North Rim Vs. South Rim Grand Canyon: Which Side is Right for You?

grand canyon lodge at sunset in the north rim grand canyon

The Grand Canyon is rightfully one of the most renowned landmarks in all of America, and there’s no wonder that it figures high on nearly everyone’s national parks bucket list.

The Grand Canyon was formed by the rushing waters of the Colorado River after many million years of erosion and assisted by plate tectonics which uplifted the Colorado Plateau, creating an even more…. well, grand, of a canyon!

The Grand Canyon National Park site encompasses a massive 1,902 square miles. At its longest point, the Grand Canyon measures 277 miles across, and is up to 18 miles wide… which means that the North and the South Rims are quite far apart!

In fact, to drive from the visitor center at the North Rim to the visitor center at the South Rim takes about 4 hours!

As a result, you’ll likely want to pick one or the other. 

Allison standing at the South rim of the grand canyon
Me standing at the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017

If you are doing a huge, long Southwest road trip and have 2+ more weeks in the region, you can easily see both sides, but frankly, seeing one side of the Grand Canyon is plenty for one trip.

I spaced out my visits to the South Rim and the North Rim, visiting the South Rim in May of 2017 and just completing my visit to the North Rim in July of 2021.

In this post, I’ll quickly cover a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Grand Canyon, explain the difference and pros and cons of the North Rim vs. the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and give some tips to help you pick which side of the Grand Canyon is better for your trip.

I’ll also include things to do on each side of the Grand Canyon, specific to the North Rim or the South Rim.

Finally, I’ll also have some tips on where to stay, including some feedback about the campsite I stayed at as well as suggestions for accommodations.

Grand Canyon FAQs

Which is better to see: the North Rim or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Honestly: either!

If we are strictly talking views, both sides of the Grand Canyon offer exquisite ones. There is no real reason to privilege one side over the other in terms of what you can see.

When I go into whether you should pick the North Rim vs. the South Rim, views aren’t a factor, but itinerary, how far in advance you are planning, and time of year you are visiting the Grand Canyon all are!

Allison at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017
At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near sunset in 2017

Is visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon worth it?

Absolutely! The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is every bit as beautiful as its more popular southern rim. 

However, if you’re already visiting the South Rim for sure, I don’t know that the North Rim warrants a separate journey on the same trip.

I’d suggest picking one side of the Grand Canyon per trip. If you visit the area again on another road trip, then pick the side you haven’t visited before!

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise in 2021

Where is the best view of the Grand Canyon?

Every view of the Grand Canyon is pretty stunning. I’ll list a few of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon broken down between the two rims.

North Rim Viewpoints: Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Walhalla Overlook.

South Rim Viewpoints: Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point.

Yavapai Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Can you drive from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Totally… but it takes time! 4 hours, in fact. 

From the South Rim to the North Rim, you’ll leave the Tusayan / Grand Canyon Village area, drive along Highway 64 until you reach Highway 89 at Cameron. 

From there, you’d drive until Marble Canyon, then take Highway 89A to Jacob Lake. Once reaching Jacob Lake, you’d take Highway 67 the rest of the way.

This driving route would also work in reverse if you were visiting the North Rim first and then going to the South Rim.

However, I wouldn’t really advise this unless you have a ton of time that you only want to dedicate to Grand Canyon National Park. 

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon as part of a larger Southwest itinerary, I’d suggest allocating more time for other destinations and places.

So many places to visit in the Southwest, so little time!

What is the difference between North Rim and South Rim Grand Canyon?

That’s what this post is all about! We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s the TL;DR.

North Rim: Far less crowded (only 10% of the visitors), more remote, fewer amenities, better for a Utah parks road trip, not able to be visited in winter months, better in summer months.

South Rim: Much more crowded (90% of the visitors go here), better for Arizona road trips, better for day trips, more amenities and lodging options, open year-round.

One other thing to keep in mind is the appreciable elevation difference between North and South.

The elevation at the South Rim is 6,804 feet; the elevation at the North Rim is 8,297 feet (and up to 8,803 feet at Point Imperial, the highest point of the Canyon rim).

The South Rim tends to be several degrees hotter in summer as a result. However, hikers should note that the altitude is a little easier to adjust to at the South Rim, whereas hikers at the North Rim will have a little more struggle with the altitude.

Sign that reads "point imperial elevation 8803"
The highest point on the Canyon Rim!

Are there entrance fees to the Grand Canyon?

Yes. Park entrance fees are $35 per vehicle to the Grand Canyon. That grants 7 days of access to both the North and the South Rims, as they are both operated as one National Park Service site.

Both the North and the South Rim are also included in your America the Beautiful Pass, which can be purchased online at REI before your trip.

Which is the best time of the year to go to the Grand Canyon?

It depends! 

If you’re visiting the North Rim, know that it’s only open between May 15 and October 15… and any of those times is a good time to go! The North Rim is not very crowded, so any time will be fine within that period.

If you’re visiting the South Rim, the Grand Canyon is able to be visited year-round! However, the South Rim is very crowded in the summer and even in the shoulder seasons. 

I visited the South Rim in early May and it was packed… I can’t even imagine peak summer!

The South Rim is a popular option if you are visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, as it’s open year-round and is really beautiful under a layer of snow!

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months
Views of the Grand Canyon at wintertime (South Rim)

What is the best place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park?

There are so many options when it comes to where to stay!

North Rim: The Grand Canyon Lodge is the main traditional accommodation option. I went here to check out the sunset and it looked like a fantastic place to stay.

There is also the North Rim Campground, where I stayed — and I loved it! For $20 a night, I literally could see Grand Canyon views squeezed between some pine trees. It was incredible.

South Rim: There are so many options! The main lodges are Bright Angel Lodge, Yavapai Lodge, and the Thunderbird Lodge, but these need to be booked well in advance…. like 6+ months, typically.

There are also lots of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon if all the traditional accommodations and lodges within the National Park Service site are full!

Additionally, you can also stay at the Mather Campground outside of the South Rim.

Note that Bright Angel Campground is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and has limited campsites that can only be accessed via a hike, for which you need a (highly coveted, hard-to-get) backcountry permit.

There’s also the Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well if you are hiking in!

One of the cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim) — almost worth booking a trip for on its own!

Pick the North Rim if… 

… You want to avoid the crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park sees nearly 6 million visitors each year… but 90% of those visitors will only see the South Rim.

Only 10% of people who visit the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim of the park…. meaning that only some 600,000 people a year visit the North Rim, period. 

This means that the North Rim is far less crowded than the South Rim all year round.

I went to the North Rim right after the Fourth of July weekend, and it was really quiet and peaceful. 

Meanwhile, I visited the South Rim a few years back in early May, during the shoulder season before school holidays and summer vacations, and it was extremely busy and crowded.

For me, the serenity of the North Rim makes up for the fact that there are fewer amenities and activities around it. But more on that in a bit!

Views as seen from the North Rim

… You are also visiting Utah national parks.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets a bad rap for being “harder to reach” but I’m not really sure why that is.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open from May 15 to October 15 each year, but within that time frame, it’s very accessible, especially if you are doing a Southwest road trip that involves some of Southern Utah’s Mighty 5.

From Zion National Park to the North Rim, it’s 122 miles and 2 hours and 45 minutes.

From Bryce Canyon National Park to the North Rim, it’s 157 miles and 3 hours. 

Additionally, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty easily accessible from Page, AZ (where you’ll find Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend). 

From Page, it’s just 124 miles driving, which takes about 2 hours, 20 minutes.

However, from other places in Arizona, such as Flagstaff, Sedona, or points along Route 66, the South Rim is more convenient.

sign for sedona arizona with red rocks in the background
If you want to stay in Sedona, I suggest the South Rim, vs. the North Rim!

… You want to see wild bison.

One of the coolest things about visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that the park encompasses a massive bison herd! 

Normally people think they need to head all the way to Yellowstone National Park if they want to see bison… but that’s not the case! 

There is a huge herd of bison living on the Kaibab Plateau, which you’ll find after you enter the NPS park boundary and the entrance station, but before you reach the North Rim.

The bison stay very close to the roadside and it’s very easy to spot them. In fact, on my trip into the North Rim, the bison literally were crossing the road and traffic was stopped until they passed!

On my trip out of the North Rim, coming out the same way we came in, there were still plenty of bison quite close to the roadside. 

Keep in mind that bison are wild animals and you should never approach them or make them feel uncomfortable. Staying in the car is the safest way to observe them, unless they are quite far away.

Stay at least 25 yards away as per the NPS guidelines, and watch for signs of them being uncomfortable (eye contact, raised tails). Bison can and do attack humans, so be careful.

Bison standing by the side of the road along the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the North Rim

Catch the sunrise at Bright Angel Point.

One of the best places to catch the sunrise at the North Rim is at Bright Angel Point, which connects with both the Transept Trail (the trailhead is right in the campground!) and the Grand Canyon Lodge Area.

From the Grand Canyon Lodge, it’s about a 0.3-mile hike one-way, which takes about 10 minutes. The views at sunset are spectacular!

If you’re staying at the North Rim campsite, you can also do a sunrise hike to Bright Angel Point via the Transept Trail. 

Please note that there are no dogs allowed on the trail to Bright Angel Point or anywhere on the Transept Trail.

Sunrise at Bright Angel Point is a dream!

Watch the sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge.

One of the best places to watch the sunset at the North Rim is from the Grand Canyon Lodge area, near the main parking lot for the North Rim.

You can either check out the viewpoints near it, from the dining area in the lodge, from the outdoor patio area of the lodge, or down the stairs there is access to the viewpoint via the Transept Trail.

Seeing the Grand canyon lodge at sunset with brilliant colors in the sky
The Grand Canyon Lodge at sunset at the North Rim is phenomenal!

Walk the Transept Trail.

The beautiful Transept Trail connects North Rim Campground with both the Grand Canyon Lodge and Bright Angel Point.

It’s a serene, easy, and peaceful trail. To the Grand Canyon Lodge from the campgrounds, it’s 1.2 miles one-way (2.4 miles round-trip). To Bright Angel Point, it’s 1.5 miles one-way (3 miles round-trip).

It’s a great and easy day hike option that has you on the rim of the canyon vs. going into it!

walking the transept trail towards bright angel point at sunset with trees and clouds and canyon
Views along the Transept Trail at sunset

Drive the Cape Royal Road.

This beautiful scenic drive is the southernmost point of the North Rim, with the widest panorama of all — 270 degrees of horizon is filled with the beautiful canyon!

The drive is 15 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center along a narrow and winding road, and it’s a bit hair-raising at times — but it’s extremely beautiful, especially as you reach the Walhalla Plateau. 

Once arriving at the Cape Royal parking area, there is a small paved 0.3-mile trail you can take to the overlook, which offers unparalleled views.

You’ll see a number of sights along the trail, including Freya Castle, Wotans Throne, and Angels Window.

Angels Window: one reason to visit the North Rim vs the South Rim!

How to Get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Turn onto Highway 67 once you reach Jacob’s Lake. From Jacob’s Lake, it’s a little under 1 hour drive.

To get to Jacob’s Lake, you’ll be coming on Highway 89A, either from Utah (Kanab area) or from Arizona (Page + Marble Springs).

From Page: 2 hours 20 minutes

From Zion: 2 hours 45 minutes

From Bryce: 3 hours

From the South Rim: 4 hours

From Las Vegas: 4 hours 30 minutes

From Phoenix: 6 hours

the red rocks of zion canyon and hiking trails
Zion National Park is a popular waypoint for North Rim adventures!

Pick the South Rim if… 

… Accessibility is a concern for you and your group.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the far more built-up of the two, which means that there are a lot more accommodations in place for people with disabilities.

However, that’s not to say that the North Rim is inaccessible or not suitable for people with disabilities. 

The Grand Canyon Lodge is wheelchair accessible and the North Rim Campground has 6 accessible campsites, as well as accessible restrooms. Point Imperial and Cape Royal are accessible as well.

Both the Transept Trail and access to Bright Angel Point are not accessible, and the overlook by the Grand Canyon Lodge is definitely not accessible and would be hard for those with mobility limitations (stairs and deep steps).

The South Rim has a lot more accessibility options. Both the Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab Trail are accessible up to a certain point. 

The shuttle buses that service the South Rim are all wheelchair accessible, with ramps and space to carry wheelchairs (up to 30″ wide by 48″ long). The bus can also ‘kneel’ for those who would like a reduced step up to the bus.

Most overlooks at the South Rim are wheelchair accessible and there are also many scenic drive options with accessible viewpoints and plenty of accessible restrooms

An excellent and far more complete guide to accessibility for people with disabilities is available on Frommer’s here; I’ve merely summarized a bit of the information here, but they cover it all!

… You are primarily visiting Arizona destinations.

One of the main reasons why you might want to choose the South Rim of the Grand Canyon over the North Rim is that it is far better if you are following an Arizona road trip itinerary (like mine!).

The South Rim is easily accessible by day trip from Williams, AZ (part of Route 66!) or Flagstaff, AZ. I personally visited the South Rim on a day trip from Flagstaff and I found it perfect, as it was only 90 minutes away by car. Just enough time for sightseeing and a day hike!

