Planning a Southwest road trip can be overwhelming! You are spoiled with choice when visiting this part of the United States: the scenery is stunning, cities lively, history important.
We’re here to help so you can focus on looking forward to exploring all of these breathtaking locations without the stress of planning a route.
Our suggest Southwest road trip will begin in Las Vegas and have you circle around to visit canyons, national monuments, and state parks, ending in Vegas again so you can fly home after this loop around!
With all that the Southwest has to offer, you could spend a lifetime exploring the southwest and still not see and experiencing everything. This road trip only brushes the surface of all the spectacular things you can do, and we’ve chosen stops that will surely leave you in awe and hungry for your next adventure!
So pack your bags, and start the car, because you’re about to embark on an unforgettable southwest USA road trip!
Where is the American Southwest?
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Before you begin your Southwest road trip, you must know a few things about where you are going and what states are “classified” as being a part of the American Southwest.
The National Geographic Society has defined the American Southwest as Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico! It can also include the southernmost region of Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming– it really depends on who you ask!
Some also consider the southernmost sections (Andes by southernmost, we mean the southwest side) of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
For this road trip, we will in stay in the “heart” of the southwest so we can showcase the vast deserts, red rocks, unique landscapes, and more!
Getting to the Southwest USA
We recommend starting your Southwest road trip in Las Vegas, and thus, it only seems logical to fly into Vegas! Not only does this offer some of the cheapest flights, but it also puts you in the heart of the southwest and acts as a great hub. This is also where we suggest starting off our Grand Canyon Road Trip if you are short on time!
When flying into Vegas, the Las Vegas Airport (also known as the McCarran International Airport) offers arrivals from a variety of other cities, such as Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, and more. They also have a vast amount of airlines including Southwest, Delta, Allegiant, and Jet Blue, making it easy and convenient to book here!
If you’d like to fly into somewhere else, however, Phoenix, Arizona, or Albuquerque, New Mexico also offers some good deals on flights and great airports!
Getting Around During Your Southwest Road Trip
Once you’ve landed in the Las Vegas airport, your Southwest road trip has officially begun! But, you need to make sure you have a car ready for your trip, and thankfully, McCarran Airport can help with that!
The McCarran Rent-A-Car Center is open 24 hours, 365 days a year, and has continuous shuttle services to and from the airport terminals Here you can rent from a variety of companies, such as Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty.
We recommend asking for a car that is spacious, as you will be spending a lot of your southwest road trip driving and sitting in the car, as well as ensuring it has good gas milage. With lots of desert stretches, you want to ensure you get a good bang for your buck! So save those savvy race cars for another trip.
Stop 1: Starting in Vegas and the Valley of Fire State Park
Because you’re already flying into Vegas to start your southwest road trip, it only makes sense to start in Las Vegas! This city is PACKED with things to do, and these things aren’t just limited to the casino and slot machines either!
We highly recommend checking out all of the flashiness of Vegas, including The Fountains of Bellagio for their water geyser show, Caesar’s Palace for its ambiance, and Park Theatre for some of the hottest performances along the Vegas Strip.
You also want to make sure to check out the Hoover Dam, the Neon Museum, and the Mob Museum if you are interested in the historical side of Vegas!
After exploring the city on your Southwest road trip, make sure to also swing by the Valley of Fire State Park! This public recreation and nature preservation covers 16 miles and has some must-sees, including the First Wave hiking trail with unique rock formations, Mouse’s Tank Road which features a barren desert route and Indian heritages, and the Lost City Museum of Archaeology for some information on the Anasazi Indians!
Where to stay Near Vegas:
Stop 2: Heading to Zion National Park
The view of Zion’s red rocks are breathtaking and the main attraction, so you want to make sure that you add this stop to your southwest road trip! This nature preserve in Utah has forest trails, rivers, Emerald pools, and gardens, so you must spend some time here (Maybe 2-3 days?)
We recommend visiting the Narrows, which is a narrow scenic section of the famous Zion Canyon. And if you’re up for a challenge, make sure to make the steep trek up Angel’s Landing or even to the Canyon Overlook Trail!
The Emerald Pools trail also leads to 3 tears of pools and breathtaking waterfalls, so don’t forget your comfortable shoes and maybe even a bathing suit! Close to the Narrows is also a Narrow River Slot Canyon, which lets you wade through river beds!
To conclude your adventures also make sure to check out Zion Lodge for a cafe and picnic area, and don’t be afraid to visit the Cascades via Weeping Rock after your yummy lunches and relaxation time!
For more information about Zion National Park, you can check out our article on the Best Utah Road Trip!
Where To Stay Near Zion National Park:
Stop 3: Swinging by Bryce Canyon
Speaking of our Utah Road Trip article, there is so much information in there about Bryce Canyon, because Bryce Canyon is something you do not want to miss during your southwest road trip!
