Julie United States 6 Comments

On this Arizona road trip itinerary, you will visit three national parks, drive past the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley, walk through magical Antelope Canyon, and hike the desert hills of Sedona. Arizona is home to some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States and this road trip is the perfect way to see them.

Arizona is a large state with a lot to do, so expect to be busy. But what a trip it will be! Watch the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend, hike the short, fun trails in Sedona, see more cacti than you can count in Saguaro, explore the unusual landscapes at Petrified Forest, and watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon.

On this Arizona road trip itinerary, you will visit:

  • Saguaro National Park
  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Sedona
  • Monument Valley
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Horseshoe Bend
  • Valley of the Gods (optional)

Map of Arizona Road Trip

This Arizona road trip is written as a 10-day itinerary. Ideally, you need at least 10 days to visit everything on this list. If you have less time, I let you know how to shorten this itinerary at the end of this post.

Let’s get started!

Day 1

Arrive in Phoenix, Visit Saguaro National Park

On the Road: 2 to 3 hours (110 to 160 miles)

To get the most out of your day, try to schedule your flight to arrive in Phoenix by midday. This gives you the afternoon to drive to Saguaro National Park in Tucson. Depending on your timing, you might even be able to explore part of the park.

It takes just over an hour and a half to drive from Phoenix to Tucson. If you visit one section of Saguaro National Park, you will do some extra driving (but that also means you will do less driving tomorrow).

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro cactus, which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro

There are two separate sections to the park. The city of Tucson sits smack in the middle of these two sections.

The eastern section is called the Rincon Mountain District. It has a lower concentration of cacti but the Rincon mountains form a nice backdrop for photography.

The western section is called the Tuscon Mountain District. This has a denser population of cacti and it is the more popular section of the park.

If you arrive in the early to mid-afternoon, you have enough time to visit the Rincon Mountain District. There is a short scenic drive with the option to hike a few easy trails.

Learn more about Saguaro National Park in our post 8 Amazing Things to do in Saguaro National Park.

Where to Stay in Tucson

Upscale: JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort and Spa. If you want a resort with swimming pools, restaurants, and outdoor activities, and a close location to Saguaro West, this is the place to stay.

Mid-Range: Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. Located 1 mile north of Saguaro East, you can stay on an actual ranch. Go horseback riding, hiking, and fishing, all from this property.

Budget: Hotel McCoy. This hotel has a handy location just off of Route 10. From here it is a 30-minute drive to both Saguaro West and Saguaro East. The property has a pool and offers beer, wine, and coffee which are all produced in Arizona.


Day 2

Saguaro National Park

On the road: 4.5 hours (240 miles)

Spend the day visiting Saguaro National Park. In the late afternoon or early evening, drive to Petrified Forest National Park.

If you were able to visit the east section yesterday afternoon, you have lots of time to explore the west section of Saguaro. Most likely, you will be finished by midday, which gives you plenty of time to drive to Petrified Forest National Park.

This is one of the biggest driving days of this Arizona road trip. To get from Tucson to Petrified Forest, you will drive through what looks and feels like remote desert landscapes.

Tonight, sleep in Holbrook, the closest town to Petrified Forest National Park.

Where to Stay in Holbrook

Brad’s Desert Inn. This quirky, full-of-character motel is located right on historic Route 66. This was our first pick, but with complaints about slow Wi-Fi, we chose the Days Inn (Tim had to work during our visit so he was dependent on good Wi-Fi).

Days Inn. This is where we stayed. It’s nothing fancy but it checked all of our boxes: clean, quiet, with decent Wi-Fi. I have no complaints and would stay here again on a future visit.

Globetrotter Lodge. This hotel is one of the highest reviewed properties in Holbrook and it also has a pool.


Day 3

Petrified Forest National Park

On the road: 5 hours (280 miles)

Spend the day exploring Petrified Forest National Park. Once you are finished, drive north to Monument Valley.

Like Saguaro, Petrified Forest is a small park so you only need one day (or less) to explore it.

There are two sections to Petrified Forest National Park. In the northern half are the colorful hills of the Painted Desert. This is a stunning area to photograph and to go on short, backcountry hikes.

