11 Unique Ways to See the Tromso Northern Lights: Tours + Aurora Chasing Tips

Tromsø, Norway is one of the premier Norwegian destinations for spotting the Northern lights.

 But it’s so much more than that: it’s a vibrant, buzzy student city of more than 70,000 people, the “Paris of the North,” practically a metropolis around these sparsely-populated parts of the Arctic. 

The next-largest Arctic city in Norway, Bodø, numbers just over 50,000 people, and then population numbers drop off steeply outside of these urban areas.

Tromsø is a place of incredible beauty and culture, especially in winter. You can walk around the picture-perfect city center and shop on Nerstranda by day, and you can catch a concert at the Arctic Cathedral and stare up at the night sky with hot drinks in hand by night, hoping for a glimpse of the ephemeral aurora.

But there are so many more ways to see the Northern lights in Tromsø than just hoping for a glimpse over the city sky! We’ll go into all the unique ways you can combine sightseeing with a Northern lights chase below, but first, let’s tackle where and when is the best time to see the Northern lights in Norway.

Where to See the Northern Lights in Northern Norway

Allison wearing a red hat and blue jacket and snow boots and smiling in an ice hotel
Touring the Tromso Ice Domes, an awesome ice hotel in the Tamok Valley

The best place to see Northern lights in Tromsø is north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle’s latitude is located at 66°33″ N, and everything above that is considered part of the Arctic Circle — whether you’re in Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, Alaska, or Canada.

The Arctic Circle is basically the lowest latitude where both the polar night and midnight sun phenomena occur; north of it, the length of polar night and midnight sun extends for longer and longer. 

Polar night is when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, whereas midnight sun is the inverse, where the sun doesn’t sink below the horizon.

In Tromsø, located at 69°64″ N, the polar night lasts for six weeks, and midnight sun lasts for a bit over two months. In other parts of Norway, this can be even longer! Nordkapp gets polar night for more than two months, and Svalbard experiences it for two and a half months! 

There are three main touristic destinations in Norway in winter: Tromsø, Alta, and the Lofoten Islands. This post focuses on Northern Lights in Tromsø as it’s what I experienced!

Best Time to Do a Northern Lights Trip in Tromso

Allison in a large red parka with a swirl of the northern lights appearing in green colors in the night sky
Looking like an absolute marshmallow on my Northern lights tour in Tromso!

There is a wide span of when the Northern lights are visible above the city of Tromsø and in neighboring locations. 

The earlier you might be able to spot the Northern lights in Tromsø would be in early September, and the latest would be in early April. You just need a certain amount of darkness and enough solar activity. 

There isn’t a specific time of the year that is consistently more active than others; you just need enough darkness. The solar storms which cause the aurora happen all year long, you just need the sky to be dark to see it!

However, most people tend to opt for a winter trip to Tromsø so they can do other wintry activities like dog sledding, reindeer feeding or sledding, and whale watching activities.

I personally visited Tromsø in the first week of February and thought it was almost perfect. There was enough sunlight to get a little hit of Vitamin D every day (from about 10 AM to 2:30 PM daily). 

However, it was still in the heart of winter and there was snow everywhere. I was able to do snow-dependent day trips and excursions like dog sledding, whereas travelers who visited a few weeks later than I did had many activities stop due to lack of sufficient snowfall.

The one thing I regret, though, is that I came slightly too late for whale watching season, which ends around the end of January. If seeing orcas and other whales is part of your Tromsø bucket list, then make sure you visit around mid-January. There will be less sunlight, but you’ll be more certain to be able to do your whale safari tour!

Getting to Tromsø

Passengers disembarking a SAS flight in Tromso

For a place so remote, getting to Tromsø is relatively easy! When I went, I flew Sofia to Frankfurt to Tromsø on Lufthansa and it was pretty painless. My roundtrip ticket was around $550 USD.

There are also flights to Tromsø from London and Oslo. Many people will fly into Oslo on a low cost airline like Norwegian Airlines and then hop on another flight up to Tromsø.

I don’t recommend driving up to Tromso from Oslo. It’s a 22-hour drive and between renting a car and paying for gas it’d be far more expensive than flying. 

One other option would be the Hurtigruten cruise, which departs from Bergen and will bring you to different destinations along the Norwegian coast, including the Arctic!

What to Know Before Doing a Northern Lights Tour in Tromsø

Allison's hand holding her camera with ice all over it in the snow
The cold can wear out your camera batteries… and frost over your camera! Bring a lens cloth to defog it as well.

Be prepared for anything. 

While the Northern lights in the Arctic are actively dancing for much of the winter nights, it’s also easy to overstate the probability of seeing the lights. For one, cloud cover is a major concern: you need clear skies to see the aurora properly. 

With how often it snows in Tromsø, that can be problematic. In fact, when I did my Northern lights minibus tour, we actually drove all the way to the Finnish border and parked where we could see the lights dancing over Finland!

Another factor is solar activity. The aurora phenomenon is caused by charged solar particles entering Earth’s geomagnetic fields near the poles, causing beautiful reactions in the form of light energy emitting at different wavelengths, which causes the colors you see. Green is the most typical, but I’ve also seen white and purple colors and even a dash of red.

Finally, the Northern lights are a natural phenomenon. Guides are talented at predicting the intensity and location of the lights, but they are not miracle workers. Sometimes the Green Lady doesn’t appear, and that’s part of what makes the times you do see it so magical.

Bring all the camera batteries and a lens cloth.

The extreme conditions while chasing the Northern lights in Norway will do a number on your camera battery — just look at the above picture, taken after my camera was out in the cold weather for a few hours in -15° C / 5° F temperatures!

Be sure to also bring a microfiber lens cloth that can gentle remove the ice and condensation from your camera, as well as plenty of freshly charged spare batteries (keep those warm in your pockets!).

Bring your passport/ID if doing a minibus tour. 

Like I said, on a minibus tour where you are chasing the Northern lights activity, you may actually end up crossing a border to escape the cloudy weather on the coast of Norway. 

My tour guide on the minibus tour in early 2020 told me that about half of the nights, they had been driving into Finland to even spot the lights! So be sure to bring an ID to be safe. 

There are no official border crossings as it’s all Schengen zone, but you do technically need identification when crossing a border.

Be realistic and don’t get disappointed. 

A blurry photo of the Northern lights appearing over the fjord on a sailing cruise near Tromso
This photo, taken with a smartphone on the Northern lights sailing tour I did, is a pretty accurate picture of the extent to which you can see with the naked eye

First of all, I want to preface this by saying that the Northern lights are absolutely magical. However, they’re also different than I imagined. 

When you see jaw-dropping Northern lights photography, keep in mind these were taken by professional photographers using high-quality camera gear that’s far more sophisticated than the naked eye (or your smartphone, for that matter). 

Photographs of the Northern lights use slow shutter speeds so that the camera’s “eye” is open for multiple seconds, taking in light. Meanwhile, your eye processes things at, well, the speed of light! 

As a result, the lights you see in photographs of the aurora are far more spectacular than you can see with your eye. THis isn’t photoshop — the colors out of the camera are often barely touched or altered at all — but the magic of a long exposure.

Don’t plan an entire trip around seeing the Northern lights. 

If that is the singular purpose of your trip, you may wind up disappointed if the lights are less active than you expect or worse, you have poor weather blocking the view of the Northern lights! 

My suggestion would be there: book one minibus tour, as these tour guides are driven — literally! — to make sure you see at least something on your Northern lights tour. 

The rest of the trip, book other excursions at night that focus on outdoor activities and cultural experiences that have a chance at seeing the Northern lights, but aren’t singularly focused on it.

For example, I was in Tromso for one week. I scheduled one Northern lights tour, one sailing aurora tour, and one dog-sledding tour. I saw a tiny glimpse of the lights on my aurora sailing excursion, no lights at all on the dog-sledding night, and so much aurora activity on my dedicated aurora chasing minibus tour.

If you only have the budget for one tour though, make it a minibus tour. They are dedicated to making sure you see the Northern lights and will drive literally across borders to make it happen!

What to Wear in the Arctic

Allison posing at the top of Fjellheisen in Tromso with fjords and the city in the distance, near sunset
My typical Norway winter outfit!

I have a full packing list for what to bring to Norway in winter here, which you should definitely check out before your trip.

Note that being out spotting the Northern lights can be extremely cold! While virtually every company I know of offers free thermal suits for rent (which you absolutely should take advantage of), you’ll want to wear comfortable thermal layers underneath.

Warm socks, snow boots (though many places offer boot rental as well), warm gloves, a scarf, a hat, and thermal layers are must-haves when dressing for the Arctic. You’ll also want a parka and snow boots for walking around town.

Here are my quick recommendations:

Parka: For my trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online, but it is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a bit colder, I did really well with my North Face parka which I’ve owned for 10 years and absolutely love (I just didn’t have it moved over to Europe, where I was living at the time).

Snow boots: I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online, but here is a similar boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in Norway and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick winter socks.

Yaktrax: Walking around Tromso is icy! While you might not need Yaktrax on your Northern lights tours, you’ll want them for walking around the city when it ices over. I like these simple Yaktrax because they’re easy to take on and off, as you’re not allowed to wear them in indoors stores, etc. in Tromso.

Cold weather accessories: A winter hat, two pairs of winter gloves (one thin and able to be used with touchscreen devices, one thick and waterproof), and a scarf or two.

Base layers: For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men.

Wool socks: For making those warm snow boots even warmer, I love SmartWool — even though I normally hate wool, I don’t find these itchy at all.

Your normal winter clothing: Once you’ve got a parka, base layers, accessories, and snow boots, you can wear whatever normal winter clothing you’d wear — jeans, sweaters, etc.

Photography Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights

a man photographing the northern lights with a camera and a tripod with the aurora visible behind him

I have a full guide to photographing the Northern lights on the way, but here are the basics of what you need, and I also cover this topic quite a bit in my post on seeing the Northern lights in Sweden.

Tripod: You’ll want a stable tripod that won’t be knocked around if there are winds. A tripod is non-negotiable because you need to stabilize the camera when photographing the Northern Lights for seconds at a time, which your hand is incapable of doing. Some Northern lights tours will offer tripod rentals; others do not, so ask first or bring your own.

This COMAN tripod is reasonably priced (trust me, real-deal tripods can easily exceed $600, so this is a good deal) but far sturdier than the cheapest bare-bones tripods you’ll find on Amazon.

Camera with manual settings: You don’t need an incredibly expensive to see the Northern lights, not at all! However, you need something with a little more power than just a smartphone. I used a Sony A6000 when I snapped all my Northern lights photos and it worked just perfectly.

You’ll need to get acquainted with the best camera settings for capturing the Northern lights, but any camera that has manual capabilities will have plenty of power for capturing the lights. I recommend my Sony A6000 all the time, as it’s served me very well!

Lots and lots of spare batteries: A camera battery in the Arctic lasts way shorter than you’d expect. I run through a battery in about 30 minutes of use in the Arctic… sometimes even faster!

Carry at least 4 extra batteries with you, preferably in a pocket to keep them as warm as possible until you’re prepared to use them. Sony’s proprietary battery packs are expensive, so I use these ones by Wasabi Power.

Note that the charger included is only compatible with the Wasabi batteries, though, and not the one that came with your Sony. That you can charge via a USB.

Microfiber lens cloth: These lens cleaning cloths will help you remove ice and condensation that occurs on the lens in these extreme cold climate conditions!

Where to Stay in Tromsø

The arctic cathedral near Tromso

Central Tromso is nice and small, and there are tons of great accommodation choices right in the heart of town. 

Here are our 3 top picks in Tromso city center, as well as one amazing Arctic glamping spot just a bit outside of the city (free transfers are provided).

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is  Smarthotel Tromso. It’s right in the heart of central Tromso, so it’s easy to get to all your activities, it has all the things you need in a hotel — 24-hour reception, comfortable beds, a work desk, and some food available in the lobby. Note that breakfast is not included in the price but can be added for a fee.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, see photos, and book your room here.

Mid-Range: If you want to stay in a chic boutique hotel that’s not overly fancy, Thon Hotel Polar is a fabulous choice. The decor is irreverent yet modern with an Arctic and polar theme, many with vibrant pops of color that make the hotel have a lot more personality than many other Scandinavian hotels which tend to be a bit more muted in terms of decor. Breakfast is included and there is also a restaurant on-site should you want to dine in. The location couldn’t be better, so it’s a fantastic choice for mid-range travelers to Tromso in winter.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here

Luxury: There are three Clarion Collection hotels in Tromso, but the nicest of the three seems to be Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora. Why? It’s harborfront and has an incredible rooftop jacuzzi where you can try to spot the Northern lights! Rooms are luxurious and modern with updated bathrooms, and the facilities include a gym, free afternoon coffee with waffles, and a light evening meal as part of your stay.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room today!

Arctic Glamping: For a stay that’s truly memorable, look no further than the epic Camp North Tour for a glamping experience, Arctic-style! Stay in heated yurt-style glamping tents, complete with cozy carpeting, comfortable beds heated with reindeer pelts, and panels that open up into the aurora above you so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead from your bed! It’s not located in Tromso proper, but transfers or free parking are provided. Buffet breakfast & traditional dinner are both included.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here!

My Tromsø Northern Lights Experience

I’ve listed 11 unique Northern lights tours below, and I’ve done 3 of the tours: the fjords sailing tour, the small group Northern lights chase minibus tour, and the husky sledding and Northern lights tour.

I’ve also visited the Ice Hotel during the day (read about my experience here) and visited a Sami reindeer farm with lavvus during the day as well, so I can speak to a portion of those experiences. 

So I have some firsthand insight from 6 out of the 11 Northern lights tours here, and the rest are driven by research and chatting with other friends who visited Tromsø in winter. I hope this helps you narrow down your search and find the perfect Northern lights tour (or tours, as I did!) for you!

11 Unique Northern Lights Tours in Tromsø

Fjords Sailing and Northern Lights

Allison sitting on a snow-covered catamaran sailing in the Norwegian fjords
On my Northern lights fjords sailing tour!

This was the first Northern Lights tour I did on my trip to Tromsø and it was a great introduction to the beautiful fjords around Tromsø. 

We met at the Pukka Adventures office where we enjoyed coffee and snacks before our tour. We had a quick safety and tour briefing and got into our warm suits and boots! Then we walked a short walk to the marina where the sailboat was docked.

Once we disembarked, we set sail through the fjord, watching the city lights of Tromsø twinkle magically as we got further and further away from the city. We all clustered outside hoping to find a glimpse of the Northern lights, and we did… albeit briefly. 

Luckily, it was so vivid and powerful that I was even able to capture a tiny glimpse with my smartphone! However, I didn’t have my tripod set up yet, so I wasn’t able to capture a better shot, and then the lights faded for the night and hid behind the clouds for the rest of the excursion.

The disappointment of not seeing the lights in their full glory was quickly assuaged by a delicious meal of seafood chowder served with Norwegian bread and butter and some coffee and chocolate for dessert.

All in all, I absolutely loved the sailing experience and while I wouldn’t say it’s the most reliable way of seeing the Northern lights, I loved getting to do a sailing cruise around Tromsø at night and the seafood chowder with a view of the city sparkling around us was magical.

Book your Northern lights sailing tour online here.

Tromso Northern Lights Small Group Minibus Tour 

People sitting around the fire
Warming up around the fire between aurora sightings.

This was another tour I booked for myself during my trip to Tromso, and it was the Northern lights tour that delivered the most when it came to actually seeing the lights themselves!

My guides were absolute legends, driving all the way to the Finnish border and beyond to ensure we all got to see the lights. 

They were true experts — consulting different solar activity apps and talking about all sorts of scientific factors as to what that meant for the Northern lights, calling other guides to see if they had any scouting tips in terms of weather, always willing to make adjustments to the itinerary or plan to ensure we saw the lights as best we could

Once we arrived at our spot, a few miles over the Finnish border, they set up a little aurora camp: reindeer pelts atop snow “benches” (which were surprisingly warm to sit on) as well as a fire we could all get toasty around.

We roasted all-you-can-eat sausages — reindeer, pork, and vegan options — with tunnbröd or “polar bread”, a flat, tortilla-like bread. We had copious cups of coffee and hot chocolate around the fire, while our guide shouted for us every time the aurora made its appearance. 

He’d snap professional-grade photos for us, one by one, so we’d all have at least one aurora selfie to take home with us. He also helped with photographing the aurora independently, assisting with the tripod set up, and identifying the correct manual camera settings to best capture the lights.

All in all, I absolutely adored this tour. It was a lot of driving, and we got home very late — well past 2 AM, maybe closer to 3 AM — but it was well worth it for the amount of lights we were able to see, especially compared to other travelers I spoke to in Tromsø who went with less dedicated guides and didn’t get the full aurora experience.

Book your own Northern Lights minibus tour online here.

Snowmobile and Aurora Tour

Snowmobile with aurora in the background in Norway

I’ve never ridden a snowmobile, but this is another common aurora chasing tour option in Tromsø that combines a little bit of adrenaline, a lot of sightseeing, and hopefully, a shot at spotting the Northern lights!

Snowmobiling is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a way that gets your adrenaline pumping, and it’s perfect because you can move around a bit in order to find a clear patch of sky that hopefully will allow for perfect aurora spotting!

This tour takes you to the Tromso Ice Domes 1.5 hours outside the city, so you can visit the grounds of the magical ice hotel before going out for an epic snowmobile ride you’ll never forget in the Finn Valley. Hopefully, the Northern lights will make an appearance!

Book your Northern lights snowmobile tour online here.

Dog Sledding and Aurora Borealis Tour

Believe it or not, this is the LEAST blurry selfie I took with a pup on my dog sledding night tour.

This another one of the Northern lights tours I did on my last trip to Tromsø, and while I didn’t get lucky enough to see the lights, it was still one of my favorite tours… because hello, it’s dog sledding under the stars, how much more magical does it get?

There are two kinds of dog sledding tours you can do: self-driving and musher-driven. This falls into the latter category, where you get to sit in a seat on the sled as a musher drives you with a team of huskies, speeding through the snow while you cuddle up with some reindeer pelts to keep warm!

This is more passive than self-driving dog sledding, and as a result, it’s a lot less physically demanding, making it a great option for families of young kids who may be a little too small to handle self-driving.

The other bonus of it being musher-driven is that you have all the time in the world to look up at the sky and hope to see the Northern lights! In my case, it was hopelessly cloudy and there was no shot, but you may be luckier than I was!

After the husky sledding experience, which lasted around 30 minutes, we ended up at the lavvu (Sami-style dwelling, similar to a Native American tipi) to warm up around the fire and enjoy a delicious seafood stew dinner to warm up with! Vegetarian options are also available.

Book your dog sledding evening tour with a chance of Northern lights here!

Whale Watching and Overnight Aurora Camp

Looking through the glass window ceiling of a lavvu

Want to combine two Tromso bucket list musts into one perfect excursion? Well, pinch yourself, because that actually totally exists!

One thing to know about whale watching in Tromso is that the whales used to visit the fjords in Tromso proper, but now, they’re found quite a bit away from Tromso, in Skjervoy. Going by boat to Skjervoy can be a miserable, 3+ hour one-way experience with lots of seasickness.

This tour actually drives you to Skjervoy before embarking in a RIB boat (which allows you to view the whales in a more ethical fashion than big-boat tours, which can sometimes scare the whales). 

