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19 Stunning Southwest Road Trip Itinerary Ideas (+ Tips!)

There may be no other region in the USA quite as otherworldly as the American Southwest. And there is absolutely no better way to appreciate that magnificent beauty than via an epic Southwest road trip itinerary!

Unfortunately, for most of us, there’s no way to encapsulate the full magnificence of the region on a single Southwest US road trip (and trust us, we’ve tried several times).

Because of that, we’ve teamed up with several other travel bloggers to craft this complete guide to the best road trips in the Southwest USA, from iconic classics in Utah to offbeat highlights in Nevada to focused Southwest national parks road trips.

We’ve decided to work with a pretty generous definition of the Southwestern US for this guide, covering road trips in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, as well as parts of Southern California and West Texas.

Whether you only have a weekend to spare or are planning the Southwest road trip of a lifetime, here are the best Southwest USA road trip routes to consider!

Kate Storm looking down into Wall Street Slot Canyon in Bryce Canyon, an unforgettable stop on a Utah road trip itinerary

Quick Tips for Your Southwest USA Road Trip

Before diving into the best Southwest road trip itineraries below, there are a few tips to be aware of, especially if this is your first time to the region!

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Pick up an America the Beautiful Pass.

If you’re planning a Southwest USA road trip itinerary, odds are very high that you’re planning to visit several national parks!

If so, consider picking up an America the Beautiful Pass, also known as the USA’s annual national parks pass.

For only $80–less for certain groups like seniors and military personnel–the park covers day-use fees to over 2,000 federally managed lands, including all 62 national parks, for an entire year.

It’s one of the best travel deals around and will pay for itself within 3-4 visits to popular US national parks (for example, as of the time of writing, many popular Southwest national parks such as Arches and Bryce Canyon cost between $25-35 per vehicle to visit).

Buy your national parks pass today!

Fruita Historic District in Capitol Reef NP with a fence in the foreground and a rock formation in the background

Beware the heat.

Everyone talks about it, but it really can’t be overstated: the heat in the American Southwest in summer is deadly, and not to be trifled with.

Water, sun protection, and keeping an eye on the weather need to be at the forefront of your mind as you work your way through the region.

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If you’re renting a car, shop around.

The best company to rent a car from for your Southwest USA road trip will likely vary dramatically depending on where and when you’re traveling.

Sometimes large international carriers offer the best prices, sometimes local outfits. Sometimes one company has an excellent base price, but terrible rental requirements.

The best way to find your rental car is to search through Discover Cars, which will sift through dozens of companies to find the best combination of low prices and reasonable rental terms for your trip.

Browse rental cars for your Southwest road trip today!

welcome to arizona sign as seen when driving into page az

Read the rental requirements carefully.

Especially make sure you know how many miles you’ve been allotted (or ideally, if they’re unlimited), if you need to return the car empty or full of fuel, what to do if the car breaks down, and what damages you’re liable for in the event of an accident.

On the off chance that you’re planning on extending your road trip beyond the US Southwest into Canada or Mexico, be sure to check the requirements for crossing the border as well.

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Make sure you pack the right gear.

From safety gear to snacks, a big road trip in the American Southwest requires bringing the right tools along, whether you’re taking a short vacation, trying out van life, or something in between.

We recommend taking a look at the suggestions on our road trip packing list before you go!

jeremy storm in a gray backpack hiking in rocky mountain national park

Book travel insurance.

We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen on the road, and an epic road trip is definitely a case of better safe than sorry.

We use and recommend World Nomads for road trips in the Southwest USA.

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Don’t overextend yourself.

Exploring every nook and cranny of the American Southwest is a project for a lifetime, not one trip!

As tempting as it is to add on additional driving to stop in just one more park or small town, make sure that you leave enough time to thoroughly explore each destination rather than spending the entirety of your Southwest US road trip driving from one spot to the next.

Considering the long driving distances between some of the most iconic places in the Southwest, it’s easy to over plan!

kate storm and jeremy storm holding hands overlooking horseshoe bend arizona

Set realistic expectations for visiting US national parks.

Many of the best national parks in the USA are located in the Southwest–and they are incredibly popular.

Be sure to research individual parks in the advance to make the most of your time, as accessing the most iconic attractions often is not as simple as showing up.

