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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11 Days of Grand Canyon Whitewater

Grand Canyon whitewater rafting has always been a bucket list dream of mine.  Given the cost and time, I sort of assumed I’d be retired before I did it, but for whatever reason, I decided to take the leap for my 40th birthday. I had already taken 3 trips with OARS, so there was no question which outfitter to use for a Grand Canyon whitewater trip.  Spots on any Grand Canyon whitewater trip are highly coveted and must be reserved months in advance. I booked mine as soon as the 2015 dates were available, 20 months pre-departure.

I flew into Phoenix and then caught a shuttle bus up to Flagstaff, where I booked a room using points at the Holiday Inn Express.  I met some of my fellow boaters on the shuttle bus, and they kindly invited me to join them for dinner before our trip orientation that evening.  Soon, it was time to meet our trip leader at a nearby hotel, get a brief orientation and receive our dry bags for packing.  Then back to our rooms to figure out how 11 days of gear could fit into 1 large drybag!

11 days worth of stuff into 1 giant dry bag!

The next morning, we gathered again to board our shuttle vans to Lee’s Ferry, where we met the rest of our guides, and began our journey down the Colorado River.  There were a few other trips loading at the same time, including these monstrous blue motor boats which held a small village of passengers.  We were all glad we chose the OARS trip and didn’t have to listen to a motor or smell gasoline the whole trip.

Sunday 9/6Launch at Lee's Ferry

We quickly settled into the rhythm that became our daily life for the next 11 days (or 5 days, for some of us.)

Sunday 9/6

Each morning, the coffee call comes, which I treated as my snooze button since I don’t drink coffee.  A while later, the breakfast call finally gets me moving.  After breakfast, it was time to break down camp and re-load the boats.

Saturday 9/12Camp 6 - Garnet

The guides had so much work to do each morning, that we were never rushed in packing our tents and personal belongings.  One of our guides, Galena, often led us through a morning yoga practice, which was the perfect way to start our day!

Tuesday 9/8Morning Yoga

Mid-morning usually brought us to a hiking spot or scenic stop. The guides were super great about setting expectations – they’d let us know the length of the hike, whether we might want hiking boots vs water shoes, snacks, etc.

Wednesday 9/9Hike at Tanner

Friday 9/11Hike at Shinumo

Sunday 9/13"Patio" at Deer Creek

Somewhere around mid-day, the guides would look for a good lunch spot and set up the lunch table and a snack table with fresh fruit and any breakfast leftovers.  PB & J on pancakes made for a pretty excellent snack!

Friday 9/11Lunch at Shinumo

After lunch, we’d have more rafting and sometimes another hike, or we’d paddle on to our next campsite, depending on the day.  Upon arrival in camp, we would disperse and set up our campsites, while the crew set up the common areas, like the toilet and the kitchen. There was usually time for relaxation – reading, napping, “laundry”, horseshoes, bocce ball, or enjoying some adult beverages.  Every meal on this trip was top notch – you can’t imagine the delicious food you are being served miles from any civilization!  Not to mention fresh avocados every day!  How do they do that?!

Sunday 9/6The first of many exquisite meals on the beach.

As we settle in to eating our dinner, Ryan, our lead guide, gives us an overview of the following day’s activities so we know what to expect and can pack our daybags accordingly. On several nights, we were treated to a campfire, guitar-playing guides and even a group pedicure one night!

Sunday 9/6The Living Room

Many people slept out under the stars each night.  My tent was mostly mesh, so I got the same effect, but one night (my 40th birthday) I chose a little ledge for my campsite.  No room for the tent, so I slept out in the open.  I loved it!

Friday 9/11Camp 6 - GarnetCowboy Camping on my 40th birthday!

Midway through the trip, we reached Phantom Ranch, where 13 of 16 travelers would hike out and head home.  10 new travelers joined us for the remainder of the journey.  It was bittersweet to bid goodbye to my new river friends so soon, but the 2nd group was just as great to travel with! (If you aren’t going to do the whole trip, it’s worth considering whether you want to hike down to meet the group or hike out of the canyon…it’s seven steep miles! I think the rapids in the second half were better, and personally would prefer to do the downhill hike at the start of my trip)

Thursday, 9/10Group photo from the 1st weekFront:  Maddie, Leigh, Kirby, Linda, Sophia, BruceBack: Ralph, Carol, Stuart, Karen, Cynthia, Kate, Chris, Encie, Joe

In addition to magnificent scenery, geology, history, we had amazing night skies, shooting stars and one day were treated to a rainstorm which created thousands of waterfalls all around us.

Monday 9/14

After 10 nights in the canyon, I was sad that my journey was drawing to a close.  We said our goodbyes at the last beach and hopped a helicopter, which was another highlight of the trip!

Wednesday, 9/16Group Photo at our last camp - 185 mileFront:  Joan, Nathan, Kathy, Shelly, Encie, Kelli, LeighBack: Scotty, Brandon, Runar, Aurelie, Stan, Randy, Eric, Joe, Adam, Sean, Kim, Mike, Joe, George and Ryan

Encie and Joe were the only other 2 passengers who were on the whole trip with me!  They are avid train travelers so I hope to see them again as they pass through Union Station in Chicago!

Wednesday, 9/16Encie, Joe, me and Sean

Wednesday, 9/16Bar 10 Ranch

After showers(!) at the Bar10 Ranch, we boarded a charter flight to Vegas.  Again, pretty spectacular scenery!

Wednesday, 9/16Cessna Flight to Vegas

The “river blues” are no joke!  I was so sad to see this trip come to an end, especially when I was dropped into tacky Las Vegas!  Luckily, I had a few more days to unwind in Zion National Park before I had to rejoin the real world.

I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!  I would do it every single year if I could afford it.  I know I will be back to finish the last leg of the trip from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead, hopefully sooner than later!

  • Total Cost for this portion of trip ~ $5000 (does not include the time in spent at Zion)
    • $4636 to OARS – included all meals, shuttle to Canyon, helicopter and charter flight!
    • $43 PHX to Flagstaff shuttle
    • $300 Guide Tips (whatever I budget, it never feels like enough – amazing guides!)
    • My flights and Flagstaff hotel were paid with hotel points and airline miles


Grand Canyon Whitewater

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