American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

10 Days in the American Southwest: The Ultimate Road Trip

Julie United States 56 Comments

The American southwest is one of the USA’s best road trip destinations. It’s unbelievable how much there is to see and do here. There are the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon, thrilling hiking trails in Zion National Park, and millions of hoodoos to photograph in Bryce Canyon. Are you getting excited yet? The list keeps going, with the sweeping views of Monument Valley, dusty, off-road adventures in Grand Staircase-Escalante, and numerous slot canyons to scramble through. On this American Southwest itinerary, you get to experience all of these things.

To really explore the American Southwest, you need weeks, maybe even months, to see it all. But with ten days, you have just enough time to explore the main sites, plus get to a few less popular (but no less awesome) places.

If you are like us, after this trip, you’ll be dreaming about coming back again someday.

About this American Southwest Itinerary

Tim and I went on our American Southwest road trip in May. Most of this itinerary follows exactly what we did, with two exceptions. In May, we did not visit the Grand Canyon, which we have done on separate trips. However, I could not write about a road trip through the American Southwest that did not include the Grand Canyon. That would be insane.

Also, we spent three days in Zion, rather than the two days that are included in this itinerary.

It might look like I put too much time into Monument Valley and Page, Arizona. Maybe I did, but Tim and I really enjoyed both of these places and the extra time let us really explore both of them. At the end of this itinerary, I give suggestions on how to shorten your time in Page and Monument Valley in order to give you more time for another destination.

Finally, this itinerary has a big emphasis on hiking. The American Southwest makes the perfect road trip destination, but it also makes an epic hiking destination. On this itinerary, Tim and I hiked over 60 miles, most of them in Zion, Bryce, and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.

If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Day 1

Arrive in Phoenix, Visit Sedona

On the Road: 2 hours (120 miles) + Scenic byway (7.5 miles)

To get the most out of today, try to schedule your flight to arrive in Phoenix in the morning. This gives you the afternoon to explore Sedona. From the Phoenix airport, it is a two-hour drive north to Sedona.

American Southwest Road Trip

Devils Bridge

Once in Sedona, things to do include driving the Red Rock Scenic Byway, going on a short hike, and star gazing at night.


Day 2

Grand Canyon

On the Road: 2 hours (115 miles) 

In the morning, drive north to the Grand Canyon. And be prepared to be amazed.

The drive is rather unexciting, and it can be hard to believe that you are heading towards one of the most awe-inspiring spots in the world. Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon and have your first view, it can take your breath away.

Grand Canyon

Spend the day viewing the canyon from its numerous viewpoints and consider doing a short hike.

Where to Stay:  We stayed at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan. It is the highest rated hotel in the area. From Tusayan it is a 15 minute drive to get to Grand Canyon Village. There are also a number of hotels in Grand Canyon Village to choose from.


Day 3

Monument Valley

On the Road: 3 hours 15 minutes (180 miles)

On this itinerary, you will spend two days in Monument Valley. Why so much time? For one thing, Monument Valley is not near anything, so it takes awhile to get here. And by spending one night here, you get to see Monument Valley at sunset and sunrise, beautiful times to be here.

In the morning, say goodbye to the Grand Canyon (don’t worry…more amazing places are waiting!) and drive to Monument Valley.

Before arriving in Monument Valley, I recommend stopping in Kayenta for lunch. The restaurants in Monument Valley are overpriced and serve mediocre food. However, in Kayenta, you can eat at Amigo Café, a local restaurant that serves Mexican food and Navajo Fry Bread.

Spend the afternoon touring Monument Valley. Drive the 17-mile Valley Drive, a scenic drive past some of the most popular sites in the park.

The Mittens

You should also consider taking a tour of Monument Valley. On your own, you can only drive the Valley Drive. But there is a lot more to see and taking a tour is the only way to do it. There are lots of options, including photographic sunrise and sunset tours, cultural tours, and even an all-day excursion out to Hunt’s Mesa.

In the evening, a great place to watch the sunset is right from the Visitor Center, where you will overlook The Mittens.

Monument Valley Sunset

Where to Stay: We stayed in a premium Cabin at the View Hotel. We had a deck with a view and we could lie in bed and look out at West Mitten Butte. It was pretty awesome and we would not hesitate to stay here again.