The South Rim is also a popular day trip from Sedona, Arizona, which is about a 2-hour drive each way. It’s a little bit of a long day, but it works!

Sedona church next to cactus
Sedona is an easy day trip destination for Grand Canyon adventures!

The only place in Arizona that the North Rim is easily accessible to is Page, AZ, which is right at the Utah border. 

In fact, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon pairs way better with a Utah National Parks itinerary than an Arizona road trip itinerary! 

If you were to do that, I would sandwich it between Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park to minimize your backtracking.

allison looking over the edge of bryce canyon and its orange hoodoos
Bryce Canyon National Park is an easy stop before or after the North Rim!

… You want lots of activity options.

There are so many things you can do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, including a ton of tour options and fun additional activities you can add to your trip. 

Helicopter ride? Those leave right from Grand Canyon Village and there are more helicopter tour companies than you can shake a stick at.

(And if you can afford it, do it — I did a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, and it’s one of my top 5 travel experiences of my entire lifetime).

Book your helicopter tour online here!

Allison in a helicopter taking off for the Grand Canyon
About to take off to check out the Grand Canyon via helicopter!
View over the Grand Canyon via helicopter
Viewing the Grand Canyon from above in a helicopter — priceless!

Small scenic plane tour? Yup, they have those too! 

They cover the Zuni Corridor, Point Imperial, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, and even points on the North Rim such as Point Imperial, the Kaibab Plateau, and Kaibab National Forest.

Book your scenic plane tour here!

Pink Jeep Tour? Absolutely! Pink Jeep Tours is one of my favorite tour companies (I’ve used them in both Las Vegas’s Valley of Fire and in Sedona) and they offer incredible sightseeing tours right from the South Rim.

I didn’t get a chance to do a Pink Jeep Tour on my trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but I wish I had. Judging from past experience, it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon through rose-colored glasses!

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

Allison standing on top of a pink jeep in the valley of fire of las vegas

And these are but three of the many great Grand Canyon activities leaving from the South Rim.

Below are a few other select activities! The below tours leave from Tusayan and Williams, two spots near Grand Canyon Village.

… You are planning at the last minute.

Because the South Rim is so much more accessible and built-up than the North Rim, it’s not a problem at all to plan at the last minute.

If you want accommodations at the North Rim, you have one option inside the park, one option just outside it, one campground, and then a whole lot of nothing until you reach Jacob Lake one hour away (and there’s not much there, either).

If you are visiting the South Rim at the last minute, you don’t really have to worry because there are dozens of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon, plus abundant options in Williams and even Flagstaff. 

The main lodges will likely be booked up well in advance at the South Rim, but I was even able to find campsites at Mather Campground (the big South Rim campground) open with just one-week advance booking in the middle of July, peak season!

one of the lodges at the grand canyon south rim
One of the three lodges at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Walk some (or all of!) the Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail is a mostly-paved, easy trail that stretches between the South Kaibab Trail (which you can take into the canyon) all the way west to Hermits Rest.

The Rim Trail offers 13 miles of paved trail, but you can do any fraction of it and return via shuttle bus at any of the designated stops, so it’s easy to tailor to your own preferences and abilities.

girl sitting on the edge of a brick wall on the paved rim trail looking over the expanse of the grand canyon in mid afternoon sunlight

Take one of the many day hikes available.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a ton of fantastic day hikes you can do — including short hikes into the canyon.

No need to sweat the Rim to Rim hike — there are plenty of in-between options!

Here are 5 of my favorite South Rim hikes including very short options that take about 1-2 hours to complete and can be done by total beginners.

a hike in the south rim of the grand canyon

Take a tough descent to Skeleton Point and back.

The South Kaibab Trail will take you all the way into the belly of the beast, but there are plenty of stop and turn-around points that make your hike in the Grand Canyon a lot less cumbersome.

The hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point and back is a great 6-mile hike that’s hard but not insane. Keep in mind the 2,000+ feet of elevation gain (and loss) when considering this hike!

a sign reading skeleton point halfway down into the grand canyon with expansive views of the canyon everywhere you look
The turn-around marker at Skeleton Point, two thousand feet below the Canyon rim

Check out the Desert View Watchtower.

Take the Desert View Drive 23 miles between Grand Canyon Village and the small settlement of Desert View for a beautiful drive.

It’s also home to a really cool viewpoint on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Note that the Desert View Watchtower itself is currently closed due to the pandemic; however, it’s still well worth visiting for its beauty and the gorgeous drive to get there!

a brick-style watchtower towering over the south rim of the grand canyon; a couple wearing backpacks looking over the canyon off in the distance
The Desert View Watchtower is a popular South Rim viewpoint!

How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona is a great gateway to the Grand Canyon!

Here is where you’ll find the historic and scenic Grand Canyon railway, which is one hell of a way to make an entrance to the South Rim!

Book your Grand Canyon Railway tickets online here!

the historic grand canyon train from a straight-on angle
The scenic Grand Canyon Railway connects Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Driving into the South Rim is also totally possible. You can come in via Las Vegas or via Flagstaff, depending on your trip itinerary.

From Vegas, you’ll take I-11 to the Hoover Dam, where you can check out one of the coolest marvels of engineering in the United States.

Did you know that the concrete in the middle of the Hoover Dam is still not dry nearly 100 years later?

You can also walk — on foot! — between Nevada and Arizona.

the giant dam at the hoover dam, holding in water from lake mead, near the border of arizona and nevada
The beautiful engineering of the Hoover Dam

Then you can continue along Highway 93 into Arizona, then turn onto I-40 / Route 66 in Kingman. Take that to Williams, AZ, where you’ll turn onto Highway 64, which brings you right to the Grand Canyon.

If coming from Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, or any point south in Arizona, first make your way to Flagstaff (likely via I-17)

Then, take either I-40 / Route 66 to Williams then up to Highway 64, or alternately take Highway 180 up to Grand Canyon Junction and then onto Highway 64 to Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim Visitor Center.

What about the Grand Canyon West Rim?

I would advise against it, personally, in favor of the North or the South Rim. 

Yes, there is the Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction, which is $23 per person plus park admission. 

a skywalk deck at the grand canyon west rim, looking over canyon views below
People out on the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim

Other than that there is not too much to see compared to North and South Rims (though there are a few other viewpoints, which you can check out more information on here.)

Plus, it has a separate $45 per person admission fee, as the site is not on national park land, but rather it is owned and operated by the Hualapai Native American tribe. That means your America the Beautiful pass will not apply, either.

In favor of it, I will say that it is beautiful, and it’s convenient if you are coming from Las Vegas, as it’s only a 2-hour, 15-minute drive (and hence it is a popular Vegas day trip!). 

It’s also a popular option for small group rafting trips which can be organized to depart from here.

people rafting on the colorado river which is part of the grand canyon around the sunrise hours
Rafting is a popular activity from Grand Canyon West

It’s a great option if you are coming from Vegas on a day trip and that’s all the time you have for the Grand Canyon. If you want an organized day tour, this is an affordable and easy one that has to option to add the Skywalk.

Book your Grand Canyon West Rim tour here!

But if you have more time, I’d offer that you should pick either the South Rim or the North Rim, especially if it’s your first time at the Grand Canyon!

Pick Both if… 

… You are visiting both Arizona and Utah and have plenty of time.

There is no reason not to visit both the North and the South Rim! 

I am writing this guide targeting people who want to choose between the North Rim or the South Rim, but there’s no law saying you have to visit just one.

If your road trip encompasses both Arizona destinations and Utah destinations, it’s pretty easy to visit both sides without a lot of backtracking!

the brilliant red rocks of sedona arizona, part of a popular arizona road trip itinerary
Sedona is a must-visit in Arizona!

If you want to visit both, this is how I would route it: Nevada / Southern Arizona sights (Las Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix) –> Sedona –> Flagstaff –> South Rim –> Page –> North Rim –> Zion –> Bryce Canyon –> Other Utah National Parks (Capitol Reef, Arches/Canyonlands in Moab).

Obviously the same also works in reverse!

21 Epic Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

Red rock landscapes of Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona

There’s a lot to do in Sedona — so much so that you need at least 2 days in Sedona to even start to see some of its best sights!

From the beautiful buttes of Bell Rock to the hiking trails among Cathedral Rock, from the Tlaquepaque market to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Arizona high desert. 

You’ll find all sorts of typical Southwest landscapes in Sedona, but the landscape in Arizona quickly changes.

Drive 10 minutes north and you’ll find rugged canyon landscapes in Oak Creek Canyon. 30 more minutes and you’ll be spat out in Flagstaff, a funky little mountain city right on Route 66, surrounded by Ponderosa pines. 

Driving further afield from Sedona will bring you out of Red Rock Country and into a volcanic crater and lava tubes, the ruins of Native American villages, ghost towns that were once booming mining towns, to the Grand Canyon and so much more. 

Let’s go see what Arizona has to offer!

Best Day Tours & Day Trips from Sedona

Oak Creek Canyon

A trail through the Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona with cliffs and water and greenery

Drive Time: 10 minutes

Just a few miles north of Sedona, the landscape quickly changes, and in just the blink of an eye, you can quickly be in Oak Creek Canyon, considered “a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon.”

You can visit independently easily. Head north on AZ-89A until you reach the turn off for Oak Creek Canyon. Cross the creek and park your car, and then walk a short distance to Oak Creek Canyon, where you can marvel at the beauty that this miniature Grand Canyon has to offer.

If you go by Jeep tour, it takes about 1.5 hours for the guided tour from start to finish. You’ll start at the center of the canyon, looking up at 1,500-foot tall cliffs above you that were formed by being at the heart of a fault line.

Then you’ll head up on paved roads over 2,00 feet until you reach the South Rim of the Colorado Plateau, where you’ll enjoy an amazing view before being swept back to Sedona.

Book your Jeep tour online!

Slide Rock State Park

The natural "water slide" of Slide Rock State Park with mountains around it and cool water running through Oak Creek

Drive Time: 15 minutes

Slide Rock State Park is just a few more miles up the road on AZ-89A, so if you are doing a self-drive day trip to Oak Creek Canyon, it’s very easy to combine this as well. 

There are several easy trails you can take in Slide Rock State Park for a little hike out in nature. For an easy paved trail, check out the Pendley Homestead trail, which is just a quarter-mile and super-level. 

You’ll see the historic Pendley Homestead House and the original apple orchards and a barn where the apples were packed.

For another easy hike, take the Slide Rock Route. It’s only 0.3 miles and will lead to a natural “water slide” of sorts on Oak Creek, which is a popular place for people to relax on hot Sedona summer days.

Red Rock State Park

red rock formations of sedona with green trees in the foreground and two towering formations in the distance

Drive Time: 15 minutes

Red Rock State Park is located to the south of Sedona by about 15 minutes by car. It’s full of awe-inspiring landscapes and is home to 5 miles of hiking trails.

One of the best hikes is Eagle’s Nest, a 1.5-mile return hike that leads up a hill with an incredible view of the larger Sedona area. 

There’s a slight incline as you gain about 300 feet, so it is a moderate hike, but the spectacular views are quite worth it!

For a different kind of hike, check out the Kisva Trail. It’s shorter, about 0.7 miles, and you’ll pass high desert flats and then enter the riparian zone of Oak Creek. 

You’ll cross the creek a few times and be covered in shade throughout most of the hike, so it’s a good choice for a hot day or for someone looking for a family-friendly hike.

Cottonwood

A Syrah vineyard sign during winter near Cottonwood in Arizona, USA

Drive Time: 25 minutes

Who knew that just a 25-minute drive from the red rocks of Sedona’s high desert, you’d be in wine country?

Old Town Cottonwood has tons of tasting rooms, or you can visit some vineyards in the Cottonwood area for wine tasting. 

There are also more wineries in the Jerome and Clarkdale area, part of the Verde Valley wine trail.

For some nature, the Dead Horse Ranch State Park is right there in Cottonwood and it’s a lot more beautiful and a lot less foreboding than its name would suggest! 

It’s located right on the Verde River and it’s a stunning place for a walk after exploring the historic downtown area and enjoying some of the tasting rooms and art galleries in Old Town Cottonwood.

If you plan to do several wineries, I suggest going on a wine tour so that no one in your party has to abstain or run the risk of driving under the influence. This is a highly-rated wine tour that leaves from Sedona!

You can also do a combination wine + Jeep tour departing from Sedona. It only includes one winery, Alcantara, but you can taste 5 different wines there and then be back in Sedona in only a quick 2-hour excursion.

It’s great if you have limited time, but still want to see a little more than just downtown Sedona.

Book your wine tasting + Jeep tour online here!

Jerome

Abandoned mountain town of Jerome, a mining boom town in Arizona

Drive Time: 35 minutes

Once called the “Wickedest Town in the West” for its corruption and debauchery, Jerome was a mining boomtown due to its immense copper mine, which produced over 3 million pounds of copper each month.