Your whale watching experience is wrapped up with a meal before heading to the beautiful Green Gold Villa, located in the Lyngen Alps, where you’ll enjoy a photography workshop to prep you on how to photograph the Northern lights, as well as a group dinner.

You’ll then get to watch the aurora from the villa, and you’l get to stay in one of the six Crystal Lavvos which offer an incredible glamping experience! 

The Crystal Lavvos are made of wood frames with a glass-paneled roof so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead through the ceiling, like those glass igloos you may have seen in Finland!

The overnight Northern lights tour culminates with breakfast and a transfer back to Tromso city center.

Book your whale safari and aurora lavvu camping experience online here!

Reindeer Sledding with Sami Guide and Northern Lights Tour

Allison feeding the reindeer out of a bucket at a Sami reindeer camp near Tromso Norway
Here I am feeding reindeer at a daytime trip to Tromso Arctic Reindeer – a great local company that uses only Sami guides

This is a tour I did during the daytime, but the same company I went with also offers night tours which follow basically the same itinerary, but with a shot at getting to spot the brilliant lights!

The tour consists of visiting a reindeer farm, where you can either feed and interact with the reindeer (they are very tame!) or go reindeer sledding around the camp for 15-30 minutes, followed by a meal and a storytelling and singing session in a Sami lavvu.

Reindeer farms are a big part of Northern Norway’s tourism scene, and the history of it is really interesting. Historically, reindeer herding is how the Indigenous people of Northern Norway, the Sami (also written Sámi or Saami) have survived. 

So, who are the Sami? The Sami are indigenous to the region called Sápmi which covers parts of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia (specifically, Murmansk Oblast). 

Sápmi is mostly synonymous with the region known as Lapland, but the term Lapland is not preferred by most Sami, who consider the word “Lapp” to refer to a Sami person in a pejorative fashion. 

One of the things I liked most about my tour to the Sami reindeer camp was the chance to learn from my young Sami guide, who was an incredible storyteller. 

He spoke with passion and emotion about the history of the treatment of the Sami people, and he was not shy about criticizing the way the Norwegian government has traditionally treated the Sami people, which was not dissimilar to the treatment of First Nations and Native American people in Canada and the United States, respectively. 

Practices such as the banning of the Sami language and the forcing of Sami children into Norwegian boarding schools were aimed at destroying Sami identity. Unfortunately, as a result of these laws, many Sami have since lost touch with their roots and integrated with Norwegian or other Scandinavian societies, losing their language and culture in the assimilation process.

Today, Nordic governments are setting up truth commissions and working on reconciliation projects that will, hopefully, make up in some small way for the historic injustices the Sami have faced.

It all may seem a bit heavy for a Northern lights tour — and of course, the subject matter is heavy, but it is important. I was so, so glad I went and had the chance to learn from a young Sami storyteller, someone who is so deeply passionate about preserving his people’s identity but also with sharing that identity with tourists.

If you’re looking for chance to spot the Northern lights that also touches on culture, history, and cute animals — this is a great way to spend a night in Tromsø. 

This Sami reindeer camp and Northern lights tour is with the same company I did my daytime trip with, and I can’t imagine why the nighttime tour would be any less magical!

Book your reindeer camp and Northern lights excursion here

Snowshoe and Aurora Tour

snowshoe tracks left in the snow with a view of the aurora in the distance
Snowshoe Hare Tracks And The Aurora Borealis

Some people prefer a more active approach to spotting the Northern lights, one that combines some physical exercise with a chance of spotting the Northern lights. 

If you’re of the mindset that ‘the best views come after the hardest climb’, snowshoeing in the Arctic with the hope of spotting the Northern lights sounds like the perfect adventure for you!

I’ve gone snowshoeing in Abisko (part of Sápmi/Swedish Lapland) while spotting the Northern lights, and I had so much fun! 

I didn’t have time to do this tour in Norway, but it seems like a fantastic way to combine some exercise with an opportunity to see lights dancing above you without any interference from light pollution.

Book your nighttime snowshoe experience online here.

Ice Hotel and Aurora Camping

Allison Green sitting in bed at a ice hotel
Sitting on one of the beds at the Tromso Ice Domes, a great Northern lights spotting destination!

For the most epic way to see the Northern lights in Norway, try spending the night in an Ice Hotel!

I did a daytime visit to the Tromso Ice Domes, the premiere ice hotel in Norway, and was it ever stunning! I couldn’t afford the whole overnight package, unfortunately, but I enjoyed even my brief daytime visit (you can read about it here.)

If you’re visiting Tromso for a special occasion like a honeymoon, anniversary, or you just like to vacation like a baller, then you’ve got to spend a night hunting for Northern lights at the ice hotel!

Tromsø Ice Domes are located in the Tamok Valley, about an hour and a half away from Tromsø City Centre. You can do a day tour, but the best experience is the overnight in the ice hotel which also includes a dog sledding tour, Northern lights safari, snowshoe tour, and all your meals.

Enjoy the entire Ice Hotel — including an ice bar, ice cinema, ice restaurant, and ice bedrooms! — as well as the ice sculptures all around the property. 

The evening includes a snowshoe walk in the Tamok Valley, including a guide who will help you spot and photograph the Northern lights, as well as identifying animal tracks and learning about the nature in the area. You’ll camp out at the nature camp, and you can grill a delicious dinner on an open fire!

You’ll stay in the ice bedroom overnight and be given a cozy expedition-rated sleeping bag on a proper mattress (don’t worry, you won’t be sleeping on an actual block of ice, though you do have an ice bed frame!) covered in reindeer skin. 

In the morning, wake up to a beautiful icy landscape, enjoy a traditional Nordic breakfast, and go on a dog-sledding excursion before heading back to Tromso city center.

Book your Ice Hotel overnight and Northern lights tour here!

Jacuzzi and Sauna Northern Lights Cruise

northern lights rippling over the fjords in norway
Northern Lights

If you can’t afford a night at the Tromso Ice Domes, this is a romantic and luxurious way to spot the Northern lights on a far more affordable budget!

Imagine cruising the fjords of Tromsø while staring out at the beautiful city lights as you exit the port of Tromsø and give way to the beautiful waters surrounding the fjords…. while in a delightful jacuzzi or warming up in a sauna, Nordic-style!

This Northern lights cruise combines a relaxing spa experience with all the pleasure of chasing the aurora borealis… and keeps you warm and relaxed while doing so on this beautiful 4-hour Northern lights tour from Tromso.

Book this jacuzzi and sauna Northern lights cruise online here.

Arctic Cuisine & Northern Lights Cruise

Arctic cuisine - fish and mashed potatoes
I love Arctic cuisine!

For a special spin on a Northern lights cruise, do one that is cuisine-themed with a focus on delicious Arctic food!

You may wonder what Arctic cuisine entails. Well, it’s not particularly vegetarian or vegan-friendly due to the difficulty of growing vegetables in the Arctic! 

Arctic cuisine leans heavily on humanely-raised meat such as reindeer (which is typically herded and farmed by the Sami, who are the only ones allowed to herd and farm reindeer in many parts of Norway) as well as fish like cod, Arctic char, and more. 

Enjoy a 3-course Arctic-inspired meal aboard an electric catamaran with chances of seeing the Northern lights dancing overhead.

Book your catamaran & Arctic cuisine dinner cruise here.

Northern Lights Photography Tour in a 4×4

reddish green and purple colors of the aurora borealis

Each of these Northern lights tours listed has a slightly different focus. Some are more geared towards animal experiences, such as in the dog sledding and Sami reindeer camp tours. 

Others are geared towards exercise and active adventure, like snowmobiling and snowshoeing. Others still are focused on luxury and romance, like the Ice Domes or the Jacuzzi and Sauna Cruise. But what about a tour that focuses specifically on photography?

While many of the tours, including the minibus tour, will help you out with photos, you may want a more photography-focused excursion — in a 4×4, no less, so you can really get off the beaten path (literally) and out into the most beautiful nature Northern Norway has to offer.

This highly-rated 4×4 small group photography tour is the perfect choice for photography enthusiasts who have their heart set on taking home a beautiful photograph of the aurora that they snapped themself.

This tour includes two local guides who are willing to drive anywhere and everywhere (including into Finland) in order to spot the best Northern lights. Once a great location is found, the guides set up camp and help you set up tripods (provided by the tour guides) and give you all sorts of tips on best composition and ideal camera settings. 

The guides will also take photos of you, and photos of the aurora, in case you’re not confident in your photography skills. 

The group is always kept small — no more than 8 guests — and the tour includes a vegan soup dinner and dessert, hot beverages to keep warm by the fire while waiting for the aurora to appear, tripods and headlamps, hand and foot warmers if needed, plus all sort of thermal suits you might need to stay warm. Drop off is included as well, which is nice as you arrive back quite late!

Book your Northern Lights photography tour online here!

Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Tromsø Independently

faint northern lights occuring in the city center of tromso
Sometimes, you can see the lights dance over Tromso, visible even to the naked eye or a cellphone camera!

You can occasionally see the Northern lights dancing over the city of Tromsø itself! My Airbnb host spotted them one night from his house and he popped over to my room to give me a heads up that they were dancing, and I was able to spot them just from the balcony!

However, this only happened once in the 7 days I was in Tromsø, so view it as a bonus, not a given. 

If you want to increase your odds of seeing the Northern lights in Tromsø without booking a guided tour, you can take the Fjellheisen cable car up to their viewing platform. This helps you escape some of the light pollution and also offers a stunning vista over the city.

views from the top of the fjellheisen cable car showing tromso lit up at night and the fjords around it
The view from Fjellheisen at night — no Northern lights appeared during my visit, sadly!

A return ticket costs NOK 218.50, which is around $27 USD, a great price considering you can stay as long as you like! 

There’s also a restaurant up at the top, Fjellstua, which is reasonably priced given its gorgeous location. It’s recommended to reserve a table — email them at [email protected] to do so — as spots are limited. I didn’t reserve a table, but I visited around 4 PM when tables were plentiful. 

I had an all-you-can-drink cup of coffee (hot chocolate also available!) for around $4 USD, and a traditional waffle for another $5 USD!

If the weather forecast for Tromsø is pretty bleak but you don’t have a tour, you can try self-driving, so long as the weather conditions aren’t too intense and you are comfortable driving in cold, snowy landscapes.

You could drive out to Lyngen about an hour from Tromsø. The Lyngen Alps break up some of the cloud cover that Tromsø gets, so it can be a good location to try self-driving.

You might also just want to bite the bullet and drive to Finland if you’re self-driving. We ended up outside the town of Kilpisjärvi on our minibus tour, and it was the only place you could see the Northern lights for miles and miles, according to our guides!

Another option if you prefer independent travel is spending some time in Abisko, Sweden. Abisko is statistically proven to have the best Northern lights around, with scientists pegging your odds at 80% if you stay for 3 days. 

green and pinkish purple colors of the aurora in sweden
Abisko is where I took this gorgeous photograph, with green and a bit of purple!

Personally, I saw them 3 out 3 days in a row!

As a bonus, in Abisko, it’s so easy to see them without any need for tours due to the “Blue Hole” that forms around Torneträsk, the frozen lake at the heart of Abisko National Park. It’s a great budget option, so if you don’t necessarily have your heart set on Tromsø, Abisko makes a great alternative.

I have a bunch of resources on planning a trip to Abisko, which you can find here.

The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: 50 Road Trip Necessities

Music blasting on the stereo, windows rolled down and hair mussed by the wind, singing with your road tripping besties: there’s nothing better than a road trip. It’s my favorite way to travel.

I’ve done road trips all over the world: from Brazil to the Faroe Islands, the American Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, and Utah) to Azerbaijan.

Nothing beats having your own set of wheels beneath you and everything you need in your car!

When planning a road trip, it’s crucial to consider not only what you want to wear and bring to your final destination, but all the little things that will make your road trip more comfortable along the way. That includes necessities, like an annual travel insurance policy and safety gear for hitting the road, as well as frivolities like road trip games and a killer Spotify road trip playlist

After all — on a road trip, the destination is the journey!

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Here are the things that I think are absolute road trip necessities, to help you plan and pack for hitting the open road.

Below is your ultimate road trip packing list for all occasions!

Note that this is a road trip packing list that assumes you’ll be staying in hotels along the way. If you’re also camping, you’ll need to add other items like a tent, sleeping bag, etc. — check out my car camping packing list which will tell you all the things you need to bring!

Road Trip Packing List: 50 Key Road Trip Necessities to Bring

Road Trip Essentials

These are the absolutely mission-critical items to have in terms of safety and physically being able to go on your road trip, and making sure you have the items on this list is one of my top travel tips for planning a long road trip.

They’re not that interesting, sure, but they are all the road trip essentials you need to remember, so be sure to scan this part of the road trip packing list carefully to make sure you haven’t omitted anything vitally important!

Car documents & driver’s license

This should be rather obvious, but you’ll need your driver’s license, car documentation, AAA card if you have a membership (or other similar roadside assistance program), and insurance papers ready for any road trip you take.

If you have an America the Beautiful National Parks pass, don’t forget that at home. If you don’t have one and you plan to visit 2 or more national parks during a USA road trip, I strongly suggest buying one. At just $79.99 for the year, it typically pays for itself after the third use and it covers 2,000 parklands in the U.S. National Parks system.

Make sure you double-check that you have all this information easily handy in case you need it on your trip.

If you are renting a car at your destination, make sure you get all the paperwork from the car rental office and ensure you’re sufficiently insured for the trip.

Travel insurance

If your road trip includes going to another state or country where you are not insured locally, you may need travel insurance in order to cover you in case of incident.

Double check with your health insurance plan and car insurance plan to ensure you’re within their coverage; if not, travel insurance will fill in the gaps.

Roadside emergency kit

You should already have an emergency kit in your car with things like a reflective triangle, rain poncho, emergency blanket, safety vest, safety whistle, etc. in case of an emergency.

But if you don’t, know is a good time to invest in a roadside emergency kit that also includes a first aid kit.

If you’re bringing your own car from home, you’ll want to make sure you have things like jumper cables, etc. in case you have a battery die on you on the road.

Car manual

Have your physical car manual handy or download an electronic version of it before you set out on your road trip — it’s essential in case any funky lights turn on and you’re not sure what they mean, or if you have trouble with some function.

Once on a road trip in Utah, I managed to lock the steering wheel of a rental car, and it was really counterintuitive to understanding how to unlock it. I almost got stuck out there for hours! Be sure to have access to a car manual, whether physical or electronic, before setting out on your road trip.

Spare tire & tire changing kit

Having a spare tire isn’t much good if you don’t have a jack or kit to change out the tire. Make sure your tire changing kit is complete (or buy your tire changing kit before you head out), and make sure you know how to use it!

Flashlight or headlamp

In case you get somewhere poorly lit after dark, have an emergency in the night, or just go on a sunset hike and need to light your way back, a flashlight or headlamp is key (and make sure to bring some extra batteries, too!)

I love a headlamp to keep my hands free when I’m hiking — a rechargeable one like this is a great travel must-have.

Any seasonal car gear

For the most part, this packing list is geared towards summer road trips, but if you happen to be planning a winter road trip, don’t neglect seasonal car necessities like an ice scraper, tire chains, etc.

Basic Road Trip Necessities

These are the little things that are easy to accidentally skim over and forget.

They aren’t as vitally important as the above, because they’re easy to replace on the road, but save time by packing these road trip necessities before you go!

Car cell phone charger

You will zap your cell phone battery FAST while on a road trip, so it’s essential to have a car charger.

I like this dual purpose phone mount and portable charger!

USB cords

Of course, it’s pretty hard to connect your phone and charge it and do all sorts of other necessary 21st-century things without USB cords.

Bring 1 or 2 more than you need, it’s always a good idea.

Handsfree phone holder

I recommended this 2-in-1 phone mount/charger above — if you don’t already have a phone mount, or you want one that chargers, this is clutch!

Coins & small bills

There are places in the world that still use only cash… shocking, I know.

When you are ready to hit the road, don’t get caught off guard without any cash for a park entrance fee, bathroom fee, road tolls, or little odds and ends along the way like buying tasty produce from a local roadside farm stand!

Paper map or offline map

Yes, paper maps still exist and not just as an Instagram prop… although they do make awesome Instagram props, too.

Or if you just want to use your phone, that’s OK too, but be sure to download all the offline maps using Google Maps or Maps.me

A killer road trip playlist!

OK, what good is a road trip without some awesome music? Be sure to have an epic playlist ready to go.

My friend Stephanie gathered all the best road trip songs — download some before you go in case you need some tunes when you don’t have any data or WiFi.

If you prefer podcasts, have your favorite shows downloaded and ready to go.

Road Trip Items for Hygiene & Travel Safety

In the current public health crisis, it’s important to bring plenty of sanitizing gear with you when you’re on a road trip. There are lots of high touch-point surfaces you may not think of immediately, like a gas station nozzle, which can be high-risk on a road trip.

Here’s what I recommend you pack for a road trip in 2021 in the current hygiene context.

Alcohol wipes

While there was a huge run on sanitizing wipes in the US, shortages are on the decline, but it’s still just as important to bring wipes with you on a trip, vaccinated or not!

It’s best to try to source alcohol wipes in a store from a brand you trust or from a verified brand seller on Amazon, such as from the Clorox store.

Use alcohol wipes on high-touch surfaces as needed and not excessively — soap and water should be your primary line of cleaning and defense.

I suggest you use these when not otherwise possible, such as when at a gas station or using a touchpad at an ATM or grocery store.

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer as well is another great thing to have on hand when on the road, as sources of hand sanitizer cannot always be guaranteed and there may be times where it is difficult or less safe to go to a public restroom.

Again, it’s better to try to source hand sanitizer in a store from a trusted brand, but in the absence of that being possible, this brand available online looks to be safe, FDA-approved, and with a high-enough level of ethyl alcohol to be safe.

Spare liquid soap

Liquid or bar soap is still the gold standard for washing your hands and should be chosen over hand sanitizer whenever you have access to water.

Some gas stations, park bathrooms, etc. may not be well-attended, so bring some spare liquid soap with a locking top or a bar of soap in a Ziploc baggie just in case.

Be sure to wash your hands for 30-40 seconds, every part, in order to get the full sanitation benefits.

Face mask

When in places where distancing is not possible, you will need to wear a face mask to keep yourself and fellow humans safe.

Bring multiple cloth face masks and circulate them, allowing face masks ample time in the sun when possible (such as leaving them on your dashboard) or washing them in between uses in order to sanitize the masks.

Extra water

Not specifically hygiene-related, but worth putting in this section nonetheless.

Be sure to have a few gallons of extra water in your car for emergencies. Whether it’s replacing the water to cool down your engine or emergency drinking water if you’re stranded, it’s a cheap and simple thing to add to your road trip packing list with no downside.

Personal Comfort Road Trip Items

These are the little things when packing for a road trip that make your time much more comfortable on the road.

From snacks to sunscreen, travel towels to travel pillows, these are the little things that you probably already have at home that you should make sure not to forget on your long road trip.

Road trip snacks

There’s a funny quote about snacks for road trips… it goes like this: “It doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should always look like an unsupervised 9-year-old was given $100.”

I’m not sure who originally said it, but it’s true. Nothing ruins a road trip faster like hanger… so be sure to avoid it!

