Julie Itinerary, United States 17 Comments

This is one of the best road trips in the USA. On this American Southwest road trip, you will visit Utah’s Mighty 5, the Grand Canyon, and a handful of wonderful state parks and national monuments.

This is the itinerary I wish we had when we planned our first road trip to the American Southwest.

The sights you will see on this American Southwest road trip include:

  • The Grand Canyon
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Monument Valley
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Little Wild Horse Canyon

The Mighty 5 are five national parks located in central and southern Utah. On this list are the uber popular Zion and Arches National Parks. Bryce Canyon, with its hoodoos and fun hiking trails, also gets a robust number of visitors. Capitol Reef and Canyonlands get far fewer visitors, but they are absolutely worth your time. These two parks offer quite a few amazing experiences and lack the crowds that swarm Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Note: Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley, two Navajo Nation sites, are currently closed due to COVID-19.  For updates, click here. 

Who Will Love this Road Trip?

This American Southwest road trip is great for all ages. If you are looking for a memorable family vacation, this is a good one. Kids will love the short hiking trails and the unique landscapes.

If you are an avid hiker, be prepared to put some serious mileage on your hiking shoes, and a tough time narrowing down which hikes you want to do, because this area is a literal treasure trove of thrilling trails.

And if hiking is not your thing, not to worry. With gorgeous scenic drives, stunning overlooks, and short but sweet strolls through the parks, you can have a fantastic trip without venturing too far down a hiking trail.

Overview of this American Southwest Road Trip

This road trip is done as a loop from Las Vegas. You will drive roughly 1500 miles. Mileage can vary, depending on extra driving within the national parks and state parks and detours such as Cathedral Valley and Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

Since this is done as a road trip, you will move from place to place quite frequently, which means you will need to reserve a large number of hotels/campsites/RV sites in advance. But every day you get to explore a new and wonderful place.

 

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go 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.

Note: There is currently a road closure between the Grand Canyon East Entrance and Cameron. To bypass this, you will have to drive south to Flagstaff and then take highway 89 to Page. When the road reopens, it is much faster and scenic to take Desert View Drive to Cameron and then continue north from here.

Day 1

Arrive in Las Vegas, Drive to the Grand Canyon

On the Road: 280 miles, 4.5 hours

Try to plan your flight so you arrive in Las Vegas in the morning or early afternoon. It is a long drive to get to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Hoover Dam

If you are able to start your drive early (by midday) you have the option to add on a visit to Hoover Dam. You can either walk across the dam and take photos or join a guided tour of the dam. The Powerplant Tour can be reserved in advance online. However, the Guided Dam Tour tickets can only be purchased on-site the same day, and tickets generally sell out in the morning. To learn more about tour options, click here. 

Grand Canyon Skywalk

The Skywalk looks and sounds thrilling…a glass walkway perched high above the canyon floor, offering spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.

We did this and in our opinion, this experience is extremely overpriced and the views won’t come close to what you are about to see on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. For a family of four, your ticket price will be almost $300. My advice would be to save your money and go right to the South Rim.

If you want to learn more, read our article Is the Grand Canyon Skywalk Worth It?

At the Grand Canyon

Get checked into your hotel. If you are lucky enough that it is still daylight, consider watching the sunset from the South Rim.

American Southwest Grand Canyon

Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon

On this itinerary, you will sleep at the Grand Canyon or in Tusayan for 3 nights.

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 stayed at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan. This is our go-to hotel when we visit the Grand Canyon. 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.


Day 2 & 3

Grand Canyon National Park

On the Road: Minimal

With two full days in the Grand Canyon, you have plenty of time to visit the overlooks, of which there are many, watch the sunrise and the sunset, take a helicopter tour, and hike one or two trails.

Rim to River to Rim

Bright Angel Trail

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon never set foot below the rim. If you don’t mind a short but strenuous hike, going below the rim is an experience I highly recommend. The Bright Angel Trail is a popular pick. It’s easy to get to, since it starts right next to the Bright Angel Lodge, but once below the rim, it lacks the sweeping views of the Grand Canyon you can get from another trail, the South Kaibab Trail.

I recommend taking the shuttle out to Yaki Point Road and hiking a portion of the South Kaibab Trail. Round trip, it is a 1.8 mile hike to Ooh Aah Point. If you go a little farther, the views open up even more. Just keep in mind that it is a hefty climb to get back up on the rim.

Hike South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

If you are super fit and have lots of hiking experience, consider hiking rim to river to rim. On this massive day hike, you will hike down the South Kaibab Trail, cross the Colorado River, and hike back up the Bright Angel Trail. It is an epic experience to have in the Grand Canyon.

Visit our Guide to the Grand Canyon for links to all of our posts about the Grand Canyon. Get more ideas on how to plan your time, how to hike below the rim, the best viewpoints on the South Rim, and much more. Or, take a look at these posts:


Day 4

Page, Arizona: Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

On the Road: 130 miles, 2.5 hours

From the South Rim of the Grand Canyon it takes two and a half hours to get to Page, Arizona. The first part of your drive takes you along Desert View Drive, where you have the opportunity to see more views of the Grand Canyon.

