THE ULTIMATE SOUTHWEST ROADTRIP ITINERARY

 

Windows down, arm out the window, dusty warm air coming in and cruising on a dirt road in the middle of the desert. The simple reasons I love exploring the Southwest.. I’ve got to admit I’ve been on a lot of road trips in my life and no route compares to the one I’m about to share with you. It’s a road trip that everyone must make once in their life - put it on the bucketlist right now! Because I’m here to share with you the ultimate roadtrip itinerary. I know it can get pretty stressful finding the best places to go and how to fit it all into one route.. So my friends, I gathered all of the most beautiful places in the Southwest that you MUST SEE at least once in your life and I condensed it into one easy itinerary for you so you can just hit the road and go!

In this post I’m going over a route that includes mostly every major stop in the Southwest, I’m sharing the bigger itinerary so you can see all your options and do what works best for you and the time off you have!

IMG_3557.JPG




So a few things I know you’re wondering..


1) About how long would it take to hit all of the stops listed below:

At minimum a week and a half and about three weeks if you really want to explore in depth!

Again you can condense this route to whatever suits you and your time




2) How many miles is this whole route travelled:

Roughly 2,000 miles if you hit every national park, monument and state park listed below!

A total of 44 hours drive time divided between however many days you want




3) what is The best time of the year to go:

April or October


Please note: If doing this route during summer or late spring it can get very hot! Please always pack extra water, sunscreen, a hat and don’t be afraid to turn around if you’re starting to feel too hot - but try to do your hiking more in early morning.

Also always check in at a Ranger Station before doing a hike during mid day for any other safety measures they can recommend and to fill up on water!




All the fees for each place will be listed as we go along! but as you read you will notice most stops are at national parks so just spend the $80 on getting thE america the beautiful pass.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with America the Beautiful Pass - it’s $80 for a FULL YEAR to EVERY National Park (some exceptions to state parks / national monuments: I always ask no matter what) and you can visit as many national parks as many times you want for the whole year. Trust me it’s worth the money especially for this trip!



Since I am from WA - I always am coming down south meaning my route is always starting more northern Utah, if you are closer to one area I’m sure you can just start your route where works best for you then go from there!

now let’s dive into the route:


The first stop of the trip is always to Moab - easily one of the most adventurous towns I’ve been to. There is an abundance of things to do in the town: explore shops, try some of the local cafes/restaurants, get a coffee, grab a tour for hiking or rent a jeep to do some off roading.. The list goes on and on. It’s just a gateway to adventure so I love being able to start here and see the views change from mountain to desert as you enter this area. If you’re familiar at all with Moab you know it’s most famous for..

Arches National Park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)

Arches is a bit overcrowded sometimes but if you wake up early enough for sunrise or are committed to staying somewhere to witness the sunset.. well this place is pretty dang special. There is dozens of hikes in the park so you can stray away from people during the day if you do come then but one thing to note: always try to get into the park as early as possible. The lines here can get super long and sometimes be up to an hour long! Luckily when I came here for my last roadtrip I went into the park right before sunset and then also as the sun was rising the next day.. Perfect times because hardly anybody else was in the park. It’s special to have this place to what feels like yourself in the early morning and then to see it slowly come to life as people come piling in. But what are the best hikes or viewpoints to enjoy the Arches you might ask?



Hikes / walks:

Double Arch - 0.5 mile hike roundtrip!

Turret Arch - 0.2 mile walk!

Delicate Arch - 3 mile hike roundtrip!



Viewpoints:

Courthouse Towers Viewpoint

Panorama Point

Balanced Rock

Salt Valley Overlook - My fav!



Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here


IMG_2940.JPG
 

Once you’ve got you’re exploring done in Moab and Arches it’s time to make about a 45 minute drive to..

Dead Horse State Park

($20 fee because it is a state park)

Hours are 6AM to 10PM

I’ve been here twice now and the first time I didn’t even see a single view! I had done a roadtrip about a year ago when the desert was starting to snow so this place was completely fogged in - honestly still special to run around in though. This time when I went, the weather was 90 degrees and views were as far as the eye could see. And let me tell ya, Dead Horse easily offers some of the most beautiful views Utah has and the best part is hardly anybody stops here since it’s on the drive to two main national parks. It’s pretty overlooked and that’s why I love it. There’s only viewpoints in this park but there’s some small trails that lead you to views a little off the beaten path and are so close to the edge of the world. Some of my favorite viewpoints I spent extra long at:

Viewpoints:

Rim Overlook

Basin Overlook - About 0.25 mile walk!