Have a good mix of snacks and not just sweet ones. I find that too many sweets on an empty stomach is a recipe for major headaches. Likewise, too many salty snacks and not enough water will also do you in!

I like having things like KIND bars, trail mix, granola bars, chips when I need something salty, RXBar protein bars, etc. for my trip.

Toilet paper / Kleenex

Don’t be caught off guard by a poorly stocked restroom! Bring your own toilet paper from home, or have a resealable pack of Kleenex with you.

Basic medicines

At a minimum, you should have motion sickness tablets, painkillers like ibuprofen/paracetamol, and something like Pepto-Bismol tablets for upset stomachs while you’re on the road.

Rehydration packets

Impromptu hikes, lack of schedule, random meal times, salty snacks, sunny days, hangovers from wine nights after driving duty is done: there are many reasons it’s easy to get dehydrated while road tripping.

I always pack some rehydration packets with me on my travels as I’m prone to getting dehydrated and getting headaches, and they’re a lifesaver. I recommend these ones.

Microfiber towel

I can’t express to you how much I love microfiber travel towels!

They pack up to nearly nothing and they’re super effective at soaking up moisture… plus they quick-dry so fast compared to standard home towels!

Whether you take a dip in a lake or river, are staying in a hotel or Airbnb that doesn’t provide enough towels, or need an impromptu picnic blanket or beach touch, a microfiber travel towel is a road trip must pack.

Bug spray

Nothing ruins a scenic sunset worse than being inundated by bug bites! For a natural DEET-free solution, try this lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent.

After-bite care

Some bites are inevitable no matter how diligent you are with bug spray. Keep itchiness at bay with an After Bite itch eraser, which instantly soothes any bug bites.

Sunscreen

Did you know you should always wear sunscreen while driving? The windshield doesn’t protect you against all UV rays — while they protect against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), most do not block UVA rays, which cause aging and skin cancer.

Plus, you’ll want it for hikes, days out in the sun, beach days, and that sort of thing. This is the sunscreen I use on my face daily, and I use a cheaper basic sunscreen for my skin.

No matter what your skin tone or race, Black, white, or Asian, you need to wear sunscreen daily — and on a road trip it’s no different!

If you’re hiking, don’t forget about your scalp either — I often end up with a burned scalp and it’s no fun, often leading to headaches. Buy a special sunscreen for hair and scalp to avoid this!

Lip balm with SPF

Be sure to bring a hydrating lip balm that also has SPF on your road trip! Poor hydration and lots of sun can both cause dry, chapped lips which are no fun when traveling. I like the key lime Sun Bum chapstick best.

Sunglasses

There’s nothing worse than squinting through the windshield as the sun nearly blinds you while you drive! Seasoned roadtrippers know to bring your favorite sunglasses, plus a cheap spare pair as backup.

Travel pillow

You hopefully have someone to divide the driving duties with, so while you’re on a break from manning the road, you’ll want to have a comfortable way to kick back and enjoy your time off of driving duty.

This cozy memory-foam travel pillow also comes with an eye mask if you need to catch some Zs while another driver takes over!

Travel blanket

A cozy-soft travel blanket, whether it’s just a blanket you love from home that you don’t mind taking on the road or a specialty travel blanket, will make your time on the road that much more comfortable.

Also great for impromptu picnics, sunset hikes that get surprisingly chilly, and taking a nap while you’re off duty.

Insulated travel mug

I use and swear by Contigo travel mugs — they’re leakproof and pretty much indestructible and they’re inexpensive to boot. This one is vacuum-insulated and fits standard cupholders easily.

Reusable water bottle

Don’t waste plastic or money constantly buying new water bottles at obscene prices!

Get a reusable water bottle and either refill it from your extra-large water containers mentioned above (safer given the current situation) or fill up in sinks and fountains along the way.

This one is insulated, stainless steel, and convenient to drink from. Another good choice would be a collapsible water bottle like this one which you can take with you when hiking.

It’s a great zero waste travel item.

Tote bags

In case you need to buy groceries or other things along the way, bring some reusable tote bags to decrease your plastic footprint.

Day pack

Day packs are essential when hiking or leaving the car for a bit to do some sightseeing and needing to bring essentials like bug spray, sunglasses, water, and sunscreen with you.

This Osprey day pack is the perfect size and it’s designed by a company that specializes in ergonomic solutions for backpackers, so you know it’ll be comfortable.

Wet wipes

As opposed to alcohol-based wipes which are primarily for sanitizing things, wet wipes are nice to have on hand for a quick freshening up before proper showers or face-washing.

These biodegradable wet wipes are easy on the environment and your skin, with aloe vera and Vitamin E.

Vaseline

Vaseline is a traveler’s miracle, perfect for everything from fixing flyaways to helping super-chapped lips or hands (common when hyper-sanitizing!) to preventing chub rub, a summer affliction for the thicker-thighed ladies out there like me.

I always make sure I travel with Vaseline and while you don’t walk as much on road trips as on other forms of travel, it’s still such an easy addition to your bag that I say bring it!

Haircare

For ladies with long hair, a brush and hair ties are a must, especially on hot days. I also tend to take advantage of the fact that I’m not flying and thus don’t have to adhere to liquid restrictions when I’m road tripping by bringing my favorite shampoos from home.

Your hair care needs will vary depending on your hair length and hair texture, so bring whatever you know you need for your personal hair care, including any heat styling tools you want, because space isn’t an issue when road tripping!

Toiletries

Whatever toiletries you need from home, bring it on the road with you because the great thing about a road trip is no checking luggage! Here’s a quick list of toiletries you likely want with you.

  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Razor & shaving cream
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Face wash
  • Any acne or anti-aging skin treatments
  • Moisturizer
  • Body lotion-
  • Makeup

Comfortable clothing

When road tripping, think loose, comfy clothing that’s easily breathable which transition from car to outside easily.

For women, I suggest the following at a minimum for car/outdoor comfort. Yoga pants or leggings with a comfortable waistband, tee shirts with a sports bra, hiking boots or sneakers depending on activity, some sandals or flipflops for quicker rest stops: these are some road trip clothing essentials.

You’ll also want to bring layers like a jacket for any needed warmth, depending on the temperatures of your destination.

You may want to also bring some packing cubes (I like these from Eagle Creek) for your clothes and a laundry bag for dirty clothing to add a little organization to your trip, especially if you’re stopping in different destinations each night.

Rain jacket

I included this separately from the comfortable clothes section because I wanted to highlight and underline how important a good rain jacket is. Rain is inevitable at times, so might as well dress for it!

I love the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I used mine for years biking in all sorts of rainy NYC weather and it always kept me dry without making me too hot and uncomfortable like some other rain jackets can, due to the zippered arm-pits which provide ventilation.

This is key if you plan to do anything outdoors like hiking or other active day trips while it’s raining.

Umbrella

In addition to a rain jacket, grab an umbrella from home and toss it in the car in case of rain!

Kids Entertainment

If you’re hitting the road with kids in tow, you’ll want to be prepared for the inevitable “are we there yet?” with plenty of road trip games and entertainment for your little ones.

I’m childfree so I don’t know exactly how to handle this, but here are some tips for surviving long drives with kids!

Road Trip Electronics

These are the electrics odds and ends that you’ll most likely want with you on your road trip!

External batteries

The Anker external battery pack is a travel must. While you can charge your phone while driving, you may want to charge other devices — a camera, a drone, portable speakers, an e-reader — as well.

Or if you notice your battery is running low while you’re out hiking or sightseeing, you can just start charging right away without having to return to your car. It holds several charges on a single battery pack and will last days at a time.

Camera & extra batteries

For all my years of running this travel blog, I’ve relied on my Sony A6000 to take nearly-professional quality images. I don’t sell my photography, but I do love having wonderfully preserved memories, and this camera is the perfect middle-ground above a smartphone yet below the 5-figure kits that most photographers give.

Whatever camera you choose, be sure to have plenty of extra batteries and the battery charger as well — plus extra memory cards! I rely exclusively on 64GB Sandisk memory cards.

Laptop & charger

I bring my Macbook air and charger with me everywhere, but you may not need this set up if you don’t need to do any work while you travel.

Portable speaker

I love having a Bluetooth speaker with me on road trips. They’re great for when you find an isolated spot you want to chill with friends at (though of course, make sure to be a decent citizen and don’t blast your music when other people are around enjoying nature).

Kindle or inspiring audiobooks

I bring my waterproof Kindle e-reader with me everywhere, but I can’t read while people are driving or I get motion sickness badly! So I love listening to inspiring adventure books on Audible while I travel.

Portable WiFi device

If you need to work while on your road trip or want to have a WiFi device handy so kids can connect to their devices (and you can stay sane), a portable WiFi hotspot is a road trip essential.

I like this GlocalMe WiFi device which is compact and easy to set up. Note that it won’t work all the time, as there need to be cell towers around, but on the plus side, it doesn’t need to access a specific network so even if your phone does not have signal, it might!

Fun Road Trip Accessories

These aren’t strictly necessary, but these little items will make your road trip much more memorable and a whole lot more fun!

Instant camera

I love this Instax mini instant camera for printable memories on demand! It’s the modern version of a Polaroid and it’s a great way to preserve memories of your trip.

Because face it, how often do you develop digital photos?

Car cooler

There are two routes when picking a car cooler: one that’s powered by the electric unit in your car (like this one) or a standard ice cooler.

Either makes it possible to enjoy food that needs to be refrigerated on-the-go, ice-cold drinks, or keep essential things stored at fridge temperature.

Travel corkscrew or Swiss army knife

Because what good is end-of-the-driving-day wine or beer if you have trouble opening it?

This is the classic Swiss army knife by Victorinox, but if you just want a corkscrew/bottle opener, you can have a simpler set-up like this ‘waiter’s friend’ style corkscrew.

Just make sure that if you’re flying before starting your next road trip, you don’t want to pack it in your carry-on!

Picnic basket

Extra? Absolutely. But how cute and romantic is this picnic basket setup?

If you’re road tripping with a loved one and want to have romantic picnics, with the family and want to make special memories, or you just want some darn cute pictures of you and your friends enoying a road trip picnic, a picnic basket is an excellent choice.

Want something equally enjoyable but far more practical if you’re hiking? This picnic backpack is an excellent alternative.

Lumbar support

If you get back pain a lot — holler at my over 30 crowd — lumbar support for your car will be an absolute game changer!

Is it cute? No. But neither is being hunched over for days because you didn’t take care of your back, either.

Travel notebook & pen

This page-a-day travel journal is the perfect sidekick for remembering your travels and jotting down notes from the open road.

Tasty instant coffee

If you’re a coffee geek reading this, you probably want to throw something at me for the contradiction in terms that is “tasty instant coffee.”

But don’t stop reading! Joe Coffee, a NYC-based coffee shop, has delicious instant coffees which they dehydrate in small batches so that your cup tastes like a freshly-brewed one. Buy it online on Amazon here.

Better yet, they work in either cold or hot water so you can have an iced coffee or hot coffee fuss-free (most hotels you stay at should have an electric tea kettle).

Not sure how to make coffee on the road? Read my guide to the best travel coffee products — certified by a former barista!

Folding chairs

Plan to have some days where you just relax lakeside or riverside and enjoy the scenery, or even some beach days?

Folding camping chairs are cheap, easy to pack, and amp up your road trip experience to the next level.

Mad Libs & other games

Did anyone else play Mad Libs all the time as a kid on road trips and planes? To me, this is the ultimate childhood nostalgia game — and it’s really a load of fun!

Other fun road trip games include a deck of cards, Bananagrams, etc., though a lot of these are better suited for rest stops and hotel nights than the open road.

Quick Road Trip Checklist

Want the above list in bullet form? Find all your road trip essentials and necessities below!

Road Trip Essentials:

  • Car documents
  • Driver’s license
  • Travel insurance
  • Roadside emergency kit
  • Car manual
  • Spare tire & tire changing kit
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Any seasonal/winter car gear (scraper, chains, etc.)

** If car camping, check this car camping packing list and read my camping tips for beginners post.

Other Road Trip Necessities:

  • Car charger
  • Spare USB cords
  • Handsfree phone holder
  • Coins and small bills
  • Paper map / offline maps
  • An awesome road trip playlist (or Spotify, podcasts, etc.)

Road Trip Items for Hygiene:

  • Alcohol or bleach wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand soap
  • Face masks
  • Large multi-gallon jugs of water in case of emergency

Personal Comfort Items:

  • Road trip snacks (granola bars, nuts, chips, etc.)
  • Toilet paper & Kleenex
  • Basic medicines
  • Rehydration packets
  • Microfiber towel
  • Bug spray
  • Afterbite care
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel pillow
  • Travel blanket
  • Insulated travel mug
  • Reusable water bottle (metal or collapsible for hiking)
  • Tote bags
  • Day pack
  • Wet wipes for face
  • Vaseline
  • Haircare products
  • Comfortable clothing
  • Rain jacket
  • Umbrella
  • Kids entertainment

Toiletries:

  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Razor & shaving cream
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Face wash
  • Any acne or anti-aging skin treatments
  • Moisturizer
  • Body lotion-
  • Makeup

Essential Road Trip Electronics:

  • External battery packs
  • Camera & camera batteries
  • Laptop & charger
  • Portable speaker
  • Kindle and/or Audiobooks
  • Portable WiFi device

Fun Road Trip Extras:

  • Instant camera
  • Car cooler
  • Travel corkscrew or Swiss army knife
  • Picnic basket
  • Lumbar support
  • Travel notebook & pen
  • Instant coffee
  • Folding camp chairs
  • Mad Libs, board games, etc.

15 Best Grand Canyon Airbnbs & Vacation Rentals: Glamping, Tiny Houses + Beyond

The Grand Canyon is one of those places that figures highly on nearly everyone’s U.S. bucket lists.

This stunning natural wonder was one of the first national parks in the United States, the result of erosion from the Colorado River over 6 million years.

At a whopping 277 miles long and a maximum depth over a mile (6,000 feet) at its deepest points, the Grand Canyon defies explanation. It’s a place that must be seen, not merely described.

One way to get an idea of the scale of the Grand Canyon is this: archaeologically speaking, looking at the Grand Canyon is looking at the past, the past 2 billion years of Earth’s geological history through all the different layers of rock and earth.

The Grand Canyon is part of the National Park Service, which means that accommodation options are strictly controlled and limited within the park. There are some campsites and some official lodging within the park, but they are expensive and tend to sell out months upon months in advance/

As a result, many people stay in Airbnbs near the Grand Canyon, or other similar vacation rentals which offer the best combination of price point, ease of access, amenities, and safety in the current social distance context!

NOTE: Airbnb terminated their affiliate partner program abruptly shortly after their IPO launch. I’ll let you read between those lines.

If you have a choice, I strongly urge you to book through VRBO, Booking, or any other program that values its blogger partners. This helps me earn a commission, at no extra cost to you, and provide relevant, free travel content!

Here are my top choices for the best rentals near the Grand Canyon!

Best Grand Canyon Rental for Budget Glamping: Nomad’s Pad

Nomads Pad
Image via Nomad’s Pad

Price: From $130/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book via Instagram or find this property on Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Located a mere 30 minutes (by car) from the Grand Canyon South Rim, Nomad’s Pad Glamping Tent offers the unique experience of turning an open Arizona landscape into your own personal kitchen and living room, as long as you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

The nomadic-style tents has the only ‘indoor’ amenities you really need – a bed and a heater. With that said, the tent is quite resistant to the elements and there are insect screens to protect you from unwanted guests, so you can truly immerse yourself in nature and not worry about pests or unforeseen weather changes ruining your outdoor vacation.

The tent is about as environmentally friendly as it could be, as everything on the property is powered by solar energy, propane, and batteries.

The property has multiple tents which are well spaced-out, so you can expect absolute privacy without feeling completely alone in the wilderness.

The only things that are shared among the tents are the toilet and shower (which has an unending supply of hot water).

Each tent area has its own seating, fire pit, stove, and hammocks. This location is ideal for people who want to forget that their phones exist for a few days and just want to experience the great outdoors with family or friends, distanced from others.

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Book via Instagram or Hipcamp

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Eco-Friendly Glamping: Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat

Image via Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat

Price: From $248/night and up
Guests: 5
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Page
Book it on Booking.com

Striking the perfect balance between eco-friendly and well-furnished, Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat features accommodation with free private parking for all glamping units.

Every tent or hogan include a terrace, a seating and a dining area, comfy camp beds, and a log burner. Moreover, it’s possible to enjoy a vegetarian or a gluten-free breakfast too.

The eco-friendly lodgings also feature a garden with a barbecue at this property and guests can go hiking and fishing nearby.

The limited space is utilized to its maximum potential, and there’s room for up to five people to sleep in the tent, making it a great place to visit if you’re traveling with friends.    

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Book it on Booking.com
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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Families: Under Canvas Grand Canyon

Under Canvas Grand Canyon
Image via Under Canvas Grand Canyon

Price: From $300/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 2
Nearest City: Valle
Find it on Booking.com: Under Canvas Grand Canyon

If you’re looking for a vacation house near the Grand Canyon and you’d like to go there with your family or friends, Under Canvas Grand Canyon is just the place for you.

There are different tents for you to choose from. And when you compare the Stargaze tent, the Safari tent, and the Deluxe tent with a Kids tent, it’s not easy to make up your mind! They’re all gorgeous.

This is the perfect Arizona getaway spot for up to four people, with spacious interiors enough for everyone to be able to sit and get around.

Located in the wilderness, the property offers plenty of interesting sightseeing options. The suites are super comfortable and it’s even possible to use the barbecue facilities. Vegetarian or American breakfasts are also served to guests.

Most importantly, the house is a 45-minute drive from Flagstaff, yet because it’s quite isolated, you’ll be able to get to one of America’s greatest natural landmarks without worrying about crowds and tourists along the way.

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Check availability and book your stay here
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Best Grand Canyon Rental Close to the Park: Grand Canyon Bungalow

Image via Grand Canyon Bungalow

Price: From $250/night and up
Guests: 6
Bedrooms: 3
Nearest City: Grand Canyon Village
Book it on VRBO

Grand Canyon Bungalow 3 is conveniently located 1 mile from the Grand Canyon National Park — meaning you don’t need to sweat parking at the often crowded South Rim parking lot!

This simple yet cozy house can accommodate up to 6 guests, and its minimalistic design and tastefully chosen furniture make it feel like a genuine home. The large amount of indoor space and the relative seclusion of the location make the house great for unwinding and enjoying the peaceful environment.

There’s plenty to be done outdoors, too – the perimeter of the house is covered in trees, so exploring the forest may lead to some interesting discoveries, and visitors can expect a beautiful morning view from the windows.

Additionally, the Arizona trailhead is nearby, adding to the already long list of locations of interest in Grand Canyon NP, and the front porch makes for a beautiful place to look at the sunset and the night sky if you just want to sit back and relax after a long day of hiking.

There are plenty of beautiful things to be seen in these parts of Arizona besides just the Grand Canyon main viewing area, and those who choose to stay at Grand Canyon Bungalow will really be able to make the most of their trip.

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Book it on VRBO
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Best Grand Canyon Rental for the Nostalgic: Sheep Wagon

Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $203/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Page
Find it on Hipcamp: Sheep Wagon. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Have you ever wanted to sleep in a covered wagon in the middle of nowhere under a brilliant starry sky? This unique and beautifully restored sheepherder’s wagon from the early 1900s will make your dream come true!