Bryce Canyon National Park still is one of the most breathtaking landscapes we have ever visited because of their Hoodoos. These rock formations are formed by weather and winter eating away the rock beneath it. They are eroded and create unique formations that contrast the desert.
To see these Hoodoos and more, we recommend also checking out some of the best hikes in Bryce Canyon! The Queens Garden Trail takes you down into the canyon for best views– but warning, it is a heavily trafficked loop.
The Rime Trail Hike is also cool as it is a scenic overlook to Bryce Point. And better yet, we love the Mossy Cave Waterfall hike, especially if you’re interested in seeing a sleeping bear cave and a change of landscape pace with some water in the desert!
Where To Stay Near Bryce Canyon:
Stop 4: Witness the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
After spending some time in Zion, we recommend staying in Utah a bit longer to explore the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument! This protected land has so many nature trails and scenic routes that you’ll want to add to your southwest USA road trip!
We suggest definitely checking out the Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area for an area where you can relax and spend some time exploring this huge expanse of land. You can see a lot of slot canyons here!
Some of the best hikes to visit slot canyons and other unique areas include the Zebra Canyon Hike and the Coyote Gulch Hike. These treks vary in difficulty, so make sure to plan for them!
The Peek-a-book and Spooky Gulches are also super cool and a great area to see slot crayons and arches and they aren’t typically crowded, so you can stay away from major tourist attractions and points!
Lastly, the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park holds a different kind of beauty and history: home to ancient Anasazi and Fremont Indians, the plant gardens, picnic tables, hiking trials and change of scenery with loads of trees is dramatic and fun to explore!
Where To Stay In Grand Staircase Escalante:
Stop 5: Make sure to Visit Page, Arizona
For stop number 5 on your road trip, we recommend adding Page, Arizona to your Southwest road trip itinerary. Located close by the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, the southern shores and great community here is so wonderful to stop at!
You must add swinging by Antelope Canyon when visiting Page: these stunningly colorful walls and winding passageways attract a variety of tourists, and so booking a tour might be helpful! For more tips make sure to check out our 6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Lower Antelope Canyon!
Horseshoe bend is also an iconic park with hiking trails and a river: true to its name, this horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River is so unique and a great photo op as well as a great hike!
And while in the area, you may want to check out the Glen Canyon Dam we mentioned earlier (they offer great guided tours!) and the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal park has great canyons for hiking, and some popular horse trails if you’re interested in doing some horseback riding during your Southwest road trip.
Where to stay in Page:
Stop 6: Monument Valley is a Must See for an American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
Right on the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley is a red-sand desert known for its sandstone buttes and the nearby Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. A frequent filming location for old Western films, this valley has a 17-mile looping drive (called Valley Drive!), that is so fun for your southwest road trip!
You can also hike the Wildcat Trail for an up-close view of the monuments here, and there are a variety of guided jeep tours you can take to really experience the stunning landscapes. We recommend checking out this sunrise views here!
Most importantly though, swing by the Mittens buttes: these steeply sloped buttes can be viewed from Valley drive, but they offer great vantage points and overlooks of areas such as John Ford’s Point, and you don’t want to miss that!
Where to Stay Near Monument Valley
Stop 7: It Wouldn’t be a Southwest Road Trip without the Grand Canyon
Could we really send you to the southwest without ensuring that the Grand Canyon was on your American southwest itinerary? Within the Grand Canyon National Park, there are countless things to do in the rolling red rocks.
Some great viewpoints of the canyon include Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and Lipan Point. Lipan Point is great to visit at sunrise and sunset due to the view of the Colorado River in addition to the canyon.
In the park itself you can also visit the Grand Canyon Village for some shopping, or you can hike famous trails– we recommend checking out the Bright Angel Trail! The scenic train ride of the Grand Canyon Railway also looks at the canyon’s south rim if you’re interested!
But whether you’re at the top of the Desert View Watchtower or visiting Havasu Falls [which requires you to win a lottery to visit!], there is a lot to do at the Grand Canyon. For more tips about visiting check out our suggestion about the best Grand Canyon Hikes and how to conquer the Canyon in just a few hours!
Where to Stay Near the Grand Canyon
Stop 8: Stopping in Sedona
For your last major stop of your southwest road trip, we recommend stopping in Sedona! Sedona is a desert town near Flagstaff that is surrounded by its red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls, and famous pine forests. Sedona is also home to some of the Cutest Airbnbs in Arizona!
The towns are known for its vibrant arts community and shops and galleries, so it is truly one of the best stops that satisfies both the urban love and rural love! We definitely recommend checking out Red Rock State Park where there is a multitude of trailheads to go bird-watching and hiking. We’ve listed some of the best hikes in Sedona in one of our recent articles!
The Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village is a great landmark that offers some wonderful artisanal shops and galleries and has been known for giving off a vibe of spiritual wellness.