Hotels tend to get booked up quickly, some parks like Rocky Mountain National Park are now requiring visitors to booked timed entry permits in advance, and others like Zion National Park require visitors to use a shuttle rather than private cars to access popular hikes.

None of this detracts from the beauty of the parks–but it does mean that your experience will be much better if you plan ahead!

kate storm and jeremy storm smiling at the camera at the albuquerque international balloon fiesta

Utah Road Trip Itinerary Ideas

Kanab to Escalante

From Rachel & Clark of Seeking Our Someday

The Kanab, UT to Escalante, UT road trip gives way to some of Southern Utah’s most beautiful hidden gems. These rural areas are filled with some of the most dramatic rock formations that you can find on an itinerary for the Southwest USA. 

Starting in Kanab, use this small town as a home-base for visiting several nearby destinations.

Buckskin Gulch, just East of Kanab, is one of the longest slot canyons in the world and considered one of the most beautiful slot canyons in Utah.

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For an incredible day trip from Kanab, hike into this slot canyon from Wirepass Trailhead. Be on the lookout for ancient petroglyphs as you descend into the canyon.

Just north of Kanab are the Moqui Caves. These caves are great to explore for a couple of hours, especially in the afternoon light.

Only 30 minutes outside of Kanab, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is home to some of the most beautiful sand dunes. These dunes are especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset. 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah on a sunny day with a large dune in the center of the frame. This park is one of the best places to visit in Utah

On the two hour drive from Kanab to Escalante, make sure to stop at Bryce Canyon National Park to see the natural hoodoos in the Bryce Amphitheater. Read more about what to do in Bryce Canyon.

Use Escalante is a second home-base to visit more hidden gems in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Some of the most incredible landscapes can be found down Hole in the Rock Road, just south of Escalante. Make sure to visit Zebra Slot Canyon, a very narrow slot canyon with natural striped rock, along with Devils Garden just a few miles down the road.

Further down Hole in the Rock Road are the Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons which are a fun loop hike through two beautiful slot canyons.

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Driving Distance

120 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length

This road trip could be done in a long weekend, but there are enough places to visit that we recommend 1-2 weeks to fully experience all of the stops along the way.

Inside Spooky Canyon in southern Utah, one of the best honeymoon destinations in USA for outdoor-loving couples!

Arizona + New Mexico Southwest Road Trips

New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle

From Becky of SightDOING

Northern New Mexico doesn’t get the attention that the rest of the state does, but travelers willing to take an extra drive will find incredible beauty along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

Starting from Taos and going clockwise, you’ll visit the smaller towns of Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest, and Angel Fire.

This part of New Mexico sits high in the mountains and the route takes you through ever-changing scenery. Many parts are verdant green, thick with evergreens and aspens.

As the road winds, you’ll also see alpine valleys and lakes, plus the impressive Mt. Wheeler (the highest in the state). As you drive, you’ll be reminded more of Colorado than the stereotypical southwest.

curving road through the trees in the enchanted circle in new mexico, one of the most beautiful road trips in southwest usa

Perhaps as you’d expect in a beautiful destination like this, the primary activities involve the outdoors. One of the highlights is Eagle Rock Lake, not only beautiful but home to playful otters that you might spot if you’re lucky. The picnic tables make a perfect vantage spot.

Hiking is plentiful: head out into the Columbine Hondo Wilderness for wildflowers in spring or look for waterfalls in Cimarron Canyon State Park. Other activities include mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and even skiing in the winter.

It’s not all about the outdoors, though. Visitors can also watch artisans in Questa, pay their respects at the Vietnam Memorial near Angel Fire, brewery hop along the trail, or explore Taos’ history. Best of all, it’s wonderful year-round.

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Driving Distance

85 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Although the driving route is short enough you can complete it in a day, the area is deserving of a weekend.

Allow plenty of time to stop and explore the parks and mountains along the way and consider even longer if you’re an avid hiker.

adobe buildings in downtown taos new mexico

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Road Trip

From Nicole of American SW Obsessed

Visiting the Grand Canyon is one of the best weekend trips you can make from Phoenix.  The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is only 4 hours and there are several stops along the way.

Montezuma Castle is one of the best preserved Native American Ruins located 94 miles from Phoenix.  It is a 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground and it consists of 20 rooms.

