A Perfect 10-Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary + Helpful Road Trip Tips

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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 my favorite 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.

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. Not only is the Southwest home to diverse landscapes and some of the coolest national parks in the country, but it's also fairly easy to reach and doesn't require a ton of driving to see a lot!

Hence why I'm spilling all my secrets and road trip tips in this Southwest itinerary!

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 in the Southwest?

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 like this.

You can technically 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 to go? I'd say the shoulder seasons are the best time for a Southwest road trip. 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.

This itinerary is written with an April-October trip in mind; outside of those months, some things may be closed or unavailable!

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 several road trips I've personally taken through this region over the years, including basically this exact one with my husband Elliot one year in April.

Highlights of this itinerary (which you can basically call a national park road trip) include:

  • Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
  • Zion National Park (Utah)
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
  • Goblin Valley State Park (Utah)
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
  • Arches National Park (Utah)
  • Monument Valley (Utah/Arizona)
  • Sights in Page, Arizona
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

This itinerary covers roughly 1350 miles of driving.

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Get a printable version of this itinerary here!

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. These people are both the historic and current stewards of these lands, and it's important to acknowledge and respect that when you travel here.

Day 1: Vegas to Zion via Valley of Fire

I suggest you begin and end your 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 is!

You'll likely land a Harry Reid International Airport in Vegas in the morning. (I recommend planning your trip this way to maximize your time! If you're going to get in late at night, you may want to plan at least one night in Vegas, and pick up your rental car on the morning you plan to start your road trip.)

You *can* pick up your rental car at the airport rental car center, but you can also pick up a car elsewhere in Vegas to save some money.

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 use Discover Cars to compare car rental prices in the US. Search for rental cars here.

And then it's time to get 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 for now it's time to make for 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.

You could opt to stay in St. George (closer to Vegas) as a base for Zion, but I personally recommend the small town of Springdale, as it's 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 in 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: $15 Valley of Fire entry (for non-NV vehicles); $35 Zion entry by car, $20 Zion entry if you take a shuttle from Springdale (if you decide to visit today)

Where to stay: I love 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 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 historic cottage.

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 from Springdale into Zion National Park, the first of the Mighty 5 national 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.

(If you're doing this trip in winter, then you might be able to drive your own car into Zion and through Zion Canyon. Check for shuttle info here.)

What you decide to do with your day in Zion really depends on your interests, the makeup of your group, and whether 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.)

*Note that permits are now required to hike to the top of Angels Landing. You can apply for a hiking permit during four different seasonal lotteries, or in a day-before lottery. Permits cost $6, and likely will sell out. You will NOT be able to hike beyond Scout Lookout without a permit. Find more info on how to get an Angels Landing hiking permit here.

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.

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

Waterfall at Emerald Pools at Zion National Park
Lower Emerald Pool

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.

Some not-as-difficult hikes within Zion Canyon include the Pa'rus Trail, Riverside Walk, and the Lower Emerald Pool Trail that I mentioned above.

You could also opt for a non-hiking activity in Zion like renting a bike, or just riding the shuttles to different view points in the park.

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 per person 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 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 Canyon

Head out of Zion on Day 3 via the Mount Carmel Highway (the stretch of Route 9 between Zion's entrance and Highway 89), which 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!

If you want to fit in another epic (but much less-strenuous) hike, you'll be driving by the Canyon Overlook Trail. There's a very tiny parking area at the trailhead, but if you get an early start you should be able to park and do this mile-long hike.

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 (or free with National Parks Pass)

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 of Hiking at Bryce Canyon

After the hike, it's time to pack up and head further east. Your destination for the night is Moab, Utah, but I recommend making 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.

Want to extend this road trip? Then and an extra night here so you can spend a day exploring Capitol Reef National Park, too! You can stay at the Capitol Reef Resort.

You'll get to Goblin Valley in the afternoon, and can spend 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 $20 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: Grab 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
Stunning views at Canyonlands

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, which is a nice option if you want to get your legs moving.

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. (Yes, it's an extra fee, but it really is worth it!)

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

Fees: $30 Canyonlands entry (if no National Parks Pass); $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, you'll definitely want to dedicate a full day to this park.*

*Note that Arches National Park now requires timed park entry by reservation in order to help alleviate congestion in the park between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. You'll need to reserve a timed entry slot from April 1-October 31. Reservations cost $2 and are being released in 30-day increments 3 months in advance. Learn more and reserve your entry time here.

Once you have your entry time, I would spend the first part 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

Elliot and I left the park and went back into town for lunch and got take-away sandwiches for a picnic dinner, and this is still be possible even with the timed entry system (currently you need to enter the park for the first time during your designated time slot, but can then exit and re-enter the park throughout the day if you want).

You could also pack lunch and dinner and just stay inside the park the whole day – just remember to pack plenty of water, too!

I recommend ending your day at Arches with the most iconic hike in the park: 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 (or free with National Parks Pass)

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 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.

A Mitten at Monument Valley
The incredible Monument Valley

Located on the Utah/Arizona border, Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley) is a Diné (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.

