The Ultimate One Week Southwest Road Trip

From deserts to canyons to mountains, the American Southwest has it all, making it one of the top destinations in the country. With so many things to do and see, the best way to explore them is by road trip. Check out this guide for your one-week (7-day) road trip through the Southwest!

Driving through the American Southwest is a quintessential USA road trip with its stunning scenery and world-famous landmarks. You could easily spend months exploring everything in the region, but I’ve narrowed it down and created the ultimate one-week Southwest road trip.

I tried to cover as much as possible while also making it realistic. I’ve included more things to do if you have extra time. This trip covers over 800 miles from Arizona to Utah and ends in Nevada. With so much to see, it’ll undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime.

Overview

How To Get There

There are a few options when deciding where to start your Southwest road trip. This guide begins at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). However, you could make a few adjustments and start at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

Getting Around

You’ll need a car since the American Southwest is huge and spread out. There’s a good amount of time spent driving from place to place, so get your road trip playlists and snacks ready.

National Park Pass

I highly recommend purchasing a National Park Pass for $80. The pass can be used for a whole year and will give you access to hundreds of other parks throughout the country.

Offline Maps

Service can be spotty while you’re driving and hiking through some of these areas. Download trail maps and offline Google maps ahead of time.

The Ultimate One-Week Southwest Road Trip

AT-A-GLANCE

  • Day 1: Arrive in Phoenix
  • Day 2: Sedona, Arizona
  • Day 3: Grand Canyon National Park
  • Day 4: Page, Arizona
  • Day 5: Zion National Park
  • Day 6: Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Day 7: Valley of Fire

Day 1: Arrive in Phoenix

McDowell Sonoran Preserve | Southwest Road Trip
McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Phoenix is a great starting point for any road trip through the Southwest. If you get in early in the day, I’d suggest spending some time in Scottsdale. While it’s become known for its luxury resorts and as a bachelorette destination, it’s also a great place to get acquainted with the desert. While you’re in the city, stock up on groceries, like water and snacks.

What To Do 

McDowell Sonoran Preserve 

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a 30,000+ acre desert habitat covered with all different types of cacti. There are short and easy trails starting at the Gateway Trailhead and it’s free to visit. As you’re going to be in the desert, make sure to always bring lots of water, even for a quick hike

Desert Botanical Garden

Another great way to experience the desert and all the plants that grow in it is the Desert Botanical Garden. This is actually in Phoenix, but it’s right between Phoenix and Scottsdale. The garden has multiple trails and more than 50,000 plants displayed.

Old Town Scottsdale

On the other hand, if you’re not ready to take on any hikes just yet, check out Old Town Scottsdale. It’s made up of nine neighborhoods where you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining. The 5th Avenue District was the original Arts & Crafts area of the city and is now lined with local boutiques and art galleries. For more well-known stores, there’s Scottsdale Fashion Square nearby.

Sedona

Sunset in Sedona

If you get to Phoenix later in the day, head straight to Sedona. The drive from Phoenix /Scottsdale to Sedona is two hours. 

Sedona is a small desert town surrounded by huge red rock formations. It’s famous for its vortexes that are said to radiate spiritual energy. 

What To Do 

Airport Mesa

Once you reach Sedona, head to Airport Mesa to catch the sunset before dinner. You’ll get some beautiful views as the red stones are illuminated while the sun goes down. Parking can be limited here. As an alternative, you can also watch the sunset from the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout, which has a much larger parking lot. 

Other great places for sunset views are Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock.

Spend the night in Sedona

Day 2: Sedona, Arizona

You could spend a whole week hiking and exploring Sedona, but if you’re limited on time, check out some of the more well-known trails.

Subway Cave in Sedona | Southwest Road Trip
Subway Cave

What To Do 

Subway Cave 

To get to the Subway Cave, you’ll start off on the Boynton Canyon Trail. The spur trail to the cave is unmarked so it can be a little confusing to know where to turn. Try to do a little Google research beforehand, especially if you plan to go in the morning when there are fewer people around. Later in the day, you’ll likely run into someone heading to/from the cave as well so you can ask for directions.

I’d recommend doing the Subway Cave hike early in the day. To allow everyone to get a clear shot of the cave, you have to stay at the back and there’s not a ton of room.

Devil’s Bridge

The hike to Devil’s Bridge is relatively easy. If you plan on walking the full four miles (roundtrip), you’ll start off at the Dry Creek Trailhead. The first mile is fairly flat as you walk along Dry Creek Road to reach the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead. From there, it’s another mile to the bridge. 

To cut the hike to Devil’s Bridge in half, you can drive the first half of the trail with a high clearance 4WD vehicle (if the road is open to cars). This way, you only have to walk a mile to the bridge.

This is a very popular attraction so you should expect to wait in line if you want a photo on the bridge. 

Soldier Pass

Another popular hike in Sedona is Soldier Pass. Along the way, you’ll see Devil’s Kitchen, the Seven Sacred Pools, Soldier Pass Cave, and Soldier Arch.

Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village

Inspired by a traditional Mexican village, the center has art galleries, shopping, and plenty of places to grab a bit to eat.

After you’re done exploring Sedona, drive one hour to Flagstaff where you’ll spend the night

Day 3: Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park | Southwest Road Trip

No southwest U.S. road trip would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon. 

From Sedona, the drive to Grand Canyon National Park is two hours. The Grand Canyon is possibly the most famous canyon in the world and one of the seven natural wonders. It has been carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River. 

You’ll be at the South Rim, which is open year-round, versus the North Rim, which is closed during the winter. Although technically only about ten miles apart, it takes about four hours to drive rim-to-rim. Only about 10% of all people who visit the Grand Canyon go to the North Rim.

