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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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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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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The Perfect 7-Day Mighty 5 Utah Road Trip Itinerary (2021)

Anybody who loves the outdoors needs to visit the incredible state of Utah!

Utah has so many options including phenomenal national parks (five of them!), hot springs, ski resorts, and more!

Pack your bags and your camera because this 7-day Utah itinerary has all of Utah’s unique destinations laid out in the perfect order.

I’ve ensured you hit all the top attractions and snag some of those drool-worthy Instagram pictures you see plaguing your feed, as well as suggesting a few off-the-beaten-path gems, while road tripping the Mighty 5 in Utah!

When to Plan Your Mighty 5 Utah Road Trip

Empty road going through Zion National Park with mountains on either side and orange autumn trees alongside the road

Utah is incredible any time of the year. With tepid summers and gorgeous snow-covered winters, there is never a season that doesn’t reveal jaw-dropping landscapes.

But since you’ll be cruising the highways and spending enormous amounts of time in the outdoors if you’re doing a Mighty 5 road trip, I suggest the months of April-May and September-October.

Late September and early October is a great time if you want to see some fall foliage in places like Zion!). If I had to pick the best month to visit Utah, I’d pick October — fewer crowds, better weather, and gorgeous foliage!

Going in the shoulder season will allow some crowds to dissipate at the popular sites and puts you ahead of snow closures. These months are considered the off season for crowds, and the weather has never failed me during these months.

Tips for Planning Your Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

green tent outside of the landscape of zion national park a beautiful red rock landscape in utah

Prep for the parks. This Utah road trip means you will need to pay for entrance to at least 4 separate national parks, 5 if you also visit the interior of Capitol Reef and don’t just pass through. Each park can easily charge a $30 admission fee, so if you’re planning to enter more than two parks, an America the Beautiful pass will save you money! Buy it online at REI.

Time it wisely. Spring and fall, in my opinion, are the best times to visit Utah! Skip summer unless you’re willing to handle the heat (and school vacation crowds), and winter unless you’re a confident winter driver as many parts of Utah experience snow.

Cell service is spotty. Don’t always count on having cell phone service while driving in Utah! There are many long stretches of highway with very little service. Be prepared by having your maps downloaded offline.

Places on the map are not always as direct or close as they look. There are many routes that, at first glance, appear to be doable… but when you plug it into your maps app, you find they’re rather far apart! I’ve omitted a few notable places from this itinerary for that reason, such as Monument Valley, which is hard to squeeze into a 7-day Utah itinerary.

Utah Road Trip FAQs

Allison visiting Mesa Arch in Canyonlands national park sitting in the middle of Mesa Arch

How many days do you need to visit the Utah National Parks?

There are five incredible national parks in Utah (hence their collective nickname, the Mighty 5!). One week in Utah is enough time to catch a glimpse of each of the five national parks, but to see them in full, you could easily spend a month in Utah’s national parks and not see it all!

What are the best national parks to visit in Utah?

All of them, but this itinerary focuses the most time on Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park, with briefer part-day trips to Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.

How do I plan a road trip to Utah?

The first step is to determine your itinerary: where are you flying or driving into, and how many days do you have from there?

Below, I’ll offer a few different routing ideas for driving around Utah, but generally, this itinerary assumes you’ll fly into Salt Lake City and then have seven days to explore Utah by car. 

If you have longer, you can absolutely spend more time at each site, but 7 days is the bare minimum to complete a Mighty 5 road trip!

The Mighty 5: Your Perfect 7 Day Utah Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Salt Lake City

A view of the skyline of Salt Lake City with enormous mountains towering over the city.

Salt Lake City International Airport is a hub for flights and car rentals as well as the perfect starting and ending point for exploring Utah.

I suggest booking your arrival and departure tickets from here, as it creates the perfect loop for your 7 day Utah road trip. 

Another option would be to fly into Las Vegas, in which case, your route itinerary would look like the following: Las Vegas – Zion – Bryce Canyon – Capitol Reef – Moab – back to Vegas or SLC. 

You could also add on a few days at the Grand Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well Page, AZ easily with this kind of itinerary. 

If that sounds more like the itinerary you want to follow, check out my Southwest road trip post, which does a roundtrip from Las Vegas to Moab and back, touching all Mighty 5, the Grand Canyon, and Page’s landmarks like Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

However, for the purposes of this 7 day itinerary, let’s assume you’re flying into SLC, as it’s the easiest for routing purposes, plus SLC is a great airport hub!

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental for this road trip through Utah? 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 Salt Lake City here!

Salt Lake City is in the heart of Utah, nestled among the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain Range it is surrounded with fantastic opportunities for fun.

Here’s how you should spend your day in SLC!

Check-in to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City

This luxury hotel is such a delight for the eyes!

Swirling colorful carpet draws you into the warm space of the lobby while modern vintage furniture gives the Kimpton Hotel Monaco an inviting atmosphere.

The rooms are adorned in old-world style with flashes of flair from the 1950s.

Hotel Monaco is perfectly situated in downtown SLC, making exploring the city extremely accessible.

Book your stay online here

Grab a coffee and start your day

Begin your morning by making the 3 block walk to Campos Coffee.

Snag a seat in their stylish cafe and order up a delicious cappuccino with a side of Cran-Apple Toast.

Campos coffee offers an inviting, wide-open atmosphere adorned with a steampunk theme. Enjoy a quiet morning here as the city will quickly wake up.

Wander around downtown SLC

Giant Mormon church with cherry blossoms blooming in the spring and other spring flowers

Salt Lake City is known for its outdoor squares and parks. Once you’ve properly caffeinated, head to one of the year-round farmer’s markets for food, fun, and Utah flair.

There are several downtown areas that offer farmers’ markets at different times a year. A couple of options include Liberty ParkSugar House, and Downtown Farmers Markets.

Most of these markets only take place on Fridays and Saturdays but if you’re lucky enough to catch one, they’re worth the visit.

Fresh fruits and vegetables line the streets along with homemade gifts and local artists displaying their talents. It’s easy to spend a few hours wandering the streets.

While you’re on foot, consider seeking out some of Salt Lake’s most known and gorgeously constructed monuments such as the Mormon Temple, the State Capitol, and Temple Square. There’s a ton of historical sightseeing in downtown SLC, so be sure to pack your most comfortable shoes.

Hit the hiking trails

View of Salt Lake City in the far distance from the trail to the Living Room on a partly cloudy day.

Salt Lake City is filled with tons of outdoor options as well!

One of the most fun and accessible hiking trails is The Living Room. Lying just 10 minutes from downtown, this 2.2-mile out-and-back hike leads to incredible views of Downtown and the surrounding landscape.

Sit above the horizon on “chairs” made from surrounding rock and enjoy the afternoon high above the city.

If you desire some trails that require a bit more of a time commitment consider looking into Mount Timpanogos Trail or summit Grandeur Point. Both of the trails lead to exquisite views.

If you’re visiting in the fall, the colors of the changing leaves along both trails are breathtaking!

I also have a full guide to the best hikes near Salt Lake City here in case you want to extend your trip a bit and do a day hike or two!

Grab a delicious dinner in the city

Head back to the city and clean up for dinner.

Salt Lake is filled with phenomenal restaurants that’ll please any palate. A few of my favorites are Settebello for pizza or Red Iguana for Mexican.

Settebello offers insanely delicious Neapolitan style pizza wood-fired to perfection with a fluffy, buttery crust. Their bruschetta is simple and delicious, piled high with fresh tomatoes on divinely toasted bread. 

If a cuisine south of the border sounds more enticing, Red Iguana is the hot spot for you. Dubbed as Utah’s “killer Mexican food,” they have all the specialties including chimichangas and indulgent Mexican desserts that go down well with a custom-made margarita!

Day 2: Moab

Sign for the town of Moab which reads "Moab Again & Again The Adventure Never Ends" with a desert landscape in a background.

