13 Things to Know Before Renting a Car in the Azores

If you’re planning to rent a car in the Azores, it’s actually quite simple and without a doubt one of the best ways to get around these islands.

Now, keep in mind that I’ve only been to São Miguel in the Azores thus far (and am plotting my return to visit even more islands as I type…) so my advice is mostly applicable to São Miguel.

But since most travelers will visit São Miguel, and maybe add on another island or two, I think most of these tips for driving in the Azores will be universally useful.

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

Top Things to Know When Renting a Car in the Azores

People drive on the right in the Azores

Driving on the right is easy, just don’t get distracted by the beautiful sunsets!

Take a deep breath out, my fellow Americans: you’ll be delighted to know that in the Azores, they drive on the right side of the road. This can be one of the toughest things to get used to when driving in a foreign country.

Brits, Irish, Australians, Maltese, and anyone else used to driving on the left side of the road, be honest with yourself whether you think you can handle the difference.

Personally, I’ve always been too scared to rent a car anywhere where I’m required to drive on the opposite side of the road.

That said, it definitely is doable (and I’ve heard it’s much easier to make that switch in an automatic car, as you don’t have to contend with the gearbox being switched, too!).

I’ve had American friends drive just fine in Ireland and Irish friends drive just fine in America, and those are two countries whose rules of the road are quite intimidating to me!

Driving in the Azores is pretty relaxed because there’s very little traffic and people generally don’t drive like maniacs.

As someone who’s lived and driven in California, NYC, and the Balkans, this is something I appreciate greatly!

So if you’re not familiar with driving on the right, but you’re up to the challenge, the Azores is a pretty friendly place to get used to the switch-up.

Book early if you want to rent an automatic car in the Azores!

Buses don’t go here, so you’ll definitely want to rent a car in the Azores to maximize your trip!

Like many places in Europe, manual cars dominate the roads, and the Azores is no exception. Add that to the fact that its an isolated island 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Portugal, and you’re dealing with a pretty finite pool of rental cars available.

If you’ve never learned to drive a manual car, like I haven’t, you’ll want to book your car way in advance. I was traveling in the off-season and I booked about two months ahead, as soon as I knew I wanted to make my trip.

I’d recommend reserving your car rental in the Azores as close as possible to booking your tickets. If you are planning a last minute trip to the Azores and you can’t drive a manual car, I’d check to ensure that automatics are available.

Keep in mind that automatic cars usually cost 2-3 times the price of their manual counterparts. For reference, I paid $68 for a 3 day car rental of their smallest, cheapest automatic car.

I booked using Discover Cars as they had cheaper options than the other two sites I used to look, Kayak and AutoEurope. You can look for rental prices here.

The company I ended up using was Way2Azores and I had no complaints – they were quite easy to deal with.

Be sure to have plenty of credit available on your credit card!

Make sure you have a high enough credit limit to handle your rental company’s deposit policy!

It may just be the company that I used, Way2Azores, but I had to pay a pretty sizable deposit – I believe it was 1,200 euros!

I was lucky that I have a high credit limit (god bless American credit cards and their insanely generous/insanely tempting credit limits) and was able to put it on my card quite easily, but I know that people from other countries don’t quite have the same luxury.

I once was renting a car in Bologna, and the couple in front of me weren’t able to rent the car they wanted because they were from a Nordic country where everyone uses debit cards because credit culture isn’t so much of a thing there (probably because of, y’know, living wages).

They were there for their honeymoon and had picked out a pretty baller car, but because of the situation with the lack of credit card, they got knocked down to a crappy little Ford Fiesta – much to the couple’s (very loud) dismay.

Every rental car company’s policy is different, especially with respect to deposits. I’ve paid everywhere from 200 euros to 2,000 as a deposit on a rental car!

So, if credit limits are a concern for you, I’d reach out to the Azores car rental company you’re looking at before you book, just to be sure you won’t have any unpleasant surprises at the station.

Get insurance, unless your credit card will cover it

The road down to Ferraria will make you happy you have insurance!

Driving in the Azores is not particularly hard but it’s not super easy either – the roads in Ponta Delgada are quite narrow, making dinged mirrors a definite possibility, and the weather is extremely mercurial.

I highly recommend selecting the insurance that your Azores car rental company offers, unless you have a credit card that covers your insurance if you deny the rental company’s.

I used my Citi Prestige card and was able to waive the insurance, as I was covered under their policy.

[Edited to note: They have since changed their policy so it only applies to domestic rental cars — please check with your card to ensure that international rentals are covered!]

Having that option usually saves me $50-100 per road trip, so it’s definitely a good reason to keep a higher-tier credit card, even with fees!

Don’t push it with the weather when driving in the Azores

This fog is NOTHING when it comes to the Azores.

Be extremely cautious when dealing with inclement weather in the Azores, especially if you’re not a hyper-confident driver.

Fog, especially, is a menace in these parts due to the island’s Atlantic position.

We made it about halfway to Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa to see the beautiful Lagoa do Fogo… only to hit what was basically a brick wall of fog halfway up.

We turned back as the visibility was nearly zero and we were happy we did, as we drove around in much clearer coastal areas and could still see the giant wall of fog sitting like a hat on top of the mountain – no thanks!

Heavy rain is also a definite possibility in the Azores and can create hazardous conditions, especially on unpaved roads like you’ll find on the way to Lagoa do Congro.

When in doubt, take it easy and pull over for a bit and wait it out. The weather changes rapidly for good and bad, meaning that squalls and storms often pass rather quickly.

Not every Azores car rental company has a stand at the airport

When I arrived in Ponta Delgada, I went looking for my rental car company’s kiosk at the front. I knew I was booked with Way2Azores, but I didn’t see them listed.

Eventually, I found a company called Wayzor and just assumed they had changed their name (I took an early morning flight, okay?)… waited in line, all to realize that I was in the wrong line and that there had been a delegate waiting for me with my name on a sign in the departure area all along. Oops.

So, that’s to say, if you don’t see your company at the stands near the exit of the airport, someone is probably waiting for you with documents in hand and will help you out!

All told, it took about 30 minutes to sign the papers and be taken to our car.

You may be asked for an international driver’s permit when renting a car in the Azores

So far, the UK can use their EU drivers license now, but who knows what the rules will be post-Brexit?

Technically speaking, Portugal does require that you have an international driver’s permit unless you have a license from another EU country…

… Which is something I didn’t research until anxiety kicked in the night before my trip. Oops again. I typically rent cars in the Balkans where I never need an international driver’s permit.

Then I figured out that according to the U.S. State Department, Americans are permitted to use their driver’s license in Portugal for up to six months. Whew.

I was never asked for an international driver’s permit, but it’s definitely possible depending on your country of origin, so do the research on whether or not this is required.

However, Americans and EU member state citizens are covered without an IDP. If you’re American and it’s easy for you to get an IDP from your local AAA, I’d recommend doing it anyway.

It’s just $20 and will cover your butt in case you have someone at the rental agency who is unfamiliar with the State Department regulations, and it’ll be useful in other countries (my friend was asked for hers when we rented a car in Spain).

Be sure to fill up with the right kind of gas!

This cute little car only takes diesel!

This is more for Americans and Canadians to be aware of, since Europeans likely already know this, but European cars use diesel a lot more commonly than North American cars do.

In fact, I’d venture to say that about 80% of the cars I’ve rented in countries around the world use diesel fuel, not standard gasoline.

When renting a car in the Azores, be sure to inquire about what type of gas it uses and be extra cautious when filling up as mixing up diesel and gasoline could lead to a very expensive mistake!

Signage and Google Maps coverage is generally great

With signs like these, you almost don’t need Google (but I’m a millennial and you’ll rip my phone from my cold dead hands)

I had zero problems with using Google Maps during my time in Azores (as opposed to that time in Azerbaijan when Google Maps literally showed NOTHING at all) and found it really easy to navigate.

And because São Miguel is a small island, relatively speaking, it’s really quite easy to go basically anywhere just using the road signs.

Miradouros and popular touristic sights are often marked well and I often found myself disregarding Google Maps voice directions and just using the road signage.

Oh, and side note, if you speak a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find the Google Maps voice hilarious because it has zero concept of the language and says everything delightfully incorrectly.

Having an unlocked phone with a local SIM is great, but you can live without it

I try to use a local SIM every time I drive abroad!

Since I was traveling in Portugal for about two weeks before I headed to the Azores, I put a local SIM in my unlocked smartphone so that I could use Google Maps and access the internet for questions on the go easily during my time in Portugal.

I went with a 10 euro Vodafone package that was basically just data, and I’m happy to report that my data package worked perfectly in the Azores, although there were a few times I didn’t have coverage (especially as I got away from Ponta Delgada and towards the Nordeste).

If you aren’t in mainland Portugal first and your first stop in Portuguese territory is the Azores, you can pick up a local SIM at the Vodafone at the Ponta Delgada airport.