Monument Valley is a 2.5-hour drive from Moab, and I recommend booking a guided tour of the valley. There's a 17-mile loop road that can be driven in your private vehicle, but to truly appreciate this site, you need to get into the backcountry – and you can only do this on a tour.

If you arrive a bit early, you can take in the views from The View hotel before meeting up with your tour guide.

Dragon Eggs at Monument Valley
Monument Valley backcountry views

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

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

If you're looking for good tour options, here are a couple you can book online in advance:

A Monument Valley backcountry tour is, in my opinion, the ONLY way to truly appreciate this place (and to pay respect to its Diné stewards, since most of the tour companies here are Navajo-owned).

After your tour is over, you can drive the remaining two hours to Page to arrive just around dinnertime.

Total driving time: 4.5 hours

Fees: $20 Monument Valley entry; $75-$85 Monument Valley tour

Where to stay: I recommend the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel in Page, 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.

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
Horseshoe Bend views

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.

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. (There are several local companies to choose from, and they all run very similar tours.)

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.

(If the Upper Antelope Canyon tours are sold out, you can still visit other slot canyons in the area like Lower Antelope Canyon, Canyon X, and Cathedral Canyon.)

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

Antelope Canyon tours to check out:

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, too.)

Lake Powell near Page, Arizona
Lake Powell

Total driving time: 1-2 hours

Fees: $10 for parking at Horseshoe Bend; $85+ 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.

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 Southwest 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.

(And if you want to visit both the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I recommend adding an extra night in here; otherwise it's just too much driving in one day!)

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.

Start out at Desert View at the east entrance to the Grand Canyon, and make your 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 (spring)
Desert View at the Grand Canyon South Rim
Desert View watchtower (summer)

After checking out the visitor center and nearby Mather Point, you can hop on one of the free park shuttles that travel along the South Rim throughout high season at the Grand Canyon. 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

You can hop on and off the Red Route bus all afternoon, visiting amazing lookouts like Maricopa Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Pima Point, and more. You can even do a short hike between two of the shuttle stops along the Rim Trail.

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 (summer)
Winter sunset at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at Mather Point (winter)

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 (or free with National Parks Pass)

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.

On your way back into Las Vegas, you can also stop to see the roadside art attraction called Seven Magic Mountains, just off I-15. It's a free, quick photo stop.

Seven Magic Mountains
Seven Magic Mountains

Total driving time: 4 hours

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, 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 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: $20-$30 for trolley tour; $20-$30 per car Slide Rock entry; $7 per person 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.

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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 quite a bit 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 or large water jug 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. Allow extra time. I've estimated driving times, but it's always best to assume drives will take you longer than Google Maps suggests. Photo stops, bathroom stops, and detours to check out random things will add more time to any drive!
Road with red rocks views in Sedona, Arizona
Red rocks in Sedona

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?

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"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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179 Comments on “A Perfect 10-Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary + Helpful Road Trip Tips

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  1. Very nice trip, I came here three times (from France)….amazing places.
    From Vegas, you can also add two or three days and travel a part of Route 66 and go to LA, or go across Death Valley an Yosemite and finish in SF

      Yes for sure! I did a Route 66 road trip a few years ago and loved that as well!

    Love this post, Amanda, especially the tips at the end re: water, travel insurance and the America The Beautiful Pass. I write for a couple of tourism-related sites in Page, AZ and would love to link to this post if it’s OK with you. If not, I totally understand. Check them out if/when you get a minute.
    Take care, and happy travels!
    Alley Keosheyan

      Links are definitely fine and always appreciated! 🙂

    Hi Amanda,

    Love the itinerary. My wife and I are thinking about doing something similar this December just before our Christmas break. Do you think it’ll be too cold for the hikes? Or will any of the parks be closed for the winter?



      Hey Sam! The only park that closes for the whole winter is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The rest of the parks are open year-round, and they usually do keep the roads maintained. For the hikes, it totally depends. All of these parks do get snow in the winter, and it can get quite cold. If a park get a lot of snow, the trails obviously will be covered and potentially icy, too. I would be sure to bring good gear (including possibly traction devices like Yaxtrax and maybe even hiking poles) if you plan to do a lot of hiking. I would also check at each visitor center for trail conditions, so you know what to expect.

      Hope that helps!

    Great post. We are considering doing this but with a rented SMALL RV. What do you think? Thank you.

      Should be fine. There are lots of people driving RVs out in that part of the US.

    America. I remember my trip to Lonavala about a year back when I was in India. We had taken a bike on rent in Mumbai from this company called www[dot]wheelstreet[dot]com. I want to know, if there are similar bike rental places in America as well, as I am looking forward to taking this trip on two wheels. And also, is it advisable to do so?

      Yup, you can totally do this in the US, and you’ll see lots of people on motorcycles in this part of the US in the summer months especially. I’ve heard of Eagle Riders before, and found this whole list of places that rents bikes: http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/motorcycle-rentals/

    Hi – sorry – I have more questions! Did you book your flights first then your rooms or the other way around? I wanted to go mid-to-late October, but am rethinking because of snowy weather. Do you think mid-to-late September will be crowded? I’m thinking 9/20 through 9/29 – in that date range. I’m trying to figure out the least expensive days of the week to fly. I’d be coming from NYC.

