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?

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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

US National Parks Photos

The National Park Service celebrated its 100-year anniversary last year and has garnered a lot of attention recently as the Alt National Park Service sprang up in response to the recent Presidential administration. All politics aside, these parks are a legacy that we must cherish and preserve at all costs.

Me at Denali (with Tee's skinny legs)

The National Park system includes 417 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

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

Some of my earliest travel memories include trips to National Parks such as Badlands, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to visit over half of the 58 National Parks, which I keep track of here.  I plan to add another half-dozen to my list this year!  These are some of my favorite National Parks photos.

Double Arch

Arches National Park

Big Bend National Park

1997 - Me, Dono, Donna at black Canyon

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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

Bryce Canyon National Park

Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers - This is the point on the river where we had to stop and put PFD's on

Canyonlands National Park

Everglades National Park

Glacier National Park

Sunday 9/6

Grand Canyon National Park

Leigh Lake!

Grand Teton National Park

Glaciers on the Resurrection Bay cruise

Kenai Fjords National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

3.2.09 - Trail brushing in Saguaro National Park - Thunderbird Trail

Saguaro National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin (YNP)

Yellowstone National Park

Zion National Park

I have favorite National Park photos, but I could never choose a favorite National Park. Zion, Grand Canyon and Big Bend are pretty high up there, though! There are still so many more to explore!

Wondering how you can help our National Parks?

  • Visit!
    • Plan your trip at NPS.gov.  Buy an annual pass for $80.  A great deal if you visit more than 3 parks in a year.
    • Have a 4th grader?  You can get a free pass through the Every Kid in a Park program.
    • Senior Citizens can get a reduced-fee lifetime pass
  • Volunteer!
  • Donate!
  • Vote and be heard!  Let your representatives know what is important to you.
  • Share this post!  🙂

Have you spent time in the US National Parks?  What was your favorite?

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Two Traveling Texans

Colorado Summer Activities

I have been visiting Colorado on family summer vacations since I was a youngster. My grandma was the first one to take me to Colorado, way back in 1983.  Her love of travel definitely inspired me and she even helped me pay for my first trip to Europe. Even though I rarely visit the same place twice, I keep coming back to Colorado year after year.  Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Colorado in the summer!

Me in Estes Park or Pikes Peak

Hot Springs

Thermal springs aren’t unique to Colorado, but they are definitely part of a true mountain experience! There is nothing like a hot springs soak to ward off the sore muscles of high altitude hiking.

There are roadside hot springs, backcountry hot springs (like Conundrum Hot Springs), and larger commercial hot springs, like Glenwood Hot Springs.  All heavenly, especially after a day of hiking!

Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

Most recently, I spent a long fall weekend at Mt Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista. I loved staying in cabins right at the hot springs and jumping in whenever I wanted!

Cooling off after morning yoga (it was about 50 degrees outside!)

Mountain Town Vibes

Of course Colorado has legendary ski hills and ski towns. I’ve had the pleasure of skiing at Breckenridge and Vail, both of which ruined me from ever skiing in the Midwest again. As much as I love winter sports, I love the laid-back vibe of ski towns in the summer even more. In my youth, we’d venture into Aspen for a day trip and ogle the rich and famous, hoping to get a glimpse of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. These days, I prefer the slightly less pretentious vibes of Breckenridge and Crested Butte.

Lunch at Extreme Pizza in Breckenridge

A good option for lodging in Breckenridge is the Marriott Mountain Valley Lodge .  This resort is gorgeous and the perfect place to recoup from my strenuous 14’er hike!

Some of my favorite non-ski towns are Leadville, Buena Vista and Glenwood Springs. You won’t find ski-town prices or amenities here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! These towns are all a great hub for summer adventures, including whitewater rafting!

Rocky Mountain National Park

Of all the years I’ve been visiting Colorado, I didn’t visit Rocky Mountain National Park until recently, en route to Utah for a whitewater trip on the Green River. I camped for two nights at Moraine Campground inside the park. (Reserve far in advance for any National Park campgrounds!)