Day 4

Monument Valley & Page, Arizona

On the Road: 2 hours (125 miles)

You have the option to take a sunrise tour of Monument Valley. This is a must if photography is your hobby and it’s a great thing to do if you want to watch the sky light up around the buttes and mesas. Just be prepared for a very early morning and know that it can be quite cold. We did this in May and temperatures were in the 30’s!

Monument Valley Sunrise

In addition to scenic drives and tours in Monument Valley, there are a few nearby spots that are worth exploring.

Forrest Gump Point

You cannot miss Forrest Gump point. This is the place where Forrest Gump announced that he was finished his long distance run, stating “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.” But it also gives you one of the best views of Monument Valley. This iconic spot is just 20 minutes north of the Monument Valley Visitor Center (located on US-163, GPS coordinates: 37.101393, -109.990973.)

Monument Valley

If you want to go off-the-beaten-path, here are several options for you:

Valley of the Gods. Valley of the Gods features a landscape similar to Monument Valley. It may not be quite as spectacular, but it also has much less tourist traffic. If you like scenic drives and want to leave the crowds behind, put this spot on your list.

Mexican Hat. This rock formation is named for its Mexican Sombrero-like appearance. You can see it from US-163 on the drive to the Valley of the Gods. If you want, you can hike up onto the formation.

Mexican Hat

Teardrop Arch. This is an unpopular, off-the-beaten-path tour in Monument Valley. We were able to do a little hiking, explore caves, and get a unique view of Monument Valley. It’s not for everyone, especially if you are short on time, but we recommend it if you want a little adventure or like to get away from it all.

Teardrop Arch

Once you are finished in Monument Valley, drive west to Page, Arizona (2 hours, 125 miles).

Where We Stayed: In Page, Arizona we stayed at the unexciting but clean, convenient, and budget-friendly Holiday Inn Express.


Day 5

Page, Arizona and Antelope Canyon

On the Road: Less than 15 miles (quick drives around Page, Arizona)

There are two must-do things in Page: Horseshoe Band and Antelope Canyon.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed spots on the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend

For photographers, the best times to visit Horseshoe Bend are at sunrise and sunset. You have the option to do both, since you will be in Page the entire day.

We visited Horseshoe Bend at sunrise and sunset. At sunrise, crowds are light and it’s a peaceful place to be.

Sunset is a much different experience. It was incredibly crowded and hard to find a spot with a clear view of the river. Even though it can be painful getting up before sunrise, for us, it was the better time to be here.

However, if you are here just for the thrill of seeing Horseshoe Bend, if you get here in the late afternoon, you should be able to get a good spot to watch the sunset.

Getting here: Horseshoe Bend is located a few miles south of the city of Page, on Highway 89. Park in the large parking lot and from here it is a 0.75-mile walk to the viewing location. It costs $10 to park in the parking lot. Read more here. 

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a gorgeous place to visit. With its glowing red canyon walls and narrow, twisting passageways, this place is fun to visit and a joy to photograph.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is made up of two slot canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. When people refer to Antelope Canyon, they are usually referring to Upper Antelope Canyon. With its darker canyon walls, falling sands, and light beams shining through the dusty air, the Upper canyon has been the more popular of the two slot canyons.

With one full day in Page, you can visit both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Each canyon offers a slightly different experience.

However, if you only want to visit one, how do you decide?

Antelope Canyon Arizona

Upper Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon Ladder

Lower Antelope Canyon

For more information about visiting Antelope Canyon, we have not one, not two, but three posts to help you out:

Should You Visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?

Upper Antelope Canyon: A Journey in Photographs

Lower Antelope Canyon: A Photographic Tour

The popularity of Antelope Canyon has skyrocketed in the recent years. To avoid disappointment, make your reservations far in advance (at a bare minimum, four months in advance, but up to six to nine months in advance for the summer season).

Where We Ate: For dinner, we ate at the Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio. It was wonderful and you can get some oversized margaritas if you want. Another place that gets great reviews, both online and by word of mouth, is Big John’s Texas BBQ.


Day 6

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

On the Road: 6.5 hours (200 miles)

Today is the day when this trip becomes more of an adventure. It’s also time to go off-the-beaten-path and explore some less crowded but truly amazing places in the American Southwest.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park is enormous. There are almost 2 million acres of protected land here, and with that comes tons of hiking trails, unpaved roads, and canyons to explore.