In the southern section of the park you can see the petrified wood, logs that date back hundreds of millions of years ago.

Arizona Itinerary

Petrified Forest

For full details on what to do here and how to plan your time, read our article Petrified Forest National Park Travel Guide & Itinerary.

In the mid-afternoon, hit the road again and drive north to Monument Valley. It’s another big driving day, but after this, the drives become shorter for the remainder of this Arizona road trip. From Holbrook, it takes about three and a half hours to drive to Monument Valley.

Where to Stay in Monument Valley

You will stay in Monument Valley for two nights.

The View Hotel. Located in Monument Valley Tribal Park, take your pick from hotel rooms or cabins. We stayed in a cabin and loved it!! We had a deck with a view of the Mittens and we could lie in our bed and look out at West Mitten Butte.

Goulding’s Lodge and Campground. Located just outside of Monument Valley Tribal Park, this lodge offers rooms with a view and they also have a campground. The operate one of the only restaurants in the area.

Tear Drop Arch B&B and Firetree B&B are two nearby bed and breakfast places that also make nice options.


Day 4

Monument Valley

On the road: Minimal; if you visit Valley of the Gods in Utah, you will drive 2 hours (72 miles)

Spend all day exploring Monument Valley. One full day in Monument Valley may sound like a lot of time, but there really is a lot to do here. Plus, if you get a hotel or cabin with a view, this is a nice place to slow down and relax before moving on again.

In Monument Valley, drive the 17-mile Valley Drive loop. This is a scenic drive past some of the most popular sites in Monument Valley.

Other top experiences include Forrest Gump Point, taking a guided tour of Monument Valley, and making the optional detour to the Valley of the Gods. At the end of the day, watch the sunset over the Mittens.

Monument Valley Itinerary

Overlooking the Mittens and Tribal Loop Drive

 Forrest Gump Point

Forrest Gump Point

 

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

Some sections of Monument Valley can only be visited on a tour, since this is located on Navajo land. But these tours are worth it. Take your pick from sunrise or sunset photography tours, see petroglyphs and Anasazi sites, or go off-the-beaten-path to Teardrop Arch.

For a full list of things to do in Monument Valley and how to plan your time, read our Guide to Monument Valley.

Tonight, sleep in Monument Valley.


Day 5

Antelope Canyon

On the road: 2 hours (120 miles)

Hit the road early in order to give yourself enough time to tour Antelope Canyon today.

Antelope Canyon is made up of two slot canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Since they are located on Navajo lands they can only be visited on a tour.

If you arrive by 10 am, you have enough time to tour both canyons. With its light beams, falling sands, and high canyon walls, Upper Antelope Canyon is the more photogenic of the two.

With narrow passageways to squeeze through and ladders to climb, many people agree that Lower Antelope Canyon is more fun. Without a doubt, both will be crowded. This has become a very popular destination in recent years.

Arizona Road Trip

Upper Antelope Canyon

 

Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Pro Travel Tip: Make your reservations far in advance. At a bare minimum, this should be done at least 4 months in advance, but consider doing this 6 months in advance, especially during the summer season.

Get the full details on how to visit Antelope Canyon: Should You Visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?

In the evening, visit Horseshoe Bend for a spectacular sunset view. This is another very popular spot so get here early if you want an unobstructed view from the rim.

Where to Stay in Page: We stayed at the unexciting but clean, convenient, and budget friendly Holiday Inn Express. The Wingate by Wyndham Page Lake Powell and Hyatt Place Page Lake Powell are two of the highest rated hotels in Page.


Day 6

Grand Canyon

On the road: 2.5 hours (135 miles)

In the morning, you have the option to watch the sunrise over Horseshoe Bend. At sunrise, the crowds are light and this is a peaceful place to be. It’s a much different experience than sunset (which feels like a zoo on very busy evenings).

Horseshoe Bend Arizona road trip itinerary

Horseshoe Bend at sunrise

Drive to the Grand Canyon. You will enter the park at the east entrance.