      I would book your flights first so you have confirmed dates, and then work out your itinerary and book hotels. As for dates, I think late September would be just fine! The summer months are usually the busiest, but kids will be back in school by the end of September, so you won’t have any many families traveling then.

      Hello Anita, I, my wife and our good friend are planning this exact trip for the beginning of Oct. We are retiree’s. The more the merrier, want to join in? We are from NW Pa. If you think you might, email me for further discussion. longbikez-at-gmail-dot-com.

    Hi – This is the exact trip I am planning in October 2017. However, I’ll be going alone. Would you have made this trip alone? I must confess I’m a bit nervous about all the driving by myself.

      The good news is that there’s not *that* much driving to this trip – I’ve done road trips with way more driving in the past! Having said that, though, I’m not personally a huge fan of solo road trips when they are longer than a few days. But that’s just because I like having someone to chat with and share the adventure with. But you absolutely can do it solo!

        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Yes, 10 days is a long time to be alone. However I don’t see one park that I’d want to cross off that list! Unfortunately the one friend who I would consider asking isn’t fit enough to hike, and I want to do some hiking. I hate the thought of just driving through a park and not getting out of the car to experience it. I could try to cut it down to 7 days but I’d have to cut Canyonlands.

          Then it sounds like you should just do it! 🙂

    Hi Amanda. Wonderful capture of your trip, what a beautifully stunning adventure it must have been! I have been dreaming of this trip for years but only this year am seriously considering it due to improved health 🙂

    thank you
    for the link for the less strenuous hikes ,much appreciated, I will definitely be looking at those options. im wondering tho, Ill be travelling with more Able bodied people with zero restrictions(im not in a wheelchair but just need a chill experience kind of closer to base camp/rest areas & shorter hikes like the one you describe to Horseshoe Bend sounds perfect) cuz of this Ill likely have to break off from travel companions, are there places to kind of explore/hang around with maybe rest or cafe areas through many of these parks? Seriously the views alone are enough for me but Im a little hesitant that Ill be stuck in a situation where I must be continuously on the go( in terms of the shuttles, i guess, ) and places where cars cannot go(are there many of those?) or whether splitting away from group for hours is even feasable in terms of did you always have to go back to your entrance spot or hiked to entirely different location? sorry for this rambling,hopefully im making some kind of sense here. im trying to plan itinerary most comfortably explored for me while being part of group so I can get an idea of places I may consider crossing off the list, Since I am the itinerary planner & there so many stunning vistas at all of these places anyway 😉

      The good news is that most of the national parks are very accessible – Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and the Grand Canyon all have viewpoints and short paved trails that you can drive to/access easily. Zion also has plenty of spots to stop and a couple easier trails that you could also enjoy. (And if anyone in your group wants to tackle tougher hikes in Zion, you could maybe hang out either in Springdale at a cafe, or at the Zion Lodge in the park – or just ride the shuttle around and enjoy the views!)

      The shuttles that you’ll find in places like Zion and the Grand Canyon are more of a hop-on, hop-off deal, so you can choose to stay in one spot as long as you want to. The other parks, though, are all accessible by your own car.

      Most of the things listed here (with the exception of the two more difficult hikes) would be suitable for you, I think. (Though, a word on the Horseshoe Bend hike – it’s not long, but it’s all uphill in sand on the way back!)

        Thank you so much! I’m a lot more confident going on trip now 🙂

    These pictures are surely inviting me enough to visit this place, rock formation is so enchanting. Thanks.

      The Southwest has some of the best rock formations anywhere!

    Thank you for this amazing itinerary. Those places and views breathtaking! Would really love to jump on a trip to the Southwest soon!

    Love from Singapore,


      I’m glad this post could sort of transport you there!

    This is a great road trip idea! I’d always thought I wanted to do a road trip like this but hadn’t quite figured how to fit it all together, and this is a great way to do it. I worked at the Grand Canyon North Rim a couple summers ago but STILL never made it to Page and Lake Powell and stuff 🙁 And I live in Vegas so have done Zion and Bryce. But to go further north into Utah would be amazing.

    ‘Love the post Amanda!

    I totally agree with you. When visiting America, a roadtrip is the way to go!

    When we went to America in 2011 (and I’ve only been once), we loved it! We went to California (of course), Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We went to 4 National Parks, Route 66, San Fransciso, Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Santa Barbara, Disneyland California. It was amazing. Sadly, we were only able to spend a month as it was January (my son was in international school at the time so you could take time off “to travel”).

    I’d like to go to America again. But perhaps not just now….

      I’m glad to hear you spent quite a while and took to the road while you were here! So many people who come to the US for the first time just go to New York and LA and maybe Miami and think they’ve “seen” America. But of course that’s not true! (You did see some of my favorite parts, though – yay!)

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