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The American Southwest is one of the best places for a road trip with its epic red rock scenery, long empty roads, and numerous national parks.
Our Southwest road trip focused on nature (with a fun night in Las Vegas at the end) and was one of our favourite travel experiences.
We hiked through freezing rivers and vibrant slot canyons, gazed into the depths of the Grand Canyon and out at the otherworldly hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and were constantly in awe of the magnificent landscapes.
In this post, I share our detailed Southwest road trip itinerary with ideas for trips of 5 to 10+ days. I also include a map, tips on making the most of your trip, and suggestions on where to stay.
Our Southwest USA Road Trip at a Glance
Here’s where we visited on our Southwest road trip, which starts and ends in Las Vegas and includes three states and three national parks.
Other Southwest Road Trip Ideas
We had 18 days for our Southwest trip and travelled at a leisurely pace with a week each in Zion and Sedona.
As most people don’t have that long, here are my itinerary suggestions for various lengths of time.
All start and end in Las Vegas, which is convenient for the route and often has the cheapest flights and rental cars in the area.
5 Day Southwest Road Trip
- Zion National Park – 2 nights
- Page – 1 night
- Grand Canyon National Park – 1 night
- Las Vegas – 1 night
If you only have a short trip, you can still see many highlights on this Southwest road trip loop from Las Vegas.
This route is 692 miles and involves 12 hours of driving. Most driving days are 2-3 hours long with one longer 4+ hour journey on the last day.
If you don’t want to visit Antelope Canyon or prefer to do a long hike into Grand Canyon, skip the night in Page (you’ll still pass through) and add an extra night in Grand Canyon.
7 Day Southwest Road Trip
- Zion National Park – 3 nights (including a day trip to Bryce Canyon NP)
- Page – 1 night
- Grand Canyon National Park – 2 nights
- Las Vegas – 1 night
This 1 week road trip from Las Vegas follows the same route as the 5 day trip but at a more relaxed pace.
With an extra night in Zion, you can visit Bryce Canyon NP on a day trip.
An extra night in Grand Canyon means you’ll have time to do a longer hike into the canyon.
10 Day Southwest Road Trip
- Zion National Park – 4 nights (including a day trip to Bryce Canyon NP)
- Page – 1 night
- Grand Canyon National Park – 2 nights
- Sedona, Arizona – 2 nights
- Las Vegas – 1 night
If you have 9 or 10 days for your American Southwest road trip, you can follow our complete itinerary.
This route is 975 miles and involves 18 hours of driving.
As above, most driving days are 2-3 hours long with one longer 4+ hour journey on the last day. The Zion to Bryce Canyon day trip is 1 hour 45 mins each way plus driving in the park.
If you only have 9 nights, reduce your Zion stay to 3 nights or skip Page.
If you are on a longer trip, you could add on more Utah National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands), which we’d love to do next time.
Or you could start and/or end your trip in California, which is not far from Las Vegas.
We started our trip in California and ended in Las Vegas. We flew into Los Angeles, travelled around Southern California, and eventually drove from Death Valley National Park to Zion (a 5-hour drive) for the start of the Southwest portion of our road trip.
Some of our favourite places in California that work well with this trip are:
Read our post on the best things to do in Southern California for more tips.
A good route for this extended Southwest national park road trip would be Los Angeles – Joshua Tree – Death Valley – Zion and continue with the itineraries above.
Tips for a Southwest Road Trip
- Rental Car – We use Rental Cars to find the best deals. Picking up your car from Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas is the most convenient location for this route. Or in Los Angeles, if you are starting in California.
- Google Maps – We used this app for all our directions. Make sure to save the area you’ll be visiting offline, as there isn’t always mobile signal.
- Time Zones – Keep in mind that you change time zones when crossing between California/Nevada (Pacific Time) and Utah (Mountain Time). So when you drive from Las Vegas to Zion the time will move one hour ahead. Arizona is more complicated. It’s in Mountain Time but does not observe daylight saving time like Utah, so from mid-March to early November it’s the same as Pacific Time. In winter, it’s the same as Utah.
- America the Beautiful Pass – As this route covers at least three national parks, it’s worth buying the America the Beautiful annual pass for $80. You only need one as it’s valid for everyone in your vehicle. Buy it in advance from REI to save time or get one from the first park you visit. Available for domestic and international visitors.
- AllTrails+ Subscription – The AllTrails app is a fantastic resource that we use to find hiking trails around the world. We used it a lot on this trip and upgraded to the AllTrails+ annual plan so that we could save trail maps offline. This prevented us from getting lost on many occasions, so I highly recommend it.