Day two of this Utah road trip is all about hiking and soaking up some of Utah’s most iconic scenery in Moab!

3.5 hours south of Salt Lake via an incredibly scenic drive lies 3 parks that are so breathtakingly beautiful, it’ll take two days to explore.

Dead Horse Point State ParkCanyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park all lie within miles of each other but the landscapes of each are so totally different.

Here’s how you should spend your first day in beautiful Moab.

Start the day with a delicious breakfast

As you roll into the quaint city of Moab, consider stopping for breakfast at the Love Muffin Cafe to fuel your hiking day.

They have all the breakfast classics including breakfast burritos, quiches and scones set in a brightly colored, eclectic cafe.

I’ve also heard rave reviews of Moab Cafe. Although I’ve never personally visited, it sounds like it’s worth checking out!

Head to Dead Horse Point State Park

An overlook in Dead Horse Point State Park where you can see a bend in the Colorado River that has hollowed out a canyon, with red rocks in layers on the sides of the canyon.

Dead Horse Point State Park is the perfect introduction to the beauty of Moab.

It’s a sprawling 5,000-acre park set high among the desert landscape with towering cliffs and unrivaled views of the Canyonlands in the distance.

There are several pull-outs along the drive to the parking lot that are all worth the extra stops.

But to truly experience the spectacular sights, hike the Dead Horse Rim Loop Trail. This trail is a 5-mile loop that canvasses the rim of the canyon.

The most prominent view from the trail is hands down the overlook at the point of the Colorado River — it’s stunning!

Dead Horse Point also has a trail system for mountain bikers as well. If you’ve come prepared to bike, the park Intrepid Trail is a 16-mile single-track trail on dirt roads that offers the same unrivaled views with a bit more adrenaline.

Head towards Canyonlands National Park

A view of Canyonlands National Park as seen through the empty space of a rock arch, Mesa Arch, looking out onto the landscape.

Rest your feet and make the short 12-minute drive over to Canyonlands National Park to the park entrance at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.

Canyonlands is a massive park that has 3 different districts. For the sake of time, I recommend visiting the nearest and most accessible district called the Island In The Sky.

Here, you’ll find a comprehensive visitors center with rangers who are more than willing to help you plan your afternoon. 

The Island In The Sky is the only paved district in Canyonlands National Park with easy access to well-marked trails; the Needles is beautiful but more remote and not quite suited for such a quick trip to Utah, and the Maze and the Rivers (consisting of the Colorado River and the Green River) are even more remote.

On your drive into the park stop at the Grand View Point Overlook. The overlook totally lives up to its name as it reveals jaw-dropping views into Monument Basin as you ascend via a scenic drive. You can also take the trail, which is an easy 1.8-mile hike.

Another iconic sight is Mesa Arch, a short and easy 0.7-mile trail that leads you to an arch that’s perched perfectly on the edge of Canyonlands Cliffs.

After a few dramatic photos of Mesa Arch, head over to Upheaval Dome, the last trek of the day. Upheaval Dome is attractive because of its odd geology and wild folklore that surrounds its creation.

An easy 2-mile wide trail takes you along the rim of the Dome and gives you a panoramic view of just how weird and wonderful the geology truly is.

Grab a drink to toast your hikes

After an entire day of hiking, you deserve a beer!

Back in the city of Moab is Moab Brewery. The perfect place to end your first day in the spectacular Utah desert. Moab Brewery is always fun, always lively, and always has plenty of beer!

The atmosphere is a fun mix of outdoorsman bar vibes. Kayaks hang from the ceiling and pool tables fill the corners.

You’ll find a massive selection of microbrewed beers including ambers, lagers, Hefeweizens and IPAs.

They’re also a full-service restaurant, so grab dinner and hang around for a bit.

Check into your Moab accommodations

A lit up canvas glamping tent with a dark night sky with lots of visible stars.

There are several different options when it comes to accommodations in Moab. These include hotels, Airbnb, glamping, and camping.

If you’re wanting more of the comforts of home, there are plenty of commercial hotels located in the heart of Moab.

For something more unique look into the Moab Red Stone Inn or Moab Springs Ranch. Both offer a more low-key, secluded fee.

As for 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!

If you’re wanting to go all in and camp under the stars, there are plenty of campgrounds dispersed in and around the city.

To find these, I recommend checking out my entire write-up on Utah’s incredible dispersed campsites or by using some well-known campground finder apps including The Dyrt, iOverlander, or  rec.gov website.

Day 3: Arches National Park

Wake up early while the city of Moab is still sleeping and get a head start on Arches National Park.

Arches National Park is one of Utah’s top attractions and draws over 1.5 million visitors a year. Because of its popularity, it’s important to beat the crowds if you want to experience Arches in all its glory.

Start with a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch

A view of the famous Delicate Arch, a Utah road trip must, taken at sunrise with the light falling on the left side of the arch.

The iconic Delicate Arch should be your first destination and you should plan to hike it before the sun rises.

To make this possible, check the local times of the sunrise and plan to head out about an hour and half before this.

You’ll need a headlamp or flashlight for the first part of the 1.5-mile hike to Delicate Arch, as it will still be dark outside.

If you timed it correctly, you’ll reach Delicate Arch just as the sun begins to beam on its east side.

It’s an amazing experience to see the surrounding landscape wake up and to watch Delicate Arch glow under the newly risen sun.

Wander the Devils Garden

A nearly empty trail in Devils Garden in Arches National Park with red sand on the trail and views of the red rocks and arches around it.

After you’ve captured photos of Utah’s most iconic arch, continue driving on Arches Entrance Road until you reach the Devils Garden Trailhead.

This 7-mile trail can easily be broken up into something more manageable (2-3 miles) while still offering insane views of the otherworldly landscape.

Massive boulders, tunnels, and arches are the highlight of this trail, as well as its tranquility.

Devils Garden is much less crowded than the surrounding trails and offers a great opportunity to bask in the uniqueness of Utah in peace.

On the way back, be sure to stop in Fiery Furnace which has some of the best views and reddest rocks in Arches.

Snap some final photos of Arches

A trail leading up to a red rock formation which features a rock "balancing" on top of another rock, with the moon rising in the background.

As you meander your way back to the entrance, take this chance to capture some stunning photos at the multiple pull-outs spread throughout the park.

Balanced Rock, the Windows, Double Arch, and Petrified Dunes Lookout are just a few spots worth a quick stop.

You also should make sure to visit the longest arch in the entire park, Landscape Arch, which is accessible via an easy 1.9-mile out-and-back trail.

The day should still be early enough to capture the stunning lighting and natural beauty of the surrounding rock formations.

Grab lunch and gas before hitting the road

Highway 70 going through Moab with red rocks and desert landscape around it.

Stop off in Moab for a bite to eat and gas up the car before you hit the road again to head towards your next destination.

The afternoon will be spent driving to Bryce Canyon National Park. The 4-hour drive from Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park is absolutely stunning.

You’ll leave Arches and head West on highway 70. As you leave the desert landscape of Moab you’ll be transported into the mountainous scenery as you head south through Highway 24.

If you don’t want to visit Capitol Reef National Park, you can shave an hour or two off your drive time by skipping Highway 24, instead going a more direct route to Bryce via Highway 72 and Fishlake National Forest. However, for the purposes of this post, we’ll go the scenic route so you can visit Capitol Reef!

Stop quickly in Capitol Reef National Park

the sign to enter capitol reef national park

With only 7 days in Utah, it’s hard to tackle all of the Mighty 5 and do them proper justice. 

This Utah itinerary focuses more heavily on the Southern Utah national parks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pop into Capitol Reef on the way to Bryce from Moab!

We won’t have time to take on some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef, but we can definitely see a few of the most beautiful landmarks there that are easy to access by car.

As you near Torrey, be sure to stop off at Factory Butte, a stunning and off-the-beaten-path land formation that looks like it could be something out of Mars. It’s right off Highway 24 so you can’t miss it.