Meander Overlook

Also there’s a picnic area right before the very last viewpoint and some small trails to walk out to the rim, definitely one of the most beautiful views I saw!

Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

IMG_3083 2.JPG



Since Dead Horse is right along the way to the next point you’ll only have about a 20 minute drive to make it to the entrance of..

Canyonlands National Park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)

Canyonlands easily became one of the most beautiful National Parks I’ve visited so far in the states after finally getting there. Some of the views the park holds are some of the most awe inspiring ones I’ve seen - a place you NEED to go to! If coming from Dead Horse you’ll be coming in through Island in the Sky entrance and oh man, no other name could be more perfect. I remember pulling into the park with my jaw to the ground, just completely blown away.. And it only get’s more better once you step out of your car. So the best hikes or viewpoints in the park:

Viewpoints:

Buck Canyon Overlook - Go to it trust me

Grand Viewpoint Overlook

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Candlestick Tower Overlook

Hikes:

Mesa Arch - 0.7 mile roundtrip loop! Get’s super busy and honestly not worth it during the day, I would recommend for sunrise.

White Rim Overlook - 1.8 miles roundtrip! Limited parking best in late afternoon


Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

public.jpeg
 

After you’re able to pick your jaw off the ground from exploring the beautiful Canyonlands make an OPTIONAL stop off 2 hours away at..

Goblin Valley

($15 fee because it is a state park)

Hours are 6AM to 10PM

Goblin Valley is honestly super interesting and beautiful in it’s own way! I saw a sign for it when I was driving to the next destination and decided to say “What the heck” and just go for it.. When I got to the entrance station and I asked the ranger for a map she said she didn’t have one. I thought maybe they were just out of them or something, but turns out the state park is so small there’s only one viewpoint! With the exception of multiple trails to choose from but still there’s only one parking lot! It’s wild. When I went, there wasn’t another soul in sight, it was like the whole place was mine. I spent extra long walking around and taking in the quietness after visiting so many places that were full of people. It was a nice change up. I would recommend stopping if you have the time or want a little break!

 
public.jpeg
 

If you made the little detour to Goblin Valley then you’ll only be away about one hour away

If coming directly from Canyonlands expect about two hours until you reach..

Capitol Reef National Park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)

Alright.. Capitol Reef is so underrated. There I said it. I went last year and didn’t get to explore much of the main park since we only went to Cathedral Valley area which is more off the beaten path - when I say that I mean driving an hour and half down the longest washed out road I’ve been on. This year when I went on my trip I explored more of the real park actually and although it’s small there’s still a list of places to check off on your list:

Viewpoints:

Goosenecks Overlook

Panorama Point

Temple of the Sun / Temple of the Moon - easily the most beautiful place I went. Like I talked about above it’s in Cathedral Valley area and is a long drive on washed out road, always check in with the Park Rangers if beforehand to see if your car will make it and what the current conditions are.

Take the 20 mile out and back scenic drive through Fruita! There’s so many gorgeous viewpoints along the way


Hikes:

Sunset Point - 0.8 miles roundtrip shares the same parking lot of Goosenecks Overlook!

Hickman Natural Bridge - 1.8 miles roundtrip!

Grand Wash Trail - Full trail is 4.4 miles roundtrip! You can also just turn around whenever but walking around in the canyons here are absolutely beautiful!

Chimney Rock - 3.3 miles roundtrip!

Cassidy Arch - 3 miles roundtrip!




Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here


Portraits of me shot by Turner Nelson

 

After you’ve ran around Capitol Reef it’s time to make it to my personal favorite NP which is 2 hours away..