Once on Desert View Drive, there are numerous viewpoints that you can visit as you make your way to the Grand Canyon Village. They are all spectacular, but our favorites are Desert View Point (along with the Desert View Watchtower), Moran Point, and Grand View Point.

Grand Canyon in December Arizona road trip itinerary

To see the view from each view point along Desert View Drive, as well as the other viewpoints in Grand Canyon National Park, check out our post 16 Best Views on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Check into your hotel and spend the afternoon visiting more of the South Rim viewpoints. You can walk the South Rim Trail, take the shuttle, or go by bike to see the views. Watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon and then have dinner.

Where to Stay in the Grand Canyon

There are five hotels located in the Grand Canyon Village (El Tovar, Thunderbird Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, and Maswick Lodge). Staying here gives you the advantage of easy access to the shuttles, short walks to several of the viewpoints, and no hassles driving into and out the park every day. However, the hotels get mediocre reviews and many people say they are expensive for what you get.

Click here to view the lodges and get updated pricing. These hotels fill up very far in advance. Make your reservations at least 6 months in advance.

You also have the option to stay in Tusayan. From Tusayan, it is a 15-minute drive into the park. There are several hotels to choose from as well as some restaurants.

We have stayed at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan two times. It is the highest rated hotel in the area. The hotel looks impressive from the outside and the lobby is very nice but the rooms are nothing special. On Booking.com it is listed as a 5-star hotel but it looks and feels a lot more like a 3 to 4 star hotel. For a nicer room, it’s worth upgrading to the Deluxe Queen Room.

The Best Western and the Holiday Inn Express are two more hotels to try in Tusayan.

You will stay here for two nights.


Day 7

Grand Canyon

On the road: Minimal

With a full day in the Grand Canyon, there are a lot of different ways to fill your time.

If you like the idea of hiking, I recommend the South Kaibab Trail. The views are unbelievable and the trail is less crowded than the more famous (and less scenic…in my opinion) Bright Angel Trail. You can hike out and back to either Cedar Ridge or Skeleton Point.

For an epic experience, you can hike South Rim to South Rim on the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails. It is only recommended to do this during the cooler months (November through March) and if you are very fit with a lot of hiking experience.

Even if you are not big into hiking, hiking out to Ooh Aah Point, on the South Kaibab Trail, is an unforgettable experience, especially early in the morning.

Grand Canyon Hike

Bright Angel Trail Arizona road trip itinerary

Bright Angel Trail

 

Grand Canyon Arizona road trip itinerary

Other ideas for how to fill your day include a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon, a visit to the Yavapai Museum of Geology, a bike ride along Hermit Road, or seeing the Grand Canyon IMAX movie.

For more information on how to plan your time, read our article How to Spend One Day in the Grand Canyon

Tonight, sleep at the Grand Canyon


Day 8

Grand Canyon & Sedona

On the road: 2 hours (115 miles)

Today you have a decision to make: put more of your time into the Grand Canyon or Sedona.

If you want to hike another trail in the Grand Canyon, go on a helicopter ride, or get to something you did not have time for yesterday, spend the day in the Grand Canyon and drive to Sedona in the evening.

If you got your fill of the Grand Canyon views and hikes and epic experiences, drive to Sedona early in the day in order to give yourself more time here. There are so many short, fun hikes to do in Sedona that you could spend days and days here and never run out of things to do.

Where to Stay in Sedona: We stayed at a wonderful bed & breakfast called A Sunset Chateau. This is a beautiful property located just outside of the town of Sedona. This property has a pool, hot tub, and a lush garden filled with tropical plants and trees.


Day 9

Sedona

On the road: Minimal

Spend the day hiking the trails and/or going on scenic drives in Sedona. So far, we have hiked two trails in Sedona.

Devils Bridge is a wonderful hike in Sedona. With an easy hiking trail, beautiful red rock scenery, and of course, the chance to have your photo taken on top of Devils Bridge, this hike makes the top of the list for many visitors to Sedona.

Devils Bridge Sedona

Bear Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in Sedona. From the top, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the red rocks of Sedona as well as the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

Tonight, sleep in Sedona or in Phoenix (if you have an early flight tomorrow).


Day 10

Fly Home

On the road: 2 hours (120 miles)

Today, fly home or continue your travels.


