2 Days in Sedona: Your Expert Weekend in Sedona Itinerary

Sedona holds a special place in my heart. The first time I ever stepped foot in Sedona, Arizona two years ago I knew it held some type of magic.

I love the red rock formations that tower over the city. Artsy, handmade shops line every street and some of the best cuisines can be found tucked away on unassuming street corners. I loved it so much that I’ve returned multiple times since. 

I have perfected the two days in Sedona itinerary and I’m excited to share a piece of the magic with you!

PLANNING FOR SEDONA  AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: Sedona is beautiful all-year-round but Spring brings the best out of it since the weather is perfect to enjoy all the outdoor activities it offers. And since it gets a bit chilly in winter, the best time to visit Sedona is during spring, summer, or fall. 

Where to Stay: Sedona has endless options when it comes to accommodation. From the budget-friendly bed and breakfast, the sumptuous resorts that will make you feel like a million bucks to the secluded log cabins in the woods!   

If you want to splurge and take in all the luxuries of Sedona, I recommend staying at Amara Resort and Spa in Uptown Sedona. It might be a bit pricey but the soaring views will make up for that. If you're all about privacy with a homey feel, Casa Sedona Inn checks all those boxes — serenity is what you can expect here. 

And if you want to stay on a budget, I recommend staying at Sedona Uptown Suites (not much of a low budget per se but cheap on Sedona standards.) 

However, if your plan includes staying in a log cabin, you'll love this rustic cottageHow to Get Around: You can take a shuttle to get from Phoenix to Sedona but that can be very limiting or you'd have to rely on tours which can be a bit costly, so I recommend renting a car. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodation.

Don't want to drive or plan? You can book a nighttime stargazing tour, a Jeep Broken Arrow Tour or even a Scenic Rim Tour.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Binoculars are key for spotting wildlife like Mule deer, javelina, and coyotes -- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. For hikes, you'll want a sturdy pair of hiking boots -- I love my Ahnu boots -- and some bug spray to keep away bugs. 

Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed sites.  

How to Get to Sedona, Arizona

Sign that reads "Sedona founded 1902" with red rock formations and trees in the foreground of the photo

Sedona is located a 2-hour drive from Phoenix International Airport, which is the biggest flight hub in Arizona and where most Sedona weekend getaways will begin!

While there is a shuttle to get from Phoenix to Sedona, being without your own car in Sedona will definitely limit you in terms of what you are able to do and see, and it will make you more reliant on tours (which can up the cost of your trip). 

I recommend renting a car at Phoenix Airport and driving to Sedona — it’ll save you money and headache!

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 Kayak as the best car rental search aggregator – it sifts through dozens of trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Phoenix Airport on Kayak here!

Visiting Sedona as Part of a Larger Arizona Itinerary

view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise with the sun cresting over the valley and river with brilliant red and orange colors

Some people may opt to spend a weekend in Sedona as a single getaway; others may be looking to combine more Arizona sightseeing into their trip!

If you want to see more of Arizona, I have this 7-day road trip itinerary which will walk you through spending a week in Arizona, including Flagstaff, Scottsdale, the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Page (and Horseshoe Bend / Antelope Canyon), and Tuscon. 

There are other ways to structure a trip to Arizona. If you have less than a week, I’d suggest flying into Phoenix, basing yourself in Sedona, and doing day trips to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon from there.

Alternately, perhaps you could do a vacation rental or glamping site near the Grand Canyon for a few days to reduce your driving time while still getting to see a lot of this section of Arizona.

Wait, What About the Sedona Vortexes?

Falling light of the sunrise or sunset casting a glow on the red rocks of Sedona overlooking the Verde Valley with green trees in the valley

Any post about Sedona should mention the vortexes that the city is known for. Whether it’s a marketing strategy or magic is up to you to decide!

According to the Visit Sedona website, vortexes are:

“swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex.”

Sedona’s four best-known vortexes are identified as Airport MesaCathedral RockBell Rock, and Boynton Canyon.

This post doesn’t have you visiting all the vortexes, as you’re limited by time since this is just a 2 day Sedona itinerary.

However, if you’re curious what this whole Sedona vortex thing is all about and want to do a vortex tour, there are vortex tours by Jeep and guided meditation tours at some of Sedona’s vortexes.

Where to Stay in Sedona

The red rock formations of Sedona with the afternoon light on the rocks, a green tree in the foreground to add contrast.

Sedona has endless options when it comes to places to stay. From resorts that pamper to quaint bed and breakfasts, there’s plenty of resorts that will cover your every desire.

If I’m visiting Sedona and want to splurge a little bit, I always book a few nights at Amara Resort and Spa in Uptown Sedona. 

My absolute selling point of staying at Amara is it is smack dab in the middle of Sedona so everything is within a short walking distance. The actual resort itself is absolutely stunning. Amara is tucked away off the street in an oasis of trees along the banks of Oak Creek. 

You’re greeted at the door by a complimentary valet so the stress of parking is immediately taken off your hands!

Huge wooden French doors remain open to the airy artistry of the lobby that’s always bustling with relaxed social guests. Each room has weirdly relaxing neutral colors that are splashed with vibrant modern art and accents. 

The grounds are kept immaculate and each balcony looks out towards the common grounds where you can relax in oversized Adirondack chairs, take a dip in the infinity pool or catch a sunset dip below the red rock canyons.

All my bougie needs are filled at Amara and the staff is exceptional!

Book your stay at Amara today!

If you’re in Sedona and are looking for something a little more private, homey, and reasonably priced, I’ve found that the Casa Sedona Inn is just the place. 

Casa Sedona is just outside the main downtown area of Sedona in the West Sedona area. A car or bike will definitely be needed if you want to stay here and explore downtown. 

But don’t let that deter you from staying here! If I’m being honest, I’d rather stay outside of town at Casa Sedona Inn because of its private beauty and location to the nature of the Verde Valley.

It’s an adobe-style mansion tucked away in the juniper forest with exceptional views of Sedonas desert. The Inn resembles the layout of an actual house. With rooms tucked away in art-filled hallways and every door has its own ornate design. 

Each uniquely decorated room has its own fireplace, private terrace, and a huge master bathroom. Casa Sedona is the ultimate escape for romance, privacy, or just relaxation off the beaten path.

Book your stay at Casa Sedona Inn today!

If you’re looking for something more along the lines of an Airbnb/VRBO/private vacation rental, I have a dedicated post to that on the way!

What to Pack for Sedona

For a complete packing list, you can check out what to pack for a road trip here but below is a quick overview of what to pack for Sedona.

Travel Guides: This Sedona itinerary is packed with so much useful information but sometimes guide books provide way more since they dedicate so much time and resources to research. So together with my personal experience and this Sedona: Treasure of the Southwest guide, you can be assured of having an amazing time.

Layered Clothing: Depending on the time of the year you visit, you’ll want at least 2 shirts (synthetic or wool, long and/or short sleeve depending on the season), 2 pairs of leggings or pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 fleece outer layer, a waterproof jacket, beanie, gloves, and 3 pairs of socks.

Comfortable Footwear: Enjoying the great outdoors of Sedona means hiking and a sturdy pair of hiking boots is worth the investment. I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest the KEEN Durand boot.

However, if you choose to go with sneakers, make sure they have good traction and are comfortable enough to walk in for a couple of miles.

Sunscreen: At an elevation of 4,500 feet, it’s easy to get burned even on cloudy days! Trust me — I’ve learned this the hard way. Pack and wear sunscreen while in Sedona and reapply every couple of hours. I suggest taking this chemical-free organic sunscreen especially if you plan on swimming in one of the water holes — you don’t want to pollute the water with a sunscreen full of chemicals.

Sunhat: I suggest taking a lightweight and packable hat like this one. It has a strap to avoid being blown away by wind and if you get tired of wearing it on the head, you can easily wear it on your back.

Day pack: A day pack is essential when visiting Sedona so you can keep all your day’s essentials in a place that can easily be reached! But don’t just take any day pack — I like this inexpensive and lightweight Osprey day pack. The best part is that it has mesh panels on the back to allow for proper airflow.

Snacks: None of the trails in Sedona are extremely hard but you’ll still need to recharge when you get hungry especially if you don’t want to waste time sitting down for a long lunch.

I recommend packing or picking a picnic or have lots of snacks before you make your way into Sedona. I always take various protein bars (I love CLIF bars), nuts, and other energy-giving snacks.

Camera: I love my Sony A6000! I never go anywhere without it. It’s lightweight and takes even better photos compared to other heavier D-SLR cameras. But since this is just the body, I suggest taking a zoom lens for wildlife and a wide-angle lens for landscapes, as the kit lens is OK, but nothing to brag about.

First aid kit: Things like blisters are likely to happen while in the outdoors but don’t let them ruin your Sedona trip. I recommend always keeping a first aid kit like this HART Weekend First Aid kit in your daypack. It’s lightweight and has everything you might need should that time come.

Headlamp (and extra batteries): If you plan to go stargazing (which I highly recommend), I suggest bringing a headlamp like this Petzl headlamp.

Water filter bottle: While there are water fountains around Sedona, I still suggest having a water bottle with a filter so you can fill up anywhere there’s a water source.

There are a wide variety of water filtration systems and treatments, but I love the GRAYL Geopress. It’s compact, easy to use, and filters out 99.99% of microplastics, viruses, bacteria, and other nasty particles, making the water instantly safe to drink without plastic waste.

Sedona Travel Tips

Book in advance. Sedona is one of the most popular getaway destinations in Arizona. Many of the best hotels book up early, as this is somewhat of a bucket list destination.

Booking in advance will save you a headache down the road picking second- and third-best options.

Pack appropriately. You’ll want to be sure to bring your hiking boots, that’s for sure! If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll want to pack lightweight, breathable materials like linen and silk, as well as breathable hiking clothes. 

Know that it gets cold! That said, be sure to bring some layers for night: Sedona’s elevation is 4,350 feet above sea level and it’s located in the high desert. That means cold temperatures overnight! 

Especially if you’re doing the stargazing tour (a must in my book!) you’ll absolutely want some warm layers. Jeans and a fleece should be fine in summer, and you’ll want something a bit heavier for winter.

Book your activities early. There are several activities in Sedona that book up quickly — namely, the Pink Jeep tours and the stargazing tours.

If you’re visiting in the peak season (April through October), you’ll want to book this in advance!

Day 1 of Your Sedona Itinerary

Spiky cactus with pink flowers on the cacti, red rocks with green shrubs in the distance, a typical Sedona landscape you'll see on this Sedona itinerary!

As soon as you step into Sedona you find out how trendy, artsy and incredibly healthy the city is.

I know you’ve heard about the weird mythical positive vibes that Sedona radiates but it’s so true!

Blame it on the Vortexes, the red rocks, or the stars but the air is truly different here and you’re sure to feel it!

Have coffee and relax

Sunrise over the red rock formations of Sedona with trees in the valley and shrubs below

Your first morning should be spent in your room watching the sun rise from your own balcony while sipping a pot of fresh coffee.

I know you’re thinking “Wait what? I want to get out!” But hold on! Sedona is all about recharging, relaxing, and taking time to appreciate the sights before mingling among the masses.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the quiet time in your own humble abode.

Have breakfast at Chocolatree

Perfect latte art in a cup on a pink plate with a gold spoon on a table.

 Get yourself together and put on your cutest comfortable day dress!

Head over to Chocolatree for a mid-morning breakfast to fuel your day and take in more of nature’s sights.

Chocolatree is the perfect spot for its light breakfast options, cold pressed juices, and restorative coffee shots.

All of their menu options are 100% organic, farm to table. My favorite item on the menu is the avocado toast topped with chipotle paneer.

Chocolatree also has a small on-site garden that they pull their ingredients from making it a one of a kind restaurant that really makes me appreciate the food.

To top it off, they have an outdoor cafe with exceptional views!

Before you head out, stop by their in-house chocolate shop and grab a to-go box.

Each chocolate is sweetened with honey or maple syrup giving it a sweet twist on traditionally made chocolate with sugar.

Sip and shop

adobe and mosaic masonry of the tlaquepaque arts and shopping center

Work some of your breakfast off at the outdoor market called Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village

Tlaquepaque is such a fun place to shop! It’s a Spanish-inspired outdoor market (they call it a crafts village, which just about sums it up!)

It’s filled with handmade shops, art galleries, and music. The beauty of Tlaquepaque is worth seeing! 

As soon as you walk under the adobe-inspired gateway you’re transported into a beautiful garden area with ivy vines growing on every wall, water features flowing from the courtyard and decorations strung high above the walkway. 

It’s easy to spend hours here soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the treasures you’ll find in the small shops. 

My favorite shop is Natural Wonders. I’ve always been a rock geek, collecting weird-shaped rocks as a kid, Natural Wonders is like an adult rock shop. 

It’s full of beautiful crystallized rocks, precious gems. and ancient fossils. It’s part gallery, part store and it always leaves me in awe at how beautiful the world is.

Note: If you want to buy Native American jewelry, be sure to buy it from a Native artist who will benefit from the purchase. Unfortunately many white artists in Sedona and elsewhere steal Native designs and sell their intellectual property for profit.

In Tlaquepaque, the best place to buy Native American art pieces is at Ninibah. The shop itself is not Native-owned as far as I can tell, but all the artwork is certified to be crafted by Native jewelry designers, and the Native artists earn a fair price for their work. 

Trolley over to The Chapel of the Holy Cross

A church in the red rocks of Sedona with a large cross and stained glass

 After you’ve done a bit of shopping, wander over to The Chapel of the Holy Cross for some magnificent sightseeing.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a staple on Sedona’s skyline and worth the trip to see. Hop on the Sedona Trolley and take in the various sights across the city as you make your way towards The Chapel of the Holy across.

It’s every bit of a work of art as it is a church. A uniquely designed church with a 90-foot iron cross sits beautifully among the Sedona landscape.

On the inside, massive windows fill the southern side of the church allowing tremendous views of the desert landscape. It’s truly a work of art and will leave you speechless.

Relax at Amara Spa

Stones on a woman's back as she lays face down on a massage table

 A trip to Sedona isn’t complete without some type of spa and massage experience.

Amara Spa continues to be my go-to place for a mid-day massage. Their masseuses are world-class and the atmosphere exudes relaxation.

Amara has everything from therapeutic massages to guided meditation. The comfortable atmosphere puts me at ease and leaves me feeling recharged.

Have some pre-dinner drinks

Four hands holding colorful drinks including one with watermelon and one with lime.

 As a Texan, I’m all about a pre-dinner margarita! Javelina Cantina is the perfect spot for a sweet and sour libation on your walk back to town.

They have an awesome happy hour that runs every day from 3-6 PM, and they can mix up a mean margarita. Grab a basket of chips and head to the patio.

Javelina Cantina is full of Mexican-inspired flare and surrounded with patio views that are classic Sedona.

It’s fun to soak up some late afternoon sun while sipping a cold margarita just before heading back to the hotel to clean up for the night.

Have dinner with a view

The colors at sunset in Sedona over the red rocks of the landscape

Every successful day on vacation ends with a good dinner and a sunset. My favorite restaurant in Sedona, hands down, is Elote.

Elote is beyond famous for their cuisine and is well sought after by almost every visitor in Sedona. I’ll be honest, it’s incredibly hard to snag a seat as they don’t accept reservations and the establishment is small and intimate.

But their Southwestern-inspired cuisine is to die for. Elote takes pride in their wild game offerings and handcrafted appetizers.

I love saving some room for their Mexican chocolate pie after dinner. It’s an incredibly dense chocolate pie topped with Mexican chocolates and whipped cream. It’s close to the best thing I’ve ever tasted!

Since Elote is so difficult to find seating at, I always have a backup plan. Cucina Rustica always saves the night and its cuisine never disappoints.

Cucina Rustica features Italian-inspired dishes and has a long list of wonderful Sedona wines. They take pride in the farm-to-table approach and it shows in the freshness of their plates.

They have indoor and outdoor seating options as well as live music that sets the tone in a warm, romantic atmosphere. The Filetto di Manzo is to die for!

Although a little on the pricey side, Cucina Rustica is worth every bit of the splurge.

Do some stargazing

The Milky Way shown in the night sky above the red rocks of Sedona's landscape with light trails from a plane or shooting star

Ending your first night in Sedona should always include viewing the galactic magic that hangs in the sky. 

Sedona is one of 20 communities in America that is a Certified Dark Sky Community. There’s plenty of dark sky viewing areas around Sedona including Two Trees Observing Deck and Crescent Moon Picnic Site. 

But if you’re looking for a professional service to help guide your stargazing adventure — with a little UFO spotting on the side — then check out this nighttime stargazing tour! They take small groups out to stargaze and look for UFOs in the night sky.

Aided by UFO spotting and stargazing professionals and armed with binoculars and night-vision goggles, you’ll be able to navigate the night sky and catch some of the most amazing stars and night sky gazing you’ve ever seen.

 I can’t recommend this experience enough! It’s one of the most fun and amazing experiences I’ve had in Sedona. It is a little pricy, but I can attest that it’s worth every penny.

Book your stargazing tour here!

Day 2 of Your Sedona Itinerary

A colorful sunrise over the red rock formations of Sedona and the trees in the valley

I always feel more comfortable and ready to go on my second day in Sedona. I’m filled with the city’s energy, I’ve learned the flow and I’m ready to go! 

Day two of this Sedona itinerary is totally dedicated to the outdoors: hiking trails, Jeep tours through red rock formations, and cooling off in the river. 

Throw on your best athleisure outfit because today is the day to experience Sedona’s adventurous landscape!

See the sunrise from Devil’s Bridge

The natural bridge of Devil's Bridge in Sedona with red rocks and green trees all over the valley

Okay listen, it’s imperative to set an alarm and prepare for an early morning hike!

Devil’s Bridge is on the agenda and given it’s the busiest trail in Sedona and generally quite full of fellow hikers, you’ll want to be one of the first ones out there. 

Check out the sunrise times on Google and prepare to start your hike about 30 minutes prior. When I was there, 6 AM seemed to be the perfect balance between enjoying sleep and catching the sunrise.

Head out to the Dry Creek Road Trailhead and snag a parking spot. Devil’s Bridge is a 4-mile out-and-back hiking trail and the Dry Creek Road Trailhead offers the shortest length. 

Devil’s Bridge Trail is absolutely delightful and energizing. It’s surrounded by red rocks, vortexes, amazing cliffs, and an overall stunning desert landscape. 

Interested in learning more about the Sedona vortexes? Try this vortex and guided meditation experience!

It’s an enjoyable hike but a bit on the moderate side as there is a slight climb as you ascend to the actual bridge.

To see Devil’s Bridge in real life is absolutely tremendous! I feel like it’s the 8th wonder of the world and pictures just don’t do it justice. 

As the sun begins to peek into the sky, the desert below lights up and almost sparkles. Take a second to bask in the quiet morning. It’s a surreal experience that’ll kick your day off right.

 When finished, head back the same way you came on the hiking trail — it’s an out-and-back trail.

Have breakfast in the Secret Garden

A colorful cactus, green with purple spikes, on the ground of a garden

 After you’ve worked up an appetite on your early morning hike, head over to Secret Garden Cafe for breakfast.

This is my all-time favorite breakfast spot and it’s perfect for continuing the outdoor theme of the day!

I still remember the first time I walked into Secret Garden two years ago. I was blown away by the beauty of the patio.

It’s literally like dining in a beautiful, lush garden. There are flowers in full bloom, deep green grass cut to perfection, and colors popping all around.

To top it off their food and specialty drink menu is out of this world. As with most Sedona restaurants, Secret Garden features farm-to-table ingredients and locally grown produce.

The “world famous” deep dish quiche is truly world-famous!

Top that off with their locally distilled prickly pear vodka drink called Trouble On the Rocks and you’ve got the perfect breakfast combination!

Take a Pink Jeep tour

Allison standing on a pink jeep in the red rocks of Valley of Fire while on a pink jeep tour in Vegas - the same company runs tours in Sedona
On a Pink Jeep tour (same company) outside of Vegas

Everyone knows about the Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona. If you haven’t heard of them, surely you’ve seen them all around town by now!

 Well, join the Pink Jeep Movement because this tour company knows how to put on a good time! Pink Jeep Tours is just what it sounds like. Hop inside a bright pink Jeep, top-down, and have a heck of a time as a tour guide drives you through the Sedona backcountry. 

Book a tour with Pink Jeep Tours and be prepared for an adrenaline rush surrounded by views on views! 

Pink Jeep Tours offers several different tours but my favorite of them all is the Broken Arrow Tour. 

It is the “most extreme” option and it’s exclusive to Pink Jeep so you’re guaranteed to be the only ones exploring the desert roads.

There are also other tours like the Scenic Rim Tour which are a little less extreme if you’re on the nervous side.

Don’t let the words ‘most extreme’ scare you though. It’s not that extreme but it’s fun to take tight turns and smash over boulders while gazing out into the infamous red canyons.

You’ll definitely want to throw on comfortable shoes for the ride as you’ll be stopping and hiking very short distances to get better photographs and get closer to more scenic outlooks. 

Book your Broken Arrow Pink Jeep tour here!

[Editor’s Note: I took a Pink Jeep tour in Valley of Fire, Las Vegas and can second Sabra’s recommendation of the company — they’re excellent!]

Here are a few different versions of the Pink Jeep tour you can take:

Get your tarot read.

Tarot cards with a lit candle and flowers

 By now, you know that Sedona has some weird spiritual vibe that’s contagious. It’s not a myth, this feeling is real!

Last time I was in Sedona I took a chance at getting my Tarot cards read. When in Rome, right?

I’ve always been a little hesitant about this ‘woo woo’ magic but what better of a place to try it out than Sedona?

As you head back to town stop by Mythical Bazaar and get your Tarot read. The ladies at Mystical Bazaar are incredibly friendly and helpful.

I was there more for the experience than the actual future reading but it was a fun thing to do and I actually highly recommend it!

If you’re a little hesitant to look into the future, the storefront shop itself is worth stopping in.

They have wonderful healing crystals, handmade jewelry, and gemstones that make great gifts or memorable trinkets to take back home.

Cool off before dinner

River next to red rocks with lush trees around it and lots of shade

Oak Creek River runs the length of Sedona: a beautifully clear, ever flowing river that deserves a dip. 

Head out to Oak Creek Canyon near Grasshopper Point to soak in the cool waters and recharge your body. It’s beautifully serene and quiet!

The river is shaded by an oasis of trees and birds are singing on every branch. It’s basically magic.

Huge smooth red cliffs surround the river with rock perches that are perfect for sprawling out and catching a late afternoon nap!

Find some enchantment at the Enchantment Resort

Shrubs and high desert flora in the red rocks of Sedona

 The Enchantment Resort truly lives up to its name!

It’s a beautifully crafted resort surrounded by stunning views, and it offers three different restaurants on the property, Che Ah Chi, Tii Gavo, and View 180.

I’ve only had time to visit the Tii Gavo restaurant but from what I experienced, it may be the best and the most moderately priced.

Tii Gavo offers a seasonal menu presented by their world-famous chefs all in a fairy tale setting of massive outdoor fire pits with perfect views for a Sedona sunset.