Remember that water is a precious commodity in the desert, so for your comfort, bathing water is provided in a container heated by the sun. Note that there is no running water on the Navajo nation.

This stay is very minimalist, but it will definitely help you relax and connect with nature, surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.

The property provides a breakfast of fresh fruit, breakfast bars, and your choice of coffee or Navajo Tea. Cooking of other meals can be done over open fire at the outdoor fire pit. Small wood bundles of firewood or charcoal to cook can be purchased at any outlet in the town of Page.

If what you’re looking to get out of your trip is an unforgettable stay in a dreamy lodging, then this beautiful wagon is for you.

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Check availability and book on Hipcamp here
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Best Rental for Hipsters on a Budget: Rustic Airstream

Image via Rustic Airstream

Price: From $45/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book it on VRBO

Those in the market for an off-the-grid experience near the Grand Canyon will appreciate what the Rustic Airstream has to offer – conveniently located around 35 minutes from the GC National Park (by car), this camper makes for a great hub for resting in between hikes and trips.

A heater is provided for winter visits, and you’ll have access to a fire pit for evening relaxation. 

Up to 3 people can sleep inside the camper, but the hosts can provide you with tents in case you want to come with a larger group, making this place a great pick for a family of seasoned outdoorsmen

As is typical for open-field camping, you can expect all kinds of beautiful sights and an amazing view of the night sky. The outside property is communal, as other travelers and campers frequent locations near the Grand Canyon, but you can expect absolute peace, quiet, and privacy inside this cozy domicile.

The Rustic Airstream is best suited for those who are looking for basic protection over luxury, and who just want to ensure that their camping trip won’t be ruined by unforeseen forces of nature.

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Book on VRBO
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Best Grand Canyon VRBO for Nostalgia & Western Lovers: The Old West

Price: From $142/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book it on VRBO

Want to feel like you’re staying on the set of a Clint Eastwood movie?

Aficionados of the Wild West period and aesthetic will certainly enjoy staying at The Old West Loft – with a style reminiscent of the kinds of lofts you’ve seen in cowboy movies, this property is certainly one-of-a-kind!

The interior combines modern furniture and retro decorative elements, all while retaining the old-school flooring – this gives the place a lot of character and a rustic ambient without detracting from its coziness. It’s also very spacious, so it makes for a great spot to gather a group of people and relax. 

Another draw of The Old West Loft is its relative isolation, as it’s about 30 minutes from Williams with practically no one else in the vicinity, making it the perfect spot for an isolated vacation.

Also, it’s only about a 20-minute drive to the from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so you get to relish in the peace and quiet of the location while still being relatively close to the region’s trademark tourist attraction.

As far as the simpler pleasures go, if you’ve ever wanted to see a Western-style sunset looming over the Arizona cliffs, the porch of the property offers an amazing view.

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Book it on VRBO
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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb for Camper Comfort: Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Image via Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Price: From $298/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 2
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on Booking.com: Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Grand Canyon RV Glamping goes above and beyond what the average camper experience can offer.

The camper is about one hour from the Grand Canyon National Park and only 20 minutes from the center of William. This is a perfect choice for tourists and sightseers in groups of up to 4 people.

The interior has everything you would expect a full-fledged house to have, including a fully furnished kitchen and dining area, air conditioning, a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, and a private bathroom with free toiletries.

The interior is stylish but minimalistic – the sleek combination of black furniture and silver kitchenware give the camper a very luxurious feel,

That said, if you’re traveling to this part of America, you aren’t likely to be spending a lot of time inside the RV anyway, so whenever you’re not out and about exploring the Grand Canyon NP, you can spend the day off on the lawn chairs by the picnic table outside or by having a relaxing barbecue with family and friends.

People looking to isolate themselves for a vacation of peace and quiet will really appreciate the location.

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb For Digital Nomads: Legends RV

Image via Legends RV

Price: From $149/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on Airbnb: Legends RV with High Speed WiFi

The Legends RV truly lives up to its name – the layout of the interior puts a lot of large houses and apartments to shame.

Recreational vehicles can often be an eyesore inside and out, but this particular camper doesn’t have that problem, as its eye-catching interior is colored in every shade of brown under the sun, and the reflective wooden surfaces are beautifully accentuated in the Arizona sunshine.

It can fit up to four guests, and on top of being cozy, it has its own water and power supplies, high-speed WiFi, as well as a modern kitchen.

Aside from being a top-of-the-line camper, another feature of note is that Legends RV is only a 20-mile drive from the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Once you make your way back, you can relax on the outdoor seating and fire up the barbecue grill for a tasty dinner and a night of stargazing – needless to say, the vast expanse of land makes for a beautiful nighttime view.

Alternatively, if you’ve had enough of the outdoors for one day, you can relax inside by watching a Netflix show on the smart TV and relaxing on one of the futons. Now that’s a camper with comfort!

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Experiencing Indigenous Culture: Navajo Hogan Earth House

Image credit: VRBO

Price: From $124/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Cameron
Find it on VRBO

The Navajo Hogan Earth House is unlike any rental you’ve probably ever seen – it’s a one-room hut made of earth, built in the style of Navajo Indian dwellings.

Positioned by the Little Colorado River, around 30 miles from the Grand Canyon, this little Native-owned haven is ideal for a couple looking to explore the National Park and to truly become one with nature.

The complete lack of electricity and running water, in conjunction with the minimalistic design of the interior, are in fact the selling points of this particular property, as going all-natural lets visitors truly soak in the beauty of their surroundings.

You can even bring your pet along if you suspect you might get lonely, as long as you keep it off the bedding.

This is not to say, however, that the hogan is insufficiently furnished – the beds are comfortable, and a stove is provided for outdoor cooking and to keep warm if you’re visiting when it’s colder.

You can use the outside stove and firewood for cooking, and you will be provided with a supply of water to use at your discretion. This house is ideal for people who want to immerse themselves in the Navajo culture or are just looking for something completely different.

IMPORTANT: Note that this property is located in Navajo Nation. Please follow all local laws and respect tribal sovereignty, and check current restrictions here before planning a trip, as at the time of writing, Navajo Nation is closed for tourism (as per Executive Order 2020-021).

Please also familiarize yourself with the protocols of staying on Navajo land so you can treat your Indigenous hosts with respect for their culture, religion, and customs.

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Find it on VRBO
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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Hogans: The Hogan

The Hogan
Image via The Hogan

Price: From $190/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Cameron
Book it with VRBO.

Located on Navajo Nation land, this beautiful homestead hosts hogans (Navajo one-room dwellings — learn more about them here) for all kinds of travelers.

The Hogan is an eight sided traditional Navajo dwelling that can host up to 4 people. It is owned by Native American family and it is located in a large acreage working sheep ranch and off grid glamping hotel. for your comfort, a traditional breakfast is included in the price.

The places offers guests a unique stay on the Navajo Nation. Immersion in nature, near zero light pollution and unparalleled views.

IMPORTANT: Note that this property is located in Navajo Nation. Please follow all local laws and respect tribal sovereignty, and check current restrictions here before planning a trip, as at the time of writing, Navajo Nation is closed for tourism (as per Executive Order 2020-021).

Please also familiarize yourself with the protocols of staying on Navajo land so you can treat your Indigenous hosts with respect for their culture, religion, and customs.

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Book it on VRBO
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Best Airbnb for Couples on a Budget: The Majestic – Historic Mini Motel

The Majestic Historic Mini Motel
Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $69/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Meadview
Book it with VRBO or Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

If you’re looking to explore the Grand Canyon with your significant other and on a budget, then this historic mini motel is the place for you. 

This room is The Majestic, a historic motel room that used to be used to house the workers of Route 66. The place has been completely restored but still maintains a unique vintage charm.

You will be able to rest in a full-sized bed with a gel memory foam mattress topper. The room also features a desk space, a dresser, and a full bathroom with a vanity area and closet space.

The campground just 10 miles from Lake Mead and 17 Miles from the Colorado River. Here you can enjoy top-notch stargazing, bird watching, fishing, off-roading, and more. There are also kayaks available to rent.

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Rental for Romance: The Bell Tent Suite

the bell tent suite
Image via The Bell Tent Suite

Price: From $235/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book with VRBO or Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Nothing complements a nature trip quite like a tent in the desert, and the Bell Tent Suite is no exception.

The tent is very well appointed and fully furnished. Outfitted with all the amenities for a pleasant stay, including bedding, linens, and wool blankets.

You will also find candles, candle lanterns, a flashlight, and a solar light. Books, games, snacks, juice, and water. This tent is equipped with just about everything you could reasonably expect, and more.

It can comfortably fit two guests, and a small child as well. The stay is very minimalist, to be immersed in outstanding natural beauty. Cooking can be done over an open fire at the outdoor fire pit. There is also a grill for the open fire. 

As is the case with any other tent, you are highly incentivized to spend as much time outside as possible, and The Bell Tent Suite location really allows for that. Furthermore, the view of the night sky is simply beautiful.

The tent is an ideal basecamp for Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon!

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Animal Lovers: Nest in a Retro Wagon

Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $82/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book with Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

The retro wagon is a great off-grid recreational vehicle for a pair of travelers passing through northern Arizona and looking to visit the Grand Canyon.

The inside is incredibly cozy thanks to the futon mattress, and you’ll have access to a nearby community bathroom, shower (where, thanks to the water heater, you have a guaranteed supply of hot water in the summer), and kitchenette (equipped with supplies for a healthy organic breakfast).

The Retro Wagon is about a 30-minute drive from the Grand Canyon. Having worked in the GC National Park, the hosts would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the park.

You’ll see a wide assortment of animals on the property, including cats, a donkey, chickens, an alpaca, and a dog, and you’re encouraged to interact with and feed them (except for the dog who is on a special diet).

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Find this property on Hipcamp.
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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb for Minimalists: The Kyoob

thekyoob

Price: From $310/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on VRBO: The Kyoob

Only 5 minutes to Horseshoe Bend, the Kyoob is a modern architectural cabin at Shash Dine.

The idea of the house is to provide you with a basic level of comfort and to let you immerse yourself in nature by getting out and exploring the beautiful terrain. However, the cabin was designed for light, openness, and immersion in nature through the fantastic windows.

The view from the outside is beautiful, and you can expect to catch some unforgettable sunrises, sunsets, and constellations. Also, the house is only eleven miles from Antelope Canyon.

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Check availability and book on VRBO here
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Your Puerto Rico Packing List: What to Wear in Puerto Rico

With year-round warm weather, beautiful beaches with buttery soft sand, and vibrant city culture, Puerto Rico is the has-it-all destination within a short flight from the U.S. mainland.

Despite not needing a passport to visit, Puerto Rico offers a unique culture all of its own. Puerto Rican culture is influenced heavily by its Taíno roots (the Indigenous people of the Caribbean who pre-dated Columbus’ invasion), as well as African, Spanish, and American cultures: a result of its complex history of colonization, slavery, and its present-day status as a colony by a different name.

This post will focus on what to pack for Puerto Rico and so I don’t want to get too much into such a complex topic here. I wrote a quick summary of Puerto Rican history and things to know before you go on this Puerto Rico travel guide that may be helpful to read before arriving in PR.

Packing lists can be quite personal, and I don’t claim that this is the only or most comprehensive Puerto Rico packing list out there. This is what I’ve personally brought on my two trips to Puerto Rico as a minimalist traveler who still likes to look cute when I travel and bring a few of my favorite products.

I’ve broken this list down into the 10 most essential items to make sure aren’t missing from your Puerto Rico packing list, then I’ve followed it up by what to wear in Puerto Rico for women and men. Finally, there are a few little extras that you should consider when packing for trip to Puerto Rico, located at the end of the post.

10 Essential Things to Pack for Puerto Rico

Reef-safe sunscreen: If there is one thing I hope you take away from this Puerto Rico packing list, I hope it’s this! The future health of the reefs around Puerto Rico depends on the actions you take today. Your choice on what sunscreen to wear has a huge impact on keeping Puerto Rico’s reef system healthy for future generations. When it comes to a reef-safe option, I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and it won’t hurt the animals who call the reefs around Puerto Rico home.

Chemical-free insect repellent: Just like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s critical that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico, especially when you get in the water! A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems. Spraying your clothes with

An awesome travel towel: An actually-good travel towel changes the game. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about a sad little microfiber square that might as well be a washcloth. I’m talking a true microfiber beach towel that serves you just as well on a beach day as it does after a long shower. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay, which easily knocks off sand in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials.

Bathing suits you love. When packing for a trip to Puerto Rico, you’ve got to have swimwear you really love — and that loves you back. I love wearing a two-piece, but I often get bloated while I travel and I hate feeling awkward in my swimwear after a day indulging in too much mofongo and lechon. Solution? High-waisted swimsuits! I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I would bring 3 swimsuits for one week in Puerto Rico so I never have to suffer the indignity of putting on a wet bathing suit, because no one — and I mean no one — has time for that.

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

Comfortable and secure daypack: My everyday backpack is this awesome PacSafe CitySafe backpack – it has a lot of awesome security features that make it insanely useful for city travel. While Puerto Rico is quite safe, pickpocketing can be an issue in cities. Personally, I love the locking zippers and slash-proof construction for peace of mind. Even when I don’t need the security features, I just love this bag because it’s great at fitting all the things I need for my day (mine can fit a camera and several lenses, a drone, my reusable water bottle, some snacks, and a few other odds and ends), and it’s actually — dare I say — cute?

Portable charger: You’ll use your phone battery more than you thought in Puerto Rico – whether it’s using it to take photos or videos, or to navigate as you drive around the country. Bring a portable charger to save yourself many headaches! Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use as a blogger with approximately 102 different gadgets I use – make sure you get one that can hold several charges at once so you don’t have to charge it every single night.

Motion sickness tablets: Many activities in Puerto Rico have you out on the water, which can be tough for people like me who are prone to seasickness and motion sickness! I always pack non-drowsy motion sickness tablets and keep them on hand for days on the water and on long car drives.

Medications from home: Anything you need at home, you’ll likely need on the road. Don’t risk not being able to get the medications you need abroad. Just bring them, and double check that you have them before leaving.

Travel insurance. While this isn’t something you would literally pack for Puerto Rico, travel insurance is really important and should be part of the packing and planning process! Travel insurance covers flight delays and cancellations, as well as personal travel safety against incidents, theft, and illness. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for years and recommend them highly for travel in Puerto Rico (and anywhere, frankly — I’ve trusted them with my safety for 5+ years across 60+ countries!). The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, and the deductible is low if you find yourself needing to make a claim. Trust me, you’ll wish your health insurance was this good. *cries in Kaiser Permanente*

What to Wear in Puerto Rico (For Women)

El morro old san juan
A Saturday stroll at the El Morro grounds in Old San Juan

3-5 lightweight summer dresses: Dresses are great for the hot and often sticky Puerto Rican humid weather. Since they’re lightweight, they pack up nice and small, so feel free to throw a few extras in your bag so you have more options. Since you’ll likely end up wearing one or two as a beach cover-up, having some extras is nice. I like this classic striped dress, but pick whatever you are most comfortable in!

Bike shorts (optional): If you’re a thick-thighed woman like myself, you won’t want to wear dresses without these! Chub rub can ruin your day, so come armed and equipped. I like these Undersummers bike shorts for wearing underneath longer dresses — they come in inclusive sizing up to 5XL and are comfy with no inner thigh seams, which should be a “duh” for designers but often isn’t.

Bandelettes (optional): When I want to wear something cute and short like a minidress, I love these Bandelettes. The plus of the Bandelettes is that unlike short-short bike shorts, they won’t ride up and bunch, so they end up being a lot more comfortable. Plus they allow you to breathe, if ya know what I mean.

5+ tees & tanks: You will sweat a lot in Puerto Rico, so opt for black, navy, and other dark colors. Yes, they attract heat, but they also avoid the telltale yellow pit stains that seem to be my constant vibe whenever I attempt to wear white. If you wear white, make it loose and drapey. I love this simple blank tank.

1 pair jeans: While during the day I felt too hot in jeans, I did occasionally wear my pair of jeans at night and was happy to have one pair in my bag. I like a light-wash, high-waisted pair like these cute and classic Levi’s.

2-3 pairs shorts: I suggest one pair of denim shorts (cuffed or cutoff) and one or two pairs of linen or cotton shorts. Avoid polyester as it doesn’t breathe and you will hate yourself. I suggest these affordable 100% linen shorts! Note that linen wrinkles easily, but if you hang it up in your bathroom while you shower, a lot of the wrinkles will easily shake out and smooth out.

2-3 skirts: I suggest bringing one black skirt and one printed skirt for flexibility. I especially love having midi or maxi length skirts, which feel great and coincidentally look nice in photos. As a bonus, the extra fabric around your legs traps some cool air, making you feel less hot, plus it gives you some extra coverage. I adore this polka dot midi skirt, which looks amazing with some tan sandals, and this twirl-worthy pleated midi comes in a gorgeous selection of colors!

1 pair sneakers: On days when you’re walking around San Juan and all its cobblestones, it’s nice to have a pair of sneakers that can handle the abuse that cobblestones dish out. I always add my pair of black Nikes to every packing list, as I find they look cute even worn with my dresses, and I’m all about having options!

2 pairs sandals: I suggest bringing one pair of rubber flip flops like these Havaianas and another pair of more stylish or dressy sandals. I’m obsessed with my Birkenstock Gizeh sandals and will never go back. If you buy new Birks, though, be sure to break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they mold to form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but trust me, they quickly will become the sandals you never want to take off.

Sandals so nice, I’ve bought them twice!

1 pair heels (optional): I don’t like to dance but I know many travelers plan for a night out in San Juan dancing the night away. If you enjoy dancing in heels, then I’d bring a comfortable pair with you. If you don’t plan to go dancing, then leave these at home – I did, gladly!

1 rain jacket: Even if you don’t plan on traveling in the rainy season (which runs April through December), sometimes the weather has other plans. I love my Marmot rain jacket as it’s lightweight, practically impermeable (tried and tested in rainy NYC biking conditions), and has underarm zips which you can open to vent on hot, humid rainstorm days.

1 lightweight cardigan: Just in case you get cold at night, are battling some extra persistent mosquitos, or want a little extra coverage, a cardigan is good to have. You likely won’t need it in Puerto Rico, but it’s good for the plane. I’d opt for a slightly longish, light-colored open front cardigan.

1-2 bras: I personally brought 1 regular bra and 1 sports bra and switched between the two.

7+ pairs of underwear: You can arrange laundry on the road, but I recommend avoiding it if you only have a week in Puerto Rico or less. If you want to avoid laundry, just bring enough underwear for the duration of your trip.

Socks: As needed for wearing with sneakers.

1 sunhat: Not just for the ‘gram, you’ll want a sunhat as it’ll give your face extra SPF and keep the rays off your face.

Sunglasses: Bring an inexpensive pair or two, or prescription from home if you’re blind as a bat like I am.

What to Wear in Puerto Rico (For Men)

Full disclosure: I’m not a man, nor do I have strong opinions or experience with men’s clothes, so these are guidelines more than actual product recommendations.

This guide is really aimed more at addressing what to wear in Puerto Rico for women since that’s my personal experience, but I’ll throw in some suggestions without much commentary in case it is helpful.