- Best Time of Year – If you can, avoid doing this trip in the summer when it’ll be busy and very hot. Spring and autumn are better for mild weather and lower crowds. Our trip was in February and we loved this quieter and cheaper time of year. Yes, we had some snow, but with the right clothes, hiking was comfortable. Some places like Zion and Las Vegas were sunny and mild.
Map of Our USA Southwest Road Trip
Best Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
Zion National Park, Utah
Las Vegas to Springdale Drive: 2.5 hours / 160 miles (257 km)
Note: Utah is one hour ahead of Nevada.
The Journey to Zion
This Southwest road trip loop starts and ends in Las Vegas. The most convenient place to pick up your rental car is Harry Reid International Airport/LAS (previously called McCarran Airport) if you fly in.
The journey to Zion National Park takes under three hours, so if you arrive early and have the energy, you could stop on the way at Valley of Fire State Park.
The park looks gorgeous with massive red sandstone formations. On a quick stop, you could drive scenic White Domes Road and hike the unique but easy Fire Wave Trail (allow 40 minutes).
Sadly, we didn’t have the energy for the park as we had driven from Death Valley, but we will return.
Once you enter Utah, the scenery transforms with bright orange dirt and red mountains. The closer you get to Zion, the more spectacular it is.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the US and for good reason—it is absolutely spectacular!
Zion is greener than the desert parks, though, and we loved the combination of red cliffs and evergreen forest, all against the big blue skies.
The highlight of the park is Zion Canyon, which was carved by the Virgin River leaving sheer walls of colourful Navajo sandstone towering up to 3000 feet above the river.
Here are a few things to know about Zion:
- Zion Canyon is the main area – The scenic drive through it only takes about 20 minutes (longer on the shuttle), but there are many hikes along the way.
- It’s crowded – The park has become very popular so expect trails to be crowded (an early start is a good idea). Avoid the summer if possible. In February, it was fairly quiet.
- You may need to use the shuttle – For most of the year, you can’t drive into Zion Canyon and must take the free shuttle bus. From December to February (except for holidays), the shuttle doesn’t run, so we were able to drive in, which made our visit easier.
- You need a permit to hike Angels Landing – Zion’s most notorious trail now requires a permit. You can enter a lottery a few months in advance or the day before. See the Zion NP website for details.
These are our favourite things to do in Zion:
- The Narrows – Hiking in the river through a stunning red rock canyon is one of our favourite ever experiences. With the right gear, you can even hike it in winter and avoid the crowds. See my guide to hiking the Zion Narrows in winter for everything you need to know.
- Canyon Overlook Trail – Don’t miss this fairly easy, one-mile return trail with spectacular views 1000 feet above Zion Canyon. It’s in the east side of the park not on the shuttle route. Go early to get parking.
- West Rim Trail – Angels Landing requires a permit and looks absolutely terrifying. We skipped it, but it’s still worth hiking up the West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout (4.2 miles return), where the scary part starts. You don’t need a permit for this section and you’ll still have gorgeous views. Even better, continue along the West Rim Trail as far as you like for more views and solitude.
- Riverside Dining at Zion Canyon Brew Pub – A burger and beer in the sun by the river is just what you need after a strenuous hike.
Where to Stay for Zion National Park
Zion National Park is very accessible as it’s next to the small outdoorsy town of Springdale.
There’s one hotel in the park—Zion Lodge—but it’s expensive. When the shuttle is running, it might be worth staying here to be able to walk to some trails, but we felt Springdale was close enough.
The mountain views are stunning, there’s a pool and hot tub, and it’s right on the river (with chairs to enjoy on the beach).
All rooms have kitchenettes, so they are ideal for families and those who want to self-cater.
We booked the Luxury Suite, which I wouldn’t describe as luxurious, but it was comfortable and we appreciated having a separate bedroom. Ask for a second-floor suite for the best mountain views.
Check prices for Cable Mountain Lodge here.
Or search for more accommodation in Springdale here.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Springdale to Bryce Canyon Drive (Each Way): 1 hour 45 mins / 85 miles (137 km)
While you could add a night near Bryce Canyon National Park to this road trip, we did a day trip from Zion to avoid changing hotels.
I highly recommend visiting Bryce—it feels different from Zion with the unique Bryce Amphitheater filled with eroded spires of rock called hoodoos.
Bear in mind that Bryce Canyon is at a much higher elevation than Zion (8000 feet vs 4000 feet), so it will be colder, especially in winter. On our visit in February, it was 14ºF (-10ºC)!
We loved seeing the park sprinkled with snow, and with plenty of layers, we were warm enough to hike. Kahtoola Microspikes for our shoes were useful on some icy sections of trails.
On a Bryce day trip, we enjoyed the scenery at various drive-up viewpoints including Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.