Bell Rock, Devil’s Bridge Trail, and Cathedral Rock are also popular amongst tourists as these red-rock formations are unique and offer great photo ops! If you choose to camp in the Sedona, make sure to check out our article about camping advice for that area!
Where to Stay Near Sedona
We are so excited you’ve chosen to embark on a southwest road trip, as it is a remarkable part of our country! After stopping in Sedona you can head back to Vegas and fly home. But as we mentioned, this guide only touches the surface of spectacular sights and adventures the southwest USA has to offer, but these are a great place to start. If you want to know more, or have more time to explore, check out some other stops as well! But most importantly, have fun on your southwest USA road trip!
With More Time
As we have mentioned, there is so much to do in the Southwest USA, so if you are traveling with a bit more time, or for a longer period of time, we are adding some more stops to explore! These stops are super popular but they are a bit further out of the “loop” during your traveling adventures, so they will take more time to get to! Make sure to stop here if you have that extra time!
Visit Arches National Park in Utah
Arches National Park is well known for its 2,000 natural sandstone arches, and most famously, the Delicate Arch. The park’s variety of arches also include the long and thin Landscape Arch near the Devils Garden, and other geological formations, like the Balanced Rock, offer fantastic landscape views.
Make sure to stop here for a landscape of contrasting textures, sizes, colors and more. There are also a variety of fins, pinnacles, and balanced rocks that you’ll want to check out during your southwest road trip. Most importantly, though, make sure to look at the hikes the Arches has to offer: we have listed 6 of the best hikes in one of our articles! Check it out!
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park
Visit Canyonlands National Park in Utah
The Canyonlands National Park should also be added to your southwest road trip, as it is famous for its dramatic desert landscape that has been carved and eroded by the Colorado River. Some places to check out here include the Island in the Sky, which is a flat-topped mesa that overlooks panorama views.
Towering rock pinnacles (famously known as “Needles“) are also iconic, and many tourists love to check to the Maze, which features remote canyons and trails you can go through. If you’re looking for some intense adventure though, you might want to check out the whitewater rapids that crash throughout the Cataract Canyon or brush up on history by visiting the Native American rock paintings that are featured in Horseshoe Canyon!
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands National Park
Visit Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
If you’re spending time in the southwest USA, you must check out the Mesa Verda National Park in Colorado! Well known for it’s cliff dwellings, archeological history and more, this national park is famous. We recommend spending some time at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to learn more about the ancient Native American culture.
Then you can go visit a famous cliff dwelling known as Cliff Palace before taking a walk along the Mesa Top Loop to walk around old sites and overlook panoramic canyon views from the Sun Point Overlook. And if you’re looking for more to do, make sure to check out some more information that we have in our Colorado road trip article!
Where to stay near Mesa Verde National Park:
Visit Santa Fe New Mexico
As New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe can be a great stop for your southwest road trip! This city is full of art, history, culture and adventure. Start off by checking out the Santa Fe Plaza Inc., which is the public square in the city that hosts a variety of events such as weekend markets, concerts, parades and more!
This city has the traditional vibe of a Spanish colony with it’s crooked and twisted streets, and you can learn more about the history of Santa Fe by checking out the Places of the Governors or the Loretto Chapel for authentic gothic architecture. You should also visit the Georgia O’Keefee Museum, which has over 3,000 works if you are interested in spending some time indoors while marveling at art. For more information check out our New Mexico Road Trip Article!
Where to Stay In Santa Fe
Visit the White Sands National Monument
The White Sands National Monument is well known for its dramatic landscape of sand dunes. With lots of trails through these dunes, many people come to explore this area during their southwest road trip. We recommend taking a long hike on the Dunes Life Nature trail, and visiting the Interdune Boardwalk.
Or you can even check out the Alkali Flat Trailhead— just make sure you pack lots of water and good walking shoes. Maybe even consider channeling your inner kid and sliding down the dunes as if they were snowbanks!
Where to Stay Near The White Sands National Monument
Visit Death Valley National Park
Would you really be on a southwest road trip if you didn’t swing by California, and more specifically, the Death Valley National Park? There are some spectacular things to do here, including checking out Titus Canyon which is famous for its colorful rocks and a haunted ghost town!
You can also look at Badwater Basin’s salt flats, which is the lowest point in the Southwest USA. The Telescope Peak Trail park is a great hiking place to get immersed in pines, and some salt mounds that have collected and grown over the years is known as the Devil’s Golf Course. There is so much to do here so make sure to check out our article on 9 unforgettable things you can do in the Death Valley National Park to experience it all!
Where to Stay Near Death Valley National Park
And there you have it! A great southwest road trip itinerary that will take you full loop to national parks, iconic cities, potent landscapes, and more. Make sure to drive safe and have fun during your Southwest road trip– we promise it will be unforgettable!