For a quick but scenic spin through the park, stick to the parts of the park near Torrey that are accessible via Highway 24, all centered around the Visitor Center. 

This includes the Fruita Schoolhouse, the Petroglyphs, Hickman Natural Bridge, and the gorgeous views at Panorama Point.

If you have a national park pass, as you should, then you can also visit a few places within the park within an easy drive. That would include Fruita Barn, the Gifford Homestead, and if you have time for a hike, the Cassidy Arch Trailis a phenomenal 3.1-mile out-and-back with one of the best views in all of Capitol Reef, rated as moderate.

Arrive in Bryce Canyon National Park

allison looking over the edge of bryce canyon and its orange hoodoos

As you turn south and head towards Bryce, the topography changes one final time into a mix of bright red cliffs, canyons, and hoodoos.

The first sighting of a hoodoo along a scenic drive is a great indication that Bryce Canyon is just around the corner!

The city of Bryce is a small, quiet town that lies minutes outside the National Park. Although limited on hotels and restaurants, it’s easy to find a place to have dinner and a warm place to sleep.

You can also stay in nearby Escalante, which is halfway between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon and is home to Yonder Escalante, a great accommodation choice with cute cabins and Airstreams available for rent.

Grab dinner and hit the sheets

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm, Big Fish Family Restaurant and Stone Hearth Grille are a few restaurants that cater to weary travelers looking for a hearty meal.

As far as hotels, check out the Stone Canyon Inn or Bryce Canyon Log Cabins in nearby Tropic.

Each resort is immaculately maintained and offers stunning views of Bryce Canyon in a private setting.

Of course, Bryce Canyon is also brimming with campgrounds. There are two campgrounds inside the park, North Campground and Sunset Campground, as well as options for backcountry camping.

Day 4: Bryce Canyon

A brilliant view over the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. Hoodoos are vertical finger-like rock formations formed by erosion over time.

Bryce Canyon is purely about the landscape!

With the largest concentration of hoodoos and brightly colored cliffs, Bryce Canyon is a geologic wonder that resembles Mars. 

Hikers will adore the plethora of beauty that is easily accessible via the trails in the park! 

While the classic Bryce Canyon Rim Trail would be amazing to do, at 11 miles roundtrip, it’s not doable for this itinerary, so save it for a return trip. We’ve listed a few shorter day hikes that are better suited for one day in Bryce instead.

Do a hoodoo hike

the hoodoos of bryce canyon

There are several different ways to enjoy one day in Bryce in an adventurous and active way!

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail or Queens Garden Loop inside the core section of the park to experience the topography from within the canyon.

Navajo Loop is a personal favorite and you’ll enjoy absolutely stunning views from everywhere on this canyon trail!

… Or hop on a horse or ATV!

Man on a brown horse wearing a cowboy hat and looking over the canyon views.

If your feet are exhausted from the previous days’ hikes, no worries — there’s still plenty of ways to experience Bryce Canyon without needing to hike.

Hop on a horse for a horseback excursion on a canyon trail ride or pump up your adrenaline with an ATV tour!

Either is a great way to stay active and see the best that Utah’s Mighty 5 have to offer without overexerting yourself.

Get the best sunset view in Utah

Sun setting over a canyon full of red and white hoodoo landforms.

As the sun begins to set, head to Sunset Point to watch the most phenomenal sunset cover the canyon.

It’s probably the best place to catch the sunset in all of Utah, with its hoodoos, red rocks, and wide-open skies.

As the skies begin to darken, catch the glory of the stars, as Bryce is part of the world-renowned International Dark Skies club.

Of course, if you’re too tired for sunrise — or you just want to double up on the beauty of Bryce — another option is to do an early wakeup call the following morning at Sunrise Point, which offers a great vista from a viewpoint better oriented for the rising sun.

Day 5: Springdale and Zion

Wake up early and start the 2 hour drive to Springdale, Utah.

What makes the Beehive State so unique is the opportunity to experience dramatic landscape changes over the miles and the drive from Bryce to Springdale is a prime example of this.

Start at the East Entrance of Zion

A sign which reads "Zion National Park, National Park Service" on the road leading to the national park with mountains in the background.

Head south down highway 89. From here, you’ll hit the East Entrance of Zion National Park first.

I recommend coming in from this direction because it allows you to drive through the entire length of Zion before hitting the main headquarters of the Park.

There are no words to describe the beauty of Zion. Sky-high mountains loom over deep purple slot canyons, multi-layered rock formations weave among the cliff sides, and wild animals can be seen crossing the street.

The beauty will captivate you all the way to the visitors center where you’ll catch a park shuttle to the epic water hike of The Narrows.

Hike to the Narrows

People hiking in knee-deep water in hiking sticks in a slot canyon with purplish rocks and pale green water.

The Narrows is by far the top trail in Zion for discovering the interior slot canyons, and it’s a must-see on the bucket lists of hikers everywhere.

Some visitors rent waders and gear from the nearby Zion Outfitters but I don’t see this step as absolutely necessary. If you’re wanting to save money, it’s perfectly acceptable to hike without being outfitted.

Waterproof hiking shoes, however, are absolutely needed, or you’ll be regretting it. Trust me.

Jump on the shuttle and head to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava. From here, make the 1-mile paved hike into The Narrows.

The beauty of this hike is you can make it as long, or as short as you desire. The entire trail will be water wading while you explore between two towering canyon walls that tend to change color as the sun orbits over.

Get in as much, or as little, hiking in as you like and head back to the visitors center to claim a campsite.

Grab a campsite or check into a hotel

Lime green camping tent contrasting against the red and orange rock landscapes of Zion with Watchman mountain in the distance.

The Watchman Campground is the only public campground in the park and fills up quickly.

This is a gorgeous, shaded campground sitting at the foot of the Mountains with a paved walking path along the Colorado River and within walking distance to the bustling city of Springdale.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) snag one of the limited campsites in Zion, there are plenty of wonderful hotels in Springdale.

I recommend Cable Mountain Lodge or Springhill Suites, with their stunning floor-to-ceiling windowed lobby with incredible Zion views. Another classic is the Zion Lodge which must be booked months and months in advance.

Head to the city and grab a bite to eat at The Spotted Dog (American), Zion Pizza and Noodle (pizza), or the Whiptail Grill (Mexican).

Shop around the many unique, handcrafted stores and head back to camp to enjoy a night under the stars or to your hotel for some creature comforts in a beautiful setting.

Day 6: Zion National Park

Grab a delicious cup of coffee before hitting the trail

Woman hiking Angels Landing, a ridge hike with a chain assist, with views of the valley in Zion National Park on all sides.

Wake up early and hit Deep Creek Coffee for a pre-hike meal and hand-crafted coffee. You’ll need the energy for this hike!

Today’s trail, Angels Landing, is a strenuous uphill hike to the tops of Zion so you’ll need to properly fuel your body.

If you’re feeling extra energized this morning, rent a bike from Zion Cycles and skip the shuttle!

You can bike to the trailhead of Angels Landing as well as the rest of the park. Although a big undertaking, it’s a great alternative to beating the crowds.

 Angels Landing is arguably THE top hike in Zion and for a good reason. This 5-mile trail climbs up and over the canyons of Zion and gives you a birds-eye view of the true beauty of the park.

Summiting Angels Landing is an exhilarating experience! As you ascend, you’ll be assisted by chains that are hanging off the sheer cliffside offering a heart-pounding experience.

Once at the top you’re greeted by the most epic view on earth. Catch your breath and enjoy the beauty before you.

Want a different view? Head up to Observation Point. While normally this is a harder hike than Angel’s Landing, the East Rim to East Mesa approach is closed due to the danger of rockfall.

 The easier route via East Mesa is still accessible though, and is only rated as moderate. It involves a 6.7-mile out-and-back trail with only 700 feet of elevation gain (the hard Observation Point trail involves well over 2,000 feet of elevation gain!). 