Note: Desert View Drive can close after a snowfall. If this happens on your visit, you will have to drive south to Flagstaff and then north to Page, making this drive much longer.

Midday, visit Antelope Canyon. There are two sections to Antelope Canyon: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. If you get here early, by 10 am, you can visit both slot canyons.

Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon

 Lower Antelope Canyon

Tim in Lower Antelope Canyon

 

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Recommended itinerary to visit both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon:

  • 10:30 am: Upper Antelope Canyon
  • Noon: Lunch
  • 1:30 pm: Lower Antelope Canyon

This allows you to visit both canyons at prime time, when the sun is high in the sky.

These two canyons are extremely popular. As soon as you know your dates of travel, make your reservations. Time slots can sell out 6 months in advance.

In the evening, watch the sunset at Horseshoe Bend. 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. 

Horseshoe Bend

Where to Stay in Page, Arizona

We stayed at the 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. You will stay here for one night.


Day 5

Monument Valley

On the Road: 120 miles, 2 hours

In the morning, drive to Monument Valley.

Spend the day exploring Monument Valley. On your own, you can drive the 17-mile Valley Drive loop, which takes you past some of the popular sites in Monument Valley.

How to Visit 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

Forrest Gump Point

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 and how to plan your time, read our Guide to Monument Valley.

Where to Stay

You will stay in Monument Valley for one night.

Located in the Monument Valley Tribal Park, The View Hotel offers several types of accommodations. The priciest option are the hotel rooms, all which offer a view over Monument Valley. The higher the floor, the more you will pay, but you will also get the best view.

The premium cabins, which is part of the View Hotel, overlook the Mittens and some have better views than others. We stayed in a cabin in the front row and loved it. We had a deck with a great view and we could lie in bed and look out at West Mitten Butte. The cabins are clean and warm (it got down into the low 30’s during our visit in May).

In Monument Valley, there is a campground and RV parking. The campground is located between the cabins and the hotel and the view is out to the Mittens. This is also a popular spot to watch sunrise and sunset.

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


Day 6

The Needles, Canyonlands National Park

On the Road: 220 miles, 4 hours

Today you will drive to Moab. Along the way you will drive right past The Needles, one of four districts of Canyonlands National Park.

Your visit here can be quick, with a drive down the main park road and a quick hike on one of the short hiking trails. The Pothole Point Trail is less than one mile long, very easy, and offers panoramic views of Canyonlands National Park.

If you don’t mind going a little further, hike the Slickrock Trail. This hike is 2.4 miles round trip and offers better views than the Pothole Point Trail, not only of The Needles but also the Island in the Sky District.

Slickrock Trail Canyonlands

Slickrock Trail

For one of the best views in The Needles, hike out to Chesler Park. It is 6 miles round trip to a fabulous viewpoint. From here, you will have sweeping views over The Needles, out to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, and the La Sal Mountains.

The Needles Canyonlands

But if you want to add on a very cool slot canyon and a longer walk through the Needles, do the full Chesler Park Loop (11 miles, 5 to 7 hours).

The Needles Hike

Joint Trail

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NEEDLES: 12 Amazing Things to Do in The Needles

After visiting the Needles, continue to Moab and get settled into your hotel.

Where to Stay in Moab

Here are some recommended hotels in Moab. You will stay here for three nights.

UPSCALE: Hoodoo Moab. This is one of the newest hotels in Moab and this is where we stayed on our most recent visit. I have mixed reviews about this hotel. The location is great, right in the heart of Moab with a walk or short drive to most restaurants. The hotel is gorgeous. The décor and the layout are impeccable and our room was very comfortable. However, the walls are paper thin. We could clearly hear our neighbor’s conversations and they weren’t being overly loud. If you are a light sleeper, you might want to consider staying in a different hotel. But if a little bit of noise doesn’t bother you, and you want to stay in the nicest hotel in Moab, stay at the Hoodoo.

MID-RANGE: Red Cliffs Lodge. This property gets rave reviews. Every room has a patio with views of the river. Onsite is a restaurant, bar, pool, tennis courts, winery, museum, and horse corral. Red Cliffs Lodge is located outside of Moab, on Highway 128, in a beautiful setting along the Colorado River. It’s just a short drive into town and Arches National Park.

MID-RANGE: Homewood Suites. This is another property that gets excellent reviews. All suites have kitchenettes and some suites can accommodate up to six people. There is a small indoor pool and gym onsite.

MID-RANGE: Hyatt Place Moab. This is a newer hotel in Moab and very highly rated. It is located on the north end of town, so from here, it is a very quick drive to enter Arches National Park.

BUDGET: MainStay Suites Moab. Rooms come equipped with a kitchenette. Some suites can accommodate up to six people so this is a great budget choice for families.


Day 7

Arches National Park

On the road: 46 miles, 1.5 hours

Arches is a relatively small, compact national park. One day is all you need to visit the highlights.