Another great stop is Sedona.  Sedona is known for its red rocks and great hiking trails.  You could easily spend a weekend in Sedona but it is also a great place to stop for some lunch and get out and stretch your legs.

man in a red shirt standing on devils bridge in sedona arizona

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park you will enter from the east and one of the first viewpoints is the Desert View Point and Watchtower. This is one of the most popular viewpoints in the east and it is your first view of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. 

You can continue heading West to the main visitors center where you can walk the Trail of Time. 

The Grand Canyon Trail of Time is an interpretive walking timeline trail focusing on the highlights of the Grand Canyon so tourists can experience and appreciate the vastness of geologic time, as well as the stories captured by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes. 

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Driving Distance

230 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

We recommend three days as a minimum for this road trip.  Some people do this in a day but it is very rushed. 

Spending a weekend there gives you time to make stops along the way and experience the Grand Canyon.

view of switchbacks on south kaibab, one of the best grand canyon hikes

Northern New Mexico

From Melissa of Parenthood and Passports

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment for a reason. The southwestern state is one of the best places in the United States for a culturally immersive trip, incredible food, and beautiful desert landscapes. 

Most New Mexico road trips start and end in Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. There are so many things to do in New Mexico with kids, or without, and you’ll find many of them in Albuquerque!

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Give yourself a couple of days to explore Old Town and visit some of the great museums, like the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Be sure to take the tram up to Sandia Peak. The 2.7-mile aerial tramway is the longest in the United States! 

From Albuquerque, head north to New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe. Known for its adobe-style architecture, this historical city founded as a Spanish colony in the 1600s is as lovely as it is enchanting! 

dried chiles hanging from an adobe building with a blue door in santa fe new mexico

Just northwest of Santa Fe, outside the town of Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument is a fascinating look back in time.

In this national monument, you’ll find petroglyphs and cliff dwellings left behind from the Pueblo Indians, the indigenous tribe who originally settled the area. 

For a look at how the Pueblo live today, head to the Taos Pueblo next. The pueblos one mile north of the town of Taos, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States.

People have lived in this multi-story adobe building for more than 1,000 years! You can tour the pueblo, which is open to visitors except when tribal rituals take place.

Driving Distance

300+ miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Ideally, give yourself about a week for this road trip through Northern New Mexico.

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Southwest Road Trip Itineraries in Colorado

Denver to Aspen Loop

From Lori of Fitz 5 On the Go

The state of Colorado was made for epic road trips.  The scenery is just amazing and pretty non-stop.  Mountain towns are fun and welcoming places to explore.  There are so many outdoor activities to do and places to stop.  

There are many great options for planning a loop from Denver.  Some can be done in a day trip.  Others are more fun spread over a few days. 

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For the most variety and activities in a shorter drive time consider going south to Colorado Springs, loop over to Salida then make your way north through Independence Pass. 

Take some time enjoying Aspen then stop by Glenwood Springs for fun activities before going back to Denver. Summer or early fall is the best time for this trip before some of the roads are closed due to snow.

First, stop in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs has so many activities and things to do and it’s such a pretty city.  Popular activities include Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, the incline, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Olympic training center, and the Broadmore.

sunset views of the red rocks at colorados garden of the gods, one of the best road trips in southwest usa

From there, head to Salida and Buena Vista.

On the way to Salida stop by the Royal Gorge.  This amazing viewpoint is not great for those with a fear of heights but it’s beautiful. The area has a train, a suspension bridge, and several other activities including a Skycoaster. 

After enjoying a night in Salida, head north toward Leadville.  Leadville can make a nice little stop to explore an old mountain town and get some lunch but the main attraction of the day will be Independence Pass just south of Leadville.  

Driving Independence Pass in the fall is likely one of the most beautiful drives in the country.  This is a mountain road.  It is closed in the winter and no large vehicles are allowed.

mountain views along independence pass in colorado

Independence Pass ends in beautiful Aspen.  A stop to Aspen is not complete without seeing the Maroon Bells.

To make your way back to Denver, head north toward I-70 and stop for lunch and activities in Glenwood Springs.  Glenwood Springs has a fabulous hot spring as well as a mountain top adventure center. 

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Driving Distance

450 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

At minimum plan to stay a night in Salida and one night in Aspen. 

If you only have a weekend then consider cutting the trip in half and making a smaller loop. 