For this trailhead, I suggest you park at the intersection of Beaver and Fir Roads if you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle.

 Celebrate your summit with a drink

Descend Angels Landing and head back to town for a celebratory beer at Zion Brewery.

Located creekside to the Colorado River, Zion Brewery has the perfect patio to enjoy the afternoon while you recharge and reminisce.

Once you’ve had a beer… or three, cool off at the riverbank or tackle a shorter Zion hike around sunset for even more epic views.

Hit Zion Canyon Overlook Trail for sunset

For a great view worthy of the final full day of your Utah itinerary, head to Zion Canyon Overlook Trail for sunset.

It’s a super short trail, less than 1 mile out-and-back and rated as easy, though there is about 400 feet of elevation gain. It’s absolutely worth it!

Parking is limited so you may have to circle around for a spot. Give yourself some extra time to find parking if you’re going at sunset as it is a popular sunset spot.

Day 7: Back to Salt Lake City

Brilliant turquoise hot spring in the middle of nowhere in Utah.

The last leg of your journey will be spent making the 4.5-hour drive back to Salt Lake City.

Don’t let the longer drive intimidate you, there are plenty of stops you can make along the way to break up the drive.

A few options I recommend are visiting the ghost town of Grafton, stretching your legs at Cedar Breaks National Monument or soaking in the natural hot springs along the way.

As you head north to Salt Lake City, you’ll conveniently pass two opportunities to soak in Utah’s many natural hot springs.

Mystic Hot Springs and Meadow Hot Springs are both located off Highway 15 and welcome tourists to enjoy the soothing heated waters. It’s the perfect ending to your 7-day road trip across Utah.

I hope this 7 day Utah itinerary inspires you to get out and enjoy this beautiful and truly unique state!

Read Next

I have so many posts to help you plan an epic trip through the Southwest, from general packing guides to quotes to inspire your trip to detailed itineraries just like this one for neighboring states!

Here are my suggestions for where to go next.

What to Pack for a Road Trip: The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List
Road Trip Quotes: The Best Road Trip Quotes & Instagram Captions
Arizona Road Trip: The Perfect 7 Day Arizona Road Trip Itinerary
Southwest USA Road Trip (Nevada, Arizona, & Utah): The Ultimate Southwest Road Trip Itinerary for 10-14 Days
Idaho Road Trip: The Best Idaho Road Trip Itinerary
Montana Road Trip: The Perfect 10 Day Montana Road Trip Itinerary

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!

7 Days in Puerto Rico: Itinerary for a Magical Trip

Ah, Puerto Rico. It is appropriately called “La Isla del Encanto” — in English, the Island of Enchantment.

This small Caribbean island is vibrant and truly enchanting with its stunning beaches and wonderful people. Puerto Ricans are welcoming, lively, and resilient.

Puerto Rico is not always an easy place to live — scars from hurricanes, colonization, and poverty will tell that story — but it is a beautiful one.

Above all, Puerto Rico is alive. You will find incredible street art and the rumble of music on the streets of San Juan. You will be amazed as you snorkel above magnificent coral reefs with colorful fish darting below. The food is delicious, especially for fans of mariscos (seafood), plantains, and tropical fruits.

While Puerto Rico is a beautiful place, there is quite a complex history. While we can’t cover the subject with any hope of comprehensiveness in a short blog post like this one, we’ll quickly try to introduce it.

A Quick History of Puerto Rico

the coastline of san juan surrounded by fort's city walls and a small pier going out to sea and a sailboat in the distance at sunset.

The island that is now known as Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by the Taíno people. Their name for the island was Borikén, which meant “land of the brave lord”, in their native tongue, Arawak.

Today, many Puerto Ricans identify themselves as “boriqua”, the adjective deriving from the land’s original name. When you consider the fact that Puerto Rico translates to “rich port” in Spanish, you can see how the Spanish saw the land: a place to be conquered and looted, rather than respected.

Unfortunately for the Taíno people, Christopher Columbus made his way to Puerto Rico in 1943. Like many other Caribbean nations, the Taíno way of life was changed drastically by this unwelcome arrival. Columbus placed the island under an encomienda system, similar to the feudal systems of Europe, which essentially enslaved the Taíno people on their own land, forcing them to work in gold mines and on plantations.

The Taíno population quickly started declining due to the introduction of European diseases that never existed on the island previously, such as smallpox, measles, and typhus, as well as through the harsh conditions of slavery.

Who remained of the Taíno people were subject to cultural genocide practices, such as the Complementary Declaration of July 28th, 1513, which “freed” only the Taíno who were “clothed, Christian, and capable”, further chipping away at Taíno identity.

By 1530, the effect of 40 years of European colonization had taken an enormous toll. The original population of an estimated 50,000 Taíno dwindled down to just 1,148 survivors in the 1530 census. The remaining Taíno were still oppressed, and many Taíno women intermarried with the Spanish conquistadors and assimilated.

There’s no denying that the Taíno people as a distinct Indigenous group are a shadow of what they used to be. However, Taíno blood runs in the veins of many Puerto Ricans, and Taíno identity is being shaped and defined by the descendants of these Indigenous people living today.

There are ancient sites all over the island to visit and honor these unforgotten people. There are a few towns in Puerto Rico that still retain their Taíno names: for example, Yauco and Utuado.

After over 300 years of Spanish colonization, the United States claimed Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Today, the questions of statehood and Puerto Rican independence are thorny ones, and the path forward for Puerto Rico is not entirely clear.

Today, many Puerto Ricans call the island Borinquen, to honor their Taíno roots and acknowledge the Taíno, Caribbean, African, and Spanish influences on the island’s ethnicity and culture in a way that is more inclusive than the Spanish-given name of Puerto Rico.

How this Puerto Rico Itinerary Works

a mural of the puerto rican flag surrounded by colorful walls and cobblestones

Now that you have a bit of knowledge of the history of the island, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this Puerto Rico itinerary.

The following suggestions only cover a small portion of the east side of the island, since this itinerary only covers 7 days in Puerto Rico.

We’ve highlighted all the most popular touristic hotspots in Puerto Rico and given some off-the-beaten-path suggestions where it makes sense to best maximize the time on your trip to Puerto Rico.

However, if you have more than a week in Puerto Rico, we strongly suggest you make your way around the entire island; you will be amazed at the variety of climates. Explore desolate salt flats, lush rainforest, coral reefs, mountain waterfalls, lakes, and countless beaches that would make a postcard weep.

What to Pack for Puerto Rico

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

I’m in the process of creating a full Puerto Rico packing list, but here are 5 things not to forget before your trip.

An awesome travel towel. A proper travel towel is a game-changer. 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. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love. On an island trip, you’ve got to have swimwear you can stand behind! I love wearing a two-piece, but I hate feeling bloated while I travel and feeling awkward in my swimwear after too much mofongo. 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. Ick.

Reef-safe sunscreen. This is so essential! The future of marine life in Puerto Rico depends on the actions visitors and locals take now, so do your part to keep Puerto Rico’s reefs pristine for generations to come. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and harmless for the animals who call Puerto Rico’s waters their home!

Comfortable travel sandals. I will be buried with my Birkenstocks, or you can try to pry them from my cold, dead hands. Dramatic? Maybe. But they’re a must for travel! I love the Birkenstock Gizeh leather thong style personally, but the classic two-buckle Arizona slides are really cute as well. These are the exact shoes I have and love!

One tip, though: Break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but nothing major (I just bought a second pair and they fit like a glove after a day of use), but they’re not shoes I’d want to walk around a cobblestoned city in on their first day!

Chemical-free insect repellent: Like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s important that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico, particularly 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.

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

This Puerto Rico itinerary has you staying overnight in three separate destinations: San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. We’ll give you some suggestions for each!