MEO also operates there, but it’s not available at the airport. You would have to find a shop in Ponta Delgada, Ribeira Grande, or Lagoa.

As I said above, the signage was pretty good, so I think I would have felt pretty comfortable navigating without data most of the time with the exception of Ponta Delgada and finding my hotel.

However, if you don’t have an unlocked smartphone and don’t want to pay exorbitant roaming rates, I recommend downloading the Google Maps offline (here’s how) and switching your phone to airplane mode.

There are a @(*$load of roundabouts in the Azores

Don’t love roundabouts? Too bad – you’ll see one every few minutes in the Azores! They’re mostly not terrifying.

One thing I’ve never gotten used to about driving in Europe is the sheer number of roundabouts there are – and how many lanes some of them have!

I’m fine with a roundabout with one or two lanes, but plop me in a roundabout with three or even four lanes and I immediately want to cry.

Just be aware of them, stay in your lane, drive slowly, yield whenever necessary, and remember that there may be some pedestrians in the mix to because roundabouts are scary and terrifying like the boss level of a video game.

There are no toll roads, and gas and parking are pretty affordable!

Parking for 4 hours cost less than 3 euros!

I didn’t encounter a single toll road during my entire time in São Miguel, which was fantastic as I’ve found they can really add up in mainland Portugal. I’m not sure about other islands, but I highly doubt they have toll roads either.

Gas is pretty much your standard European price, which is nice as sometimes there is a big upcharge when driving on islands (cough Iceland I’ll never forgive you cough).

I believe we paid about €1.10 per liter for diesel, which is about $5 USD per gallon. But we didn’t use much gasoline, even though we drove all around the island (like… literally circumnavigated it). I think we ended up paying €40 for 3 days of tons of driving – not bad!

Parking is free outside of Ponta Delgada, and in Ponta Delgada the prices aren’t too bad.

Street parking is about €0.60 cents per hour, for up to 4 hours, and stops at 7 PM on weekdays, so you don’t have to worry about parking overnight.

But parking in Ponta Delgada is confusing and at times frustrating

There’s not much room for error on Ponta Delgada streets!

Unlike your standard parking meter, the ones in Ponta Delgada look kind of like old-school computers and can be a bit confusing to use especially if you don’t understand Portuguese.

Basically, you have to start by entering your license plate number. Then hit the checkmark to enter.

Then you’ll select how long you want to stay (up to 4 hours) and enter the coins and press the green checkmark again.

Be sure to put the ticket back on the dashboard of your car!

It’s a little different than most systems, but we figured it out pretty easily and managed to survive our 3 days in the Azores without a parking ticket (not a fate I avoid easily in other parts of the world…)

My beef with the parking meter was the least of my troubles driving in Ponta Delgada, though. The streets are extremely narrow and if you’re not a confident parallel parker you will struggle.

There is a conveniently located parking lot across from Casa Ataneu, which is a good place to park if you’re having trouble finding a spot in Ponta Delgada or just hate parallel parking like I do.

However, I’m not sure if it’s open 24/7, so be sure to check the operating hours and that it makes sense with your schedule before parking there.

Alternately, you could just opt for a hotel with free parking!

The 12 Most Scenic Drives in Colorado (Road Trip Inspiration!)

If you love adventure and the great outdoors, then you’re going to love Colorado!

Located in the southwestern part of the United States, Colorado is an adventure lover’s dream, filled with beautiful hikes, epic mountain views, and breathtaking viewpoints throughout.

One of the best ways to explore the beauty of Colorado is to go on an epic Colorado road trip, taking in the scenery and culture at your own pace.

These road trips in Colorado are truly unlike those anywhere else in the United States because of the amazing naturalness of the state.

Throughout this post, you’ll learn all about the very best Colorado road trips. By the end, you’ll want to chase your wanderlust all the way to Colorado!

The Best Colorado Road Trips

Below are all of the must-do Colorado road trips! They vary in length, but some of them are near each other.

You could easily do multiple road trips around the state in the same week if you plan wisely!

Trail Ridge Road

Beautiful view of trail ridge road with a car driving, and majestic snow capped mountains in rocky mountain national park in colorado USA

One of the best wonders of Colorado is Rocky Mountain National Park, and the easiest way to explore it is to road trip through it on Trail Ridge Road.

This road has been a favorite among nature lovers since it was completed in the 1930s as it has some of the most scenic mountain views in Colorado.

While on the road, you’ll be brought through beautiful cliffsides and epic views. It’s most commonly called the Highway to the Sky because it’s the highest continuous paved road in the United States and goes pretty high into the mountains.

Because it’s so high, it’s pretty common to get altitude sickness while doing this drive. Be sure to stay hydrated and pay attention to how you’re feeling along the drive just in case anything takes a turn for the worse.

The halfway point of the drive is also a great stop to relax along the trip. A great mid-way point is the Alpine Visitor Center, so be sure to keep an eye out for it along the way.

For an epic view that you won’t want to miss, be sure to climb to the top of the trail right near the visitor center.

To do this drive, start in Estes Park and follow the road until the end. Along the way, be sure to stop at both Medicine Bow Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook if you have the time.

If you want to get the most out of this drive, be sure to start earlier in the day because then you can also spot some local Colorado wildlife that often hide away as the day goes on.

You’ll also want to make sure to pay attention to the speed limits, especially because the road is cliffside for some of it.

Driving Distance: 48 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 2 to 4 hours

Pikes Peak Highway

Hairpin curve in the mountains with several cars going up the mountain and some light fog, on a popular Colorado road trip

Pikes Peak Highway is Colorado’s most popular and well-known road trip because of its incredible viewpoints. It’s one of the most scenic drives in Colorado!

Located right outside of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is a must-visit 14er in the state!

While many people with experience will opt to hike Pikes Peak to get all the fantastic viewpoints, it’s become more accessible to get similar views by road tripping the Pikes Peak Highway.

Because this highway can be pretty dangerous in the dark to it being cliffside, it’s only open to the public between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., with the last ticketed entry at 6:00 p.m. The highway is also occasionally closed in the winter if there’s too much snow.

To do this drive, it’s pretty simple. After you pay for your entrance onto the highway, you just follow it. Be sure to stop at all of the scenic lookout points because each one is different than the other, and you won’t want to miss them.

In June 2021, the Summit View House is also going to open, which will be an excellent place for you to grab souvenirs or even a coffee on your drive.

Driving Distance: 19 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 2 to 5 hours

Independence Pass

Meadow along Independence Pass Road, in autumn road tripping in Colorado.

Another epic road trip in Colorado is driving the Independence Pass. The road is incredibly narrow, but the views are amazing and are a part of Colorado State Highway 82.

It’s the perfect road trip to do if you want to visit Aspen or Leadville, as it goes right between the two. Instead of just driving the pass, you could make it more of a loop and also visit Aspen and Leadville on your road trip.

Independence Pass is the highest road in Colorado that’s paved because the summit is just over 12,000 feet. As you might imagine, this pass is often closed in the winter due to snow and ice. Be sure to plan your trip wisely if you wish to do this road trip.

Similar to Pikes Peak Highway, this is a pretty simple drive as far as directions go. Just follow the road! However, this is a popular road trip to do, so you’ll want to pay close attention to the other cars, especially when the road gets narrower.

Along the drive, you’ll find a few pull-over spots where you can take in the stunning view. Don’t pass these spots by, or you’ll regret it.

A great nearby attraction that you won’t want to miss is the Independence Ghost Town that once served as a mining town back in the 1800s.

The Grottos Ice Caves are also nearby and worth stopping at if you have the time.

Driving Distance: 32 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 2 hours

Million Dollar Highway

Road against the edge of a mountain with lots of evergreen trees in the distance on a sunny day road tripping Colorado

The Million Dollar Highway is a stretch of U.S. Route 550 that goes through Colorado State. It got its name because it was not cheap at all to build, but it truly offers million-dollar views along the way.

Start the drive in Ouray and end it in Silverton to stay within the state of Colorado. If you’d like to explore a surrounding state, you can also follow it into New Mexico if you have the time.

A decent portion of the drive is up in the mountains, and it’s even more incredible if you can do the drive in the autumn because all of the trees change color.

The best part of the Million Dollar Highway is Uncompahgre Gorge, which puts the highway right against huge jutting rocks and a cliff face with no guard rails along the majority of it, so you’ll want to be careful while driving.

Along the way, be sure to use all the viewpoints to your advantage. One of the best spots to stop along the drive is on Red Mountain Pass. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Also, instead of just driving the road, be sure to take the time to explore Ouray and Silverton. There’s a fantastic train ride in Silverton that’s incredibly scenic, but this could add another day or two to your road trip.