  • 5 short sleeve Ts
  • 2-3 pair jeans or pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of underwear for each day of your trip
  • flip flops or comfortable walking sandals
  • sneakers
  • 1 pair nicer dress shoes if you have a nice dinner/night out
  • 1 nicer button-up shirt for nights out
  • waterproof rain jacket
  • swim trunks
  • 1 lightweight sweater
  • 3-5 pairs of socks
  • sunglasses

Other Things That Need to Be on Your Puerto Rico Packing List

Basic toiletries: This is highly personal, but for me, I need to bring the following: shampoo, conditioner, facial moisturizer, facial sunscreen, and all my little serums. Shoutout to my permanent sidekick, the Valo Vitamin C serum from Lumene, a cruelty-free Finnish brand, which is currently working overtime undoing all the sun damage I unleashed on my poor twenty-something skin before I realized the importance of preventing sun damage and am now seeing in my thirties.

Deodorant: This deserves a separate category, always and forever. I readily admit I am often sweatier than I have any right to be, but I’m obsessed with Secret clinical strength deodorant. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go with a more natural formation, but I’ve often ended up sweat-drenched and rank within hours. This is the only thing that holds up to hot weather travel for me.

Hand sanitizer: The thing we’ll never travel without again! I like these small Purell bottles for travel.

Menstrual cup or your favorite tampon/pad brand (if applicable). I switched to a menstrual cup for travel 5 years ago and haven’t looked back! I started with DivaCup, and now I like the FlexCup for its tampon-like pull tab which makes it easier and cleaner to remove. While it may seem awkward at first to the uninitiated, I don’t have to change my cup for at least 8 hours even on heavy days when a tampon will last less than 2 hours. I’ve never leaked once in 5 years — can you say that for tampons? That said, you do you, and if you will feel more comfortable in tampons or pads, bring ’em.

Razor (if applicable): Bring a high-quality razor for a close shave that won’t irritate your skin — disposables are wasteful and cause irritation.

Ebook reader: I love having a Kindle Paperwhite for travel (the new ones are waterproof!) but if you don’t think you’ll be doing much reading on your Puerto Rico trip or your flight over, then you can give this a pass.

Travel camera or smartphone: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, relatively inexpensive in the wild world of professional-grade cameras, and a nice step up from a smartphone. I like having a zoom lens and a prime lens to maximize what I can capture, but if you have to pick just one, I’d pick a zoom lens. The kit lens on the A6000 isn’t bad, but the 16mm-70mm f4 Zeiss zoom lens uplevels it massively. However, smartphones are getting better every day, and the new iPhones with their telephoto and wide lens capabilities are pretty amazing, so you might not need a camera if you have a good smartphone!

Well, that just about covers what to pack for Puerto Rico. I hope you found this list and my tips for what to wear in Puerto Rico for women helpful for planning your trip. Did I forget anything that’s on your Puerto Rico packing list? Let me know in the comments!

San Juan Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in San Juan, PR

Old San Juan views

The United States is a young country – and as a result, its architecture skews towards the modern and functional rather than the historic and elegant.

The U.S.’s best architectural eye candy actually lies about 1,000 miles offshore of Florida: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico at the edge of the Caribbean sea.

With its odd legal status somewhere between colonial territory and statehood, Puerto Rico is easy for Americans to travel to – no passport needed, no lengthy border crossings at airports – which is why it’s become an increasingly popular destination, particularly in 2020 and 2021.

With beautiful colonial architecture painted in vibrant colors, some of the most Instagrammable places in Puerto Rico, and gorgeous beaches within the city limits…. what are you waiting for?

Where to Stay in San Juan

the beautiful downtown of old san juan

BOUTIQUE | I love the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand and I’ve stayed at many a property of theirs over the years! They have a gorgeous offering called O:Live Boutique Hotel located in vibey Condado that I’m looking forward to staying at on my next trip to the island! Gorgeously designed rooms with Mediterranean-inspired details, rain showers with hydromassage jets, a roof terrace with an infinity pool with views of the Condado Lagoon? Swoon. Sold.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | Nothing says luxury quite like the Ritz-Carlton brand! At Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton, we’re talking on-site golf course, multiple swimming pools, 4 on-site restaurants, and spa and fitness centers. Plus, some rooms even have their own private plunge pools for the ultimate luxury vacation! It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but it’s by far the best choice if you’re looking for a blowout accommodation choice for a special occasion (or just a really baller vacation).
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | Looking for a hostel option? Nomada Urban Beach Hostel is a fantastic choice for travelers on a budget, located near Isla Verde Beach. Options include dorm-style rooms and private rooms. The dorms are modern with amenities like curtains and hangers allotted for each bunk bed: little touches that frequent hostel-goers are sure to heave a sigh of relief over. There’s also a roof terrace for travelers to relax on and chitchat.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Getting Around San Juan

the colorful buildings of old town san juan

I’ve strucuted this San Juan itinerary so that you don’t need to handle renting a car while in Puerto Rico, which gives you freedom but it can be stressful. Parking conditions are tough especially in the Old Town, and Puerto Rican driving is something you definitely have to adjust to!

This itinerary can be done with a combination of guided tours + taxis. However, if you want to rent a car, feel free to — it will definitely give you more freedom to craft the ideal 3 days in San Juan without having to consider tour timings and transit.

If you choose to rent a car in Puerto Rico, there are ways to get a good deal on your rental. I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from San Juan Airport here.

San Juan Itinerary, Day One: Old San Juan

Visit the Castillo San Cristóbal.

San Cristobal, old san juan

One of two beautiful forts in downtown San Juan, Castillo San Cristóbal is a great place to start your walking tour of San Juan.

It’s massive, covering 27 acres at one point, which made it the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the Caribbean.

It’s absolutely worth a visit. I suggest buying a $10 combined ticket which will allow you entry into both Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

There’s a ton of historical insight here at San Cristobal — you can see where the first shots were fired during the Spanish-American war, look through holes in the wall where cannons used to be placed, and check out the sentry boxes which used to house Spanish soldiers (including, supposedly, a haunted one — la Garita del Diablo).

Not into history? The views alone are swoon-worthy, stretching all the way to the gorgeous beaches of Condado.

Take an oceanside stroll down Calle Norzagaray.

basketball in Old San Juan

The best way to start your San Juan itinerary is by taking a self-guided walking tour of all the amazing sights in downtown San Juan.

Calle Norzagaray connects several important San Juan landmarks such as Castillo de San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, flanked on one side by the beautiful Caribbean Sea and another by beautiful colorful facades.

A walk down Calle Norzagaray between the two forts takes just

Note: Down below Calle Norzagaray is the neighborhood of La Perla, a colorful shantytown outside the city walls made famous by its appearance in the Despacito music video. I personally haven’t visited, and the neighborhood has a strict “no photo, no video” policy. Murders of tourists — while rare — have occurred. I’ve always felt safe when traveling in San Juan, but as a solo female traveler, I opted to stay away from La Perla.

See the most beautiful cemetery in the world.

Old San Juan views

As you near Castillo San Felipe del Morro, you’ll see a gorgeous green grassy area, often filled with people picnicking or flying kites and enjoying the gorgeous Puerto Rican weather and salty breeze.

Down below the park, there’s a staircase which takes you to an oceanfront cemetery just outside the city walls.

cemetary old san juan

It’s one of the most beautiful places in Old San Juan and it shouldn’t be missed on any San Juan itinerary!

While in the heart of San Juan between two very well-known landmarks, the cemetery is a little bit hidden and so there usually aren’t a ton of tourists here, so it’s a nice peaceful little sojourn off the beaten path of downtown San Juan.

Wander around Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

El Morro Old San Juan

The better-known of the two fortifications in Old San Juan is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, often called “El Morro” for short because whew that’s a mouthful.

Using your entry ticket which you bought at San Cristóbal, you can also gain access to this beautiful and historic site, which protected Puerto Rico from water invasions.

The fort was positioned strategically on a high cliff (hence the name ‘el Morro’, which means ‘promontory’ or headland) with a sweeping view of the San Juan Bay, so they could easily spot any intruders and immediately spring into defense.

This is also another place for gorgeous views as well as tons of interesting history.

Take a photo on Calle San Jose.

street art in Old San Juan

Home to some of the most beautiful and recognizable street art in Puerto Rico, Calle San Jose is a colorful street in the Old Town that shouldn’t be missed!

To take some photos of this gorgeous piece of street art, type in “Puerto Rican Flag Door Historical Location” into Google Maps or look just outside of the Base Hostel Old San Juan: it’s right there!

Fill up on a fun food tour.

tasting platter in puerto rico

One of the best ways to get to know a destination is through a food tour!

While there are a few food tours that cover Old San Juan, keep in mind that the historic center is but one small part of San Juan — and a touristic one at that.

To eat like the locals of San Juan, opt for a food tour that gets you outside the city walls — like this driving food tour of San Juan.

You’ll eat like a true boricua as you explore the San Juan metro area and enjoy 3 sitdown meals and 2 drinks, including beach snacks at beautiful Piñones.

Book this San Juan metro food tour!

Relax on the beach.

the beach at playa escambron

After eating your way through the city, it’s time to kick up your feet and relax at one of San Juan’s many delightful beaches.

Now would be a great time to visit Playa Escambrón, a great snorkeling spot as it’s home to the Escambrón Marine Park, which also has several beautiful sunken statues and structures throughout which make it a beautiful blend of art and nature.

Picture the columns of Atlantis, statues, and a sunken fish protection wall. This is a great spot to try scuba diving for the first time with its easy beach access and shallow waters.

Get your night going with a rum craft cocktail tour.

hand serving a mai tai style cocktail made with rum filled with crushed ice and garnishes.

For the best way to cap off your first night in San Juan, I suggest you take a tasty craft rum cocktail tour — you’ll learn firsthand why Puerto Rico is widely considered to be the rum capital of the world!

On this fun cocktail and walking tour, you will have the chance taste many delicious rum-forward cocktails, while also exploring the fun-loving nightlife of Old San Juan with a guide.

This is a great way to get to know a variety of bars in the city (and figure out which ones you want to come back to spend more time at!) while also learning about the drinking culture of Puerto Rico and the history of rum production. Get to know the city and its history while getting your buzz on!

Book your rum cocktail tour here!

San Juan Itinerary, Day 2: Rainforest

Take a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest and the Bioluminescent Bay.

the beautiful green landscapes of the tropical rainforest of el yunque

One of the coolest parts of visiting San Juan is the chance to see a rainforest in the United States — the only tropical rainforest in the U.S., in fact!

So if you’ve never experienced visiting a rainforest before, you’ll adore the opportunity to do so on this San Juan itinerary. A visit to El Yunque is only a short drive or easy guided tour away.

I personally drove out to El Yunque on my last visit to Puerto Rico, and it was absolutely worth the time but I will say driving in Puerto Rico is a little different than the U.S. mainland… a little more hectic than driving in California, let’s say.

Drivers are a little more aggressive than I’m used to, and there are some quirks such as the right lane typically being for faster cars vs. the left lane typically being that in in the States, which means that merging onto the highway can be a heart-pounding experience if you’re an anxious driver like I am!

If you want to skip the er, cultural immersion that is driving in Puerto Rico and have a more relaxing experience, I recommend going by guided day trip.

beautiful waterfall in el yunque

This highly reviewed day tour will take you to El Yunque by day, where you can hike through beautiful rainforest with unique tropical flora and fauna, arriving at natural pools and waterfalls (including a natural waterslide!).

By night, the tour will bring you to a delicious dinner before heading to the Bioluminescent Lagoon in Fajardo Bay, where you’ll get to kayak in the picturesque blue waters which sparkle as the paddles dip into the water, gently disturbing the dinoflagellates microorganisms which then light up in response — true magic.

Book your rainforest + bioluminescent bay tour here!

the electric blue views of the bioluminescent plankton in fajardo

San Juan Itinerary, Day 3: Beach Day

Start the day with a mallorca.

mallorca y cafe

One of the best ways to start the last way of your San Juan itinerary is with a tasty breakfast with a view!

Grab a ham and cheese mallorca (con un cafe con leche, obviamente) for breakfast. There are so many places you can grab one, but I suggest eating at the Plaza de Armas, which is a colorful square with lots of historic and beautiful buildings.

So, what is a mallorca? It’s basically a sandwich on a sweet Puerto Rican bread, dusted with powdered sugar. It’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s delicious. It also runs the risk of covering you in a a white cloud of powdered sugar, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Relax on the sand or jet ski through the San Jose Lagoon.

palm trees and blue waters of carolina beach in san juan puerto rico

From your accommodation in Old San Juan, head to Carolina Beach, about a 20-30 minute drive depending on traffic.

From there, you can stake out a claim on the public beach at Balneario de Carolina or Balneario de Isla Verde, sipping on local craft brews from Ocean Lab Brewing Co (we recommend the blood orange blonde!) or cocktails swinging on a bar swing at Vaivén Beach Bar.

Alternately, or you can go on a 90-minute jet ski tour through the San Jose Lagoon with its beautiful turquoise blue, crystal clear waters, heading all the way to the beaches of beautiful Isla Verde.

A jet ski tour of the San Jose Lagoon is an adrenaline-pumping way to see a large stretch of the area around San Juan quickly, perfect if you only have a weekend in San Juan to make the most of.

Book your 90-minute jet ski tour online here!

Have a delicious lunch by the sea.

a fried red fish with flattened fried plantains
Fried red snapper with tostones — a Puerto Rican classic!

While in Piñones, make sure to eat a delicious lunch — preferably seafood, since you’re in the Caribbean, after all!

We recommend El Nuevo Acuario if you’re a fan of seafood — it’s famous for its tasty lobster empanadas, fresh fish, and tasty trifongo (which is a combination of plátano verde, plátano maduro, and yuca — aka green plantain, ripe plantain, and cassava).

Not a fan of fish? Hipic Cache has a nice variety of non-seafood options, such as their mofongo (mashed plantains) with skirt steak and BBQ chicken.

Spend the rest of the day enjoying the sun.

the beaches of condado in san juan

From here, you can spend the rest of the day on one of the beautiful beaches in San Juan proper, such as Condado, Playita del Condado, Ocean Beach, or Ocean Park.

I’ve been to all of them and each is amazing in its own way. You can’t go wrong!

Finish your San Juan itinerary with a sunset sail.

Silhouette of a sailing boat at sunset in the Caribbean in San Juan, Puerto Rico

For a beautiful and historic sail around San Juan, climb aboard the Amazing Grace, a sailing vessel dating back to the American Revolutionary War.

Sunset sailing tours depart daily at 5:30 PM between Pier 3 and 4 in the San Juan Bay.

While on a sunset tour of the San Juan Bay, enjoy beverages, cocktails, and appetizers as you cruise San Juan Bay viewing historic buildings like La Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion… plus you can enjoy local music aboard the vessel.

The views are stunning on this small-group tour! Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your ID.

Book your small group sailing tour online here!

The Only Southwest Road Trip Itinerary You Need

Planning an epic road trip through America’s Southwest? You’ll be richly rewarded with insane Martian-esque landscapes, beautiful national parks, empty stretches of road, and stunning sunsets.

I’ve highlighted all the best on and off the beaten path adventures so you can create a Southwest road trip of your dreams.

This itinerary for the American Southwest starts and ends in Las Vegas, Nevada, taking you through six national parks and a handful of state parks and national monuments along the way.

Get ready for the USA road trip of a lifetime — this Southwest road trip is truly one for the bucket list.

How Long Do You Need For This Southwest Itinerary?

This Southwest itinerary should take you from 10 days to two weeks to complete.

However, if you were pressed for time, you could certainly condense it to a one-week road trip or hit a few highlights in just 5 days, though you would definitely need to cut out quite a few things.

As written, this road trip will take you through six national parks, three state parks, a handful of national monuments, and through hundreds if not thousands of miles of untamed landscapes. We saw one national park in Arizona and all five national parks in Utah.

If you were trying to condense this Southwest road trip into just five days, I’d make it go from Las Vegas to Zion to Bryce to Page to Sedona and back to Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam.

Extending this Southwest Road Trip

If you have even more time? There’s so much more to road tripping in the Southwest that you could tack on, or even go slightly beyond the Southwest itself.

You can also easily add on a little Western road trip from Vegas to see some of California’s famous parks (Joshua Tree and Death Valley come to mind) or swing up north after Moab to visit the famous Yellowstone National Park.

New Mexico with its beautiful White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, plus its beautiful cities of Sante Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, are also a great idea.

Personally, we swung north and east after Moab and went up to Denver and Boulder for a few days before heading back to Las Vegas to drop off our rental car.

However, considering the drive from Moab is about 8 hours, you may want to break it up with some time in Grand Junction or somewhere else in Colorado if you choose to continue eastwards. We just took the long driving day and took turns driving, but if you have only one driver, you may want to break up the journey.

Tips for Saving Money on this Southwest Itinerary

To save money, be sure to buy an Annual Pass for the national parks– you can easily purchase an America the Beautiful park pass online at REI.

For $80, you have unlimited entrances to all US national parks (and monuments, forests, seashores, etc — over 2,000 protected lands) for one vehicle for a year!

Seeing as national parks cost anywhere from $10-30 to enter, with most near the $30 side of the spectrum, you’ll definitely save money by buying an annual pass.

Another way to save money is to travel by campervan or RV, eliminating or reducing your accommodation costs.

There is free camping in BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land across most of the Southwest. I have a guide to free camping in Utah, which will cover most of this Southwest itinerary.

If you prefer the amenities of a maintained campground, you still won’t pay too much, as paid campgrounds are typically around $30 per night.

Finally, another big way to save money if you’re not going with a campervan is to book your car rental in and out of the same place — when I was researching, I found Las Vegas to have the best options, followed by Phoenix, which isn’t on this itinerary but would be an easy swap.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rentals in Las Vegas here.

Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

Stop One: Las Vegas, Nevada

My Southwest road trip itinerary has you starting in Las Vegas for a variety of reasons: the first being that renting a car in Vegas is loads cheaper than renting in most other places along this American Southwest itinerary.

You can also rent an RV in Las Vegas and use that as your transportation and accommodation all in one!

The second reason being that flights to Las Vegas are often incredibly affordable — my flight from Vegas to San Francisco was only $32 on Southwest, which even includes a bag!

While in Vegas, check out the Seven Magic Mountains about 20 minutes outside of town – it’s a fabulous art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, which will be dismantled at the end of 2018.

The Seven Magic Mountains installation, a temporary art exhibit 20 minutes outside of Vegas

If money permits, there’s no better way to get excited about the landscape you’re about to see than to take a helicopter tour from Las Vegas.

There’s a variety of helicopter tours you can take from Vegas, each offering a completely unique landscape. If budget allows, I strongly recommend taking a flight over the Grand Canyon.

You’ll get to see the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and an extinct volcano on your way to the Grand Canyon — the 7th natural wonder of the world!

You can opt for an aerial-only flight (which is more affordable) or a canyon landing tour that stops 3,500 feet below the Canyon Rim, right next to the beautiful Colorado River. Both are a great choice — it depends on how badly you’d like to land at the bottom of the canyon!

Book your flight to the Grand Canyon — aerial-only or canyon landing!

But if you’re on a tight budget in Vegas and still want to ride in a helicopter, there are several more affordable rides you can do, including a nighttime flight over the Las Vegas strip!