Arches Scenic Drive is the main road that runs through the park. It is 19 miles long and it takes roughly 30 minutes to drive the entire length of it.

With one day in Arches National Park, I recommend driving to end of Scenic Drive until it dead-ends at the parking lot for Devils Garden. The Devils Garden Trail is a 7.8 mile loop where you get to see eight arches, including the famous Landscape Arch.

Devils Garden Arches

What makes the Devils Garden Trail so great is that you can pick and choose what you want to do. You can simply hike round trip to Landscape Arch (it’s only 1.6 miles round trip). You can hike a little bit farther to see several more arches. And for the ultimate adventure, you can hike the entire loop, which takes most people three to four hours.

For more information about this hike, take a look at our post How to Hike the Devils Garden Trail.

As you drive back along Scenic Drive, there are many more arches to visit, like Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, and Skyline Arch. Visit the Garden of Eden and then hike the short loop trails around the Windows, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. Next, visit Balanced Rock and Park Avenue. Your day ends with sunset views of Delicate Arch.

Things to do in Arches National Park

Park Avenue

 

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Tonight, sleep in Moab.


Day 8

Canyonlands National Park

On the road: 100 miles, 2.5 hours

Several districts make up Canyonlands National Park. You already visited The Needles. Today you will visit the Island in the Sky District. This is the most popular part of Canyonlands National Park and this is where you get to see this park’s most iconic sights.

Start at Mesa Arch. This is an extremely popular sunrise photography location, as photographers capture the image of the rising sun through the arch. If you want to do this, plan your visit so you arrive before sunrise in order to get a prime tripod location in front of the arch. If you have no desire to roll out bed in the early hours of the morning, you can still get very nice photos within one hour after sunrise.

Island in the Sky

From Mesa Arch, drive down Grand View Point Road and enjoy the jaw-dropping views from Grand View Point. From here, you look out over canyons carved out by the Colorado River and the Needles District. There is a short hiking trail here along the rim which is nice to do if you want to stick around longer to enjoy the view.

Canyonlands in December

Drive back up Grand View Point Road and consider hiking to White Rim Overlook, a short but sweet trail to another spectacular viewpoint. Take in the view from Buck Canyon Overlook, Green River Overlook, and then drive to Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome is a large crater that was most likely formed by a meteorite, although there are other theories about its creation. To get the viewpoints you will have to do some hiking. It’s an easy to moderate hike on well-marked trails. There are two overlooks and the second one was our favorite. The entire hike is 1.8 miles round trip and it takes 1 to 1.5 hours to hike the whole thing.

Next, you have the option to hike Whale Rock (a 1-mile hike to the top of a dome for panoramic views of the park) or Aztec Butte (a 2-mile round trip hike where you get to see ancient granaries).

Before leaving Canyonlands, visit the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint and the Visitor Center Viewpoint for awesome views of Shafer Canyon Road as it switchbacks down Shafer Canyon.

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Shafer Canyon Overlook

For more information about Canyonlands National Park, read our articles How to Spend on Day in Canyonlands and Best Things to do in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

Optional: Dead Horse Point State Park or Shafer Canyon Road

If you are doing well on time, there are two options to add on to this day.

Dead Horse Point State Park is simple amazing. It has easy but fun hiking trails, low crowds, and a jaw-dropping view that rivals those in the nearby national parks. Plus, its small size makes it easy to explore if you are short on time. You can simply drive to Dead Horse Point and take in the view or hike a mile or two along the West Rim Trail.

Best Things to do in Utah Photo

If you like scenic drives and white-knuckle roads, this is a good one! On this route, you will drive the legendary Shafer Canyon switchbacks, pass below Dead Horse Point, get a close-up view of the Colorado River, and see a famous movie filming location, Thelma and Louise point.

Shafer Canyon Road and Potash Road are two dirt roads that connect Canyonlands National Park with Moab. You do not need a permit to do this drive…just a high-clearance SUV and a great sense of adventure.

Shafer Trail Canyonlands

Shafer Canyon Switchbacks

Tonight, sleep in Moab.


Day 9

Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon

On the Road: 190 miles, 4 hours

Today, you will drive to Capitol Reef National Park, visiting Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse along the way. From Moab, it takes 2 hours to get to Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Goblin Valley is another gem of a state park in Utah. It’s small and super easy to explore. You can either hike one of the designated trails or simply wander through the hoodoos. If you are doing this road trip with kids, they will love this. A visit here lasts anywhere from one hour to half of a day, depending on how much fun you are having.

Goblin Valley in November

Little Wild Horse Canyon is one of the most thrilling slot canyons in Utah. With tight passageways, curving, scalloped walls, and short sections of easy rock scrambling, this hike is fun for both kids and adults. You can hike the narrowest (and most fun) section of Little Wild Horse as a quick out-and-back hike, or do this as a loop, adding on Bell Canyon.