The full loop would be most enjoyable with planning a night in Colorado Springs, 1-2 nights in Salida, and at least 2 nights in Aspen.

small waterfall at hanging lake at glenwood springs in colorado

Cool Nevada Road Trip Ideas

The Extraterrestrial Highway

From Audrey of That Backpacker

For a one-of-a-kind southwest road trip that you won’t soon forget, drive Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway!

Located in south-central Nevada and spanning a total of 98 miles between the towns of Warm Springs and Crystal Springs, State Route 375 is considered a bit of a pilgrimage for those who believe in alien life!

But even if you’re not a believer, this is still a fun road trip worth doing.

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The Extraterrestrial Highway is punctuated by desert landscapes, lonely roads, and some rather unusual attractions.

Some places not to miss include ET Fresh Jerky where you can buy alien-themed snacks including bottles of martian soda, the Extraterrestrial Highway sign which is plastered in stickers from intrepid adventurers who have completed the drive, and the Alien Research Center where you can hear stories of paranormal desert activity.

bright yellow building as seen on a nevada southwestern us road trip that reads "area 51 alien center" in red letters

You should also visit the Black Mailbox where people leave all sorts of mementos and letters to aliens, and the Little A’le’inn Motel featuring a pick-up truck towing a UFO and a green alien welcoming all earthlings.

It’s important to note that although Area 51 is also located in the area, it is strictly off-limits. There are numerous signs to remind you that no video, no photography, and no droning are permitted, so save yourself the trouble.

Driving Distance

98 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Though this road trip can be completed in a day, you can break it up with a stay at the infamous Little A’le’inn Motel, home to all things extraterrestrial.

You may also want to consider driving the ET Highway as part of a bigger Nevada road trip with a small detour through Valley of Fire State Park.

photo of a green sign in nevada reading "extraterrestrial highway", as seen during one of the best southwest road trip itinerary ideas

Las Vegas to Cathedral Gorge State Park

From Daria of The Discovery Nut

Cathedral Gorge State Park is a natural wonder located in Central Nevada near Utah’s border that makes you feel like you landed on Mars. 

The park is located about 3.5 hours by car away from Las Vegas, the nearest big city, and the remote location of this place and lack of facilities, coupled with the lonely drive in the desert make for an incredible experience.

Cathedral Gorge State Park remains an undiscovered gem full of otherworldly views, amazing hiking trails, and great opportunities for photography.

It’s one of those road trips from Las Vegas that no one talks about, and if you want to see it before it gets discovered, you need to do it now. 

view of a trail in cathedral gorge state park with a small bridge in it

Visiting Cathedral Gorge is pure magic at any time of the year. Unlike many other popular places in the southwest USA, this state park is uncrowded and offers an amazing quiet space with fantastic landscapes.

With no big stores, chain hotels, or restaurants in the area, this is the ultimate getaway for adventure lovers.  

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Driving Distance

165 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

I recommend spending at least one day at the park and camping under the clear dark skies.

However, if you would rather stay at a hotel, the nearby town of Panaca has a couple of accommodations.

view of blue sky looking up through rock formations in cathedral gorge nevada, a fantastic stop on a southwest road trip itinerary

West Texas Road Trip Itineraries

Big Bend Country Road Trip

While all of Texas may not culturally fall into the Southwest, the western part of the state does–and a Big Bend Country road trip is among the best road trips in the Southwest USA.

Make your way to the rugged, isolated, and utterly beautiful Big Bend National Park to kick off your trip.

While you’re there, hike the stunning Santa Elena Canyon, ascend into the Chisos Mountains via the Lost Mine Trail, and soak in natural hot springs along the Rio Grande.

santa elena canyon in big bend national park, as seen on one of the best southwest national parks road trip itinerary ideas

From there, head to Big Bend Ranch State Park to experience one of the most scenic drives in the USA.

Head a couple of hours north, and some of Texas’ most beloved small towns are waiting for you, including Alpine, Fort Davis (where you can experience some of the best stargazing in Texas at the McDonald Observatory), Marathon, and Marfa.

With wild beauty, a huge variety of landscapes, great food, and even excellent art installations, you’ll find plenty of fun thigns to do in Texas’ Big Bend Country–just be prepared for long driving distances along the way.