Rocky Mountain National Park

In addition to meeting up with some Colorado friends for a nice dayhike to Ouzel Falls, I also spent a lot of time just driving through the park.  In Estes Park, I saw my first ever Colorado bear!  Again, many many many trips to Colorado and I’d never seen a bear in that state!  Check!

The park is gorgeous, and Trail Ridge Road highlights the best of it!  I just love Colorado, especially in September!  You get the most beautiful weather and everything starts turning gold.

Hike a 14’er

Colorado is hiker’s heaven. Once you are acclimated to lack of oxygen, that is! There are so many options for hiking no matter where you are staying.

If you feel up for the task, and like a challenge, check out your options for attempting one of the 14’er hikes in Colorado. (These are peaks over 14,000 feet high) My first, and only, was Mt Bierstadt, near Georgetown. I started out just after sunrise, at 36 degrees, and quickly had a moose sighting at Bierstadt Lake.  The entire hike is above treeline, affording gorgeous views and to my relief, you could see the parking lot from the entire route, which was a small comfort since this was a solo hike. After a ridiculous amount of time to hike 3 miles, I reached the summit!  What a great feeling that was! Bierstadt is an “easy” 14’er and a short hike, fairly crowded with people, but it still felt like a big accomplishment to me.  I’m not in the best of shape, so I was happy to not die!

Grays and Torreys peaks on the left

Ghost Towns

Colorado is full of old mining towns to explore.  Some are cheesy tourist traps, others offer intriguing glimpses into another era.

St. Elmo ghost town, outside Buena Vista, is a short drive from Mt Princeton Hot Springs.  Being very accessible, no 4WD required, St Elmo is more crowded and touristy than more remote ghost towns, but it’s still fun to walk around and visit the general store!

St Elmo Ghost Town

Near Marble, Colorado (our summer vacation spot) – is the ghost town of Crystal, home of the famous mill, which is accessible by foot, Jeep or horseback.  Crystal was a mining town in the late 1800’s and had 400+ residents at its peak.  Today, there are perhaps a dozen cabins remaining and used in the summer months by a few lucky families. I had the contact info for one of the families and was able to rent one for two nights with my aunt.The town can be reached by 4WD, but we chose to hike the Jeep road.

Our cabin was primitive, but I absolutely loved it! It had running water, in the form of a hose running from the creek out back. That’s an outhouse back there, too! And a wood burning stove, which we didn’t use. So, it’s not truly backpacking, but pretty primitive.  No electricity, of course!  These were real cabins from Crystal’s heydey in the 1860’s or so.

The Sperry cabin, which we rented for two nights.  (Outhouse included)

Crystal is truly a magical little spot, and I hope I’m lucky enough to come back here and stay again!  I’m envious of the lucky few who own these cabins and return summer after summer.  What a life!

Horseback Riding

I love being able to take a horse up into the mountains. It can be pricy, so it’s not something I do on every visit, but it’s definitely worth it. I like being in super remote places, and it’s not always feasible to hike or backpack, so horses are a great way to cover some ground. Most stables offer a range of packages from family-friendly outings to more advanced multi-day trail rides. If you have some experience, be sure to call ahead and assess the trip you want to sign up for. You don’t want to spend your day on a pony ride around a ranch!

In Leadville, I joined Half Moon Packing & Outfitting for a day on the Colorado Trail. Horseback riding is really popular in Colorado, so your hotel concierge will likely have recommendations, no matter where you are staying.

9.18.09 - Kaleb and Buttercup

Night Skies

When you get up into the mountains, there’s just no comparing the night sky.  You can find much better pictures than mine on the Internet, but if an amateur photog like me can capture the Milky Way, imagine how great it is in person!  The hardest part is staying up late enough after a full day of adventure.

The Milky Way

If you haven’t been to Colorado yet, what are you waiting for?!

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Colorado Summer Activities