Southwest USA is a vast region, but the stunning scenery makes the miles fly by. These itineraries offer options that take in some of the top national parks, cities, and historical sights.
Get an early start from Las Vegas on I-15 North. After 119 miles (192 km), stretch your legs in St. George. The Bear Paw Cafe (75 N Main Street) is a good place for coffee or a late breakfast. Continue 42 miles (68 km) to reach your lodgings at Zion National Park by lunchtime. If you’re not staying at historic Zion National Park Lodge (www.zionlodge.com), there are several options at Springdale. Ride the park shuttle buses the full length of the canyon, then follow the short River Walk to see the Virgin River emerge from the mouth of the Narrows.
Tunnel your way east out of Zion via the extraordinary Zion–Mount Carmel Highway, then head north 75 miles (121 km) to spend the night near the fiery red-rock hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hiking the Navajo Loop takes you into the heart of this labyrinth of towering pinnacles, while Sunset Point offers an evening vista of the vast desert ahead. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon (www.brycecanyonforever.com) has vintage rooms and cabins and a good restaurant.
Continue east along Highway 12, a lovely route through the wilderness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Hike to the iridescent waters of Calf Creek Falls; then, back on the road, cross the Hogsback, a knife-edge ridge of rock with guardrails, to reach Torrey (116 miles/186 km), just west of the forbidding 100-mile (160-km) wall of rock at Capitol Reef National Park. The Capitol Reef Resort (www.capitolreefresort.com) has atmospheric accommodations in luxury cabins, teepees, and Conestoga wagons.
Drive through the clay badlands that lie east of Capitol Reef on Highway 24 for 80 miles (129 km) to reach Goblin Valley State Park. The bizarre rock formations here resemble fairy-tale monsters. Another 50 miles (80 km) north, visit the museum dedicated to pioneer river-rafter John Wesley Powell in the town of Green River. Moab, 52 miles (84 km) southeast, makes a lively overnight base. The Gonzo Inn (www.gonzoinn.com) is a fun choice with eclectic, colorful rooms and a relaxing pool and hot tub. Moab is on the doorstep of Arches National Park, which holds the world’s largest array of naturally formed stone arches. Hike to Delicate Arch for an unforgettable sunset.
Stay another night in Moab, and visit the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, about a half-hour’s drive away. Hike the short trail to Mesa Arch, and take in sweeping views over the mighty canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers. Stop off on your way back at the dramatic viewpoints at Dead Horse Point State Park.
Drive east into Colorado from La Sal Junction, south of Moab, to the Rocky Mountains. After 132 miles (212 km), stop at Telluride for lunch at Floradora Saloon (www.floradorasaloon.com), a local favorite. Follow the San Juan Skyway north, which leads up amid the snow-crested peaks to the former mining town of Ouray. Then continue on the Million Dollar Highway over the 11,000-ft (3,350-m) Red Mountain Pass and drop back down to the Wild West outpost of Silverton. Drive 48 miles (77 km) to Durango for an overnight stay at the historic Strater Hotel (www.strater.com).
Spend the morning exploring the Victorian frontier town of Durango. Then head west for 56 miles (90 km), climbing into the forested tablelands above the Montezuma Valley to reach Mesa Verde National Park. Take a ranger-led tour to explore inside the fascinating ancient dwellings of Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Spend the night at Cortez, 31 miles (50 km) farther west. Kelly Place (www.kellyplace.com) is a lovely B&B with prehistoric Native sites on its grounds.
Southwest of Cortez, 121 miles (195 km) away, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park represents the Wild West at its most majestic. Drive the scenic loop and take a Navajo-guided tour into the backcountry. The View Hotel (www.monumentvalleyview.com) makes an unforgettable stay.
About an hour’s drive southwest, take a tiny detour to see Navajo National Monument, where the ancient Betatakin pueblo can be visited on guided hikes. Then press on for 118 miles (190 km) to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where you’ll enter the national park at Desert View. Visit sites along Desert View Drive, including Grandview Point overlook, then check into your hotel in Grand Canyon Village.
To make the most of a day on the South Rim, set off early to hike the Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon; don’t try to reach the Colorado River, and turn back well before you’re tired. Spend the after-noon touring the Hermit Road, and try to catch the sunset at Hopi Point.
Head 80 miles (129 km) southeast to the lively university town of Flagstaff. Visit the Museum of Northern Arizona, explore the historic downtown and venture 9 miles (15 km) east to see ancient ruins in Walnut Canyon National Monument. Stay overnight at the historic Weatherford Hotel (www.weatherfordhotel.com).
Drive 30 miles (49 km) on Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona, cooling off en route with a dip at Slide Rock State Park. Explore Sedona’s galleries, tour the Red Rock Country, and relax in Amara Resort and Spa (www.amararesort.com).
Head 27 miles (44 km) southwest to the old mining town of Jerome; stop off on the way to see the pueblo ruins at the Tuzigoot National Monument. In Jerome, browse the numerous art galleries and have lunch at the Haunted Hamburger (www.thehauntedhamburger.com). Less than an hour’s drive south and set among the cool woodlands of the Prescott National Forest, the charming town of Prescott is the site of beautiful Watson Lake, where you can take a hike before seeing American Western art at the Phippen Museum. Stay overnight at the landmark Hassayampa Inn (www.hassayampainn.com).
Drive to Phoenix, about 100 miles (160 km) away. En route, make a short detour to visit the experimental town of Arcosanti to see its ecological landscape-inspired architecture. In Phoenix, visit the Heard Museum to see American Indian art, and the Musical Instrument Museum, the largest museum of its type in the world.
Discover Southwest USA Itineraries
t Thor’s Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park, seen from the Navajo Loop Trail.