This road trip in Southwest USA is probably my favorite trips ever. In just 3,5 weeks you visit 4 states, 9 National Parks and 3 awesome cities. This is the perfect road trip itinerary for Southwest USA.
Day 0: arriving in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is the perfect place to start your Southwest USA road trip. Daily a lot of flights (from all over the world) arrive at LAX. Depending on your arrival time, you can pick up your rental car and drive to one of the suburbs of Los Angeles in the western direction. We stayed in Norwalk, a safe area with lots of affordable hotels. Plenty of Walmarts to buy the stuff you need for a road trip (for example maps, cooler).
Distance: 31 kilometers / 20 miles
Hoteltip: Best Western Norwalk Inn
Day 1: Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re from Europe, you’ll probably wake up early (hello jetlag!), so you can leave at the break of dawn. Which is a good thing, because today will be a long drive. The first stop will be your first National Park on this trip: Joshua Tree. It’s one of the quieter parks in the Southwest, so you won’t see a lot of other people. A perfect place to explore and do a short hike (I can recommend And don’t forget to take lots of pictures of the awesome Joshua trees. From Joshua Tree National Park you can drive for a bit on Route 66 (make sure to stop at ghost town Amboy for some great pics) to the town of Needles.
Distance: 450 kilometers / 280 miles
Hotel tip: Rio del Sol Inn Needles
Day 2: Route 66
Today is all about road trip legend Route 66. From Needles you will cross the state border: goodbye California, hello Arizona! Head to the small town of Oatman, which is a perfect place for a stop. The (ghost) town looks like a set of a wild west movie, and there are a lot of donkeys wandering the streets. So drive carefully! The part of Route 66 from Oatman to Kingman is beautiful and has some great views. Kingman is a good place for lunch and here you can also visit the Route 66 museum. You can choose to continue to drive on Route 66 until Williams or take the (way faster) US-93 to Williams. If you’d like another Route 66 stop, Seligman is a nice town with a couple of cool buildings. From Williams, it’s only one more hour before you’ll reach Grand Canyon National Park. Make sure to arrive before sunset.
Day 3: Grand Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
In the morning, you’ll have plenty of time to see the Grand Canyon from a couple of different viewpoints. The best thing is to drive east over the Desert View Drive. When you’ve seen enough, continue to Page. Make a stop at the Horseshoe Bend (about 7 kilometers / 5 miles) before you reach Page. It’s only a short hike to the viewpoint, but it can be difficult because of loose sand, the heat and the climb. Make sure to bring water. The view of the Horseshoe Bend is amazing, so take your time to enjoy it. If you still have some time when you arrive in Page, go for a refreshing swim in Lake Powell. You deserve it!
Day 4: Page & Monument Valley
Start your day with a tour in Antelope Canyon and enjoy the shapes and colors. It’s best to make a reservation beforehand. After Antelope Canyon you’ll have a long (and lonely) drive in the desert to Monument Valley. Make a stop at the View Hotel, from here you’ll have a great view of the famous ‘buttes’. Also make a stop at mile marker 13, which is also known as the Forrest Gump point (it’s the place where he decided to stop running). The road from Monument Valley to Moab is one of the most beautiful roads of the trip, so take your time and make a view stops. The landscape changes colors numerous times, a beautiful thing to see.
Day 5, 6 & 7: Moab (Arches & Canyonlands National Park
Moab is a nice place to relax and chill for a couple of days. there’s plenty of nice restaurants and you can walk everywhere (no car needed!). There are two National Parks to visit from Moab. The closest one is Arches National Park, filled with beautiful stone arches. A great place for hiking, but go as early as possible because it will be very hot and crowded during the day! The second park is Canyonlands. This park is less crowded and cooler (altitude of 1830 meters / 6000 feet). The canyons are spectacular and famous because of the movie Thelma & Louise.
Distance to Arches: 8 kilometers / 5 miles
Distance to Canyonlands: 50 kilometers / 32 miles
Day 8: Capitol Reef National Park
Today it’s only a short drive to the next National Park: Capitol Reef. Red rocks and a very green valley, you will love it! In the valley, there are many orchards and you can pick fruit for free. It’s a nice place to do some hiking, or just to relax and enjoy the view.