San Juan

the colorful houses of old san juan downtown

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

Fajardo

The beautiful blue waters and fine sands of the beaches in Fajardo Puerto Rico

VILLA | If you want to stay in a villa, there are some great choices in this area! This charming private villa at the Rio Mar Beach Resort in nearby Rio Grande is a great choice for people who want to spread out and enjoy a larger space without paying a huge price. It can sleep up to six guests in its one bedroom, two sofa bed configuration. The villa also has two bathrooms, a full-size kitchen and dining area. It’s not fancy, but it’s spacious and charming.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | If you want resort-style luxury, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a phenomenal option about 12 miles north of Fajardo. Amenities include a golf course, ocean-view pool, spa center, yoga and pilates classes, and best of all? Every room includes butler service for that special ultra-luxury touch, plus either gorgeous garden or ocean views.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | For a cute hostel experience, go outside of Fajardo 5 miles to Luquillo, a charming beachy area with lots of great food. The Surfing Turtle Inn offers dorms and private rooms at affordable prices for the area. Dorms and rooms are fairly basic, but offer all the standard budget amenities at a reasonable price, with a clean reputation.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Vieques

the sun rising in vieques puerto rico

BOUTIQUE | Eco-friendly and chic, Finca Victoria is the place to go for a stunning, Instagrammable retreat-style hotel at an affordable cost. It has beautiful treehouse-inspired rooms with soaringly high ceilings and exposed beams, loads of natural light, and vintage farmhouse details in the furnishings. Daily free yoga classes are included, as well as a delicious Caribbean breakfast made with Ayurvedic principles in mind. There are loads of thoughtful touches like hammocks on the balcony, outdoor showers, and small kitchenettes.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

COTTAGE | The lovely Tranquility by the Sea offers a 3-bedroom oceanside cottage perfect for families and groups at a good value. It’s not fancy, but it is well-appointed and spacious with plenty of room to enjoy a vacation home style rental. A full kitchen, washer & dryer, and a wraparound veranda are some of the best perks of this rental. Best of all? You can often see wild horses grazing right from your window.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | While the decor is definitely nothing to write home about, if you want a cheap and clean place to lay your head at night, Lazy Hostel is a good choice. It has a social vibe and it offers a variety of room types including dorms and private rooms. It’s good for solo travelers and anyone on a budget in Puerto Rico.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

A Few Final Tips About Visiting Puerto Rico

a colorful blue and green painted one-way street in san juan with tons of greenery and plant life and a row of cars on one side.

A few quick tips before you arrive on the island!

Cell service can be spotty. So make sure you download maps of the areas you are in to be sure you can find your way. That means you should also keep your phone charged.

Google Maps are not always accurate either. I try to cross-reference with Maps.me and always check my accommodations or destinations to see if they have alternate directions.

The driving in Puerto Rico can be wild. If you’re not used to it… watch out! The right lane is the fast lane, the left lane is the slow lane, and merging onto highways via the right lane is practically a form of cardio. While renting a car in Puerto Rico will give you freedom, it can also be stressful. I suggest a handful of guided tours on this Puerto Rico itinerary so that you can reduce your driving and focus on relaxing, while also having your adventure improved by local guide knowledge.

Watch for mosquitos. Puerto Rico has a tropical climate and therefore a handful of tropical diseases you don’t have to worry about in most of the U.S. mainland. Dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya, and other diseases are transmissible through mosquito bites. Wear mosquito repellent during day and night, and be especially careful around sunrise and sunset, when mosquito activity is at its peak. Reapply and wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing at this time for the most coverage.

Travel respectfully. This post is intended for future travel to Puerto Rico only. As of writing (4/28/2021), Puerto Rico is on the CDC Level 4 list: “Travelers should avoid all travel to Puerto Rico.” It’s recommended to be fully vaccinated before travel, and even once you are, you should wear a mask and respect social distancing.

Now is not the time for leisure travel to Puerto Rico, but soon, it will be. Give the citizens of Puerto Rico the chance to be vaccinated before you plan your trip, as you might be still able to transmit the virus. By summer 2021, I expect you can travel to Puerto Rico safely, as those who want to be protected by the vaccine will have had the opportunity to receive it.

If you’re not from the island, hold on just a little longer until you have the all-clear from the CDC to travel!

To Rent or Not to Rent?

a red car at sunset on a beach in puerto rico

We’ve done a lot of the hard work for you in putting together this itinerary for Puerto Rico, but there’s one big decision you need to make: to rent a car or not to rent a car?

As I mentioned above, driving in Puerto Rico can be difficult. Drivers are a bit on the aggressive side, and the fact that the right lane is the fast lane and the left lane is the slow lane can be a real mind#(*@ for anxious drivers like myself.

I’ve been to Puerto Rico twice, once without a rental car and once with. I was able to adjust to the driving, but there were definitely some heart-pounding moments! Ultimately, I liked the freedom it gave me, though I didn’t enjoy driving on the tiny streets of Old San Juan.

There are tours and taxis you can take which make having a car unnecessary; plus, you ought to leave your rental behind when you go to Vieques, as the car spots on the ferry are limited and are needed by locals. Plus, many rental companies do not allow it.

However, tour and taxi costs can add up, so you’ll want to do some cost benefit analysis there. Renting a car likely skews cheaper, but it will mean some headache. Tours and taixs will likely skew a bit more expensive, but be more relaxing.

If you do choose to rent a car, 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.

Puerto Rico Itinerary: 7 Days on the Island of Enchantment

Day 1: Explore Old San Juan

teal yellow orange and blue painted colonial houses in old san juan

Old San Juan is one of the most lively areas of the islands!

The colorful and stunning architecture reflects the early days of San Juan shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, and some of the earliest buildings dating back to 1508. 

The historic forts and old city walls are especially impressive. Beyond the architecture, San Juan has some of the best eating in Puerto Rico, so bring your appetite!

Start your day off with a cup of coffee.

You’re in Puerto Rico, so it’d be a shame to start the day without a proper café con leche. Puerto Rico is full of coffee farms so be prepared for fresh, delicious coffee that’s local and delicious.

To indulge your coffee craving, head to Cuatro Sombras. This is the coffee house of choice if you are looking to try locally-grown coffee. Enjoy shade-grown coffee from the mountains of Yauco in El Yunque National Park.

Their food menu includes pastries, breakfast plates, sandwiches, and paninis. It is the perfect place to start the day and fuel up with some locally grown coffee.

But resist the urge to overindulge here — next up on this Puerto Rico itinerary is enjoying a delicious walking food tour to get a sense of Puerto Rican flavors.

a cup of coffee with some latte art

Taste the flavors of Old San Juan.

On my first day in a destination, I love to do a food tour for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s a great way to learn what you like and what you don’t — as well as what you haven’t sampled yet! — so you can order tastier and more adventurous dishes on your travels.

It’s also a great way to ask a local for their point of view on the best restaurants in San Juan, so you can plan future meals and make sure you don’t miss out on any can’t-miss foodie experiences.

This highly-rated food & walking tour will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy Puerto Rican cuisine and do some more coffee tasting. Plus they provide a cocktail, if you don’t mind imbibing on the early side (you are on vacation, after all!).

This tour will take you through the streets of San Juan while you admire the architecture and learn about the history of this colonial city and how San Juan came to be. It is a well-rounded (and delicious) Puerto Rican cultural experience and a great way to start off a weeklong Puerto Rico itinerary.

Book your food tour online here!

a sampler plate of delicious puerto rican food including fried snacks and pulled pork and rice

Relax on the beach in Condado or Isla Verde.

From there, you may want to rest your legs for a bit and relax on the beach and digest all that delicious Puerto Rican food!

Head to Condado Beach to experience the beach, enjoy the view, and relax…. plus there is a lot of shopping in Condado for those wanting to explore more and find some Puerto Rican souvenirs to take home.