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Tim Rivenbark

Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon are just 10 minutes apart. You can visit them in either order. We started at Goblin Valley and then hiked Little Wild Horse Canyon.

From Goblin Valley State Park, drive to Capitol Reef National Park. This drive takes just under two hours.

Tonight, sleep in Torrey. You will spend two nights in Torrey.

Where to Stay in Torrey

Capitol Reef Resort. This is the most interesting place on this list. Located in Torrey, very close to the west entrance of Capitol Reef, this property offers a wide variety of beautifully decorated rooms. You can even sleep in a teepee or a Conestoga Wagon. We spent five nights here and had a great experience. The rooms were clean and quiet. The convenient onsite restaurant, The Pioneer Kitchen, serves great food and staff are very friendly.

Cougar Ridge Lodge. This property gets exceptional reviews. Stay in a two-bedroom villa that can accommodate up to seven people, perfect if you are traveling as a family. Each villa has its own patio with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Sunlit Oasis. Located in Notom (just 15 minutes from the park), this ranch-style house offers clean, quiet rooms. It’s located in a rural area, so if you want a quiet spot in the country, this is the place for you.

The Noor Hotel. This is a nice option if you are looking for a budget accommodation. Located in Torrey, this hotel offers rooms that can accommodate up to four people.


Day 10

Capitol Reef National Park

On the Road: 40 miles, 1.5 hours

On this American Southwest road trip, you have the option to spend two days in Capitol Reef National Park. Or, you can spend one day in Capitol Reef and the second day in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (details on how to do this is listed under day 11).

On your first (and maybe only day here), I recommend visiting the highlights of Capitol Reef. From historic Fruita, drive Capitol Reef Scenic Drive to Grand Wash. Hike Cassidy Arch and walk through the first section of Grand Wash. Grand Wash is very similar to the Narrows in Zion, only without the river, so your feet stay dry but you still get to hike through a wide slot canyon.

Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch

 Hickman Bridge American Southwest road trip

Hickman Bridge

Continue down Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and then drive the very cool Capitol Gorge Road to the end. Walk through Capitol Gorge to the Pioneer Register, where settlers in the late 18th century and early 19th century scrawled their names on the canyon walls.

Drive back to Fruita and consider hiking Cohab Canyon Trail or to Hickman Bridge if you still have the energy. See the petroglyphs and end your day with the view from Sunset Point.

Get the full details on how to do this: One Perfect Day in Capitol Reef National Park

Tonight, sleep in Torrey.


Day 11

Capitol Reef or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park

On the Road (Torrey to Bryce Canyon): 105 miles, 2 hours

Today you have a choice to make: spend more time in Capitol Reef or explore part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as you drive to Bryce Canyon.

Your day will end near Bryce Canyon National Park, in either Tropic or Bryce.

Here are some ideas of what you can do today.

Capitol Reef National Park: Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley is the northernmost section of Capitol Reef National Park. If you want to go on a remote, scenic drive and leave the crowds behind, this is something to consider.

Best American Southwest Itinerary

Temples of the Sun and Moon

To drive the full loop, with detours, you will drive a total of 73 miles and this will take all day. If you only want to drive out and back to the Temples of the Sun and Moon, it’s only 34 miles, plus driving time to and from Torrey. You need a high-clearance SUV to do this, although a 4WD vehicle is ideal.

This is the longest option of the day. Once finished driving the loop, it is a 2.5 hour drive to Bryce Canyon (135 miles).

Capitol Reef National Park: Go Hiking

Hike one of the longer trails in Capitol Reef National Park in the morning and drive to Bryce Canyon in the afternoon. If you move fast and have lots of energy, you could hike a short trail in Capitol Reef plus hike one of the trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante (listed below).

I recommend hiking Cohab Canyon Trail for great views over Fruita. Chimney Rock is another fun, popular hike. Our favorite hike is Navajo Knobs. It’s a long, strenuous hike (10 miles) but the views are unbeatable. It’s similar to hiking to Observation Point in Zion National Park with great views over the park.

Capitol Reef Hike American Southwest road trip

On the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs Trail

Capitol Reef National Park: Loop the Fold

This incredibly scenic drive takes you through the remote, southern section of Capitol Reef. On this drive, you will circle around part the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that stretches for almost 100 miles.

Often overlooked by most visitors to Capitol Reef, this road, and the hiking trails that lead away from it, get very few visitors. When we did this (November 2020) we saw just two people on the entire drive.

Along this drive, you will hike two very short and easy slot canyons (Surprise Canyon and Headquarters Canyon) and drive the thrilling Burr Trail switchbacks.

Scenic Drive in Utah

Notom-Bullfrog Road

 Capitol Reef Hiking Trail American Southwest road trip

Entering Headquarters Canyon

 

Julie Rivenbark

Hiking Headquarters Canyon

On this itinerary, you won’t drive the whole loop but you will still get to do the best parts. Drive south on Notom-Bullfrog Road, climb the Burr Trail switchbacks, and drive Burr Trail Road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Boulder. From Boulder, take Highway 12 south to Bryce. It takes about an hour and a half (76 miles) to drive from Boulder to Bryce.

