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7 day Southwest road trip

7 day Southwest road trip

USA’s southwest will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent my last days in the US here before I moved back to Australia, and boy was it a memorable week! If you’re a fan of road trips, taking a southwest road trip and visiting the states of Utah and Arizona is a must on your US itinerary.

Read on for my version of the perfect 7-day southwest road trip, based off a recent journey we took in December 2017.

Day 1 – Arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada

We started our journey in Las Vegas. For those planning to drive onwards to Arizona and Utah, Las Vegas is one of the most popular cities to begin your southwest road trip. Las Vegas also has many flight options from major cities in the US as well as many international options.

If you’d like to explore more of Las Vegas, this is the perfect opportunity. We were itching to get on the road, so stayed near the airport (where we picked up our car rental). There are also a couple of car rental companies based on the strip, but we didn’t want to have to deal with traffic. A bonus is that most of the airport hotels have free shuttle services to/from the airport.

Driving time: 0 hrs

Recommended Accommodation: stay at one of the airport hotels. We stayed at the Best Western McCarran Inn.

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Day 2 – Vegas to the Grand Canyon, South Rim

The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon takes over 4 hrs. It’s a looooong drive, but thankfully this was our longest drive during the trip. As we were visiting during winter, only the South Rim was open to visitors, however, if you’re visiting during other times of the year, I’ve had many friends recommend the North Rim (it’s also supposed to be less crowded too).

If you arrive late in the afternoon and are after an easy first-day activity, you can take a short walk along the rim trail from the Grand Canyon’s Visitor’s center to Yavapai Point. Yavapai point is a beautiful place to watch the sunset. It can get crowded, but you will be able to find a quiet spot along the rim walk to capture the beautiful colors that appear in the Canyon.

Southwest road trip

Sunset view along the rim walk from Yavapai Point

Driving time: 4.5 hrs

Recommended Accommodation: as we were visiting during winter, accommodation in Grand Canyon (at the Yavapai Lodge) was affordable. If you’re visiting during the peak period, nearby Flagstaff has many budget-friendly options.

Alternative Experience: if you don’t want to drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Rhiannon from Rhiannon Travels has a great article about taking a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon. If you do this, you can get picked up from most major Las Vegas hotels and driven to Boulder City for a 4.5 hr helicopter tour! This is a great option if you don’t have much time.

Are you planning a trip to the Southwest? I have a free, downloadable itinerary (plus a map you can download to your phone!)

Just click the image below to get access:

Click here to download your free itinerary

 

Day 3 – Explore the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for a long time, so we opted to add a full day here to our trip.

We loved seeing the beautiful colors at sunset from the day before, so decided it was worth getting up early for sunrise. One of the Rangers at the Visitor’s Center suggested Pima point to see the sunrise. Since it’s a 30min drive from the South Rim Visitor’s Centre, the crowd was small and quiet.

Southwest road trip

Sunrise view at Pima Point

The Grand Canyon is accessible to visit even if you don’t like hiking. The rim walk is paved and accessible to even those who don’t like hiking.

If you want to hike into the canyon, a great option is the South Kaibab Trailhead. We took a free shuttle bus from the Visitor’s Centre to the South Kaibab Trailhead (private cars are not able to drive to this point). From there we hiked into the Canyon along the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. It took approximately 2hrs (return), and we rewarded with beautiful views of the Canyon.

This hike is probably one of the most popular in the Canyon during this time of year – there are plenty of other tourists, and Ooh Aah Point can get pretty busy with hikers. Just remember that every step you take into the canyon is another step you need to walk back UP!

NOTE: if you’re planning on hiking in the Grand Canyon, bring plenty of water and make sure to visit the Visitor’s Centre for current hiking conditions. Many people visit the Grand Canyon unprepared. We were there in winter but still made sure to bring plenty of water. If you’re visiting in Summer, make sure you you have more than enough water and food. 

Southwest road trip

We Ooh-ed and Aah-ed at Ooh Aah point

After the hike, it’s worth taking the shuttle to Yaki Point – this area is closed off to private vehicles so you need to take the shuttle to get here. We loved the lookout here, and there’s a beautiful ledge which is a great spot to take photos.