Driving Distance: 25 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 1 day

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway

Colorado River along the southern border of Arches National Park, Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, Utah

One of the longer road trips in Colorado is the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway. It covers a good chunk of northwestern Colorado and was named because dinosaurs were rather prominent in the area during prehistoric times.

This road trip technically also dips into Utah, but it’s still considered a Colorado road trip because half of it is in Colorado, too.

The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is a great road trip for families in particular, especially families with children who love dinosaurs.

Start the drive by heading to Grand Junction, one of Colorado’s most scenic areas. This is where most people start the drive. Then, go to Fruita and Dinosaur, and then go over to Utah and complete the loop.

Along the drive, you’ll want to stop at some different places and landmarks that you won’t want to miss. Some great spots include the Colorado National Monument, Canyon Pintado National Historic District, and the Dinosaur Journey Museum.

On average, this trip takes about two to three days but can take longer or shorter depending on how often you stop along the way. For instance, this drive could easily be stretched out to even a bit longer if you wanted to spend more time exploring.

Driving Distance: 512 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 3 days

Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Red car going up a mountain pass on a sunny day with hills and mountains in the background

Next up is the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which is a popular road trip from Denver, Colorado. It’s about 60 miles from downtown Denver.

Similar to Pikes Peak, Mount Evans is another popular drive to take that will bring you up one of Colorado’s 14ers.

Many people opt to hike Mount Evans, but it can be dangerous without experience. So, go to the top of a 14er by driving instead!

The easiest place to start this is from Idaho Springs, a mountain town west of Denver. From there, get to the top of Mount Evans by taking Highway 5. Driving to the top of Mount Evans is consistently ranked as one of the best things to do in Colorado.

Along the drive, you’ll be brought by beautiful lookouts as you go through the mountain. No matter what time of year you visit and do this drive, you’ll have genuinely excellent vantage points that you would not get elsewhere, so take advantage of them.

You do have to pay a fee of $15 per car in order to go on the byway, but it’s entirely worth it. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is open 24/7, but it’s best to do the drive during the day because it can be a safety hazard if you go in the evening.

Driving Distance: 28 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 5 to 8 hours, or one day

National Parks Loop

Stone dwellings carved into a cliffside and surrounded by trees in Mesa Verde National Park

For a longer road trip in Colorado, look no further than the National Parks Loop. Colorado is home to quite a few national parks, so take the time to road trip and visit all of them!

Start the loop in western Colorado in Grand Junction. From there, drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and then to Mesa Verde National Park.

Continue onto Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and try your hand at boarding down the sand dunes! Then, head to Rocky Mountain National Park, the last stop on the loop, and make your way back to Grand Junction.

This could be done in as many days as you want and could definitely become a longer road trip depending on how many stops you’d like to make along the way. I suggest spending at least a day or two at each of the parks, so anywhere between 7 to 10 days is perfect.

Be sure also to purchase a National Parks Pass to save yourself money when entering each of the parks!

Along the National Parks Loop, you’ll also go through some other small towns worth exploring like Telluride, Durango, and Buena Vista.

Be sure to enjoy the small towns along the way and explore the rural side of Colorado too!

Driving Distance: 941 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 7 days

Denver Area Road Trip

Dakota Ridge near Golden Colorado a beautiful hiking area

Just because you’re visiting Denver doesn’t mean you can’t take a road trip to explore more of the area.

On this quick road trip from Denver, you’ll be brought through all of the best small towns and cities surrounding Denver.

Because they’re so close together, you could easily visit two a day to complete the road trip in as little as three days or spend one day in each place on the itinerary.

Start the road trip in Denver; from there, head north to Fort Collins and then make your way to Boulder.

Next, head south to Golden (stop and check out some of the beautiful hikes!) and also Idaho Springs. End the road trip by visiting Colorado Springs.

So many great places are waiting to be explored by you in these towns. Here are some must-visit spots in each town.

  • Denver: 16th Street Mall, Dairy Block, Confluence Park, Red Rocks Amphitheatre
  • Fort Collins: Horsetooth Reservoir, Boyd Lake State Park
  • Boulder: Flatirons hike, Pearl Street
  • Golden: Downtown Golden, Coors Brewery
  • Idaho Springs: Echo Mountain (in winter), Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel
  • Colorado Springs: Garden of the Gods, The Broadmoor

If you’d rather not do all of these places as a road trip, they also make excellent day trips from downtown Denver.

Each place is within an hour from Denver, so you could easily use Denver as a home base and do a whole bunch of mini road trips for nearby sightseeing if you wish.

Driving Distance: 262 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 3 to 6 days

Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Peak to Peak Highway through the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park, Colorado

One of the most beautiful road trips in Colorado is the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway! To do this road trip, start in Estes Park to I-70.

If you love history, then you’re going to love this drive. It’s the oldest scenic byway in the entire state because it was built in 1918. It’s been a favorite among locals and tourists ever since.

The drive will bring you throughout the natural part of the state and will even bring you through some ghost towns. Plus, there will be some epic lakes along the way, so you’ll have plenty of viewpoints to look out and take a jaw-dropping picture.

Another thing to keep an eye out for along the way are the gold mine remnants. Tons of gold mines in Colorado used to be in this area of the state, and sometimes you’ll even find people panning for gold in the water.

Arguably one of the must-sees along the way are the aspen trees; however, they are only stunning in the fall when they’re yellow. So, try to do this drive in the fall to really get the most out of it.

Driving Distance: 59 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 3 to 5 hours

San Juan Skyway

Fall colors of the yellow Aspens along the San Juan Skyway north of Durango Colorado.

The San Juan Skyway is another beautiful road trip, and it’s even been mentioned in popular news outlets like Travel + Leisure for being one of the best spring drives in the United States — though fall with its golden aspens isn’t bad, either!

Most people will start this drive in Durango. From there, head to Mancos, Dolores, Stoner, Rico, Telluride, Ridgeway, Ouray, Silverton, and then finish by heading back to Durango.

There are tons of great places to visit along the drive, including Mesa Verde National Park, San Juan National Forest, and Bridal Veil Falls.

If you love skiing, you’ll want to check out Durango Mountain, and if you love hiking, visit one of the 14ers, El Diente Peak or Mount Wilson.

If you love scenic train rides, you can even finish out the loop by riding the train from Silverton to Durango. This is one of the most popular train rides in the state.

While you could technically do this entire drive in just 7 hours, I don’t suggest that you fly through it. There are so many epic places to visit and beautiful small towns that you should truly take the time to explore.

Too often, small towns filled with history are skipped for big cities. Don’t let that happen when driving the Suan Juan Skyway!

Driving Distance: 236 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 1 to 3 days

Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway

Fall drive through Phantom Canyon in Colorado, USA with its brilliant yellow aspens

Another of Colorado’s state scenic byways that makes a great road trip is the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway. This road trip, like you may have guessed from the name, brings you through some of Colorado’s gold rush sites.

The best place to start the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway is in Cañon City, and then check out the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.

Be sure also to visit Phantom Canyon Road and Victor. Head back and check out Florence, and finish by looping back to Cañon City.

Similar to every other road trip, there are some great places that you won’t want to miss, like the Lowell Thomas Museum, the Ag and Mining History Museum, the Outlaw & Lawmen Jail Museum, and the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

An absolute must-do is the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. It’s a highly scenic drive, and you’ll learn a lot about the area along the way while witnessing it for yourself.

Please note that there are also quite a few ways to do this road trip. It’s best to do it in about two days so that you can fully explore the area, but there are different ways to take in the views.

In fact, some people even opt to take a helicopter tour over the byway to get unparalleled views!

Driving Distance: 131 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 2 days

Highway of Legends

Highway of Legends winding through southwest Colorado on a sunny day

The Highway of Legends is a southern Colorado scenic drive that begins in Walsenburg.

From there, get on the highway and go to Trinidad, Weston, Stonewall, Cuchara, La Veta, and back to Walsenburg to complete the loop.

This road trip can easily be done in just a few short hours, but take at least a full day or two to explore it and see all that it truly offers fully.

For example, you won’t want to drive quickly through the Spanish Peaks, Cuchara Pass, Cuchara Valley, or the beauty in Cokedale or Trinidad.

Trinidad, in particular, is known for its interesting Victorian architecture that will make you step back in time!

If you want to lengthen your trip, then you can easily do so. There are tons of beautiful places to explore here, including San Isabel National Forest, La Veta Pass, and the Spanish Peaks State Wildlife Area.

There’s even a 14er that you can do if you feel up to it: Culebra Peak!

For a great train ride, be sure to check out the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, which brings visitors right through the San Luis Valley and La Veta Pass.

The views are absolutely incredible, and you can ride inside a vintage train, making the experience even more memorable.

The Highway of Legends is one of the best ways to explore some small towns in southern Colorado, so don’t pass up this road trip.