Since most people gravitate to the more popular parks like Zion, Bryce, and Arches, Grand Staircase-Escalante is pleasantly quiet and uncrowded. This just may be one of your favorite days of the trip.

Cottonwood Canyon Road

From Page, drive north on Highway 89 past Lake Powell and enter Utah. Just past Big Water is Cottonwood Canyon Road, a very scenic unpaved road that travels through Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Cottonwood Canyon Road is 46 miles long. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to drive from Big Water to Cannonville. You do not need a 4×4 for this drive.

Cottonwood Canyon Road

If you don’t like the idea of driving on dirt/gravel roads, or Cottonwood Canyon Road is impassable due to wet conditions, there is an alternate route. From Big Water, continue west on Highway 89 almost all of the way to Panguitch and then take Highway 12 past Bryce Canyon to Escalante, Utah. It’s a huge detour but since you are on paved highways it does not add much extra time (3 hours for the Highways 89 and 12 versus 2 to 2. 5 hours for Cottonwood Canyon Road).

Hole-in-the-Rock Road

From Cannonville, drive to Escalante and the start of Hole-in-the-Rock Road using Highway 12. Hole-in-the-Rock Road is another dirt and gravel road that leads to some amazing hiking spots and really cool slot canyons.

Zebra Slot Canyon

Zebra Canyon

Zebra Slot Canyon is a very short slot canyon, named for its striped walls. To get here, it’s a 5.2-mile round trip hike and takes between 3 and 4 hours.

Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Spooky Gulch

If you are looking for a super fun hike to do, put Peek-A-Boo and Spooky slot canyons on your list. Peek-A-Boo Gulch has several sections of challenging rock scrambling, including a 12-foot climb just to enter the canyon. Spooky Gulch is one of the narrowest slot canyons around, only 10 inches wide in some spots! If you’re up for the challenge, these two slot canyons are tons of fun.

Devil’s Garden

Devils Garden

Devil’s Garden is a quick visit just off of Hole-in-the-Rock Road. With hoodoos, crazy rock formations, and arches, Devil’s Garden is a fun spot to explore.

If you get an early start to the day and are a fast hiker, it is possible to see all of these spots in one day. It’s a long day with a lot of driving but if you like the idea of exploring slot canyons, then Zebra, Spooky, and Peek-A-Boo are some of the best in the American Southwest.

If you don’t want to drive all of the way out to Hole-in-the-Rock Road, there are two optional places to visit near Cannonville.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome

With colorful sandstone spires, red rock mountains, and bright blue skies, Kodachrome Basin is a gorgeous little spot to explore. Its name, Kodachrome, fits it perfectly, describing the multitude of vivid colors that are found here.

It is located on Cottonwood Canyon Road south of Cannonville. There are a bunch of quick hikes to choose from and this makes a great family hiking destination.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Willis Creek

This is another slot canyon to explore, although this time the hike has you hopping and skipping over the Willis Creek. It’s fun to do and perfect for all ages and ability levels.

After a day full of hiking and exploring, it’s time to get settled into your next accommodation. Tomorrow morning will be spent at Bryce Canyon so we recommend staying near the park.

Where We Stayed: We stayed in Tropic at the Bryce Canyon Inn. This place was wonderful. We had our own cabin with queen sized beds, bathroom, and kitchenette. It was cozy, quiet, and very clean. From here, it was just a 15-minute drive to Bryce Canyon.


Day 7

Bryce Canyon National Park

On the Road: 4 hours (150 miles); includes Kodachrome Basin and Willis Creek

Bryce Canyon National Park…a fantasyland of hoodoos, bizarre rock formations, and sandstone pillars. This is a crazy beautiful place, and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon Hiking

Bryce Canyon is compact, at least for a National Park. One day is all you need to explore this park. With one day, you can hike through a garden of hoodoos, take in the view from multiple viewpoints, and thoroughly explore the park.

For more information on the best hiking trails, viewpoints, and how to plan your day, read our post:

A Perfect Day in Bryce Canyon

What We Did: Depending on how fast you visit Bryce Canyon, you can visit Kodachrome and/or Willis Creek in the afternoon. Tim and I started at Bryce Canyon at sunrise, finished Bryce Canyon by lunch, had lunch in the town of Bryce, spent the afternoon hiking Kodachrome and Willis Creek, and then drove to Zion National Park. It is a long day but it can be done.