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Driving Distance

About 1000 miles round trip, starting and ending in El Paso.

Recommended Road Trip Length

We recommend setting aside at least one week for this Southwest road trip route.

fort davis drugstore hotel in west texas with a pink truck parked in front of it, part of one of the best road trips in us southwest

Multi-State Southwest Itineraries

Classic Southwest USA Road Trip from Page, AZ

From James Ian of Parks Collecting

One of the best road trips in the Southwest USA is a loop from Page, Arizona that takes in a variety of natural and cultural icons.

Starting in Page, head to Monument Valley.  Stop off at the Navajo National Monument, where you can walk on the easy paved 1.3-mile Sandal Trail to the Batatkin Cliff Dwelling overlook for views of your first cliff dwelling on the trip.

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After arriving in Monument Valley around noon, head down the Monument Valley road for a self-driving tour. 

The 17-mile scenic drive loops through the valley past many of the major buttes and mesas that make this area so famous.  In the late afternoon, if you still have some energy, hike the Wildcat Trail around West Mitten.

The next day, take a Navajo-led guided tour back into the valley, where you can visit the backcountry and learn more about the Navajo people and culture.

After you leave Monument Valley, take a couple of hours to drive through the beautiful Valley of the Gods before arriving in Moab in the late afternoon.  Moab is the adventure capital of the world, and you can arrange to go canyoneering, rock climbing, mountain biking or white-water rafting.  Then head to nearby Arches National Park and do all the major hikes in the park.

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Next up is a visit to Mesa Verde National Park, where you will want to spend a couple of days visiting the cliff dwellings, hiking to petroglyphs, and exploring the area. 

After you leave Mesa Verde, stop for a photo at Four Corners, where you can have your limbs in four states at once!

Drive on to Canyon de Chelly, where you will want to spend a full day enjoying the views and hiking down into the canyon.

view of spider rock in canyon de chelly from above as seen on one of the best road trips in southwest america

On the drive from there back to Page, you will pass through the Hopi reservation.  It is worth spending half a day on a tour with a Hopi guide to see more of the area and learn about Hopi culture.

Back in Page, don’t miss the mind-blowing Antelope Canyon and stunning Horseshoe Bend. 

Driving Distance

958 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

I recommend allowing ten days for this trip.  This will give you time to explore each of the parks/ areas and learn more about the cultural and natural environment along the way.

antelope canyon in arizona with a beam of light streaming into the canyon

Trail of the Ancients

From Megan of Red Around the World

One of the most unique road trips in the Southwest is the Trail of the Ancients through Southeast Utah and Southwest Colorado. 

It passes tons of amazing scenery but really features ancient Anasazi ruins throughout the Four Corners Area. This is a particularly great Southwest road trip itinerary for history buffs and hikers.  

Start your road trip in Cortez, where you can start making your way through some of the best places to visit in the Southwest.

pueblo of mesa verde national park as seen from afar

Some of the highlights are Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, and Valley of the Gods, but there are tons of smaller stops along the way, too. 

Some of those include Natural Bridges National Monument, Edge of the Cedars State Park, Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs, House on Fire Ruin, Butler Wash Ruin, Goosenecks State Park, Four Corners National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and more.

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Diriving Distance

About 300-400 miles, depending on stops.

Recommended Road Trip Length

I would recommend spending about 7-10 days on the Trail of the Ancients. If you have a full 2 weeks to explore, that’s even better.

Sipapu Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument, one of the best places to go in Utah

Zion National Park to Sedona Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

From Allison of She Dreams in Alpine

If you’re looking for a quick Southwestern road trip that packs a whole lot into a relatively short drive, head from Zion National Park in Utah to Sedona, Arizona.

Although Zion is the start of your road trip, it’s actually hard to leave this magical place. From the epic Angel’s Landing hike to The Narrows slot canyon, if you’re up for adventure, you will have an amazing time here.

Kate Storm at the viewpoint at the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park Utah

Don’t worry, when it’s time to hit the road, your next stop of Kanab has plenty to offer. If you’re lucky enough to score permits, hike to the incredible swooping sandstone of The Wave. Or take some time to explore the beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Then head east on Highway 89 to Lake Powell, where you can take a rest day or two. Chill in the lake before heading south.

