done any camping in the Southwest, I’m afraid. I would look into hotels that lay out their COVID measures explicitly on their website, or look for Airbnbs rentals that have taken the “Enhanced Clean” pledge. And always try to book things with free cancelation policies right now! But yes, I understand that it’s much harder to plan a trip right now than usual.

    Great article and travel ideas! I love this part of the States!

    Looks like the perfect trip. Lots of good tips too on where to stay, eat, park passes etc. THanks

      You’re very welcome! This trip will definitely help you hit all the highlights.

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