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

8 Destinations For Your Next Girlfriends’ Getaway

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Something I look forward to every year is a girl’s getaway with my best friends from high school. We have been friends for over 25 years, some of us over 30 years, and we’ve continued a tradition of girl’s getaways that started the summer we graduated. So much has changed (marriages, babies, moves) but these ladies are a reliable constant in my life and are like sisters to me. We’re now scattered from the Midwest to the East Coast, and have added 4 husbands and 9 children to the mix. (Although, girl’s getaways are husband- and kid-free, otherwise it’s not really a getaway!)

Graduation - Julie, Lisa, Jenny, Olivia and I

Our first “official” girl’s getaway was a short road trip to the Chicago-land Great America where we all crammed ourselves into 1 cheap, dingy hotel room. There were a lot of those low-budget trips early on, followed by destination weddings, hometown reunions and honest-to-god vacations. Not everyone can make it every year, but we’ve managed to keep this tradition going for 24 years now. (yeah, do the math, we’ve been out of high school a while.) Each year, we vote on the following year’s destination and we’ve racked up some pretty good miles over the years.

Annual Girls weekend to Great AmericaAmy, April, Olivia, Jenny, Andrea, me, Lisa

Looking back on those trips, here are some of my favorite places we’ve gotten together. We all agree that it’s the company that makes the trip and it doesn’t really matter where we are, but for a travel junkie like me, seeing a new place is the icing on the cake!

Chicago, IL – I’ve lived in Chicago for most of my post-college life. As a major airline hub, and the 3rd largest city in the US, it’s an easy meeting spot, so I have hosted several girl’s weekends. We have done street festivals, dinner cruises on Lake Michigan, Cubs games, bar hopping and museums. Most recently, we got together to celebrate a Cubs World Series win, along with 5 million other fans.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – Lake Geneva is a weekend destination a few hours outside of Chicago. The lakeshore is lined with mansions that once belonged to Chicago’s elite families, like the Wrigley’s. We used VRBO to rent a house in town, and spent the weekend grilling out, imbibing on many cocktails and cruising the small town looking for trouble.

08/04 - Beach at Lake Geneva

Las Vegas – Every gaggle of girls ends up in Vegas at some point, usually for a bachelorette party. One of our girls held a destination wedding in Vegas so it was a great excuse to meet up in Sin City. Everyone needs to experience Vegas at least once, why not grab your best girls and check it out!

Screaming time

Arizona/Utah Road Trip – I was planning a solo road-trip through the Southwest US and to my surprise, the girls wanted to come along. We hatched the plan in the wee hours at a bar and still laugh about the drunken phone call one girl received well after midnight, with 4 of us screaming into the phone: “WE’RE GOING TO THE GRAND CANYON!” Instead of our usual weekend trip, 4 of us managed a full week, and a 5th joined us for a few days at the end. We flew in and out of Vegas, hitting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Zion & Bryce National Parks. They even joined me for an overnight backpack down into the canyon. You know it’s true friendship when someone is willing to schlep a 40 pound pack with you!

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

Austin, Texas – one of our girls lived in Austin for a few years so we took the opportunity to head down and check it all out. We were shocked by unseasonably cold and wet weather, but still had fun in this city known for live music and BBQ.

Lake Austin from the top of Mt Bonnell(photo by April)

Vermont – our Austin girl later moved to New Hampshire and we all agreed we wanted to see Vermont in the fall. We spent two days up in Stowe, at the Green Mountain Inn, exploring country roads and this small ski town, stumbling upon the Trapp Family Lodge and hitting up the Ben & Jerry’s factory for a tour and free samples.  We also spent a night in Burlington to check out the foodie scene. There is so much to do here, I would love to come back and spend some time around Lake Champlain. I was surprised how short the flight from Chicago was, too!

Asheville, North Carolina – Asheville was a great location, centrally located for those of us in the Midwest or East Coast. We used VRBO again to find a cabin in the woods where we could kick back and catch up. We visited Biltmore, which was super fun, but I think we spent the rest of the weekend in our PJ’s.  With this well-stocked kitchen, can you blame us?

A well stocked cabin in the woods!

Ft Lauderdale, Florida – we actually had two trips to Ft Lauderdale – first for a wedding, and again a few years later when our Miami friend had twin babies at home and wanted to stay nearby. FTL is a calmer, more casual alternative to super-hip Miami, although we stayed at “The W” last time and I remember feeling a little old for that scene, haha! We were more interested in the dessert menu at the Cheesecake Factory than the clubs on that trip!

Up next…

Santa Fe, New Mexico – I’m adding Santa Fe because it’s our 2017 destination and I think it’s going to be awesome! It’s new for all of us, so we’ll get to explore together and those of us who enjoy travel planning will get to do tons of research ahead of time. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s looking like it might be the first time all 6 of us have been together in 11 years!!! Check back in October for more posts on that trip and feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!

Girls Trip Bryce Canyon

My All-Time Favorite Hotels

When I was in Cambodia, I fell in love with my hotel and started thinking about how many hotels I’ve stayed in and which ones were truly memorable.  I love staying in hotels, especially nice hotels, but there are definitely a few standouts that make the cut as my all-time favorite hotels.  Many of these aren’t even fancy, but there was something special about them that seared them into memory.

Le Meridien Angkor; Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the hotel that spawned this list in the first place.  From the second I walked through the entrance and was greeted by a cool washcloth and cold juice, I was smitten.  A gorgeous oasis to retreat from the heat of Cambodia.  Beautifully designed pool and spa area, excellent service and good food, too!

Le Meridien Angkor

Le Meridien Angkor

Renaissance Carambola; St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

My mom and I stayed here two Christmas vacations in a row!  After a late night arrival, waking up to this ocean view was such a treat!  I love a hotel room with outdoor space, and these screened in porches were perfect, not to mention the hammocks and uncrowded beach. This place is a great destination for a quiet escape from the real world.  I know we’ll be back again!

Davis Bay

Hacienda la Jiminita; Quito, Ecuador

We stayed here before and after our Galapagos cruise, and it was so charming, especially the resident French bulldogs, Francois and Maya.  I wish we’d had more time to explore the grounds, but it was another whirlwind trip! This is a place I’d love to return with a pile of books and just relax.  (we know my trips are never relaxing, but maybe someday they will be!)

Casa de Hacienda "La Jimenita" - we spent the first two nights at this cute hacienda near the Quito airport

Breakfast at the hacienda - the food was delicious, and fresh squeezed fruit juice!

Flanigan’s Inn; Springdale, Utah

Oh, Flanigan’s!  Someone on a backpacking forum recommended this place for its proximity to Zion National Park and I visited with my friends in 2008.  I then spent the next 8 years dreaming of a return until I finally made it back in 2016 after my Grand Canyon rafting trip.  On the 2nd visit, I also got to experience the spa and the hilltop labyrinth, which was pretty cool.  Honestly, I think there’s something in the air here that just captivates me.

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

The pool at Flanigan's - I love that view!

Redstone Inn; Redstone, Colorado

We’ve been visiting the Redstone area for many summers, and in 2005, my mom, sister and I decided to fly out for Christmas at the Redstone Inn.  What a treat, and I think this started the Christmas travel tradition for us.  We had all our meals in the gorgeous lodge, enjoyed stunning views of the night skies from the hot tub, and even a horse-drawn sleigh ride to nearby Redstone Castle.  What an experience!


Photo Credit: Aspen Valley Film

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Freestone Inn; Mazama, Washington

My sister and I stayed here on a trip to Washington State, after seeing Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge.   The cabin-like rooms each had their own patio, the lodge was gorgeous, the location remote. I would love to come back here sometime.

Lake outside our deck at Freestone Inn

Heaton’s Guest House; Dingle, Ireland

I don’t even have a photo of Heaton’s, but the Dingle Peninsula was just stunning.  I think we only stayed at Heaton’s 1 night, on a whirlwind trip across Ireland, but it had the perfect location near town right on the water.  I remember saying it would be the perfect place to come back and just relax with a bunch of books.  It’s been 13 years, and I haven’t made it back there yet 🙁

Honorable Mention:

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

This place looked so great, and I really, really want to go back and give it a proper visit.  Unfortunately, when I visited I came down with a cold/flu and spent pretty much the entire time in bed.

Sunset from Skyline Drive(BW)

Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde National Park

I guess I have a thing for lodges?!  This was a short visit on a road trip to Utah and Colorado.  Super cute rooms, good food at the restaurant and of course, stunning scenery and history.

Mesa Verde - my last National park of the trip, and where I would meet my mom.

I have a feeling I will be adding a few more to this list soon!  Any suggestions?


Favorite Hotels