Southwest road trip

View from Yaki Point

In the afternoon, we took our car and explored the lookout points on the way to desert view. On the way, be sure to stop at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin. You’ll find a small exhibit about the local history and people who used to live in the area.

The Desert View Watch Tower is also worth a visit – you can catch some beautiful views of the Canyon, especially if you’re here around sunset. If you’re after somewhere a little more quiet (Desert View Point can get crazy busy with visitors during sunset), make sure you visit Navajo Point, which is only a short drive away. The views are just as pretty, and the crowds are much smaller!

Driving time: depends on activities. For example, the drive is 30min to Pima Point for sunrise from Yavapai Lodge and another 30min to the Desert View Watch Tower.

Recommended Accommodation: as we were visiting during winter, accommodation in Grand Canyon (at the Yavapai Lodge) was affordable. If you’re visiting during the peak period, nearby Flagstaff has many budget-friendly options.

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Day 4 – Visit Monument Valley/ Navajo Tribal Park

Adding Monument Valley to our itinerary was a bit of a last minute addition. I saw photos and thought it looked so iconic; I couldn’t help but want to visit. In addition to being part of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Tribal Park is famous for being the filming location of old country/western movies – it was where most of John Ford’s movies were shot.

Before visiting, we booked a Monument Valley Backcountry Tour with the Majestic Monument Valley Touring Co. We were lucky and ended up being the only people on our tour. I would highly recommend booking a tour if you can afford it when visiting. If you don’t take a tour, the self-driving can feel like it loses meaning without someone explaining the significance of the places you are looking at. You also won’t be able to visit the back-roads!

Southwest road trip

View of Monument Valley from the Visitor’s Centre

Our tour guide shared many places that were not accessible on the self-driving tour, and also shared the meaning behind many of the names of the monuments. We also loved having someone who had grown up in the area giving us tips and advice on places to photograph (our tour guide was a keen photographer too).

Side note: I’ve been thinking about writing a post purely about this tour, so look out for an upcoming post where I share my experiences taking this tour.

After the tour ended, we watched the sunset from the Information Centre (check out the image at the top of this post if you want to see what it was like!) Our accommodation for the night was in Kayenta, so we had a 2hr drive after visiting Monument Valley.

Driving time: 2.5 hrs from Grand Canyon South Rim to Monument Valley + 30min from Monument Valley to Kayenta

Recommended Accommodation:  Wetherill Inn, Kayenta. There is also a range of accommodation options available in Page. When we visited, however, there was no availability. Depending on hotel/motel availability and how much driving you want to do on this day, you can instead opt for Page.

Are you planning a trip to the Southwest? I have a free, downloadable itinerary (plus a map you can download to your phone!)

Just click the image below to get access:

Click here to download your free itinerary

Day 5 – Visit Horseshoe bend + Antelope Canyon

I’m going to say something controversial here. I’ve wanted to visit Horseshoe bend for what feels like forever, it had been on my bucket list for a very long time! BUT to be honest, while I found it beautiful, and 100% worth the visit, there was a part of me that found it slightly underwhelming.

I think after days of seeing such grand views (Grand Canyon and the Navajo Tribal Park), it didn’t feel as unique. Regardless of this, I still recommend a visit, especially if you are planning to visit Antelope Canyon (as they are so close!)

We visited Horseshoe bend in the morning and had a tour of Antelope Canyon in the afternoon.

So, here’s the truth about Antelope Canyon: you know those beautiful photos you see of Antelope Canyon? Most of the time they’re taken at the Upper Antelope Canyon, which is known for being the most beautiful part of Antelope Canyon. The reality of it is that it gets CRAZY busy. I’ve heard it likened to a natural-outdoor Disney Land, rather than the peaceful, magical place it appears to be in photos.

The way around this? Book a tour at one of the other canyons. While I’m all for visiting beautiful places, I hate crowds and pushing and shoving. We booked a Photography tour to visit Canyon X, with a company called Taadidiin Tours.

It was magical. It was peaceful. It was all the things I expected from such a beautiful place! Check out my photos:

Southwest road trip

Southwest road trip

Driving time: 1.5hrs from Kayenta to Page + 2.5 hrs from Antelope Canyon/ Page to Bryce Canyon

Recommended Accommodation:  Bryce Canyon Lodge, just outside Bryce Canyon National Park.