Jerome was a large city, at one point the fourth-largest in all of Arizona, up until after World War II. When wartime demand dried up, so did demand for copper. 

The mine closed in 1953, its population of 15,000+ people dwindled down to just 50 or 100. 14 years later, it was designated as a National Historic District and promoted as a historic ghost town. 

Today, things are a little more lively — the population numbers around 450, and there’s a large community of artists and companies which cater to tourists. Jerome is now considered one of the largest ghost towns in America!

You can drive to Jerome easily with about 35 minutes of drive time. Also located in Jerome is the Tuzigoot National Monument, a pueblo ruin atop a ridge above the Verde River.

This pueblo was built by the Sinagua people, who began settling the Verde Valley around 1,400 years ago. 

This particular pueblo was built around the 11th century, but construction on it continued up until the 14th century, suggesting continual habitation up to that point.

Historians believe the Sinagua people abandoned these settlements while making a journey towards Northern Arizona, where they dispersed into different Native tribes, including Hopi, Yavapai, and Zuni. 

If you don’t want to drive (or prefer some historical context along with your sightseeing), there are tours available that cover both Jerome and Tuzigoot National Monument departing from Sedona. It’s a full day trip that takes about 6 hours.

Book your Jerome + Tuzigoot tour here!

Montezuma Castle National Monument

The scenic Montezuma Castle carved out of a cliff, a pueblo cliff dwelling of the ancient Indigenous peoples of Arizona

Drive Time: 35 minutes

Another historical legacy of the Sinagua people, this is perhaps the most impressive Native American ruin in Arizona. 

The construction of this “castle” looks similar to the Puebloan cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, though smaller in scale.

Not so much a “castle” as a sort of “prehistoric high-rise apartment complex“, this dwelling has about 5 stories and 20 rooms, which were built up between 1100 and 1425, before being abandoned in the same migration north that Tuzigoot experienced.

While visiting Montezuma Castle, be sure to also visit Montezuma Well, about 15 minutes away. This limestone sinkhole (similar to the cenotes of Mexico) is really beautiful, although you are not allowed to swim here!

Ther are caves surrounding the Montezuma Well which show that this was another place where the native Sinagua people were living before their migration.

This is one of the best day trips from Sedona for those interested in Native American history, and it’s easily paired with Tuzigoot National Monument if you are self-driving, as the sites are about 40 minutes apart by car.

Flagstaff

historic center town of flagstaff arizona on a partly cloudy day

Drive Time: 45 minutes

Flagstaff is one of the most obvious Sedona day trips for a number of reasons. Less than an hour drive away from downtown Sedona through a beautiful pine forest, Flagstaff has so much to offer travelers.

In terms of nature, Flagstaff has a ton to offer. You can forest bathe in the world’s largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest, ascend to the San Francisco peaks via the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift, or take a section hike on the AZT, the 800-mile trail that runs through Arizona from Utah to Mexico.

The Coconino National Forest is home to great opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Another great outdoor activity in Flagstaff is ziplining with Flagstaff Extreme! It’s a ton of fun and an experience I recommend wholeheartedly.

Other great things to do in Flagstaff include enjoying all the great breweries in town, ambling along Flagstaff’s stretch of Route 66 by foot or by car, and enjoying the historic downtown area.

But there’s no need to stay down to earth: Flagstaff is also home to the Lowell Observatory, a famed planetarium where Pluto was first discovered! 

Of course, the observatory is best visited at night, so this may not be the best day trip option, but planning an overnight excursion to Flagstaff that includes some time touring the observatory would be a fantastic option for space enthusiasts.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Drive Time: 55 minutes

Walnut Canyon is another cool site that combines geology and archaeology, where you can visit a Native American pueblo and also admire the canyon in which it was built.

Take a stroll down the 1-mile Island Trail, which allows you to pass 25 individual cliff dwellings that were last inhabited some 700 years ago.

Note that while the trail is short, it is a bit difficult and it’s not accessible. The elevation is well above 7,000 feet, and the trail descends and then ascends 185 vertical feet via stairs on steep terrain. 

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Colorful volcanic hill near sunset crater in Flagstaff Arizona with lots of trees

Drive Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Located outside of Flagstaff, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a really beautiful and unique place where the Ponderosa pines give way to a volcanic landscape.

There are several beautiful hiking trails in the National Monument site, where you can explore the volcanic landscapes. 

An easy trail is the A’a Trail, a quarter-mile trail showing the basalt lava rock formations of the Bonito Lava Flow which occurred almost a millennium ago. 

If you need a paved, accessible trail, the Bonito Vista Trail is a great option too, only 0.3 miles round trip and paved over the cinders.

For a more difficult hike, take the Lava’s Edge trail, a 3.5-mile moderate hike over loose volcanic cinder and rocky basalt. You’ll see all sorts of incredible sites on this path!

There is a lava tube in the national monument area that used to be able to be walked through, but unfortunately, since it is now beginning to collapse, it is no longer able to be visited.

Wupatki National Monument

Historic Wupatki Ruin at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona, made of red rocks that look like bricks

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Often visited in conjunction with Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, the fee for Sunset Crater also includes admission to Wupatki National Monument, so you should pair both when doing a Sedona day trip.

This is another Native American archaeological site with ancient pueblos. There are some 800+ ruins in the park, though only 5 sites are open to visitors and accessible via the main road. 

These pueblos were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Natives during the same time period as the previously mentioned pueblos and were abandoned many centuries ago during the same migration.

Williams

Road sign US road 66 in Williams, Arizona.

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Williams is considered the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, and it’s also the start of the scenic Grand Canyon Railway. 

It’s also right along Route 66, so it’s a fun destination if you’re looking to drive a stretch of Route 66 from Flagstaff to Williams while visiting Sedona!

A great day trip itinerary would include Flagstaff, Williams, and Grand Canyon National Park in a full-day trip full of scenic drives and natural beauty. 

If you continue on to Grand Canyon Village from Williams, this is the departure point for a lot of epic Grand Canyon helicopter and Pink Jeep tours!

Book your Grand Canyon helicopter or your scenic Grand Canyon Pink Jeep tour here!

Prescott

Yavapai County courthouse in Prescott Arizona

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Prescott is a charming city near Sedona that makes a great day trip option!

Wander along the historic Whiskey Row full of bars and live music spots, check out the pioneer history at the Sharlot Hall Museum, or learn about the culture of the Southwest’s original inhabitants at the Museum of Indigenous People. 

Nature lovers will love birding at Watson Lake, which also abounds in hiking opportunities. The Prescott National Forest is also right there on the edge of town and offers up 450 miles of trail to choose from!

Prescott is easily paired with other destinations like Cottonwood, Jerome, and Tuzigoot National Monument for an epic one-day road trip from Sedona that covers several historic destinations in one go.

Winslow

Public "standin on the corner" park in Winslow Arizona on Route 66

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Winslow is another historic Route 66 town in Arizona that is worth a stop if you are driving a stretch of Route 66, such as if you are heading to Petrified Forest National Park.

Winslow is a town made famous by the Eagles in their song “Take it Easy”, where they sing about standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona — and there’s now a Standin’ on the Corner Park to commemorate the song, complete with a statue and a trompe l’oeil mural!

Winslow would be best paired with other destinations on Route 66 like Flagstaff and Holbrook. You can also visit the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark on the way — it’s just a short sojourn off the Mother Road.

Grand Canyon National Park

Orange and red rocks of the Grand canyon from a vista point with a view of the Colorado River winding below

Drive Time: 2 hours

While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is out of reach for a day trip from Sedona, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is easily accessible within about 2 hours by car. (Read about the difference between the two here)

Considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is the world’s deepest canyon, carved out by millennia of erosion of the mighty Colorado River. 

It’s truly a wonder to behold, and if you’re staying in Sedona with no plans to make a larger Arizona road trip, a day trip to the Grand Canyon is the day trip to choose. 

There are a few ways to do a Grand Canyon day trip from Sedona: self-drive, guided tour, and guided tour via train.

Self-driving is relatively self-explanatory. The perk of this is that it’s the cheapest: just hop in your car, drive up through Flagstaff and then head to Williams along Route 66 before turning towards Grand Canyon National Park. 

The other perk is getting to stop however long you want in these side-trip destinations, so you can spend a few hours in Flagstaff and an hour or so in Williams before checking out the Grand Canyon.

If you don’t have a rental car, or don’t want to deal with the drive, there are tons of great day tours to choose from! 

Taking a guided tour takes the spontaneity out of things, but it does also take the stress out, and it puts the onus of driving 4+ hours in a day on someone else! 

There are a variety of guided tours offered from Sedona. This guided tour is the best-rated standard Grand Canyon tour, which includes pick-up, plenty of sightseeing time at the Canyon, and drop-off back at your Sedona hotel.

Book it here!

For a slightly different option, you can do this sunset tour of the Grand Canyon that also includes dinner. It gets a later start, starting around 11:30 AM, and lasts for 10 hours. 

Expect this to be a long day and to arrive back late at night in Sedona, but as someone who has seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon, I can promise you: it’s absolutely worth it!

Book it here.

Another option is the guided tour that includes the historic scenic train from Williams to Grand Canyon Village. 

This tour includes transit from Sedona to Williams, a one-way ticket (standard or first-class) with entertainment between Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a 4-hour tour of the Grand Canyon (including the East Rim, the Desert View Watchtower, and the Cameron Trading Post on Navajo land), and then return transit via vehicle to Sedona.

Lunch is not included, but there is free time given for lunch, so pack a lunch or be prepared to spend some money on lunch.

Book it here!

Phoenix

Capitol City of Phoenix skyline with some shrubs and desert fauna

Drive Time: 2 hours

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix, makes for an interesting day trip, though it is rather far away from Sedona. 

If you’re visiting Sedona from out of state, most likely you’ll fly in and out of Phoenix International Airport, so perhaps setting aside a half-day to explore Phoenix either coming or going would be the best use of time!

When in Phoenix, don’t miss the stunning Desert Botanical Garden, spread across 140 acres of beautiful land in Papago Park.

Other things to do in Phoenix include checking out the culture. Phoenix is home to a number of great museums including the Arizona Capitol Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Heard Museum of American Indian Art.

Museums are a great way to spend a summer day in Phoenix because summer temperatures here are scorching!

Scottsdale

The city of Scottsdale Arizona at sunset with a small mountain peak in the distance

Drive Time: 2 hours

Scottsdale is part of the Greater Phoenix Area, a large city that sort of acts as a suburb of Phoenix. 

It’s best-known for its resorts and spas, but Scottsdale also has great culture! 

It’s known for its architecture, including the Old Town with its Western architecture and the beautiful Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, which you can see on a guided tour.

Other things to do in Scottsdale include exploring all the great boutiques, checking out the museums, and enjoying the fantastic eating and drinking scene!

Tempe

Lake in Tempe with bridge and skyline

Drive Time: 2 hours

Another city in the Greater Phoenix Area, Tempe is also worthy of a day trip on your way coming or going to Sedona. 

Enjoy time out on the water at Tempe Town Lake, take a hike in the Sonoran Desert (best avoided in summer unless you can get an early start!), or enjoy the beautiful murals around the city.

Holbrook

Tipi style hotel rooms as part of the Wigwam motel on route 66, a nostalgic place to stay

Drive Time: 2 hours

Holbrook is a worthy stop along Route 66 that makes a good breakpoint on your way to Petrified Forest National Park (another 20 minutes away) or Canyon de Chelley (another hour and 45 minutes).

It in and of itself isn’t quite worthy of a day trip but it is a great waypoint to further explorations from Sedona!

Holbrook is perhaps best-known for its ultra-quirky, slightly culturally-insensitive Wigwam Village, a popular motor lodge along the Mother Road. The design of the rooms are not actually wigwams, but rather tipis, but apparently that didn’t have a cool enough ring to it?

Holbrook is a strange little city full of odd things: an award-winning sake brewery the size of a small garage, a street called Bucket of Blood Street, and lots of kitschy Route 66 stops and shops.

Hopi Nation

Red rock canyon near Hopi Lands

Drive Time: 2 hours

So far, we’ve mentioned a lot of Sedona day trips that involve ancient Native American culture and archaeological sites.

But Native Americans are very much alive and present in Arizona, and the state represents more than 10% of the United States’ entire Native population. In terms of Native populations, California and Oklahoma are the only two states with more Native peoples.

There are several important Native American tribes in Arizona, including the Navajo (Diné), Hopi, Havasupai (Havasuw `Baaja), Quechan (Yuma), and many others.

The best way to experience Native American culture is via a guided tour that benefits the community that you are a guest in, patronizing Native businesses and artists.

This tour of the Hopi Nation is led by a Hopi guide, who will share their culture with you through food, art, and history. 

The tour includes a Hopi meal enjoyed at the Hopi Cultural Center, a tour through the Hopi Museum and Art Gallery, and visits to local artisans who keep tradition alive through basket-weaving, pottery-making, and carving the famous Kachina dolls.


Book it here!

Petrified Forest National Park

Drive Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

This National Park is often overlooked in favor of Arizona’s other two, more famous national parks (it’s hard for anything to compete with the Grand Canyon!), but it’s an absolute beauty worth visiting despite the long drive time from Sedona.