Stop at the photogenic Horseshoe Bend, then make your way to the Grand Canyon. Bask in the breathtaking views from the rim, or challenge yourself to hike to the bottom – just know that means you also have to hike back out!

grand canyon as seen from south kaibab, one of the best grand canyon hikes south rim

Next, make your way to Flagstaff, and enjoy the Southwestern city life in the lively downtown area. Finish your road trip in the red rock paradise of Sedona.

You can hit the trails again on some of the awesome hikes in Sedona, take an off-road Jeep tour, or pamper yourself at a spa.

You’ll definitely be ready for some relaxation by the end of this road trip through the Southwest USA!

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Driving Distance

350 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

With all the incredible outdoor places to explore along the way, you should plan at least a week for this adventurous road trip.

You could easily make it longer if you wanted to spend more time hiking around Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona.

woman in a red backpack hiking in sedona on a southwest road trip of a lifetime

Salt Lake City to Phoenix

From Samah of God and Wanderlust

Absorb the extraterrestrial beauty of the southwest with a road trip from Salt Lake City, UT to Phoenix, AZ.

Salt Lake City is made for the adventurous at heart. Explore Red Butte Garden, Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Great Salt Lake itself. A scenic mountain backdrop is always included.

Skiing and other snow sports are possible in nearby Park City.

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Drive south to Moab and hike your way to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Camp under the Milky Way in Monument Valley situated on protected Navajo land.

Ride a horse among the red rocks and buttes and pretend to be in the Wild West. Visit Forrest Gump point at the crack of dawn to avoid the rush of cars.

From here head to Zion National Park and then Page, AZ. Check the infamous Angels Landing off your list. Kayak in Lake Powell and hike to Horseshoe Bend. Become mesmerized by the cave formations of Antelope Canyon.

horseshoe bend page arizona on a sunny day

At last, you arrive at the Grand Canyon. It’s magnificent. The Bright Angel trail will guide you right into the Canyon.

Sedona is still to come. It’s the most beautiful city you’ll lay eyes on. Hot air balloons illuminate against the sun’s glow. Devils Bridge and Doe Mountain offer spectacular views.

Phoenix will eventually bring a calm end to your southwest road trip itinerary. It’s mellow, laidback atmosphere will help relax after your breathtaking journey through the southwest.

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Driving Distance

977 miles.

Road Trip Length

We recommend at least 2 weeks to explore various cities, do activities and make stops along the way.

downtown phoenix arizona as seen from above, with red rock formations on either side of the photo that have a road cutting through them

Las Vegas to Monument Valley

From Hannah of Hannah Henderson Travel

For a point-to-point overview of some of the most popular Southwest road trip stops, drive from Las Vegas to Monument Valley!

Your first stop outside of Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam.  This impressive man-made damn along the Colorado River marks the border between Nevada and Arizona.  

Head south-east along Hwy-93 towards Kingman, and be sure to visit the Historic Route 66 Museum.  

If you have time, take a detour and visit Oatman, an old mining town where wild burros (donkeys) roam free throughout the town.

burros in oatman arizona, one of the best southwest road trip itinerary stops

The next leg of the road trip takes you along a small section of Historic Route 66 from Kingman to Seligman.  Enjoy the kitsch rest stop at Hackberry and eat lunch at the Road Kill Café.  The replica wild west town in Seligman is a fun attraction for families too.

Continue to head east along the I-40 and then up to the Grand Canyon.  There are Grand Canyon hikes to suit many levels, educational talks, and unparalleled views. Stay overnight at one of the rim-side cabins and witness the incredible sunset and sunrise.

The final leg of your journey will take you through some of the most captivating desert landscapes in Arizona, onwards north towards Monument Valley.  

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The land becomes more arid and sparsely populated, and you will get picture-postcard views.  

Your final stop is Oljato-Monument Valley, a Navajo Nation Tribal Park.  This valley of red rock formations is a soul-shaking place to end your road trip.  

Driving Distance

461 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Three to five days is a good length of time for this road trip between Las Vegas and Monument Valley.  

You can do the journey in 3 days minimum, but 5 days would offer you more time to explore the by-ways and scenic stops along the way.

Monument Valley as seen near sunset in Navajo Nation

LA to Las Vegas Road Trip Itinerary

From Dhara of Roadtripping California

An LA to Las Vegas road trip can be done along several different routes, but you can’t go wrong with a route that includes some of the choicest scenery in the Sierra Nevada as well as the spectacular Death Valley National Park in California.