 

Day 6 – Explore Bryce Canyon

I’ve seen photos of Bryce Canyon and always wanted to visit. The rock formations, otherwise known as Hoodoos make you feel like you’re on another planet, rather than in a National Park in the US.

Southwest road trip

Sunrise at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon

We started our day with sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park. While there is a lookout called Sunrise Point, we were recommended to visit Sunset Point (yes!) to watch the sunrise. Here, we walked down into the valley (via the Navajo Loop Trail) and got a glimpse of the beautiful colors reflecting off the hoodoos. If you’re lucky, you can also catch the sun peak out from some of the rock formations!

If you like hiking, I would highly recommend the Navajo Loop Trail. The walk is the most popular trail in Bryce and for those who want more of a challenge you can combine this with the Queens Garden Trail. If you’re after a walk that is paved and easier, the Sunset to Sunrise rim trail is highly recommended and will give you beautiful views of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Southwest road trip

View from Sunset Point

We were a bit tired after our morning walk, so ended up spending our afternoon taking a scenic drive and stopping at the various lookout points. If you want to do this, drive out towards Yovimpa Point, and only stop at the lookouts on your way back to the Bryce Amphitheater. The scenic lookouts will be on your righthand side when you drive back and hence will be easier to turn into!

We missed the sunset at Bryce Canyon, and instead opted to drive to Zion during this time of day. If you’re after somewhere to see sunset though, we were recommended to visit Bryce Point, though you can easily see beautiful colors in the sky on your drive!

Driving time: 2 hrs from Bryce Canyon National Park to Springdale

Recommended Accommodation:  Bumbleberry Inn, Springdale. There are various accommodation options in Springdale. This is one of the most popular (and convenient!) places to stay if you want to visit Zion.

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Day 7 – Explore Zion National Park

Zion National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the southwest. We heard from one of the rangers that they are in talks to work off a lottery system in the future, as the crowds make waiting times at the park entrance a nightmare. If you’re planning to visit during long weekends or public holidays, go as early as possible, and plan your day. Parking is a nightmare, and when we visited after Christmas, they’d stopped letting people in by midday.

Southwest road trip

Recommended hikes: Angels Landing is one of the most popular hikes here, and if you’re planning to do this, you need to come prepared with proper gear and lots of water. You will see lots of signs warning visitors about the dangers of taking this hike unprepared (especially in the summer when there is no coverage from the sun!)

Update: a young girl recently lost her life during the Angels Landing hike. If this is not enough warning to as how dangerous this hike can be, I don’t know what is! I don’t share this to deter you – plenty of people take the hike with no problems at all. You need to make sure you are well prepared for the hike and be careful if you have kids!

Because I am a super scardy cat (and afraid of heights), we made the decision not to do this hike. What can I say, I didn’t want to have a nervous breakdown mid-hike 😉 Instead, we hiked the trails around the Emerald Pools and The Grotto Trail. These are easy(ish) and don’t require you to climb up some crazy mountain with high drop-offs. Zion is a hiking lover’s paradise, but you can still have a fun time with some of the easier hikes!

 

Southwest road trip

Some of the spectacular views from the Emerald Pools/ Grotto Trail walk

After exploring Zion National Park, we then drove to Las Vegas where we spent our last night. If you want to spend more time in Zion (and love hiking), you can add extra time here.

Driving time: 2 hrs 40min from Zion National Park, UT to Las Vegas, NV

Recommended Accommodation:  Las Vegas (you can add extra days to your itinerary here if you’d like to explore Las Vegas)

Are you planning a trip to the Southwest? I have a free, downloadable itinerary (plus a map you can download to your phone!) Just click the image below to get access:

Click here to download your free itinerary

 

The southwest is an amazing part of America. We loved being able to explore the national parks in Arizona and Utah. While I wish we had more time, 7 days was just enough time to enjoy the best of what the southwest had to offer! If you’re planning to visit the US or want to see more of your home country, a southwest road trip is a must on your itinerary.

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Southwest road trip

 

Are you planning an American Southwest road trip? Leave me a comment a let me know!