What To Do

The Canyon Rim Trail

The entire Rim Trail is 13 miles long, from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest. It’s an easy walk as it’s mostly flat, but you can also take the shuttle bus to many of the trail’s points of interest.

Desert View Drive

The Desert View Drive is the only scenic road on the South Rim open to private vehicles. The 23-mile drive will take you to six canyon viewpoints and multiple pullouts.

Drive two hours to Page for the night

Day 4: Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend | Southwest Road Trip

Page is a small town in northeastern Arizona along the shores of Lake Powell. It’s become a popular destination due to its proximity to attractions like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.

What To Do

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is one of the amazing natural wonders in Arizona. It was shaped into a horseshoe by the Colorado River and has become one of the most photographed spots in the American Southwest. 

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon on Navajo land just outside of Page. It includes five separate canyons, the most popular being Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, which are only accessible by tour. There are a few different options, but we had a great experience going through Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours.

If you want to see the light rays beam through the canyon, you’ll have to book a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon around mid-day.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encloses over 1.25 million acres. The park’s highlights include Rainbow Bridge (only accessible by boat), the Dam Overlook, and the Skylight Arch. 

Spend the night in Springdale, just outside of Zion National Park, so you can get an early start tomorrow

Day 5: Zion National Park

Zion National Park sign
Angel's Landing | Southwest Road Trip
Angels Landing

Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park (now there are five known as The Mighty 5) and has become one of the most visited in the country. The park’s main feature is Zion Canyon, which runs 15 miles long. 
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will take you to most of the park’s trails but is only accessible by shuttle bus. You can park at the visitor center and hop onto a free shuttle. While you’re in the park, the Zion Lodge is the best option for dining.   

What To Do

Canyon Overlook Trail

This is a short, easy hike (one-mile roundtrip) with amazing views of Zion Canyon at the end.

The Narrows

The Narrows is appropriately named as it’s the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. To get here, take the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava (it’s the last stop). The Riverside Walk is an easy one-mile trek that will take you to the start of The Narrows.

Prepare to get your feet wet as the hike goes through the Virgin River. Even in the summer, the water is cold, averaging between 56° and 68°F. While the full hike is about 9.5 miles roundtrip, you can turn around sooner and still have a great experience.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing is one of the most iconic hikes in the Southwest and one of the best hikes in the country. It’s a can’t-miss experience for those brave enough to make it to the top. The roundtrip hike is a strenuous 5.4 miles, but the most infamous part is the last half mile of your ascent. While the majority of the trail is relatively safe, the final part has steep dropoffs and narrow sections where you’ll have to hold on to metal chains to get by.

Note: To fight the extreme crowds, the park has implemented a permit program you must apply for in order to hike Angels Landing. 

The Zion hikes can be exhausting, so stay in Springdale one more night

Day 6: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is another two-hour drive from Springdale. The park’s unique feature is its large number of hoodoos – tall, irregular rock spires that have been created over millions of years due to weathering and erosion from ice and rain.

The majority of the park is at a high elevation (8,000 feet or higher), so this may affect what hikes you want to do. 

What To Do

Bryce Amphitheater

The most iconic area of the park is the Bryce Amphitheater, where you’ll find the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. There are multiple viewpoints overlooking the area, but the best way to experience the amphitheater is to hike in. I’d recommend doing the Queen’s Garden Trail and connecting to the Navajo Loop. You can do this hike in either direction, but clockwise is recommended.

Afterward, you can make a full circle by doing the Sunset to Sunrise Trail, an easy one-mile walk.  

Southern Scenic Drive

The Southern Scenic Drive begins after you pass the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s a 15-mile drive with nine scenic overlooks, ending at the park’s highest point, Yovimpa Point. The safest way to do the drive is to head to the furthest point (Rainbow and Yovimpa Points) first and stop at the viewpoints on the way back so everything will be on your right-hand side.

Accommodations around Bryce can be limited. I’d recommend checking out hotels in Bryce Canyon City or Tropic

Day 7: Valley of Fire State Park

Unfortunately, the last day is also going to involve the most driving. Bryce Canyon to Valley of Fire is four hours. 

Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. The park gets its name from the red sandstone formations, but it also contains ancient petroglyphs and petrified trees. 

Mouse Tank Road (also called White Domes Road) will take you to the park’s most notable sights, like the Fire Wave and the Pastel Pink Canyon. Other things to see are the Beehives, Arch Rock, and the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock

After visiting Valley of Fire, it’s an hour’s drive to Las Vegas.

What To Do

Fire Wave Trailhead

The Fire Wave is one of the most popular spots in the park as it’s a swirl of red and white. The hike is sandy but fairly easy. There’s no shade on the trail and during the summer, it may be closed due to extreme heat. Check the Nevada State Parks website before heading out for any closures and restrictions.     

Elephant Rock Loop

This short walk will take you to Elephant Rock, a natural sandstone arch that has come to look like an elephant.

More To Do

Capitol Reef National Park

In the heart of red rock country is Capitol Reef National Park. The park is filled with cliffs, canyons, and domes. 

Moab, Utah

Two of Utah’s Mighty 5 are located near Moab. Arches National Park has more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Canyonlands National Park has numerous canyons, buttes, and rivers. 

Dead Horse Point State Park is also close by. The park has a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. 

Monument Valley

Monument Valley is a region on the Arizona-Utah border known for its towering sandstone buttes.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Another great way to see the Grand Canyon is from above. Tours leave from the Las Vegas Strip to give you aerial views and show you really how expansive the canyon really is.

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