Admittedly, this is a longer route that involves a little bit of a detour, but for travelers with enough time on their hands, this Southwest national parks road trip itinerary cannot be beat.

Highlights of the itinerary include the scenic Alabama Hills, Lone Pine and Mount Whitney, and the spectacular sights in Death Valley National Park.

The Alabama Hills consist of beautiful rock formations nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The national scenic area is popular for hiking, dirt road driving, photography, camping, and night sky viewing.

dirt road in alabama hills of california, as seen on a southwest road trip itinerary route

At Lone Pine, you can also drive the road that goes part way up Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. The road is open in the summer and fall, until snow accumulations close it.

Of course, you can also hike to the peak, either as a grueling day hike or as an overnighter, with a permit.

In Death Valley National Park, the main sights can be found along the road that runs through the park, the one you will be taking to get to Vegas.

If you do the road trip in the cooler months of the year, you can hike. When it’s hot, you can drive through the park and stop briefly at viewpoints for photos.

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The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are fun for kids and adults. At Badwater Basin, you can have your photo taken by the sign for the lowest point in North America. Spectacular views await at Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.

Once you are done exploring the park, it’s a quick drive to Vegas!

Driving Distance

443 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

We suggest three days or more for this road trip. With more than three days, you can spend more time hiking, and also explore the northern part of Death Valley National Park.

two women hiking through the desert of death valley, a popular us southwest road trip destinations

Denver to Moab

From Julia of The Cure for Curiosity

One of the best road trips in the Southwestern USA takes you from the snow capped mountains of Denver, Colorado to the red canyons of Moab, Utah. 

During this epic road trip from Denver to Moab, you’ll be able to see some of the best scenery the United States has to offer as well as going through charming small towns, complete with great hiking, hot springs, and of course panoramic views.

Start your trip in Denver, the capital of Colorado, and make your way to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Here you’ll find some stunning mountain views and world-class hiking.

kate storm at emerald lake in rocky mountain national park

Continue your trip through the renowned ski towns of Breckenridge and Vail, exploring the quaint city centers and everything they have to offer, from skiing to mountain roller coasters and free gondola rides.

The next stop is Glenwood Springs, famous for its hot springs as well as the beautiful hike to Hanging Lake.

If you have the time, you can also detour down to Aspen to check out the popular Maroon Bells, the most photographed mountains in North America.

marroon bells snow covered mountains and lake in colorado

From there, make your way through Colorado wine country in Palisade, CO to Colorado National Monument. This is the last stop before crossing into Utah and making your way into Moab.

Moab is the perfect end destination for a road trip as you can spend days exploring the local sights that bring droves of tourists to the area, like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.

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Driving Distance

355 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

While the drive itself can easily be done in just one day, you’d miss a lot of the fun stops along the way.

It’s best to plan about a week for this road trip to have plenty of time to explore Denver, the stops in between, and Moab.

Jeremy Storm sitting in front of a viewpoint in Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah

LA to Bryce Canyon & Zion National Parks

From Ciara of Wellness Travel Diaries

Los Angeles to Bryce Canyon National Park— a red rock road trip experience — is a beautiful trip for those wanting to escape and indulge in the unique rock formations found in Utah.

It’s a serene drive that takes about 8 hours from LA to Bryce Canyon. Add an extra two hours for a detour to Zion National Park

Here’s how to make the best of your time when road tripping from LA to Bryce Canyon and Zion.

Starting in Los Angeles, California hop on the freeway heading north toward Las Vegas. On route, you’ll find Death Valley about an hour or so off the freeway for a quick day trip. Take another quick pitstop, right off the freeway at Eddie’s World for clean bathrooms and exquisite snacks.

Once you reach Nevada, stay the night in Las Vegas to explore the famous strip where the downtown lights, lit up the midnight sky. It’s about four hours from LA (depending on traffic), and marks the half way point to Bryce Canyon.

Welcome to Las Vegas sign, one of the most popular weekend getaways in the USA

Continue toward Utah for another 160 miles to reach the first destination: Zion National Park. Hike the beautiful trails such as Angels Landing (5.4 miles out and back) and Watchman Trail (3.3 miles out and back).