Our highlight was hiking into the canyon for a closer look at the hoodoos on a variation of the Queen’s Garden/ Navajo Loop Trail.
We parked at Sunset Point, walked along the rim to Sunrise Point, and then headed down the Queen’s Garden Trail (the easiest trail down).
We added on a short section of the Peekaboo Trail (you could do the full loop), then climbed back out on the Two Bridges Trail.
This 4.5-mile loop took us 2.5 hours, but you can make it shorter or longer. It’s a special trail that’s worth the moderate effort.
Springdale to Page Drive: 2 hours 15 mins / 117 miles (188 km)
Note: During daylight saving time (summer), Arizona is one hour behind Utah. In winter, it’s the same time.
We reluctantly left Utah behind (we will return!) for the fairly short drive to Page in Arizona. On the way you pass through the beautiful east side of Zion NP.
We didn’t make many stops on the way except for the Wahweap Overlook on the edge of Page for a look at Lake Powell, a huge manmade reservoir on the Colorado River.
Page is a small town surrounded by desert. Honestly, after Zion, we didn’t find it that exciting. I think it’d be better in the warmer months when you can swim and kayak in the lake.
There are a few beautiful sights that make Page a popular stop on a Southwest road trip.
If you don’t want to visit Antelope Canyon and have limited time, you could just make a quick stop in Page on your way to the Grand Canyon.
Page’s easiest attraction to visit is Horseshoe Bend, a viewpoint of a meander in the Colorado River that was made famous by Instagram.
There’s a $10 fee to park at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook Parking Lot. From here it’s a 1.5-mile return walk, which took us about 10 minutes each way to the viewpoint. Be prepared for heat in the warmer months.
It is a beautiful view, but the crowds were overwhelming.
It’s also tricky to choose the right time for photography. Sunrise and sunset can be stunning, but to see the sandstone cliffs lit up, you’ll need to visit at midday (not advised in summer).
We went at 9am (two hours after sunrise in February) and it was still mostly in shadow.
Antelope Canyon is Page’s biggest draw. These series of slot canyons are on Navajo land just outside town and feature incredible colours and swirling rock formations.
You can only visit on a guided tour and advance bookings are essential.
The most popular and expensive tour is to Upper Antelope Canyon, which features light beams at midday from April to September. Tours at peak times sell out months in advance.
Lower Antelope Canyon is a little quieter but more challenging to experience (you have to climb down ladders).
As both slot canyons have become incredibly busy and must be booked far in advance, we decided on the newest canyon, Antelope Canyon X.
This is much easier to get a booking for and is cheaper than the others, but on a holiday weekend, it still felt very busy to us. Lower and Upper Canyons look much worse, though.
Whichever canyon you choose, don’t expect a peaceful experience, but it is worth it.
Antelope Canyon X is the most beautiful slot canyon we’ve seen. The narrow canyon walls tower above you in vibrant shades of red and orange, the ripples and swirls created by millions of years of flood erosion.
On the 1.5-hour tour, you visit two short canyons, both with different shapes. The walk down is easy, but there’s a slight incline on the way out. We didn’t find it at all difficult.
Where to Stay in Page
We stayed in this two-bedroom Airbnb house in a residential area of Page. It was comfortable, well-equipped, and a short drive to all the local attractions.
Search here for hotels and motels in Page.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Page to Grand Canyon Village Drive: 2 hours 25 mins / 133 miles (214 km)
The Grand Canyon is, of course, a Southwest must see. The immense canyon was formed by the Colorado River and is 277 miles long and up to a mile deep.
The South Rim is the most visited part of Grand Canyon National Park, and this is where we went as the quieter North Rim is closed in winter.
We had 24 hours in the park and found that a good amount of time. With an extra night, you could do a longer hike, though.
Desert View Drive
From Page, it’s an easy two-hour drive to the park’s east entrance at Desert View, where you can start the scenic Desert View Drive.
There are many easy viewpoints you can stop at on the way to peer into the canyon. Our highlights were Navajo Point and Lipan Point.
Our absolute favourite viewpoint was at Shoshone Point, but it requires a 20-minute walk each way (2.3 miles return). This is not marked on the park map (find it on Google Maps), so it’s much quieter—we had it to ourselves.
At the end of the road, you reach Grand Canyon Village, where the visitor centre and accommodation are located.
From the village, you can continue to more viewpoints on Hermit Road. Note that from March to November you can only access this road by shuttle bus.
We were able to drive and stopped at Hopi Point and Mohave Point (our favourite). On a weekday winter morning, we found it quieter here than on Desert View Drive.
You can also walk a section of the rim at any point (the shuttle makes it easier to do a one-way hike).
South Kaibab Trail
The Grand Canyon is set up for cars, and you can easily visit many vistas without walking more than a few feet.