A short helicopter flight over the Las Vegas Strip just after sunset as the lights come down over the city is an incredible experience, and one I won’t soon forget. I was surprised at how breathtaking it was even after having my breath taken away seeing the Grand Canyon… but the Las Vegas Strip did not disappoint!

You can opt for a night flight with a romantic dinner or for the more budget-friendly helicopter over the Vegas Strip tour.

With prices for the latter just around $100 per person, it’s a great way to experience the high life (literally) without breaking the bank or needing to strike it rich at the slots before booking!

Book your helicopter tour over the Strip — budget or with luxury dinner option

Recommended photo spots: Anywhere and everywhere, really! A helicopter ride will give you stunning views; The Bellagio, the W, the Wynn, and pretty much anywhere on the Strip are also great places for photos.

Recommended accommodations: The W is the funkiest boutique hotel in all of Vegas — perfect for the ‘gram! The rooms are over the top and ridiculously outlandish, the staff is amazing with their personalized recommendations and greetings, and the calm of the pool there compared to at the SLS (which you can also visit if you stay at the W) was an awesome oasis in the middle of crazy Vegas. Can’t rate highly enough! Check prices, ratings, and availability at The W here.

Stop Two: Valley of Fire

About 45 minutes from Las Vegas is what I deem to be the most underrated spot on this entire Southwest road trip: the Valley of Fire State Park.

I literally have no idea why this isn’t a national park — it’s so massive and the vistas are so spectacular that it surely deserves the title.

That said, the fact that it’s only technically a state park will serve you well, as despite its proximity to Las Vegas there were very few people at the park.

While you could do this independently, I actually did a day trip to the Valley of Fire with Pink Jeep Tours and I can’t speak more highly of it — I definitely recommend it if your budget allows.

We absolutely maximized our time there and got to see all the best parts of the park with expert narration (and a wicked sense of humor!) along the way. It was pretty much a perfect day out.

Since we had so much driving along the way later on in the trip, it was nice to start off the trip at a slow pace and not have to handle the driving and planning ourselves for the Valley of Fire.

As it’s just 40 minutes outside of Vegas, it’s an easy and logical day trip if you’re wanting to spend a few nights luxuriating in Vegas before heading out on your Southwest road trip adventure of a lifetime.

I’d recommend the tour, as it’s what we did and loved it, but you can also DIY a day in the Valley of Fire if you have budget constraints.

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

Recommended photo spots: Rainbow Vista trail, The Beehives, Elephant Rock, Balanced Rock, pretty much anywhere with an open road!

Recommended accommodations: Overnight somewhere in Vegas; we loved our stay at The W (find rates & availability here) but there are a ton of other budget-friendly options available in Vegas.

You can also camp inside the park, first come first serve, but get here early if you plan to do that as spots go fast!

Stop Three: Hoover Dam

After visiting the Valley of Fire, you’ll need to route back via Vegas on your way to the Hoover Dam. This is right on your way to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon – no circuitous rerouting required – so you might as well see one of America’s biggest engineering marvels.

The Hoover Dam used to be the tallest dam in the world when it was first built, but it’s since been overtaken by a dam I’ve never heard of until researching this post, located in Tajikistan.

The most amazing fact (to me at least) about the Hoover Dam is that the concrete holding up is still not dry all the way through!

At its base, it’s a massive 660 feet thick — the equivalent of two back-to-back football fields!

Scientists say it’ll take 125 years for it to dry all the way through; at only 80 years since its construction, we’ve still got 30 to go.

The Hoover Dam from above on a helicopter tour – truly a sight to behold on a Southwest road trip

Recommended photo spots: The dam, obviously; the Pat Tillman memorial bridge

Recommended accommodations: No need to stay overnight – this is best done as a quick stop off on the way to Flagstaff and/or the Grand Canyon.

Stop 4: Flagstaff, Arizona (the Grand Canyon & Sedona)

Flagstaff is a perfect base for further road trips in the Southwest USA.

That said, Flagstaff on its own has plenty to write home about — don’t miss Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, with its beautiful landscape and exciting lava trails.

But perhaps the best thing about Flagstaff is its proximity to some of Arizona’s greatest attractions.

30 minutes through a winding national forest, you’ll find Sedona — one of Arizona’s most scenic places, and a must on any Southwest US road trip itinerary.

If you have time, it’s worth giving at least a full day for exploring Sedona, or even following my 2 day itinerary to exploring Sedona’s best sights.

For the purpose of this post, I’m suggesting Sedona as a day trip from Flagstaff, but you could easily spend more time in Sedona if you wish.

Check out the stunning red rocks arching into the sky, and be sure not to miss the opportunity to go for a hike or to visit the Church of the Holy Cross — a stunning chapel quite literally built into the side of a mountain.

I didn’t have time in Sedona to go on the original Pink Jeep Tour (the same company as I went with on my Valley of Fire tour) but if I did, I absolutely could have gone on this off-roading 2-hour scenic rim tour.

Book your 2-hour offroad tour of Sedona!

Sedona is great for a day trip, but the main attraction when visiting Flagstaff is the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is a mere 90 minutes away.

No amount of preparation can truly ready you for the grandeur of what it’s like to stand at the edge of this canyon in person.

I even flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter a few days prior to seeing it from the edge.

While the helicopter ride was an absolutely amazing experience, truly nothing beats standing at its edge and seeing its vastness from ground level. If you can see it both ways, do! But don’t underestimate the power of seeing it from ground level with your own eyes. It’s breathtaking.

The easiest way to see the Grand Canyon is to drive there from Flagstaff, about 90 minutes each way, which is what we did.

However, I didn’t realize at the time that there was a really cool historic scenic train that runs right from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon! If you’re into train history and old, nostalgic train rides, this may be a really cool experience for you to have. You can book it online here.

Recommended Accommodation: When I was in Flagstaff, I stayed at the Hilton Doubletree in town. With free (warm!) cookies upon check-in, large rooms, and an in-house restaurant, it’s a comfortable and affordable crash pad between adventures and it’s much cheaper than staying in either the Grand Canyon or Sedona. Check prices, rates, & availability here.

Stop 5: Page, Arizona (Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, & Lake Powell)

Page, Arizona has some of the most spectacular sights in all of the American Southwest, all in a tiny little town.

For one, Horseshoe Bend, one of the most iconic photography spots in the entire Southwest US, is located a mere 3 miles down the main highway.

But the main draw to Page is the stunning Antelope Canyon. Broken into two parts, Upper and Lower, we opted for the Lower — having heard that it has more vibrant colors, as opposed to Upper which is famous for its sunbeams much-loved by photographers.

Upper is more popular (and thus more expensive and more crowded) than Lower, plus it requires advance reservations.

Chronic underplanners as we are, we opted for Lower, as we were able to book next-day tickets quite easily.

The information online is a bit out of date; there are now two tour companies operating tours to Lower Antelope Canyon.

Ken’s Tours charges $20 as far as I know, Dixie Ellis’ $25; plus the $8 tribal lands fee. We went with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours as the line was shorter and highly recommend the experience.

Be aware that this is an incredibly popular tour on everyone’s Southwest itinerary no matter what tour company you go with, and you will be waiting in line quite a bit – not to mention the waiting you’ll have to do in order to snap photos without people in them. However, it’s entirely worth the experience in my opinion!

Horseshoe Bend is a bit less crowded than Antelope Canyon, mainly because it’s more spacious. We actually went three times in the span of 24 hours seeking the perfect shot.

Sunrise is fantastic because so few people are there, although the sun rises on the opposite side of the bend so if you’re looking for sunbursts, you’re better off at sunset. Midday, you’ll see a wild array of colors that you can’t quite see during sunrise/sunset, so it’s worth a separate trip just for that as it’s not so far away from Page

At sunset
At sunrise

While sunset is the most crowded at Horseshoe Bend, it’s also the most magical. As a bonus, if you scrabble up the rocks a bit, you can quite easily get epic photos with no one else in the shot!

A clever way to escape the Horseshoe Bend hoards? Fly over it by helicopter (which seems to be a running theme of this post — sadly, I didn’t have the chance to do this, though. Next time!) You’ll also get to see Lake Powell — more on that in a second.

Finally, as if I haven’t written enough about Page to fill an entire blog post all on its own, you must check out Lake Powell.

This lake is simply stunning, with glassy blue water amidst a desert landscape. You can rent a paddleboard and check out the lake at your own speed, or go to one of the many viewpoints to see it from above.

Recommended photo spots: Horseshoe Bend, Lower/Upper Antelope, Lake Powell, Wahweap Overlook

Recommended accommodations: We stayed at Hampton Inn & Suites in Page – Lake Powell and highly recommend it. The rooms are large with plenty of space to work and relax in, with all the comfortable amenities you’d expect like a fitness room, a heated indoor pool, a Jacuzzi (perfect for sore legs after hiking all day!).

Breakfast was also delicious and included in the price of the room. It also couldn’t be any closer to Horseshoe Bend, just three miles and a quick five-minute drive down the road.

If you’re planning to visit Horseshoe Bend multiple times for the perfect photo like we did, it’s an awesome place to base yourself because as soon as you leave the parking lot you’re already on the road to Horseshoe Bend! Check rates, prices, & availability here.

Stop Six: Kanab, Utah

On the way from Page to Utah, you can go two different ways. We actually did both as we did a huge circle from Page to Kanab and back all in one day when we couldn’t go to Antelope Canyon as planned, so I can report on each way!

The first way, via I-89, you’ll pass a view of Lake Powell at Wahweap Overlook before making your way to the Visitor Center of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park.

Stop off at the visitor center in Big Water, Utah and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to meet a man who discovered a brand new species of dinosaur! He is really lovely and fun to talk to, so definitely stop by if you can.

On the way to Kanab, you can stop off to do the Toadstools hike — a short one-hour roundtrip hike that ends in a truly Martian landscape. Quite off the beaten path of most people’s typical Southwest road trip itineraries, and well worth the stop!

“Toadstools” are formed when rain makes boulders fall from cliffs and land atop softer rocks, creating mushroom-looking rock structures. They look manmade but they’re entirely natural!

After passing Kanab, quickly grab lunch somewhere before making your way to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

This little-visited park has sand dunes that look as if they’re straight out of the Sahara — all against the backdrop of some legendary Utah mountains.

This park is so close to Zion that I don’t know why it’s more popular, but you definitely should have it on your Southwest itinerary — all the better for you to snap some epic photos without the crowds!

With the clouds, it looked more orange than pink, but on a sunny day, I’m sure the sands are more true to their name.

If you go the other way from Page via the longer but more scenic route (I-89A), you can go over a beautiful mountain pass filled with lush evergreen trees and stop at the Vermillion Cliffs viewpoint and LeFevre Overlook.

There, you can see four plateaus that make up the “Staircase” of Grand Staircase-Escalante in a variety of hues — including chocolate brown, vermillion, and purple (two of the plateaus was unfortunately covered by some clouds when we were there!)

While you’re in Kanab, you’re so close to Zion, but I urge you to skip it — for now — in lieu of visiting it on your way back to Las Vegas!

Finally, Kanab is also a good stopping point if you are testing your luck for permits for the Wave in Arizona, as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center visitor center here is where you would need to get your permit.

Your chances are low, but it’s worth a try!

Recommended photo spots: Lefevre Point, Vermillion Cliffs overlook, Toadstools, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Recommended accommodations: We didn’t stay in Kanab during this trip because we went back to Page in a giant circle (which we don’t recommend — it was only our poor planning that had us doing so!), but Canyons Boutique Hotel would have been a great choice if we did.

With a 8.9 rating on Booking, spacious rooms, nice décor, and a central location, it’s the best choice in town. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Stop Seven: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon is truly one of the most memorable stops on any Southwest US road trip itinerary. For one, it has its distinctive hoodoos which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world in such number and scale.

Hoodoos (also called “fairy chimneys”) form when the water from melting snow seeps into the cracks of the rock and freezes overnight. Bit by bit, the cracks expand until large chunks of rock fall away, leaving pillars in their place.

Hoodoos form all over the world, but there are thousands of them at Bryce Canyon, partly because the elevation is so high (around 8,000 feet!) that the melt-freeze cycle happens at least 200 nights per year

We just drove to a few different viewpoints in the park — Natural Bridge, Sunset Point and Inspiration Point — and then did the Navajo Loop Trail, which filled about a half-day in the park.

If you’re looking for a creative yet structured way to spend some time in Bryce Canyon National Park, you can do an ATV ride, a horseback ride through Red Canyon, or join a hiking tour.

Recommended photo spots: Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop, Inspiration Point, Natural Bridge, and Sunset/Sunrise Points.

Recommended accommodations: Bryce Canyon doesn’t have the most exciting options for accommodations.

We didn’t stay overnight here, as we just visited for a day, but if we had, something simple but comfortable like a Best Western is probably your best bet. Check prices, ratings, and availability. 

Stop Eight: Capitol Reef National Park

On your way to Moab from Bryce, you can take a scenic route passing through Capitol Reef via Highway 12, which I highly recommend.

The least visited of Utah’s staggering five national parks, it’s not quite as epic as Zion or Bryce but it has its own charms. It’s worth a quick stop as you pass through, at the very least.

Recommended photo spots: The cute barns and old schoolhouse on the main road, the Scenic Drive, Panorama Point, Cassidy Arch, Temple of the Moon and Sun, Chimney Rock.

Recommended accommodations: The best — and in my mind, only! — place to stay in Capitol Reef is in the Capitol Reef Resort. They have covered wagons and tipis for a themed stay, as well as standard rooms and cottages for a more traditional hotel experience. Book a stay at the Capitol Reef Resort here.

Extra Stop: On your way between Capitol Reef and Moab, you’ll have the opportunity to stop off at Goblin Valley State Park!

Frankly, we were exhausted and gave it a pass this trip, but it’s definitely on the list for my next Southwest itinerary!

Stop Nine: Moab, Utah (Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, and Arches)

Ah, Arches National Park. With its famous Delicate Arch which is featured on the Utah license plate, this is one of the most famous national parks in the US, and a must on any Southwest road trip itinerary.

In addition to the Delicate Arch hike, you should also be sure to see the North & South Window arches, the Double Arch, and the Turret Arch.

If you want to dedicate two days to Arches, follow this detailed Arches itinerary which will explain exactly what to do with your time there!

The Devil’s Garden trail was closed when we visited, but you should definitely check it out if possible — it’s supposed to be a stunner.

Also near Moab is the Canyonlands National Park, which I actually preferred to Arches (blasphemy, I know – but I hate crowds). It was super immense, with really colorful rocks and huge canyons, and far fewer people.

There are two entrances to Canyonlands, both of which are quite far from each other.

One is Islands in the Sky, and this is the one that’s closer to Moab (and also Dead Horse Point State Park, another must-see on your Southwest road trip).

The other section, Needles, is rather far away, and suitable if you’re staying longer in Moab.

We didn’t get a chance to visit Needles on this trip, but we weren’t disappointed with the taste of Canyonlands we got at Islands in the Sky — not at all.

Other spots you can’t miss in the Moab area include Dead Horse Point State Park, a place much more beautiful than the name suggests!

It’s right on the way from Canyonlands – Island in the Sky, so it’s a good idea to go there for sunset after visiting Canyonlands in the late afternoon.

Here, the Colorado River winds and rips its way through a valley, like a combination of the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend all in one.

It’s absolutely stunning at sunset, although sunrise is supposed to be even better. I never woke up early enough to see for myself.

Finally, the Corona Arch is a great sunset spot that’s a bit of a hidden gem compared to the crowds you’ll find around Dead Horse Point and Arches.

Make sure you arrive there with about an hour to spare, as the hike is one hour on a not super well-marked path, and make sure you leave before it gets too dark!

We missed the sunset by at least a half-hour and ended up walking back in the dark because we didn’t give ourselves enough time for this hike (#travelbloggerfail) but we at least made it in time for some super pretty cloud action!

Bring a headlamp if you do this hike, trust me — it’s not fun navigating back in the dark with just your cell-phone as a light source.

There are some other great things you can do in Moab if you have the time — as if having two national parks and a state park in your backyard isn’t enough choice!

For an adventure rush, go rafting on either class I and II rapids or III and IV rapids on the Colorado River or hit the ominously-named Hell’s Revenge ATV trail which crisscrosses a rugged terrain in ATVs until you hit the Colorado River.

Book a rafting tour (class I & II), a tougher white water rafting tour (class III & IV) or an ATV tour!

Not into heart-stopping adventure? There are also more leisurely ways to relax in Moab, such as taking a 3-hour jet boat cruise to Dead Horse Point State Park along a peaceful stretch of the Colorado River, checking out side canyons and marveling at the canyon walls which reach 2,200 feet above your head.

Alternately, if you need some R&R after several long days of driving and adventuring, there are tons of great spas in Moab catering to soothing tired and aching muscles! Sorrel River Ranch and Spa Moab are two great choices.

Recommended photo spots: Mesa Arch (sunrise is supposed to be fantastic as the sun will rise directly through the arch!) in Canyonlands NP as well as the scenic drive pulling over at the various viewpoints, Delicate Arch and the other arches (North & South Window, Double, Turret) in Arches NP.

Outside of these national parks, be sure to also visit Dead Horse Point State Park (please don’t miss this!!), and Corona Arch. Be sure to give yourself enough time in Moab, it’s stunning! At least 3 days is a good start.

Recommended accommodations: Moab is a bit expensive compared to other places on the Southwest itinerary. If you are looking for a decent but budget-friendly place, book well in advance as the best-priced places book up quickly.

For people on a budget, I’d suggest the Aarchway Inn is just a tiny bit outside of Moab and has gorgeous settings with that classic Utah red rock all around, a lovely swimming pool, and well-appointed rooms. Check out rates, reviews, and availability here.

If you want a world-class stay, try glamping! Under Canvas Moab knocks it out of the park in terms of comfort, style, and entertainment, and is frequently cited as one of the best glamping lodges in the entire United States.

Book your stay at Under Canvas Moab here!

Stop Ten: Zion National Park

I recommended skipping Zion initially and saving it for the end because it’s probably one of the most epic national parks in all of the United States, and you’ll want a cool place to stop on the long drive between Moab and Las Vegas.

It’s a great way to end your Southwest road trip with something memorable, and it’s a great stopover on the way between Moab and Vegas.

If you’re at all into hiking, the Angels Landing hike is truly a can’t-miss experience.

Climbing up 1,500 feet over a grueling two hour hike (the last half mile of which is up rocks, which you have to use chain handrails to ascend) is not easy — but no epic view really is.

I feel compelled to leave an important safety note about this photo.

Angles are deceiving – there was a larger chunk of the rock edge beneath me which is obfuscated a bit by the high camera angle of this shot. I scooted around while maintaining at least 3 points of contact at all times to be safe. I never stood close to the edge, only scooted on hands and knees.

Still, I posed for this photo 3 years ago — after seeing so many articles in the last few years about selfie deaths, I wouldn’t pose the same way now, but I’d choose to leave a few feet more room between myself and the first edge.

Please be careful when posing on Angels Landing and never do anything you don’t feel comfortable with, especially in pursuit of a good picture! You will likely be exhausted from the hike in the heat, so you won’t have the best balance or judgment. Be cautious and respect your body’s limits. Always be on the safe side.