Grand Staircase-Escalante: Hike the Slot Canyons

If you like hiking, exploring tight spaces, and rock scrambling, you’ll love the trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

From Torrey, head south on Highway 12. Just before getting to the town of Escalante, turn left onto Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This gravel road leads to some spectacular slot canyons. Note: Hole-in-the-Rock Road is suitable for standard vehicles although washboarding on the road can make it rough.

There are 3 spots we recommend on this road:

Zebra Slot Canyon. Zebra slot canyon is named for its striped walls. This hike is challenging, with some difficult rock scrambling, but you get one of the most unique views in Utah.

Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons. These two slot canyons sit side by side. Spooky Gulch is an extremely narrow but easy to hike slot canyon. Peek-A-Boo is more challenging, with sections of moderately difficult rock scrambling.

Devils Garden. This small area is filled with hoodoos and unique rock formations. It’s a fun place to take kids and it’s also a great spot for photographers.

American Southwest Road Trip

Devils Garden

Near Tropic and Cannonville (before you get to Bryce Canyon), you can also explore Kodachrome Basin State Park and hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon.

Tonight, sleep near Bryce Canyon National Park. You will stay here for one night.

Where to Stay near Bryce Canyon

Tropic is a small town that is located 15 minutes away from the entrance into Bryce Canyon National Park. This town has a great selection of small properties where you can stay in a bed and breakfast, cabin, or motel. Bryce Country Cabins, Happy Trails BnB, and Bybee’s Steppingstone Motel all get very good reviews.

The town of Bryce sits right outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. The top pick here is the Best Western Plus.


Day 12

Bryce Canyon National Park

On the Road: 84 miles, 1.75 hours

This small park, with its hoodoos and hiking trails, is quick and easy to visit. Sunrise here is magical and it’s worth getting an early start to see this park first thing in the morning.

Bryce Canyon American Southwest road trip

Spend the day visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, and in the afternoon, drive to Springdale (2 hours, 84 miles).

For information about how to plan your time, read our articles One Perfect Day in Bryce Canyon National Park and How to Hike the Queens Garden & Navajo Loop Trail.

Optional: Willis Creek or Kodachrome Basin State Park

If you move fast, you could spend the morning in Bryce Canyon and the afternoon at Willis Creek or Kodachrome Basin. Willis Creek is a fun slot canyon where you hike through a river. It’s easy to do and great for all ages, but to get here, you need at least a high-clearance SUV, although a 4WD is ideal. Kodachrome Basin is a quiet state park that has a handful of short, scenic hiking trails.

In the afternoon/evening drive to Springdale. You will spend 2 nights in Springdale.

When we visit Zion, our go-to hotel is the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale. It is located along the Springdale Shuttle route, so you can get around town and into Zion National Park without a car.


Day 13

Zion National Park

On the Road: Minimal

Zion National Park is one of the best places in Utah to go hiking. Angels Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point are the top hiking trails, but there are many more to choose from. With one day, you can hike one longer trail in the morning and spend the afternoon exploring Zion Valley or hiking a shorter trail.

Zion National Park American Southwest road trip

Observation Point

 

Best American Southwest Itinerary

The Narrows

Tonight, sleep in Springdale.

Learn more about how to spend your time and pick out which hikes to do in our Guide to Zion National Park. Or, take a look at these articles:


Day 14

Drive to Las Vegas and fly home

On the Road: 170 miles, 2.5 hours

In the morning, drive to Las Vegas. In the afternoon, fly home.


How to Modify this Itinerary

Want more time in Las Vegas? Spend day 1 in Las Vegas. On the morning of day 2, drive out to the Grand Canyon. You will lose some time in the Grand Canyon but for some people it may be worth it. Or, you can add a day or two onto this itinerary and visit Las Vegas at the beginning or end of this American Southwest road trip.

Want more time in one of the national parks? If you don’t mind giving up a day in the Grand Canyon, you could use one of these days and add it Zion, Canyonlands, or one of the other national parks on this road trip.

With Less Time

It is very difficult to do this American Southwest road trip with less than two weeks.

The easiest way to shorten it is to take a day from the Grand Canyon, making this a total of 13 days.

If you need a shorter itinerary, we have a lot of great 7 to 10-day options. These are variations of the above itinerary:

10 Days in the American Southwest: visit Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Las Vegas.

The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary. Get suggestions on how to visit Utah’s Mighty 5, whether you have 7 days or 2 weeks. 

Arches, Canyonlands & Capitol Reef National Parks: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary. Spend 10 days visiting three national parks. This is perfect for those who want to spend more time in the parks and go off-the-beaten-path.

Grand Canyon Road Trip: This post has 5 itinerary ideas that start in Las Vegas and include the Grand Canyon. These also include parts of Utah, Arizona, and even Death Valley in California.

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: Visit 3 national parks (Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro) plus Sedona, Monument Valley, and Antelope Canyon.