The national park is so named for its colorful array of petrified wood throughout the park, surrounded by the Rainbow Forest to the south and the Painted Desert further out in Navajo Nation. 

You can drive through the park in less than an hour via Blue Mesa Road, but I’d allocate at least 3-4 hours to stop at overlooks, do a few easy hikes, check out the petroglyphs and the Rainbow Forest Museum, and head to the Painted Desert Inn with its Hopi murals on the North edge of the park.

Page (Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon) 

Allison in Antelope Canyon looking up at the slot canyon

Drive Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are easily accessed from Page, Arizona, a small town on the border of Utah and Navajo Nation. 

I strongly recommend visiting Page on a guided tour. The drive time is nearly 3 hours each way, leading to a nearly 6 hour return trip, which is rough for just a day. 

A day tour means you can relax and rest in the car on the way to and from Sedona without having to stress about having to drive and get back to Sedona. 

There are several excellent day tours that visit Page. Depending on what you want to see, you can pick the right tour for you. The most popular option is to visit Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon together. 

This tour of Antelope Canyon X is the best option because you get all the beauty of Antelope Canyon without the crowds at Upper Antelope or Lower Antelope. 

I visited Lower Antelope Canyon during my last trip to Page and while it was beautiful, the crowds were frankly rather overwhelming!

This full-day guided tour includes a roundtrip transfer; visits to Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam, Antelope Canyon X, Cameron Trading Post; and lunch on the tour.

Book it here!

Alternately, you can visit Cathedral Slot Canyon, an even less crowded hidden gem near Page. This tour includes Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam as well, with a picnic lunch at Glen Canyon. 

It doesn’t include Antelope Canyon, but it is a gorgeous slot canyon nonetheless and is definitely worth the trip.

Book your Cathedral Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Tour here!

Glen Canyon

Glen Canyon rafting destination on the Colorado River

Drive Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Want a more active day trip from Sedona? How does a 4.5-hour float trip along the Colorado River sound to you?

This peaceful float trip doesn’t include rapids, so you can relax as you float through Glen Canyon on a relaxing stretch of the river. Your river guide will tell stories of the geology, wildlife, and Native American history of the region.

At a point during the rafting trip, you’ll be able to stop for an easy hike to spot the Native American petroglyphs, and you can also eat a picnic aside the river after the hike. 

You’ll end the tour at Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry, where you can spot pioneer-era cabins, before heading back to Sedona by air-conditioned vehicle.

Book it here!

Lake Powell

Allison standing in the Lake Powell landscape at Wahweap Overlook

Drive Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Also located near Page, if you want an active day out without a guided tour, you can head to Lake Powell. It is a long drive, so I suggest having another person you can swap driving duty with, since it’ll be about 6 hours of driving over the course of the day!

On Lake Powell, you can do all sorts of water sports: jet skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, you name it!

You can also combine Lake Powell with a visit to Horseshoe Bend rather easily, because it’s just a short 1.4-mile hike out and back from the parking lot. 

It’d be difficult to try to squeeze in a tour at Antelope Canyon too if visiting independently, so I suggest picking between Lake Powell and an Antelope Canyon tour.

Canyon de Chelley

Canyon de Chelley red rock landscape with a river snaking below it

Drive Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Located in Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelley National Monument is an absolute stunner. It’s like a far less crowded Grand Canyon!

From scenic overlooks, check out the massive spires and sandstone cliffs around the canyon. Take the 25-mile Canyon de Chelley Scenic Drive, or take a short hike out to the Spider Rock viewpoint.

There is tons of evidence of its importance to Indigenous peoples throughout time: you’ll find prehistoric petroglyphs and rock art, as well as ruins of Pueblo villages from centuries past.

Monument Valley

purple and reddish mesas at hunts mesa in monument valley

Drive Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

One of the most photographed stretches of road in the entire American Southwest is located in Monument Valley. 

While technically along the Arizona/Utah border, it’s doable as a day trip from Sedona as long day out, as you don’t mind driving and have someone to switch up driving duties with (or can handle driving 7 hours in a day).

Better yet, you can book a tour of Monument Valley and shift the responsibility for driving on someone else! This tour includes Oak Creek Canyon, Cameron Trading Post, the Painted Desert, and Monument Valley Tribal Park.

In Monument Valley, you’ll see all sorts of buttes and mesas and rock formations, including Rain-God Mesa, the East and West Mittens, the North Window, and more.

Book it here!

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 Only Southwest Road Trip Itinerary You Need

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

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

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

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

How Long Do You Need For This Southwest Itinerary?

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

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

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

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

Extending this Southwest Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Saving Money on this Southwest Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

Stop One: Las Vegas, Nevada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Two: Valley of Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

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

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

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

Stop Three: Hoover Dam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book your 2-hour offroad tour of Sedona!

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

I picked the South Rim for this itinerary because it works better with the itinerary, but you could also add on the North Rim between Page and Bryce Canyon. (Here’s how to pick between the two).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At sunset
At sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Six: Kanab, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Seven: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Eight: Capitol Reef National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book your stay at Under Canvas Moab here!

Stop Ten: Zion National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Pack for a Southwest Road Trip

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

Essentials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hygiene and Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toiletries

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

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

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

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

Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Canyon in Winter: 19 Things to Know Before You Go

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months

If you have always dreamed of gazing into the Grand Canyon, you have probably pictured its 6,000-foot tall cliff walls, glowing red landscape, and unparalleled desert scenery.

Looking down into one of the world’s largest canyons and the many layers of rock revealed by the force of the Colorado River is like looking back in time millions of years.

Although Grand Canyon National Park sees unbearably hot temperatures in the summer, the winter in Grand Canyon is a little more bearable… and sees fewer crowds.

Snow blankets the North Rim, accenting the overhanging red rock, and visitation dips quite a bit compared to the steady traffic of summertime.

Although the shift in seasons may change the scenery, there are still many fun activities to do while bundled up in Grand Canyon National Park in the winter!

Grand Canyon Winter Road Closures

Snow covered landscape at the Grand Canyon in winter, red rocks with patches of white snow with the sun rising above the canyon at sunrise.

North Rim Scenic Drive and All North Rim Roads

If you were hoping to visit the North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park, you will have to wait until mid to late spring.

The North Rim Scenic Drive and all amenities in the North Rim area close down during the winter months.

In fact, this road is only open for a short window of time: between May 15th and October 15th. (Read more differences between the North Rim and the South Rim here.)

This scenic road is a common access point for visitors arriving at the park from northern states, but be warned, the South Entrance is over 4 hours driving from the North Entrance if you end up on the wrong side of the canyon.

Desert View Drive (South Rim)

Grand Canyon in morning light covered in snow, with snow blanketing the layers of rock in the canyon as well as some of the trees.

The scenic stretch of road known as the Desert View Drive or East Rim Drive is open year-round to private vehicles.

The drive travels along State Route 64, connecting the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park near the town of Tusayan to the East Entrance in the neighboring Navajo Nation.

Although the road is technically open 365 days per year, the park service may elect to close the road due to inclement winter driving conditions.

The weather can change quickly in Grand Canyon National Park in winter, so it is important for visitors to frequently check for weather updates as they prepare to drive to the park.

Hermit Road (South Rim)

Winter landscape at the Grand Canyon, white snow blanketing the higher elevation pockets of the park and tops of the mesas, and the valley below showing red rock and orange rocks

During peak visitation, the Hermit Road, which spans from the South Rim area to Hermit Trailhead where the road dead-ends, is closed to private vehicle traffic.

From March through November, the road can only be traveled by biking, walking, or hopping aboard the free Hermit Road (Red Route) Shuttle.

Once the season of high-visitation is over, the road opens up to private vehicle traffic.

For the months of December, January, and February, visitors can drive along the Hermit Road and park in designated parking areas to access hiking trails and viewpoints.

Grand Canyon Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities

A snow covered visitor center at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
The North Rim Visitor Center before winter closure can still get covered in snow

Although the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is always open to the public, some of the facilities undergo reduced hours of operation come wintertime.

Remember the North Rim and all facilities are closed between mid-October and mid-May.

If you are visiting Grand Canyon National Park in the winter, you will want to be aware of these changes to facility hours and seasonal closures:

Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) Facility Hours

Grand Canyon Visitor Center: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Grand Canyon Visitor Center Park Store: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm

South Rim Backcountry Information Center: 8:00 – noon; then, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Yavapai Geology Museum: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Verkamp’s Visitor Center: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Desert View (South Rim) Facility Hours

Watchtower Kiva Shop: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

Watchtower Stairs: 8:00 am – 5:30 pm, stairs always close 30 minutes before the store

Tusayan Museum: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

North Rim

All facilities and roads are closed for winter at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, so don’t even factor this into a winter trip.

Visitor Centers in Winter

Man standing a few feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon in the snow, wearing a hat, sweater, and jeans.

Visitor centers in Grand Canyon National Park are open in the winter, except select holidays. It is always a good idea to begin a national park trip with a stop at the visitor center.

This is a great way to make sure you have the most up to date information, and it allows you to review your itinerary with professional park staff.

They may even have some insider tips to share with you!

Winter Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon camping tents near the Grand Canyon
Image provided by Airbnb

Many who come to Grand Canyon National Park choose to camp during their visits.

During the summer months, there are three different campgrounds to choose from: North Rim Campground, Desert View Campground, and Mather Campground.

However, North Rim and Desert View Campgrounds both close in October.

Mather Campground on the South Rim as the only front country year-round camping option in Grand Canyon National Park.

For those planning to stay at Mather Campground during their winter visit, advanced reservations are highly recommended.

As the only open campground in the park, spaces fill quickly! Reservations can be made online up to 6 months in advance.

Not into camping? There are also great Grand Canyon Airbnbs available in the winter.

Winter Safety in Grand Canyon National Park

Icy Trails

Icy trails at Grand Canyon in winter, with snow on the sides and in the canyon itself interspersed with red rock, with visitors at the end of the trail.

With limited daylight, cold nighttime temperatures, and limited sunlight in the deep canyon during the winter, one of the greatest cold season hazard in winter in the Grand Canyon becomes icy trails.

Many of the most popular trails remain open year-round. It’s not uncommon to have clear dry trails. However, ice may be lingering in the shaded areas.

To prevent slipping on icy trails, many hikers choose to carry along Yaktrax or spikes. These handy accessories will help you keep your footing on slick surfaces!

Hypothermia

Woman wearing hat, jacket, jeans, and snow boots at the Grand Canyon in winter, with her arms up in the air as the sun sets.

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia. Wet clothes from snow or rain combined with cold winter temperatures can create a high-risk.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing, eating high-energy foods before chill takes effect, and staying dry. Hypothermia is five times more likely to occur in wet conditions!

Rockfall

Snow covering red rocks at the Grand Canyon, other parts of the canyon left untouched by snow, as fog rolls on the top of the canyon

Rockfall is a year-round hazard in Grand Canyon National Park. When recreating within the steep canyon, be aware and alert.

If a rockfall occurs, the park service advises visitors to safely move out of the way. If it is not possible to move out of the way of falling rock, seek shelter behind a large and stable rock feature and place your backpack over your head.

Although rockfall can occur at any time, the risk can become increased due to water freezing behind the cliff walls.

When the water freezes, it can cause the cracks behind rocks to expand occasionally lodging the rocks out of place.

Winter Driving Conditions

Checkpoint for entering Grand Canyon in winter, with a sign that reads "icy road ahead" with little light, either at dusk or dawn.

The elevation on the South Rim is 7,000 feet, and winter weather conditions are not uncommon!

Throughout the winter months, visitors driving the park roads should use caution and slow down. Snow and ice may be lingering on the roads.

Things to Do in the Grand Canyon in Winter

Backpack into the Grand Canyon

View as you hike into the Grand Canyon in winter, with snow covering the top edges of the red rocks and blanketing the trees.

Backcountry permits are hard to come by during the busy season. Once the winter months come around, a permit to camp in the backcountry is a little easier to come by.

Backpacking is one of the best ways to experience the vastness of the Grand Canyon while exploring more remote terrain.

One of the most recommended overnight backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon is to Bright Angel Campground.

This trail has a lot of sun exposure making it difficult to do in the heat of summer, but comfortable during the wintertime!

This backcountry camp offers potable water and toilets year-round, and it is at the very bottom of the canyon about 1/2 mile from the Colorado River.

Bright Angel Campground is about 10 hiking miles from the South Rim.

Keep in mind the first day would be primarily hiking down into the canyon, while your second day would be mostly uphill! The trail’s high sun exposure keeps it free of snow and ice most of the time.

Mule Trips

Mules wearing a winter pelt and saddle traveling into the Grand Canyon, which has some snow on the side of the trail.

There are mule trips offered year-round on Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim.

Going on one of these excursions in the wintertime offers a welcome relief from the hot summer sun!

Winter mule trips vary in length and type of terrain. If you are short on time and not a fan of traveling steep terrain on a mule, you may enjoy the Canyon Vistas Ride. This excursion is a short 3-hour scenic trip along the canyon rim.