If you have more time, be sure to check out The Narrows, a hike that can take up to a full day wading through water through a beautiful slot canyon. You can also opt to do a shorter hike and turn around before the endpoint.

We didn’t have time for this, as we were flying out of Vegas later that evening, but it’s on my bucket list for my return to Zion. There are some other shorter hikes in Zion that are also fantastic if you’re too afraid of heights to take on Angels Landing.

Recommended photo spots: the top of Angel’s Landing OR Observation Point (higher and harder hike), Emerald Pools, Watchman, the Narrows

Recommended accommodations: We stayed about 45 minutes outside of the East Ranger Station at Zion Backcountry Yurt, with insane views of the Milky Way surrounding us. Book way in advance on Airbnb (you can find it here).  

It’s also common to stay by the West Ranger Station, close to Springdale, but expect to pay a pretty penny for the privilege. The best combination of proximity, value, and high-quality amenities is at Driftwood Lodge about a mile outside the center of Springdale. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

After Zion, head back to Vegas, return your rental, and marvel at all your photos from the trip of a lifetime!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t forget to travel with travel insurance, especially on a trip involving lots of driving and hiking! You want to be covered in case of an accident or medical emergency. I use and highly recommend World Nomads for their easy purchasing, extensive coverage, and low prices. Get your free quote here.

What to Pack for a Southwest Road Trip

Not sure how to handle packing for a long road trip? I have a full guide to how to pack for a road trip, but I’ll briefly go over the essentials here!

Essentials

Car documents and license: This should be rather obvious, but you’ll need your license, car documentation, and insurance papers (both car insurance and travel insurance) ready for any road trip you take.

Travel insurance: If your road trip includes going to another state or country where you are not insured locally, you may need travel insurance in order to cover you in case of an incident. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Roadside emergency kit: If traveling with your own car, you should already have one of these kits, including (but not limited to) a reflective triangle, rain poncho and emergency blanket, safety vest and whistle, etc. If renting a car, ask if they provide one and if not, bring your own roadside emergency kit that also includes a first aid kit.

Spare tire & tire changing kit: Having a spare tire isn’t much good if you don’t have a jack or kit to change out the tire. Make sure your tire changing kit is complete (or buy your tire changing kit before you head out), and make sure you know how to use it!

Flashlight or headlamp: In case you get somewhere poorly lit after dark, have an emergency in the night, or just go on a sunset hike and need to light your way back, a flashlight or headlamp is key (and make sure to bring some extra batteries, too!) I suggest a rechargeable headlamp like this — it’s a great travel must-have that I find myself using more often than I’d expect.

Car charger and phone mount: Navigating, picking tunes, taking photos: your phone battery goes fast on a road trip, so don’t forget a car charger. I like this dual purpose phone mount and charger! Don’t forget any and all USB cords you might need to for your charging needs!

A road trip playlist: I’d argue this is as essential as anything else on this list! Make sure you download it before you go so that you’re not dependent on data, as a few stretches of this Southwest road trip do go through service deserts.

Hygiene and Safety

Alcohol wipes: Be sure to bring some Lysol or alcohol wipes. These are hard to find currently in the current context, so I’d suggest buying alcohol prep pads, as these seem to be the safest source of 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes. Be a decent person and only buy one box. Do not hoard anything — these alcohol wipes are needed by many people with chronic health conditions such as diabetics. One box will more than suit your needs.

NOTE: Use alcohol wipes or prep pads ONLY on high-touch surfaces as needed and not excessively — soap and water should be your primary line of cleaning and defense. Only use these when not otherwise possible, such as when at a gas station or using a touchpad at an ATM or grocery store.

Hand sanitizer: Sources of hand sanitizer and soap cannot always be guaranteed, and there may be times where it is difficult or less safe to go to a public restroom. It’s better to try to source hand sanitizer in a store from a trusted brand, but in the absence of that being possible, this brand available online looks to be safe, FDA-approved, and with a high-enough level of ethyl alcohol to be safe.

Spare liquid soap: Liquid or bar soap should be chosen over hand sanitizer whenever you have access to water. It’s safer and easier to get ahold of proper soap. Some gas stations, park bathrooms, etc. may not be well-attended, so bring some spare liquid soap with a locking top or a bar of soap in a Ziploc baggie just in case. Be sure to wash your hands for 30-40 seconds, including every part.

Face mask: When in places where distancing is not possible, you will need to wear a face mask to keep yourself and fellow humans safe. I suggest KN94s as opposed to cloth masks when possible, as these offer you (and your fellow humans) the most protection. They’re the Korean equivalent of the N95, and they work quite well. Unfortunately, the N95 is still in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers, unless you’re lucky enough to already have your own personal supply of N95s from a previous need.

Extra water: Be sure to have a few gallons of extra water in your car for emergencies — especially since this road trip through the Southwest covers a lot of harsh desert climates. Whether it’s replacing the water to cool down your engine or emergency drinking water if you’re stranded, it’s a cheap and simple thing to add to your road trip packing list with no downside.

Extras

Snacks: I fully believe the adage “It doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should always look like an unsupervised 9-year-old was given $100.” Pro tip: mix salty and sweet — too much of one or the other is a no go. I like having things like KIND bars, trail mix, chips when I need something salty, RXBar protein bars, etc. for my trip

Toilet paper or Kleenex: Good for poorly stocked roadside bathrooms or other emergency needs.

Basic medicines: Any prescription medicine you need, plus motion sickness tablets, ibuprofen/paracetamol, and Pepto-Bismol tablets for upset stomachs.

Rehydration packets: I always pack some rehydration packets with me on my travels as I’m prone to getting dehydrated and getting headaches, and they’re a lifesaver. I recommend these ones.

Travel towel: Great for a quick dip, toweling off after a rain storm, having a spare towel in case of a poorly stocked hotel or Airbnb, a microfiber travel towel is a road trip must pack.

Bug spray: So necessary in the summer months! I love this lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent. If I get any bites, I use this After Bite itch eraser, which instantly soothes mosquito bites.

Sunscreen: Did you know you should always wear sunscreen while driving? The windshield doesn’t protect you against all UV rays — while they protect against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), most do not block UVA rays, which cause aging and skin cancer. This is the sunscreen I use on my face daily, and I use a cheaper basic sunscreen for my skin. No matter your skin tone or race, you need sunscreen!

Lip balm with SPF: I love this key lime-flavored Sun Bum chapstick!

Sunglasses: Bring your favorite sunglasses plus a cheap spare pair as backup — driving without sunglasses = absolute misery.

Travel pillow: If you have someone to divvy up driving duty with, this is a comfortable must-have for kicking back and enjoying your time off! I like this cozy memory-foam travel pillow, because it comes with an eye mask if you want to take a quick nap!

Battery pack: The Anker external battery pack is a travel must. While you can charge your phone while driving, you may want to charge other devices — a camera, someone else’s phone, portable speakers, an e-reader — as well.

Insulated travel mug: A Contigo travel mug is leakproof and pretty much indestructible — and they’re inexpensive to boot. This one is vacuum-insulated and fits standard cupholders easily, great for early morning coffee to power up your road trip. It’ll also be a good thing to bring along on any sunrise hike to keep you warm!

Refillable water bottle: Get a refillable water bottle and either refill it from your extra-large water containers mentioned above or fill up in sinks and fountains along the way. This one is insulated, stainless steel, and convenient to drink from

Day pack: This Osprey day pack is a perfect size. Plus, it’s designed by a company that specializes in ergonomic solutions for backpackers and multi-day trekkers, so you know it’ll be comfortable.

Camera: For years, I’ve relied on my Sony A6000 to take nearly-professional quality images, and the photos you see in this post were almost exclusively taken on this camera! I truly believe this camera is the perfect middle-ground above a smartphone yet below the 5-figure kits that most photographers use. Don’t forget extra memory cards – I only use 64GB Sandisk memory cards.

Toiletries

Wet wipes: These biodegradable wet wipes are easy on the environment and your skin, with aloe vera and Vitamin E.

Vaseline: For fixing flyaway hairs to helping chapped or burned lips to soothing hands or chub-rubbed thighs (ladies, if you know, you know)… I always make sure I travel with Vaseline!

Haircare: Whatever you need to travel with. I just bring a brush and hair ties and shampoo, but your hair needs may be different than mine!

Other basic toiletries: Body wash, shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, face wash, any sort of face cleansing or anti-acne products, moisturizer, body lotion, makeup, etc.

Clothing

Hiking Clothes: Depending on the time of year you do this Southwest road trip, you’ll want to bring either shorts or leggings, long-sleeve or short-sleeve hiking clothes.

Jeans and Ts: Good for non-hiking days and just basic walking-around-town days.

Comfortable hiking shoes: Absolutely necessary for tougher hikes and strongly recommended for even shorter hikes like Angel’s Landing. While tennis shoes may work, hiking shoes are safer.

Sandals: Great for being able to kick them on and off in the car and suitable for shorter walks to observation points, overlooks, etc. I use Birkenstocks.

Rain jacket: It does rain even in the desert! I love the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version) and I actually used mine twice on my Southwest road trip.

Dress up clothes: In case you want to have a few nice meals out, you’ll want to bring some nicer clothes as well.

11 Most Unique Airbnbs in Wyoming

Wyoming is a state known for its intense natural beauty, home to two of the most renowned national parks in the United States: Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

The entire Wyoming area is rich is beauty, though, beyond the area around Jackson Hole which is the center of much of the tourism in the state.

This guide to where to stay in Wyoming includes quirky and beautiful Wyoming Airbnbs all over the state for all budgets.

These Airbnbs in Wyoming range from log cabins made from reclaimed wood to renovated sheepwagons to baller penthouse suites in Jackson Hole. Truly, there is something for every one and every budget in the Cowboy State.

Wyoming Airbnbs in Cody

Unique Handcrafted Log Cabin

Image courtesy of Airbnb

Sometimes a name just says it all: this Wyoming Airbnb is just that.

This handcrafted log-cabin-style barn is all made for reclaimed and rescued wood, so it’s a very eco-friendly construction. Even the logs themselves that make up the barn have a history: they were created from the first cedar phone poles that were erected from the logs that were cut down when the Buffalo Bill dam was created!

It’s beautifully rustic yet well-designed to be perfectly comfortable for days even in the rough Wyoming winter!

The main floor consists of an open floor plan with a kitchen, living room, and dining room all assembled together so members of the family can be in different parts of the house yet all feel together, even if they’re doing different things.

There are windows all over the main floor, so you can watch wildlife through the window, including beautiful bald eagles flying along the Shoshone River.

Meanwhile, there’s a second floor with two bedrooms and a loft area, as well as a full bathroom (in addition to the one on the main floor).

Book this charming Wyoming Airbnb!

Past guests say:

“This place will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF! It’s so dang beautiful and in such a picturesque setting! And these hosts are the real deal. They strive to make your stay second-to-none. Don’t mess up and stay in regular ole Cody. The Barn is a haven from crowds and all you could possibly need is at your disposal. Thanks Mike and Linda! We will be back ASAP!”

“This is an exceptional place to stay. Well cared for home is nestled in a peaceful mountain setting where you can sit on the porch after a long day and listen to the river flowing by. Highly recommended!”

Almosta Ranch Lodge

Image courtesy of Airbnb

This rustic log cabin lodge is the perfect Wyoming Airbnb for those who want a touch of the rustic Old West.

Spacious enough to comfortably house seven, this 3-bedroom cabin has a good-sized modern kitchen, a separate dining area, and an enormous living area complete with taxidermy, leather couches, antlers, and just an overall Western vibe!

Besides the spacious 2,000+-square-foot lodge with 3 bedrooms, plenty of room for a large family or group of friends, there is a large amount of ranch area to enjoy.

There’s a large pond and a small island with bridge access, as well ranch animals such as Highland cows (the fuzziest and cutest cows in existence) and Hereford cows, as well as chickens and dogs.

There’s also a vintage railcar bridge on the property and a privately-owned covered bridge. While the house itself is beautiful, the impressive grounds of this ranch are the true selling point!

Book this Wyoming Airbnb!

Heart Mountain Japanese Cabin

Image courtesy of Airbnb

This beautifully designed cabin in Powell, just outside of Cody, combines a classic Western location with Eastern-inspired architecture, particularly Japanese elements.

The door to the bedroom is classically Japanese, recalling a tea house with a red-gridded sliding screen door, whereas the bed is a simple, comfortable bed a step above a tatami mat but still reminiscent of the same simplicity of a traditional Japanese ryokan (rural Japanese guesthouse).

The Japanese also love their ritual bath (onsen) so you will find a full bath with an elliptical bathtub as well as a two-person shower inside the cabin, as well as a cedar-lined dry sauna room.

The Japanese cabin is located on the Big Quiet Farm Stays property, a 400-acre organic farm with plenty of space for hiking and taking in the views of the Big Horn Basin. While you could easily enjoy the solitude of the Japanese cabin as much as you like, there is also a communal firepit where you can meet others staying on the farm property.

There’s also a horseshoe pit, plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the ability to tour the farm — one of Wyoming’s only organic farms!

Book this unique Wyoming Airbnb

Past guests say:

“10 stars out of five. Seriously one of the best stays I’ve had. I’ve had a tough year and needed a break to clear my head. This place is unexpected in its simple luxury. The sauna and tub are such a treat. I woke to the sun rising through the big glass doors and had plenty of space for a yoga practice. Everything is thoughtfully designed. It’s a little dream… hope to return.”

“The Heart Mountain Cabin is an oasis in Wyoming. Rod encouraged us to make ourselves at home and it was easy to do in such a comfortable and serene space. The woodstove, bathtub, and sauna gave us many ways to keep warm in the chill winter weather and the large east facing windows provided wonderful natural light, that even on overcast days, negated the necessity for electric lights until sunset. It was truly a beautiful, peaceful, quiet place and we loved every minute of our time there.”

The Molesworth House

Image courtesy of Airbnb

This charming vintage-decorated house dates back to 1937. It’s kept its retro charms inspired by cowboy, Native American, and Western design elements, all while remaining modern and up-to-date.

The wooden walls make everything feel warm, cabin-y, and oh-so-cozy. There’s a great living room area to enjoy a fire around while sitting in on a cozy leather sofa or a rocking chair, as well as a full kitchen and spacious dining area.

Despite the vintage style, expect modern amenities like WiFi, A/C, and televisions in the main bedrooms.

With five bedrooms, this is a great place to stay with a group of friends, or perhaps multiple families traveling together, as everyone gets their own space.

The outdoor area is quite spacious and encompasses a covered outdoor kitchen, a farmhouse dining table that seats ten, 2 BBQ grills, a fire pit, a covered porch with patio seating, and a private yard.

Book this Wyoming Airbnb!

Past guests say:

“I would recommend this for large and small groups. They have everything you could ever need or want in an Airbnb. This includes location to all downtown businesses and shops. Walking distance is an understatement. The host is super respectful and very prompt to any of your needs or concerns. Using the outdoor kitchen and fire was the best. The local wildlife speaks for its self. I guarantee you will be satisfied and enjoy your time at this location. With access to Yellowstone an hour away you could not ask for a better location. And the town of Cody offers so much entertainment with great local hospitality. I will be staying here again in the future.”

“Our family loved the outdoor kitchen, fire pit, and outdoor games provided. The antiques and decor was amazing. Would definitely stay there again.”

Yurt Next to Clarks Fork of Yellowstone River

Image courtesy of Airbnb

Have you ever wanted to stay in a yurt? It’s one of my favorite types of unique accommodation!

There’s something about the round environment that makes it far more spacious-feeling than it is in terms of square footage, and this yurt in Cody is extremely charming and well-designed for the perfect Wyoming glamping experience.

Because of the yurt’s construction and lack of heating, it’s not available in the winter months, so look for this Airbnb from May through August.

The interior is really charming, with exposed cross-hatching showing the yurt’s construction, and furniture and rugs that complement the colors of the yurt.

The kitchen is small but well-appointed, perfect for making some meals which the group can enjoy together around the five-person dining table.

There are 3 beds sleeping a total of five people, so it’s great for a family of 5 or a group of five friends that don’t mind bunking up in a few of the beds.

However, do note that because it’s a yurt, there’s no bathroom inside the yurt itself, but rather an outhouse extremely close by. It’s fit with an Incinolet toilet and an outdoor shower (which is private and closed off).

If an outhouse icks you out, this isn’t the Airbnb for you! But if it sounds like the beginning of a fun adventure, you won’t regret staying in this charming Cody Airbnb.

Book this Wyoming Airbnb!

Past guests say:

“The Yurt is so great! We came for three nights while seeing Yellowstone and hiking the Beartooth Mountains and could not have asked for a better place to stay. It was our first time in a Yurt and our only regret was that we didn’t stay longer! JuliaKay is a great host and makes incredible breakfasts!”

“We loved our stay in the yurt! It was the perfect launching spot for our Yellowstone/Montana travels, and just the right amount of ‘roughing it’ for our family. The yurt is well equipped and clean. JuliaKay is a great host! My only word of advice would be bring lots of bug spray- the area is beautiful, but more mosquitoes than I anticipated. Highly recommend!

Wyoming Airbnbs in Jackson Hole

Baitshop Cabin

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The Baitshop Cabin is the perfect Airbnb in Jackson: not too basic, not too luxe. The house strikes the perfect balance between rustic and modern with its vintage-feeling furniture and coordinated color palette.

On top of being spacious, the living room area features a fireplace, and the extra bathrooms are a much-needed bonus considering the house’s six-guest capacity. The price is a bit high, but split between a large party, it can be more than reasonable.

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Boasting large windows and sliding doors that connect to the deck, the Baitshop Cabin is sure to be bright and lively throughout the day. Speaking of the deck, this is a great place to sit back and enjoy the view of Snow King and the surrounding neighborhood.

Skiers will especially appreciate this resort, thanks to how close it is to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Resort.

If that’s not your scene, worry not – you’ll be within walking distance of Jackson’s Town Square, giving you plenty of places to shop, dine, and wine, as well as an easy drive from Grand Teton National Park or even Yellowstone National Park just a bit further away.

Book this Jackson Airbnb here!

Past guests say:

“We really enjoyed staying in the cabin. It was very clean and well kept with great wifi. It is also in a fabulous location—walking distance to many stores and restaurants!”

“Wonderful location, very clean, comfy beds. Would definitely book again!”

Pearl at Jackson

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This incredible house puts the extra in extravagant with its stunning design that’ll keep you coming back to this Airbnb in Jackson year after year!

The main living area features stylish furniture with just a hint of vintage – it comes equipped with a fireplace, designer chairs, a guitar, and plenty of windows that keep the place bright and add to the amazing atmosphere.

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While some Airbnbs in Jackson may boast two bathrooms, The Pearl has two full-blown baths, and you can see Jackson and the surrounding mountains in the best light from the third-floor deck.

What’s more, you’ll have access to a fitness area, spa, and an on-site restaurant. Then there’s the outdoor hot tub – completely private and with stunning views of Snow King Ski Resort.

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Past guests say:

“Such a nice place for a get away! Love the hot tub on the balcony! Great space!”

“This was a great place for us to stay! Conveniently located to town…we were able to walk everywhere. Gorgeous views, stylish space and great for two couples or a family. The kitchen had everything that we needed to eat meals in. We would definitely stay here again!”

Adobe at Moosehead Cabin

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This beautiful log cabin with Western inspiration located in Jackson Hole is the perfect escape, winter or summer.