Grand Staircase Escalante American Southwest road trip

Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. You have the option to hike here on day 11 of this American Southwest road trip.

Best Time for this Road Trip

You can do this itinerary all year.

The best time to do this road trip is in the spring (March through May) and the fall (mid-September through November), when temperatures are mild.

During the summer months, temperatures soar in Arizona and Utah, and it is not unusual for temperatures to go above 100°F. If you plan to do this road trip in the summer, be prepared for intense midday heat. Try to do most of your hiking and sightseeing in the morning and evening, taking a break midday.

In the winter, it can be quite cold. In January, the average high lingers in the low 40’s with freezing temperatures at night. Snow is a possibility from November through February in Utah and at the Grand Canyon, but for the most part, the weather is dry and skies are clear. Snow can temporarily close the roads in the parks, in particular the unpaved backcountry roads.

Our favorite time to visit the American Southwest is in October, with great weather and lower crowds than you typically see in the summer months. If you want decent weather and low crowds, November and March are also good times to do this American Southwest road trip.

American Southwest Road Trip: Planning Checklist

Hotel Reservations

For this road trip, you will need to make the following reservations:

Grand Canyon/Tusayan: 3 nights
Page, Arizona: 1 night
Monument Valley: 1 night
Moab: 3 nights
Torrey: 2 nights
Bryce or Tropic: 1 night
Springdale: 2 nights

Rental Car

For this itinerary, a standard vehicle is fine, but you will not be able to do some of the off-the-beaten-path experiences, such as Cathedral Valley, Looping the Fold, or Willis Creek. You will be able to drive Hole-in-the-Rock Road as long as it is dry.

A high clearance SUV is recommended if you want to Loop the Fold and visit Willis Creek. If you like the idea of visiting Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef, consider renting a 4WD.

National Park Fees

Here are the fees to enter each park. When you pay the entrance fee, it is valid for 7 days.

  • Grand Canyon: $35
  • Canyonlands: $30
  • Arches: $30
  • Capitol Reef: $20
  • Bryce Canyon: $35
  • Zion: $35

Grand Total: $185

Save your money and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This annual park pass costs $80 and is valid for one year. Purchase your pass at the first national park that you visit (in this case, at Grand Canyon National Park) or you can get it online.

Click here to learn more.

Here are the links to each national park website. Check park conditions and road closures before you go.

More Information about the National Parks

Grand Canyon National Park

Visit our Guide to Grand Canyon National Park for important planning information and links to all of our articles about the Grand Canyon.

Canyonlands National Park

BEST OF CANYONLANDS:  Top 10 Things to Do in Canyonlands
ISLAND IN THE SKY:
Best Things to do in Canyonlands: Island in the Sky District
ONE DAY ITINERARY: One Perfect Day in Canyonlands National Park
WHITE RIM ROAD: How to Drive the White Rim Road: Map, Photos & Driving Tips
WHITE RIM ROAD:  How to Drive the White Rim Road in One Day
SHAFER CANYON ROAD: How to Drive Shafer Canyon Road and Potash Road from Canyonlands to Moab
SYNCLINE LOOP: How to Hike the Syncline Loop
GOOSEBERRY TRAIL: How to Hike the Gooseberry Trail
NEEDLES:  12 Amazing Things to Do in The Needles
NEEDLES: How to Hike the Chesler Park Loop Trail

Arches National Park

TRAVEL GUIDE:  The Complete Guide to Arches National Park
THINGS TO DO:
15 Amazing Things to do in Arches National Park
ONE DAY IN ARCHES: One Perfect Day in Arches National Park
DELICATE ARCH: Delicate Arch: Best Photo Spots, Hiking Tips & Interesting Facts
DEVILS GARDEN TRAIL: Devils Garden Trail: The Best Hike in Arches National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

THINGS TO DO: 14 Amazing Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
BEST HIKES:  16 Epic Day Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
ONE DAY ITINERARY:  One Perfect Day in Capitol Reef National Park
WITH LIMITED TIME: Best Things to do in Capitol Reef with Limited Time
CATHEDRAL VALLEY: Complete Guide to the Cathedral Valley Loop
LOOP THE FOLD: Complete Guide to Looping the Fold
RIM OVERLOOK & NAVAJO KNOBS: How to Hike the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs Trail
CASSIDY ARCH: Cassidy Arch, and Essential Hike in Capitol Reef National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

ONE DAY ITINERARY: How to Spend One Perfect Day in Bryce Canyon
HIKING: How to Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

Zion National Park

Visit our Guide to Zion National Park for important planning information and links to all of our articles about Zion.