Visitors with more time to spare can choose to book a multi-day trip that includes an overnight stay at the Phantom Ranch.

The historic and well-known ranch sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the east side of Bright Angel Creek.

A mule trip to Bright Angel Creek is a great alternative to backpacking!

Winter Landscape Photography

View of the North Rim from Yaki Point in winter at the Grand Canyon South Rim in Arizona, high elevation points blanketed in snow surrounded by trees.

Grand Canyon National Park’s breathtaking landscape becomes something even more picturesque once the snow begins to fall. The tall canyon walls become dusted with snow and the cliff’s red colors pop.

Visitors hoping to capture Grand Canyon’s winter landscape can travel the Desert View Drive along State Route 64 while using the marked turnouts and designated parking areas to find the perfect angles.

Since many of the trails stay open year-round, photographers can also hike to scenic vistas, such as Grandview Point and Mather Point.

Pin This Guide to Winter in the Grand Canyon!

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 7 Perfect Days in Arizona

Road tripping in Arizona is a dream. With miles of open road, endless desert skies and natural wonders around every turn, it’s no wonder Arizona tops the list as one of America’s most visited states.

I’ve put together a comprehensive one week Arizona road rip itinerary for you to steal and replicate for yourself.

In this post, I’ve highlighted the best Arizona road trip spots, including the most lively cities, tastiest restaurants, and — of course — the state’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders!

You’ll begin in the warm southern climates of Tucson and make your way north through Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff, the Canyon Canyon, and eventually loop your way back.

So pack up the car with all your road trip essentials and hit the road to experience everything The Grand Canyon state has to offer!

PLANNING FOR ARIZONA AT A GLANCE:  

When to Go: With over 300 days of sunshine, Arizona is perfect for visiting all year round! But even with that, some months are better than others! So if I had to choose, I'd say May through October are the best months to visit this beautiful state.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have overnight stays in Tucson, Scottsdale, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon.

For your first night in Tucson, I recommend staying at historic Hotel Congress, a luxurious hotel, The Downtown Clifton Hotel for a more affordable option, or this Charming Southwest-Style vacation home if you want a homey atmosphere. 

And while in Scottsdale, I recommend staying at The Westin Kierland if you're all about being pampered or The Hermosa Inn if you prefer a more solitary option. 

For Sedona, I recommend staying at one of its most unique accommodation options like this Turtle House or this dome-shaped home that comes with stunning views.

And for your last overnight stay in the Grand Canyon, you can camp at one of its beautiful campgrounds if you didn't book the lodges in time.

How to Get Around: You'll need a car while road tripping Arizona. 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 Arizona road trip without the hustles of planning? Booking some activities will help you with that. You can book a Pink Jeep tour through the Red Rock Canyons, a Helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, or a helicopter ride over Horseshoe Bend.

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 Arizona Road Trip

Brilliant sunset in Tucson with pink and orange sky in a desert landscape with silhouetted cacti.

From the arid, dry climate of Tucson to the snow-covered mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona has weather for everyone.

In fact, Arizona sees about 300 days of sunshine a year making any time of the year great to visit!

But, if I had to nail down a few months that stand out in terms of temperatures, it would be May through October where temperatures generally range from 90 degrees in the day, down to 66 degrees at night.

As you cruise from the South end of the state to the North end, be prepared to experience ever=changing temperatures and be sure to pack layers, as a 40-degree temperature drop is quite normal for this mostly desert state!

Your Arizona Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Start in Tucson

It’s only natural to begin your Arizona road trip by flying into the Southern Arizona city of Tucson.

Tucson International Airport offers multiple flights a day to connecting cities and is a hub for tourist activities.

It makes the most sense to go ahead and book a rental car and pick it up at the many rental car companies that are connected to Tucson International.

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!

Tucson prides itself in its Southwest style which shows in its local street art, restaurants, and surrounding desert landscape.

Buildings that make up the skyline of Tucson Arizona with mountains in the background - your first stop on this Arizona road trip itinerary.

Check into your cool hotel

As you land in Tucson, check-in to the historic Hotel Congress. This luxurious hotel has kept its vintage vibes and makes for a great central location in downtown Tucson.

As you walk into the foyer of Historic Hotel Congress you can’t help but admire the Southwest charm that decorates the walls. A perfect mixture of wood and turquoise gives this hotel a quaint but hip feel. It’s guest rooms also hold on to the vintage vibes with stylish old-world radios, antique iron bed frames, and classy black and white tiled washrooms.

The Historic Hotel Congress will sweep you back into the Jazz Age and captivate your imagination!

>>> Book your stay at the Hotel Congress here! <<<

However, if you’re looking for something on the lower end of the budget, I recommend The Downtown Clifton Hotel. The hotel is highly rated with previous residents raving about its charming ambiance, spacious and clean rooms, welcoming staff, and a general warm feel that will relax you from a long day of activities.

With a mix of woody and colorful decor, this hotel is bound to make you feel comfortable.

>>> Book your stay at the Downtown Clifton Hotel here! <<<

Forget the home away feel in a hotel when you can feel right at home in a real home! Yes, this charming vacation home guarantees that and much more.

Located next to Tucson Mountains and in the middle of saguaro and cacti, this home will give you the ultimate dessert and mountainous vibe while still enjoying the modern finishes on the interior.

>>> Book your stay at this Vacation home here! <<<

Grab enchiladas at El Charro

Every weary traveler knows that airplane rides are exhausting, but El Charro Cafe has just the antidote.

After you unpack and unwind, take a 15-minute walk from Historic Hotel Congress to El Charro Cafe. El Charro has some of the best Sonoran-style Mexican food in downtown Tucson.

Located in a charming historic home in its original location, El Charro is still run by the same founding family so you know the food is top-notch.

Try their Bandera Enchiladas. A trifecta of enchiladas each flavorfully colored with their in-house green, red, and white sauce. Top it off with their Prickly Pear Margarita and you’re fueled up to hit some of Tucson’s iconic sights.

Go for a cacti-filled hike in Saguaro National Park

To walk off some of your Sonoran style indulgences make the half-hour drive over to Saguaro National Park for some sightseeing and easy hiking.

Take the Tanque Verde Falls Trail hike to see some of Tucson’s stunning Saguaro cacti. These cacti dominate the mountainsides and stand at a whopping 40 feet tall!

Tanque Verde Falls is an easy 1.8-mile hike that really highlights the best of Tucson’s beauty. Waterfalls, swimming holes, and canyons are set among the desert landscape making it the perfect place to snap some unforgettable pictures.

Hiking path in Saguaro National Park near to Tucscon with cacti and mountains in the distance.

Grab some chocolates at Monsoon

As you head back to Historic Hotel Congress stop at Monsoon Chocolate for some sweet treats to take back to your room.

Monsoon Chocolate makes some of the most colorful award-winning chocolate in the world. Located just six blocks from Hotel Congress, Monsoon Chocolate is a fun place to shop for chocolates.

This quaint, bohemian style shop offers specialty chocolates, desserts, and beverages that are the sweetest ending to your first day of this Arizona road trip!

Day 2: Head to Phoenix and Scottsdale

 Rise and shine, because your next destination is 1 hour and 40 minutes away in the state’s capital city of Phoenix.

Phoenix is known for its year-round sunshine and warm temperatures. Often referred to as the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix is a mecca for all things cultural including historic neighborhoods, an outstanding selection of attractions, and a diverse array of food.

Architecture of downtown Phoenix: blue, brown, and white buildings in a desert landscape.

Grab breakfast at Songbird

As you roll into the sprawling city of Phoenix, stop at Songbird Cafe for your daily dose of coffee and nostalgia.

Songbird is a brightly lit cafe located in a small historic house built in 1904. The owner takes pride in sourcing its coffee and teas from local roasters located in the Tempe and Tucson area.

Because it’s located in the Arts District of Downtown Phoenix there is a good chance you’ll find a local artist displaying their craft. Try Songbird’s Golden Milk Latte on their outdoor porch and enjoy a warm, sunshine-filled morning in the heart of Phoenix.

Visit the marvelous Desert Botanical Garden

 After a kick of caffeine, take the 15-minute drive over to Desert Botanical Garden. This botanical garden is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

Desert Botanical does a wonderful job of combining art and nature throughout their miles of trails that wind along the desert landscape. It’s best to arrive early as Phoenix gets hot rather quickly.

Pack a good pair of shoes, sunscreen, and of course your camera because you’ll be wandering around this desert oasis for hours!

If you’re fortunate enough to arrive in the springtime, the colors of the cacti are blooming and hummingbirds can be seen buzzing around the entire complex.

Bench in the Desert Botanic Garden with a tree and red flowers in the foreground.

Grab a burger in Scottsdale 

Wrap up your morning at the botanical garden and head to the neighboring city of Scottsdale for some delicious food and shopping.

Just a 12-minute drive down N Scottsdale Road is the best burger joint in Arizona. Rehab Burger Therapy is not your typical run of the mill burger joint. Rehab Burger Therapy is the be-all and end-all of burger places.

Each burger is a towering, carefully crafted masterpiece that’s not only pleasing to the eye but is exploding in taste. Their menu is expansive with wild combinations such as the peanut butter jelly bacon burger and the mac and cheese burger.

They deliver on satisfaction and to top it off, they serve everything in a beach-themed atmosphere that ensures you’re having a good time!

Shop til you drop

With a belly full of burgers, burn some calories in downtown Scottsdale by shopping around the world-class shopping districts.

Scottsdale has multiple different shopping squares to please every type of spender.

If money isn’t a consideration, head to the upscale district of Fashion Square where you’ll find name brand designers such as Prada and Gucci.

If you’re more into the boutique type stores, hit up Old Town Scottsdale where you’ll find more locally-owned, unique-to-Arizona type stores.

Square in Old Town Scottsdale with three greenish turquoise horses in a water fountain

Check into your chic Scottsdale hotel

Wrap up your shopping and drop your bags in one of Scottsdale’s beautifully designed hotels. Downtown Scottsdale also has some of the most lovely resort spas in the area: a great way to end your second day of an Arizona road trip!

If you’re in the mood for a head to toe pampering experience check out The Westin Kierland.

This place has everything you need all packed into one resort. You’ll find delectable dining, a world-class golf course, full-service spas, and bougie bars. It even has a 900-foot-long lazy river!

>>> Book a stay at the Westin Kierland <<<

If you’re more of the laid back, solitude-seeking type check out The Hermosa Inn. The Hermosa Inn was once a Western studio — now it’s been converted into a 43-room boutique hotel.

The grounds are perfectly manicured with native flora, speckled with elegant water features and paved walkways to show off the gardens. It’s easily one of my favorite places in the Valley of the Sun!

>>> Book a stay at The Hermosa Inn <<<

Day 3 & 4: Sedona

The vortex vibes will lead you out of Phoenix and two hours up the road to the red rock city of Sedona.

This fun and funky place is definitely a top place to visit on your Arizona road trip itinerary!

With beautiful weather, endless outdoor activities, and some of the most stunning sunsets in the world, it’s easy to fall in love with Sedona. If you plan to spend more than a day here, check out my two day Sedona itinerary for a more detailed guide.

The traditional red rocks of Sedona with a stream in the foreground reflecting the red rocks

Start the morning at Indian Gardens

Hiking and restaurant hopping is what Sedona is known for, so start your day with a fabulous breakfast and hike it off at one of the many trails around Sedona.

Grab breakfast at Indian Gardens. This picturesque restaurant is located right on Oak Creek Canyon and serves some of the best health-conscious breakfast in town on a beautifully shaded patio.

The breakfast burrito is an absolute must, or if you’re more of a morning sweets type, the homemade muffins with espresso are delightful.

Hike the West Fork

A short 15-minute drive up Sedona’s scenic 89A highway is the top hiking trail of Sedona, West Fork of Oak Creek.

This 7-mile trail winds and weaves through the towering canyons and follows a shaded stream through some of the most beautiful landscapes.

West Fork is a highly sought-after trail, so if the trail seems too populated for your liking, head back to town to conquer Cathedral Rock Trail or Seven Sacred Pools.

Both of these trails have exquisite views of the surrounding canyons and are easy enough to tackle both in the same afternoon.

Trail through a slot canyon with greenery and red rocks in Sedona -- a must-visit place to stop on an Arizona road trip

Hop in a swimming hole

If you’re visiting Sedona in the spring and summer months, consider finding a swimming hole to cool off in.

Sedona has tons of natural swimming holes filled with cool, clear spring-fed water. Grasshopper Point, Slide Rock Park, and Red Rock Crossing are a few popular spots for an afternoon dip.

If you’re in for more of an adventure, try hiking the 3.3 miles to “The Crack” at Wet Beaver Creek, which is an absolutely gorgeous spot where you can lay out in the sun, cliff jump, or explore the surrounding waterfalls.

Choose your own adventure

There are several other options for outdoor adventures just outside of Sedona as well.

These include horseback riding through the Sonoran desert with Wild Western Horseback Adventures, Pink Jeep Tours through the Red Rock Canyons, and hot air balloon rides with Red Rock Balloons company.

