A road trip through the Southwest United States is arguably one of the most iconic road trips in the country. From the natural bridges of Arches National Park to the vast monoliths of Monument Valley to the stunning hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, there’s never a shortage of amazing places to see! Last March, Berty and I took our own American southwest road trip and we were amazed by the sheer diversity of each and every stop.
In this post, we’re sharing our exact route to help you plan your own epic trip through Utah and Arizona! This includes all 5 of the Utah National Parks, iconic monuments, and vast open awesomeness.
Let’s get started!
Best Stops On An American Southwest Road Trip
Here is our route on Google Maps! We’ve also made a road trip route through all 5 of the Utah National Parks, so if that is a trip you’re interested in as well, click on this blog post to find out more information!
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1. Arches National Park
Erosion AND preservation at its finest examples, Arches National Park is an essential stop on any epic American southwest road trip. With over 2,000 natural arches in the park, the adventure possibilities are endless. Give yourself a few days to experience as much as you can here. Hike Delicate Arch during sunrise to beat the crowds, explore the Devil’s loop for some incredible natural arches, and take a scenic drive through the entire park road!
Pro Tip: Arrive early at the park (ideally before 10:00 am) during the busy season (May-September) to avoid sitting in the long line of cars at the entry.
Read More: 10 Amazing Hikes In Arches National Park
2. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is informally known for the many ways to experience the sky. (Hey, maybe that’s why the most popular section of the park is called “Island in the Sky…?) If you are watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch, basking in the sun at several of the viewpoints, or star-gazing at this “Dark Sky Park”, rest assured that every angle of this park will provide stunning views! Just make sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen because shade here is pretty much non-existent!
Pro Tip: Not a heat person? Come at night during the summertime for stunning Milkyway displays. Bring your camera and tripod to capture the magic (and read this article to see what photography gear we bring on trips like this!). And don’t forget a flashlight!
Read More: Sunset At Canyonlands National Park
3. Moab, Utah
This little adventure city is the perfect hub for climbers, campers, adventurers, and explorers on their own southwest road trip. Not only does it provide basics like accommodations and food, but you can also sign up for awesome tours and guided adventures to lesser-known spots in the area. If you’re looking for activities besides the national parks nearby (Arches and Canyonlands) try taking one of the many bike trails or explore Manti-La Sal State Park for camping and lake days!
Pro Tip: Planned your trip last minute? Check out our car-camping post to discover some free camping spots and places to sleep in the Moab area. Just FYI, most of these back roads require a high-clearance vehicle!
Read More: The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip
4. Monument Valley
Owned and run by the Navajo Tribe, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is the ultimate destination to take amazing photos and feel like you’re in an old Western movie. The area is split on the border of two states – half in Utah, half in Arizona, so pay attention to things like time zone changes and sunrise times (we got confused when we visited!). National Park passes are not accepted here, so bring $20 for the admission charge and consider booking a private tour with a local if you want to get photos of hidden spots in the park. If you’re looking for that iconic road, drive east from the park for about 20 minutes until you find a pullout that frames it how you want!
Read More: Packing For Utah with Paige Denim
5. Grand Canyon
Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, this is an iconic stop on any American southwest road trip. There are many ways to experience the canyon! The adventurous traveler can opt for a helicopter ride through the vast crevice, Colorado River below, or take a donkey down into the canyon on a dirt trail. If you are looking for a smaller-scale adventure, you can walk the rim trail for multiple perspectives of the Grand Canyon, or drive to its many scenic overlooks for beautiful photos.
Read More: Spending A Day At Grand Canyon National Park
6. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend was once a local spot, but since the boom of social media, it has become a hugely popular tourist attraction. Glen Canyon State Park received around 2 million visitors in 2010, and that number has skyrocketed to 4.6 million just last year. Don’t let that deter you from visiting, however! The natural 180-degree river curve is a beautiful sight to see! As long as you expect to share this experience with a crowd, you won’t be disappointed. For incredible photos, we recommend visiting during sunset.
7. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is another park that has seen an increase in visitors over the years. And go figure – Zion is known for its richly colored canyons, spectacular views, and epic landscapes! Come ready for adventure by reserving camping spots early, waking up before sunrise to hike your favorite trails, and bring patience for shuttle wait times if you’re coming during peak season. Must-do activities include hiking Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and taking the shuttle for the entire scenic road.
Pro Tip: Reserve early early early because campsites, hotels, and nearby Airbnbs fill up FAST. Click here to reserve campsites and click here to get $40 off your first Airbnb booking!
Read More: Conquer Zion’s Dangerous Angels Landing Hike
8. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its towering spires, incredible hoodoos, and gorgeous sunrises/sunsets. This park is often paired with trips to Zion because of their close proximity to one another. Come to this park to hike through this amazing natural phenomenon! We recommend the Queen’s Garden Loop for up close and personal encounters with the hoodoos, and waking up for sunrise to capture the landscape in its full glory.
Read More: 5 Things To Do In Bryce Canyon National Park
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is quite possibly the least accessible national park in Utah, but don’t let that deter you from paying it a visit. This hidden gem is full of secret backroad monoliths, towering spires and epic sunsets in the wilderness of Utah. Grab your friends, your camping gear, and your high clearance vehicle to explore where few men have gone before!
Pro Tip: If you plan to camp in Utah, make sure to check out our car camping post for the ultimate night under the stars! We’ll share free places to sleep, the difference between national park land and BLM land, and many more camping goodies!
10. Other Amazing Stops
Unfortunately, we only had a few weeks in the American southwest. There were many more stops to see on our list, so I’m going to share them below. We also are wanting to explore more of the states of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico! Come back to the post in the future, because when we return, we’ll update this article with new pictures and thoughts as we explore. In the meantime, here are gorgeous places to add to your list:
- Leprechaun Canyon
- Antelope Canyon
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Grand Staircase Escalante
- Mystic Hot Springs
- Arizona Meteor Crater
We know this won’t be our last time taking an American southwest road trip. We spent a few weeks in Utah and Arizona, but there’s so much more to see in this area! We’re excited to continue to add to this post as we return to these special places and discover more along the way. We can’t wait to share more with you! Follow us on Instagram at @themandagies to find out when we will be returning!
What are some other adventurous places you would recommend on an American southwest road trip? We want to come back and see more of this amazing part of the US!
Read More Utah Adventure Posts
Interested in more inspiration for your own American southwest road trip? Follow our Southwest Road Trip Board on Pinterest for more ideas for your next adventure!
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