Driving Distance: 82 miles

Recommended Road Trip Length: 1 to 2 days

The Perfect South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary: 7 Days of Wonder

Little-known fact: South Dakota is seriously awesome! So if you are considering a South Dakota road trip, I highly recommend it.

The first time I drove through the state, I was on a bit of an open schedule and spent five days there because I loved it so much. 

I was surprised by how much there was to do and see in South Dakota: it is an unassuming gem of the United States!

While road tripping South Dakota, you will have the opportunity to explore mountain pinnacles, ancient seabeds, and prairie land. 

Beautiful wilderness in custer state park - trees and sun setting over the mountains

Along the way, you’ll also have opportunities to learn about Native American culture and their history of stewardship over these beautiful lands. 

And of course, you will see one of the most famous landmarks in the US — and perhaps what South Dakota is best known for — Mount Rushmore.

In this South Dakota itinerary, we will primarily be exploring the southwestern side of the state: it’s where all the bucket list-worthy action is!

The main attractions on this road trip flow off Interstate 90, a significant route you may already be taking if you are on an extended road trip across the US. It is a straightforward route with insane views and beautiful experiences!

PLANNING FOR SOUTH DAKOTA AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: Since some attractions close during winter, the best time to visit South Dakota is in summer, spring and fall. But if you're into winter sports, then consider visiting during winter.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Keystone, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, and Deadwood. 

In Keystone, I recommend staying at Quality Inn Keystone near Mount Rushmore for budget travelers, or Holiday Inn Express & Suites Keystone, an IHG Hotel (boutique hotel). 

Near Wind Cave National Park, I suggest staying at El Dorado Ranch which is just a 20 minutes drive to the park.

While you're in Cluster State Park, I suggest staying at Sylvan Lake Lodge at Custer State Park Resort or Bavarian Inn if you prefer staying outside the park.

For an overnight stay near Badlands National Park, I recommend staying at Best Western Plains Motel (mid-range, best-rated) or the Peaceful Country Living Home (vacation rental by owner). 

And for Deadwood, Bullock Hotel is a great thrilling option.

How to Get Around: A car is a must-have for a road trip in South Dakota — there is just no way around it except if you want to spend a lot of money on private tours. If you don't know where to rent a car 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: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Full-Day Tour, or this Private Devils Tower Tour and Hike.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack:  A sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. You'll want binoculars to spot all the beautiful wildlife -- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. If you're hiking deep in the backcountry (especially in Badlands National park since it's an Open Hike Park!), you'll want something enabled with GPS and satellite SOS, like the Garmin InReach Mini.

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!

How This South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary Works

This South Dakota road trip route both starts and stops from Rapid City, SD. This is because the most beautiful and interesting parts of the state are all clustered in the Western part of the state.

While you could fly into Sioux Falls, most of the sights you want to see are clustered around Rapid City, so you should just make your way there after you fly in.

You will definitely need to rent a car if you are flying into South Dakota.

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 site to find cheap cars — it searches dozens of rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare car rentals for your trip here!

South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary, Day By Day

Day 1: Rapid City

Start your journey in Rapid City.

Arriving in Rapid City, with a roadside attraction with the word 'rapid city' on it

Rapid City is at the threshold of western South Dakota, about an hour from the border with Wyoming. 

Rapid City is the best airport to fly into if you are visiting South Dakota from a state that is out of driving range. 

While it’s a small airport, it’s the most central to all the most worthwhile things on this South Dakota itinerary.

Of course, you could fly into a different South Dakota airport, like Sioux City, but you’ll have to drive to Rapid City anyway to start this road trip.

So, if possible, start in Rapid City, in the western part of the state. This is where you will find the most enticing attractions of South Dakota!

It is a great place to fuel up and acquire groceries/snacks for your South Dakota road trip… after all, a road trip is not complete without snacks!

Plus, you can explore museums and parks in the downtown of Rapid City, too, which is a fun city worthy of an afternoon of exploration.

Explore the downtown.

A view of downtown Rapid City buildings and trees

Once you’re in Downtown Rapid City, there are a few cool places you should make sure you check out during your quick whistle-stop tour of the city.

One such spot in downtown Rapid City is the Perfect Hanging Gallery. You will find prints and unique gifts to enjoy — they make great souvenirs, for yourself or others!

Additionally, Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe is not to be missed. They have unique flavors not found in most other ice cream shops, so be sure to try out the “flavor of the day.” 

If they have their black cherry “flavor of the day”, get it! It is one of their most celebrated.

I also recommend that you explore the Berlin Wall Memorial where you can see a piece of the infamous wall…. yes, in Rapid City, South Dakota. The world is wild.

The Museum of Geology is also pretty cool, and free! You can see, dinosaur bones, gems, and minerals. Plus, they have a really interesting exhibit on the geology of the Badlands.

Check into your hotel for the night.

the lights of Rapid City after dark in downtown

In and around Rapid City, you will find some of the central South Dakota attractions. There are day hikes and historical points of interest around every corner.

Plus, it’s easy to venture out from here, deep into the Black Hills and east to Badlands National Park.

Rapid City is your doorway to the incredible things in store for your SD adventure.

After exploring the city, check into your hotel for the night so you can rest up for future adventures!

You could also make your way to Keystone, SD which would set you up in a prime position to start your day in Mount Rushmore bright and early!

Where to Stay in Keystone

BOUTIQUE | If you want a cozy and comfortable place to stay while still taking advantage of the mid-range budget, then I recommend staying at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Keystone. With comfortable beds, large rooms, a swimming pool, and a hot tub, you can’t find anything better at this price. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you prefer spending money on activities to accommodation, then Quality Inn Keystone near Mount Rushmore is a perfect choice. It’s located in a prime location with stunning mountain views, and it also has an indoor swimming pool and a jacuzzi perfect for unwinding after a busy day of exploring. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

CABIN | Encompassed by the Black Hills forest, this highly-rated woody cozy cabin is the ultimate private escape in Keystone while still being near all the major attractions. The cabin gives the ultimate forest living — from waking up to deers, enjoying the fire pit at night to chilling on the deck, it can’t get any better than this. | Book on Vrbo

Day 2: Mount Rushmore to Wind Cave

Make your way to Mount Rushmore.

the faces of four presidents of the USA carved into a large mountain

Head west on Route 16 and enjoy the short 30-minute drive to view the most significant landmark of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore! You will have to veer off onto Route 244 to reach the park.

Mount Rushmore National Monument is a not-to-be-missed spot as you traverse in the footsteps of many thrill-seekers of the great American road trip. You will walk lovely boardwalks as you look up at the massive sculptures which have been carved into the side of the mountain.

You will see the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

There is a restaurant on-site, Carvers Cafe, but the real gem is Memorial Team Ice Cream, where you can sample Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream recipe.

A Note on Mount Rushmore

A further away view of the four faces of Mt Rushmore so that you can see the scale of the sculpture against mountain and trees

However interested you are in Mount Rushmore, it is important to note that this landmark is not without controversy. This article is a fascinating primer on the issues raised by the existence of Mount Rushmore.

To simplify an incredibly complex problem, there are two main issues at stake. Number one is the issue of the United States’ violation of their treaty with the Lakota (one of three Sioux nations). 

The story is a familiar one in US history. The USA agreed to the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, which gave the Lakota tribe exclusive use of the Black Hills. Less than a decade later, after gold was discovered, the US broke their treaty and overtook the land. 

The Black Hills are an important site to the Lakota, and particularly, the mountain on which Mount Rushmore was carved holds particular significance to Native Americans.

The mountain now named “Mt Rushmore” was once called Tunkasila Sakpe Paha, or Six Grandfathers Mountain by the Lakota. It is indescribably vital for you to remember that this was once a mountain sacred to the Lakota.

The other issue at stake with Mount Rushmore is the story it tells. It was designed by Gutzon Borglum, a man with ties to the KKK, the same man who dreamed up the Confederate version of Mount Rushmore, Stone Mountain. 

So there’s that, plus the fact that Mount Rushmore celebrates four important but flawed presidents — two of whom enslaved people, and virtually all of whom displaced and disregarded Native Americans (including Lincoln) during their tenure– all while violating Native land rights.

This is not to condemn Mount Rushmore nor to say that it should not be visited, but that it should be visited with an open mind and critical eye, aware of the hypocrisies and nuances of the story, but also aware of its importance in our country’s history.

Check out the Crazy Horse Memorial.

The Crazy Horse Memorial under construction

I suggest that you balance out your time visiting a place like Mount Rushmore with sites that represent Native American culture, such as the Crazy Horse Memorial. 

You can reach the memorial by continuing west from Mount Rushmore on 244 and then heading south on 385.

Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest rock carving. Their mission states, “… to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians.”

It was conceptualized as a response to Mount Rushmore, a way of reminding people of the Native history of the land, a counterpoint to the four presidents on stolen land.