Bryce CANYON national park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)


Bryce Canyon is my most favorite National Park I think.. Just because of how underrated and unique it is. I remember when I went here for my first time and hadn’t even heard of the place before, I was completely blown away by the rock formations and the orange color deep in the canyons that Crayola can’t even compare to. This park holds such a special piece of my heart.. From the dozens upon dozens hiking trails, the cute lodge and pizzeria, all the overlooks and the feeling of nostalgia. This park is so beautiful! Some of my favorite places to enjoy it..

Viewpoints:

Sunset Point

Sunrise Point - 1 mile

Inspiration Point

Bryce Point



Hikes:

Queens Garden - 1.8 miles roundtrip!

Navajo Trail - 1.3 miles roundtrip!

Peek A Boo Loop - 5.5 miles roundtrip!

Fairyland Loop - 8 miles roundtrip / recommended if you have a couple days here!



Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

 

After a hard goodbye make your way to probably the most famous park in Utah only one hour away..

Zion National Park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)

I’ve only been to Zion once and it was absolutely surreal.. This park has a truly beautiful way of making you feel so insignificant with the red rocks towering over you no matter what hike or viewpoint you’re at. When I went it was when most of the roads were still closed or were only accessible by shuttlebus so please do this research before your trip here. There is limited parking so this means showing up to the park earlier and securing a parking spot for your car so you can explore all day via shuttlebus! This is one of the busier national parks in Utah so it’s not the highest up on my list but it is definitely worth seeing once in your life so here’s the best places to enjoy it:

Hikes:

Angels Landing - 5.4 miles roundtrip! / Not for those with a fear of heights

The Narrows - Read more about it here to plan your visit!

Emerald Pools - 1.2 miles roundtrip!

Canyon Overlook - 1.0 miles roundtrip!

Observation Point - 8.0 miles roundtrip!




Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

 

Start making your way closer to the border of Utah / Arizona and drive 2 hours to..

horseshoe bend

($10 parking fee)

Horseshoe bend is definitely a picturesque location and growing day by day with how popular it has gotten on Instagram.. But it is worth getting to for an early morning sunrise and to beat the crowds so don’t let that make you stray away from visiting this spot at least once!

I will admit that this place is a bit more beautiful at sunset but that is the most popular time so if you do plan to go then - please note: parking is limited.

Horeshoe Bend Trail: 1.5 miles roundtrip

 

After experiencing horseshoe bend it’s time to decide if you want to make the extra drive to this optional spot 3 hours away..

Valley of the Gods

(Free of charge because on BLM land)


Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area is southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat. It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.

Monument Valley is located on Navajo Nation land and visitors exploring the area usually travel with a Navajo guide. A permit from the tribe is needed before you can hike into the backcountry. Valley of the Gods offers similar scenery without the tribal restrictions; it is located on BLM land and is open for hiking, backpacking and camping.

There are no designated trails or campgrounds, but there is plenty of backcountry where you can wander and explore.

A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It provides a fun drive through an area that is usually deserted. It is a great place to get away from civilization - to get away from everything associated with modern life.

Because of its isolated nature, people exploring Valley of the Gods need to be self-sufficient and carry emergency supplies. There are no facilities, no gas stations, stores or services. You may or may not see other travelers along the road.”


-Stated from Utah.com / click here if you want to read more about it!



I personally loved this spot! It was so quiet when I went, I hardly saw anybody else the whole time I was here and I loved exploring the area outside the main valley as there’s many more dirt roads that lead to beautiful overlooks and trails!

Please note: That this spot isn’t suitable for all vehicles and is also a bit out of the way to the next stop.. It does mean you drive an hour more north just to drive back down south again to the next stop but if you have the time I’d do it for sure!

 

If you’re coming from Valley of the Gods like I stated above it is a bit of a backtrack so you’ll be driving an hour back down south to Monument Valley

If coming from Horseshoe Bend you will have a two and a half hour drive

You can also hit Monument Valley first then make your way up to Valley of the Gods if you’d like too!

Monument Valley

($20 fee to get to the best views at the Visitor Center)


Monument Valley is one of the most special places I’ve ever been and I can’t even pinpoint why.. It’s just somewhere you need to experience yourself to truly understand. It’s owned and ran by the Navajo Tribe, making Monument Valley the ultimate destination to feel like you’re in an old town western movie. I love all the little antique jewelry, dream catchers and art stands along the drive in, the old time feel is something I’ll never get over.