Yellow hot air balloon rising over the red rock landscape of Sedona, Arizona

 Check into a scenic resort spa or cool Airbnb!

Sedona is a hotspot for resort spas as well. Check out the Kimpton Amara or L’Auberge de Sedona for some top-quality spa treatments.

Alternately, if you’re truly in the mood for a unique Sedona stay, check out the hundreds of Airb&bs in the area.

Many residents rent out their one-of-kind mountainside hideouts and creekside stays for a truly secluded atmosphere. Many of these Airb&b provide unrivaled views, private pools, and patios that’ll amaze.

Check out this Turtle House, or stay in a dome-shaped home like this one

Grab a delicious Southwestern dinner 

After a long day of outdoor activities consider some fare at Mesa Grill (southwestern style).

Two other great options include Oak Creek Brewery and Grill (American with a Taproom) or 89Agave (great margaritas and Mexican).

Stargaze at Airport Mesa

To seal the deal on an epic Sedona day, end the night at Airport Mesa for a sunset and stargazing.

A short hike to the top of Airport Mesa will give you uncompromised panoramic views and the dark skies offer unrivaled sights of the desert stars!

Stargazing at Airport Mesa - sky in Sedona at night with the city lights off in the distance.

Day 5 & 6: Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon

The landscape dramatically changes as you head up 89A to Flagstaff in one of the most dramatic scenery changes on this Arizona road trip.

In an instant, the red rock canyons give way to towering pine trees as you enter the Coconino National Forest. This is one of my favorite highways in America because of the stark contrast of landscape.

Take time to soak in the views as you wind your way up the mountain and away from Sedona and into the boisterous young town of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is the perfect stopping place for breakfast before heading to the Grand Canyon.

Flagstaff experiences actual season changes so depending on the time you’re there, you may get to experience the changing of the colors in fall, ski season in the winter, or hiking in the spring.

But since you’re on a limited timeframe with just one week in Arizona road tripping, I suggest just a quick breakfast stop before heading out to the Grand Canyon.

Town square of Flagstaff with orange-brown architecture buildings and a partly cloudy sky.

Grab breakfast at the Toasted Owl

 The Toasted Owl is a phenomenal breakfast joint that embodies the funky college vibe of the city.

Located in what looks like a vintage antique shop, The Toasted Owl is a total owl-themed restaurant that brings out your best mood!

Their menu features the typical breakfast fare with a twist of Southwest options along with mimosas and Bloody Marys. Their indoor and outdoor seating is extensive and the service is excellent.

Head to the Grand Canyon 

The Grand Canyon lies just a short 1.5-hour drive from Flagstaff. Just enough time to sip on a to-go coffee and enjoy the open road into The Grand Canyon!

The South Rim of The Grand Canyon is the most visited, most awe-inspiring rim. It has multiple accommodations (check out these Grand Canyon Airbnbs for inspiration!), look-out points, and amenities.

Your first stop upon arriving at the park should be the Visitor Center. The park itself is vast and bustling, so it’s best to get a decent idea of where you are and where you want to go.

I recommend the Rim Trail for everybody who’s newly arriving to the park. This paved hiking trail traverses the rim of the trail and offers several look out spots for all the fantastic pictures you see speckling your social media.

You can also rent a bike through Bright Angel Bicycles and take the 7 mile route from Hopi Point to Hermits Rest. It’s a fun way to skip the long shuttle rides and not worry about limited parking.

Woman hiking below the Rim in the Grand Canyon wearing a blue jacket.

Hike below the Rim

One of the most exciting experiences is hiking below the rim. There are plenty of trails that will take you down into the canyon for a one of a kind view.

Look into the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point (12 miles) or South Kaibab Trail (7 miles). Both of these trails offer viewpoints broken into several sections if you don’t want to tackle the entire length of a trail. I cover several of the best day hikes below the Rim in this post.

 If hiking isn’t your forte, consider taking a mule ride down into the canyon! Xanterra is a company based in the South Rim that offers mule rides on a lottery-type system.

Alternately, you could fly high in the sky with one of the Grand Canyon helicopter tours that leave right from the South Rim — this is the helicopter tour I recommend, which flies over the canyon first before descending into the canyon and touching down at the bottom for incredible views!

>>> Book this helicopter tour! <<<

View from helicopter cockpit of man and woman in helicopter wearing headphones with Grand Canyon in background.

Stay the night at the Canyon

The Grand Canyon has five different accommodations scattered throughout the park. These include the Thunderbird Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Maswick Lodge, El Tovar, and Bright Angel Lodge.

Each lodge has its own flair and amenities and can be booked months in advance. If you find yourself without accommodations, I recommend camping in one of the many beautiful campgrounds in the area or checking Airbnb instead.

Some of the campsites require online reservations but they also have a few first-come-first-serve sites.

If you decide to camp on a whim, visit the Canyon Village Store to stock up on food and supplies. This old-timey grocery store has everything you need for a successful night under the stars!

Alternately, you can book an RV or camper stay on Airbnb or pick an Airbnb outside the park but close to the Grand Canyon.

Day 7: Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon

 Three hours north of the Grand Canyon is your last stop on your Arizona road trip!

Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are both located in Page: a once in a lifetime destination that is going to leave you speechless.

A man standing with a view of Glen Canyon's glassy still water and red rock landscape in front of him at Reflection Canyon.

Start the day at Glen Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

Wake up early and head out to the Glen Canyon Recreation Area of Page, Arizona. The drive will take you back through Flagstaff and straight up highway 89.

This highway passes through the glorious south end of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument so there’s no lack of views as you meander your way through Northern Arizona.

Horseshoe Bend has become one of the most recognized destinations on social media,a so be prepared for a small crowd. Don’t let this deter you, you absolutely need to visit Horseshoe Bend as it’s absolutely awe-inspiring.

A short half-mile walk (now paved) will take you to the rim of Horseshoe Bend. Here, you can sit in silence as you take in the massive stillness of this natural phenomenon or get creative with pictures that you will remember for a lifetime.

You can also take a helicopter ride over Horseshoe Bend for amazing views!

Dusk at Horseshoe Bend with epic sunset colors and a  sunburst illuminating the red rock landscape where a river bends sharply, creating a horseshoe shape.

Head to Antelope Canyon on a tour

After you’ve soaked in Horseshoe Bend, take the 30-minute drive down to Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is the famed slot canyons located on the Navajo reservation near Page.

You can pick Upper, Lower, or both: I went with Lower and loved it, but Upper is supposed to be beautiful as well.

A reservation is required for these canyons, so be sure and reserve your spot a couple of weeks in advance. Note that it is impossible to visit without a tour guide, and that you will have to pay both for the tour and for a tribal land permit, about $8.

A Navajo Guide will take you into the depths of the canyon and give you a safe, educated tour through the slots. Antelope Canyon is pure magic!

The way the water has carved out these beautiful slot canyons is absolutely incredible. Be sure to have a camera on hand because the slots are worth every picture.

View of the famous Antelope Canyon slot canyon, striated orange rock with sandy floor with brilliant colors.

Hit the road heading back to Phoenix or Tucson

After seeing Arizona’s finest natural wonders, make the 4-hour drive back to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport or Tucson for your departure back home.

As you make your way back home, you’ll pass through the major cities of Flagstaff, Sedona, and Phoenix so if there are any restaurant, shopping center or activity you didn’t get to hit earlier in your trip, you’ll have a second chance to do it now!

 Arizona is full of endless exploration. It’s a state with the perfect balance of city and nature. Hopefully, this one week Arizona road trip itinerary will spark your imagination and lead you through the Grand Canyon State.

What to Pack for Your 7-day Arizona Road Trip Itinerary

You can check out my USA road trip packing list for a complete guide on what to pack for your trip.

Travel guides

On top of my detailed guide, I recommend taking this Arizona guidebook! This guidebook explains every little detail you might want to know while road tripping in Arizona. Together with my first-hand experience I’ve shared in this article plus all the details of the guidebook, you can be assured of an amazing trip to this beautiful state.

Phone Mount & Car Charger

Whether it’s listening to your favorite playlist or taking photos, you’ll drain your phone battery while road tripping Arizona, so it’s important to have a car charger. And for navigation, a phone mount is a lifesaver and it takes away the pressure from the front-seat passenger. But taking 2 different gadgets is not practical when you can just take this dual-purpose phone mount and charger! I’ve used it on all my road trips and it has never let me down!

Snacks

There is a hilarious road trip quote I read once — I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like “It doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should always look like an unsupervised 9-year-old was given $100.”

I am yet to find out who said it but it’s 100% true! Road trips are no fun when you’re hungry! Pack up a few snacks, but don’t just take only sweet ones — throw in a few salty ones as well. You don’t want to have major headaches from only sweet snacks or get dehydrated from salty ones if you didn’t carry enough water.

Rehydration packets

Scorching sun, long hikes, overly salty snacks, there are so many ways to get dehydrated while road tripping in Arizona. And if you’re like me who gets nasty headaches from dehydration, you’ll want to avoid this at all costs by taking rehydration packets. These are the ones I recommend.

Bug spray and after-bite care

They might be tiny, but those little bugs don’t joke around when it comes to biting. And if you have sweet blood, they’ll be all over you as soon as you step foot in the outdoors — and that’s no fun at all. Take this lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent which is a natural DEET-free solution that works even on the most persistent mosquitos!

Sunscreen

If you’ve been sunburned before, you probably know the use of sunscreen! But do you know that you need it even when seated in your car driving under the sun? Yes, you do! What most people don’t know is that while windshields block UVB rays (which cause sunburn), most don’t block UVA rays, which cause aging and skin cancer.

And of course, you’ll need it when you go hiking or spend some time on the beach. I love this sunscreen as it prevents my face from breaking out but I also know that it’s pricey, so I use a cheaper one for the rest of my body.

If you go into the outdoors, don’t forget about your scalp! A burned scalp is no fun and it can lead to a headache. Take this special sunscreen for hair and scalp to avoid that.

External batteries

Of course, you can charge your phone with the car charger we talked about earlier! But what happens when your camera, drone, portable speakers, an e-reader, etc, run out of battery or if you’re out hiking and your phone runs out and you can’t run back to the car to charge? That’s why you need external batteries and this Anker external battery pack is a must-have regardless of where you go.


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.

Pin This Arizona Road Trip Guide!

5 Best Grand Canyon South Rim Hikes

The Grand Canyon is a hiker’s paradise with some of the most beautiful vistas in the entire United States.

While the hike down to the bottom of the canyon is best left to expert hikers, there are several easy to moderate Grand Canyon day hikes worth the effort!

The combination of utter exhaustion and triumphant accomplishment can bring a special sense of clarity and peace to a troubled mind. 

The Grand Canyon has provided that combination to many adventurers over the centuries.  The first humans to see the Canyon, the Ancestral Puebloans, are estimated to have looked over the edge some 12,000 years ago!

Today, the Grand Canyon has hundreds of miles of hiking trails to offer all fitness and adrenaline levels, and just one look at any vista is enough to tell you why this is a place you must visit at least once in your life.

No matter your challenge, physical or emotional, the grandest of all canyons has a gorge, a side canyon, a drainage gully, or ravine to draw you in and wrap around you, and bring you peace.

This post covers only hikes in the South Rim; I have a few North Rim hikes mentioned in this post comparing the South Rim to the North Rim.

Beginner Grand Canyon Hikes

There are two main “corridor” hiking trails along the South Rim: the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel trails.

Corridor trails are well marked and well-maintained, albeit heavily traveled. 

You won’t find solitude on these trails, but you will find solace. The Bright Angel Trail has the most options for a variety of skill levels. 

Not wanting to go beneath the rim? For those who are completely new to hiking, there is a 9-mile trail along the South Rim that provides spectacular views of the Grand Canyon along the full length of the trail. 

The Tunnels

Distance to First Tunnel: 0.5-mile roundtrip
Elevation Change: 300 feet
Estimated Time: About 30 minutes

Distance to Second Tunnel: 1.5-miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: Around 800 feet
Estimated Time: About 1 hour – 1.5 hours

A great first Grand Canyon hike below the Rim on the Bright Angel Trail takes you about a quarter of a mile down the trail to the first of two tunnels along the trail.  This is a very popular spot for families with young children and offers plenty of photo options of the Canyon and the hikers. 

Because of the popularity, the walk down may feel a bit like the line at an amusement park, but the thrill at the destination is much different. 

The chattering of hikers on the trail drops off dramatically as everyone stops at the tunnel to take in the scale of the Grand Canyon from below the edge. 

Even in just this short distance, you know you have walked into something extraordinary! 

Continuing down the trail approximately another half of a mile will bring you to the second tunnel which is equally as spectacular.

At this higher elevation, you can see junipers and pinyon thriving between great gaps in the rock.  The occasional shrubs and wildflowers scattered between the trail proper and the rock wall are a testament to nature and her ability to create life and beauty in the most unlikely of places.

Further down the trail, the multicolored cliffs are as inviting as they are imposing and the pull of the wonderful views can make it easy to forget that what goes down must come up.