But it, too, has been met with controversy, and opinions about this memorial among the Lakota are split (this fascinating article explains some of the issues at stake.)

If you’re hungry, stop at Laughing Water Restaurant. Your visit to this restaurant benefits the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Head towards Wind Cave National Park.

inside one of the caves at wind cave national park. sedimentary rock layers in the cave.

As you head south on 385, you’ll make your way to Wind Cave National Park, which is the final stop on day 2 of your South Dakota road trip.

They offer cave tours in this unique cave formed by the wind. The tour will take you to an opening in the cave where you can feel the breeze that rips through this cave, which is pretty amazing!

The rock formations in the cave will also blow your mind, as well!

Find a place to stay the night.

Trees on the plains of Wind Cave National Park in the afternoon light with shadow

This park is a perfect place to camp for the night, too. There are spots open often. You could also stay in Buffalo Gap or Hot Springs.

If you’re not camping, there are a lot of accommodation options in nearby Custer, SD. 

I suggest El Dorado Ranch which is highly rated and just outside of Custer, close to Wind Cave National Park, about a 20-minute drive away.

Where to stay in Custer

RANCH | Get a chance to sleep on a ranch by staying at El Dorado Ranch. Seated on a 5-acre, this holiday home is large enough to host big families or groups of people who want to experience farm life while still having all the amenities they need in a home. Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

CABIN | If you love rustic finished-off with modern amenities, then you’ll love this lovely log cabin. There are lots of cabins in Custer but this one is my personal favorite for its large deck that offers amazing views on Crazy Horse Monument not forgetting how cozy each room feels — I am talking exposed wooden beams, various pieces of art, cute lighting features, I could go on and on raving about this cabin. | Book on Vrbo

MOTEL | If you wondered why I was raving about the previous cabin and you just want to stick to the familiar options, then Bavarian Inn, Black Hills is what I recommend. With 2 swimming pools (one indoor, one outdoor), and a chic interior vibe, this motel has a French charm of overflowing flower pots that can’t be found in any of the previous options. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Day 3: Incredibly Scenic Drives

Continue your incredible South Dakota road trip with some of the most scenic drives of your life.

The Needles highway in South Dakota open road around rocks

The following roads are going to blow your mind. Now we’re really getting into the good stuff of this South Dakota itinerary!

One thing I’d like to note, it is virtually impossible to drive the entirety of these roads without doing a little backtracking, but I promise, it is worth every mile.

Optional: Make a stop at Jewel Cave National Monument.

It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re interested in caves and geology and the Wind Caves wasn’t enough cave action for you, Jewel Cave National Monument is located about 20 miles west of Custer.

It’s a beautiful cave system that you can take a tour of by lantern light, but it isn’t the best for those with a fear of the dark or for claustrophobia!

Drive the Needles Highway.

A road going through the Needles highway

From Wind Cave, head north on 385 and pick up Route 87- the Needles Highway. This is by far one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on, aside from the scenic byway in Custer State Park (your next stop).

You will pass Sylvan Lake and the highway’s namesake, the Needle’s Eye, a unique rock formation. You will also pass the Cathedral Spires.

Keep an eye out for Black Elk Peak on this road, which is the highest point in South Dakota!

The spires are a significant rock climbing destination in the US. Plus, you can hit the trail in this spot to get up and personal with these remarkable formations.

Take the Iron Mountain Road to Custer State Park.

Three pronghorn aka american antelope in a field

From the Needles Highway, you will hop onto Iron Mountain Road (Route 16-A) initially. 

You will head west on 16-A, then back on 385 North, where you will then go right onto Needles Highway again (87 South). 

Then pick up 16-A East again, where you will enter Custer State Park and can spend the night.

This route is kind of a roundabout way to get to Custer State Park. However, it will allow you to see all that these scenic routes have to offer.

Iron Mountain Road will wind you through glorious tunnels carved right through the mountains. I’ve never been on roads quite like these.

They like to describe Iron Mountain Road as 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, three pigtails, three tunnels, two splits, and four presidents.

Tip: You can enjoy a portion of Iron Mountain Road as you enter the park and then use it to exit the next day to see the entire road.

After exploring a portion of the road, enjoy the scenic route that winds through Custer State Park, too, for more tunnels and endless wildlife. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is 70 miles of engaging wonder.

You will 100% see bison and may even get stuck in a “bison jam” — the South Dakota version of a traffic jam — as the park is packed with them! 

Note: Do not get closer than 25 yards of bison (and 50 is safer). Take photos with a zoom lens.

There will also be a plethora of adorable prairie dogs. For even more animal-spotting, such as pronghorns and wild burros, tack on the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway.

I’m pretty sure this will be one of your favorite days road tripping South Dakota!

Choose one of the many camping or cabin spots around the park to enjoy. Hit the hiking trails, swimming, fishing, or enjoy some time just straight chilling. It’s a great way to end the day.

Plus, when you wake in the morning, you will have the chance to head back out on the scenic roads as you make your way to another absolutely stunning South Dakota destination.

Day 4: Badlands National Park

Make your way towards the Badlands through the Black Hills.

Driving through the Badlands along Sage Creek Road, seeing hills of beautiful colors

Badlands National Park is your destination for your fourth day on the road in South Dakota — get excited because there are so many epic Badlands hikes to embark on! 

But first, you will finish adventuring on the scenic roads of the Black Hills National Forest before you head east.

Hop back on 16-A, Iron Mountain Road, and take it all the way up to Route 16. Then take the 16 Bypass to pick up Route 44 east.

Take a left from 44 to hit Sage Creek Road. This is another beautiful drive with spacious prairie views! There are more prairie dogs and bison that call this area home. You may also get to see Badlands bighorn sheep, too!

Note: Sage Creek Road is a dirt road, so take it cautiously, especially if you have a low-clearance vehicle!

Arrive at Badlands and take a scenic drive through the park.

Driving the badlands loop road, winding street on a sunny day in South Dakota road tripping

You will enter the park at the Pinnacles Entrance Station. From there, hop on the 30-mile Badlands Loop Road to enjoy many overlooks and incredible short hikes. 

Go check out our article on the Badlands for an extensive list of recommendations of what to do in the park!

One of the coolest things about the Badlands is that it is an Open Hike park. That means you can hike virtually anywhere unless otherwise stated. 

It also gives open reign for camping!

You can camp wherever you like in the park as long as it is half a mile from any trailhead or road. You should never camp within 100 feet of any water source.

There are also two campgrounds in the park, plus a lodge. Cedar Pass Lodge also has a restaurant that is open seasonally.

If you want, you can find free dispersed camping in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. The camping is located just north of the Pinnacles Entrance Station. Once you exit the park boundary, make a right onto the first dirt road. You will find a plethora of free campsites here.

One crucial thing to note: The Badlands are named so because of the rapidly changing weather. It can bring rain and high winds at the drop of a dime. If you are going to camp, make sure you have a very sturdy tent.

Day 5: Wall Drug Store and Other South Dakota historical sites.

See a spectacular Badlands sunrise, then make your way to Wall.

Sun rising over the Pinnacles of Badlands National park

Because of the colorful majesty of the Badlands Pinnacles, you can bet it will be one of the most beautiful sunrises of your life!

The Big Badlands Overlook is an excellent spot for sunrise. Also, the Castle Trail or the Door Trail will bring excellent sunrise views.

The Castle Trail is about 10 miles out and back, but you don’t have to hike the whole thing to get the views you want. The Door Trail is 0.8 miles, giving way to a nice and short sunrise hike.

Trail sign leading to different viewpoints in badlands NP

From your glorious morning views, stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn a bit of history of the Badlands. 

Then, head north from the Northeast Entrance Station on Route 240. There, you can make a stop at the Minute Man Missle National Historic Site.

This historic site once was a major player in the Cold War Era. There are still over 1000 nuclear weapons under the ground of the vast prairie. When you come here, you will be able to learn about the history of the Cold War and check out the Delta-09 missile.

Stop in the town of Wall, home to Wall Drug Store, a historic roadside attraction famous for its free ice water and delicious donuts!

Then, begin heading west on I-90 to Sturgis where you can pick up US Alt-14, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.

Hop on US Alt-14 at Sturgis and begin heading northwest.

Sturgis is best known for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which was started by Native American bikers in 1938. It usually happens in August. 

For obvious reasons during the pandemic, we don’t suggest you attend (and you might want to stay clear of Sturgis for now), but keep it in mind for future travels.

You might want to check out the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame if you’re into motorcycles!

Personally, my favorite stop in Sturgis is Uncle Louie’s Diner! It offers by far the best pancakes in the state. Feel like a challenge? In this case, you should tackle on Uncle Louie’s Challenge.

“Eat a 6-pound burger and fries meal within 30 minutes, get it for free, and a t-shirt.” No one has ever completed this challenge. Classic.