The area is split on the border of Utah and Arizona, so pay attention to the time zone change and sunrise / sunset times!

Viewpoints:

Monument Valley Visitor Center - Best place to be at sunrise trust me!

Forrest Gump Point - Famous road shot!

Drive down into the valley from the Visitor Center on a scenic drive to get up closer with the Monuments - the views from in the valley leave you feeling so insignificant and there’s at least 10 different viewpoints!

Want a full map of the scenic drive to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here


public.jpeg

Photos of me shot by Turner Nelson

 

After experiencing the magic of Monument Valley decide if you want to make the optional stop off 2 hours away at..

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

(Free of charge)

Hours are 8AM to 5PM


Canyon De Chelly is such an underrated spot, when I went there was NOBODY in all of the trailhead / viewpoint parking lots. Maybe it was because the heat but I didn’t mind at all - it was so quiet and serene. The best part is it’s free! There’s two different self guided drives to take - either the North Rim Drive or South Rim Drive, I went with the South Rim personally since I didn’t have too much time! And that’s where all the best places are:

Viewpoints:

Spider Rock - My favorite

White House Overlook

Face Rock

Junction Overlook

Tunnel Overlook

If driving to the North Side I would recommend Antelope House Overlook as a stop off!



Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

 

If you decided to hit Canyon de Chelly you’ll be looking at a 3 hour drive

If coming straight from Monument Valley expect a 2 and a half hour drive to..

Grand Canyon national park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)


Going to the Grand Canyon can seem so touristy I get it, I was on the same bandwagon. But is it worth it? YES! I was so skeptical about coming here.. What if I couldn’t find a place that was quiet and away from the crowds? What if the roads are full of traffic to the point I can’t drive? What if I can’t get to the edge of the canyon like my fearless self wants? Well - good news friend, you can do all of that! The Grand Canyon easily moved it’s way up to one of my favorite National Parks I’ve ever been, there’s truly something so special about it. Maybe because it’s the Grand Canyon, duh? But the way the canyon lights up as the sunrises and the way the pink clouds dance at night with the canyon is something so, so special.. No place compares to here I promise. Just go once in your life, add it to the bucket list! Here’s the best places to witness it:


Hikes:

I would recommend going to South Kaibab Trail for day hiking - please note: access to the trailhead is only by shuttlebus

From this trailhead you have access to the following:

Ooh - Aah Point: 1.8 miles roundtrip!

Cedar Ridge: 3 miles roundtrip!

Skeleton Point: 6 miles roundtrip!

 

Viewpoints:

Grandview Point

Moran Point - Good place to be during sunrise or sunset because of the Colorado River views

Navajo Point - Highest point on Southrim

Desert View Watchtower

Mather Point - Beautiful for sunrise

Yavapai Point - Beautiful for sunset

East Rim Trail - You can walk along this trail as long as you want and find some of the best views that get to edge of the world and look right down into the canyon


Other Viewpoints but with no parking -

Meaning you must take a shuttlebus to these spots. Plan to leave your car at the Visitor Center

Yaki Point

Powell Point

Hopi Point - Great place for sunset

Mohave Point

Pima Point

Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here


To check more on the shuttle bus schedule / times click here: Grand Canyon Shuttlebus

Also want to find out when sunrise / sunset is? Plus more places to watch it - Well the Grand Canyon has it all for you go check it out! Sunrise / Sunset Times

 

Once you can say you’ve crossed the Grand Canyon off your bucket list it’s time to head more south, 2 and a half hours to..

sedona (red rock state park)

($7 fee for Red Rocks Pass)

Hours are 8AM to 5PM


I had been dreaming of Sedona for years before I finally made the journey this year and I chose the wrong weekend.. I went during Labor Day when everything was PACKED. But it was still absolutely gorgeous and I was able to find some viewpoints off the beaten path. But I do want to share with you guys also my list of places I didn’t make it to. Don’t worry though Sedona I’m definitely coming back for you sometime! But here’s some of the best places I found:

Viewpoints:

Crescent Moon Picnic Site

Red Rock Crossing

Oak Creek Canyon



Hikes:

Airport Mesa - 3.5 miles roundtrip!

