Southwest US Road Trip – 1 Week Itinerary

The Southwest USA is a great place for a road trip. The landscapes are unique and so photogenic!  I did this trip a few years ago, in early September, with 3 of my best friends and it was a blast. Later this year, I’ll be spending much more time in the SouthWest, and I’ll have longer itinerary ideas, but given that the typical American vacation is 1 week, here is my recommendation for a quick 1-week Southwest road trip itinerary.

Phoenix and Las Vegas are good starting points for your southwest road trip itinerary. Flight and rental cars seem to be more affordable and plentiful in Vegas, and it’s a bit closer to the parks of Utah, so we chose round-trip flights from Las Vegas.

TIP: Time zones here can be funky. Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings, so you can drive East but gain an hour, or vice versa…just be aware and don’t lock yourself in to a tight schedule!

Day 1 – Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

Try to get an early flight so that you still have plenty of daytime left for driving to the Grand Canyon. We’d all been to Vegas many times so we didn’t spend any time there at all. If you haven’t been, you might consider spending your first night in Vegas, just for the experience. (We did an overnight hike at the Grand Canyon, so if that’s not your thing, it’s easy to swap that out for a night in Sin City.)

After stocking up on road trip snacks and supplies, a good first stop is at Hoover Dam. You can take tours here, but we just did a brief photo stop and kept moving, as it was already late afternoon.

Saturday, 9/6 - drive from Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim.  Me, Olivia, Amy and Jenny at Hoover Dam.

If you are staying at the Canyon, you’ll need to make reservations way in advance. I had a room at the Maswick Lodge for 3 nights ($90/night) We arrived after dark and got ready for the next day’s backpacking adventure into the canyon!

Drive time ~ 5 hours / 280 miles

Day 2 – Grand Canyon Backpacking

I planned this trip as a solo trip, and planned an overnight backpack into the Grand Canyon. Backpacking is a “love it or hate it” activity – carrying all your belongings on your back and camping isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea, so I was pleasantly surprised when my friends all wanted to try it. We had a campsite (reserved months in advance) at Indian Gardens, which is 5 miles from the South Rim, and only halfway to the Colorado River.  We followed the Bright Angel Trail, which also happens to be the trail used by the mule trains.

TIP: Bring a bandana or something to cover your face when the mules pass – they kick up a lot of dust!

9/7 - Bright Angel Trail - Jenny, Amy, me, Olivia

This turned out to be just the right distance for our inexperienced group! We reached the campground in late afternoon as temps were climbing near 100.

Me and my pack - day 1(photo credit:  Olivia)

A great side-hike from Indian Gardens campground is 1.5 miles out to Plateau Point. After resting up, we carried our camp stoves and dinner to watch sunset at the point and then hiked back to our camp after dark.

9/7 - sunset at Plateau Point.

Day 3 – Grand Canyon Backpacking

Everything is opposite in canyon country: what goes down, must come up! We had a long uphill slog and got a very early start in order to beat the heat. Watching the sun come up over the canyon walls as we hiked out was one of my most memorable travel experiences to date! Our group ended up splitting up on the hike out and we had walkie-talkies to keep in touch through the day. Our hike varied from 3 hours, 5 hours and 7 hours for the 5-mile climb. In hindsight, we all should have done lots of stretching and walking around, but mostly we passed out in bed and eventually rallied for dinner later that night and a short trip around the lookout points of the South Rim.

9/8 - me, Jenny, Olivia and Amy - celebrating the fact that we all made it out of the canyon!!!

TIP: Always carry twice as much water as you think you’ll need in the desert, and something to help replace the electrolytes you’ll sweat out!

Day 4 – Sedona

The next stop on our trip is Sedona. This town deserves way more than the 1 night we spent here, but I saw enough to know that I want to return, hopefully later this year! We had a beautiful room (with a balcony!) at the Orchards Inn right in town.

9/10 - balcony at Orchards Inn - Sedona

Two of us went for a jeep tour with Pink Jeep Tours up on the Mogollan Rim. We didn’t do the tour with the crazy tricks, just a nice scenic drive.

9/9 - cow pie formation in Sedona

Drive time ~ 2.5 hours / 115 miles

Day 5 – Springdale, Utah

Our next destination is Zion National Park and the town of Springdale, Utah. We stopped at Sunset Crater, Wupatki National Monument, and Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River (starting point of Grand Canyon rafting trips) After many stops along the way, we lost an hour when driving West into Utah (super confusing!) and ended up arriving super late. We had no idea of the amazing scenery in Zion until we woke up the next morning.

9/10 - Me, Liv, Amy and Jenny

9/10 - Colorado River at Lee's Ferry - Amy, Jenny, Olivia and I

Drive time ~ 5 hours / 280 miles

Day 6 – Zion National Park

After our late arrival at Flanigan’s Inn the prior evening, we woke up and set out for Zion National Park with a goal of hiking Angel’s Landing. We now had a 5th friend with us as our friend Lisa flew in the night before to join us.