You could also continue another 20 minutes on from Sturgis to the beautiful Bear Butte State Park.

Enjoy Gold Rush history with a stop in Deadwood.

The historic downtown of Deadwood South Dakota with bars and restuarants

Deadwood was established in 1876 when gold was discovered there. It is one of the most quintessential Gold Rush Era towns of the United States.

Deadwood was once home to some of the most infamous of the Wild West outlaws. You can find the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, among others. You can even visit some of their graves at Mount Moriah Cemetary.

You can also enjoy the many luxuries that Deadwood provides, such as breweries, wineries, and spas.

Be sure to visit Buffalo Bodega Complex, the oldest saloon in South Dakota. You will find an Old West experience as you gamble and gobble down some juicy steak. You can undoubtedly spend a night here as they have a super active nightlife.

Deadwood is a great place to spend the night. There are numerous hotels and campgrounds to choose from.

For those brave enough, a stay at Bullock Hotel will surely excite your senses, and your nerves, as this hotel is said to be haunted! Supposedly, it is haunted by the ghost of the former sheriff of Deadwood, Seth Bullock, who built the hotel in 1895.

It has been said one can smell the smoke of his cigar from time to time. It is also said that there was a hanging in room 211. Sometimes the faint figure of the person who passed can be seen.

Day 6: Black Hills

Go north to Spearfish and enjoy scenic Route US Alt-14.

Waterfall in green oasis in Spearfish, South Dakota

Before you head northwest, grab a hangover cure in Deadwood at Nugget Saloon for “the world’s best Bloody Mary.”

In the morning, you may also want to hop on the George S. Mickelson Trail before hopping back on the road. It is always nice to get a nice stretch of the legs before spending a lot of time in a car.

You can make your way along the remainder of the Spearfish Canyon Byway scenic drive.

Spearfish Canyon Byway (US Alt-14) will be a great way to fill your scenic road trip desires. Take in the beauty of the Black Hills and all the great things South Dakota has to offer.

It will take you through a beautiful canyon with the option to view lakes and Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls (located 2 miles off the highway up a dirt road), and Spearfish Falls. Plus, you can see areas where they filmed Dances with Wolves.

There are numerous campgrounds, including the Spearfish Campground which lends itself to lovely creekside camping.

Day 7: Devil’s Tower & Back to Rapid City

Take an excursion to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

The mysterious rock formation of Devils Tower in Wyoming near South Dakota

While the Devil’s Tower is not in South Dakota, it is a worthwhile detour on your journey.

This structure was clearly once a volcano. Adventurers from around the world come here to challenge themselves on the rock climbing routes!

The Devil’s Tower was once known by natives as Bear Lodge. It was a major meeting place for many of the tribes in the area, including the Cheyenne and Arapahoe. 

Each tribe has a unique story about Bear Lodge. It was often a place to gather to honor the Great Spirit.

While it is not in South Dakota, it is only an hour from Spearfish and is just too cool to pass up!

To get there, you will take I-90 West to Route 14 West. On the way, you will want to stop at Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation, which is easily accessible right off I-90. It is a famous landmark, a sinkhole to be precise.

Known for an old Native American hunting tradition of chasing buffalo to their demise into the hole, you will find this stop quite interesting. 

The area was once home to the Shoshone, Hidatsa, Crow, Kiowa, Apache, and Cheyenne tribes, all of whom have contributed greatly to the area of the region.

You will also pass through the town of Sundance, WY. It is a great frontier town to make a stop in. You can even do some hiking in Bearlodge Mountain Recreation Area if you so choose.

After making your way to the Devil’s Tower, you can head back right where you started in Rapid City if you are finishing your trip up.

Whether you will continue on west from Wyoming to Yellowstone and Grand Teton or fly back home from Rapid City. Either way, you will have successfully seen the best of what South Dakota has to offer.

***

the pinnacles of the badlands of south dakota

South Dakota is an enchanting land of mountain peaks, prairie land, and pinnacles. You will see uncountable amounts of native flora and fauna. You will enjoy lakes, creeks, and waterfalls. Yes, South Dakota has it all!

As you travel through South Dakota, you’ll see the interplay of Amerian history writ large: the long, deep-rooted Native American connections to the land meeting with the “Wild West” history of pioneers. 

Monuments such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse speak to the uncomfortable truths of Westward Expansion, and it’s important to be mindful of what was lost — lives, land, languages, lore — as a result of European-American settlement on the Americas.

As always, I urge you to be conscientious of the land and its history. It is truly your honor and privilege to be able to travel, so approach it with an open heart and open mind.

Your Road Trip Checklist

road tripping through the green forest of south dakota

Before embarking, get your oil changed if needed, and check your tires and fluid levels. Here are a few things you should have in your car for a road trip:

  • One gallon of emergency water per person
  • Jumper cables, or better yet, a portable car jump starter. I highly recommend you get one with an air compressor and USB charging capabilities
  • Snacks, snacks, and more snacks!
  • Cooler for perishables
  • Metallic sunscreens to keep your car cool when parked
  • Knife
  • Tire plugs
  • First-aid kit
  • Road atlas — National Geographic makes a great one which shows the public land and camping spots.
  • Books and games
  • Emergency supplies for stranding: such as chains and tracks to help you get out if you are stuck.
  • Road flares
  • Extra clothes and blankets

If you get stranded:

  • Make sure your car can be seen by anyone coming to help. This is where road flares will come in handy. You can also keep the internal dome light on to help yourself be seen if it is nighttime. It doesn’t use a whole lot of battery power.
  • If your tires are stuck in the snow or mud, attempt to shovel them out. You can also place road salt under your tires to help melt snow. Tracks will also help will mud/snow.
  • Stay with your car. Heading out to seek help in cold/hot conditions can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, or heat-related injuries.
  • Be conservative with fuel, and fill up often, especially on long stretches of road. You don’t want to run out of gas.

Your 10-Day Colorado National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

4 of the 61 national parks in the United States are located in Colorado — some 5%! — and they just happen to be some of the parks with the most incredible views!

Colorado is home to Rocky Mountain National Park too, which is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States!

From epic outdoor hikes that lead to unparalleled views to fun activities like sandboarding on sand dunes (yes, we do have those in the United States!), Colorado’s national parks genuinely have it all — and you can see it on on a Colorado national parks road trip!

Throughout this post, you’ll learn the best route to take to visit all of the national parks in Colorado in just ten days! Be sure to save it for later because this is one post you’re not going to want to misplace!

downtown denver in the fall
PLANNING FOR COLORADO AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: From beautiful sunny days, stunning fall foliage, to impressive snowy winters, Colorado is beautiful all year round. But if I had to choose one season, then I'd say summer is the best time to visit Colorado.

However, winter is also a great time to visit if you're into winter sports since Colorado is a haven for that.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

For Rocky Mountain National park, I suggest staying at Woodlands on Fall River hotel (luxury), Blue Door Inn (motel), Coyote Mountain Lodge (budget), or this cabin for a homey feel. 

While in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I suggest enjoying the magic of sleeping under the stars at either South Rim Campground, East Portal Campground, or North Rim Campground.

In Mesa Verde National Park, you can stay inside the park by opting for Morefield Campground if you're into camping but if not, then it has to be Far View Lodge as it's the only lodge in the park. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park can be visited without staying overnight but if choose to, then you can stay inside the park and camp on the dunes or at Pinon Flats Campground. If camping is not your thing, then you can choose to stay at Great Sand Dunes Lodge which is located right next to the park, or go a bit further to Alamosa town and sleep at either Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Alamosa, an IHG Hotel (boutique) or Best Western Alamosa Inn (budget).

How to Get Around: A car is essential to fully enjoy the National Parks of Colorado otherwise you'd have to rely on expensive tours. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations. 

Best Activities: Want to fully enjoy your Colorado road trip without the hustles of planning? Booking some activities will help you with that. You can book a full day tour of Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver so that you can just sit back and enjoy.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack:  Colorado is all about hiking so 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.

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.  

Colorado Itinerary, Day 1 – 3: Rocky Mountain National Park

Drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

Because you’ll most likely come to Colorado from Denver International Airport, the logical first stop is Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s best to spend around three days in Rocky Mountain National Park due to all that there is to explore!

Pick up your rental car in Denver (I suggest booking a rental car via a search aggregator like Discover Cars, which offers the best deals on your rental) and it’s time to hit the road — we’re heading towards the Rockies!

Below are some of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park over the course of three days. Pick and choose the ones that sound most interesting to you!

Sign at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. Established in 1915

Take a leisurely drive on Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is one of the most unique drives available in the United States. It has the nickname of “highway to the sky” because of its high elevation and impeccable views of the Rocky Mountains from all angles.

Take a drive on this road to take in all of the views. There are occasional spots to stop off, too, so you can soak up the view and also take a photo if you’d like. It truly is unlike any other road in Colorado because it goes high above the trees, and the elevation is just shy of 12,000 feet.