Hop back in the car for another 80 miles to reach the second destination: Bryce Canyon. Explore the picturesque hoodoos by taking the Rim Hiking Trail (1-11 miles; it’s not a loop so hike the distance you choose) or Fairyland Loop (8 miles out and back).

Pick your route by deciding which park you’d like to visit first, then enjoy!

view of hoodoos in bryce canyon national park, an essential stop on many of the best road trips in southwest usa

Driving Distance

About 530 miles — this includes the stop in Zion National Park.

Recommended Road Trip Length

While the drive from California to Utah can be done in one day, there are several fun pit stops along this route.

It takes about seven hours to drive from Los Angeles to Zion, and then about two hours from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

To fully explore these natural wonders 6-8 days would be ideal, and allows you to split your time equally between both parks.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park Utah as seen from the trail

Phoenix to Taos to Road Trip

From Polina of Bucket List Places

One of the best itineraries to explore by car in the states is through Arizona and New Mexico. If you are doing a winter ski road trip itinerary, this can also be done in reverse starting in Taos. 

Fly into Phoenix and rent a car (or RV for even more fun)! Then head south and stop by Saguaro National Park to view the iconic cactus after which the park is named.

From there head to White Sands National Park in New Mexico and sled down some sand dunes. This park is vast and can be explored for the day or for multiple days if you would like to hike amongst the sand dunes.

two young women hiking over sand dunes in white sands national park, one of the most beautiful national parks in america

Then head to the city to check out Albuquerque’s bustling nightlife.

As a contrast, the next stop on the itinerary is Santa Fe, a beautiful historic city that looks like it is stuck in the past. Stroll the streets and marvel at the beautiful architecture. Visit the delicious restaurants in town or get your culture on at the numerous art galleries.

Your final stop is Taos where you can view the historic Pueblan village, enjoy the delicious restaurants in town and hang out in the historic town square.

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In the wintertime, make sure to hit the slopes! 

Driving Distance

808 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

We suggest a minimum of one week to enjoy the beautiful destinations on this road trip itinerary. 

saguaro national park, one of the best places to go in arizona, with a path to the left and large cactus on the right

Route 66 (Southwest Portion)

From Stephanie of Oklahoma Wonders

While Route 66 stretches from Chicago to the east to Los Angelos and Santa Monica in the west, Route 66 is the Great American Road Trip of your dreams.

Of course, when people think of driving Route 66, or the Mother Road as it’s commonly called, they think of diners and motels in the Midwest, but by the time the route crosses the border from Oklahoma into Texas, you’re officially in the part of the drive where southwestern scenery and magnificent landscapes take over.

There’s nothing more iconic than a Route 66 sign in front of a tiny Arizona town or the eye-catching Cadillac Ranch installation in Amarillo.

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There are so many things to see on Route 66, but in this part of the country make sure to visit Petrified National Forest, take a day trip to the Grand Canyon, and even venture up to Monument Valley.

Driving Distance

The total distance of Route 66 is just under 2500 miles, but you can easily visit only a portion on a Southwest USA road trip.

Recommended Road Trip Length

You can spend months exploring Route 66! With a week or less, we recommend picking 1-2 states to explore!

jeremy storm sitting on top of a car at cadillac ranch in amarillo

San Jose, CA to Escalante, UT Loop

From Jyoti at Story at Every Corner

The road trip from San Jose to Escalate is an excellent way to get out into nature and have a fun outdoor vacation during a pandemic or otherwise.

The drive is about 12 hours plus additional time for stops. Along the route, you’ll find many parks, camps, Mojave National Preserve, and Las Vegas. 

The little town of Escalante is surrounded by five great national parks of Utah and many recreational areas and national monuments.

man in a yellow backpack hiking through zebra slot canyon, one of the best stops on a southwest road trip route

You could do day trips to national parks but there are many incredible hikes around Escalante to slot canyons, waterfall trails, and natural formations.

You could easily spend 10 days in Escalante and still have many hikes remain to be explored.

You would definitely want to do day trips to Bryce Canyon National Park, Burr Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Dixie Forest, and Arches National Park

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Driving Distance

1640 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

10 days will be a reasonable amount of time for this round trip.

3 photos of southwest national parks road trips: saguaro at sunset, canyonlands, monument valley drive. black and red text on a white background reads "19 epic southwest road trip ideas"

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