However, Condado Beach is in one of the most built-up areas of San Juan. If you would like a more laidback Puerto Rican beach experience, head to Isla Verde Beach, otherwise known as Playa Isla Verde in Carolina.

There are multiple bars and restaurants along the beach here which is how it is done at many popular beaches in PR!

the turquoise waters of condado beach with soft sand, lots of blue umbrellas on the beach, people, and buildings surrounding the urban beach

Enjoy San Juan at night one of three ways.

No matter what you choose, you’ll want to eat a big dinner before you explore more of San Juan. This choice is up to you. Both Condado and Isla Verde provide plenty of opportunities to eat well, or perhaps your food tour guide gave you a can’t-miss recommendation for where to eat. If they did… heed it!

There are a few different things you can do to cap off your first night in Puerto Rico. One suggestion is to take a craft rum cocktail tour, to learn why Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world!

You will taste many delicious rum-centric beverages while exploring the colorful nightlife of Old San Juan. You will get to experience a variety of bars in the city and learn about the drinking culture of Puerto Rico. Get to know the city and its history while getting your buzz on!

Book your rum cocktail tour here!

the historic fort of san juan lit up at night on the edge of the ocean

It also must be said that viewing the forts at night is especially impressive! Walk from Castillo San Cristobal to Castillo Felipe del Morro. Enjoy the sound of the ocean while taking in the impressive view.

There are multiple historic citadels, old city walls, and forts in this area, representing the previous Spanish military presence in the former Spanish colony. Some of these looming structures date back to the 16th century and are in remarkably good shape for their age.

Add Paseo Del Morro to your night exploration to continue along on a boardwalk flanked with the city walls on one side and the bay on the other. It runs into Paseo de la Princesa which will allow for you to be able to do almost a full loop around the old city walls.

Day 2: Do it all in San Juan

Hopefully, you will wake up well-rested for another stellar day in San Juan! This is the last full day in San Juan on this PR itinerary, so let’s make the most of it.

I highly suggest you start the day with an early morning dive if you’re certified, or do some snorkeling. Then we’ll explore a bit more of San Juan to close out the day.

Start the day with a fantastic breakfast.

This means fueling up with something light like fruit or a pastry with some more local coffee before you hit the water.

Check out Cafe Cola’o. This is a woman-owned coffee shop that features coffee from Utuado, Adjuntas, and Ponce. Cafe Regina is another spectacular spot representing Puerto Rican agriculture. Sample starfruit jam, locally made ice cream, and excellent coffee.

Head to Escambrón Beach.

One of the best ways to get around the city and get the heart pumping is to rent an electric scooter. Skootel is a new app-based scooter rental service in PR. You can find it on the Bird app. The options are varied as to how you will want to take advantage of your scooter rental. 

Head to Escambrón Beach any way you like. We suggest a scooter, of course! You may want to head out and go the long way to view the forts again, this time by day.

Old San Juan is so small that any way you choose to get to the beach will be relatively fast and easy to navigate. It is, of course, very fast if you drive, if you were brave enough to rent a car.

Playa El Escambrón is a great spot to enjoy the beach for anyone not wanting to snorkel or dive. However, the shining star of Escambrón is the snorkeling and diving adventures that await you under the sea!

Be prepared for sea turtles, coral reefs, and calm waters. When you explore Escambrón Marine Park, you will find incredible sunken structures throughout.

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.

Please remember to use reef-safe sunscreen any time you get in the water. The future health of the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico is dependent upon it! I use and love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s great for your skin and for the marine environment.

the waters at escambron beach a popular place for snorkeling on any puerto rico itinerary

Have a delicious brunch.

After you have had your fill of the water, it’s time for one of the best brunches of your life!

You will be very pleased to refuel at Waffle-Era Tea Room. This place is the ultimate breakfast spot. They feature an extensive list of savory and sweet waffles, plus salads and bowls.

Of course, you can also enjoy an extensive tea menu! Think fragrant earl grey, peony, or lemongrass chai. There are all kinds of varieties of tea, plus there are mimosas, bloody marys, and cocktails…. it’s even encouraged to spike your coffee (hey, vacation, right?). It’s a grand reward after you have spent time in the water and sun!

Check out the beautiful shops of Old San Juan.

The afternoon will be your chance to check out some of the unique shopping experiences Old San Juan has to offer and support the local businesses.

One such location is at the enchanted library, called Quimera, Café Literario. You will mostly find books about spiritual development, fairy tales, and magic, though, this magical bookstore-meets-café is much more than that!

The Poet’s Passage is just down the way from Quimera. It is self-described to be a “living museum of poetry and local art”. This is certainly true. They also host spoken-word and music events, and because it’s Puerto Rico, land of delicious coffee, there is a café here too. 

Looking for a souvenir? Check out Seafoam for locally made rare jewelry. El Gapon hat shop is a great spot to check out, too.

Take a sunset sail.

As the day begins nearing a close, head on out for your sunset sailing tour!

The meeting place is between Pier 3 and 4 at San Juan Bay at 5:30 PM (though double-check as varying sunset times throughout the year may impact this).

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

Climb aboard the Amazing Grace, a sailing vessel dating back to the American Revolutionary War. 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 tour here: Old San Juan Sunset Cruise

Have a delicious dinner.

After your happy hour aboard the Amazing Grace, it is time for dinner in San Juan. There are some world-class restaurants in San Juan ranging from upscale to casual fare of all kinds.

If you are looking for a casual experience, you should check out Lote23 in Santurce. This gastro park will provide you top-notch fare from some of the best chefs in Puerto Rico!

Each stand has something unique and bound to be mouth-watering. Enjoy mofongo (mashed green plantains) at El Cuchifrito or Puerto Rican pork shoulder sandwiches at Pernilería Los Proceres. Plus you will find poke bowls, fried chicken, cocktails, and more.

a plate of mofongo (mashed plantains) with a side of a dipping sauce

Head home early or continue the night out.

If you are looking for more to do after dinner you may want to experience the Condado nightlife.

Condado has the best nightlife scene on the island. There are many cool bars, lounges, and clubs. We love Oceano for its rooftop views and excellent outdoor seating, La Terraza for cheap margaritas and reggaeton, and Red Coral Lounge for the artwork and ambiance, especially the giant coral sculpture.

This is the spot if you want to go out dancing and stay out late… but be sure to get some rest. You have another jam-packed day ahead of you!

Day 3: Journey to the rainforest

Today is all about El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States! It’s an absolute must-visit on any Puerto Rico itinerary.

Getting to El Yunque by car is absolutely doable! It’s about a 45-minute or 1-hour drive, depending on traffic. However, Puerto Rico driving is not for everyone, so we’ve also vetted and suggested a tour that will show you around El Yunque stress-free.

a waterfall plunging into a pool in the rainforest of puerto rico called el yunque, a must on your 7 day puerto rico itinerary

Grab a tasty breakfast with a side of history.

Start the day off with a healthy breakfast steeped in history at St Germain, which is a great spot for vegetarians especially!

You will dine in a historic building that was once home to Don Pedro Albizu Campos, widely considered a hero in Puerto Rico.

He was the leader of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party from 1933 to 1965, leading uprisings to overthrow the United States government. He was imprisoned for many years of his life. Dine at this restaurant and pay homage to the struggle that Puerto Rico has lived through due to colonization.

Head out to the rainforest.

Once you are satiated, it is time for your rainforest and waterslide tour in El Yunque National Forest! Yes, this tour takes you on natural waterslides — nothing manmade about them! We suggest going by tour, but we’ll also include how to get there on your own below as well.

It is an insanely awesome, one-of-a-kind adventure. It is not every day you get to experience this! Plus you can cliff jump, rope swing, and bask beneath waterfalls. There is also a stop at a restaurant on this tour where you can Puerto Rican cuisine.

Book your El Yunque Rainforest & Waterslide Tour!

the natural waterslides going through the rocks near luquillo puerto rico

If you have rented a vehicle, you can make this trip without a tour. You will want to head to Las Pailas in Luquillo. There is a $5 parking fee. The lot is in a local’s yard at these GPS coordinates: 18.337856, -65.731060.