Tonight, sleep in Springdale, Arizona, the gateway into Zion National Park. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, one of the best Holiday Inn properties we have seen.


Day 8

Zion National Park

On the Road: 10 – 15 miles, mostly on the Zion Shuttle

Zion National Park is one of the best spots in the United States to go hiking. From the awe-inspiring hike up Angels Landing to the family friendly Riverside Walk to multi-day backpacking adventures, there is something here for everyone.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

Hiking Zion

Hidden Canyon Trail

Take your pick from a wide variety of hikes, some just a mile or two in length to longer, full-day adventures. With two days, you can choose several hikes, especially if you get an early start in the morning.

We recommend starting as early as possible. During the months of April through November, when the Zion Shuttle is operating, it’s best to be on one of the first shuttles of the day. By mid-morning, the lines to get on the shuttle can be frustratingly long and take up your valuable time. Being on the first shuttle of the day puts you first on the hiking trail for the day. Yes, it’s not fun to get up at the crack of dawn, but it’s so much better than waiting literally an hour or longer in line for a shuttle.


Day 9

Zion National Park

On the Road: 10 – 15 miles, mostly on the Zion Shuttle

Spend the day hiking and exploring the park.

Observation Point

The view from Observation Point

Where We Ate in Springdale

Tim and I were in Zion for three days and had lots of time (and a huge appetite after hiking) to try different restaurants.

King’s Landing Bistro. This place was so good that we ate dinner here twice. This restaurant has a “fine dining” feel to it with an amazing menu. Our favorite restaurant in Springdale.

Café Soleil. This place is quick, reasonably priced, and serves delicious sandwiches.

Oscar’s Café. The perfect spot after a long day of hiking. Oscar’s café serves great nachos and huge portions of Mexican food.

Zion Pizza and Noodle Café. This is another budget friendly place that serves pizza, pastas, and salads.

Jack’s Sports Grill. This was the only place that we don’t recommend. Expect mediocre food in a sports bar setting.


Day 10

Las Vegas

On the Road: 2.5 hours (160 miles)

Today, travel to Las Vegas to catch an afternoon flight home or to spend a night on the Vegas strip.


With More Time

Add More Time to the Grand Canyon

Add more adventure to the itinerary by hiking below the rim or taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.

Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks

These are three more great National Parks located in Utah. Adding these parks to the itinerary requires a lot of time (factor in one day for each park plus a day or two of driving time from Monument Valley or Bryce Canyon) but these are epic destinations to add if you have the time.

More Time in Zion or Las Vegas

If you have an extra day or two, add some more time to Zion (for hikers) or to Las Vegas, if this your first time in the city.

Read more about Las Vegas:

15 Things to do in Las Vegas with Teenagers

Exploring the Valley of Fire near Las Vegas

Two Short, Fun Hikes to do at Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

With Less Time

You can eliminate two days by altering the beginning of this itinerary. Skip Sedona and head right to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix. Spend the afternoon and night at the Grand Canyon. On day 2, visit Monument Valley as a quick day trip from the Grand Canyon and then sleep in Page. Then start this itinerary on day 5.

If you think that one full day in Page is too much time, on the morning of day 4, drive right to Page, tour Antelope Canyon, and then sleep in Page. On day 5, drive to Grand Staircase-Escalante. Visiting Page and Monument Valley quickly eliminates one day on this itinerary.


Are you planning a American Southwest road trip? Comment below if you have any questions!

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Destination Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

Continue the Journey:

 

American Southwest Itinerary

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Comments 56

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Sue. Here are 3 options. If you put Yosemite and Zion into Google Maps, the quickest route takes just under 8 hours and goes through Las Vegas. Option #2: you could detour south through Death Valley, and it will be terribly hot, but it’s still an option. You could see several places in Death Valley, such as Mesquite Sand Dunes, the view from Zabriskie Point, and even drive out to Badwater Basin or Dante’s Peak. For an idea of what you can do in Death Valley, here is a link to our 2 day itinerary. Finally, you could drive northeast through Nevada to Ely and then make a quick visit to Great Basin NP. We have not been here yet, so I don’t know much about it, but maybe it’s worth looking into. This is also the longest drive of the 3 options. Have fun deciding, and I hope you have a great time in Yosemite and Zion! Cheers, Julie

  1. I love this itenerary and will try to take my family on a similar trip this spring! Would you be able to give a ball park figure on how much the trip cost so we know how much to start saving?