Best Time for This Arizona Road Trip

This road trip can be done year-round.

The best months are March through May and September through October, when the weather is pleasant and the parks are not too crowded.

During the summer months (June through August) expect sweltering temperatures and very high crowds.

During the winter months, snow can impact travel, particularly around the Grand Canyon.

We have visited this area in May, June, and December. Spring and fall are wonderful months for this Arizona road trip.

How to Modify this Itinerary

With More Time

Visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

You can do this either as a day trip from Page or you can spend the night here. If you spend the night, it will be a very long drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the following day.

On the North Rim, the views of the Grand Canyon are spectacular. There are a few short hiking trails and drives to viewpoints, but there is a lot less to do here than the South Rim, so half of a day is really all that you need.

The North Rim is only open from mid-May through mid-October.

Grand Canyon North Rim Arizona road trip itinerary

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

West of Page sits Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. You can add a day to your itinerary to go hiking here.

The Wave

The Wave is a popular photography destination in Arizona. You can only visit The Wave if you have a permit. These can be very hard to get, since only 20 permits are issued per day. Get the details here. 

With Less Time

To make this a 9-day itinerary, remove one day from the Grand Canyon.

To make this an 8-day itinerary, consider eliminating Saguaro National Park. Saguaro adds a lot of driving to this itinerary and, in my opinion, the other destinations on this list are more interesting and more worth your time.

To make this a 7-day itinerary, shorten your time in Monument Valley.

7-day Arizona road trip itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Phoenix, drive to Petrified Forest National Park
Day 2: Petrified Forest National Park, drive to Monument Valley
Day 3: Monument Valley, drive to Page
Day 4: Antelope Canyon, Drive to the Grand Canyon
Day 5: Grand Canyon National Park
Day 6: Drive to Sedona, Visit Sedona
Day 7: Fly home

Monument Valley Arizona road trip itinerary

Monument Valley

Practical Information

National Park Fees

Saguaro NP: $25
Petrified Forest NP: $25
Grand Canyon NP: $35

Grand Total: $85

America the Beautiful Pass

If you have plans to visit Saguaro, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks, it is worth it to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This annual park pass costs $80 and is valid for one year. Not only will you save money on park fees for this trip but you will also get free admission to any other national park or federal recreation sites that you visit within 365 days of purchasing this pass.
Purchase your pass at the first national park that you visit (in this case, at Saguaro) or you can get it online.

Click here to learn more. 

Important Links

Read More about Arizona

 

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.

 

If you have any questions about this Arizona road trip itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.

 

Arizona Road Trip Itinerary

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Comments 6

  1. I am surprised you made no mention to Canyon de Chelly, Tombstone, Pima Aviation boneyard, Tucson Historic District or Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin West architecture masterpiece in metro Phoenix.

    May I ask why?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Daniela. With limited time, some things have to be left out. Canyon de Chelly and Tombstone are outside of the main loop and would add extra driving and time. We saw the Pima Aviation Museum and it was nice but did not seem to be worth the time for this itinerary, as with the other sites you mention. This is mostly a national parks/hiking trip which is why I did not include these other sites in Arizona. Cheers, Julie

      1. Hello Julie! Actually Canyon de Chelly is right on the itinerary you show above, Taliesin home is a WHS and Tucson adds A LOT of driving to this road trip- you must have had Saguaro very high in your priority list.

        I now realize that hiking trails is your top focus but since you are also commited to be of service to your readers I will take the liberty to suggest you reflect this in the title of this entry. Something like “the ultimate road trip to Arizona national parks” and a disclaimer to raise to everybody’s attention that this itinerary bypasses some major attractions related to history / archeology / military installations / Old West and Route 66 lore.

        Needless to say, this article and all other entries are already extremely useful and the pics are beyond outstanding. Thank you very much.

        1. Post
          Author

          Hello Daniela. Thank you so much for your input. 😊 Yes, Saguaro does add a lot of driving but you are correct, I am trying to include all of the national parks on this road trip. I will update this article soon with your suggestions…thank you so much for contributing. Cheers, Julie

    1. Post
      Author

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