Yearning for a road trip in the Southwest but you only have one week?
Even though the Southwest is huge and has more remarkable sights than we can count, one week is enough to get a good taste of some of the best the area has to offer – but do be aware, you’ll only scratch the surface.
From the otherworldly landscapes of Arches and the historical treasures like Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and of course Canyonlands in Utah, here’s the ultimate one-week Southwest itinerary that will get you in touch with the best of this enticing region of the US!
The Ultimate Southwest One-Week Itinerary
Sandstone spires piercing the skies, red rock formations that look like they belong on Mars, and awe-inspiring canyons are some of the highlights of this amazing region of Utah.
The first stop is Delicate Arch in Arches, one of the most iconic landmarks in the state (in fact, it’s the arch shown on their license plates, talk about iconic!).
Next, follow the Landscape Arch Trail, which leads to the longest natural arch in the entire world. This hike will give you a pretty good idea of what trekking in the desert is all about.
When your legs need a little rest, get back in your car and drive along the Arches Scenic Drive, which features some of the greatest viewpoints in the park that you can take in a relatively short amount of time.
When you’re done with that, put your hiking shoes back on and hike the Double Arch Trail, which will take you to yet another arch first and then lead you to the Windows. Here you can look for a comfortable spot to watch the sun go down in a truly epic sunset you’re not bound to forget any time soon.
Day 2 will be all about exploring Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District. Even though Canyonlands National Park is humongous, one day should be enough for visiting the main highlights of this district.
Set an early alarm and gear up for a hike up to the iconic Mesa Arch to enjoy a breathtaking sunrise. Then, choose a couple of trails to tackle throughout the day (they’re all pretty short and easy).
For yet another epic sunset, this time accompanied with sweeping views of the canyons, head over to Green River Viewpoint, where the sun shines on the walls of the canyons, making the rocks come alive with different colors.
Nestled way into the cliffs, you will be able to explore ruins of complex structures and dwellings that were built way back when by these ancestors.
Nobody really knows why this ancestral society disappeared, but exploring the vestiges they left behind kind of brings us closer to them and their way of life.
No Southwest itinerary would be complete without a visit to Grand Canyon National Park, right?
Day 4 will be spent driving 5 or 6 hours from Mesa Verde to Grand Canyon, Arizona. You still should have some time left to drive a section of the viewpoints and maybe even fit in a short hike below the rim, depending on how long it takes you to get there.
If you do decide to hike a bit, a favorite trail is the one leading to Ooh Aah Point, which is pretty gentle and only 1.8 miles round trip, featuring sweeping vistas of the canyon. After that, try to get a good night’s rest so you can go out early and full force to explore the Grand Canyon.
On day 5, you’ll challenge your desert hiking skills by taking on the Bright Angel Trail, a 9.5-mile trail that will have you admiring the most enthralling views of the Grand Canyon.
Be aware that completing the hike both ways in one day is not recommended (especially with kids), but there are plenty of return points where you can get back on the trailhead, so you can decide when to get back. An alternative with little legs, try Transept trail or Bridle Trail.
Also, bring plenty of water and that means more than you think you’ll need, trust us on this one.
Up to another day of adventures in the desert?
But first, be sure to visit the Zion Human History Museum for an opportunity to learn about the indigenous Pauite people who once lived in the region. Once done with that, go ahead and put your hiking shoes on and head over to take on a few more desert trails. Most of them are pretty short, relatively easy, and absolutely fabulous, so you can probably conquer several of them in a few hours.
Afterward, drive over to Kolob Canyon, the less-frequented part of Zion. Park your car and head to Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob View Point, where you’ll get full sweeping views of the landscape and maybe even get to see glimpses of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim!
Wanted to mix up this itinerary and start with Zion? You’ll find these airports near Zion National Park (though not all will have hire car facilities!)
Finish your Southwest itinerary with a visit to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, a magical place that seems from another era, one of epic red Aztec sandstone outcrops, petrified trees, ancient petroglyphs, and colored landscapes that resemble fire flames, with the pink, orange and red tones that gave the place its name.
Gear up for your last day spent hiking in search of quirky landscapes. Two of the top hikes are the Fire of Wave and Rainbow Vista trails, both of which are pretty easy to tackle and provide some of the most incredible views in the park.
If you’d prefer a more relaxing last day, you can also explore the Valley of Fire from the comfort of your car by following Mouse’s Tank Road, which will take you to some of the most stunning viewpoints where you bid the desert goodbye!
We hope this itinerary helped you plot the perfect week in the Southwest! Even though there’s plenty more on offer, these destinations, in particular, are absolute non-negotiables when it comes to getting a taste of the best the region has to offer.
Your 7 Day Southwest Road Trip Planned
Top Tips for a Southwest Road Trip
- You’ll be covering several National Parks so it is well worth investing in your America the Beautiful annual pass, which covers entrance fees at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and more. At just $80 for 12 months of visits, it’s one of the best investments a traveling family can make.
- You could be crossing between time zones! Colorado and Utah observed Mountain Standard Time (MST) then from roughly mid-March to Mid-November, Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) – daylight savings; Conversely, Arizona stays on MST throughout the year. To add the confusion, Nevada is on Pacific Standard Time (PST) and then switches to Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) – but some counties follow MST/MDT!
- This suggested itinerary crams a lot of driving into a very short period of time. If you’d prefer more time exploring each of the incredible stops, narrow your adventure down to just a Utah & Arizona road trip for some serious desert magic, or tackle just Utah’s Mighty 5 in this southern Utah itinerary.
- Summer in the desert can be brutally hot. Always set out with plenty of water and observe our desert driving tips.
- Never forget a road trip essential again with our downloadable family road trip checklist.
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