Day 9: Bryce Canyon
From Capitol Reef National Park you can make your way to Bryce Canyon National Park. To get there, you will drive on one of the most beautiful roads in the United States: Scenic Byway 12. Make stops as often as you can, it is truly scenic. It’s only a short drive, so you’ll have plenty of time to see the viewpoints in Bryce Canyon (start at the end and make your way back to the beginning, because all the viewpoints are on the right-hand side) and explore the trails.
Day 10 & 11: Zion National Park
It’s not that far from Bryce to Zion National Park, so if you like, you can start your day with a nice hike into the canyon before heading out. Make your way to Springdale (this small town is the gateway to Zion), drop your car and take a shuttle bus to the park. Zion is a hikers paradise, the trails are awesome. If you’re into hiking, I wrote some blogs on the Angels Landing Trail and Observation Point Trail.
Day 12, 13 & 14: Las Vegas
After all the National Parks, I bet you’d love to see a big city again. It’s time for Las Vegas! It’s a pretty long drive from Springdale to Las Vegas, but there are some nice stops: Grafton ghost town and the Valley Of Fire State Park. In Las Vegas, you can do whatever you want! Visit the awesome themed hotels, enjoy a show, go shopping or gambling. Enjoy!
Check out this post: Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas
Distance: 270 kilometers / 168 miles
Day 15: Death Valley
Fill your car with water bottles, because today you will visit the hottest place on earth: Death Valley. It’s a two-hour drive from Las Vegas and when you arrive, it will look like you’re on the moon. There are some cool stops, like Zabriskie Point and Badwater Basin (the lowest point of the United States). Because of the heat, we decided to continue our trip to Bishop, instead of staying the night in Death Valley.
Distance (to Bishop): 500 kilometers / 311 miles (with a stop at Bathwater Basin)
Hotel tip: Travelodge by Wyndham Bishop
Day 16 & 17: Yosemite National Park
Let’s go to the next highlight! You will drive over the highest road in the United States: the Tioga Pass (open from June to Oktober, check this website for the exact dates). It’s a strange feeling to go from the hottest place in the United States one day, to snowcapped mountains the next day. I would recommend spending at least two days in Yosemite National Park because there’s a lot of things to see. Even if you don’t like hiking, there are plenty of viewpoints and waterfalls to visit. And be cautious, you might see a bear!
Distance: 300 kilometers / 140 miles
Day 18 & 19: San Francisco
Layer up, because your next stop can be chilly. There are many things to see and do in San Francisco. Make sure to visit Alcatraz (make a reservation months in advance), Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street. And don’t forget to take a ride in one of the famous cable cars.
Distance: 300 kilometers / 187 miles
Hotel tip: The Dylan at SFO (free parking and a 5-minute walk to the station. A train will take you in 30-minutes to the city center).
Day 20: Big Sur
You can drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles over boring Highway 5 (it will take about 6 hours) or you can choose to drive the slow but insanely beautiful Highway 1 (a.k.a. the Pacific Coast Highway) at least two days). Please opt for the Pacific Coast Highway, because there are many beautiful things to see. For example, visit the pretty town of Santa Cruz, go whale-watching in Monterey and enjoy the Big Sur, filled with beautiful cliffs, sea lions and lovely beaches. You can easily spend multiple days driving this road because there are many beautiful stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Distance (to San Simeon): 336 kilometers / 208 miles
Day 21, 22, 23 & 24: Los Angeles
It’s almost time for the end of your trip. Continue Highway 1 to Los Angeles, and make stops at towns like Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, and Malibu. You can do lots of things in Los Angeles, I can highly recommend a Warner Bros Studio Tour and biking from Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach. Or just relax at the beach, because you’ve seen so many cool things during the last three weeks.
Distance: 370 kilometers / 230 miles
The practical things for a road trip in Southwest USA
– This itinerary is based on the months you can reach Yosemite Valley by driving over the scenic Tioga Pass. It’s usually open from June till October. If you want to do this route at other times of the year, you’ll need at least one extra day for a detour.
– You can save a lot of money if you go camping in some places (especially the national parks). But make sure to make some reservations if you know your exact route. Would you like to know more about camping in the United States? Check out this article.
– When you’re not traveling in the hot summer months, I would recommend staying in Death Valley for one night. For us, it was too hot (50 degrees, 120 Fahrenheit), so we drove to Bishop instead, stopping at a couple of viewpoints in Death Valley.
– Drives can be very long in this part of the United States, especially in the mountains. Check Google Maps for the estimated time and add at least 30-45 minutes.
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