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24 Comments

  1. February 16, 2018 / 7:17 pm

    I’ve been wanting to do a similar road trip for a couple of years now and this post is perfect! This itinerary looks perfect. I’ve definitely bookmarked it for when I do go.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:35 am

      I’m so glad to hear that, Stephanie! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

  2. February 16, 2018 / 7:23 pm

    Sigh. This gave me some serious wanderlust. We visited Bryce last year but missed a lot of the other places you included. Looks like I need to plan another Southwest road trip!

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:38 am

      I don’t know if anyone could ever experience all the southwest has to offer! Glad to hear you got to visit Bryce though (how amazing are the hoodoos?) Hopefully you get to visit the area again soon!

  3. February 16, 2018 / 7:51 pm

    I’ve been to Bryce and Zion but haven’t been anywhere else in the South West. This looks like a great itinerary to hit a whole bunch of beautiful places really quickly – and your photos are gorgeous. I think I’d want to spend a bit more time in each place though… but which places? They all look great

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:41 am

      Thanks, Taryn! The 7-day itinerary definitely is a whirlwind experience. I know what you mean – I wish I had more time, but it just didn’t work out! I’d LOVE to visit again and spend a bit more time at Bryce and Zion…And add more places like Arches National Park to the itinerary! Hopefully you get to visit the soutwest again soon, Taryn!

  4. February 16, 2018 / 7:59 pm

    A southwest USA road trip sounds amazing! I’m thinkin’ this would be great in the fall! I’d love to find more camping places to stay in though.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:42 am

      Oh, that’s such a great idea, Brianna! The southwest would be lots of fun in the fall – and not as cold as the winter (which is when I visited!) Hopefully you get to visit soon 🙂

  5. February 16, 2018 / 9:28 pm

    This is such an awesome itinerary for the southwest! I am yet to visit but most of the places you’ve mentioned (Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon) are alllll on my bucket list. Saving for when I do get to go. Lovely photos too, thanks for sharing!

  6. February 16, 2018 / 11:16 pm

    I am not sure why I have not done this trip since I live about 4 hours away. I love Arizona and have visited several places in there but I still have not made it to the Grand Canyon (National Park) or the Antelope Canyon.

  7. February 17, 2018 / 12:08 am

    Wow these are gorgeous photos! My favorite is the Antelope Canyon! This is a great itinerary Mae-Gene!

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:44 am

      Thank you, Viola! Antelope Canyon is SUCH a magical place (regardless of which canyon you end up visiting there). Hope you get to visit and I’m so glad you enjoyed my photos <3

  8. February 17, 2018 / 8:45 am

    I would love to do this road trip! The south west is such a beautiful region of the United States. I’ve especially been wanting to visit Antelope Canyon and Bryce Canyon.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:45 am

      Kaylene, you’ve got to do it! I’m sure you would LOVE it. A road trip through the southwest feels very quintessential “American”. Hope you get to visit Antelope Canyon and Bryce soon!

  9. February 17, 2018 / 8:53 am

    It looks like you had a great trip. Thanks for sharing your experience and providing such wonderful tips. I will definitely be saving your post for future reference.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:46 am

      Thanks, Michelle, I’m so glad you found this useful!

  10. February 17, 2018 / 9:33 am

    I love those sculptures!! What a great natural phenomenon!!

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:47 am

      Jacomijn, they really were beautiful – sometimes I felt like I was in another world (or on another planet in the case of Bryce Canyon)

  11. February 17, 2018 / 10:19 am

    Now I am all set to plan this trip! Glad you shared this in such detail.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:48 am

      I’m so glad to hear this Chirasree! You’ll have to tell me how it goes when you visit the southwest 🙂

  12. February 17, 2018 / 12:52 pm

    Dying to do a cross-country road trip through the southwest! Great tips 🙂 I’m saving this for later.

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:50 am

      Oh gosh girl, yes!! You definitely have to do it – it is such a memorable experience. You’ll have to let me know how it goes once you get to visit 🙂

  13. February 17, 2018 / 6:35 pm

    Oh my goodness, sign me up like now! This sounds like such an epic road trip! The colors here are stunning in photos, I can only imagine how gorgeous they are in real life!

    • Mae-Gene
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 12:53 am

      Yes girl, yes!! You need to do it – it is such memorable experience. Many of the national parks are just magical – I couldn’t believe my eyes 🙂 I have way to many photos to go through still 😀

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