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

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Comments 17

  1. Hi Julie
    Just came across your site this week and I’m so inspired! My husband, 14 year old son and I love to travel and hike, so I’ll be spending some time reading about your adventures! We have a 16 day road trip planned at the end of May to do the Mighty Five, and Lake Powell. We fly into Vegas where we will pick up an RV and then our plan is to do Zion, (3 nights) Bryce (2 nights) Capitol Reef (2 nights), Moab (4 nights), then drive to Page via monument valley (if it’s open) and spend 3 nights in Page before driving back to Vegas for our last 2 nights. We’re really excited, but as we’ve never visited Southern Utah and wanted to ask your advise on any limitations we may have driving an RV to each of these parks? I’m aware we won’t be able to drive it through Zion and possibly Bryce (we’ll look into shuttle options) but do you know if we’ll be restricted on any of the roads around Moab, Monument Valley? Any other advice on the itinerary would be much appreciated!
    Many thanks
    Moira

    1. Post
      Author

      In Zion, everyone is required to ride the shuttle, unless you are touring by bicycle. LOL. In Bryce Canyon, check the nps website. You should be able to drive to main parking areas as far as I know. In Capitol Reef, of the main park roads, your only limitation will be Capitol Gorge but that depends on the length of your RV. I don’t remember the restriction off the top of my head but you can check the nps website or our things to do in Capitol Reef post. In Arches and Island in the Sky Canyonlands should be able to get everywhere in an RV. For Monument Valley, you might not be able to drive the Tribal Valley Loop but you could still see it on a tour, if they reopen. But for all parks, I recommend double checking my answers…since we don’t travel in an RV I there may be things that I am not thinking of to give you advice on. It sounds like your are planning a great trip. You have plenty of time in each park so that’s great. I recommend visiting The Needles on the drive to MV, if that works with your timing (and double check the RV restrictions). It’s a very neat place and since you will be driving right past it, it makes perfect sense to stop by and see it, even if it was just for a few hours. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi Julie,

    Apoligize for the delay in getting back to you.

    If we could just have a basic outline of the three week itineraries you guys did in both Colorado and Washington that would be great. For example, which park you visited and which hikes you went on on a perticular day, etc.

    Thanks,
    Rishi

    1. Post
      Author

      Within the next week, I plan to publish our Colorado Road Trip itinerary, so that should answer your questions about Colorado. In Washington, we spent 5 days in Olympic National Park, 5 days in Mount Rainier National Park, 3 days in Leavenworth to hike the Enchantments, 3 days in North Cascades NP, then 1 day near Sea-Tac airport, plus a day or two for extra travel time. Laying out the full itinerary with which hikes we did each day is too much to list in this comment section, but in the near future I also plan to write out our Washington itinerary. We have hiking posts for each of these 3 national parks so you can get a sense of which trails we hiked. Cheers, Julie

  3. Great itinerary! We are using it to plan for a possible spring/summer vacation. Any idea when your Colorado/Washington road trip itinerary will be published? We are thinking of visiting one of those states this summer as well.

    1. Post
      Author

      You know how we work…😊 Yes, I am planning to write both of those. The Colorado road trip will be first and will most likely be published in March. It will take me a little longer to get to Washington (I still have a ton to write about Olympic and Mount Rainier). We spent 3 weeks in Colorado and 3 weeks in Washington last summer. I will probably use what we did and write another 10 to 14 day itinerary for each of them. If you have any questions, or if you want a basic outline, just let me know. You can ask on this post or one of our Washington posts (it will also help other readers until I can get around to it). Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi Julie,
    I have some questions and you are the most knowledgeable about the topic, so you are my go-to for asking. Taking my mom and MIL on a trip to several of these parks. Each mom is 75 years old but walks 2-3 miles per day (on treadmill or flat land). I want to vary the sights we see and not be redundant with what they will be capable of doing. RT from SLC and seeing Flaming Gorge, Bridal Veil Falls and Colorado National Monument on the way to Moab.
    1) Arches – hike to landscape arch or delicate arch if I have to choose one over the other?
    2) Canyonlands – Islands in the Sky: Upheaval Dome or Whale Rock hike?
    Planning to hike Slickrock trail at Canyonland Needles on a different day.
    3)Goblin valley and Little Wildhorse day – can we see enough of Wildhorse to get the idea of a slot canyon without any rock scrambling?
    4)Capitol Reef – distance and difficulty of Cassidy Arch and first section of Grand Wash? Distance and Difficulty of Pioneer Register?
    5) Bryce day – add Kodachrome? Seeing anything really different there or similar to things we will see or have seen elsewhere?
    6) Zion-Observation Point, Canyon Overlook and any other short easy hike you would suggest to round out our experience on our second day there?
    Thank you so much for any input!!
    Collette

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Collette. Your moms are about the same age as my mom. She is active but wouldn’t do any very long, strenuous hikes. I’m assuming your mom and MIL are similar.

      The good thing about these national parks is that they all look different so it won’t get repetitive or boring.

      Delicate Arch is amazing to see but it will be a tough hike for the moms to get there. However, I think it is worth the effort. The hike to Landscape Arch is easier but there is something very special about seeing Delicate Arch. If you haven’t seen it, check out our Delicate Arch post where you can see the elevation profile and trail photos.