    Thanks! Megan

    1. Post
      Author

      I don’t have budget estimates since there are so many factors that affect this. Hotel prices can vary quite a bit, as can rental car prices (we have done this twice and it was crazy how much the rental car price was different from year to year). But just as a ballpark, a budget traveler could get buy on $100 per day (or less) with the price increasing from here, depending on your travel style. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi, I just found your site and I have to say that it is great! I’m currently on a spur of the moment road trip to Tucson and the Four Corners area with my wife and kids (ages 16, 13, 10, 8). I have a couple questions that you may be able to help me with. 1) With the summer heat what would you alter on your itinerary? (We have about 10 days in the Four Corners area).
    2) Will our mini-van be able to go most places you recommend (including the dirt roads)?
    Again, thanks so much for your site! I’m excited to see your other travels as well!
    Todd

    1. Post
      Author

      In general, some dirt roads are OK for cars, but it also depends on the last time that they were graded. Valley of the Gods may be OK but it’s a good idea to check the status of Cottonwood Canyon Road in Big Water before you go. Same for Hole in the Rock Road in Grand Staircase.

      With the summer heat, I would get started at sunrise, see what you can do until about 10 – 11 am, take a break midday, and go back out around 4 pm. If you get out to Bryce, that national park will be the coolest because it is at the highest elevation. It’s not listed in this itinerary, but you will be close to Mesa Verde National Park and that will be worth a visit. One more option that would be nice in the summer is a boat trip, even just a day trip, on Lake Powell. We haven’t done this yet, so I don’t have much info to offer, but it could be something to look into. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hallo Julie
    Wir werden übermorgen deine ausgezeichnet beschriebene Route durch Southwest America von San Diego aus starten.
    Vermutlich wird es um diese Jahreszeit sehr warm sein in diesem Gebiet oder? Wir haben einen Midsize SUV (nissan rogue) als Mietwagen. Der Vermieter empfohl uns einen grösseren SUV mit einem stärkeren Motor aufgrund des Klimas in dieser Gegend. Das wollten wir jedoch nicht aufgrund unseres Budgets. Glaubst du wir werden Probleme haben mit dem Auto?

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, it is hot this time of year, but you should be fine in a Nissan Rogue. In fact, we are currently in the Grand Canyon and Tim and I are getting around Arizona in a Toyota Camry and doing just fine. In each park, get started early and bring lots of water. Enjoy your trip!

      Translated with Google Translate:
      Ja, es ist heiß zu dieser Jahreszeit, aber mit einem Nissan Rogue sollte es Ihnen gut gehen. Tatsächlich sind wir gerade im Grand Canyon und Tim und ich kommen in einem Toyota Camry durch Arizona und es geht mir gut. Beginnen Sie in jedem Park frühzeitig und bringen Sie viel Wasser mit. Gute Reise!

    1. Post
      Author
  4. I just wanted to express our tremendous gratitude to you for putting together such an informative trip planner. We just got back from our trip and had a wonderful time. We drove out from California and skipped the Phoenix and Vegas portions, but we’re able to spend more time at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion. Our son is 14 and has autism. He likes road trips and we’ve recently been exploring the National Parks for vacations. Your accommodation and dining recommendations were spot on! The hiking suggestions for those that are family friendly were key to our success. We’ve never been a hiking family but on this trip (that you planned for us)we did some every day and we’re so happy that it seems our son has found a new interest that we can all do together. I just can’t thank you enough! We live in California’s Central Valley and came home excited to take up your suggestions for exploring Yosemite. Thank you again for such an informative trip planner and for just giving us an amazing vacation experience!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Cara. Thanks for your very kind words! I’m so glad we could help you out with your trip. It’s an amazing area, isn’t it? 🙂 That’s great that your son has found a new interest. You live in such a wonderful area with so many very cool hiking destinations not far from your doorstep. I hope you have many more adventurous family vacations and have fun exploring Yosemite! Cheers, Julie

  5. My wife and I have traveled all over the world but have never done the Southwest National Parks trip although we have seen the Grand Canyon many times from 35,000 feet. We will do this trip in October and spend 10-14 days. You photos and commentary have been immensely helpful in our planning. Thank you so much for putting in the time and effort to do this. As retirees we have lots of time so I will look into your other trips.

    Safe travels.

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