The crown jewel of this beautiful luxury cabin is its great room: combining the living room, dining area, and kitchen into one open-flow room that’s insanely spacious and inviting, centered around a grand fireplace.

The windows are huge, streaming in natural light into the main level of the house. The lower level contains the home’s two bedrooms, with gorgeous mountain views. The master room includes an en-suite bath with a deep soaking tub with separate shower. The second room contains either two twin beds or it can be converted into a king bed upon request of the property. This room also has a private bathroom, with his-and-hers sinks and a shower and a tub.

The outdoor spots are plentiful as well. There’s a stone terrace on the lower level for enjoying a cup of coffee with a mountain view, whereas the upper wooden deck has a gas grill, hot tub, and picnic table.

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Past guests say:

“Great location and amenities. The kitchen had everything that we needed, and the hot tub was perfect!”

“The Adobe is the perfect place for family fun and relaxation. It has incredible views of the mountains, close to town and tons of things to do. Very stylish on the inside with plenty of room and great amenities, I would recommend to anyone wanting to go on a Jackson Hole trip.”

Wyoming Airbnbs in Buffalo

U2 Horse Glamping

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This lovely 20-are property is located on Rock Creek, where they run a fishing camp in the summer months. The property is home to one yurt, built on a platform right in front of the pasture where horses graze.

So if you want to wake up to views of horses grazing right outside your glamping tent windows, this is exactly the place!

This glamping tent is 14 by 16 and fits a large queen bed with a memory foam mattress, as well as two side tables, interior lights, and a patio space.

Note that the glamping tent does not have a private toilet, but there is a camp toilet as well as a sun shower (outdoors but private) available.

Families will love the smaller tipi-style tent space with cots and pads, where up to 3 kids can play, relax, and even sleep away from their parents if the parents want the glamping tent to themselves.

There’s also a charcoal grill on-site for grilling and plenty of space to enjoy an outdoor meal in the summer.

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Past guests say:

“Super cute little glamp! We watched the horses and mules in the morning while having our coffee. It was nice to let our Aussie run free for a bit too!”

“Claudia’s place is lovely. I was there only one night. I wish I could have stayed longer. Sat outside the tent watching turkeys roost in the tree nearby. It was perfect. Best sleep I’ve had in a long while.”

Wyoming Airbnbs in Casper

Geodesic Dome Cabin

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Have you ever wanted to stay in a geodesic dome house? Well, in this gorgeous mountainside Wyoming Airbnb, you can do just that!

This geodesic dome house is the perfect winter escape, located right on groomed snowmobile trails which you can access by snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross-country skis.

In the winter, you’ll need to trek in the 1.6 miles on a snowmobile (or skis or snowshoes!). In summer, though, it’s an easy road to drive in as long as your car has decent clearance.

This beautiful dome cabin is located on 2 acres of mountainous land, and the Airbnb includes a main floor, a lofted room, and a deck. There’s a full kitchen, cplete with oven, stove, microwave, and coffee pot, as well as a dining area for enjoying meals as a group.

The loft can hold up to two air mattresses (sleeping 4 people), whereas the main floor has a queen sleeper sofa. Use your discretion as to whether a loft is suitable for children.

While there is electricity and running water, due to the remoteness of the location, the water isn’t potable, so be sure to bring your own water for drinking and cooking.

Book this cool Wyoming Airbnb here!

Past guests say:

“A great place set in a very primitive setting. The Dome comes with some nice amenities making for a perfect place to relax or explore.”

“We wanted to immerse ourselves in the mountains and the dome exceeded our expectations. If you are traveling in winter, it is worth every penny to rent the ATV. Expect to have a beautiful sunrise in a cozy dome when you stay here. Hosts are very helpful!”

Wyoming Airbnbs in Saratoga

Highline Camp Sheepwagon

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Staying in a sheepwagon? Trust me, it’s not half-baad — at least according to nearly 200 reviews giving it an average of 4.9/5 stars!

If you can forgive the awful pun, I’ll show you why this is one of the most unique Airbnbs in Wyoming worth staying in!

Yes, it’s rustic, and yes, that’s kind of the point! This is a restored sheep wagon with a bed, propane heater, and propane cooking stove. Drinking water and a outdoor BBQ grill are available to use, as well as patio chairs and an outdoor table for enjoying a meal by the reservoir.

It’s the perfect place to unwind and unplug, as there’s no electricity or running water, and definitely no WiFi! There are, however, games, candles, and books, so you can make a cozy night in of it without worrying about getting bored… so long as you have a great book or a good conversation partner!

It’s on a working 4,000-acre cattle ranch, so you’ll absolutely feel at peace. There’s also a reservoir which the sheep wagon is right in front of, where you can fish for trout or go out on their paddle boat or swim in the summer.

Too cold for a swim? If you want to go for a little hot springs dip, Saratoga has mineral hot springs open day and night just 15 minutes away from the ranch!

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Past guests say:

“The view is spectacular and the serenity of the reservoir is beautiful. I was surprised how comfortable the bed in the Sheepwagon was and also how warm I was in the morning under all the quilts! I opened the window to the most beautiful sunrise. The Sheepwagon is equipped with so many amenities to make a perfect night… candles, books, coffee, games, even a mirror!! I loved going in town to eat and hold conversation with some locals and learn more about Wyoming! Wonderful unique stay!!!”

“Clean, RUSTIC, awesome location on the pond. Cindy brought us breakfasts (surprise!) both Mornings. We were left to ourselves in the space which was nice. Very romantic getaway or great for an artist/writer looking for some peace!”

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Best Idaho Airbnbs: 12 Unique Places to Stay in Idaho

If you’re looking for some places to stay in Idaho while you’re traveling around the state on a road trip, we’ve got you covered with this post!

There are some really great Airbnb options in Idaho all over the state, and we’ve tried to spread our picks for where to stay in Idaho in Airbnbs all around the state.

From Teton County at Grand Teton’s backdoor to quirky picks in the capital city of Boise to houseboats on Lake Coeur d’Alene and luxe cabins in McCall, and oh yeah — a giant potato — here are the most lovely and unique Airbnbs in Idaho!

The 12 Best Airbnbs in Idaho

Idaho Airbnbs in Teton County

Yur-Treat

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This gorgeous Idaho Airbnb takes glamping to the next level in a location near Grand Teton National Park on the Idaho side of the border.

The interior of the yurt is adorable, with lots of exposed wooden detailings and a large wooden bed that positively invites you to sleep and have the sweetest dreams.

This yurt is fairly off-grid, so do be prepared to rough it a little bit. There’s no electricity or WiFi or running water, but it is quite cozy.

A warm wood stove is provided as with firewood, and a propane heater is also provided if you’re traveling in the winter months (bring your own propane tanks, however.) The hosts also recommend bringing a warm sleeping bag in the winter.

There are two outhouses available located a short distance from the yurt, but it’s a strictly BYO TP affair. There is a solar shower available in the summer, though it’ll be too cold to use in the winter.

Outdoors, you can enjoy a fire pit and a picnic table for fun outdoor meals and sundowners.

Pets are permitted with a maximum of two pets, with an additional $10 per pet fee.

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Colorful Glamping Tent

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If you’re looking for a colorful and quirky glamping spot in Idaho near Grand Teton, Valley Village’s glamping tents are a perfect choice!

They combine comfort, color, and location to create the perfect summer stay on a reasonable budget given all the amenities and location.

The tents are spacious and comfortable, fitting a large queen bed, a comfortable sofa with colorful throw pillows, a coffee table, and even a full bathroom with shower in the glamping tent itself — no outhouse here!

Also, these glamping tents aren’t off-grid: they have electricity, A/C, working lights, a mini-fridge, heating, and a heated blanket in case you’re brave enough to glamp in winter!

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Northern Idaho Airbnbs

Nostalgic Fire Lookout

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This gorgeous mountain lookout is the perfect tiny house Idaho Airbnb escape, modeled after the historic fire lookout that the state is famous for. Note that due to its location in the mountains, it’s only open between May and October.

However, it’s definitely more comfortable and up-to-date than your standard fire lookout, with amenities like a modern kitchen, cool helix spiral staircase connecting the two levels, and a bathroom in the tiny house itself as opposed to an outhouse.

This is a great getaway for couples looking to get away from it all, as it’s far from virtually all civilization (save for the occasional passing train in the valley below).

This Idaho Airbnb is unfortunately not kid or pet-friendly, as the spiral staircase poses a potential danger, so they are not permitted.

That said, couples or friends (or hell, even indulgent solo travelers looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life!), though, this place is a paradise where you can cook elaborate meals, wake up to views of the beautiful forest, and sit in a secluded hot tub watching forest wildlife go about their business.

The house comes with plenty of entertainment options to keep you busy — as if you’d need entertainment with those views! There’s a smart TV in the bedroom, WiFi, a telescope, and a vintage record player with tons of classic albums.

There’s also a wood-burning stove and a wood pellet grill to get cozy on cool mountain nights, so bring some cozy clothes and get ready for the Idaho Airbnb getaway of a lifetime!

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Couer d’Alene Houseboat

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This lovely houseboat on Lake Couer d’Alene is the perfect Idaho Airbnb for people who not only want to be one with nature, but literally in nature!

This houseboat is great for groups of families as it is able to sleep six. There’s a bathroom on the boat that’s fully connected, including a shower, and there is a full kitchen so you can have a delicious cookout on the lake – preferably with fresh-caught fish from the lake!

There’s also a spacious outdoor area as part of the houseboat that’s a private deck for you to enjoy, a great place for a meal on a warm summer evening.

There is a comfortable master bedroom, a smaller lofted room with two twin beds (perfect for kids), and the dining/living area converts to fourth bed if needed to sleep six.

Just be aware that this is a houseboat on a lake, and as a result, there may be some movement — so if you have severe motion sickness, this is not the best Idaho Airbnb to choose! Do note, though, that the boat is moored and you’re unfortunately not allowed to take it for a spin.

The area is absolutely fantastic for outdoor activities! You can birdwatch and keep an eye out for bald eagles — CDA has one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the United States!

There are also water toys available for use, such as a water trampoline, launch pads, standup paddleboards, inflatable rafts, kayaks, and canoes. Just note that these are shared with cabin guests so you may not get. your pick of exactly what you want, but they are available.

There’s also a picnic table, BBQ area, and firepit available to use on the beach of the lake. This is the perfect Idaho Airbnb if you want your home to be the ultimate getaway and not need to travel far for anything once you arrive!

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Crystal Peak Lookout

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This ultra-cozy converted fire lookout is now the ultimate treehouse experience — and best of all, it’s pet-friendly!

If you’re looking for an Idaho Airbnb where you can indulge in sweet solitude, you can enjoy 13 gorgeous acres of forest, sharing the land only with starry skies, owls, bluebirds, and the occasional moose — plus whoever you bring, of course.

Note that you’ll need a 4WD car to access the lookout even in the best weather, and in the winter, it’s even more of an adventure!

Starting around late October, snow can make the roads impassable. You’ll need to go by snowmobile or you can hire their vintage 1960s Snocat with driver for $100 for the day, who will take you all over the snow-covered forest and take care of transporting luggage and food. They’ll also give you a free sled and snowshoes to enjoy exploring the area!

They’ll also bring you some gourmet hot cocoa (with or without Baileys!) and you can enjoy the wood-fired stove and a wood sauna to warm up in — before you jump in the snow to cool off!

One thing to note is that the lookout doesn’t have a bathroom in the lookout itself but rather an outhouse nearby, so if you’re unable to handle lots of stairs (or don’t want to handle navigating stairs at night for a middle-of-the-night pee), this may not be the Idaho Airbnb for you!

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Idaho Airbnbs in McCall

Upscale Lodge with Two Hot Tubs

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This is the absolute ultimate Airbnb in Idaho for large groups: this monstrous cabin near McCall, Idaho can fit a whopping 16 people and sleep them well, spread across 14 beds to choose from!

This is great for groups of friends as well as several families traveling together, and when you have a nearly full group, the price tag can be quite reasonable for the property.

There are so many rooms of the cabin that it’s almost overwhelming! There is a large living room with a gorgeous fireplace surrounded by plush leather couches, the perfect place for watching movies on the flatscreen TV over the crackling fire or having drinks around the fireplace at night.

There’s a gourmet kitchen and a large dining area perfect for group dinners, and my favorite feature, a large game room with all sorts of activities available for the group to avail themselves of, including pool, ping-pong, foosball, and shuffleboard!

There’s also an entire theater room for watching movies with your group, cinema-style, with a 75″ TV!

Of course, there’s also the gorgeous outdoor Idaho surroundings to enjoy no matter the time of year. There are several porch areas with chairs to enjoy watching the snowfall or the stars above.

There is also not one, but two, hot tubs to make use of — one for 8 people as well as a private 2 person tub off the master bedroom — as well as fire pit for gathering around and toasting s’mores and enjoying drinks no matter the time of year.

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Custom Built Luxury Cabin with Hot Tub

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For the ultimate group getaway in Idaho, this delightful Idaho cabin in McCall ticks all the boxes.

It’s incredibly spacious and its setting right off of Payette Lake in McCall means that while you could certainly enjoy your Idaho Airbnb for your entire stay, there’s a whole host of natural activities just beyond your fingertips.

The interior of the cabin is delightfully rustic in a way that just screams “cabin vibes only”. It’s done in a log-cabin style, yet a lot of the fixtures are extremely modern, so nothing feels dated and you won’t lack for any creature comforts.

There are two bedrooms but also an additional lofted area with plenty of extra beds so every member of the family or group can have their little corned carved away to enjoy.

The property also has plenty of amenities to enjoy on the property itself, including a heated hot tub perfect for enjoying in any season and a BBQ grill perfect for summer cookouts (or winter grill sessions, if you’re brave!).

There’s also WiFi and a home office to use in case any member of the group needs to catch up on some work while enjoying some time out in the country, so you’re not off-grid!

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Bed in a Barn

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For a no-frills place to stay in McCall on a budget, don’t worry — you won’t be priced out of the area if you have a lower budget, and there are plenty of great Airbnbs nearby to choose from.

One such option is the lovely “Bed in a Barn,” a simple name for a simple but lovely Idaho Airbnb in the mountains near McCall.

Admittedly, the interior is a little plain, but it’s still a cozy and comfortable place to lay your head at night without breaking the bank.

There’s a lovely balcony deck to enjoy coffee, tea, or a glass of wine and watch the wildlife and mountain scenery pass you by. This is a great place to relax and unwind — cell service is not available, although there is WiFi and a landline if you need it, so you’re not totally off-grid.

There is a small kitchenette you can use, including a microwave, coffee-maker, mini-fridge, and toaster oven. However, there’s no stove-top or oven, so keep that in mind when planning for meals if you are dining in the Airbnb and not in town.

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Idaho Airbnbs in Boise

The 36th Street Urban Yurt

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This cozy yurt is the perfect offbeat place to stay in Boise, Idaho for a group of up to six people looking for a unique place to stay.

The yurt is cozy and traditional with lots of fun colorful and modern design elements such as Tibetan prayer flags, colorful rugs and chairs, and a wood-fired stove for comfort on cooler nights and days.

The yurt comes equipped with electricity and WiFi, so you don’t have to fully disconnect to enjoy a slice of the nomad life!

But perhaps the best thing about this yurt is its dreamy location. It’s in the heart of Boise, yet it has access to the Cougar Trail right on the property, so you can be hiking in mere minutes.

Meanwhile, if you want to stay closer to home, there’s a large outdoor area where you can enjoy a picnic table, park benches, and a covered gondola area, enjoyable any time of year but especially beautiful when Boise’s vibrant fall colors come out in full force.

The property being a yurt, however, it’s important to note that the bathroom is not located in the yurt itself.

However, don’t expect an outhouse — the bathroom is straight-up luxurious: we’re talking a clawfoot bathtub with a bath rack for enjoying a glass of wine and a book while you soak!

The bathroom is located just across the yard in the back of a detached shop area (flashlight provided for middle-of-the-night access), and it’s private for just yurt use.

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Big Idaho Potato Hotel

Image courtesy of Airbnb. This photo and photos below are credited to Otto Kitsinger/AP Images for Idaho Potato Commission

Have you ever found yourself wishing, gee, I wish I could spend the night in a potato? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

It may not be something that was on your Idaho bucket list beforehand, but come on, there’s something delightful about getting to say yes, I spent the night in a giant 6-ton Idaho potato on an actual farm, and it was surprisingly stylish and dare I say, even hip?

The outside may be delightfully kitschy and rural, but the interior is utterly modern, with an almost Scandinavian sensibility in its color palette and pared-down design elements, enlivened by a bit of mid-century modern touches.

Really, who knew potatoes could be straight up elegant?

If you’re wondering where that Idaho potato Airbnb fits a bathroom… well, it doesn’t, but there’s an outhouse in a converted grain silo just a few feet away. And trust me, it’s a lot more luxurious than it sounds (though I guess that wouldn’t be hard).

The bathroom is just as chic and design-focused as the interior of the potato, with a soaking tub, sculptural chandelier elements, and lots of greenery to make the bathroom feel like a little spa on your Idaho farm.

Plus, the benefits of being on a farm is that you can say hello to all the cute animals on the farm, including the pet cow Dolly: her kisses come included!

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SweetPea Tiny Home with Luxury Bath

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Am I the only person on earth who would book an Airbnb strictly based on a bathtub? Because that’s truly the case with me and the SweetPea tiny home!

I mean, how dreamy is this bath setup?

My bathtub obsession aside, SweetPea has a ton more to offer.

It’s not an apartment but rather a fully detached tiny house, so you don’t have to worry about loud neighbors blasting music through the walls, and you’ll also enjoy distancing and privacy in a way that’s rare in an urban environment.

The prices are absurdly affordable for a house this beautiful and well-designed, and design isn’t the only thing this smartly-decorated tiny house offers.

The kitchen is delightfully large for such a small space, and the colorful kelly green cabinets bring a spark of joy to the otherwise rather neutral color palette of white and wood details.

A small dining nook makes enjoying a romantic meal for two a breeze in this charming Boise Airbnb.

Meanwhile, the bedroom is lush and inviting, with tons of soft blankets and pillows that practically beg you to curl up for an afternoon nap.

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Western Idaho Airbnbs

Restored 1909 Train Car

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If you have someone in your life who loves trains (or you’re that someone and you’re looking to treat yourself) — this is the perfect Idaho Airbnb!

It’s also a great choice for anyone who is a little old-fashioned or into history and dreams of riding the Orient Express and living in another era, as this train car dates back to 1909 but has been beautifully refurbished to be a comfortable and truly stylish Airbnb in Western Idaho.

The interior of the train car combines elements that are classic to the form, such as rounded vaulted ceilings, smallish bathrooms, and rooms organized in a narrow, long layout.

But it also adds a touch of vintage elegance that is still decidedly modern as opposed to fussy and frilly. The feel is like an upscale B&B.

The main living area of the train Airbnb keeps truest to form, preserving its many windows and adding elements like colorful painted trim and vintage lighting to give you that true turn-of-the-century feel, while also having all the modern comforts you’d expect from an Idaho Airbnb.

Plus, it’s location near the border with Washington make it easy to day trip to delightful places like Palouse Falls or sample wines in the Lewis and Clark Valley.

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