Follow the path from the parking area down to Río Pitahaya where you will venture to find the two waterslides.

Once you have exerted yourself head over to La Muralla, located nearby, right in El Yunque. Get simple, delicious Puerto Rican food and fresh coconut water to recharge before you head back towards San Juan for dinner.

the trees in the rainforest of el yunque national forest

Walk around San Juan a bit before dinner.

Before dinner, you may have some time for resting, or you can tour more of San Juan.

One fun way to see the city is to do a DIY mural tour, as there are plenty of thought-provoking, electric murals in this city. You will get a modern idea of what is happening in PR by observing the artwork of real Puerto Ricans.

Dine at one of San Juan’s best restaurants.

The dinner options in San Juan are endless! If you want to dine near the water, La Casita de Rones is the place. They have great food and craft rum cocktails. The restaurant is close to where the cruise ships dock, though, so it can get very busy: be warned!

El Jibarito is a great place to go if you want to try one of Puerto Rico’s national dishes, mofongo. Mofongo is a dish consisting of mashed green plantain and broth.

The plantain is mashed to the inside of the bowl where they pour in various types of broth. It can be made with beef, chicken, seafood, or creamy broth, and then it’s typically served with meat or seafood inside.

Whatever you choose, as they say in Puerto Rico, “buen provecho!”.

a place of mofongo, rice, and meat, with a salad as well

Cap it off with a night paddle or get an early night’s sleep.

If you want one more exciting activity to cap off your evening, go night kayaking! You can paddle through Condado Lagoon on a clear-bottom kayak with LED lights gently guiding the way.

It will be a unique experience as you observe the lights of San Juan and perhaps a sea creature or two. This will be one of two excellent kayaking adventures you can experience in PR. Find more information online here.

Sleep well and wake rejuvenated for a relaxing day into a magical night — bursting with bioluminescence!

Day 4: Head to Fajardo and the Bioluminescent Bay

Spend the morning in San Juan your way before heading to Fajardo.

Did you want to try a new cafe? Did you see a museum you want to check out while in San Juan? Do you just need some time to relax at your hotel? This would be a great time for any of that!

kayaks at sunset awaiting guests to go on a bio bay tour of the lagoon in fajardo puerto rico

If you’re heading to Fajardo, there are a few options, all of which involve driving. It’s about an hour’s drive away if you’ve rented a car. Not driving? You can hire a public taxi, Uber, or use a private car service (speak to your hotel to see what they can arrange). Be prepared to spend about $80-100.

There is no public transit from San Juan to Fajardo. If you’re comfortable driving, we recommend renting a car for the entire week in Puerto Rico, or at least from Days 4-7 of this itinerary. This will save you money and hassle in the long run.

Grab lunch at La Casita Blanca.

On your way to Fajardo, stop for lunch. For a quiet and wonderfully authentic dining experience head to Santurce for La Casita Blanca, aka “the little white house”.

The restaurant is full of tropical plants, eclectic artwork, and tchotchkes. But really, you’re here for the food: it is incredible! The skirt steak and accompanying rice are mouth-wateringly flavorful. You have to try the tres leches cake, too! You will be served plantain soup upon arrival and given chichaito, a digestif, at the end of your meal, a really nice touch. It’s a bona fide Puerto Rican experience!

They are open daily for lunch and serve dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only. They also have valet parking, which is convenient for parking in this small residential neighborhood.

Arrive in Fajardo and relax on the beach.

Whenever you are ready to get adventuring, head over to Fajardo to check into your new hotel. From there, you can go out and appreciate some of what this area has to offer!

Fajardo offers a great mix of historical sites and some beautiful beaches. Get your snorkel on or call in your inner beach bum for some relaxing time.

one of the beautiful beaches in the fajardo puerto rico area

Playa Escondida is a great beach to hit if you want to avoid the crowds. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to Playa Escondida from the trailhead, which is near the Governor’s Beach House. However, this beach is one of the most dangerous swimming spots in Puerto Rico, so it is strictly for exploring or relaxing while taking in the view.

If you are looking to swim, Seven Seas Beach is a great place to snorkel, plus, it does not require a long trek to get to the beach. The waters are calm and the sea life is thriving. Palm trees abound and there are plenty of shady spots to enjoy.

There is a restaurant here that may or may not be open. There are also showers and restrooms. Sometimes you can rent kayaks, SUP paddleboards, and snorkeling gear on the beach here.

To guarantee your gear, head 5 minutes south of Seven Seas Beach by car. You will hit Pirate Snorkeling Shack. There are snorkels, kayaks, and SUP for rent on the beach here.

Either of these beaches will be a nice place to spend the golden hour before you prep for your adventure on the Bioluminescent Bay!

scenic blue waters of seven seas beach, a calm oasis in puerto rico

Have a BBQ dinner, island style.

Firstly, you’ll want to get dinner. A trip to PR is not complete without a visit to a BBQ. A lot of the beef consumed in Puerto Rico comes right from the island, so there are many BBQ spots around.

La Estación is the place to go for locally sourced, buttery, delicious steaks in Fajardo. They take American barbecue classics and merge them with Caribbean flavors. Enjoy locally sourced fish, meats, and produce. Their brisket is award-winning, the ceviche is made daily, and vegetarian options are available.

Have an enchanting kayak ride through the bioluminescent waters.

Once you have had your fill, grab your gear for kayaking. You will want to bring a towel and possibly a change of clothes for when you exit the water.

The tour provides bottled water, snacks, life vests, and bug spray. Use only eco-friendly bug spray if you bring your own. This is a protected area, and some of the chemicals in traditional bug spray are extremely harmful to this rare ecosystem, particularly DEET.

Once you’ve geared up, an enchanted evening is upon you as you embark on a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour.

streaks of electric blue in the dark water at night with lots of stars out

Puerto Rico is one of only 3 places in the world where you can experience the magic of a bioluminescent bay! There are 3 bio bays in PR. You can find them in Vieques, La Parguera, and at Laguna Grande in Fajardo; the latter of which is the most famous and where we’ll be tonight!

You will paddle through mangroves into the bay for 2 hours. You will see the bioluminescence light up the shapes of the fish, and possibly sharks, swimming beneath you. The water sparkles as you splash your paddle. It is otherworldly and awe-inspiring, an experience you will never forget.

Book your kayaking tour online here!

Make sure you get a lot of rest for day 5. You will have to have an early morning the following day in order to make your catamaran ride, which meets at 8:15 AM.

Day 5: Set sail in Fajardo

Grab a quick breakfast at a panaderia.

Puerto Rican bakeries or panaderias are flourishing on the island! This would be a great way to start an early day. One of the best spots in Fajardo is Panaderia Monte Brisas.

Like most Puerto Rican bakeries, you can get sandwiches here, too. There is something for all tastes, savory or sweet. All orders are to-go, so grab your sandwiches or pastries and make your way south to Puerto del Rey Marina.

Have a gorgeous catamaran ride.

As you have seen on your journey so far, Fajardo is an ocean-centered town. It brings opportunities for water sports of all kinds, plus beach lounging and seaside dining. It is not surprising that a catamaran ride is one of the most popular activities to do in Fajardo!

Your final day in Fajardo will be as dreamy as it gets. Head to Puerto del Rey Marina to hop on a catamaran tour!

a blonde tan woman in a black dress standing on the net area of a catamaran looking at islands in the distance with blue water around

You will sail for 45 minutes to a deserted island called Icacos. You will have a couple of hours to explore the beach and swim before lunch is served. Enjoy sandwiches, fresh juices, rum punch, and more!

You will then cruise the Caribbean Sea a little more to anchor over the reef. This is a great time to utilize the slide that is aboard the catamaran!