      Upheaval Dome is better than Whale Rock. But the White Rim Overlook is better than both. It’s 2 miles round trip and relatively easy. At Wild Horse, there is one tricky rock scrambling climb about a half mile into the hike. You have to get past this to get to the start of the slot canyon. If you make it past it, just hike as far as you like and turn around when ready. Cassidy Arch is 3.4 miles long and moderately strenuous. You can learn more about it in the link I provided. If you add on the Grand Wash, it adds another 3 miles. Without Cassidy Arch, just the Grand Wash is about 4 miles round trip and easy. The Pioneer Register hike is a flat, easy 1.5 mile round trip walk. I think just taking your time at Bryce Canyon is sufficient for this day. At Zion, Observation Point is still closed due to a rockfall and it is a very tough 8 mile hike. Canyon Overlook is much more doable for your moms. The Riverside Walk and Emerald Pools are also very nice.

      Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

      1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. This will really help me figure out our days and not do anything that will be too strenuous or cause injury so that we can all have a wonderful, memorable trip.

  5. We are flying into Utah on April 1st and flying out of Las Vegas on April 10th with our 10 year old! I hope the timing looks okay? We are renting a SUV and planning to do the mighty five. We are also going to the salt flats. Any other suggestions?

    1. Post
      Author

      With 10 days you won’t have enough time to do this full loop but you can definitely do the Mighty 5 and it will be an awesome road trip. If you haven’t seen it, here is the link to our Mighty 5 post that has a 7 day itinerary with suggestions on what to add if you have more time. I recommend Goblin Valley for sure. Your itinerary would look something like this: (1) SLC and salt flats (2) drive to Moab (3) Arches (4) Canyonlands (5) drive to Torrey, visit Goblin Valley and maybe Little Wild Horse (6) Capitol Reef (7) Bryce Canyon (8) Zion (9) drive to Vegas, visit Valley of Fire on the way (10) fly home. You could catch the sunset at Delicate Arch on day 2 when you arrive in Moab. That would give you more time (and energy) on day 3 to hike Devils Garden.

      Cheers, Julie

  6. Congratulations on this page and the quality of the posts! Hats off!

    My girlfriend and I are planning on doing this loop but since AC and MV are closed, me planned to go from great canyon to horseshoe and then continue driving until Zion. From there pretty much until Moab, similar to the mighty 5 post and return from SLC.

    What are your thoughts about it? We think it would take us probably 10 days

    Thank you and keep up with this blog! Tagged as favorites already 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Your plan sounds great. You can always come back and do AC and MV on another Arizona/southern Utah/New Mexico trip.

      Your itinerary would look something like this: (1) arrive in the Grand Canyon (2) Grand Canyon (3) Horseshoe Bend and arrive in Springdale (4) Zion (5) Bryce Canyon (6) Capitol Reef (7) drive to Moab/GV/LWH (8) Arches (9) Canyonlands (10) drive to SLC and fly home.

      Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

  7. Julie,

    Thank you so much! I am very excited for this trip! It looks like a rental car from Las Vegas to Phoenix is not much more than the loop and lots less than Phoenix to Las Vegas so I guess we will try reversing your itinerary. It is so helpful how you list costs and specific suggestions and whether something is worth doing (like the Grand Canyon sky walk). You are very smart and lucky to do such travels with your family. I will be following some of your other itineraries in Europe when we can travel safely again. You really have an amazing site!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you for the wonderful comment! This itinerary works just as well in the reverse direction too. It’s good to know that the rental car prices don’t go up too much by doing this point to point. Have fun planning your trip and let us know if you have more questions. Cheers, Julie

  8. Hi, I found your site and just love it. You and your family are so adventurous! My daughter (26 years old) and I would like to do a road trip to the Utah Big Five and Grand Canyon. Our time is open — we were thinking late May. What do you think of that time? I see that Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley is closed at this time. We wouldn’t mind adding Sedona. Do you have any suggestions for tweaking this itinerary if those stay closed? Also we would like to camp ideally in some parks. Any suggestions on that?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Gina. May is a great time for this road trip. We did something similar in early May and daily high temps ranged from 80 to 95 degrees, but for the most part temps were in the 80’s. If you don’t need to do this as a loop, you can fly into Phoenix and drive to Sedona. Spend a day or 2 in Sedona, then go to the Grand Canyon. If AC and MV are still not open, skip ahead to the Needles and Moab.

      If it’s better to do this as a loop (no drop charge for a rental car if this is done as a loop), visit Sedona after the Grand Canyon. You could use the AC and MV time in Sedona. Then continue with the itinerary as it is written. It’s good to have 48 hours in Sedona to do some hiking but one full day is also sufficient if you are tight on time.

      We haven’t camped in the national parks so I can’t offer any solid advice but I do recommend checking the NPS websites to learn more and make your campsite reservations. They can fill up in advance.

      I really hope AC and MV open soon. The View Hotel in Monument Valley is supposed to open in early March, so maybe that means the rest of the Navajo Nations sites will do the same. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait and see. I hope you have a great trip with your daughter!

      Cheers, Julie

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