The beautiful snow-covered landscape of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park

Go on a hike.

Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with tons of hikes for all levels. Here are a few of the most popular hikes, as well as some basic information about them.

  • Dream Lake Trail: This easy hike is approximately 2 miles and is out and back. It’s great for hiking between April and October and offers impeccable views. The elevation gain is slightly over 400 feet, so it’s not too terrible.
  • Emerald Lake Trail: For a moderate hike in the Rocky Mountains, this is the one to do. It’s about 3 miles with an elevation gain of just under 700 feet, located by Estes Park.
  • Sky Pond: If you’re up for a challenge, go on this challenging hike that’s also near Estes Park. It’s about 9 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1700 feet on this out and back trail.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park at the beautiful Dream Lake with still, glassy water reflecting trees and snow-dotted mountain peaks

Visit Alberta Falls.

One of the most beautiful areas in Rocky Mountain National Park is Alberta Falls. To get there, you have go on a super easy 1.7-mile hike! Because it’s easy, even children can do this hike to enjoy Alberta Falls at the end of it.

This is one of the most popular hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park because of the epic views. It’s known for its incredible aspen groves, so be on the lookout for those during the hike, especially if you’re road tripping Colorado in the fall!

The rushing cascading water of Alberta Falls, surrounded by trees and rocks

Search for wildlife in Moraine Park.

Moraine Park is an area of Rocky Mountain National Park that has tons of wildlife. It’s located near Estes Park and is filled with elk, birds, and other animals. Obviously, you shouldn’t get super close to the animals while visiting the park, but it’s a great way to see wildlife from a distance in the wilderness.

This is also one of the most popular spots to go camping. On the north side of Moraine Park is a campground right among the mountains. This can be a great place to call home base while you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on this part of the trip.

Yellow flowers in a field in Moraine Park Colorado on a sunny summer day

Snap a photo of the view from Forest Canyon Overlook.

For the best views in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, head to Forest Canyon Overlook. This park observation deck offers extended views of the mountains and wilderness, and it’s truly unparalleled compared to other viewpoints in the park.

There’s a short paved walk to get to the observation deck. It’s not the biggest, so if you want to be there when there aren’t any crowds or other tourists, try to get there earlier in the morning. You might even catch the sunrise!

Scenery in Forest Canyon Overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park, view over the trees and mountains

Learn at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.

No trip to an area is complete without learning, and there’s no better place to do that than at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. This is entirely free to visit and is technically the park’s headquarters.

Inside, you can learn all about Rocky Mountain National Park and even chat with some rangers. This can be a great way to find out what’s going on in the park, and if there are hidden gems you might be able to check out, they would know.

Trees and mountains at Beaver Meadows in RMNP

Explore downtown Estes Park.

Estes Park is a town in Colorado that is known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. If you’re looking for a great place to stay while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, this small town is it.

The town is filled with wildlife, has great views of the mountains, and is even home to the Trail Ridge Road. Be sure to take a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to visit Prospect Mountain! This is one of the best things to do in Estes Park.

A view of accommodations like cabins and lodges in Estes Park near the base of Rocky Mountain National Park

Where to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park

Unlike other national parks, Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t have any in-park lodges besides camping. If you prefer having an actual bed, there are great accommodation options in both Estes Park and Grand Lake to consider. But since Estes Park is closer to the majority of the park’s most popular attractions and hikes, I recommend basing yourself here.

CABIN | Located just a few miles away from Rocky Mountain National Park, this beautiful cabin gives the most stunning views in the area. With a large deck that features a hot tub, you can be assured of having a relaxed time while thanking mother nature for the stunning mountainous views. On the inside, the cabin is equally beautiful! The visible wooden beams add a cozy and rustic touch while the large glass doors bring the views right in the living room. The kitchen is modern, the light features are beautiful — there is nothing not to love about this cabin in the mountains.

>> Check photos and reviews on Vrbo

LUXURY | If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, then I recommend staying at Woodlands on Fall River hotel. With ensuite rooms that feature a large kitchen and a living room, this hotel will give you a home away from home kind of vibe. And let’s not forget the cabin-in-the-mountain kind of look that will make your experience in Rocky Mountain National Park even better. On top of all that, this hotel is right on Front River and just a few minutes from RMNP.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

MOTEL | If you want something with a mid-range budget without compromising on quality and comfort, then I suggest staying at Blue Door Inn. The motel features a woody charming interior, clean rooms, a swimming pool to cool off the summer heat, and also offers beautiful mountain views from the deck.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If money is a concern but you want a place that’s comfortable, clean, and convenient, then I recommend Coyote Mountain Lodge. The rooms are nice, clean bathroom, and comfortable beds — nothing special to brag about but you can’t get any better for that price. The best part is that it’s perfectly located near RMNP so you won’t waste time on the road.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 4 – 6: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Drive time: 4 hours 50 minutes

For days four through six, hop on the road and get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This can be quite a drive, but you’ll be going through some beautiful small towns along the way.

If you want to make any pit stops, consider stopping in Breckenridge or Buena Vista. Breckenridge is one of the top-rated places to visit in Colorado, and Buena Vista is a little past the halfway point of the drive.

Here are some of the best activities to fill your few days in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Rock formations in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with a river below and lots of trees

Watch the stars (and even camp under them!)

Believe it or not, but camping under the stars in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the best things to do while visiting! There are quite a few campgrounds to choose from, so you can pick the one that suits your needs best.

Some of the more popular campgrounds include South Rim Campground, East Portal Campground, and North Rim Campground. North Rim, in particular, is first-come-first-serve because it’s such a nice campsite!

Camping tent in Colorado lit up from within with stars above in the sky

Hike the S.O.B. Draw

The S.O.B. Draw is the hike to do while visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! It’s only 2 miles long, but it’s one of the most challenging yet most rewarding hikes to do in the entire park and shouldn’t be missed if you’re up for the challenge.

It’s an out and back trail with just shy of 2,000 feet of elevation, which is why it’s such a strenuous hike. It’s almost straight uphill the entire time, and it’s incredibly rocky. Many people who have hiked it even refer to it as a total vertical climb.

Looking straight down into the gorge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Snowshoe trek through the park

Are you traveling to all of Colorado’s national parks during the winter? Don’t worry – there are still great activities and fun to be had! One of those is snowshoeing through the park on the Oak Flat Loop.

You can either bring your own snowshoes or rent them nearby if needed. It doesn’t take super long to snowshoe the trail, but it’s still great fun, and honestly, the park in the winter is beautiful. Plus, there are considerably fewer visitors during this time.

Snowshoes for hiking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison in winter

Explore the North Rim

The North Rim is the lesser-visited part of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but that’s why it’s so worth visiting.

There aren’t as many ranger services here, and it’s not as well kept as the rest of the park, and that’s why it’s often overlooked.

However, because there aren’t as many visitors, you can usually get a good chunk of the North Rim just to yourself so you can explore without crowds of people. What’s not to love about that?

River winding through Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Go on a ranger-led boat tour

Yes, there are actually ranger-led boat tours in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! This is fun for both locals and tourists because it truly gives you a unique experience while visiting, and you’ll get to learn from a ranger along the way.

These boat tours are called the Morrow Point Boat Tours and are only about 90 minutes long. It goes right along the Morrow Point Reservoir, and you do have to make a reservation to go on the boat and pay a small fee.

Water going through Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Take the scenic route: drive through the East Portal

The best way to drive through the park is by driving through the East Portal. Take the scenic route by driving East Portal Road. Though it’s closed in winter, it’s pretty heavily trafficked in the warmer months because it is near some of the best camping and picnic spots.

Keep in mind that the road is very steep, but the views are rewarding. Other great drives in the area include the South Rim Road and North Rim Road. North Rim Road isn’t as high up as the other two, but the views are still incredible!

The east rim of the black canyon on an overcast day

Colorado Itinerary, Day 7 – 8: Mesa Verde National Park

Drive time: 3 hours

Now to Colorado national park number three! Next up is Mesa Verde National Park, which is about 3 hours from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Similar to the last long drive, there are a few points of interest along the way.

If you do want to make a pit stop, I highly suggest stopping in Telluride. Similar to Breckenridge, this is one of the best spots to visit in Colorado, known for its outdoor adventures. Right near Mesa Verde National Park is also Durango, a small town known for its scenic train rides!

Below are some of the best things to do during two days in Mesa Verde National Park.

sign that reads entrance mesa verde national park

Get up close to history on a cliff dwelling tour.

Park rangers run tours of the cliff dwellings so that you can get up close and learn more about them during your visit. This is easily the best way to get educated about the park while also having someone you can turn to if you have any questions about it!