Any Grand Canyon hiking trail below the Rim requires a significant effort to return to the top.  A safe estimate is twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. 

The walk back to the surface from either tunnel is not terribly steep, however, any hike out of the Grand Canyon should be celebrated. 

The trail does steepen after the second tunnel, so don’t let the easy stroll down the trail trick you.

Unlike mountain hikes where you do the climb and then get an easy hike back down, in the Grand Canyon hiking down the trail is easy, but then you have to turn around and go back up.

As the park signage reminds hikers, “Down is optional, up is mandatory!”

1.5 Mile Resthouse

Distance: 3 mile roundtrip hike, as the name suggests!
Elevation Change: 1,300 feet elevation
Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

A great turnaround point, and a very popular Grand Canyon day hike for beginners, is another three-quarters of a mile down the trail to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse. 

This stop has composting toilets, seasonal water in the warm months, and an emergency telephone. The small “resthouse” structure has shade and plenty of space to enjoy a snack and a good rest before the climb back to the top. 

The view northward in front of you from this stop includes the full length of Garden Creek drainage gorge, which the trail runs along, and the formation called the “Battleship” directly west of the gorge.

In the Canyon proper, you can see the Bright Angel Canyon scoring the North Rim and providing a stage for the l, the only corridor trail on the North Rim.

Each peak in front of you has a name.  The two most prominent features in the view from 1.5 Mile Resthouse are the Cheops Pyramid to the west of the Bright Angel Canyon, and Zoroaster Temple to the right.

This is my favorite Grand Canyon hike for a beginner.  You get a good feel for the lure of the Canyon and the effort to return to the surface, without waking up sore the next morning. 

Intermediate Grand Canyon Hikes

3 Mile Resthouse

Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 2,240 feet
Estimated Time: 3-4 hours

For those with more hiking experience under their belt, there are two great Grand Canyon day hike points further down the trail. Another 1.5 miles down the trail is 3 Mile Resthouse. 

This resthouse, like 1.5 Mile Resthouse, also has composting toilets, seasonal water in the warm months, and an emergency telephone.

The shade structure is slightly larger than at 1.5 Mile Resthouse and I have spent many hours reading, writing, and sketching from this location.

If you’re lucky enough to reach the stop after hikers going down have made their way through, but before the hikers coming up reach the location, you can spend 2 to 3 hours here with very little company. 

Otherwise, this stop is an extraordinarily popular turnaround point and is a bustling location for Grand Canyon hikes!

The view of the Canyon from the 3 Mile Resthouse is not much different than 1.5 Mile Resthouse because the trail is still hugging the walls of the Garden Creek gorge and hasn’t yet turned to a more open view of the main Colorado River gorge. 

However, if you turn around and look back up at the Rim from where you started, the view is very different. 

The cliffs looming from where you came from are spectacular and humbling.  This is when you realize you are merely a guest here and you do not want to overstay your welcome. 

Take your photos, finish your journal entry or sketch, and after a good rest, start the return climb up the trail.  

This is a 6-mile round trip Grand Canyon hike and is the perfect combination of canyon immersion and a good workout.

Indian Gardens Campground

Distance: 9.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 3,000 feet
Estimated Time: 5-6 hours

Another great turnaround point for an intermediate to advanced hiker is the Indian Gardens Campground.  This oasis in the Canyon is 4.8 miles from the Rim, so a round trip hike is almost 10 miles in a single day. 

This hike takes an average of 2.5 to 3 hours to get to the campground so plan on 5 to 6 hours for the return trip.

For those with the time, this is a beautiful hike.  Indian Gardens is a stunning riparian area filled with cottonwood trees tucked in the crevices of the Canyon walls.

The small creek, Garden Creek, that created the drainage gorge the trail has been hugging, passes through the campground on its way to the Colorado River.

As with both rest houses, there are toilets and an emergency phone.  Indian Gardens also includes a ranger station, a mule corral, and year-round potable water.

The campground here contains 16 tent campsites, each with a table, two ammo boxes for food storage, and a shade structure. 

A backcountry permit is needed if you care to spend the night and be sure to plan ahead as this is a premium backpacking stop and the campsites fill up quickly. 

Despite the time commitment to reach this spot, the effort is well worth it.  This surprising water hole surrounded by the formidable multicolored cliffs is refreshing and energizing.

If planning to turn around here, be sure to leave early enough to reach the top before the sun sets. 

The Expert Grand Canyon Hike

Plateau Point

Distance: 12.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 3,200 feet
Estimated Time: 8-12 hours

This is the further point you’re recommended to do as a day hike in the Grand Canyon.

You can apply for a permit to hike to Indian Garden if you want to break up this into two portions, or if you want to attempt to hike to the river (which is not recommended as a day hike)

The trail from Indian Gardens to the Plateau Point is considerably less steep than in the upper 3 miles of the trail. 

Can You Hike to the Rim to River and Back in a Day?

In a word, no. The National Park Service adamantly discourages hikers from going to the Colorado River and back in a single day. 

The river is 9.3 miles from the trailhead so a round trip hike is almost 20 miles in a single day!

Of course, there are many visitors to the Canyon who take the risk, and each year, approximately 250 need to be rescued. 

NEVER try to swim in the Colorado River – the water is very cold and moves very fast.  The river water is not drinkable without some form of treatment so plan accordingly if you want to fill up at the River.  

There is an emergency phone and a primitive toilet, but no water at the River Resthouse.

***

Final Notes on South Rim Grand Canyon Hikes

Irrespective of your turnaround point, the hike down into the Canyon is the easy part.  Spend time on the trail taking in the panoramic views. 

Notice the changing colors of the rock as the sun and shadows move across the Canyon.  Allow your mind to quiet itself. 

Enjoy your turnaround point related and in high spirits.  Then start back up the trail with a singular focus.  The euphoria as you take that last step on to the rim surface is immensely satisfying and cathartic.

The physical and emotional effort to hike the Grand Canyon is an accomplishment at any distance and any fitness level. 

Every time I take a hike into the Canyon I shed a little more discontent, and bring home a little more comfort and joy!

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7 Jaw-Dropping Hikes in Zion National Park

With canyons, red rock peaks, plateaus, and more than 10,000 years of archaeological history, Zion National Park is an ideal destination to hike your heart out, pitch a tent, or relax in luxury at one of the rural rustic lodges. 

Better yet, why not park at Kolob Canyon, at 8,726 feet in elevation, to watch the sunset over this 100+-year-old park founded in 1909 by President Taft.

Zion National Park lies close to the city of Springdale, near Kolob County, and covers over 229 miles of valley riverways, scenic dirt trails, red-rock cliffs, forged canyons, and rock formations, all of which can be seen on a quick weekend trip, but would be best navigated for a week or more to milk the most of each magnificent mountain landscape.

Averaging about 2,000 feet deep and boasting some of the world’s most beautiful scenic natural rock arches, Zion National Park lays exposed rock layers that uncover millions of years of geologic history.  Hiking Zion is the best way to see this history, and for some, the chance to escape the city and enjoy a rustic return to nature.

While there is no shortage of breathtaking trails and wildlife viewing, the following hikes, ranging from easy to moderate to strenuous, are some of the most popular, and they come highly suggested if you have as short as a weekend to visit Zion.  Are you ready?  Dive in!

5 Must-Have Things to Pack for Zion Hikes

Before we get started on these Zion hikes, let me just warn you that it pays to be prepared here. Hiking in Zion is strenuous and difficult at times, and many trails have very limited shade. At a bare minimum, you need water and ample sun protection.

Here are my recommendations for what to pack for Zion.

1) Proper Hiking Boots: Do not attempt to hike any strenuous hikes in Zion without proper hiking boots. Angels Landing, Observation Point, and the Narrows, plus a handful of other hikes not listed here, are all too difficult and potentially dangerous to do without proper footwear. If you’re doing only easier hikes like Lower Emerald Pools and the Grotto, you’ll be fine with sneakers.

For hiking the harder trails, I recommend these Ahnu boots for women and these Keen boots for men. Both are waterproof in case you want to tackle the Narrows, but they’re great for any of the Zion hikes.

Water Bottle with Filter: You will want way more water than you anticipate when you are hiking in Zion! You can either carry liters upon liters of water, which can be heavy, or you can pack a backup water bottle and use your water bottle with a filter to refill anywhere along the trail — streams, rivers, springs, anywhere! I use the Grayl for its ease of use and to reduce my plastic footprint.

Headlamp: If you’re planning to do any hikes in the afternoon or any hikes that have even the slightest chance of getting you back after dark, you’ll absolutely want to pack a headlamp like this one. It’s safer than a flashlight or using the torch on your phone since it still gives you both hands free, and it’s an absolute lifesaver (sometimes literally) if your sunset hike has you hiking down in the dark.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses: You’ll absolutely want all the sun protection! This means a broad spectrum SPF 30-50 sunscreen (I recommend a mineral sunscreen like this CeraVe to avoid polluting nearby runoff water when you shower), a sun hat or baseball cap, and sunglasses. Also, don’t forget lip balm!

Trekking poles for the Narrows: If you’re doing a section of the Narrows, you’ll definitely want to bring a pair of collapsible trekking poles with you! I wouldn’t recommend bringing these on hikes like Angel’s Landing, where they’ll get in the way more than help, but other hikes welcome these trekking poles as well.

The 7 Best Hikes in Zion National Park

While not exhaustive of all the hikes in Zion, the below Zion hikes include a taste of the diversity of the majestic peaks of Southern Utah rocks and all that Zion National Park offers.

The Grotto Trail

If you only have a short weekend and are aiming to see as much of Zion National Park as possible, Grotto Trail clocks in at just 0.6 ½ miles, a quick easy 30-minute round trip. 

This fairly flat, sand-packed trail is a family-friendly hike that is fun for all ages.  Whether you are carrying a baby on your back or are allowing your little ones to run ahead, this wide-sand packed trail is good for families. With an elevation change of 35 feet, it parallels the Zion shuttle roadway, connecting you with the Zion Lodge, making this a safe and convenient trail to try with tykes.

Fortunately, with Zion National Park running a shuttle service from 9 AM to 4 PM daily, Grotto Trail is easily accessible by shuttle between the fifth and sixth shuttle stop.

At the beginning of the trail is a small picnic area and bathroom stop should you or the children want to take a short break before you gear up for the walk. 

The Grotto Trail lies in a valley star-studded with peaks on both sides of the trail. Famous for its red-rock canyons, you can view cliffs of up to 2,000 feet in elevation on either side of the trail, all the while walking by a dry river-bed, and most importantly Emerald Pools, while on this path.

The Grotto Trail is an easy, family-friendly, and quick hike if you are looking to wet your pallet with all of the scenic variations that Zion National Park offers.  After the hike, stop at Zion Lodge for some water, souvenir shopping, and food at the restaurant located inside the lodge.

Kayenta Trail & Upper Emerald Pools

If your children have some more energy, or you aren’t traveling with young ones in tow, hikers can extend their hike by making a loop from the picnic area down to Zion Lodge. 

After walking past the picnic area, cross the dry riverbed by taking Kayenta Trail, a winding zig-zagging trail that is located in a low-lying walking area at the base of Mount Moroni.

You’ll enjoy stunning views of the river and canyon, but keep in mind the trail is rather steep with a few drop offs on the side, so always keep your eyes on the track ahead of you and don’t get distracted. The last 500 feet or so are rather difficult, but the reward at the end — a stunning waterfall and the Upper Emerald Pools — are well worth it.

It’s a 3.1-mile out-and-back trail to the Upper Emerald Pools, and you can also make a loop via the Lower Emerald Pool trail below, which recently reopened after being shut down after mudslides.

Lower Emerald Pool Trail

This is a rather easy hike in Zion if you’re not particularly fit or if you’re traveling with youngsters or elders.

At only 1.2 miles in length round trip, it’s a perfect hourlong hike if you want an easy hike in Zion to balance out more difficult hikes, or if you’re traveling with less experienced or less mobile hikers. This path is paved all the way through, so it’s great if you’re traveling with someone in a stroller or wheelchair.

You’ll see waterfalls, pools, and beautiful scenery along this easy stroll. Do keep in mind though that the waterfalls are season-dependent so if you visit in the height of summer you will likely not see much more than a trickle!

Angel’s Landing

If you are looking for a hike that will give you a real workout, located near the Grotto Trailhead is Angels Landing, a 2.4 mile, one-way, exposed and strenuous hike that winds its way up a dirt and rock-studded trail.

Angels Landing starts in the valley of Zion National Park and scales up an elevation change of 1,500 feet, leading to the peak at 5,790 feet.  Expect about a 4-5 hour roundtrip hike.

If taking the Zion Canyon Shuttle, stop at the 6th stop at The Grotto Trailhead.  Located just near the stop is a bridge over the Virgin River where hikers can follow a paved trail to the West Rim trailhead.  

After walking for five minutes, hikers can find the trailhead at a split in the road, with the right side of the split beckoning towards Angels Landing. 