Flanigan's in Springdale, UT - awesome place to stay!(Photo Credit:  Amy)

Jennifer and I were the only ones to attempt the final ascent of Angel’s Landing, but the other 3 hiked to the base and waited for us. It was a gorgeous hike but so, so crowded. We got to the part where there are chains to grab to keep from falling to your death and it was just too crowded for me. We turned around in defeat, and I vowed to come back another time. (I did come back 8 years later!)

I want to know what Jenny was doing taking pictures at this spot?!

That night, we celebrated my birthday at the restaurant at Flanigan’s Inn, and turned in early so we could drive to Bryce Canyon the next morning.

9/11 - Birthday dinner at Spotted Dog Cafe in Springdale, Utah

Day 7 – Bryce Canyon National Park

On the last day of our trip, we packed a lot in. We started with an early morning drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, where we rode the shuttle bus and did a few short hikes. The scenery here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or since!

Drive time ~ 2 hours / 85 miles (each way)

9/12 - Amy, Lisa, Olivia, Jenny and I

9/12 - Jenny, me and Lisa at Bryce Canyon

After a few hours at Bryce Canyon, we decided to race back to Zion National Park and hike some of the Narrows. Unless you are doing an overnight trip through the slot canyon, you can hike up the river and then just turn around and come back the same way. We arrived very late afternoon, so the crowds were dissipating, and we all loved this hike through water that was sometimes knee-deep! Don’t worry if you don’t have walking sticks, there are usually a bunch lined up at the trailhead!

9/12 - Lisa, Jenny, Olivia, me and Amy in the Narrows.

The next morning, it was time to head back to Vegas for our flights back home. While this was a whirlwind trip, it was a good intro to the region. I’ve been back to both Zion and the Grand Canyon, and look forward to spending a few weeks in this area later this year!

Note that National Parks lodges accept reservations up to 13 months in advance, and properties on the South Rim frequently sell out, so you need to plan ahead if you want to stay in the park!

Have you been to this area? What would you add to this Southwest road trip itinerary?


SouthWest Road Trip Itinerary

This post is part of the Weekly Postcard blog roundup. Click the photo below to check out other travel blogs this week!


Two Traveling Texans
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22 thoughts on “Southwest US Road Trip – 1 Week Itinerary

  1. Awesome road trip! HIghlighting some amazing spots around that area! That scenery is absolutely amazing at Bryce Canyon National Park, I have never heard of it before, but i’ll be adding it to the bucketlist now!

  2. Ahhh! Shut the front door! We are talking about planning a trip in this same general area for the end of Sept! Def taking some of this advice!

    • Awesome! I’ll be back at the end of September as well, hoping to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon this time.

  3. This looks like an amazing road trip! I absolutely love all of the national parks in that area. They have some of the most unbelievable scenery I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. It’s been fifteen years since I was out that way and I really want to go back and do some more hiking.

    • I can’t wait to go back this year, and right now our 70% humidity really has me dreaming of the desert!

  4. Looks like a great itinerary. I would like to spend more time exploring the Grand Canyon and seeing Utah, so I pinned this for future reference. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  5. You def hit up some great places in the American Southwest! I made the roadtrip from Texas to Cali and back periodically – It’s actually one of my favorite roadtrips ever! The American Southwest has insanely gorgeous nature views and epic hiking trails! Looks like you had a blast. =)

    • There are two main “corridor trails” that are heavily used and recommended for first-time backpackers. South Kaibab Trail is 7 miles to the bottom, but has less shade. Bright Angel Trail is 10 miles to the bottom, with Indian Gardens halfway. My friends and I reserved two campsites – one at the bottom (in which case we would have taken South Kaibab down and Bright Angel up) and one at Indian Gardens. It became obvious on one of our training hikes that the group was not going to be able to do a 10-mile hike to the bottom, so we went with just hiking to Indian Gardens instead. Going solo, I would hike out in 2 days with a stop at Indian Gardens.

  6. You went to SEDONA!! I’m officially jealous in the best way. Fell in love with the city years ago after reading a Nora Roberts novel and I finally get to experience it for myself on October.

    I loved this post. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice and it’s a sight all should see once, especially at sunrise. Beautiful.

    • Excellent! I’ll be there in October as well, hopefully for a full week this time! Orchards Inn was great, we loved soaking in the pool after the sun went down!

  7. This looks like such an amazing trip! I’ve been dying to road trip the southwest for ages because there is so many amazing things to do and see. I will have to keep this itinerary in mind when I finally make it out there.

  8. This trip hit many of the places Rob grew up hiking, camping, and road-tripping. How great that you’re heading back to Sedona. It would be easy to spend a week just in that area! We are looking forward to reading about your return trip. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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