My favorite and most unique experience from Tii Gavo is the tequila flights. If you’ve never had a tequila flight, you’re missing out!

No, it’s not the ‘hold your nose, take a shot’ type of tequila!

These tequilas are top-shelf sipping tequilas presented in a fashion that really shows off the nuance of flavor.

Everything from hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and orange can be found in these incredible tequilas. It’s a great way to warm up the night next to the fire!

Indulge in a sweet end to the night

hand holding an ice cream cone dipping in caramel

 As the night is coming to an end, stop in Rocky Rd Ice Cream Co for one last dabble in Sedona cuisine.

Rocky Rd is a family-owned ice cream shop that specializes in small-batch ice cream with Sedona flair. They have in-house custom flavors such as Mexican coffee and sea salt caramel cheesecake.

They also have seasonal flavors listed on their ice cream board but my favorite flavor continues to be the bourbon pecan. It’s exceptionally delectable!

The ice cream shop is super cute to boot!

You can tell it’s family-owned with touches of handcrafted decor hanging from the walls and faux ice cream cones decorating the walkway as you enter.

It’s a great way to top off your walk home under the dark Sedona sky.

***

the famous chapel in the rocks of sedona which blends into the natural scenery after dark

Sedona remains one of my favorite cities in the great American Southwest. It’s the perfect combination of relaxation and activity that leaves my spirit feeling recharged and energized.

Its cute, casual, and funky vibe will always draw me in and leave me wanting more, and after two days in Sedona, I expect you’ll feel the same!


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The Perfect 2 Days in Yellowstone Road Trip Itinerary

Seemingly endless opportunities for adventure wait for you on this Yellowstone National Park itinerary.

With 3,500 square miles of wilderness terrain, over 10,000 hydrothermal features, more than 500 active geysers, and approximately 1,000 miles of exciting hiking trails, it’s hard to know where to start in this giant outdoor playground.

Where do I go first? What Yellowstone attractions do I absolutely need to see?

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the massive selection of recreation and site seeing options in America’s first national park because we have put together the ultimate 2 days in Yellowstone road trip itinerary.

You’ll get to make the most of your visit with famous attractions, insider tips (this itinerary was written by a Big Sky, MT local who lives less than an hour from the park!), hidden gems, and a thoughtfully designed driving route!

Have your camera, binoculars, and park map handy while tackling this Yellowstone itinerary! 

We have a lot of exploring to do to tackle one of the USA’s most bucket list-worthy destinations in such a short amount of time.

Photo of the waterfall at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (Lower Falls) surrounded by canyon and trees
PLANNING FOR YELLOWSTONE AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: While Yellowstone is beautiful in winter, all its main roads close off to passenger cars which means that you won't be able to go on a self-drive. So the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is in late spring, summer, and early fall.

Where to Stay: There are so many places to stay in Yellowstone both inside and outside the park but those inside can only be book directly at the Yellowstone National Park Lodges website!

However, if you don't book early enough and find the accommodations inside the park full, you can stay at one of these cabins in West Yellowstone which is next to the park entrance, or The Adventure Inn if you want a luxurious stay and if you're on a budget, Kelly Inn is the best option.

And if you're unable to get accommodation in West Yellowstone, you can opt to stay in Jackson, WY especially if you plan to visit Grand Teton National Park as well. In that case, I recommend The Elk Country Inn for budget travelers, Wyoming Inn (mid-range boutique), and Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa for a luxury stay. And for a homey feel, I suggest staying at this cozy and luxurious cabin.

How to Get Around: A car is key for Yellowstone National Park; there is no shuttle, and without a car, you'd have to rely on tours. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations.
 
Don't want to drive or plan? You can book this two-day Yellowstone tour from Jackson, or this full-day Yellowstone tour from West Yellowstone. And if you plan to visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, then I recommend going for this two-day tour of both Grand Teton & Yellowstone. 

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Binoculars are key for spotting wildlife like bears, elk, moose, and bison-- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. For hikes, you'll want a sturdy pair of hiking boots -- I love my Ahnu boots -- and some bear spray for safety reasons. 

Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed sites.  

How This 2 Day Yellowstone Itinerary Works

The Old Faithful geyser at sunset, a plume of steam shooting high into the air as the sun sets behind it, a classic sight on any Yellowstone itinerary.

Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in America, so of course, there is simply no way you can see all of Yellowstone National Park in 2 days.

Since time is limited, we’ve picked the most essential sights in Yellowstone. I mean, you can’t visit Yellowstone and NOT go to the Grand Prismatic Spring or Old Faithful, right?

But as magical as those spots can be, they can also be rather crowded. With 4 million annual visitors, most of those in the summer months, you’re definitely not alone!

So we’ve also filled in the gaps between those busy-but-beautiful spots with some (relatively) off-the-beaten-path suggestions. 

These will allow you a chance to break away from the crowds a bit and experience the beauty of Yellowstone for yourself, away from masses of selfie sticks!

Of course, “off the beaten path” is relative to a place as well known as Yellowstone National Park! 

But Yellowstone is a park where most people simply drive between overlooks and drive-in spots, so allocating time for some of these short Yellowstone hikes that I’ve outlined is the best way to get away from the crowds.

This is the best way to experience the beauty of the park as it was intended to be experienced, before a time of mass tourism.

This 2 day Yellowstone itinerary is intended to be done by self-drivers, those with their own car or a rental car.

You don’t need any sort of 4×4 or special bells and whistles on your car, though if you are visiting in the early spring or fall, you may need tire chains depending on road conditions (check with the Yellowstone website for up-to-date information).

Be aware that Yellowstone is almost entirely closed to vehicle traffic in winter — more on this below.

Visiting Yellowstone in 2 days actually divides quite neatly due to the structure of the park’s main roads, which form a figure 8.

On the first day, we’ll tackle the lower loop, and on the second day, we’ll tackle the upper loop.

This way, you’ll see the main park highlights and some lesser-known spots without backtracking excessively and wasting precious time of your two days in Yellowstone!

Renting a Car for Yellowstone

A car on the road heading towards snow-covered mountains on a Yellowstone road trip between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

If you’re road tripping to Yellowstone from your home state, disregard this section.

If you need to fly in to get to Yellowstone, I suggest flying to Jackson Hole Airport (JAC).

In the peak summer season, 15 destinations fly directly to Jackson Hole, including NYC, Chicago, LA, Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas, and others.

American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines fly to Jackson Hole year-round, and seasonally, Alaska and Frontier also service the airport.

At Jackson Hole Airport there are plenty of car rentals available.

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 RentalCars.com as the best car rental search aggregator – it sifts through dozens of trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for your car rental here.

There is also the West Yellowstone Airport, but flying here is usually more expensive and car rentals are often pricier here. I don’t recommend this one if you are on a budget!

Another option is the Bozeman-Yellowstone airport in Montana, though this requires a 1.5-hour drive to the park. That said, you may be able to find cheaper car rentals via Bozeman.

How to Do 2 Days in Yellowstone Without a Car

A bison on the edge of the orange part of Grand Prismatic Spring, the turquoise center of the spring is close by in the upper right corner of the photo.
This bison clearly didn’t read the “keep off” safety signs!

If you don’t have a car, you may be wondering how to tackle this 2 day Yellowstone itinerary. Honestly: it’d be basically impossible to do it without either A) your own car or B) a guided tour.

Unlike other national parks, Yellowstone does not have its own shuttle service, and there are no local buses that serve Yellowstone (just the area around Jackson Hole).

So, if you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, you’ll definitely need to take a guided tour. I recommend staying in Jackson or West Yellowstone where most tours depart.

From Jackson: I recommend this two-day Yellowstone tour which covers both the Upper and Lower loops.

It’s a bit pricy but you will see all the best things to see in the park without missing out. Alternately, you could do this Lower Loop tour for Day 1, which pretty closely tracks this itinerary, and on Day 2, you could explore the lovely Jackson Hole area which has plenty to see!

Book your two-day Yellowstone tour here!

Another option if you’re staying in Jackson is doubling up on National Parks and visiting two-in-one with this 2-day Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone tour.

The parks are surprisingly close together and it’s quite easy to combine the two into a tour that’s been organized for this purpose. This tour is wildlife-focused so it’s perfect for people who are more interested in wildlife over landscapes.

From West Yellowstone: This full-day Yellowstone tour will cover most of the best things to see in the park in just one day, including most of the Lower Loop such as Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots, and Grand Prismatic Spring.

For your second day, you can go on a zipline adventure or rafting trip departing from West Yellowstone.

Best Time of Year to Visit Yellowstone

The waterfall at Tower Falls, a long exposure photo of a waterfall going off of a sheer cliff drop, surrounded by green trees in summer.

This Yellowstone itinerary is really only suitable for late spring, summer, and early fall, when you are able to drive yourself into the park and self-guide. 

This is because once there is significant snowfall, the main roads in Yellowstone all close to passenger vehicles, and the only way to access the park becomes by snowcoach tour (which can get pricy!) or by snowmobile (even pricier, unless you happen to already own your own!).

While Yellowstone in winter is an absolutely incredible experience, and one that I have no qualms recommending, this itinerary for Yellowstone simply will not work in winter because you won’t be able to access the roads needed in order to see the sights in the order suggested.

If you’re planning a winter Yellowstone trip, I suggest you read this post on 30 things to know before visiting Yellowstone in winter, written by the same Montana local who wrote this post!

I would suggest that the best time to visit the park would be in the shoulder season just before or just after summer.

May and September are brilliant months to visit Yellowstone, especially if you don’t have kids (or if you’re homeschooling), since the park definitely fills up with families during the summer vacation months. You’ll find better prices on accommodations as well outside of the peak season.

A nice thing to know about visiting Yellowstone in the summer is that temperatures are never that hot!

Even in July, the hottest month in the park, the average high temperature is 72 degrees F.

It can get quite cold in the evening due to the high elevation (8,000 feet!) though, so you’ll want to come prepared with layers for the evening chill!

Where to Stay in Yellowstone

Old Faithful Lodge near the geyser, a large wooden mountain lodge surrounded by trees, a popular place to stay on a Yellowstone road trip
The Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone books up months and months in advance!

There are so many options for where to stay in Yellowstone! I’ll make a few suggestions both inside and outside of the park.

Between May and October, some lodges are open in Yellowstone. You can find the full list here, which is also where you can book the accommodations.

You cannot book these accommodations on other booking portals, only directly. You must book several months in advance… like, we’re talking 6+ months for places like the Old Faithful Inn and the Canyon Lodge!

If you didn’t book your lodge inside Yellowstone on time, or if you’d prefer to stay outside the park, I’d suggest either West Yellowstone, Idaho or Jackson, Wyoming as your base.

West Yellowstone is closer to the park entrance and is better for following this itinerary. It’s where I strongly recommend you stay!

However, Jackson is doable if you are also planning to visit Grand Teton National Park during your stay, and it can be done as long as you get an early start each day of this itinerary.

There are options that are further afield, like Gardiner, Montana, and Cody, Wyoming. However, these will definitely add extra travel time to your trip and may not be worth it for a short 2 days in Yellowstone itinerary.

West Yellowstone, ID Accommodations

CABINS | If you want to stay in a self-contained cabin (great for social distance!), Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone is ideal.

The grounds are made up of 50 cabins which have plenty of space between them, and each unit is self-contained so there are no communal areas except for the fire pit (where you can toast your welcome s’mores!).

Plus, they’re dog-friendly, and just a few minutes from the West entrance to the park!
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

VRBO | For a homey feel, I suggest this stylish and luxurious loft.

The cabin is perfectly located near Henry’s Lake and stylishly designed for your comfort. It is fully equipped with all the appliances you might need. It might be a little pricy but the comfort and serenity it provides will make up for that.
>> Check photos and reviews on Vrbo

BOUTIQUE | For design lovers who want a hint of luxury, I suggest the hip The Adventure Inn.

This stylish spot has a minimalist style, with a Scandinavian sensibility mashed up against a woodsy edge. It’s like a Brooklyn loft and a mountain cabin had a baby: it’s beautiful. 
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If money is a concern but you want a place that’s comfortable, clean, and convenient, it doesn’t get much better than Kelly Inn.

This cozy, rustic hotel has perks like an indoor pool, sauna, and hot tub while not breaking the bank. However, the rooms are a little dated, but for the price, it’s perfect.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Jackson, WY Accommodations

BOUTIQUE | If the design and the personality of a hotel is important to you, I suggest Wyoming Inn.

This cozy inn features Western-style decor complete with a roaring fireplace, warm woodsy colors, rustic design touches, and large, modern rooms. 
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you’re traveling Yellowstone on a budget and want to stay in Jackson, I’d pick The Elk Country Inn.

It’s highly rated by fellow travelers and affordable (well, by Jackson standards). It’s located just 4 blocks from Town Square in central Jackson, and the rooms are modern, spacious, and clean.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

LUXURY |  If cost is not a factor, the stunning Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa (a Noble House Resort) is a no-brainer.

Located in Teton Village, the rooms all have their own fireplace and cooking area, and there are rooms ranging from queen studios to two-level, two-bedroom suites.

There are indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs (all heated year-round) and a massage and spa center for those who want a little luxury on their Yellowstone trip.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Your Perfect 2 Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary

Day 1 of Your Yellowstone Itinerary

Sign that reads "Welcome to Montana, entering West Yellowstone".

Rise and shine! After spending a restful night in the gateway town of West Yellowstone, you’re conveniently located right near Yellowstone National Park’s West Entrance.

There’s no time to waste because your first day is going to take you on an exciting tour of the Yellowstone Lower Loop.

What’s the Lower Loop? Take a quick look at your map. Notice how Yellowstone National Park’s road system is shaped like a figure 8, which is broken into three loops, as follows:

Upper Loop: the northern circle of the figure 8

Lower Loop: the southern circle of the figure 8

Grand Loop: the outside perimeter of the figure 8

Now that you have a better idea of where Day 1 is taking you, we’re ready to get into the fun stuff — the heart of this Yellowstone itinerary!

Start at the West Entrance.

Sign that reads "Yellowstone National Park National Park Service", made of wood, surrounded by trees.

Welcome to Yellowstone! Excited?

This first section from the West Entrance to the Madison Junction is famous for phenomenal fly fishing.

The Madison River hugs the road providing the perfect view to spot anglers and the occasional moose wading the waters.

As you approach the Madison Junction, look to your right for a view of National Park Mountain standing 7,500 feet tall with the junction of the Firehole River and Gibbon River in the foreground.

We’re headed south at the junction to work the Lower Loop counterclockwise.

Firehole Canyon Drive

View of a rushing river, with rocks in the river bed, surrounded by mountains and trees.

Trust us… You do not want to miss the scenic Firehole Canyon Drive. The turn comes up pretty fast on the right, so be ready!

On this 2-mile detour, you’ll get an up-close look at the 40 ft tall Firehole Falls. We have a little bit more driving to do before the first hike of this Yellowstone road trip, but it’s coming!

For now, take a pullout and scope the hillsides with your binoculars. You’re bound to spot some wildlife in the Firehole River Valley.

Fountain Paint Pots

A geyser in Yellowstone, orangeish deposits on one side of it with a deep blue spring in the middle.

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its colorful hydrothermal pools and you’re going to witness them first hand.

The 0.6-mile loop at the Fountain Paint Pots will bring you past a variety of colorful pools. Don’t forget your camera!

Grand Prismatic Spring

The brilliant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring: purplish-brown, orange and yellow on the rim and deep turquoise in the middle, with a tree-covered mountain behind it.

The next hot spring is surely one you have seen before in photographs, but there’s nothing quite like standing in front of the real thing with its beautiful rainbow of colors.

There’s no way you can skip putting this on your Yellowstone National Park itinerary — it’s probably why you came in the first place!

It’s located in the Midway Geyser Basin, which also includes the Excelsior Geyser, the Turquoise Pool, and the Opal Pool. 

Note: Always stay on the boardwalk or designated hiking trail – it’s illegal and extremely dangerous to walk off the path here!

If you’re visiting Yellowstone with kids, be sure to be extra cautious here!

View of Grand Prismatic Spring and its orange and blue colors from afar, with a treeline in front of the view.

Most visitors stay on the lower boardwalk loop to see Grand Prismatic Spring, but if you’re looking for the best view available on foot, we know exactly where to go.

Drive to the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot and park your car. From there, head to the Grand Prismatic Spring lookout point, located about 0.6 miles into the Fairy Falls Trail, about a 20-minute walk one way.

From the trailhead, you’ll gain about 105 ft of elevation before ending up at the scenic overlook.

You could continue this hike all the way to Fairy Falls, which is a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike, that takes about 3 hours. 

However, with limited time on this Yellowstone itinerary, I think it’s best to just hike up to the lookout point and back.

Remember: Anytime you’re hiking in bear country, carry bear spray and understand how to use it.

Old Faithful

A geyser of steam bursting a hundred feet into the air, surrounded by a barren landscape, on a partly cloudy day with afternoon light.

Old Faithful is named such for its predictable eruptions which make it easy to schedule a trip around. 

It’s not the largest geyser in the park — that would be Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s tallest active geyser — but it is the most predictable and thus the most popular to see.

The beautiful Old Faithful geyser is located in the Upper Geyser Basin, a separate part of the basin of Yellowstone than the previous springs on this itinerary.

Just outside the Old Faithful Visitor Center, there are rows of benches set in front of the geyser for a stadium-style viewing.

But… That’s not actually the best place to view the eruption of Old Faithful!

Insider tip: After checking the next eruption time in the visitor center, take the Observation Point – Geyser Hill Trail for a birds-eye view of Old Faithful!

This 2.3-mile loop is well worth the hike and will bring you past some less-trafficked thermal features like Doublet Pool and Giantess Geyser!

West Thumb Geyser Basin

A deep blue and turquoise geyster, with orange and white mineral deposits beside it, next to a deep blue lake.

Take the boardwalk along Yellowstone Lake and check out the geysers that hug its banks.

This is also a perfect spot for a picnic lunch if you didn’t already stop for a bite at Old Faithful!

Hayden Valley wolves and grizzly bears on your must-see Yellowstone wildlife list? This is one of the best places to spot bears, wolves, and many other YNP residents roaming the valley.

Be patient, scan the landscape with your binoculars, and use the pullouts off the main road for thorough searches.

Mud Volcano

Bubbling mud pool in Yellowstone National Park with steam rising off the top at the Dragon's Mouth part of the loop

As you head north towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you can stop off at the Mud Volcano, where you’ll see many incredible volcanic elements in one easy 0.8-mile loop trail. 

Don’t miss the Dragon’s Mouth part of the loop — it’s a brief detour but it’s an incredible sight to see!

You’ll also see Mud Caldron, Sizzling Basin, Churning Caldron, Black Dragons Caldron, Sour Lake, and Grizzy Fumarole as you pass through this short, boardwalk hike.

Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone

A giant waterfall in a massive canyon surrounded by trees and orange-yellow rock canyon.

As you approach the Canyon Village area, turn right onto South Rim Drive towards Artist Point.

This is one of the most iconic viewpoints of the 308 ft tall Lower Falls. You definitely don’t want to miss the view on this short 0.1-mile paved walk!

Want a closer look? Take Uncle Tom’s Trail down to a viewpoint of the Lower Falls. Just remember that there are 328 steps: so easy to take down, so much harder to take back up!

There is also the shorter but still impressive Upper Falls, which are 109 feet but still massively impressive. Stop at the Upper Falls View for great photos.

Gibbon Falls

A waterfall in a river going over the steps of a tiered rock formation, forming a veil shape.

The 84 ft Gibbon Falls is another must-see waterfall. With its convenient location right off the road, there’s no reason not to stop and take a look!

There’s also an easy 0.5-mile roundtrip walk down to the falls if you’d like to get closer.

For a convenient starting point on your second day, we recommend camping at Madison Campground or Norris Campground.

If camping isn’t in the books for this Yellowstone road trip, there are cabins and hotel accommodations in the Canyon Village area near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Get a good sleep to tackle the next day of this Yellowstone itinerary!

Day 2 of Your Yellowstone Itinerary

Yellowstone River meandering through grassy plains surrounded by trees on a partly cloudy day.

There’s still so much to see, and an early start gives you a better chance for some exciting wildlife sightings!

Today, we are going to visit the best of the Upper Loop.

We’ll start at the Norris Geyser Basin Area and head North towards Mammoth Hot Springs to take the loop clockwise.

Obsidian Cliff

This National Historic Landmark is a neat way to start the day!

The obsidian from these cliffs was first collected by hunters and gatherers over 11,000 years ago and has been traced across the country along historic trade routes. Obsidian was once used to make arrow and spear heads!

Sheepeater Cliff

Gray basalt columns with lots of smaller, broken apart rocks at the base, on a sunny blue sky day with a patch of clouds.

Here’s another interesting geological site that’s worth the stop.

If you’re ready to give your legs a morning stretch, take the fishing trail out of the picnic area. Follow the trail about for about 0.5 miles to get awesome views of the Gardner River and a small falls.

How’s that for a morning stretch?

Mammoth Hot Springs

White and rust-colored calcium deposits form a travertine staircase of a hot spring at Mammoth Hot Springs, a must on your 2 days in Yellowstone.

Park in the Lower Terrace Parking Area and hop onto the intricate boardwalk paths that weave around the many hot springs. 

It’s easy to spend over an hour exploring these intriguing thermal features formed by travertine deposits over the millennia!

This is also a popular area to spot elk! 

Look in the grass below the terraces and around the cone-shaped Liberty Cap, which is one of the area’s most prominent feature standing at 37 ft tall.

Optional: Boiling River

A 7-minute drive from Mammoth Hot Springs, the Boiling River is one of the few hot springs in Yellowstone that you can actually swim in!

There is a designated soaking and swimming area where a hot spring mixes and mingles with the Gardner River, creating a bath-like temperature where you can soak and enjoy the geothermal features of Yellowstone for yourself!

At the time of the last update (6/2/2021), this hot spring is still closed due to the pandemic, but check the NPS website for updates to see if that’s changed!

Blacktail Plateau Drive

Late afternoon light falls onto the landscape on Blacktail Plateau, illuminating a distant mountain and a grassy plain.

After you’ve taken a thorough tour of the Mammoth Hot Springs, head west to continue on the Upper Loop.

This section is famous for wildlife viewings, so keep your eyes peeled. It’s never a bad idea to take the scenic route! Right? Turn onto the Blacktail Plateau Drive and get off the main road for 6 miles.

Petrified Tree

The trunk of a tree which has been petrified, surrounded by trees and blue sky.

Almost immediately after rejoining the main road, the turnoff for the Petrified Tree will be on the right.

Is it a tree or a rock? Worth the very short walk up the trail to get a closer look!

Tower Falls Optional Detour

View of Tower Falls from above, a waterfall plunging into a pool below it, surrounded by rock formations and evergreen trees.

If you’re interested in checking out the 132-foot drop of Tower Falls, it’s only a short detour south at Tower Junction. The rock pinnacles framing the massive falls truly make it a sight to see. The trail to the viewpoint is less than one mile round-trip.

After the falls you will head back to the intersection and turn towards Lamar Valley… Have your binoculars in hand!

Insider tip: The Yellowstone River Picnic Area in the Lamar Valley is a great spot to stop for lunch. It even comes equipped with a quiet scenic trail down to the Yellowstone River.

Lamar Valley

Three bison walking next to a small river, with yellow grass and several mountain peaks behind them.

Lamar Valley is a wildlife lover’s dream. Take your time driving through this section and use pullouts frequently to scan the hillsides with your binoculars or scope.

Bison and antelope sightings are almost a guarantee, but you’ll have to be very observant to spot the resident bear and wolf packs.

For a short hike following your wildlife safari, check out Trout Lake. The trailhead is a small signed pullout on the main road. This lollipop loop trail is only 0.6 miles, and offers beautiful mountain views!

Beartooth Highway

A view of a highway going through some pine trees with a slight bit of fog on some of the distant trees.

As you approach Cooke City after your hike, prepare to say goodbye to Yellowstone National Park as you exit via the scenic Beartooth Highway to head towards the fun mountain town of Red Lodge!

This is where we leave you to discover your next adventure — hopefully you enjoyed this Yellowstone itinerary!

If You Have More Than 2 Days in Yellowstone…

Turquoise and white geyser and geothermal area with a boardwalk trail and pine trees in the distance on a hill

I’d suggest getting off the beaten path (no, not literally — stay on those boardwalks, for your sake and the park’s!) and checking out some of the more sedate areas of the park.

One such area is Porcelain Basin, part of the Norris Geyser Basin area on the West side of the park. There are two loops which will have you see all of the Porcelain Basin area, and the total walking distance for tackling both of the loops is only 1.1 miles. 

Tired of all the driving and want to stretch your legs? Take a hike up Bunsen Peak, a 4.6-mile roundtrip hike that is moderate in difficulty but outstanding in views.

Enjoy views of Mammoth Hot Springs, the Yellowstone River, and other stunning sites from a bird’s eye view on this lesser-visited hike.

What to Pack for 2 Days in Yellowstone

A woman wearing an orange hat and orange rain jacket and a backpack taking cellphone photos at one of the hot springs in Yellowstone by a lake.

I have a full guide to what to pack for a road trip here, but here are the quick packing essentials for a 2-day itinerary for Yellowstone.

Travel Guides: While I’ve given you as much information as I can in this info-packed Yellowstone itinerary, there’s no denying that a dedicated travel guide does it better as they just have so much more time to dedicate to research! Combine our firsthand experience with a travel guide like this Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton guide for a more epic adventure.

Layered Clothing: Even if you are visiting Yellowstone in summer, due to the high elevation, it can get chilly at night so plan accordingly!

You’ll want at least 2 shirts (synthetic or wool, long and/or short sleeve depending on the season), 2 pairs of leggings or pants, 2 pairs shorts, 1 fleece outer layer, a waterproof jacket, beanie, gloves, and 3 pairs of socks.

Comfortable Footwear: You can go with sneakers or hiking boots (I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest theKEEN Durand boot.) However, if you pick sneakers, make sure they have good traction and are comfortable enough for 2-3 mile hikes.

Sunscreen: At 8,000 feet elevation, it’s so much easier to get sunburned even on a cloudy day (I learned this the hard way in Quito, Ecuador!). Bring and wear sunscreen every day of your trip, and be sure to reapply it every couple of hours. I like this chemical-free organic sunscreen.

Sunhat: I recommend a packable hat like this one which has a strap. It won’t blow off in gusts of wind (Yellowstone can get windy — it’s that high elevation!) and you can easily wear it on your back when you don’t feel like wearing it on your head.

Day pack: A compact day pack is helpful to have when in Yellowstone so you can easily put everything you need accessible and handy. I like this inexpensive and lightweight Osprey day pack.

Snacks: None of these Yellowstone hikes are particularly intense, but you should have some snacks just in case you get hungry and don’t want to waste time on your Yellowstone itinerary sitting down for a long lunch. Pack or pick up a picnic lunch or have plenty of snacks for the day. I recommend protein bars (I love CLIF bars), nuts, or other high-density snacks that give you a lot of energy for their weight.

Camera: I use and love my Sony A6000! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh your pack down. I suggest bringing a zoom lens for wildlife and a wide-angle lens for landscapes.

First aid kit: Don’t let things like blisters or scrapes ruin your Yellowstone trip! I recommend tossing a first aid kit like this HART Weekend First Aid kit in your day bag. It’s lightweight, but if you ever need it, you’ll be so glad to have it.

Headlamp (and extra batteries): If you want to do any sunrise or sunset hiking, I recommend bringing a headlamp like this Petzl headlamp.

Water filter bottle: While there are water fountains around Yellowstone, I still suggest having a water bottle with a filter so you can fill up anywhere there’s a water source! There are a wide variety of water filtration systems and treatments, but I love the GRAYL Geopress, which allows you to filter water from any source — perfect for filling up on a hike if you see water. It’s compact and easy to use and filters out 99.99% of microplastics, viruses, bacteria, and particles.


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How to Plan a Winter Tromso Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days

If you’re planning your Arctic Norway itinerary, congratulations: you’re in for a bucket list worthy experience of a lifetime!

A trip to Tromso, nicknamed “The Paris of the North” for its important role in Northern Europe’s culture, is a must on any visit to Northern Norway. 

This beautiful city serves as the gateway to all sorts of arctic adventures, whether you base yourself in Tromso the entire time or you fly in there and explore more of Northern Norway in a rental car or by bus.

Getting to Tromso

People arriving at the airport in Tromso

There are several ways to get to Tromso, and a number of airlines that serve this Northern city, including SAS (which I flew) and Norwegian Airlines, amongst others.

 No matter where you are coming from, I recommend flying into Tromso, as it’s incredibly far from the rest of Norway, particularly Southern cities like Oslo, as it’s one of the northernmost cities in Norway.

From Tromso, you can easily catch a bus into the city center to where you have your accommodation booked. The Flybussen costs 110 NOK one way (160 NOK return), around $13 USD one way ($19 USD return).

It’s also possible to schedule a transfer for a group if you want to have a guaranteed easy trip to your hotel. It’s a little more expensive but it will give you peace of mind. It may be worth it if you have a long journey before you arrive in Tromso!

Book your Tromso airport transfer here!

Weather in Tromso in Winter

Allison posing with a friendly husky after a dog sledding tour in Tromso

The weather in Tromso is characterized by extremes, with several weeks each of polar night and midnight sun in winter and summer respectively.

In the winter, the weather in Tromso is obviously on the cold side of the spectrum, but perhaps less cold than you might think!

December temperatures often have a high of 32° F (0° C) and a low of 25° F (-4° C). Temperatures in January and February are similar, just a few degrees cooler. 

That’s not too shabby for the Arctic, and it’s definitely warmer than many North American and European destinations at a far lower latitude!

The reason for this is that the jetstream across the Atlantic Ocean pushes warmer air towards Tromso, so Norwegian Lapland isn’t quite as cold as other Arctic destinations, like Swedish and Finnish Lapland. 

As a result, you do need to pack warm clothes for Tromso, but not necessarily clothes for extreme cold. 

The weather in Northern Norway does get colder the further out from Tromso you get, but all the activities you partake in will also rent thermal suits so you don’t have to worry about dressing for that beyond your average warm layers.

Below, I’ll explain (briefly) what to pack for Tromso in winter, but if you want a more detailed guide, I have my full winter in Norway packing list here.

Quick Tromso Packing List

My snowboots came in handy everywhere on my trip!

Crampons

One of the most important things to pack for Norway in winter is a sturdy pair of crampons. Crampons are basically small spikes or grips that you attach to your winter boot with a stretchy silicone attachment

I used these simple Yaktrax which were really easy to take on and off — this is essential, as indoor places everywhere in Tromso ask you to take off your crampons before entering, so you don’t want difficult ones to put on and take off.

They were also perfectly grippy for icy city streets and I didn’t have any slips while wearing them, walking around in the snow and ice for miles (trust me– the day I went out without them on accident, I definitely noticed the difference!).

Moisturizer and lip balm

Winter in Tromso will really dry out your skin, so you’ll definitely want to pack a pretty heavy-duty moisturizer as well as lip protector.

I remembered the former but forgot the latter and by day 2 I had sore, chapped lips and running to the nearest pharmacy to drop way too much money on a simple stick of chapstick… so be smarter than I am and bring it from home where you’ll spend less on something better.

I love this moisturizer from La Roche-Posay and highly recommend Aquaphor Lip Repair for keeping your lips moisturized!

Camera & travel tripod

sweden in winter
Captured with my Sony A6000!

It’s highly likely that one of the reasons why you are going to Norway in the winter is to see the magical Northern lights.

In that case, you’ll want to ensure you have a camera that is capable of manual settings – a smartphone won’t do if you want proper photos. Most importantly, you need to be able to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I use a Sony A6000 and it works great.

But a camera isn’t all you need. To properly photograph the Northern lights, a travel tripod is absolutely essential.

You need the camera to be still for at least 3-5 seconds to get a decent photograph, and there’s no way you can eliminate camera shake for that long without a tripod. In the past, I’ve used a simple, cheap 50″ Amazon tripod and it worked just fine.

Be sure to also bring spare batteries as the cold will knock out your batteries so much quicker than you expect!

Base layers

You can get away with wearing most of your normal winter clothing in Norway as long as you have proper base layers that help insulate you and keep you warm.

You need clothing that’s moisture-wicking and antimicrobial, which will keep things from getting stinky or uncomfortable when you sweat (which you will if you’re walking around or being active, yes, even in the cold!).

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.

Many people swear by wool, but in general I can’t wear wool or I get insanely, tear-off-all-my-skin itchy (though wool socks are fine for me as the skin on my feet is thicker). If you can tolerate wool then something like these merino wool leggings, paired with a cashmere sweater layer, will serve you very well.

A warm winter jacket or parka

A trusty hooded, waterproof parka: the most essential thing to pack for Norway in winter!

For walking around in Norway in winter, you’ll want a nice and warm winter jacket (preferably a parka which goes to about mid-thigh) that is water-resistant and hooded, to keep you warm against the snow.

While winter in many parts of coastal Norway like Tromso actually isn’t that cold, with average temperatures around -4° C to 0° C (24° F to 32° F), there is a lot of wind and precipitation, making it feel colder. You want a waterproofed jacket that will protect against snow and even worse, freezing rain.

For my most trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online but is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. I loved having a faux fur lined hood to keep snow and rain out of my face and the weatherproof material was much-needed. Down feathers add a nice layer of warmth that really helps insulate you (though if you want a vegan option, this jacket is similar).

On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a fair 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 with me as I’ve recently moved country and haven’t got all my clothes with me!

Snow boots & wool socks

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.

But no matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks. I invested in these Smartwool socks after some hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did.

How This Tromso Itinerary Works

Sami woman handling a reindeer in the arctic

I structured this itinerary for Tromso to be additive.

What does that mean? 

Basically, the first day contains the “core” activities in Tromso city center and the following days contain the best activities and day trips from Tromso in (in my personal opinion) descending order in terms of importance and uniqueness.

Feel free to swap around the days a bit to fit your preference or so that you don’t have two similar activities back-to-back. 

However, this itinerary for Tromso is planned so that you can just pluck as many days as you want from this itinerary to fill out the time you have — whether it’s one day or five days in Tromso.

If you have more than five days in Tromso, you can just spread out the activities a bit and spend more time enjoying the city center, checking out the many Tromso museums and restaurants, and just enjoying Northern Nordic culture in this unique place!

Rather than give you a set X day itinerary, you can mix and match to suit your travel style, budget, and time allocated for your visit to Norway.

Tromso Itinerary FAQ

Colorful houses in Tromso Norway with snow all over the place
  • How many days do you need in Tromso?

This is an incredibly hard question to answer! The true and honest answer is that it depends. Tromso is a small and compact but culturally rich city. Its highlights can be seen in a day, and you can get a good feel for the city in that time. 

However, most people visit Tromso not for the city itself but for all the incredible activities you can do in Tromso. Chasing the Northern lights, going dog-sledding, meeting Sami reindeer herders, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing: the list of activities in Tromso goes on and on.

The good news is that many activities run both during the day and at night, so you can typically do two half-day activities per day in Tromso. 

Dedicate one full day to simply engaging in sightseeing in Tromso, and then for every two activities you want to do, account for at least one day if you like to travel at a quick pace. Add one extra day for downtime if you prefer to travel slower.

For example, if you’re visiting Tromso and you want to do whale watching, dog sledding, a Sami reindeer camp, and a Northern lights chase, you should spend at least 3 days in Tromso, but 4 would be even more relaxed.

  • How much spending money do I need for Tromso?

Travel costs in Tromso are on the high side, mostly because of accommodations, food, and activities.

Expect to spend roughly $200-300 USD per night on a hotel, $20-30 USD per meal (one course, no alcohol), and $150-250 per activity.

There are ways you can reduce costs — staying in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, cooking meals instead of eating every meal at a restaurant, doing fewer activities — but overall, a trip to Tromso will be an expensive one. And with good reason: it’s a bucket list trip if there ever was one!

For a typical day that involves two activities, one meal (assuming the other is provided during an activity, as is often the case), and one night in a hotel, plan around $300-400 USD per person per day, assuming two people or a family are sharing a hotel room. 

Note that this does not include travel costs, which will range wildly depending on where you are flying into Tromso from!

northern lights over a lake
  • Is Tromso a good place to see the Northern lights?

Surprisingly, for its popularity, Tromso is not the best place in the Nordics to see the Northern lights. 

If you truly want to see the Northern lights, Abisko in Sweden is widely considered to be the best place to see the Northern lights. Finland also has better odds for Northern lights in destinations like Rovaniemi. 

Why is that? Simply, Tromso is coastal, and with coastal weather comes lots of cloud cover and snow, blocking the Northern lights.

I spent one week in Tromso and I saw the Northern lights three times… and one time, we had to drive all the way across the Finnish border two hours away!

  • Will I need a car in Tromso?

Definitely not! I typically love renting a car when I travel, but Tromso has a great, easy-to-navigate bus system and is very walkable if you are staying in the center. 

Parking is expensive in Tromso and most activities include pickup and drop off, so there’s no real reason to rent a car while in Tromso, especially if you’re not a confident winter driver.

Where to Stay in Tromso in Winter

An intersection in the town of Tromso with stop lights and colorful houses and a church spire

First things first: when it comes time to pick where to stay in Tromso in winter, book early. The best deals go fast, as accommodation is limited and Tromso is soaring in popularity as arctic travel gets really big.

Accommodation will be one of the pricier parts of your trip to Tromso, so be sure to budget accordingly. Expect to spend, even on the budget end of things, approximately $100 USD per night per person at a minimum, and around $300 per night for upper-tier accommodations.

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is hands-down 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, 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 a polar theme. 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!

Your Tromso Itinerary, Day by Day

Day 1: Getting to Know Tromso

Wander around the City Center.

Brownish-tan wooden cathedral in a square in Tromso Norway in winter with snow on the ground and buildings lit up in evening

The Tromso city center is remarkably cute and compact, making it easy to hit up all the must-sees on a quick self-guided walking tour when you visit Tromso.

The main square in the city is located around the Tromsø Cathedral, the world’s northernmost Lutheran church! Its construction dates back to 1861, and it is unusual in that it is a cathedral made nearly entirely of wood, when most cathedrals are typically made of stone.

After checking out the cathedral, take a stroll down Storgata, the main pedestrian street in Tromso. This is a great place for window-shopping and people-watching, and you may spot some souvenirs you want to buy later in your trip.

The Tromso Library (Tromsø bibliotek og byarkiv) is another interesting spot to see in the city center due to its unique architecture.

Check out the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tromso, another historic wooden church that dates back to 1861. Its architecture is really beautiful and it has a quieter and more peaceful atmosphere.

Finally, wander down to the Tromso Harbor, for all sorts of colorful building facades right on the fjord’s edge. It’s really scenic — it’s gorgeous to see all the colors against the striking white snow and glassy water of the fjord!

Visit the Polar Museum.

Red polar museum building with snow falling in front of it

Not far from the Tromso Harbor is the Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) which is a really interesting place to visit in Tromso.

It’s a fascinating place that excels at storytelling the tales of Arctic adventurers — both men and women — who explored the Polar region and went out to sea in order to hunt and trap in the Arctic.

Tromso served as the gateway for many of these polar expeditions and you can learn a ton about all the adventurers who departed from Tromso in search of places that were never yet explored by man before.

A good portion of the Polar Museum is dedicated to the explorations of Roald Amundsen, who was the first verified person to travel to the North Pole (though that is contested) as well as the South Pole (which is uncontested), as well as Fridtjof Nansen who skied across Greenland and later lobbied for refugee rights after WWI (and received the Nobel Peace Prize for it!).

The museum also takes a look at other Arctic adventurers who are often overlooked. I appreciated that the museum took a good deal of time to also look at female explorers who made amazing accomplishments to lesser fanfare, such as Monica Kristensen Solås (a famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer) and Liv Arnesen (the first woman to reach the South Pole independently). 

The stories are told compellingly with lots of English-language signage so it’s a great way to learn a bit more of the history of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and Norway’s outsized role in exploring these previously little-known polar regions.

Check out the Arctic Cathedral.

Large white church with a big cross and snow and views of mountains in distance on a sunny winter day. Arctic Cathedral is a must on a Tromso itinerary

After checking out the Polar Museum, take a stroll across the beautiful Tromsø Bridge to the other side of the fjord, Tromsdalen.

The bridge is actually quite wide — over a kilometer long! — so allow around 15-20 minutes to reach the other side of the bridge. It’s a beautiful stroll though, and the views can’t be beat!

Once you reach the other side of the bridge, you will find the stunning Arctic Cathedral. This is an absolute wonder of architecture and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks of Tromso.

Entrance to the Arctic Cathedral costs 55 NOK ($7 USD) and it’s well worth it to see this beauty, dedicated to and inspired by the arctic landscapes that surround it, from inside.

Take the Fjellheisen Cable Car.

Views from over the cable car up to Fjellheisen looking over the fjord of Tromso and the city just after sunset

Want the best view in Tromso? It’s from the top of Storsteinen (420 meters / 1,377 feet) above sea level.

After checking out the Arctic Cathedral, make your way over the Fjellheisen cable car station, about a 15-minute walk from the Arctic Cathedral. Bring your crampons because this way can be really icy!

Easily accessible via a 4-minute cable car, taking the Fjellheisen cable car is a must when in Tromso. Where else can you can look over the entire city of Tromso as well as the fjord?

Taking the Fjellheisen cable car is reasonably priced. A roundtrip ticket cost 230 NOK ($27 USD) which is not bad for Norway. And trust me – these views are worth the price!

From the viewing platform, you’ll have a beautiful view of Tromso and the fjords and islands that make up this beautiful city and its environs. It’s one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter and you shouldn’t miss it.

You can also walk around (again, you’ll want your crampons for this — it can get really icy) to explore other areas of Storsteinen and the views they offer.

But really, the viewing platform offers the best panorama — great during the day as well as at night for spotting the Northern lights! 

Have a nice meal & hope to spot the Northern lights.

Northern lights over the city of Tromso as seen from the viewing platform at Fjellheisen cable car

While at the mountain station, be sure to visit Fjellstua Café, which has a nice selection of Scandinavian food at a reasonable price (for Norway, that is).

Depending on the time of year you visit, it’s well worth it to time your trip up the Fjellheisen cable car for golden hour, watch the sun set over the beautiful landscape and spend some time with a cup of coffee or late lunch / early dinner.

Note that because sunrise and sunset times vary so much depending on the month, this is hard for me to explain when you should go. 

When I went in early February, the sun set at 3 PM, so I timed my trip up the cable car around 2 PM, walked around for an hour and watched the sunset, then spent some time with a coffee and waited for it to get dark.

I didn’t have the patience to stay all night hoping for a glimpse of the aurora, and I knew I had lots of opportunities to chase the Northern lights throughout the rest of my trip, so I headed back down without a glimpse of the lights.

However, you could also time your visit to the cable car for later in the evening for a better chance of the lights… or you may visit Tromso during the polar night when it’s basically almost always evening anyway! 

Having seen the views from both day and night, I can tell you both are beautiful. However, I think it’s best to see the view from daylight if possible and think of nighttime as a bonus if you have the patience!

If this is your only day in Tromso, I’d suggest heading back down the cable car, returning to your hotel to freshen up, and then going on an aurora chasing tour for the night.

If you’re spending another day in Tromso or more, I’ve scheduled the aurora chasing tour for the following night, so you can spend the evening at your leisure.

Day 2: Dog Sledding & Aurora Chasing in Northern Norway

Start the day with a dog sledding experience.

View from the dog sled over the beautiful landscapes of norway in winter

Wake up bright and early and be sure to eat a hearty hotel breakfast — you’re in for a workout today! 

Find the pick up point for your dog sled adventure and get carted away to the beautiful island of Kvaloya, where your dog sledding tour will take place.

I highly suggest doing a self-drive dog sled tour.

Not sure what self-drive means? I overview the differences between the two kinds of tours in my post on dog-sledding in Tromso.

This is the exact tour that I did and I loved the experience. And what’s not to love, controlling your own dog sled as you zip through the snow with views of fjords and the Lyngen Alps surrounding you everywhere you look? 

While you self-drive the dog sled, taking turns with a partner, you are traveling as part of a small group with several mushers and local guides available to help you keep your dogs safe and not get lost while you embark on a winter adventure!

However, if you are traveling with young kids or you want a less active experience for whatever reason, a guided dog tour sled is also a great option.

A guided dog sled tour means that a musher conducts the sled and you sit and enjoy it. It is definitely less hands-on, but it’s also a great experience.

Personally, I have done two self-drive husky safaris and one musher-led tour. I much preferred the self-drive experience, but I can absolutely see the benefits of a musher-led dog sled tour, especially for families with kids or for those with mobility limitations.

Book your self-drive husky adventure or your musher-led tour!

Visit one of Tromso’s museums or aquariums.

The perspective museum a beautiful photography museum in tromso

After your dog sled adventure, you’ll have some free time between your morning and evening activities. Use this time to see a few of the other sights in Tromso that you didn’t get to see earlier.

This is a great time to check out some of Tromso’s excellent museums! 

I visited a number of museums during my week in Tromso and I can definitely identify a few highlights. 

One favorite museum was Perspective Museum (Perspektivet Museum) which focuses on, well, different perspectives in Norway through the lens of photography. 

The diversity of Tromso is the primary focus of the museum, and when I was there, there was a special exhibit on the different religions of Tromso and how those were practiced by its residents.

Best of all? The museum is free! Allow yourself about 30-60 minutes for the museum.

Another great museum is the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (Northern Norwegian Art Museum) which focuses on the fine art of Northern Norway.

I appreciated that they were dedicated to showing a diverse array of art including art from female artists and Sami artists. 

Admission is 80 NOK (about $10 USD) and you could easily spend about an hour here.

One other museum option is Polaria, which is the world’s northernmost aquarium! It is rather small, but it focuses on Arctic sea life, especially seals, who have training and feeding sessions there daily. 

It also focuses on the issues addressing the Arctic, such as global warming and rising sea levels, while still being entertaining for children and families.

Have an early dinner.

A tasty reindeer open face sandwich at a restaurant

You’re in for a late night tonight when you chase the Northern lights, so be sure to eat a light early dinner to hold you over. 

Most Northern lights tours — at least the one I did! — include a dinner around the fire, but this often won’t be until 10 PM or later, once you set up your aurora camp, so it’s better to be well-fed walking into your aurora tour!

I suggest eating at Bardus Bistro — the reindeer and lingonberry open-face sandwich was one of my favorite meals in Norway!

Go on a minibus tour to see the Northern lights.

Allison posing with the Northern lights on a tour in Norway

If there’s one essential tour during your first time in Tromso, it’s a Northern lights minibus tour

This is the best way to see the Northern lights because it is an activity specifically dedicated to chasing the lights wherever that may take you — even into neighboring Finland!

Meanwhile, other “Northern lights tours” or tours “with a chance of Northern lights” are stationary and so your chances are far lower of seeing the lights. 

When you take a minibus tour specifically dedicated to seeing the lights, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see the beautiful aurora borealis!

I wrote a guide to all the different ways you can experience the Northern lights, but this is the #1 way I would choose if I could only pick one.

Book your minibus Northern lights tour here!

If I could pick more than one, I would make sure it was a minibus tour and also one other tour focused on another activity with the aurora as a bonus rather than the main agenda. 

Seeing the aurora is incredible but personally, unless you’re a photographer specifically hoping to photograph the aurora borealis as much as possible, I think one night chasing it in earnest is enough!

Day 3: Hit the Fjords & Meet Reindeer

Pick a whale-watching cruise or a fjord wildlife cruise

Orcas coming out of the water for a breath of air in Norway in Skjervoy a popular whale watching destination near Tromso

The fjords of Northern Norway are an incredible delight and cruising through the fjords on a boat is one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter! 

If you visit in time for whale watching season, from November through late January, then you really out to make time for a whale watching cruise. 

It is pretty much a full day endeavor and you will be quite tired afterward, but it’s well worth it. Where else can you predictably see orcas and humpback whales in such large numbers? There’s nowhere else I can think of, and I grew up in California, home to some pretty amazing whale watching!

Note that the whales used to visit the fjord of Tromso itself, but due to changing migration habits and food locations due to climate, the whales now are mostly found off the island of Skjervøy. 

This is a good deal removed from Tromso by boat, so it will take quite a while to get out there. Make sure to bring some seasickness tablets or bands to combat the rough waters if you are prone to seasickness!

Book your whale watching tour here!

Unfortunately, on my winter trip to Tromso, I was unable to see the whales as my tour was canceled, since the whales left Tromso earlier than expected. 

In place of that, I booked a fjord cruise with a focus on wildlife in the fjord of Tromso itself, and it was amazing. 

Allison smiling in a selfie on a wildlife cruise of Tromso

It’s a great substitution for a whale watching cruise, though of course, you won’t be able to see whales in the fjord of Tromso anymore. 

However, we got to see sea eagles, pods of dolphins, and all sorts of other incredible arctic wildlife. It was really beautiful and memorable and I was so happy to do it that it (almost!) took away the pain of not being able to go whale watching).

While I’m prone to seasickness in general, every time I went out on the water near Tromso (twice), I found the water to be pretty calm and easy on my stomach. 

However, I’ve heard the water is rougher by Skjervøy, so that’s something else to keep in mind when choosing between the two activities.

Book your wildlife fjord cruise here!

Have lunch or spend time relaxing at the hotel.

The lunch special of fish gratin at Mathallen served with potato and carrot salad

Depending on what kind of tour you did, and whether food was included or not, it might be just about lunchtime! 

In which case I suggest grabbing the lunch special at Mathallen, which is a delicious place to eat that has relatively affordable prices.

Not feeling Norwegian food? Grab the lunch special at Burgr for a delicious burger and fries.

Do a Sami reindeer camp and Northern lights tour.

Watching a Sami guide tell stories in a lavvu

When in the Arctic, it’s a must to visit a Sami reindeer farm for a variety of reasons.

For one, reindeer are adorable. But more importantly, the Sami people contribute greatly to the culture and history of Northern Norway: these are their ancestral lands, after all.

I go into more detail on who the Sami people are and why reindeer are important to them in my article on reindeer sledding in Tromso.

For the sake of brevity in this already mega-detailed Tromso itinerary, I’ll just say that learning about Sami culture and history is an integral part of being a responsible tourist in Norway.

Supporting the preservation of the rich Sami culture through tourism is an easy and enlightening way to ensure that Norway’s tourism riches extend to their Indigenous population.

You could do this activity during the day, as I did, but I had one full week in Tromso so it was pretty easy for me to spread out my activities.

If you have a limited amount of time to dedicate to a Tromso itinerary, this is a great activity to do at night because the scenery is pretty limited and you can interact with reindeer just as well by night as you can by day! 

Book your Sami camp + Northern lights excursion here!

If you go reindeer sledding, the sledding portion of the itinerary lasts no more than 20 minutes, so the lack of light isn’t a big deal.

Additionally, the majority of the tour experience takes place in the lavvu, the traditional Sami tent, where you eat a meal (bidos or traditional Sami reindeer stew) and then listen to Sami storytelling and joiking (the traditional Sami song). 

Since so much of the activity is inside, it’s a great option for nighttime on day 3 of this Tromso travel guide. And you’ll be far out from the light pollution of Tromso which gives you a good shot of seeing the Northern lights if they are out and about that night!

Day 4: Do a Day Trip to the Ice Domes

Wake up bright and early for breakfast.

Drinking a cup of coffee in Norway

Time for another early day in Tromso! 

Eat some breakfast at your hotelbecause your tour starts soon, and you’ll be off to the races most of the day.

Head to the Tromso Ice Domes.

Sitting in the fancy chair at Tromso ice domes

This was one of my favorite day tours in Tromso because the ice hotel is simply magical. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been before!

Every year the Tromso Ice Domes are rebuilt from scratch during the dark months that lead up to the polar night, the period of six weeks where the sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter in the Arctic Circle. 

The people constructing the Ice Domes work around the clock to get the ice hotel up and running before the tourist season begins, taking huge chunks of frozen ice from rivers nearby and crafting an ice hotel that will melt away with the coming of summer!

A day tour is extremely easy to manage: it includes a shuttle transfer (1.5 hours each way from Tromso to the Ice Domes) and guided tour of the property. I have a full guide to visiting the Ice Domes on a day trip here.

The tour will explain how the Ice Domes are built from scratch, and they will show you the ice bar and restaurant, as well as the rooms where guests can stay the night.

The tour also includes some free time to take photos, feed the reindeer on-site, or grab a cup of soup at the restaurant (which is delicious, by the way!)

Book your Tromso Ice Domes day tour here!

This itinerary will assume that you are heading back to Tromso after your tour, but do know that if you have the budget for it, you can spend the night at the Tromso Ice Domes! It’s expensive, but it’s an incredible bucket list item that you’ll never forget.

If you do an overnight tour with an ice hotel stay, you’ll also get to do a snowshoeing tour, an aurora camp to spot the Northern lights, dinner and breakfast the following morning, and a husky-sledding tour the next day, before being transferred back to Tromso.

If doing the overnight tour, skip to tomorow’s section of the Tromso itinerary. If just doing a day trip, continue reading!

Check out the Tromso Ice Domes overnight stay package here!

Enjoy a nice lunch in Tromso.

Eating a meal at Burgr to have a burger and fries

While you could eat a meal at the Ice Domes, I don’t really recommend doing it unless you’re super hungry because it really takes up some of your limited time touring the Ice Hotel. 

I did because I was starving, but I ended up feeling a bit rushed on my tour, so I wish I waited until back in Tromso to have lunch!

On this day, you could eat at one of the other remaining great restaurants in Tromso. If you haven’t been to Burgr, Mathallen, or Bardus Bistro yet, I would pick one of those three. 

If you’ve exhausted those three, my next choice would be Nyt, which has a tasty reindeer burger, or Emma’s Dream Kitchen, where I had a surprisingly tasty dish of fried cod tongues (there are much more ‘normal’ items on the menu, but this was super tasty!)

Spend the late afternoon your way.

The red walls of a room in the Northern Norwegian art museum

Here you have some free time to explore whatever you’ve missed in Tromso.

Whether you want to do some shopping along Storgata, spend some time checking out a coffee shop, or visit one of the other museums you haven’t gotten a chance to see yet, there’s plenty to do in Tromso to fill up a few hours.

Have a drink at Ølhallen.

Having a drink at the old ale hall in Tromso

Ølhallen is the oldest pub in the city of Tromso, run by the Mack brewery, which used to be the northernmost brewery in the world (the honor now belongs to Svalbard Bryggeri, even further north in Svalbard).

It’s a cute and typical Norwegian pub, and it’s a fun experience to end your night here. Beer is expensive in Norway, but it’s definitely worth getting a pint or two here as it’s a true Tromso institution.

You could also grab food here for dinner if you’re hungry, but it’s nothing to write home about. I’d suggest having a meal at one of the other Tromso restaurants I’ve mentioned.

See a show at the Arctic Cathedral.

lit up cathedral in norway

The Northern Lights concert in the Arctic Cathedral is a can’t-miss addition to your Northern Norway trip.

The concert lasts about an hour and 15 minutes and includes a variety of Norwegian folk songs as well as classical music, set in the Arctic Cathedral which has amazing acoustics and a cozy ambiance enlivened by candlelight.

Note that as of now, due to the pandemic, it is not yet certain if the 2022 season will have Northern Lights concerts.

Typically, these concerts are held are every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from the end of January through to the end of March. Check the website here for more details and times.

Day 5: An Active Adventure to End Your Trip

Do a snowmobile and aurora camping tour.

snowmobile in norway

For the last day of this epic Tromso itinerary, spend it actively: on a snowmobile, exploring the Lyngen Alps by day, and then under a glass roof lavvu at night with (hopefully) glimpses of the aurora overhead!

This overnight aurora, camping, & snowmobile tour includes a transfer to the Lyngen Alps by minivan, followed by a 2-hour snowmobile safari in the Lyngen fjord and Alps. 

Afterwards, you’ll get to enjoy a delicious lunch with your small group. Then, the choice is yours!

After your lunch, you can grab a pair of snowshoes or some cross-country skis and go exploring on your own terms, or you can spend time in your crystal lavvu (a glass-roof ‘camping tent’ that is warm and cozy!). 

In the evening, you’ll get a quick photography workshop and dinner, then you can go outside of the aurora camp to try to spot the Northern lights and snap some photos of them.

View from a window of an aurora camp in Tromso

Continue as you like, or head back to your lavvu to warm up and try to spot them through the glass ceiling!

The day ends with a group breakfast before your transfer, which gets you back to Tromso by 11 AM — just in time to make an afternoon flight!

Book your overnight aurora camp and snowmobile experience here!

Continuing on from Tromso

red fishing buildings on rocky islands in norway

If you want to extend your Arctic adventure past Tromso, there’s so much more Northern Norway to explore! 

Some common places that people add to their Northern Norway itinerary include the Lofoten Islands and its cute fishing villages like Svolvaer, the Vesterålen islands, Senja, and Alta. You can visit by road trip or via the Norwegian cruise line, the Hurtigruten.

You could also explore some of southern Norway and fjord Norway, like Bergen, Oslo, and Trondheim. 

Other people continue onwards to other points in Scandinavia and Lapland (Sápmi) and the Arctic Circle, such as Finland (Rovaniemi, Levi, Helsinki, etc.) and Sweden (Abisko, Kiruna, etc.). Iceland, Svalbard, and other Nordic destinations are also possible.

The Perfect 2 Days in Grand Teton Itinerary: Road Trip Style

The Teton Range stands tall over Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Their recognizable formation is alluring to mountaineers, photographers, hikers, and road trippers alike.

We will be traveling across the park from south to north with stops at all of the best attractions! 

Grab your camera, binoculars, and hiking gear, and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget – a memorable Grand Teton National Park road trip.

view of a marina with all the boats out on the lake with lots of mountains in the distance
PLANNING FOR GRAND TETON AT A GLANCE:

When to Go: While winter in Grand Teton is beautiful, summer is when Grand Teton shines the most. It's also when it's at its most crowded, so get an early start, especially if you are following this itinerary which uses the Moose entrance (the most convenient, but also the most crowded!).

Where to Stay: There are so many places to stay in Jackson Hole area! I stayed at the Gros Ventre Campground right outside the Elk Refuge and Mormon Row and loved it. 

There are a few lodges in the park (Colter Bay Cabins, Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge) but they book up quickly, often 6 months in advance.

If the lodges are all booked up, there is usually plenty of availability in Jackson and Teton Village. I suggest Wyoming Inn (mid-range boutique), the Elk Country Inn (budget/mid-range), or the Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa (high-end luxury).

How to Get Around: A car is key for Grand Teton National Park; there is no shuttle, and without a car, you'd have to rely on tours. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations

Don't want to drive or plan? You can book a wildlife tour of Grand Teton, a Jeep tour with boat ride, or a two-day tour of both Grand Teton & Yellowstone.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Binoculars are key for spotting wildlife like bears, elk, moose, and bison-- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. For hikes, you'll want a sturdy pair of hiking boots -- I love my Ahnu boots -- and some bear spray for safety reasons.

Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site.  

How This Grand Teton Itinerary Works

The snow-covered Teton Range is reflecting in a pond or river in the afternoon sunlight, surrounded by grass and trees.

This is a self-guided itinerary that assumes you’ll have access to your own car throughout the duration of your time in Grand Teton. 

Road tripping Grand Teton is definitely the best way to experience the park at your own pace and maximize your time.

If you don’t have a car, there is a free shuttle available. It connects Jackson, the Jackson Lake Lodge, Colter Bay Village, and the South Jenny Lake Visitor Center. 

However, besides these stops, there is no shuttle service within the park. As a result, it’d be pretty hard to follow this itinerary, which is designed to be a Grand Teton road trip itinerary.

This itinerary for Grand Teton is best suited for people who want to see the best of Grand Teton National Park’s main highlights, while also having time to hike and experience the beautiful wilderness of the region.

 It affords opportunities for appreciating the area’s wildlife while also seeing the natural wonders and highlights of the park.

However, since this itinerary just allows for 2 days in Grand Teton National Park, it’s not going to be possible to see everything.

We’ve had to make a few omissions in order to have an itinerary that is reasonable, not stressful!

This Grand Teton itinerary will work best if you are staying in the park itself or in the nearby town of Jackson, WY or Teton Village, WY. 

These destinations together (along with Hoback, Kelly, Moose, Moran Junction, and Wilson) make up the region of Jackson Hole, but Jackson and Teton Village have the most accommodation options.

Renting a Car for Grand Teton

An empty road leading towards the distinctive peaks of the Teton Range near Grand Teton National Park on a cloudless summer day.

If you are driving to Wyoming in your own personal vehicle, you can disregard this section!

If you are flying into Grand Teton, you’ll want to pick the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC). 

This offers the easiest access to the park by a long shot. If you are also visiting Yellowstone first, you may want to look into flying into West Yellowstone or Bozeman-Yellowstone Airport.

In the peak season (summer), there are 15 destinations that service Jackson Hole directly, including but not limited to Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas-Fort Worth, and more. 

American, Delta, United, Alaska, and Frontier all service the airport, though Alaska and Frontier are only seasonal.

Therefore, I suggest renting a car from the Jackson Hole Airport.

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 RentalCars.com as the best car rental search aggregator – it sifts through dozens of trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for your car rental here.

How to Do 2 Days in Grand Teton Without a Car

The pale turquoise water of Jenny Lake, surrounded by evergreen trees and steep mountain peaks in the Tetons, on a sunny day visiting Grand Teton National Park in summer.

Honestly — it would be very tough! 

While there is a shuttle between Jackson and 3 key park stops, it’s not nearly enough to be able to handle this Grand Teton itinerary.

If you were to try to tackle this without a car, you’d end up fairly limited. 

You could spend one day at Jenny Lake and hiking to Inspiration Point and the next day visiting Colter Bay Village and the area around Jackson Lake, including Christian Pond Loop.

However, you’d miss all the wonderful scenic overlooks in between, as well as the National Elk Refuge which is a true highlight of the park (well, technically just outside the park).

If you can’t drive but you want to maximize what you can see inside Grand Teton in 2 days, the best option would be to go with a guided tour. 

I’d recommend this full-day tour which includes stops at Antelope Flats, Mormon Row, Oxbow Bend, Pacific Creek, Jackson Lake, Signal Lake, and Jenny Lake, as well as a light breakfast and hearty picnic lunch.

Book your full-day tour of Grand Teton here!

The following day, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the landscapes around Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.

You could enjoy all the fun things to do in the town of Jackson, enjoy a scenic flight over the Grand Tetons or even a sunrise hot air balloon ride, or take a day trip to Yellowstone’s Lower Loop to see all the highlights of Yellowstone National Park in a single day!

Best Time of Year to Visit Grand Teton National Park

Mt. Moran at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, reflected in the river which is surrounded by orange foliage in the autumn.

The peak hiking season in Grand Teton is quite short, mostly consisting of late spring, summer, and early fall. 

If you are going to Grand Teton and hoping to hike without significant snow on the ground, you’re best off if you wait until at least late June, and better yet going in July or August. However, note that crowds at that time will be at their peak then!

September is a delightful month to visit Grand Teton National Park: the crowds are far fewer, due to school resuming and families disappearing from the park, and the temperatures are still warm in the day but there’s little risk of snow disrupting your plans.

The fall foliage is brilliant in September, generally from the middle of the month towards the end, and October usually has beautiful leaves as well, though the weather becomes colder and more unpredictable towards the end of the. month. 

However, the fall foliage season does shift year to year, so this is not a guarantee, but end of September / beginning of October is generally the “safest” window for beautiful fall foliage.

However, winter in Grand Teton is not a no-go! The park is absolutely beautiful in the wintertime, with lots of great winter activities and landscapes to enjoy. You simply have to be prepared and know what to expect in terms of closures and access. 

I have a guide to 30 things to know about visiting Grand Teton in winter that will help you plan a trip in the winter season.

Plus, unlike Yellowstone in winter which almost entirely shuts down to passenger vehicles and requiring the pricy booking of snow coaches and snowmobiles, much of Grand Teton National Park is still able to be visited in the winter independently, making it a great choice for the winter season.

Spring in Grand Teton is beautiful, with alpine wildflowers replacing the snow as its melts. 

However, you can expect snow on the hiking trails until at least the end of May, making hiking more treacherous unless you are experienced and equipped for hiking in the snow.

What to Pack for Grand Teton National Park

A female hiker looking at a valley in Grand Teton National Park, well-prepared with a backpack, hiking poles, and a sunhat on her back.

I have a full road trip packing list here, but here’s the quick rundown.

Travel Guides: I have included so much information in this Grand Teton Itinerary that I believe will be helpful in your trip planning process but sometimes guide books provide more than I can fit in one piece! Combine my personal experiences with this Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton guide and you’ll be set for an adventure of a lifetime.

Layered Clothing: Even if you are visiting Grand Teton in the summer, due to the high elevation, it can get chilly at night so plan accordingly!

For summer or early fall, you’ll want at least 2 shirts (synthetic or wool, long and/or short sleeve depending on the season), 2 pairs of leggings or pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 fleece outer layer, a waterproof jacket, a beanie, gloves, and 3 pairs of socks.

For winter, you’ll skip the short sleeves and shorts and add in thermal layers, a parka, a scarf, waterproof pants, waterproof gloves, and snow boots.

Comfortable Footwear: Visiting the Grand Tetons is all about hiking! A sturdy pair of hiking boots with strong ankle support is really worth the investment. I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest the KEEN Durand boot.)

However, if you pick sneakers, make sure they have good traction and are comfortable enough for several 2-4 mile hikes over the course of this Grand Teton itinerary. Be sure your choice of footwear is waterproof if visiting any time there might be snow on the ground.

Sunscreen: At 6,500+ feet elevation for much of the park (such as Jenny Lake, Taggart Lake, etc. — you’ll go higher on any mountain hikes!), it’s easy to get sunburned, even if the weather seems cloudy. Trust me — I’ve learned this the hard way. Wear sunscreen every day, and ensure that you reapply it every few hours. I suggest this chemical-free organic sunscreen –especially if you plan on swimming, you don’t want to be polluting the pristine lakes with chemical-filled sunscreen!

Sunhat: I recommend a lightweight but packable hat that has a strap, so that you can ensure it won’t get blown off, never to be seen again, by a gust of wind. It’s also handy because you can just wear it on your back when you don’t feel like having it on your head (or for Instagram pics — no judgment).

Day pack: A lovely lightweight day pack is essential to have when in Grand Teton so you can easily put everything you need for a day out hiking in a place that is both easily accessible yet unobtrusive for active days out. I like this inexpensive and lightweight Osprey day pack, which has mesh panels on the back to allow for airflow (goodbye, sweaty backs!).

Snacks: None of these Grand Teton hikes are that strenuous, but I strongly recommend you always have some snacks on you when you hike, just in case you get hungry. You also may not want to waste time on your Grand Teton itinerary waiting for a sit-down lunch or heading to Moose or Jackson for a meal.

I suggest you make or pick up a picnic lunch on your way into the park, or have plenty of snacks for the day. I suggest things like protein bars (I love CLIF bars), nuts, or other high-density snacks that give you a lot of caloric energy for their weight!

Camera: I absolutely love my Sony A6000! It’s a mirrorless camera, not a D-SLR, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh your daypack down like a larger camera will. That’s just the body: I also suggest bringing a zoom lens for wildlife and a wide-angle lens for landscapes, as the kit lens is OK, but nothing to write home about.

First aid kit: Don’t let a little thing like blisters ruin your Grand Teton trip! I recommend always keeping a first aid kit like this HART Weekend First Aid kit in your daypack. It’s lightweight and unobtrusive, but if you ever need it, you’ll be glad to have it.

Headlamp (and extra batteries): If you want to do any sunrise or sunset hiking, I recommend bringing a headlamp like this Petzl headlamp.

Water filter bottle: While there are water fountains around Grand Teton, I still suggest having a water bottle with a filter so you can fill up anywhere there’s a water source — like all the beautiful alpine lakes around you!

There are a wide variety of water filtration systems, but I personally have and love the GRAYL Geopress, which allows you to filter water from any source. It’s perfect for filling up on a hike if you see water anywhere on the trail. It’s compact and easy to use and filters out 99.99% of microplastics, viruses, bacteria, and other nasty particles, making water instantly safe to drink without plastic waste.

Where to Stay in Grand Teton

A two-story cabin overlooking a lake in Grand Teton National Park, surrounded by mountains and trees, with a few boats out on the lake on a sunny day.

There are lots of options for where to stay when visiting Grand Teton on a road trip! If you’re visiting in the summer, you can stay in the park… but you’ll need to book way in advance!

For where to stay in the park itself, I recommend Jenny Lake Lodge. It has a beautiful location and they have cute rustic cottages, each with its own entrance, as well as an on-site bar and restaurant serving delicious meals, including a 5-course dinner every night.
>> Book your stay at Jenny Lake Lodge on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

However, for most people, unless you plan extremely far ahead in advance, lodging within the park isn’t that feasible. If you find yourself booked out of park lodging, I suggest staying in Jackson, WY or Teton Village, WY.

It’s just a short drive and there’s so much to do in Jackson any time of year (especially in winter!) that it’s worth the extra drive time… especially since the road between Jackson and the Moose entrance of the park is one of the prettiest in the United States!

Jackson Hole Accommodations

BOUTIQUE | If you love a hotel with design that’s packed with a punch of personality, I’d stay at the Wyoming Inn. This charming hotel is super cozy and rustic, with Western-inspired decoration on the interior: we’re taking roaring fireplaces, woodsy colors with lots of natural light, rustic touches and design elements, and large, renovated rooms.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | While Jackson isn’t the biggest budget destination, if you’re trying to save a few bucks on accommodations without sacrificing comfort, I’d suggest The Elk Country Inn. It’s very highly reviewed and offers modern, clean rooms with plenty of space, just 4 blocks from the Town Square in Jackson.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

LUXURY |  While not technically in Jackson but rather in Teton Village, the beautiful  Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa is an absolute stunner. The rooms each have their own fireplace, kitchen, and seating area, and the property has both indoor and outdoor heated pools and hot tubs, as well as a world-class massage and spa center perfect for some well-deserved R&R.
>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

CABIN | The incredible views you get on the Grand Teton are why you should sleep at this beautiful cabin.

With large windows and a rustic but modern interior, you’re guaranteed an amazing stay at this place while taking in beautiful mountains views from every room. The cabin has a large kitchen, sitting area, a dining area, and a number of bedrooms to accommodate even big groups. The best part is that it’s near Teton River and Big Hole Mountains so you’ll never run out of outdoor activities to do.
>> Check photos and reviews on Vrbo

Your Grand Teton Itinerary

Day 1 of Your Grand Teton Road Trip

This Grand Teton National Park road trip departs from Jackson, Wyoming.

A popular ski town in the winter, Jackson becomes the ultimate gateway town to the Tetons for summer road trips and recreation.

National Elk Refuge

Focus on two elk interlocking horns, several other elk in the background with a tiny bit of snow on the ground on a summery day.

As you make your way north toward the Moose Entrance, the National Elk Refuge hugs the road to the right.

This area is home to one of the largest elk herds ever recorded! There is no fee to enter the refuge if you’re interested in getting a closer look.

Stop and take some photos of these gorgeous elks and start to get pumped for the wildlife and scenery that await you once you enter the park proper!

Mormon Row Historic District

The historic barn or homestead along Mormon Row with the Teton Range in the background

One of the first stops in the national park itself is the Mormon Row historic district located in the Gros Ventre section of the park. 

This is likely one of the photos you’ve seen in all the travel guides (including this one!) to promote Grand Teton. 

The view of the historic barns and homesteads from the 1800s, built by Mormon settlers, juxtaposed against the Teton Range are simply unforgettable.

Stop here to walk around and take some photos, but let’s keep it moving: you have a full day itinerary ahead of you!

Moose Junction

View of Moose Junction and the river snaking below it with a sunburst coming out of the trees as the sun sets behind the Teton range.

Welcome to the park! When you arrive at the Moose Junction, clearly marked, turn left onto Teton Park Road.

Soon after turning, you’ll cross over the Snake River, the largest tributary to the Colombia River.

The Moose Visitor Center is located down a road on the left and is a great place to ask questions about the park.

Windy Point Turnout

A grassy, brushy landscape with mountains in the distance and spotty clouds.

As you’ve probably noticed, there are no bad views in Grand Teton National Park!

If you’re eager to get some early morning photos of the mountains, use the Windy Point Turnout soon after the Moose Entrance Station.

From here, you’ll be able to see Grand Teton, Mount Owen, Middle Teton, and Teewinot Mountain in the distance.

Taggart Lake

Very clear lake water, showing rocks and logs at the shallow end of the lake, deepening in color as the water goes out deeper, and mountain peaks behind it.

Time to get the blood flowing with a 3-mile short hike to Taggart Lake. Fair warning, the Taggart Lake Trailhead parking area fills up early in the day. Arriving in the morning will be worth it!

From the Taggart Lake Trailhead, head down the trail until you come to the loop junction. Take a right at the junction to stay on the Taggart Lake Trail. 

A little farther down the trail, you’ll cross a bridge over Taggart Creek. Check out that waterfall!

Not much farther now, Taggart Lake sits at the base of the Teton Range with the mighty peaks standing proudly in the background.

After completing your photo op and taking in some mountain air, continue back the way you came… or add an extra mile to your round-trip by taking Beaver Creek Trail back to the Taggart Creek Trailhead. Both paths lead back to your vehicle and onto the next adventure!

Jenny Lake

Deep blue water reflecting two large mountains, and two pines in front of the lake.

There is so much to do at Jenny Lake! 

If the views weren’t enough for you, there’s also a visitor center, boat shuttles, camping, concessions, and amazing trail access.

All aboard! Park near the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and take the short trail towards the docks to catch the boat. 

The boat shuttle runs every 15 minutes and there is a small fee for riding. Worth every penny! 

Enjoy the ride until you hop off the boat ride on the west side of the lake at the base of the magnificent peaks.

The fun is just getting started. Any waterfall lovers here? From the dock, Hidden Falls is only a 2-mile round trip hike. This easy-to-access falls drops 100 feet!

Close up of a section of a waterfall cascading down rocks with some green trees in the foreground.

If you’re looking to add in some more hiking miles and really want to earn that ice cream waiting for you at the Jenny Lake Store, forgo the return boat shuttle.

Instead, take the loop trail 4 miles along the southern half of the lake for prime wildlife and mountain viewing opportunities! 

If you want to spend more time at Jenny Lake, there’s also the Cascade Canyon area near the West Shore Boat Dock area, which is really beautiful and scenic. 

hike to Inspiration Point is also fairly easy from the West Shore Boat Dock, taking about 1.8 miles roundtrip and gaining about 500 feet.

Back at the parking area, it’s time to refuel and relax by the rocky shore before hitting the road!

String Lake

Perfectly still water acting like a mirror to reflect the evergreen trees and green-covered low mountains at String Lake, a must on a summer Grand Teton itinerary.

Take the One Way South scenic road and don’t forget to stop at the Cathedral Group Turnout for more breathtaking mountain views. 

Not much farther down the road, you’ll want to make a right to head to the String Lake Picnic Area.

Hot summer days and String Lake were meant for each other! 

The picnic area at the crystal clear lake has an inviting sandy beach with plenty of room to set out chairs and towels for an afternoon swim.

If your legs aren’t cooked from the day’s hikes, there is an easy 4-mile loop trail that rounds the lake and offers additional views of the neighboring Leigh Lake. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as you make your way around the loop.

Day one ends back at the beaches of String Lake. 

Insider Tip: Watch the sunset over the Teton Range from the Jenny Lake Overlook off of the One Way South scenic road, take a peek at the uninterrupted starry night sky and rest up for another exciting day. 

Day 2 of Your Grand Teton Road Trip

Good morning road trippers! Ready to start this adventure-filled day?

The northern half of Grand Teton National Park awaits! Make your coffee to go because this mountain sunrise is going to be epic.

Mountain View Turnout

Alpenglow (the reddish glow at sunrise on mountain peaks) illuminating a peak of the Teton Range with a pastel lavender sky.

Just past the turn to head toward Sting Lake on the Teton Park Road, you’ll find the Mountain View Turnout on the left.

Appropriately named, this viewpoint is a great spot to set up a tripod. Bring some camp chairs, blankets, and that hot coffee we talked about to watch the sunrise over the Teton Range.

Signal Mountain Road

Trees in front of a lake in the distance with a large mountain with a little bit of snow on it far away, on a clear sky day in summer in Grand Teton National Park.

Soon after leaving the Mountain View Turnout, Jackson Lake begins to come into sight.

Sitting at 6,772 feet above sea level,  this massive lake has a surface area of 4,750 acres! 

Take the scenic drive up Signal Mountain Road to get a look at the lake from above via the Jackson Point Overlook. 

Take this road slowly. There’s no rush. The switchbacks become very tight at the top and require conservative speeds to travel safely.

Up for a longer hike? You can get to the Jackson Point Overlook on Signal Mountain on foot. The moderate 7-mile round trip hike is well worth the early morning incline. 

For the sake of time, it may be worthwhile to opt for the scenic drive up to the viewpoint today, but if you’re a quick hiker, you may want to make the hike!

Jackson Lake Dam

A very large cement dam showing rushing water in a long exposure photo rushing underneath the dam, turquoise water coming from the dam, and pine trees on the sides of the dam.

Just after passing over the Jackson Lake Dam, there is a road on the right leading down to a parking area next to the river.

Walk up the steps toward the sidewalk and make your way across the dam for awesome views of the Tetons over Jackson Lake. 

Across the road, there are some paved interpretive trails along the lake that are fun and easy to explore.

The parking lot next to the Snake River at the dam’s outflow is a popular spot to stop and cast a fly!

Christian Pond Loop

Yellowing grass surrounding the pond at Christian Pond with brilliant blue water and rolling hills in the background on a blue sky summer or fall day.

Wildflowers and wildlife wait for you along the Christian Pond Loop Trail! 

This easy 3.5-mile hike departs from the trailhead parking next to the horse corrals at the Jackson Lake Lodge. 

As you approach the pond, be on the lookout for moose and elk grazing as well as trumpeter swans gliding through the shallow water.

The trail leads to the shores of Emma Matilda Lake before looping back toward the trailhead. Take a little detour and hike along the lake’s edge. Another great spot for wildlife viewing! 

When you’ve taken it in all in, head back to the Christian Pond Loop and back to the parking area.

Colter Bay Village

A mountain perfectly reflecting in the still water at Colter Bay, with lots of boats sitting still in the water, anchored.

It’s easy to spend a full day in the Colter Bay Village area, so we have narrowed it down to the best activities!

From the Colter Bay Visitor Center, take a leisurely hike along the Lakeshore Trail. 

This 2-mile nature trail offers amazing views of Mount Moran behind Jackson Lake. The trail will bring you along the lake’s astonishing shore. Don’t forget the camera!

After your short hike, make your way over to the nearby Colter Bay Marina just in time for the Jackson Lake Scenic Lunch Cruise! 

The boat will take you to the shore of Elk Island in the middle of the lake, where you can explore and enjoy a picnic-style lunch. There’s nothing like the panoramic views from this scenic cruise.

Want to guide your own watercraft around the lake? You can also rent canoes and kayaks at the marina and explore the lake shores on your own time! 

Paddling away from the high-use areas around Colter Bay provides great opportunities to catch a glimpse of wildlife along the water.

Lakeview Picnic Area

Boats on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton in summer

Take in one last good view of Jackson Lake at the Lakeview Picnic area on the northern part of the lake. From the picnic area, there is easy access to the lake’s shore for photos.

Those who are feeling extra brave can jump in for an icy swim!

Your exciting two-day Grand Teton itinerary ends on the shore of Jackson Lake.

From here, continue north toward Yellowstone National Park, where we leave you to discover your next adventure!

Have More Time in Grand Teton?

While this itinerary will completely fill 2 days in Grand Teton, if you are tempted to add extra time — and you should be! — there is a number of ways you could spend more time in the park.

If you want to get more hiking in, consider a hike to Surprise Lake and Amphitheater Lake. This is a hard hike, numbering 10 miles roundtrip and 3,000 feet of elevation gain. 

It is spectacular, though, so if you have the prowess for a hike of this difficulty, consider it! If not, I have a post on several other day hikes in Grand Teton that are a little easier.

Tired of hiking but want some outdoor adventure? You could go rafting on the Snake River with one of the many rafting outfitters that operate within the park. 

This 7-mile float down the river is a low-intensity rafting trip with a guide that would make an awesome addition to your Grand Teton itinerary.

Book your rafting excursion here!


Don’t forget travel insurance!
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Your Perfect Arches Itinerary: 2 Days in Arches National Park

The perfect desert adventure is waiting for you in Moab, Utah, at Arches National Park!

This outdoor playground is home to the highest density of natural sandstone arches in the world: we’re talking over 2,000 documented to date!

Full of breathtaking red rock features and scenic hiking trails, Arches National Park is sure to impress every US national park enthusiast. 

But there’s a lot to see here, spread across 50+ miles of roads, and it can get overwhelming to plan the perfect route to hit all of the bucket list musts in Arches National Park.

Don’t sweat (save that for when you hit the trails!) — we’ve broken down the top things to do in Arches National Park, day by day, into this easy two-day Arches itinerary!

Travel Tips for Arches National Park

Allison exploring Arches National Park on a sunny day

Go early. This is one of the most popular national parks in the Southwest, so don’t expect solitude. Usually, there is a line to enter the park starting as early as 9 AM. 

Try to get an early start on both days, since you only have two days in Arches. Aim for at least one day where you wake up early enough for a sunrise hike!

Be sure to have a car. Arches National Park does not have a bus or shuttle system, so you’ll need a car to access the trailheads and viewpoints in this itinerary. If you’re not driving to Arches from your home state, you’ll likely want to fly into Salt Lake City and rent a car there — flights to Canyonlands Regional Airport are expensive and rentals are limited there.

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 rental from Salt Lake City here.

If you don’t have a car, plan tours. It is possible to do Arches National Park without a car, but you’ll want to book some tours of the National Park and some Moab activities in order to fill up your itinerary.

Slather on the sunscreen. Arches National Park is hot, hot, hot in the summer! Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 10 minutes before a hike, and reapply every two hours or so (or more if you’re sweating a lot). 

Don’t forget exposed skin on the back of your body, like the back of your next, behind the knees, lower calves, etc! This is where I typically end up burned when I’m not diligent.

Bring a lot of water. As mentioned in the previous point, Arches gets quite hot in the summer season and it can be quite easy to get dehydrated. 

In every road trip packing list, I make sure to impress upon how important it is to have a large supply of water in your car just in case of an emergency. 

Define your accessibility needs. Not all of the park is accessible to people with mobility limitations. The following places are wheelchair accessible: Park Avenue Viewpoint, Balanced Rock Viewpoint, Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and Wolfe Ranch Cabin. 

There is an accessible campsite at Devils Garden (#4H) and the Visitors Center and the restrooms are accessible all throughout the park.

It’s best not to bring your pet. Arches National Park is not a particularly dog-friendly national park. Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails or at overlooks, nor in the backcountry, which basically eliminates all of this itinerary! 

Dogs are only permitted at the Devils Garden campsite, picnic areas, and along paved roads. If traveling with a pet, check out these other dog-friendly hikes in Moab.

Where to Stay when Visiting Arches National Park

Glamping tent lit up from within with starry sky behind it

We give some details on campsites below in the itinerary, but if you’re not planning to camp — or the campsites in Arches are all full — here is where we suggest you stay in Moab!

GLAMPING | Not into full-on roughing it and camping? Glamping is the perfect middle ground where you can experience comfort and ease while also being in nature. 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!

BUNGALOWS | The charming Moab Springs Ranch has private bungalows that are the perfect place to stay in Moab if you want more privacy than the typical hotel. Each bungalow has its own little terrace, and each room has A/C, TV, a kitchenette and dining area, and a private bathroom. The property also has a restaurant, garden, and BBQ facilities on-site.

Book your stay at Moab Springs Ranch here!

INN | For a rustic stay that nonetheless has all the amenities you need, Red Stone Inn is a fantastic choice. Rooms all come with a kitchenette, AC, TV, and en-suite bathroom. In terms of shared amenities, there is a hot tub and free WiFi throughout the property.

Book your stay at Red Stone Inn here!

5 Things Not to Forget to Pack for Arches

man standing below delicate arch in utah wearing hiking boots

Sunscreen. I’m weaning myself off of chemical-based sunscreens, especially if I’m doing any water activities like rafting or swimming. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E as it’s all-natural and moisturizing without feeling icky and sticky.

Hydration backpack. You’ll want to rehydrate a lot while hiking in Arches, especially if visiting in the summertime! I recommend bringing a hydration pack like this Camelbak which you can wear on your back and sip water from, totally hands-free. It has a zipper pocket so you can throw in other essentials — car keys, cell phone, granola bars, etc. and use it in place of a day pack.

Hiking boots. This Arches itinerary includes a number of hiking trails that are rather rocky and uneven, and having ankle support is really key in these instances if you don’t want to roll an ankle and ruin your trip. 

I love my pair of Ahnu hiking boots (for women) and for men, I suggest these similar Keen boots. Whatever boots you pick, be sure to break them in with a hike or two before heading to Arches.

Hiking socks. Don’t forget to pack hiking socks! Regular old cotton socks in hiking boots can lead to massive amounts of blisters — I’ve learned this lesson firsthand, unfortunately! Moisture-wicking hiking socks are cheap but can save your vacation. These DriTech socks are a great and inexpensive option, or you may want to invest in some merino wool quick-drying socks.

Headlamp. Because this Arches itinerary includes some sunset hikes and sunrise hikes, you’ll need a headlamp like this one. Trust me, as someone who hiked back from a sunset hike at Corona Arch in the dark without a headlamp, you’ll absolutely want one! A smartphone flashlight won’t cut it.

Day One of Your Arches National Park Itinerary

Start the day at the Arches National Park Visitor Center.

the rugged landscape of arches national park, starting at the visitor center

Time to get ready for a full day exploring the beautiful red rock landscapes of Arches. 

However, the rugged landscape that makes up the 119 square mile park is more fragile than you may think!

Luckily, the Arches National Park Visitor Center near the entrance station is well-equipped to provide information about park stewardship. 

They also offer important insider details on how to access and appreciate the park’s many famous attractions.

Also, they’ll let you know of any important closures. For example, on my last visit, unfortunately, the Devil’s Garden was temporarily closed.

The visitor center is also a great place to top off all your water bottles! Although there are fill stations sprinkled throughout the park, it’s important to carry plenty of water at all times.

Summertime temperatures often exceed 100ºF/38°C, so proper hydration while tackling this Arches itinerary is extra important — especially if you’re hiking a lot!

Begin your exploration at the Moab Fault Overlook.

view from the moab fault overlook viewpoint over the red rock landscape of this beautiful utah national park.

As you continue into the park from the visitor center, you will begin to gain elevation.

Look around at the sandstone features as you make the switchbacks above the park entrance.

To the left, you will see three pinnacles called the Three Penguins. Can you make out the penguin shapes?

The turnout for the Moab Fault Overlook will be one of the first viewpoints in the park on the right side of the road. 

Check out the impressive fault and read through the helpful interpretive signs to understand the tectonic plates and how they have impacted the beautiful Utah landscape.

Hike the scenic Park Avenue Trail.

red rock formations seen from a hike on this arches national park itinerary.

From the Moab Fault Overlook, continue on the main road to the Park Avenue Trail and Viewpoint

The views are epic right from the parking lot — this stop makes a great backdrop for a group photo, even if you’re not planning to do a hike!

Park visitors that are unable to hike long distances can enjoy an amazing lookout here. The first section of the hiking trail is paved to be wheelchair and stroller accessible.

For those who wish to continue past the paved section, the trail leads toward the astonishing Courthouse Towers in the distance. 

The 2-mile out-and-back trail takes hikers to the canyon floor for a close-up of the various towers and fins!

The trail connects with the main road at the 1-mile turnaround point, so it’s possible to arrange for a private shuttle.

If you want to arrange a shuttle, be sure to do it in advance, especially if you don’t want to hike back to the Park Avenue Trailhead or if you are trying to save time on this Arches itinerary to maximize your trip!

Gaze at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.

the famous 'three sisters' rock formation seen from the la sal mountains viewpoint in arches national park

After a nice walk through the sandstone monoliths, head back to the main road and stop at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.

There’s not much of a trail here, but it’s a nice place for scenic views with some interpretive posters to read through. 

You’ll also be able to spot the Three Sisters rock formation here, one of the most beautiful landmarks in Arches National Park!

The La Sal Mountains that you can see in the distance are about 20 miles south of Moab and are the second-highest mountain range in Utah.

They offer great recreation opportunities for locals and visitors with skiing in the wintertime! But in summer, boy, do they make one beautiful backdrop.

Visit Arches’ very own ‘Great Wall’.

large red sandstone 'wall' next to a road with a car on it driving in arches national park on a sunny partly cloudy day.

This feature isn’t quite the same as the great wall you may be thinking of on the other side of the globe. It is, however, really beautiful and impressive!

The Great Wall in Arches National Park is a towering row of naturally formed sandstone cliffs and towers.

Take in a drive-by view of this phenomenal feature or stop at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint.

From the designated viewpoint, you can see the Great Wall in the distance and the petrified dunes with the La Sal Mountains in the background. It’s picture-perfect!

Hike to the viewpoint at Balanced Rock Trail.

hoodoo holding up a rock that looks like its balancing. mountains capped with snow in the distance at sunset.

This next tower is going to blow your mind! If you’re looking closely, you can even spot it as you drive to the trailhead…

Continue past the Great Wall on the main road until you see the well-marked parking area for the Balanced Rock Trail on the right.

Near the trailhead, there are bathrooms and a nice picnic area. Take some time to regroup, hydrate, and refuel with a well-deserved picnic lunch before you head out on a hike to Balanced Rock.

Feeling rejuvenated? Good!

Now, it’s time to get a closer view. The short and easy 0.3-mile scenic loop will take you around the base of the iconic feature.

This rock formation, known as a hoodoo (the likes of which you’ll see all over Utah, in particular, Bryce Canyon National Park) appears to be balancing a bolder that is 55 feet in diameter.

The total height of the structure is 128 feet!

Explore the Windows Section of Arches National Park.

a giant rock with an arch showing blue sky behind it in arches national park

Not far past the Balanced Rock Parking Area is a side road marked with signs leading to The Garden of Eden, Double Arch Trail, and The Windows Section.

The first hike takes off at the very end of the side road. Park in The Windows Section Parking Area and look for signs that lead to The Windows Trail. 

The Windows Trail is an easy 0.65-mile loop that takes hikers to the North Window and South Window (nicknamed ‘the Spectacles’ for its unique shape)

The hike finishes off with an up-close view of Turret Arch. You can take epic photos of Turret Arch through the North Window for a beautifully composed shot.

As another option, hikers can take Windows Primitive Loop Trail for an alternate view of the North and South Windows. 

Truth be told, all the trails are all scenic in this section of Arches National Park!

Hike the Double Arch Trail.

low angle shot looking up to the double arch off the trail in moab.

The second trail that you must hike on this side road is the Double Arch Trail.

The Double Arch Trailhead Parking area is just a short drive from the Windows Section, so it’s great to pair these two Arches activities back-to-back. 

Set aside ample time to explore this next arch and don’t forget your camera!

This easy 0.25-mile hike begins in a cool desert forest of juniper trees. Continue on the trail until you come to the unmistakable Double Arch! There’s nothing quite like it.

Set up camp at Devils Garden Campground, if camping.

the campsite at arches national park, devils garden, surrounded by trees and red rocks.

A fun-filled day in Arches National Park is best rewarded with an overnight at Devils Garden Campground. It’s also the only campground in Arches proper.

As the only campground in Arches, you’ll want to book it well in advance online at recreation.gov

Bookings open six months in advance ($20 site fee), and so you’ll want to book as far in advance as time allows if you are trying to camp within the park. 

There are only 50 sites in all of Arches National Park for camping, and it is full pretty much every day between March 1 and October 31, when it is by reservations only.

If Devils Garden is all booked up, you may want to check out the Slickrock campground outside of the park.

Not trying to camp? Refer back to the top of the post where we suggest places to stay in Moab, and skip forward to the sunset hike in the next section. After that hike, you’ll return to your hotel.

Located right inside the park, this campground makes a perfect starting point for your next day’s adventures. The sites in this campground are all well laid out providing some shade and red rock views.

It’s also a great place for stargazing in Arches!

Take in the sunset at Skyline Arch.

skyline arch seen with brilliant colors and red rocks.

Did you think you were done for the day? No way! Arches National Park is famous for its glowing golden hour!

Right from the campground, take the short and easy walk over to the Skyline Arch. The round trip walk will be less than 0.5 miles from the trailhead.

If you have extra time, you could also tack on the short 0.3-mile hike to Sand Dune Arch, located just a short walk from the Skyline Arch. 

However, if you have to pick one, Skyline is better at sunset.

If you brought your headlamp along, stick around for the star show. The uninterrupted night sky is sure to reveal some stellar views of the Milky Way.

That’s officially all for day one. Now, it’s time to rest up for an early start!

Day 2 of your Arches Itinerary

Catch sunrise on the Broken Arch Trail.

view of an arch that looks partly broken, with a small crack in the rock, seen at sunrise.

Rise and shine!

Grab your headlamp, camp stove, instant coffee, and a breakfast bar for the trail, because this is a sunrise you will not want to miss. Mornings are hard, I know, but this will be 100% worth it.

Right from the campground (or driving in from your hotel), hop on the Broken Arch Trail

The arch is located less than a mile from the trailhead, and it offers a perfect spot to sit and brew some morning coffee as you watch the sun come up over Arches National Park. 

This is one of those great short hikes with an epic reward, especially if you time it for sunrise.

From Broken Arch, you can complete the loop to pass by Sandstone Arch on your way back to the campground or go back the way you came. The distances are about the same.

Trek through Devils Garden on one of Arches’ best hikes.

two hikers walking down a trail in the devils garden section of arches national park.

Take your time breaking down your campsite as you prepare for another day of adventure in this desert playground! 

Don’t forget to top off on water here, as refill spots can be few and far between in Arches National Park.

No trip to Arches is complete without a hike on the Devils Garden Trail. Within only 2 miles of hiking, you will pass by a dozen natural sandstone arches, including Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch is the longest sandstone arch in the national park, stretching nearly 300 feet across. 

It looks impossibly thin at points — its thinnest section is only 6 feet across — which is wild when you consider its size!

This is a good hike to do earlier in the day before temperatures become too hot (hence the name Devil’s Garden!).

With detours to grab a closer look at some of the arches, the total distance on this hike becomes about 5 miles — so it’s not for the faint of heart. 

Be prepared to tackle this hike and bring lots of water, preferably in a Camelbak for easy access.

To amp up the difficulty, you can tack on the Double O Arch, also accessible off the Devils Garden Trail. 

However, this is on the hard side of moderate difficulty, so be sure to be prepared with proper footwear and water. 

Note that this is not for the faint of heart as there is quite a bit of drop in some sections of the hike, as well as some sections where you need to scramble and do some wayfinding.

Whatever hiking adventure you choose, return to the parking area to find some shade and a cool drink of water!

Take a scenic drive to the beautiful Fiery Furnace Viewpoint.

lots of beautiful red rocks at the fiery furnace viewpoint in arches

On the main road headed toward the park entrance, there is a parking area for the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. 

From here, you can get an epic view into the thick fins, hoodoos, and arches of this area.

To hike in Fiery Furnace, you must obtain a permit from the visitor center or join in on a ranger-led hike (I recommend this latter option). 

You can book a ranger-led hike on recreation.gov: note that you need to book at least 4 days in advance, and it’s suggested to book several weeks ahead if possible as these are all small groups of no more than 25 people.

Note that since there are no maintained trails through Fiery Furnace, it’s easy to become disoriented and lost — another reason a ranger-led hike is a fabulous idea.

Visit Delicate Arch for sunset.

sunset at the scenic and iconic delicate arch with sunset colors and mountains in the distance.

We saved the most iconic arch in Arches National Park for last! You will probably recognize Delicate Arch from the many social media snaps of it, and even from Utah’s license plate!

To reach the trailhead, continue on the main road toward the park entrance until you reach the turn for Wolfe Ranch / Delicate Arch Viewpoint Road on the left. 

Continue down the side road and park at the Wolfe Ranch Parking Area — this is where you’ll start your hike to Delicate Arch.

The hike to Delicate Arch is a little challenging and requires hikers to follow the cairns marking the trail to avoid getting lost. 

However, there are usually a fair number of hikers here, so it’s hard to get too lost.

Take your time and be observant. At 3 miles round trip, this hike is well worth the close-up view of the arch!

Say goodbye – for now – to Arches at the pristine Panorama Point.

one last look at arches national park before finishing up this itinerary

Take one last good look at Arches National Park from Panorama Point.

This is the perfect place to reminisce and plan your next Utah adventure — trust me, there will be another one!

Take one last good look at Arches National Park from Panorama Point.

This is the perfect place to reminisce and plan your next Utah adventure — trust me, there will be another one!

Have More Time in Arches National Park?

the red rocks of tower arch in a more remote park of arches national park, seen shortly after sunrise in the morning light

This is already a fairly ambitious Arches National Park itinerary, but if you’re a fast hiker who doesn’t spend a lot of time soaking up views or photographing, you may want to tack on a few additional hikes in the park where it makes sense.

You may also want to keep these in your back pocket in case the crowds of Arches start to get to you: these are lesser-visited and a bit off the tourist path, though they are by no means a secret.

Here are a few additional arches in the park worth the hike!

Tower Arch: A moderate 2.7-mile roundtrip hike in a more secluded section of the park — this is great if you’re tiring of the crowds on the more on-the-beaten-path part of Arches and want to make a detour to shake off the crowds.

Pine Tree Arch & Tunnel Arch: These can easily be added onto a hike to Landscape Arch while hiking the Devils Garden section of the park. These are less-visited than some of the other arches in the section, but the Devils Garden area is still rather popular, so don’t expect total solitude.

Additionally, you can add some more fun activities in Moab, like this sunset cruise on the Colorado River, a half-day rafting tour, or a 4WD tour in Hell’s Revenge.

Where to Go Before or After Arches National Park

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

Arches National Park is often visited in conjunction with other incredible Utah bucket list destinations.

If you base yourself in Moab, you’ll likely also want to visit Canyonlands National Park (where you’ll find Mesa Arch — contrary to popular belief, this arch is not in Arches!).

You’ll also want to spend at least a half-day exploring Dead Horse Point State Park, where the Colorado River bends beautifully in a way similar to Horsehoe Bend in Arizona.

People often spend a few days in Salt Lake City before making their way to Arches, but you can also do this in reverse.

Other stops people often make include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. 

I’ve included all of these on my one-week Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, so if you are planning a longer stay, be sure to read that post!

I also have a post that combines all the best Utah attractions with some stops in Arizona like the Grand Canyon as well as Nevada in this Southwest USA itinerary.

The Perfect Weekend in Salt Lake City Itinerary

Salt Lake City may just be one of the most picturesque cities in America: a gorgeously constructed town in the Salt Lake Valley, set amongst the towering Wasatch Mountain Range and bordered by the blue waters of the Great Salt Lake. 

The city itself is a beautiful mixture of turn-of-the-century architecture and a modern landscape that offers indoor and outdoor activities year-round.

I’ve put together a 2 day Salt Lake City itinerary that highlights the best of what the city has to offer when you’re visiting SLC for just a weekend. 

SLC is a young and vibrant feeling city, with lots of student culture due to the presence of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University (BYU).

Whether you’re flying into SLC for a quick city getaway, are combining it with the ski resorts of Park City, or are making SLC just one stop on a long road trip including Utah’s 5 national parks, this itinerary is a great place to start.

Whether you’re seeking solitude in nature or looking to dive into the latest up-and-coming cocktail bar, this SLC itinerary covers it all — so let’s get started.

Day 1 of your SLC Itinerary

Salt Lake City - Temple Square at night with lights on and focus on church

Check into your hotel.

Start your two-day Salt Lake City adventure by checking into one of the most well-known hotels in the heart of downtown SLC, The Grand America

Located on 10 acres of immaculately kept gardens, The Grand America is a sight to see and experience! 

The building itself soars over downtown in grand opulence with its 24-story Old World-style architecture. This is no average run-of-the-mill hotel!

The lobby is decorated with hints of grandiosity, as ornate marble floors give way to classical French-style furnishings and beautiful works of art. 

The attention to detail bleeds into the guest suites, as floor-to-ceiling windows offer unrivaled views of Salt Lake City’s natural outdoor beauty! 

Complete with a spa, dining room, and luxury shops, The Grand America is an entire entertainment venue in itself! 

The hotel is in the perfect location for exploring the downtown area and its surrounding landscape, so let’s drop off your bags and get to exploring downtown SLC!

If The Grand is all booked up, Hotel Monaco is another great option.

The skyline of Salt Lake City in the afternoon light with autumn trees and green trees

Grab breakfast at Penny Ann’s.

Downtown Salt Lake is extremely easy to navigate, and most places are very easy to get to by foot or bicycle. The city also offers a bike-share program that simplifies transportation! 

Once you’ve dropped off your bags at the hotel, hop on one of the city bikes and set off biking to Penny Ann’s Cafe for breakfast! 

This classic American diner serves hearty plates of some of the best breakfast foods in Salt Lake. Deemed home of the “heavenly hot cakes,” everyone comes for a massive stack of their famous pancakes! 

My absolute favorite thing on the menu is their hot cake sandwich. Bacon and eggs are sandwiched between three of their famous hotcakes and drizzled with syrup. 

It’s a decadent breakfast meal that can only be experienced at Penny Ann’s. Top that off with their bottomless house coffee and you’re ready to explore the city!

A stack of many pancakes with blueberries, strawberries and bananas.

Wander around Temple Square.

Salt Lake City has a gorgeous downtown that is every sightseer’s dream! 

On my first day in a new city, I like to spend the afternoon getting to know the vibe of the city and seeing some of the most famous architecture that surrounds the city. 

Temple Square is number one on my list of where to start your Salt Lake City sightseeing because of its rich art, culture, and history. 

Temple Square is a beautiful complex of more than 10 acres of meticulously-groomed grounds that will take your breath away, including the main Mormon temple, Salt Lake Temple.

It’s owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church, who play a huge role in SLC history), but now, the name has changed to include other churches adjacent to the area of the Mormon Temple.

It’s easy to spend a solid hour walking the grounds or discovering the beauty inside. If you time it right, you can catch a free performance from the Tabernacle Choir or just spend time delving into the elaborate architecture of its interior. 

There’s also the Family History Library on one side of Temple Square, which is run by volunteers from the Mormon Church who will help you research your family history and genealogy.

If you happen to be visiting at Christmas time, you can catch the array of festive lights and nativity scenes displayed from around the world!

The giant Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City with flowers in the foreground

Wander the shops at City Creek Center.

After you’ve had your fill of architectural beauty, make the short walk over to City Creek Center for an amazing upscale shopping opportunity. 

City Creek Center is lined with over 100 stores and restaurants and caters to provide entertainment in its open-air atmosphere complete with a retractable roof for the days of inclement weather. 

Even if you’re not into shopping, it’s easy to enjoy City Creek Center for its foliage-lined walkways and babbling creek that runs the entire two blocks of the mall. 

It’s reminiscent of The Grand Canal Shoppes in Vegas with water shows and various art exhibits lining the pathways. There is always some sort of entertainment to compliment your spending spree!

Several jet fountains in the middle of a pedestrian walkway on a SLC itinerary

Grab a drink at Quench It.

All the walking and shopping calls for a unique Utah treat! Lying just a mile down N West Temple Street is Quench It soft drinks. 

You’re probably thinking soda? Really? But hang in here with me! Quench It isn’t just your regular soda drink. 

They serve what the locals call dirty soda and it’s a must-try! Dirty sodas have garnered a cult like following in Salt Lake and their shops offer a fun, colorful atmosphere for enjoying the bizarre drink. 

Dirty sodas are a combination of your favorite classic soft drink and spiked with a shot of flavorful Torani Syrup with a splash of coconut cream.

It’s a wildly delicious combination that’ll supply you with a good shot of sugar to amp up your afternoon!

Check out the local street art.

With sugar running through your veins, continue through downtown to snap some pictures in front of Salt Lake’s famous street art! 

Street murals have begun to take the city by storm and there are some incredible works of art hiding around street corners. 

My favorite way to spend the late afternoon is seeking out some of these works of art. Here’s a list of my favorites and their locations to help you navigate around the city!

The Magic School Bus: Where aremy fellow 90’s babies? So you remember watching The Magic School bus in science class? Well, this mural is über reminiscent of those days! 

Located at 800 S 15th E, this mural will bring back all the wonderful memories of Mrs. Frizzle and her magic adventures complete with a DJ dragon and floating candy!

The Book Wall Mural: Located at 222 South Main Street, this massive book mural has some of the world’s most famous books painted in gigantic form! 

You’ll find the spines of Harry Potter, Gone With the Wind, and The Scarlet Letter painted in meticulous detail. It’s a super fun place for a colorful photoshoot!

Rock Legends: I love rock music so the Rock Legends Mural is my favorite mural in downtown Salt Lake! Located at 162 400 W on the side of the famous Gateway shopping center, this colorful iconic mural is worth the visit. 

The faces of eight rock legends are painted in bright, colorful fashion. I can’t help but bust out an air guitar while I walk past the faces of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix!

Grab a fancy dinner.

Head back to the hotel and clean up for a five-star dinner at Current Fish and Oyster

Current serves up the best seafood in downtown Salt Lake City! 

If you’re wondering about seafood in a landlocked state like Utah, don’t! Their menu is full of the freshest seafood flown in daily from around the world. 

Start off with their smoked clam dip as an appetizer and move on to their caramelized salmon for the main course. Not only are the dishes plated to appeal to the eyes, but the food itself will blow you away! 

Set in a vintage brick building, Current has kept the simplicity of its original construction with brick walls, concrete floors, and hundreds of Edison lights that warm up the space. 

Massive black booths and a sprawling bar add a trendy, welcoming feel that really sets the tone for enjoyment. 

I tend to hold out on cocktails here as their neighboring restaurant, Undercurrent steals the cocktail show! 

Plate of oysters in SLC

Grab drinks at Undercurrent or go see a show.

After dinner, spend the rest of the night one of two ways to see nightlife done SLC-Style

If you want to have a low-key night with a few drinks, walk across the street to their sister cocktail bar, Undercurrent.

Here you’ll find carefully crafted cocktails in a contemporary but comfortable setting. The entire interior has a nautical theme vibe that carries over into their drink selection. I love their Hanzo Steel cocktail or their Sea Legs cocktail! 

If you find yourself stumped on what to order, tell the bartender you want to Walk The Plank and they’ll decide the fate of your drink.

If you feel like listening to some rock and roll music, Salt Lake is home to a few music venues that are well-known in the industry! 

If you want to catch an intimate show, check out Kilby Court. Kilby Court is tucked away on a side street that was once a garage and offers an extremely private setting showcasing small acts. 

Although big names such as The Head and the Heart and The Shins have played at the venue, it caters to the more up-and-coming artists now. 

It’s a fantastic way to discover new music or to hang out in a friendly environment that offers entertainment in an intimate but inviting setting.

Man's hand serving an orange drink with crushed ice and mint

Day 2 of your SLC Itinerary

Your second day in Salt Lake City is all about the great outdoors! 

Salt Lake offers unrivaled views of Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and miles and miles of the beautiful Utah landscapes! 

Hike up Ensign Peak.

Wake up early and start your day with a short hike up Ensign Peak! 

Ensign Peak lies in the foothills of Salt Lake and offers an entirely different view of the city. The trailhead starts off in a residential area just behind the Utah State Capitol building. 

The trail is an easy and enjoyable half-mile ascent that reveals the city from the perspective of 5,400 feet! 

If you time it right, it’s the perfect way to catch a Utah sunrise or to just enjoy watching the city wake up from above the horizon.

The view from the top of Ensign Peak in SLC looking over the State capitol building

Stop by the Utah State Capitol building.

Descend Ensign Peak and consider stopping at the State Capitol Building since you’ll be so close!

The grounds surrounding the building are beautiful and the Capitol itself is something to marvel at, so it’s absolutely worth some time on your weekend in Utah to dedicate to exploring the area.

Sitting on top of a hill, the ornate beauty and storied history of The Capitol building are captivating. 

You can hop inside for a free tour or guide yourself through the magnificent hallways and overlooks at your own pace!

state capitol building on a sunny day in slc with the words "STATE OF UTAH" written in front of the building

Grab a cup of coffee (and some breakfast) to fuel your day.

After an early morning, head straight to Salt Lake Roasting Co. for a fresh cup of coffee and homemade pastries! 

Salt Lake Roasting Co instantly became one of my favorite coffee shops in Utah because of their warm, inviting atmosphere. 

You’ll feel instantly welcomed into the quaint coffee shop beginning with the inviting blue and yellow bricked building that’s impossible to miss! 

The interior is a gigantic two-story roastery with a steampunk flair. All their coffee is fresh roasted daily and the pastries are made in-house by their pastry chef. 

If you’re in the mood for a more substantial breakfast, you’ll want to try out The Park Cafe.

 Located in the Liberty Wells area of Salt Lake next to Liberty Park (which you should totally check out!) it’s the perfect place to enjoy a comfort-food-style breakfast. 

Their breakfast omelets are to die for and their French toast tastes just like grandma’s! 

The Park Cafe has been a family-owned staple in Downtown Salt Lake since the 1980s which gives it that welcoming feel.

cup of coffee on a table at a cafe

Check out the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island.

You can’t come to Salt Lake City and not experience the Great Salt Lake! 

I’ve found the best and most beautiful way to do this is to spend the afternoon exploring Antelope Island State Park. What makes this park so unique is its location and the hundreds of free-roaming buffalo! 

Antelope Island is a small peninsula jutting out in the middle of Great Salt Lake. My favorite way to explore is to take the hiking trails around the park. 

My favorite two trails are the Buffalo Point Trail and Frary Peak

Buffalo Point Trail is an easy 1-mile hike that has incredible views of Great Salt Lake and tons of wildlife. 

Frary Peak is a little more intense at 6 miles but because of its elevation gains, the views are incomparable! 

Another way to enjoy the afternoon is to take a dip in the Great Salt Lake at Bridger Bay Beach

This large sandy beach is located on the banks of Great Salt Lake and offers easy access into the water. 

The experience of swimming in the Great Salt Lake is unlike any other because you can effortlessly float due to the high salt content. It’s definitely a must-do Utah bucket list activity!

a buffalo on antelope island in great salt lake

Grab a local beer.

Head back into the city and grab an afternoon beer at Proper Brewing

I know Proper Brewing is the top brewery in Salt Lake because the locals could not stop talking about this place! It turns out, their suggestion was right! 

Proper Brewing takes pride in their microbrews and innovative beer combinations such as the beertini (just try it, as weird as it sounds!). 

The atmosphere is your quintessential brewpub with arcade games and pool tables for entertainment. 

Large bay windows look out to the city of Salt Lake and every soul in the joint seems to be having a lovely time! 

When I visit a brewery for the first time, I always pick up a flight so I can sample most of their menu. 

While I loved all the samples, their Belgium Dubbel really stood out to me. It’s a wonderful mix of low-key malty herbs and spice. 

To make an afternoon here, grab a burger from their onsite kitchen and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere with a beer in hand. 

tasting flight of different beers

Check out Gilgal Garden.

On your way back to the hotel, stop at Gilgal Garden. Gilgal Garden is a hidden gem in the middle of Salt Lake City and is most enjoyed after a beer…seriously! 

It’s a weird place and to enjoy it, you’ll need an open mind. Located at 749 East 500 South, Gilgal Garden sits in an unassuming lot in a residential neighborhood. It’s easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. 

Gilgal is a sculpture garden created by Thomas Childs that consists of 12 sculptures and dozens of stone engravings depicting poems, scriptures, and texts. There’s some funky stuff there, like a Sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, the famous founder of the Mormon church.

It’s a fun and free way to experience some of the culture that lies in the heart of Salt Lake City.

A statue of scattered parts of a body an interpretation from a biblical story

Stop by Red Butte Garden.

This is a great place to stop on your way to your next SLC hike, the Living Room. The trailhead is right nearby so it’s a quick and convenient stop.

In the Red Butte Garden, you’ll find the Natural History Museum of Utah (a great place to stop if you are traveling with kids) as well as several trails lined with beautiful flowers. 

This is where the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre is as well, named for the park, where you can often find larger acts when they pass through SLC on tour. 

Another interesting place to visit while here is the Water Conservation Garden which creates a beautiful, rich-feeling environment that is truly sustainable and shows that drought-resistant plant life can be absolutely beautiful. 

red butte garden utah

Hike to the Living Room for sunset.

Hikers love the Living Room for its epic views over SLC which are particularly beautiful at sunset!

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.

Landscape of salt lake city living room trail

Have a delicious dinner out.

 After your full day of enjoying the outdoors, head back to the hotel and clean up for dinner. I love exploring cities and trying different cuisines that are unique to the area. 

On my last trip to SLC, I found the most delicious Mediterranean food in Downtown called Spitz in the Sugar House neighborhood. As soon as you step foot into Spitz you’re having a good time! 

The ‘order in line’ restaurants creates a fun atmosphere with splashes of color through the entire interior and decks of cards stacked up on every table. 

I usually order one of their famous doners wraps. If you’ve never had a doner wrap before, you’re in for a pleasant surprise!

These massive wraps are stuffed with every type of Mediterranean meat and veggies curled up in a delicious tortilla-like wrap. I always order the Berliner Doner, a combination of feta, carrot slaw, cucumber, and tzatziki! 

Not only is each entree tasty, but it’s also served in a way that is every bit worthy of the ‘gram. They also have house specials such as their Street Cart fries and doquitos (fried lavash bread stuffed with feta and aioli, like a Mediterranean taquito).

You’ll never leave this place hungry and you’ll be dreaming about it long after you leave Salt Lake City!

Sate your sweet tooth.

You can’t leave Salt Lake without experiencing the decadence of their dessert scene! Like my main meal, I love exploring the latest and greatest dessert hangout throughout the city.