But our favourite experience was walking into the canyon. If you are very adventurous, you can walk all the way to the river, but this requires an overnight stay at the bottom (camping or Phantom Ranch) and is not recommended in summer.
There’s no need to go all the way down to enjoy stunning views, though.
We hiked the South Kaibab Trail from Pipe Creek Vista to Ooh Aah Point, a 3.4-mile round trip (1.8 miles in the canyon), which took 1.5 hours with 689 feet of elevation gain.
The South Kaibab Trailhead is located on Yaki Point Rd, which is closed to private vehicles. You can take the shuttle, or as we did, park at Pipe Creek Vista and walk 15 minutes on an easy trail on the edge of the rim.
We started at 7.30am and it was so lovely to enjoy the canyon in peace on our way down. It was busier on the way up, so I recommend an even earlier start.
For an extra 3 miles return, you could continue down to Cedar Ridge (I wish we’d done this). Just make sure to remember it’s a lot harder to hike back up!
Where to Stay for Grand Canyon National Park
We chose to stay in Grand Canyon Village within the park so we could get an early start. The park lodges book up early, and the only one with availability was Thunderbird Lodge.
It has a fantastic location on the edge of the South Rim close to Bright Angel Trailhead, but it’s basic motel accommodation at high prices. We didn’t have a view on our ground floor canyon side room (request a higher floor), and we had to wait 90 minutes to check in.
Alternatively, you could stay 15 minutes outside the park in Tusayan. Search for Tusayan hotels here.
Grand Canyon to Sedona Drive: 2 hours / 113 miles (182 km)
We drove from Grand Canyon to Sedona via Flagstaff and the winding, very scenic Oak Creek Canyon.
Sedona feels different from anywhere else on this road trip. It has a small town feel and is surrounded by vivid red sandstone towers and buttes that look especially gorgeous in the golden light of early morning or late afternoon.
While there are definite desert vibes, it’s by no means barren with plenty of greenery from cypress, juniper, and pine trees.
Many people come here for the spa resorts or spiritual energy (it’s home to sacred vortexes), but for us, Sedona was all about hiking.
There are over 200 trails within a 20-minute drive of town, and we enjoyed every one we did, although we did find the trails fairly busy (and parking is often an issue).
The America the Beautiful NPS annual pass comes in useful for many of the trails in Sedona as they are in the Coconino National Forest. Other areas may have separate fees.
Our top three hikes in Sedona were:
- Soldier Pass and Brins Mesa Loop – If you start this 5-mile loop at Jordan Road Trailhead early, you’ll reach Seven Sacred Pools before the crowds. The rest of the hike is just as awe-inspiring.
- Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Loop – An easy but rewarding 3.7-mile loop around impressive rock formations including Bell Rock (which you can climb).
- Fay Canyon – A gentle 2.3-mile out-and-back walk into a lush green canyon beneath towering red cliffs. It’s worth scrambling up the rocks at the end for a panoramic view.
Where to Stay in Sedona, Arizona
We stayed in West Sedona, which is quieter and cheaper than Uptown Sedona but close to many trails.
Wilde Resort and Spa is near a busy road, but the grounds are beautiful. There’s a heated pool (warm enough for me to swim in the snow!), two hot tubs, and plenty of comfortable seating around firepits.
Rooms are stylish and comfortable. Try to get one with a mountain view.
We also spent part of our time at the Airbnb Lotus Flower Suite, which is small but has homely details, good local info, and a small garden.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sedona to Las Vegas Drive: 4.5 hours / 280 miles (450 km)
Note: Nevada is one hour behind Arizona in winter. During daylight saving time, the time is the same in both states.
It’s a fairly long drive to Las Vegas. We didn’t make any major stops, but you do pass the Hoover Dam, where you could stop to walk over it or sign up for a tour at the visitor centre.
After a month in national parks, Las Vegas came as a shock with the neon lights, noise, and crowds of the Strip. Simon loved the pure tackiness of it all, while I suffered sensory overload.
We spent the last night of our road trip drinking cocktails in the hotel pool (it was so much hotter in Las Vegas) and wandering through casinos (the Venetian’s canal is worth seeing).
We won money on the slot machines then promptly lost it at the blackjack table, but Simon proudly made it all back (and more) in the Bellagio’s poker room.
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
With just one night in Las Vegas, we wanted to make the most of it, so we stayed at the iconic Bellagio Hotel and had no regrets.
The heated pool was great for relaxing (if busy), and the view from our Fountain View King Room was incredible.
We loved being able to watch the extravagant Bellagio Water Show from the comfort of our room—more than 1000 fountains sway and soar to music and lights.
More USA Posts
Explore more beautiful US national parks in our other guides: