The Ultimate 7-Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that my boyfriend and I plan surprise trips for each other every year for our birthdays. This year, he surprised me with a trip to New York City. It was a fantastic food adventure, and you can read all about it here. For his birthday, I planned a 7-day southwest road-trip. After constantly exploring it vicariously on Instagram, I knew the American southwest was the perfect place to take my boyfriend for his suprise trip.
7-day southwest road-trip itinerary:
- Day 1-2 Las Vegas
- Day 3 Valley of Fire
- Day 4 Zion National Park
- Day 5 Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
- Day 6 Grand Canyon – South Rim
- Day 7 Las Vegas
Tip: To save time and make our trip more pleasant, I planned two nights in each hotel to avoid checking in and out of hotels every day.
Day 1-2 Las Vegas
We started the road-trip in Las Vegas. The city has a major airport, making it easy to find flights that fit anyone's schedule and budget.
My original plan was to skip Vegas altogether and only make it our starting and ending point, but I decided to add an extra day since it was my boyfriend’s first time visiting the Sin City. You can relocate the extra day elsewhere – I recommend adding it to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park.
If you are debating whether or not to visit Las Vegas and you don’t gamble, check out my post: 15 Best Things To Do in Las Vegas if You Don’t Gamble.
Tip: Rent your car from a location outside downtown Las Vegas. I saved $140 even after spending $60 for two Uber rides.
Day 3 Valley of Fire
Driving time from Las Vegas – 50 minutes
We picked up our car for the week and made our way to Valley of Fire. The State Park was the place that finally convinced me to embark on the southwest road-trip. The fiery color – due to the bright red Aztec sandstone - and rocky peaks spoke to the photographer in me. Who wouldn’t want to frolic in a Martian looking landscape?
What to do
Fire Wave Hike
Level: Easy | Duration: 1 hour
For someone that’s a non-hiker and lives in flat lands, the Fire Wave Hike is perfect. The scenic 1.2-mile trail offers beautiful vistas and colorful boulders. The trail –although marked – gives you some freedom for you to explore around. Just keep in mind the entire path is sun exposed so dress accordingly and stay hydrated.
Mouse's Tank Hike
Level: Easy | Duration: 45 min.
Another easy hike for you! The Mouse’s Tank Hike is a flat trail that ends at catchment area. The fun part about this hike is the petroglyphs along the way.
Other Valley of Fire Hiking Trails:
- White Domes Hike
- Rainbow Vista and Fire Canyon Overlook Hike
- Elephant Rock
Where to stay
If you are an adventure traveler, you can camp in the park. For someone that prefers a little more comfort (a.k.a. me) stay in the nearby town of Springdale - which is located at the outskirt of Zion National Park, our next destination.
Day 4 Zion National Park
Driving time from Valley of Fire – 2 hours and 25 min.
Visited by millions of people – 4.2 million in 2017 to be exact – Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States just right behind the Grand Canyon. The national park offers a very diverse topography: rock towers, sandstone canyons, river, and sharp cliffs; which makes it so striking to everybody – outdoors aficionados or not.
What to do
Zion Narrows Riverside Walk
Level: Easy | Duration: 1 hour
The Narrows Riverside Walk is an easy trail where you can start and warm-up before the more strenuous hikes in the park. The trail ends at the river, but if you continue to hike up the river you will find yourself in the Zion Narrows Hike – if you are planning to do the Narrows hike, don’t forget to wear proper attire. We skipped this part because the water was too cold (you will need a wetsuit or drysuit if you plan to do it in the winter.)
Canyon Overlook Trail
Level: Moderate | Duration: 1 hour
The Canyon Overlook Trail is an adventurous hike (to say the least) and one of my favorites. Yes, it takes a few wide steps to reach the trail, no rail in some areas, and a section of the route is a mere plank. But at the end of the hike, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking vista.
- Angels Landing Trail
- Observation Point Trail
- The Narrows
- Weeping Rock
- The Subway
Where to stay
We stayed at the Springhill Suites Marriot Hotel in Springdale, which is conveniently located 2 minutes away from Zion National Park’s entrance. The hotel has a modern chic cabin feel and a spectacular view from the breakfast area. In addition to that, there’s a fireplace where you can sit, relax, and enjoy complimentary hot chocolate – well deserved after a day of hiking.
Note: In Springdale, most restaurants and businesses close at 7 PM in the offseason. For a list of restaurants in the town visit their website here.
Day 5 Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
Driving time from Zion National Park - 2 hours
Luckily, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are both located in Page so you can easily tick off both on the same day. Both visits won’t take all day so you can continue your drive to the Grand Canyon afterward.
I admit I didn’t research much about Antelope Canyon before visiting. So we arrived unknowingly at the Lower Antelope Canyon and booked the tour right there and then. Aside from us, there were only two other people in our group. The best thing about visiting in low season is that we had the canyon all to ourselves. We didn’t feel rushed, and we took our time exploring and taking photos.
Upper vs. Lower Antelope Canyon
Debating whether to visit the upper or lower canyon? The Lower Antelope is longer and less crowded but doesn’t have the light beams – what made the Upper Antelope Canyon so famous. If you don’t think they are a big deal, choose the Lower Antelope. If the light beam is what you are after, visit the Upper Antelope Canyon and make sure to book your tour at 12:30 pm, which is when the light beams shine through. There’s a premium fee for that time slot.
The only way to visit Antelope Canyon is by tour so don't forget to book yours in advance. We were lucky to find tickets as it was low season, but you won’t be so fortunate in the summer.
Day 6 Grand Canyon National Park– South Rim
Driving time from Antelope Canyon – 2 hours
The Grand Canyon National Park is divided into North and South Rim. You may have heard of the West Rim as well, but that’s owned and operated by the Hualapai Indian Tribe, and it’s not part of the National Park.
North vs. South Rim
The South Rim is the most visited location at the Grand Canyon National Park. The breathtaking views that you expect from the Grand Canyon, you will find them here. If you are visiting for the first time, I highly recommend the South Rim. Additionally, it’s is open year-round. If you are looking for a more adventurous experience, check out the North Rim. Fewer people tend to visit the North Rim as it is harder to reach and it’s open seasonally May 15th through October 15th. If this is not your first time visiting the Grand Canyon, then I recommend checking it out.
What to do
Bright Angel Trail
Level: Hard | Duration: Depends
The Bright Angel Trail is the most challenging hike I have done so far – if you were nodding in agreement with my previous trail recommendations, I suggest taking it easy here. Go slowly, stay hydrated, eat salty snacks, and rest if you need it. This trail is 6 miles long, but nobody expects you to hike 6 miles (12 miles round-trip) with a 3000 feet elevation difference - and the national park discourages it. The trail has two rest-house and two switch-back recommendations at .45 miles and 2 miles. Despite the scary warnings, the scenery is jaw-dropping. If you make it to the bottom, I heard the plateau point and Indian garden are beautiful.
For more detail on the Bright Angel Trail, click here.
- South Kaibab Trail
- Hermit Trail
- Grandview Trail
Tip: Our favorite viewpoint was the Navajo Point. We arrived at the Grand Canyon just before sunset and we got to watch it from there.
Where to stay
We stayed two nights in the small town of Tusayan, which is right outside of the Grand Canyon South Rim. The hotel range in the area is limited considering the park gets millions of visitors a year. We stayed at the Best Western, and although it wasn’t the most luxurious hotel, it was comfortable and convenient.
Day 7 Drive back to Las Vegas
Driving time from The Grand Canyon – 2 hours
On our last day, we made our way back to Las Vegas. Since our flight was at 11 pm, we had plenty of time to return the car and have dinner before heading to the airport.
Best time to visit
The best time to embark on a southwest road-trip is in spring and winter, which are low seasons. For one, you will find a much smaller crowd, and in some instances, you may be the only person around– perfect for self-discovering moments. During high season, there’s a cap on visitors per day at Zion National Park, and you will most likely end up waiting in line for hours to explore the Antelope Canyon. Another reason to visit in spring or winter: the weather is much pleasant. If you go in February or March, you will most likely find the best weather. You may need a sweater, but at least your chances of a heat stroke are much lower. The average temperature in the summer can easily exceed 100 degrees – hiking in that kind of weather doesn’t sound like fun. TL;DR: visit in the spring or winter if you want to avoid the crowd.