 I’m so glad I stumbled upon The Dodo, also in Sugar House. Without question, The Dodo serves up THE best pie in the world among other desserts! 

When I walked into The Dodo I could smell the sugary delights right away. They have 12 staple pies that can be ordered all year round, including peanut butter cream cheese, chocolate almond moose, and key lime. 

I ordered the Caramel Coconut Coffee Cake and to this day, I still think about it! 

They also serve up ales, cocktails, and wines to go along with dessert. The Dodo is a wonderful place to hang out and enjoy the beautiful Utah night on their warmly lit, comfortable patio.

a slice of key lime pie covered in lime zest

Finish the night under the stars.

Wrap up dinner and dessert and get ready for a night under the stars at South Physics Observatory

South Physics Observatory offers star parties that are open to the public on clear nights! Armed with professional astrologers, you can gaze up at the universe in their beautiful planetarium and learn all about the planets and galaxies!

They also open up for special celestial events such as meteor showers and comets. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Salt Lake during a time like this you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! 

All their events take place outside, so come prepared, as Utah’s night can get a little chilly.

Utah night sky with lots of stars

More Time in SLC? Utah Day Trips Worth Taking

If you go a little further afield, there’s so much to see in the rest of Utah. (You can check out my 7-day Utah itinerary for some inspiration).

Just want to do a quick day trip? Just about 20 minutes from SLC, you can head to Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range. This is a great place to visit in fall when the beautiful quaking aspens change colors! 

The Bonneville Salt Flats are another must-see just an hour and a half outside of SLC — there’s no place quite like it in the US!

Of course, in winter, there’s no place like Park City Mountain ski resort, home of the Sundance Film Festival and lots of great winter ski trails and activities!

For typical red rock landscapes, head to Moab for both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, or head towards Las Vegas where you can see the beautiful Zion National Park.

3 Days in Sao Miguel: Azores Itinerary for a Quick Trip

I’d wanted to do an Azores road trip for years. I have a thing for rugged and wild islands, the kind that you feel you could have been shipwrecked on centuries ago.

And smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic 1,400 kilometers from the nearest continent, the Azores certainly fit that description.

Though, to be fair, these islands are so beautiful you certainly wouldn’t mind being shipwrecked there.

Created by volcanoes a mere 15,000 years ago – a blink in the geological timeline – traveling the Azores is unlike anywhere else I can think of.

It’s most often compared to the Hawaii of Europe.

But lacking Hawaii’s massive resorts, body slam of tourism, and huge price inflation (seriously, the Azores are about as affordable as Lisbon, which is to say they’re not expensive at all), I find this comparison doesn’t do the Azores justice.

bright sunlight on a portion of the park which illuminates plant life

My friend and I had a limited amount of time to travel the Azores, so we focused only on Sao Miguel.

Luckily, even though it’s the largest island in the archipelago, it’s still rather small. Driving from Ponta Delgada on one side to the other of Sao Miguel (past Nordeste) took one hour.

We had 3 days in Sao Miguel and found it to be a great introduction to the islands but wished we had a little more time for our Azores itinerary.

However, one of my methods when traveling is to often leave a stone unturned – just to ensure I return to that destination. 

And having missed one of the Azores’ best tourist attractions due to weather (more on that below), I’m doubly certain the Azores will get a return visit from me, as it’s truly one of the best Portugal road trips out there.

A Few Notes on Planning Your Azores Itinerary

Don’t discount the weather. 

The Azores are an island chain in the middle of the Atlantic, so storms, intense fog, and unpredictable rainstorms are not uncommon. There are plenty of sunny days, but they are not the norm.

In fact, we had to shuffle around our Azores itinerary quite a bit and double back to a few destinations simply because the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Plan your most desired destinations first, so you can return if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Here is where we slipped up. 

We planned my most anticipated places – Lagoa de Fogo and Caldeira Velha – for our final day. We made it halfway up the mountain where the Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa offers the most incredible view over the Azores’ most famous lake. 

Then we hit what felt like a white brick wall of fog, promptly both got insanely nervous driving in zero visibility, and turned straight around and retreated to sunny lower grounds.

a dilapidated house with lots of fog around it

Lagoa do Fogo is notoriously fussy.

While Fogo literally means fire in Portuguese and refers to its volcanic origins, the ‘fog’ in its name would be just as accurate of a descriptor. 

The specific microclimate of this region often means that a dense fog cloud sits on top of Pico da Barrosa like a tight-fitting hat, which means that it’s not only terrifying to drive but also often just plain pointless, as you won’t be able to see anything from the miradouro. 

While I did Lagoa do Fogo on my third and final day, I recommend doing it the first (and this Azores itinerary will reflect that) so that if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can try to return on a later date.

This Sao Miguel itinerary assumes that you have your own rental car. 

However, I know that not everyone can drive or feels comfortable driving abroad, so I will always list a guided tour option when available so that this itinerary is more accessible to everyone.

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 rental in the Azores here.

No car? Combine this East Sao Miguel day trip as well as this West tour to cover nearly all the sights on this itinerary.

This Azores itinerary also assumes you’ll be staying in Ponta Delgada. 

However, the island is quite small, so it isn’t too much of a change if you are staying somewhere else.

Just note that the driving times to the first and last destination may be different if you are staying elsewhere.

street art of two men's portraits on a garage door. yellow and red.

Be willing to adjust your Sao Miguel itinerary based on the weather. 

Most of the spots here are outdoors or involve viewpoints, neither of which are that enjoyable in the rain. 

If it’s raining out for one of the days of your trip, I recommend shuffling around your itinerary to spend time in Ponta Delgada.

There, you can spend time exploring the pineapple plantations as they’re mostly in greenhouses.

You can follow that up by checking out some of the natural hot springs in Furnas, as it’s quite a nice feeling to relax in warm water while being soaked by the rain! 

Luckily Sao Miguel is not so big, so you can re-adjust your itinerary pretty easily (we did several times over the course of our trip to accompany the whims of the weather.

That’s just what traveling in the Atlantic islands is like, and something I learned when crafting my Faroe Islands itinerary!)

FAQ About Visiting the Azores: Travel Guide

What is the cheapest way to get to Sao Miguel island in the Azores?

view of lisbon city skyline and rooftops with a palm tree on a sunny day with view of river
Stop in Lisbon first before heading to the Azores!

It depends on where you are coming from. If you are coming from Europe, it’s often easier to fly to Mainland Portugal first.

Then you can book a connecting flight from Lisbon or Porto to Ponta Delgada (capital of Sao Miguel), airport code PDL. 

Ryanair offers cheap flights from Lisbon and Porto — this is how I got there, and it cost about $30 each way. They also offer cheap flights from Frankfurt and London.

If you are coming from the United States, there are direct flights to the Azores (Ponta Delgada, specifically) from Boston via Azores Airline, which is a 5-hour flight. They often are fairly inexpensive compared to other transatlantic flights.

TAP Air Portugal is another option if you are flying from the U.S. or Canada – take advantage of their free stopover program to enjoy some time in Lisbon at no extra cost!

What is the best way to get around in the Azores?

a white car with a red roof in the azores
My cute little rental in the Azores!

By far, renting a car in the Azores is the best way to get around. These islands are made for road-tripping! 

I had a little trepidation about driving in the Azores, assuming it’d be difficult like driving in the Westfjords of Iceland (far different than the Ring Road!) or the windswept Faroe Islands.

However, it was actually pretty smooth sailing, and I’d definitely suggest renting a car to anyone who is comfortable driving in other European cities. 

Granted, street parking in Ponta Delgada is harrowing, but that goes for all European city centers. However, the alternative is booking several day tours, which can get really expensive!

Not sure whether you want to rent a car? I wrote a whole guide to renting a car in the Azores that explains my experience doing so!

How many days do you need in the Azores?

view of the rugged coastline of sao miguel from one of the many miradouros on the island, a must on any sao miguel itinerary

As many as possible! If you are just visiting Sao Miguel, as this Azores itinerary lays out, then sure, 3 days is perfectly fine. 

But if you are visiting other islands, like Faial, Flores, Terceira, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge, etc., you will want at least 2 days per additional island to account for travel time. 

Not sure where you want to go in additional to Sao Miguel? Check this travel guide to the other Azores islands.

Although it is the largest of the Azores islands, Sao Miguel can be seen pretty extensively in 3 days, though 5 days would give you more time and let you see it at a more leisurely pace. The other islands are quite small and can be seen in a day and a half.

Is the Azores worth visiting?

a trail leading to a waterfall with lots of tropical-looking plant life

Absolutely! This unique landscape is hard to find elsewhere in Europe. 

Where else can you find pineapple plantations, tea farms, geothermal springs that mix with ocean water to create pleasantly hot water like a bathtub, waterfalls, and stunning views around every other corner?

I grew up going to Hawaii often as a kid and while I found the Azores to be fairly similar in terms of landscape to Hawaii, I found the Azores to be less touristic, more untouched, and more magical-feeling.

It’s one of the most special places I’ve ever been! 

What is the best month to visit the Azores?

fields with a lighthouse on it overlooking a cliff and the atlantic ocean in the azores

We went in late March and honestly, the weather was pretty great!

On the whole, I think March is a great month to visit Portugal (and Lisbon in particular), and I’d imagine that year-round, the Azores is worth the trip.

In late March it was a little bit chilly, but we had no rain and just a small amount of fog. It was cold in the mornings and perfect by mid-afternoon! 

April or May would be even better. June through August experience the summer glut of tourists, so avoid the summer months if your schedule allows.

September or October would also be lovely and usually have good weather, better than spring!

Your 3 Day Itinerary for the Azores: Day 1

a church covered in azulejo tiles in sao miguel azores

Keep in mind my advice about the fog: Lagoa de Fogo is notoriously finicky and there will likely be fog obscuring your view. 

Therefore, I’ve recommended an alternate day 1 itinerary (what I ended up doing after we got too afraid to drive in the heavy fog) as well, in case you end up unlucky with the weather as we did.

If you have good weather, I recommend visiting Lagoa do Fogo and its two best viewpoints – Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo – first, before heading to Caldeira Velha for a soak in the hot springs. 

Then head back to Ponta Delgada, making a stop at the pineapple plantation on the way back, to enjoy the city’s unique architecture and funky street art. 

Alternately, if Lagoa do Fogo is too fussy, I’ve also included what we did instead (it helps to have a backup plan in a place with weather so dramatic!) in the below section so that you can adjust on the fly.

Whale Watching

whales diving into the water

One of the best things to do in Azores is check out the incredible whales who live around these Atlantic waters and call them home!

There are many great whale watching cruises which depart from Ponta Delgada. Tours last about 3 hours; this tour begins at 8:30 so it still allows you to have a full day of sightseeing afterward.

On a whale watching cruise  in the Azores, you’ll be led by expert guides who try to point out as many of the 28 cetacean species (whales and dolphins) that can be found in the waters around Ponta Delgada.

This tour in particular is great because if you fail to see any whales or dolphins on your tour, they allow you to reschedule it for free! Besides whales and dolphins, you’ll also get to see sea birds, turtles, and other marine life on these tours. 

Book your whale watching excursion here!

Lagoa de Fogo

the colorful waters of lagoa de fogo when there is no fog covering it

One of the most picturesque places in Sao Miguel, the Lagoa do Fogo is the typical postcard photo you probably have in mind when thinking of the Azores.

Unfortunately, that postcard-perfect view is rare to find, as fog and clouds typically obscure the top and make the winding roads to the viewpoints of Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo quite onerous! 

So I advise you to throw this on the first day of your Azores itinerary so that you can shuffle things around if necessary and return for the perfect view.

While I didn’t make it here myself, I’ve read that you can hike down to the lake level in about 45 minutes each way, though to actually hike the perimeter of the lake would take the better part of a full day.

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Prefer a guided hike? This guided Lagoa do Fogo tour will take you there.
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Caldeira Velha

a woman in a bathing suit stairing at the waterfall in front of her in a thermal pool on a sao miguel vacation

On my initial itinerary for the Azores, I had planned for us to head onwards from Lagoa de Fogo to Caldeira Velha (Ancient Boiler in Portuguese)

However, the fog kept us from getting to experience this place and that’s truly one of my biggest regrets about our trip to the Azores. 

When I researched it, this place seemed amazing – geothermic waters in a Jurassic Park-esque setting (minus the whole stressful impending dinosaur attack thing).

Alas, we didn’t get a chance to visit (though we visited plenty of other hot springs during our time in the Azores that made up for it), but I’m still putting it on this Azores itinerary as I’ve heard nothing but great things about it and was gutted to miss it.

A quick note: the water will stain your bathing suit rust-orange, just like the waters at Terra Nostra, so be sure to bring a dark-colored bathing suit or a suit you plan on throwing out after your trip.

Ananases A Arruda

a teeny tiny azorean pineapple

Another image you’ve likely seen from the Azores is the insufferably cute tiny pineapples that are grown there! 

The only place where pineapples grow in Europe is the Azores, and Ananases A Arruda is a can’t-miss, just a short drive from Ponta Delgada.

You can walk through a few greenhouses spotting Azorean pineapples in different sizes and phases of growth (they take two years to fully mature — even though they’re tiny).

Pineapples are not native to the Azores, but rather were imported from Africa in the 19th century due to the shared history of Portuguese colonization. However, they do grow surprisingly well in the subtropical environment of the Azores!

The Azorean pineapple farmers bred their pineapples a bit differently than the standard, creating a smaller fruit with a tinier crown and a more robust, sweet pineapple flavor.

Ananases A Arruda is free to visit, but just try to leave without bringing home some pineapple jam or pineapple liqueur that they sell there!

There is also another pineapple farm, Plantação de Ananás dos Açores, which you can visit if you’re just crazy about these pineapples or want o

Ponta Delgada

This first day of your Azores itinerary is a little light on things to do compared to the other two days, because I think it’s important to dedicate sufficient time to explore beautiful Ponta Delgada. 

Depending on where you’re traveling from as well or what time you’re getting in, you may be tired as well from traveling, so this day is purposefully lighter than the others as a result.

Of course, if you are not staying in Ponta Delgada but rather somewhere else on the island, I’d explore Ponta Delgada first (since you will be flying into the airport and driving past it) so that afterward you can head to your hotel elsewhere.

a brilliant church on a hill on a cloudy day

I’ll have a full post on what to visit when you go to Ponta Delgada soon. 

For now, I recommend checking out the iconic Pontas de Cidade arch gate, Forte de Sao Bras, and my personal favorite, Jardim António Borges which is full of rare plants and transports you to a Jungle-Book-like world without ever leaving the city center.

Alternate 1st Day in Sao Miguel Itinerary

black sand beach next to a restaurant on the ocean

Our plan for the day we visited Lagoa de got foiled because of the terrible weather so we made a few adjustments.

Instead of going to Lagoa de Fogo, we instead headed to Caloura for a seaside lunch at Bar Caloura, which was fantastic.

There is a natural swimming pool in the middle of the ocean here which seems to be free to use. However, considering that mid-March is a pretty god-awful time to soak in the middle of the Atlantic, we didn’t test it out.

On the drive down to Bar Caloura, about 200 meters before the restaurant, you can’t miss the beautiful Caloura Convent with its traditional azulejo (blue and white Portuguese tiles) facade.

It’s a stunning work of symmetry and tilework and definitely worth a quick photo stop (in fact, I recommend parking here instead of Bar Caloura).

Afterward, we headed towards Praia Pequena de Água d’Alto, stopping at Miradouro do Pisão for a lovely viewpoint over Caloura on the way.

At this point, you could go back to Ponta Delgada to spend the afternoon exploring the town, but since you are pretty close to Lagoa de Congro you could do that instead. 

Be sure to stop at Our Lady of Peace Chapel in Vila Franca on the way if you do! (More on this in Day 3 of this Azores itinerary.)

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 2

people enjoying the thermal waters in a natural pool in the azores sao miguel itinerary

This day is all about lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and miradouros – pretty much all the things the Azores does best.

A few things to keep in mind… again, fog will potentially be your enemy when it comes to the first two miradouros on this itinerary. 

You may need to double back or visit another day if there is fog or bad weather when you visit (we had to).

However, the fog in this area is definitely less bad than in Lagoa do Fogo. Here, you’ll probably only encounter fog if there is an actual storm as there was when we visited. 

Meanwhile, at Lagoa do Fogo, the fog sat stubbornly all day – when we drove back past it several hours after we re-routed and changed up our day’s itinerary, the same lid of impenetrable fog was still perched exactly where we saw it.

Finally, one last note about day two: you’ll need to check the tide forecast (click here to see it) and use that to plan when to visit Ferraria, as it’s best visited just before or just after low tide.

 The reason for this is that it’s a geothermically heated pool that mixes with ocean water, and you have to get the balance of thermal water and ocean water just right to get that perfect, surreal, floating in a bathtub while feeling the ocean current vibe. 

We visited about 30 minutes after low tide and stayed for one hour and it was perfect, but the tide was already starting to come in stronger and if we had come much later it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.

Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

a volcanic crater filled with lake water and a lake down below at a popular miradouro viewpoint in sao miguel

While the nearby Miradouro da Vista do Rei is more popular for some reason, this was actually one of my favorite miradouros on all of Sao Miguel (which, trust me, is a hard distinction to make – there are so many beautiful ones).

We parked in the nearby parking lot on the right rather than driving all the way to the
miradouro, but we definitely could have driven it as the road was not as bumpy as I was worried about. 

Still, it’s less than a 1-kilometer walk and it lets you make a quick stop at one of my other favorite places, Lagoa do Canario, on the way to or from the miradouro.

The walk up to the best point of the miradouro from the end of the drivable road takes about 10 minutes (~20 minutes if walking from the main parking lot). 

There is some information in both Portuguese and English there detailing how the landscape was formed – which is super interesting if you’re a geology nerd like I am, telling you about the volcanic crater formation and history.

Lagoa do Canario

peaceful water forming a still mirror image in the lake surrounded by trees

Just a quick 5-minute detour on the path to or from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, this lake should be more crowded but thankfully isn’t! 

It remains one of the most peaceful places on the island despite being so close to some of the most popular tourist spots.

When I visited the lake was perfectly still, sheltered by all the beautiful trees around it, making a gorgeous mirror image. I don’t know why more tourists don’t stop here, but I’m sure glad I knew about it!

Miradouro da Vista do Rei

This was one of the most crowded places I visited on my Azores itinerary so don’t expect peace and quiet here! 

Personally, I much preferred the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, but since this one is so close, I still recommend visiting both.

This is also where you’ll find the so-called ‘abandoned hotel’, Hotel Monte Palace. Though to be honest, it’s barely abandoned at all… considering that it’s at the doorstep of one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Azores and people are constantly there! 

Some people go inside despite the signs telling you not to enter. I personally don’t advise entering, especially since there are plans to reopen it in 2021, and I would imagine the new developers don’t take kindly to trespassers.

Sete Cidades

scenic white church surrounded by tall moss covered trees in sete cidades

Heading down from the mountain views, the town of Sete Cidades is definitely well worth a stop (and perhaps a quick lunch break – we ate at Restaurante Lagoa Azul)

It’s worth it to make a stop after you’ve crossed the bridge dividing the lake in two to stop and take photos from eye level, which has a much different visual than from above. 

I also loved visiting the church in Sete Cidades, with its ghoulishly beautiful row of trees framing it like something out of a movie.

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If you prefer someone else to drive, this 4WD Sete Cidades trip is an adrenaline-pumping experience!
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Ferraria

many people in the water with ropes enjoying the cool and hot waters of the ponta da ferraria

Visiting Ponta da Ferraria was truly my favorite thing I did in the Azores and absolutely a can’t-miss, in my opinion. Here is where geothermically heated waters from the ground mix with the cold, brisk waters of the Atlantic, combining to lukewarm perfection in a natural pool formed by rocks.

While in many other places in the world, they’d alter the hell out of the landscape, the approach in the Azores is thankfully rather minimalist – I mean, why mess with perfection? 

All they’ve added is a ladder and some ropes for safety. The rest is all as the earth intended it to be (there are some bathrooms and changing rooms nearby, though).

Sitting in the waters, feeling the geothermal hot springs sweep past me on one ebb of the tide and the cold Atlantic waters rush past me on another, was truly my favorite experience of my entire Azores trip. 

I must have sat there for at least an hour murmuring “this is magical” over and over again. Something about the combination of the hot and cold waters and the peaceful yet powerful feeling of the ocean water repeatedly flowing in and out was truly spectacular.

Note that it is rather popular and there is a limited time period in the day where you can experience Ponta da Ferraria at its best. 

Come exactly at low tide and the water will be too hot in some places, come too close to high tide and the water won’t be warm at all because it’ll be too diluted by ocean water (plus it seems like it would be dangerous at high tide, judging by where the water line was). 

I visited about 30 minutes after low tide passed (check out the tide forecast here) and it was perfect. I stayed for about an hour and noticed the water level rising and the general water level getting cooler by the time I was ready to leave.

I visited around 10:30 AM and it was quite crowded with people who also had the same idea but still very, very enjoyable! 

However, keep in mind that the tides vary from day to day so be sure to plan your itinerary around this and shuffle things around if needed to come at the optimal time.

There’s also a lighthouse in town that you can visit, but we just checked it out from the nearby miradouro, halfway between the town and the thermal pools.

Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado

miradouro on the edge of the azores with cliffs and a town in the distance and sea stacks in the water

This rarely-visited miradouro on the way to Mosteiros is absolutely worth a quick stop because it’s absolutely breathtaking.

You won’t need much time here, maybe 10 minutes or so, but I couldn’t leave it off this Azores itinerary! 

Mosteiro

This small Portuguese town is known for its black sand beach and beautiful sea stacks. There are also some small natural pools that form due to the rock formations and the tide. 

However, when we visited the weather was extremely windy and the tide was churning strongly, so it didn’t look safe to enter the water.

However, I’ve seen photos of it at other times and people are swimming and enjoying the water, so it’ll depend on the weather as well as the tide. 

It was too cold in March to even think about getting in, so consider your time as well, because this is just straight-up ocean water and not geothermally-warmed waters mixing with ocean water in like Ferraria.

The black sand beach with its view of the sea stacks and the natural pools are located in different parts of town so you’ll likely prefer to drive between the two as they are a little far apart.

Ribeira Grande

the peaceful town of ribeira grande with its river, church, park, and bridges
the

About halfway between Mosteiros and Gorreana Tea Factory (Cha Gorreana), your next stop, is the beautiful town of Ribeira Grande (big river). 

We had but a quick stop here, but here are a few of the things worth checking out.

There’s the Miradouro do Castelo (not sure why it’s called this as there is no castle to speak of!), the Jardim Municipal de Ribeira Grande with its many bridges and beautiful trees, and the traditional Azorean church Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela.

Gorreana Tea Factory

tea plantations next to a road and trees

The only tea plantation in Europe, Gorreana Tea Factory is a wonderful stop on any Azores itinerary, located on the north coast of Sao Miguel.