Swim, snorkel, or chill out before your leisurely sail back to the marina. You should arrive back by 3:30 PM.

Book your catamaran ride in Fajardo here!

After your day of fun in the sun, you may want to head back to your hotel to take a rest and freshen up. A seafood dinner will follow.

Dine on fresh seafood.

Head to the coastline for delicious, Puerto Rican-style seafood! Pescaderia Don Candi will show you how the Puerto Ricans do seafood. In short? They do it well!

You should order the fried red snapper. You will be presented with a whole fish, fins and all. The fins are crunchy and yummy so don’t leave them out! They will come with a PR staple, fried plantain, otherwise known as tostones.

fried fish served on a bed of tostones and salad

They also serve oysters and delicious coconut shrimp dumplings. Don’t forget your rum cocktail or another PR staple, Medalla beer.

As a side note… you may notice on your travels that there are many folks selling rotisserie chicken and pinchos on the side of the road. Pinchos are essentially BBQ meat on a stick. They are cheap, delicious, and a great snack. Both pinchos and rotisserie barbeques are often wonderfully flavorful and make a great choice if you’re trying to save a bit of money!

Perhaps when you complete your dinner, you will want to check out the Cape San Juan Lighthouse of Fajardo for golden hour. Since we are on the east side of the island, watching the sunset over the ocean is not possible; however, the hues of this extraordinary time of day will still impress and delight you!

Head to Reserva Natural Cabezas de San Juan. This nature park will be a great place to walk around while you breathe in the salt air and connect with some history.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1882 and had a large influence in the Spanish-American War. It now sits on a nature reserve that includes Laguna Grande, the bio bay you explored last night! Plus you can explore mangroves, coral reefs, beaches, and lagoons. There is no better way to end the day.

the white and green lighthouse in fajardo

Day 6: Hop the ferry to Vieques

Before you head to Vieques for the night, take the morning to pack up, get breakfast, and tie up any loose ends on your “to-see” list in Fajardo. Then head to Ceiba to catch the ferry to Vieques.

The ferry has specific hours, but it is not always on time. Check the timetables and plan accordingly. Keep your timeline fluid. Vieques in general will force you to slow down and go with the flow!

Cars are allowed on the ferry, but please do not attempt to take your rental to Vieques. The vessel is carrying supplies and vehicles for residents of Vieques. If everyone were to bring vehicles to the island, it would make it very hard for the residents to go about their business.

Please note: it may be very difficult to get on the ferry to Vieques during holidays and weekends due to crowds. It is easier going back, so flying in and out may be your best bet.

leaving colorful port on the fajardo vieques ferry

If you fly, head to the Ceiba airport and hop on a flight with Vieques Airlink or Air Flamenco. The round trip flight should cost less than $100. I consider these both sightseeing and transportation because the views as so beautiful! So if the budget allows, flying is a great choice.

Once you arrive on Vieques, be prepared to rent a Jeep, motorbike, or a golf cart to get around. There are also taxi services. Make all of these arrangements ahead of time, as you may not get a taxi or vehicle if you arrive without a reservation.

UTV Rental offers golf carts for rent which can be a fun way to explore, or Vieques Car Rental offers Jeeps and SUVs as well as golf carts.

One great way to get acquainted with Vieques is to take a drive around the island! If you rent that Jeep, you are in great shape, as you can drive on dirt roads through the jungle that wind into ocean views. If you are not renting a vehicle, renting bikes is another great option.

The island is mostly reserve land that you have the privilege to explore. They have quite a few roads running through the reserve, and there are hikes to jump on along the way. Be careful if driving as there are wild horses in many parts of the island!

several wild horses and baby horses roaming the street in vieques puerto rico

Head towards Sun Bay.

Take your vehicle down towards Esperanza to check out the beach at Sun Bay. You may see wild horses here!

As a side note… the proximity of Playa Sun Bay to the bioluminescent bay makes this a cool beach to peep at night. You may see the dinoflagellates (the creatures that glow) in the surf or on the beach. Can you say sparkle beach, anyone?!

Walk west down the beach at Sun Bay towards Esperanza to enjoy painkillers and a meal at Lazy Jack’s Restaurant and Hostel. Painkillers are a yummy cream of coconut and rum cocktail topped with fresh nutmeg.

Enjoy the lively atmosphere of this Vieques favorite. It is also a great place to stay for the night!

brilliant turquoise and cerulean waters of the beach at sun bay vieques

Day 7: Explore Vieques some more and head back to San Juan

The island has two main areas where there are hotels and restaurants: down south at Esperanza or north at Isabel Segunda, near the ferry terminal.

Up north, the best breakfast place is Rising Roost delicioso! Cafe Del Mar down south is great, too. Enjoy a great breakfast with their house-made bread.

Explore the black sand beach.

After you hit a breakfast spot of your choice, you should head over to Black Sands Beach (Playa Negra). You can walk on the beach from Esperanza if you like. Walk west to reach Playa Negra.

It is inspiring to see the volcanic black sand for yourself! Amp up the magic of your experience and opt for a horseback riding tour on the black sand – contact Esperanza Riding Company for details.

Have a final meal in Vieques.

For a final restaurant recommendation, we have the best for last!

Head to Finca Conciencia for a healthy, ethical, locally sourced meal. Their grouper stuffed with lobster and grilled over mesquite in banana leaves will change your life!

The menu is subject to change but that is the beauty of eating locally. There is variety and change just as the seasons change. When you visit, you will see their sustainable farming practices in action.

It is a sweet place that honors the sacredness of Mother Earth. They are true stewards of the land here. Plus, you may get to sample local honey from their apiaries. Call or email to reserve a spot. See their website for precise directions to their land, as it will not come up on Google.

Take a hike.

Up north, Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins is another great spot for a hike.

Hike amongst the ruins and along the coastline. End with a fabulous view of Punta Mulas Lighthouse. This is also a lovely spot for sunset if you end up with time before heading back to San Juan.

beautiful ripples in the water in vieques with sunset colors and palm silhouettes in the distance

Enjoy your final moments in Vieques.

Spend the afternoon relaxing or preparing to head back to San Juan. Your timeline will depend on if you choose to take the ferry back or fly.

If you have time, check out some more beaches, restaurants, or shops. This is a small island with a population of about 10,000. Jobs are limited, so your shopping in Vieques will significantly impact the people that live there in a positive way, especially if you buy hand-crafted products from local artisans. Either way, enjoy the rest of the day your way. It is your last day in Puerto Rico, after all!

You will end your journey back in San Juan. If you drove a rental car to Fajardo, you’ll want to return to Fajardo by bus or by plane and then drive back to San Juan Airport. If you took a taxi to Fajardo, you can save time by flying from Vieques to San Juan.

So ends your week in Puerto Rico. Perhaps you will be going home, perhaps it is on to another adventure!

Hopefully, you feel revitalized from your time on this magnificent island. You will certainly have eaten extremely well if you followed our tips!

Beautiful Gozalandia Waterfall in San Sebastian Puerto Rico at daylight

From natural waterslides and sailing on the Caribbean sea to kayaking amongst bioluminescence, the adventures you will experience on this Puerto Rico itinerary will surely live in your memory forever.

Puerto Rico is a place that deserves a lot of love, and the people will welcome you so well, you may never want to leave!

It is also a place that has seen a lot of hardships, especially since Hurricane Maria and the subsequent federal failure to address the damages the hurricane caused. As a result, infrastructure is lacking in many parts of Puerto Rico.

The poverty and inequality that pre-dated Hurricane Maria was exacerbated by the impacts of the storm, as well as tourism dollars shrinking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, your visit here will impact the economy of Puerto Rico positively (as if you needed more reasons to come to this awesome place!).

Come to Puerto Rico. Show them some love, and see why they say Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico will rise again.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

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.

Book this Jackson Airbnb!

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.

Book this Wyoming Airbnb!

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.

Book this Wyoming glamping tent on Airbnb!

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.