Expect for legs to burn and shake, as hikers will wind up a sand and rock trailhead with chain-links connected to metal posts along steep precipices overlooking drops into green-fern valleys.  As hikers wind up the final 500 feet of narrow switchback trails, be prepared for a slow crawl but well-worth the walk.  Do not despair!  Once hikers pass this last narrow climb, they can find the cliff’s edge, sit on top of it, and look over the 5,000 feet of canyon below.

After baring the sun and strain of muscles, hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of green covered valleys, exposed red-rock, centuries of rock-eroded mountain faces, and a view of the river below.  Now is the time to whip out those peanut butter sandwiches, Clif bars, and cameras and enjoy the breathtaking perspectives of the 229-mile expanse that is Zion National Park.

Warning: Please bring at least 3 liters of water with you to keep you well-hydrated and fully aware while hiking.  Be very aware that this is a strenuous hike that is for those who have stamina and a healthy thirst for adventure — and not for those with a fear of heights!

Observation Point

While Angel’s Landing is an absolutely epic Zion hike, it’s also one of the park’s most popular — making it rather crowded at times, which can be a pain especially on the parts where you have to use chains to traverse the ridges and you have to pause a lot to allow for hikers to come down as well as you coming up.

If you want similar views of Zion as you’d get in Angel’s Landing, but on a less crowded and more strenuous hike, head to Observation Point. This hike is at a higher elevation than Angel’s Landing, but it gives you those sweeping views in the same direction.

Start at Weeping Rock, which is available on the Zion Shuttle Stop #7. The hike is 8 miles return, and it involves a strenuous elevation gain of 2,100 feet — so expect the hike to take at least a solid 5-6 hours or more, depending on your skill level.

The Narrows

The Narrows is a great hike for both easy, moderate, and strenuous hiking, depending on how far you take this Zion hike.

Located at the base of the Zion Canyon valley, this 9.4-mile total long hike can take as short as 30 minutes or as long as eight hours, depending on how deep hikers desire to explore these hollowed-out caverns. 

The trail is located at bus stop number 9, Temple of Sinawava, the last shuttle stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle route.  The last shuttle of the day leaves at 8:15 PM, so be sure to return in time.

Once hikers arrive, they can expect to walk a third of a mile along a sand trail before reaching a gorge and dry riverbed.  If needing wheelchair access, the one-mile Riverside Walk from the Temple of Sinawava is available to those seeking an accessible way to see the beautiful Narrows.

If continuing past the first mile, hikers can expect to wind through ankle to calf high water flowing downstream.  The rest of the nearly eight miles of this hike includes wading through gentle downstream water, and one can expect to marvel at the blasted-out stone created by years of changing ecologic and geologic activity.

A sign and placard posted by the Zion National Park ranger service, and near the shuttle stop, is posted to help hikers plan the time of day when to hike.  Hikers can use these signs to determine when the tide of the stream is lowest in order to gauge how far and deep hikers would like to walk into the narrow 20-30 feet wide caverns.

Suitable for all ages, the Narrows winds along the canyon floor of Zion National Park and is generally open during all seasons.  During heavy rain, the caverns can flood, and therefore it may be closed for day-use.  Hike at your own discretion, and do pay attention to the Park Service announcements and tide placards located at various places in the park. 

So long as hikers are mindful of their safety, the Narrows via Riverside Walk will reward hikers with a delightful reprieve from Utah’s heat.  The hike also serves as a fascinating archaeological exploration, as hikers are literally hiking along thousands of years old riverbeds.

If going in the summer, the gorge and riverbed tend to fill with crowds (and sometimes algae), so be mindful of when you go, bring sturdy hiking or water shoes for those slippery rocks below the surface, and make sure to bring plenty of water and a filtered water bottle (I use a Grayl), that is, if you choose to fill your canteen from the riverbed.

Note: There are two ways to hike the narrows, ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’. The hike listed is the latter. If hiking ‘top down’, you need a wilderness permit (secure yours online here) and to arrange a private shuttle to its starting point 1.5 hours outside the park.

If you just want to hike a stretch of the Narrows, or do the ‘bottom up’ trail, there is no need for permits.

The Watchman

Sunset over Zion National Park with a river and Watchman Mountain

The Watchman Trail is an easier, 3.3-mile roundtrip starting at the Zion Visitor Center.  With short drop-offs along the trail, this hike ends at a viewpoint of the Towers of the Virgin, as well as lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale.

With an elevation change of 368 feet, this two-hour roundtrip hike is often overlooked by visitors who are gung-ho on visiting the larger-than-life views of Angel’s Landing or the archaeological variety of the Narrows.

The Watchman Trail, located a half-mile from the South Entrance to Zion National Park, is host to desert flora and fauna, ponderosa pine, prickly pear cacti, and small shrubbery. 

This easy Zion day hike has very few areas of shade, so hikers will want to bring a liter of water for every mile hiked. 

The trail itself provides breathtaking views of the Watchman Spire, Watchman Overlook, and Bridge Mountain. With little elevation gain, this hike is perfect for a quick detour and a short introduction to the vastness that is Zion National Park.

Where to Stay When Hiking in Zion National Park

Hiking in Zion on a budget? Airbnb has cute and affordable glamping options, like Base Camp 37°

With more than ten hiking trails, over 124,000 acres of protected wilderness, and 1,000 different types of plants, Zion National Park boasts more than 90 miles of hiking.  

For those with a quick weekend getaway and an itch for the great outdoors, there is plenty of camping or even lodging. 

For those on a mid-range budget, opt to stay at Zion Canyon Lodge or in nearby Cable Mountain Lodge, located in Zion’s closest neighboring city, Springdale, a five-minute walk from Zion Canyon Visitor Center — perfect for catching the Zion shuttle and hiking without needing to worry about parking.

Traveling on a budget? You’ll likely want to head to Hipcamp for the best options, and you’ll want to stay a bit outside of Springdale for the best prices. My top choice would be the glamping tents at Zion Family Ranch Campground, which starts from $59/night, located a couple of minutes off Highway 89, this is the perfect stopover between Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Find this property on Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Want to travel in luxury? Springdale has a number of ultra-luxurious properties, but my top two choices would have to be the stunning Springhill Suites (just look at that wall of windows and view! Absolutely incredible!) or the super-luxe Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort to reward yourself after a day out hiking in Zion.

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5 Stunning Hikes with Waterfalls in Arizona

The landscape in Arizona is ever-changing. Oases can be found in the middle of the desert, mountains seem to magically appear on the horizon, and the city landscape can quickly disappear into a fairytale forest.

Among Arizona’s grandest landscapes lies hidden treasures: hundreds of turquoise waterfalls and crystal clear swimming holes waiting to be bathed in. If you’re looking for some reprieve from the hot Arizona sun, look no further than these 5 magnificent waterfalls in Arizona, complete with their own natural pools that are perfect for dipping in.

Best Hikes with Waterfalls in Arizona

Romero Pools

Imagine wandering through a desert canyon. You’re surrounded by towering Saguaro cacti, vast desert views fill your vision as you walk, majestic mountains lead you further into the desert and all the while you’re on the hunt for pristine hidden pools flowing with chilly mountain water.

Romero Pools is hidden high in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Tucson, Arizona. It’s a beautiful 6-mile trail that winds through the desert floor and then gradually leads hikers higher and higher into the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

At the end of the Romero Pools Trail is a series of waterfalls that all flow into their own pools perfect for swimming. Romero Pools is a beautiful oasis set among the desert landscape. It’s a large area full of smooth granite boulders that are perfect for sunbathing, cliff jumping, or just enjoying the views of Tucson in the distance.

Trail Specs: The trailhead for Romero Pools lies inside Catalina State Park. A $7 fee is required for visitors to experience the park. The trailhead starts at Sutherland Wash. A small wash that only flows seasonally, and continues for a flat easy 1 mile to the base of the Catalinas. As you get closer to the Catalinas, the trail ascends for 1.7 miles up to Romero Pools.

It typically takes hikers 2 hours to ascend to the Pools but the reward is well worth it. The Pools look like something out of a fairy tale. Crystal clear water with spots deep enough to cliff jump. Huge granite boulders surround the waterfalls that are perfect for sunbathing. Pack a lunch and enjoy this all-day adventure while soaking up some of Arizona’s best views.

Seven Falls

Seven Falls is another breathtaking Arizona waterfall hike lying just outside the busy city of Tucson.

What draws hikers to this particular trail is, you guessed it, the series of seven waterfalls descending from the walls of Sabino Canyon. Seven Falls is a highly popular hike due to its relative ease, beauty, and location. If you decide to do this hike, arrive at the trailhead early, as the parking lot fills up quickly.

Seven Falls is an 8 mile, relatively flat hike through Sabino Canyon. A couple of shin-high water crossings make this hike exhilarating. Throughout the trail, you can find pockets of swimming holes and plenty of places to sunbathe on your way up to the actual Seven Falls. Seven Falls is such a rewarding sight and boasts several pools to swim in.

Trail Specs: Seven Falls is located outside Tucson in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The trail begins in a small parking lot marked as Bear Canyon Trail. The first 3 miles are speckled with creek crossings and are generally flat.

In classic Arizona fashion, you’re surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes and towering canyons. As you enter into Bear Canyon you begin to ascend. As you ascend, Seven Falls becomes visible in all its glory. Seven continuous waterfalls pour from the walls of Sabino Canyon.

Each waterfall catches enough water to make perfect pools to float in. Be sure to pack a camera because Seven Falls is a sight you’re going to want to remember!

Water Wheel Falls

If you’re looking for an easy, quick trail with a rewarding swimming hole, then Water Wheels Falls is the trail for you!

Water Wheel Falls is a short, flat 1-mile trail located in Payson, Arizona. Don’t let the ease of this hike fool you, the waterfalls and the swimming holes are just as breathtakingly beautiful as others that require a more arduous hike.

Crisp mountain water pours from the East Verde River creating deep gorges and dramatic waterfalls. Water Wheel Falls is the perfect spot to spend the afternoon. The entire trail runs the length of the river so there’s plenty of places to take a dip, relax in solitude and enjoy the sights around you.

Trail Specs: Water Wheel Falls is located on the outskirts of Payson, Arizona off of Houston Mesa Road. Ample Parking can be found at the trailhead. As you begin your hike you’ll see the namesake of the trail, a large Water Wheel that used to be a component in extracting gold.

About a quarter-mile into the trail, you’ll get your first chance to dip into the chilly water of Ellison Creek. Most families choose to stop here and play, but keep hiking! Massive granite boulders begin to appear and the small creek turns into a beautiful turquoise river. A half-mile in, the sound of waterfalls fills your ears. Follow the granite boulders that line the river and you’ll end up at the roaring waters of Water Wheel Falls.

Bell Trail to Beaver’s Crack

Beaver’s Crack is Arizona’s ultimate waterfall swimming hole! Bell Trail to Beavers Crack is located on the outskirts of Rimrock, Arizona. This is a perfect day hike for Sedona visitors wanting to get away from the heat and crowded Sedona trails.

Beaver’s Crack is a moderate 7-mile hike through the Sonoran Desert. Everything about this hike is desert so be prepared! Bring plenty of water, food and sunscreen because there’s not much reprieve from the elements.

But your reward is the ultimate swimming hole! Small waterfalls from Wet Beavers Creek feed into “the crack” making a massive emerald swimming hole. Several cliffs surround the area for those looking for an extra thrill, or there’s plenty of flat, shaded areas for the ones who want a more relaxing getaway.

Trail Specs: Bell Trail to Beavers Crack is located off forest service road 618 in Rimrock, Arizona. A small parking lot is located at the Trailhead. The actual trail itself is an easy 3.5 miles to Beaver’s crack.

Halfway through the hike, you’ll experience a small elevation gain into Wet Beaver Wilderness. As you follow the trail the landscape will switch from flat to the classic red rocks of Sedona. As you wrap and weave around boulders and massive saguaros, you’ll begin to approach Beavers Crack. From here, get into your bathing suit and enjoy the icy flow of Wet Beavers Creek.

Cibecue Falls

Cibecue Falls is one of Arizona’s true hidden gems, which is surprising given its outrageous beauty.

Nestled deep in a canyon, this 40-foot waterfall is every bit worth the exhilarating hike. The out and back trail is a 4 mile, rock hopping, river crossing adventure. Arizona’s most impressive landscape is on display as you walk among the towering canyons of the White Mountain Apache Tribal Land.

Trail Specs: Cibecue Falls is located about 40 miles outside the town of Globe, Arizona. It is located on the Fort Apache Reservation which requires a $30 permit for each visitor. A rocky narrow road will lead you along Cibecue Creek to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, the adventure begins! Expect to get wet as you crisscross and boulder jump through the Salt River. As the trail begins to narrow, the roars of Cibecue Falls can be heard echoing off the canyon walls. The massive Falls pours into the turquoise pools below making it the perfect destination after an adventurous Arizona waterfall hike!

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The arid Arizona landscape is speckled with roaring turquoise waterfalls. Whether you’re looking for an adventurous day hike or just to catch the serenity of a magnificent waterfall, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in the Grand State of Arizona.

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