Normally, the European climate is too harsh for tea to truly prosper, but the unique Azorean climate is different. The first plantation was created by the Azorean Jacinto Leite in the 1820s, who imported tea seeds from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while he was stationed there.

The crops grew in importance when the trade of oranges declined (around the same time as pineapples began to be cultivated in the Azores as well), as agriculture has always been a crucial part of the Azorean economy. 

The plantation you can visit today is Gorreana Tea Factory. It was founded in 1883, after hiring some Chinese tea experts to consult on how to improve their tea plantation.

The Gorreana Tea Factory has 32 acres you can visit and you can visit some of the machines they use to dry, process, and produce the tea leaves. 

You can do a hike in the area, and if that doesn’t suit you, you can just simply walk around the tea fields for a bit, depending on the weather. Or you can simply enjoy a free (yes, free!) cup of tea inside the factory!

While to be fair, I know very little about tea, I started every morning in the Azores with a cup of Gorreana green tea and found it truly exquisite – never would I imagine that this was tea grown on a misty, moody island in the middle of the Atlantic!

Parque Natural das Ribeira dos Caldeirões

One of the biggest surprises of my trips to the Azores was this small natural park filled with beautiful views, flowers, and flowing waterfalls.

Loosely translated, Ribeira dos Caldeirões means river of boilers, named so for the many thermal waters.

It’s smaller than I expected but it was packed with so much beauty that I hardly minded – especially because my visit coincided perfectly with golden hour.

There is one waterfall inside the ‘park’ proper, but don’t miss the larger waterfall just a little ways up the road which is even more impressive and beautiful.

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If you want to go here without a car, join this Nordeste day trip as neither the West or East Sao Miguel tours cover this or the Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego below.
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Faro do Arnel

lighthouse at the edge of the azores

A quick stop at the scenic lighthouse of Faro do Arnel is a must on the way to Ponta do Sossego.

The road is steep (cars are allowed, but I didn’t want to risk driving), so you have to walk a bit to reach the actual lighthouse proper, but it’s worth it! 

I cannot emphasize enough how steep it is, so only go if you are confident you can walk up and down that hill safely!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego

pink hydrangeas at the ponta de sossego lookout

Sossego means ‘calmness’ in Portuguese and that’s exactly what you’ll find here in this picturesque miradouro just past Nordeste, pretty much as far as you can drive from Ponta Delgada without plunging into the Atlantic Ocean!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego was one of the most spectacular places on my Azores itinerary.

It is quite far from Ponta Delgada and does make for a long drive back at the end of the day, I can promise you that it will be worth it. The views of the cliffs are incredible, and there are stunning hydrangeas everywhere you look.

Just a little way further is the Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada, which also offers incredible views and is worth driving a little further to if your time permits. We weren’t able to go as the sun had already set. 

Madrugada means ‘early morning’ in Portuguese, so I’m thinking this is likely a phenomenal sunrise spot! 

Personally, I loved Ponta do Sossego and found it to be the most beautiful place I visited on all of Sao Miguel.

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 3

This day is all about tying up loose ends on your Azores itinerary and ticking off a few of the greatest places on the island of Sao Miguel!

Get ready for some amazing snorkeling, beautiful churches, natural beauty, and so many hot springs!

Snorkel with dolphins

pod of dolphins swimming underwater in the azores islands

Start your day in the most memorable way possible with an incredible snorkeling tour that gives you the opportunity to swim with pods of curious wild dolphins.

Note that these are wild animals in their natural habitat, so you are not guaranteed to see the dolphins…. but it is quite likely!

Several types of dolphins call the waters near Ponta Delgada home, including the common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins (aka gray dolphins).

This half-day tour starts at 8:30 AM and will keep you busy until noon, which allows you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your final day in Sao Miguel.

Bring a fresh change of clothes and a towel so you can dry yourself off and enjoy the rest of your day!

Book your snorkeling with dolphins tour online here!

Our Lady of Peace Chapel

One of the most Instagrammed places in the Azores, my foolish self didn’t realize that this place was actually in Sao Miguel (for some reason I thought it was in Terceira!) and failed to actually go here… Whoops. 

As I like to say, being a travel blogger is basically just being a professional mistake-maker so that our readers can have a more seamless experience than we do!

It’s called Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz, which translates to the Hermitage (or Chapel) of Our Lady of Peace. And it’s stunning.

When creating the maps for this Azores itinerary I realized that I was literally in the town where this famous chapel is… and left without seeing its most famous attraction. 

I had been at the black sand beach in nearby Alto do Agua, where we could see the beautiful islet of Vila Franca do Campo.

We stopped to get gas in Vila Franca do Campo (and tried and failed to see a ‘secret waterfall’ that proved too secret for us to indeed find)… and left before seeing this spot which had been on my Azores bucket list.

So while I can’t offer any firsthand advice, I can tell you it’s on the way to Lagoa do Congro and would make a great stop on the final day of your 3 day Azores itinerary.

Lagoa do Congro

allison standing on a log looking at the green lake lagoa de congro

A note to all my fellow nervous drivers out there: the road to Lagoa do Congro is a tricky one! It’s quite narrow and really uneven, with places that made it seem like we could easily get our tire stuck in a rut. 

We ended up parking well before the parking spot at a place where there was enough room for cars to pass us and walking the rest of the way.

If you have a taller car (I highly doubt that is the actual technical term, but let’s roll with it), you may feel fine, but I was doubtful.

Anyway, stressful road aside, this is a peaceful, 20-minute or so hike down to a brilliantly green lake totally surrounded by trees. It’s not particularly strenuous so it’s an easy hike to add if you’re out of shape like I am. 

It’s also not super on the tourist trail like Lagoa do Fogo, Furnas Lake, and the Miradouro do Visto do Rei all are, so it’s rather peaceful. 

We actually enjoyed a picnic here as our hotel thoughtfully gave us breakfast in a picnic basket every morning (will share more details on where we stayed at the end of this Azores itinerary!)

Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias

One of the coolest places I visited in the Azores was the abandoned Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias on the perimeter of Furnas Lake. 

You can’t go inside, but it is hauntingly beautiful to visit and imagine it in its prime. Seeing it so empty and overgrown has that wonderful kenopsia effect that I enjoy when visiting abandoned or neglected places.

I highly recommend continuing to take a walk around Furnas Lake (it took us about 2 hours going slowly and taking lots of photos) so you can get photos of it from all angles.

Furnas Lake & Fumaroles

We took the time to walk around Furnas Lake and it was absolutely magical! 

I know with just 3 days in Sao Miguel it can be tempting to hop in the car from photo spot to photo spot, but I was so glad we took the extra time to wander around the entire perimeter of the lake – about 2 hours with stops. 

The colors of the lake changed dramatically depending on the angle, hour, and distance from the lake, making it a magical experience.

It’s also an extremely easy hike – in fact, I don’t even think you could class it as a hike, as it’s pretty much entirely flat. It is basically a long walk along a path for most of the hike and then alongside the road for the final bit (but there is a pedestrian area sheltered from the roadway).

Along the way we stopped at the Furnas Fumaroles which is where we saw a lot of tour buses stopping for lunch of hot steaming cozidos, stews cooked in the geothermic heat of the earth.

If you don’t want to walk around the entire lake, you could simply park near the abandoned chapel and visit that separately then come here. There’s a parking lot by the chapel, at quite a reasonable price of 40 cents per hour.

Then, you can get back in your car and drive about 5 minutes to the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas. There is parking and an entrance fee of 2 euro per person for doing so, which you can avoid if you do the ‘hike.’

Terra Nostra Park

If you’ve started researching your Azores trip you’ve undoubtedly come across photos of Terra Nostra and its strange orange-gold waters! 

The color comes from the iron-rich volcanic springs beneath it, which pump out hot bathwater-like mineral rich water to enjoy a soak in (especially rewarding after hiking around Lagoa das Furnas!).

The Terra Nostra Gardens date back to 1780, when it was created by a wealthy American living abroad in the Azores. It was made larger in 1935, and the 35-acre botanical gardens were extended dramatically. 

While I loved soaking in the giant gold pool, I loved walking through the gardens nearly as much! They are truly spectacular and definitely worth spending some time exploring.

You can also eat at the restaurant in Terra Nostra, although we didn’t due to running low on time.

I’ve read that if you eat at the restaurant you can get free entry to the grounds but I would recommend calling to confirm. 

Cozidos, traditional stews cooked in the earth, are available here. You can also order other traditional Portuguese and Azorean dishes.

Don’t miss soaking in the smaller springs near the changing rooms as well, which have warmer, clearer water and are surrounded by lots of plant life! 

Just remember that like at Caldeira Velha, the iron-rich water will stain your bathing suit, so be sure to bring a black swimsuit or an old one that you don’t care much about!

Casa Invertida

This quirky little stop is in the center of town in Furnas close to the bus station. 

It’s actually a power station of some kind, but it blends into all the other normal houses on the block. It’s a quirky and interesting stop while already in Furnas.

It’s interesting and easy to visit, especially since you’re already in Furnas, but it’s not an essential stop!

Poça da Dona Beija (Optional)

a small spring fed by mineral water on the azores islands

If you want to get in one last dip in the hot springs, add in Poça da Dona Beija! 

Honestly, after visiting Terra Nostra and soaking in the springs for a few hours, I wasn’t really feeling up to go to another hot spring, but I thought I’d mention it here regardless as it has quite positive reviews!

The entrance fee is 6 euros and you can rent a locker, towels, and hot water showers for 1-2 euro more per add-on. 

It’s also open quite late, until 11 PM, so you could also add it to the end of another day’s itinerary or explore further up the coast a bit to Povoação.

Here, you can hike to the beautiful Salto do Prego waterfall via the Trilha Salto do Prego

I didn’t have time for this on my own Sao Miguel itinerary, as it’s a bit out of the way and we had shorter days with less light hours, since we were visiting in March.

You can spend some time there before doubling back and checking out Poça da Dona Beija on your way back to Ponta Delgada. 

Alternately, you could visit here after catching a sunset somewhere on the coast, grab a great dinner, and then finish the night with a star-filled soak!

Where to Stay in Sao Miguel

I’ll have a post with more recommendations shortly, but I really loved staying in Ponta Delgada.

 It had a wide variety of restaurants to choose from and no place on the island is that far from it as it is quite central. The most I ever drove from Ponta Delgada to anywhere was 1 hour and that was the total opposite side of the island.

I stayed at Casa Ateneu and loved it, but I’ll also give a few more recommendations at the bottom of the post.

Casa Ateneu

We were traveling on a low to mid-range budget and I was so happy to find Casa Ateneu at a reasonable price (check here for current rates and availability). There are other options for those on a budget like Airbnb or VRBO but frankly I thought this was the best value and best choice.

We paid 35 euros per night for a double room with an ensuite bathroom and thought it was an amazing value. However, keep in mind we traveled a bit off-season near the end of March, so I would imagine the rooms would cost about twice as much in the summer.

The room was not huge but it felt really spacious with insanely high ceilings (seriously… like two stories tall high!), and lovely comfortable bedding, and plenty of outlets and places to store things. 

The whole interior of the house had a really lovely, homey vibe to it, and there was a kitchen that was free to use if you wanted to cook for yourself as well. We didn’t use it but it looked quite well-stocked!

One thing to note: the reception is not actually located at Casa Ateneu but just down the street from it. That said, check-in was super easy since we could just walk one block away to meet them to get our keys and get a tour of the property. 

The staff was always available to help us, even walking over with our printed boarding passes one evening, when the computer at Casa Ateneu was having trouble printing.

But my favorite part of staying at Casa Ateneu was the picnic baskets full of delicious breakfast goodies they gave us every day in lieu of a standard breakfast buffet.

This was perfect as we’d simply make a cup of coffee or Gorreana tea (free in the kitchen) first thing in the morning, head to our first miradouro or viewpoint, and have a picnic breakfast in gorgeous surroundings. 

They even included coffee and tea in the breakfast baskets, though you’d need a Thermos to hold some super hot water if you were going to make the coffee or tea.

Eating breakfast each morning out of a picnic basket overlooking a lake, surrounded by trees and the hum of birds, was one of the highlights of my Azores trip and I wonder why more hotels don’t do this!

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Ready to book? Check out Casa Ateneu or other Sao Miguel hotels 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!

PLANNING FOR UTAH AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: With mellow summers and stunning snow-covered winters, Utah is beautiful all year round but since you'll be spending a tremendous amount of time in the outdoors, I suggest going in the months of April-May and September-October. But if I had to pick just one month to go, I'd choose October — the crowds are fewer, the weather is appealing, and fall foliage is in full swing. 

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Salt Lake City, Moab, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Springdale or Zion.

For the first overnight stay in Salt Lake City, I recommend staying at Kimpton Hotel Monaco for a luxurious stay in downtown SLC.

Moab has several accommodations but for something exclusive, I suggest staying at either Moab Red Stone Inn or Moab Springs Ranch. And if you prefer glamping, Under Canvas Moab is unmatched when it comes to comfort and style.

And for a sleepover near Bryce Canyon National Park, Stone Canyon Inn or Bryce Canyon Log Cabins in nearby Tropic is what I recommend or you can even opt for camping within the park itself at any of its 2 campgrounds.

And as for your last days on your Utah road trip in Springdale, you can either choose to camp inside Zion but if you can't find a campsite or just don't want to, then you can stay at either Cable Mountain Lodge or Springhill Suites in Springdale. Both of these places offer incredible Zion views.

How to Get Around: You're definitely going to need a car while road tripping Utah. If you don't know where to rent one from, you can compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations. 

Best Activities: Want to fully enjoy your Utah road trip without the hustles of planning? Booking some activities will help you with that. You can book a horseback excursion on a canyon trail ride, an ATV tour, a Bryce Canyon National Park guided Tour, or a Moab Sound and Light Show tour.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack:  A sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. A dual purpose phone mount and charger will come in very handy and you'll be happy to have a roadside emergency kit should your car break down while road tripping.

Road trip pro tip: Purchase an annual pass (AKA the America the Beautiful Pass) to save money on the entrance fees for the multiple locations in this itinerary run by the NPS!

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? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on RentalCars as the best site to rent with in the USA – it searches dozens of rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare car rentals for your trip 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! If you have two days, read our two-day Salt Lake City itinerary.

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.

Book your horseback excursion on a canyon trail ride now!

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!

What to Pack for an Utah Road Trip

I have a complete USA road trip packing list that you can go through before your trip to know everything to take but below is a rundown.

Travel guides

This Utah road trip itinerary is packed with so much useful information but Travel guides are useful resources to have for deeper insights as they dedicate more time and resources to research. So, to fully arm yourself with knowledge and tips before doing the mighty 5 Utah Road Trip, I recommend combining my personal experience with this highly-rated Fodor’s Utah travel guide.

Phone Mount & Car Charger

Though cell network is not the best while road tripping Utah, you’ll still need your phone whether it’s to check maps or take photos, so it’s essential to have a car charger. And for navigating, a phone mount is gold! It takes away the pressure of having to check your phone while driving (which you shouldn’t do btw) or even asking your front-seat passenger all the time. I honestly can’t imagine going on a road trip without this dual-purpose phone mount and charger!

Snacks

Road trips just go better with snacks and let’s not forget how quickly hanger can kick in especially if you don’t want to keep stopping just to get something to eat. Pack a few snacks — and not just the sweet ones but a mix of sweets and salty ones too.

Rehydration packets

Rehydration packets are life savers when it comes to road trips! From long hikes, fatigue, uncoordinated meal times, scorching sun, there are so many incidences that can cause hydration.

I always carry some rehydration packets for every road trip I go on and they’ve been great at keeping me hydrated. There are quite many on the market but I recommend these ones.

Bug spray and after-bite care

Nothing takes away the fun of enjoying a scenic hike like bug bites. I know it and I’ve been there — nowadays I never leave home without this lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent, it’s a natural and DEET-free solution that works well on even the most stubborn mosquitos!

Unfortunately, it is sometimes inevitable to avoid bug bites regardless of how committed you were to applying and re-applying bug spray every couple of hours. In that case, this After Bite itch eraser will instantly soothe any bug bites.

Sunscreen

Most people don’t know this but 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 and that’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen even when driving.

On top of that, you’ll need it on hikes, beach days, or every time you go under the sun. You could probably get away with a cheaper sunscreen but since my face is kind of sensitive to chemical sunscreens, I need something gentle and I found that in this sunscreen.

And unlike the myth that some skin tones and races don’t need sunscreen, I am here to tell you that you need it as sun cancer doesn’t discriminate based on skin tone. So whether you’re white, pale like me, Black, Latina, or Asian, you need sunscreen!

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!

Rain jacket

Do you hate hiking in soaked clothes? Me too! You could have the perfect Utah road trip itinerary but that won’t stop it from raining but that also doesn’t mean you should just waste your day and wait for it to end while hiding in your hotel room!

Get yourself the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I’ve used mine for years doing all sorts of activities, from biking to hiking and traveling.

And the best part about this jacket is that it keeps me dry when it rains without making me uncomfortably hot like other rain jackets due to the zippered arm-pits which provide ventilation.

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.

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!


Don’t forget travel insurance!
Travel insurance coverage helps you recoup your losses in case of emergency, accident, illness, or theft. I’ve relied on World Nomads for my travel insurance coverage for four years with no complaints, and I’m a happy paying customer. I recommend them highly to fellow travelers!

Get your free quote here.

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

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 full U.S. statehood, Puerto Rico is easy for Americans to travel to. 

As a result, visiting Puerto Rico requires neither a passport nor lengthy border crossings at airports. 

That, plus Puerto Rico’s immense beauty, has lead it to be an increasingly popular destination, particularly in 2021 as we navigate the new normal of travel.

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and it offers the best of the island in a nutshell. This vibrant city combines history and modernity, urban life and beach culture, old and new seamlessly.

If you only have 3 days in Puerto Rico, it may be tempting to blitz as much of the island as possible, trying to see San Juan as well as the beauty of Ponce, Culebra and Flamenco Beach, and Vieques. 

But I’m here to tell you to take your time. Puerto Rico moves at its own pace, and running yourself ragged to hit all the “top spots” will actually have you missing out. 

San Juan in and of itself has tons to offer. By basing yourself in San Juan and doing a day trip to visit El Yunque and the Bio Bay, you’ll get a rich picture of Puerto Rico while also having time to relax.

You’ll also be energized to come back and plan a longer Puerto Rico itinerary where you can spend more time enjoying Puerto Rico’s islands (yes, this island has islands!) and lush tropical interior.

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

Here is a selection of some of the best-rated places to stay in San Juan. I suggest staying in a hotel, not an Airbnb. 

Airbnbs have recently been required to pay taxes like hotels, and many Airbnbs in San Juan operate illegally to avoid taxes. To avoid issues with an illegal Airbnb, I suggest staying in a hotel.

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

Travel Tips for Getting Around San Juan

the colorful buildings of old town san juan

I’ve structured this San Juan itinerary so that you don’t need to handle renting a car while in Puerto Rico. Renting a car gives you freedom, but it can be stressful, and 3 days isn’t enough for a full-on Puerto Rico road trip.

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, and this is how I specifically planned this San Juan, Puerto Rico itinerary.

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 Travel Guide: 5 Frequently Asked Questions

the colorful buildings of old san juan in a rainbow of colors

Is English widely spoken in San Juan? Yes! While the main language is Spanish, most people in San Juan are bilingual and you should have no problems getting around with English.

Is 3 days enough in Puerto Rico? While ideally, you’d have a full week getaway to explore Puerto Rico to its fullest — white sand beaches, islands, snorkeling, rainforests, and more — 3 days in San Juan is a great introduction to the island! 

What do I have time for with only 3 days? I suggest sticking to the PR “mainland” if you only have a 3 day weekend in Puerto Rico. The ferry ride to Vieques and Culebra takes quite a bit of time, and flying is a bit of a hassle as well. 

Is an adaptor needed for Puerto Rico? Nope! PR uses the same plugs as everywhere else in North America. In Puerto Rico, electronics use a voltage of 120V, so if your device needs a different voltage, you may need a voltage converter.

Is San Juan, PR safe? Absolutely! I’ve traveled to San Juan three times: once solo, once with friends, and once as part of a couple, and I’ve had fun and felt safe every time! There are some parts of San Juan that have specific safety tips to be aware of, which I’ve mentioned below, but overall, keep aware of your surroundings as you would in any other city and you’ll be fine.

What to Pack for a San Juan Getaway

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

Reef-safe sunscreen. The future of marine life in Puerto Rico depends on the actions visitors take now! Do your part to keep Puerto Rico’s reefs healthy for the future. 

I use and love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E. It’s moisturizing and protective for you, and it’s harmless for the animals and marine organisms who call San Juan Bay their home!

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. This is true for swimming as well as visiting the rainforest in El Yunque, particularly if swimming in the natural waterslides, waterfalls, and pools! 

A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems.

An awesome travel towel. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay

It easily knocks off sand from the beach in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love. On an island getaway, you’ve got to have swimwear you adore! I love wearing high-waisted swimsuits to cover up any travel bloat (mofongo, amirite?)

I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I’d bring two suits so I have another one to change into.

Comfortable travel sandals. Birkenstocks are my travel must! I adore 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 the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan in on their first day!

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 and the old city center.

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.

You’ll love walking the historic streets of Old San Juan with their cobblestone pathways and candy-colored buildings!

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. This is not to fearmonger — many people have visited safely and enjoyed it. 

Use your judgment, but I left it off this San Juan itinerary since I have no personal experience and don’t feel comfortable recommending it without having been there myself.

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 that 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.

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 best 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 bring your own snorkel or even try scuba diving for the first time! It has easy beach access and shallow waters.

Another option, if you have a car, would be to drive to Luquillo and visit the beautiful white sands of Luquillo Beach! There are lots of kiosks selling tasty fritters and other fried Puerto Rican goodies, but it’s a bit hard to get there unless you drive yourself.

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 — and how rum is more than just Bacardi! Rum distilleries in Puerto Rico are a huge industry, and there are many more tasty rums to try.

On this fun cocktail and walking tour, you will have the chance to 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 & Bio Bay

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 3 day itinerary. A visit to El Yunque National Forest 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 about driving in Puerto Rico that can surprise you.

For example, the right lane is typically for faster cars whereas the left lane is typically the fast one 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 in a rental car and have a more relaxing experience, I recommend going by guided full day trip. 

beautiful waterfall in el yunque

This highly-reviewed day tour makes it all easy. They will arrange pick up at your hotel and then they will take you to El Yunque first.

There, you can hike through the beautiful rainforest with unique tropical flora and fauna, arriving at natural pools and waterfalls (including a natural waterslide!) via the beautiful hiking trails in the national park. 

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 one of the kiosks the Plaza de Armas, which is a colorful square with lots of historic and beautiful buildings.

So, what is a mallorca? Mallorca refers to the sweet Puerto Rican bread dusted with powdered sugar, but it can also be split open and turned into a delicious sandwich that’s tasty at any time of day, but is delicious for breakfast.

 It’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s delicious. It also runs the risk of covering you in 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 or Uber 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 (I 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.

If you’re not into jet skiing, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding is another fantastic option.

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!