Bell Rock - 1.5 miles roundtrip!

Cathedral Rock - 1 mile roundtrip!

Brins Mesa - 3 miles roundtrip!

Soldiers Pass - 4 miles roundtrip!

Doe Mountain - 1.8 miles roundtrip!


IMG_4074.JPG
 

Once you’ve explored the most beautiful little part of Arizona it’s time to make your way west 5 hours (The longest drive you’ll have) to..

Valley of Fire State park

($10 entrance fee)

Hours are 6:30AM to 7PM

I remember when I first found this place a couple years ago now when me and my old boyfriend were planning to go to Utah for my first time. I told him that we needed to made the quick detour here but honestly it was as easy as showing him one picture, then we were headed there. Once we got to this park for sunset and saw the red colors of the rock literally start to look they were on fire we both agreed it was worth the stop off. This place is so magical! The long and windy roads between the fiery red canyons is something out of a dream..

Honestly just driving through the valley and stopping off every so often is better than any viewpoints I could list.. But here’s a few:

Viewpoints:

Atlatl Rock

Elephant Rock

Arch Rock

Mouse’s Tank Road - One of the more popular road shots

Hikes:

Rainbow Vista - 1 mile roundtrip!

Fire Wave - 1.5 miles roundtrip!

White Domes - 1.5 miles roundtrip!

Photo of me shot by Turner Nelson

 

Once you’ve explored all the windy roads and climbed the red rocks it’s time to decide if you want to hit your last National Park 4 hours away..

Joshua Tree National park

(Apart of America the Beautiful Pass)

Joshua Tree is a great stopping off point if heading more west like I was. It’s honestly not the most beautiful national park there is but it’s so unique that it’s worth stopping off at! There’s an abundance of viewpoints, trails and camping here. If planning to stay the night - definitely try to stay up late with a chance to view the Milky Way, rumor has it that Joshua Tree is the best place for star gazing.

Also: the town of Joshua Tree is absolutely adorable so I would hit that on your way in or out of the park!

Viewpoints / Hikes:

Skull Rock - 1.7 miles

Cholla Cactus Garden - 0.25 miles

Fortynine Palms Oasis - 3 miles

Cottonwood Spring

Jumbo Rocks

Keys View - 0.25 miles / beautiful for sunset


Want a full map of the park to plan more of your visit beforehand? Click here

 

If coming from Joshua Tree it’s time to make it to your last stop of the ultimate southwest roadtrip which will be 4 hours away

If coming from Valley of Fire it will be a 4 and a half hour drive where you’ll also pass through Death Valley National Park

Alabama Hills

(Free of charge because of BLM land)

The Milky Way at night, free camping everywhere and the way the mountains light up at sunrise are just a few reasons of why this place so special. It’s one of those places that you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of photos but none of them will truly capture the feeling of standing right in front of a view that looks like a complete backdrop to a movie. No wonder it’s been in plenty of movie scenes. .

Please note: Alabama Hills is mostly dirt so a 4 wheel drive car is usually recommended

Movie Flat Road should be okay for most vehicle though but after a rain fall it can get pretty muddy so just remember this before heading there!

There’s plenty of dirt roads, rocks to climb on and trails to walk on in this area. I could get lost here for days honestly and the best part is that since it’s managed by BLM there’s an abundance of free camping! As always though: Please pack in what you pack out

public.jpeg

Portraits of me shot by Turner Nelson

 

Well there you have it folks.. The best route to take when hitting the road down to the southwest! I personally just got back from this full itinerary and it’s already moved it’s way up to one of my favorite roadtrips I’ve ever done.

So I hope I was able to give you a few new places to see on your trip and made the planning a little less stressful! Attached below I have the whole itinerary mapped out so you can check it out more in depth.

Happy exploring!

 
 

Want to read more about my latest trip that I did solo? Click here

Also to check out one of my older writings from my first trip to Utah you can click here

Have more questions about this route or anything roadtrip related? Write me below and I’ll be sure to get back to you ♡

Thank you for being Lost in a Dream with me

With lots of love,

Niki