Because these tickets tend to sell out quickly, you can only buy them two weeks in advance. If you know a tour is something you want to do during your trip to the cliff dwellings, be sure to call the ranger’s office and buy them the second they go on sale.

the cliff dwellings of mesa verde national park

Discover at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

Located right in Mesa Verde National Park is a small museum called the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. If you want to know even more about the history or weren’t able to grab tickets to the ranger tour, this is the place to go.

This is one of the most historic national park museums and was built in the early 1900s, and it’s made from the same types of materials used to create the actual cliff dwellings. Inside, you can learn all about pueblo life.

the archaelogical museum in mesa verde where you can learn about the cliff dwellings

Drive the Mesa Top Loop Road.

Obviously, by now, you can tell going on a short drive through the national parks in Colorado is one of the best ways to explore them. In Mesa Verde National Park, that road is the Mesa Top Loop Road!

It’s only about 6 miles long but is incredibly scenic. Along the drive, you’ll also be able to pass by remains of old archaeological sites dating back to 550 CE! There are many spots along the road that you can pull off and walk up to them too.

views over mesa verde with trees and cliffs and wood

Wander the Far View Sites.

The Far View Sites are one of the most popular places to visit in Mesa Verde National Park, and for good reason.

This was one of the more populated parts of the cliff dwellings, and 40+ different villages have been found in this area!

These sites are even older than the actual cliff dwellings, which is why so many people like to see them. It’s a great look into the history and the way of life hundreds of years ago.

Some of the top places in the Far View Sites to check out include Pipe Shrine House, Far View House, and Coyote Village.

archeaelogical findings at far view in mesa verde

Eat dinner at the Metate Room Restaurant.

For dinner with a view, look no further than the Metate Room Restaurant. They have sustainable cuisines, and they offer some of the best views of the park from above. This restaurant has even won an Award of Culinary Excellence, so you know it’s good!

The restaurant is only open for dinner with limited hours, usually only 3 to 4 hours a day depending on the time of year. To guarantee a spot, make a reservation 24 hours in advance. Walk-ins are welcome, but the restaurant can’t guarantee you’ll be able to eat there.

Where to stay in Mesa Verde National Park

You can stay overnight in the park but there are only 2 options. Morefield Campground for camping or Far View Lodge but you’ll need to book in advance to get a spot.

>> Book Far View Lodge Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 9: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Drive time: 3 hours 50 minutes

After Mesa Verde National Park, spend a day or two at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Truly, a day is all you need, but if you want to spend a night in the park, then you’ll have to plan for two days, making this an 11-day road trip instead!

The drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Mesa Verde National Park is just shy of four hours, but you can stop at either Durango or Pagosa Springs along the way for a break. Durango is easily one of the best places to visit in Colorado if you’re a fan of locomotives.

Here are some of the best activities in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The undulating sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado

Hike to the top of the High Dune.

High Dune Trail is the most popular trail in all of Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It’s only three miles with an elevation gain of just over 600 feet, but it’s rated as difficult. This is because trekking in the sand is a lot harder than you may think it is.

Despite being the most popular trail, most of the year, you’ll find that you may be one of the only people you can see along the route. This is what makes it such a lovely trail to hike. Plus, the views are incredible the whole way.

layers of beautiful sand dunes stacking against each other in the early morning light in colorado

Have a blast sandboarding.

The best activity, without a doubt, in Great Sand Dunes National Park is sandboarding!

Don’t worry; you can rent sandboards right near the park in the San Luis Valley because it’s such a popular activity. Keep in mind that you should rent them before arriving at the park.

If sandboarding isn’t your style, you can also go sand sledding. This is perfect if you’re traveling with children! These can also be rented, or you can bring your own sleds from home if you’d prefer.

people sandboarding and walking up a sand dune

Spot the Milky Way.

To get a great view of the Milky Way, stay until nightfall at the park. There’s something truly magical about seeing the Milky Way while surrounded by sand dunes.

It’s one of those experiences that you can honestly only have while at the Great Sand Dunes National Park! (Okay, except maybe the Sahara Desert)

Don’t forget to bring your camera too, because this is one view you won’t want to miss!

Camp in the sand dunes.

Believe it or not, but you can spend the night directly in the sand dunes if you want.

To do this, you can backpack and camp anywhere within the sand dunes by setting up your own tent, even just sleeping in a sleeping bag in the sand.

Keep in mind that there is wildlife at this park, so be careful with what you bring. You also can’t have more than six people in your group at a time, and only twenty groups can sleep within the park on any given night. Read more restrictions here.

Camping in sand dunes in Colroado with stars overhead

Visit Zapata Falls.

Zapata Falls is one of the best-hidden gems in Colorado, and it’s located right next to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s a beautiful waterfall with a 30-foot drop that is a lovely example of Colorado’s nature.

The Zapata Falls Trail to get to the waterfall is less than a mile, with an elevation of around 200 feet. It’s an out, and back trail ranked as easy, so it’s not super challenging to get to the waterfall.

Visiting in the winter? You may find a frozen waterfall!

man hiking to a frozen waterfall in a canyon

Where to stay in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park has no in-park lodges but if you want to experience the magic of the dunes, I recommend camping right on the dunes if you have the permit that allows you to do so or camp at Pinon Flats Campground.

But if camping is not your thing, there are a few accommodation types just outside the park to consider.

LODGE | If you want to stay just right next to the park, I recommend Great Sand Dunes Lodge. There is nothing fancy to write back home about but the rooms are comfortable enough, it has an indoor swimming pool, and you get some nice mountainous views.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

If you don’t find a spot in the above lodge, then you can make Alamosa town your base for visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s approximately 45 minutes to the dunes but it has a lot more accommodation options.

BOUTIQUE | If you want something familiar that you know will never disappoint, then stay at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Alamosa, an IHG Hotel. Just like most IHG hotels, the rooms here are comfortable with a chic interior that will make you feel welcome.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you want to stay on the lower end of the budget with a touch of luxury, then I suggest staying at Best Western Alamosa Inn. Not a low budget per se but definitely a steal for this location and the amenities offered. All the rooms at this hotel feature a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee maker should you want to fix yourself a quick drink. And for active travelers, you’ll be happy to know that there is a fitness room to stay in shape and an indoor swimming pool plus a jacuzzi to unwind from.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 10: Back to Denver

Drive time: 3 hours 50 minutes

On the last day, head back to Denver (or wherever you started your trip from). The drive is just shy of four hours, and the halfway point is none other than the fantastic Colorado Springs. This is one of the top places to visit in Colorado and is also one of the best day trips from Denver.

I can’t recommend enough that you stop in Colorado Springs on your way back, just because it’s a great town.

While you’re there, be sure to visit Garden of the Gods, an epic outdoor attraction so beautiful it’ll have you wondering why it’s not another one of Colorado’s national parks!

beautiful light falling on garden of the gods

At Garden of the Gods, there are a few different walking trails ranging in experience level, but each one will take you through the fantastic rock formations so you can check out the park. This is a super popular photography location, too, so don’t forget your camera.

Other fun stops in/near Colorado Springs include Pikes Peak (an epic spot for hiking or rock climbing), The Broadmoor Seven Falls, and Pikes Peak Highway, which will take you up the mountain without hiking. However, it’s often closed in winter due to weather, so keep that in mind!

What to Pack for Your Colorado National Parks Road Trip

I have a complete USA road trip packing list here you may want to go through before your road trip.

Travel guides

While I’ve given you so much useful information in this Colorado road trip itinerary, sometimes it’s hard to include all the little details due to time and resources constraints. However, travel guides do a good job at filling in all the spaces and that’s why I recommend taking this Fodor’s Colorado guidebook on top of my first-hand experience.

Phone Mount & Car Charger

It’s never safe to use your phone while driving or bother your front-seat passenger with navigation help and that’s why you need a phone mount. Also, you’ll need to take a car charger for obvious reasons but instead of taking 2 different devices, I recommend taking this dual-purpose phone mount and charger! I’ve used it on every single road trip I’ve gone to and I can’t imagine going to one without it.

Snacks

Road trips just go better with snacks and let’s not forget how quickly hanger can kick in especially if you don’t want to keep stopping just to get something to eat. Pack a few snacks — and not just the sweet ones but a mix of sweets and salty ones too.

Comfortable Footwear: Colorado national parks have a lot of hiking trails, so you’ll need to take sneakers or comfortable hiking boots (I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest the KEEN Durand boot.) You can go with sneakers but just make sure they have good traction and are comfortable to walk in for an extended period of time.

Bug spray and after-bite care

Nothing ruins an epic adventure in the wild like bugs — those little monsters just know how to change someone’s mood quickly but the good news is that you can protect yourself with this DEET-free lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent — it’s great on even the most stubborn mosquitos.

Unfortunately, sometimes bugs are just too sneaky and they become hard to avoid. When that happens, use After Bite itch eraser to manage itches. It will instantly soothe your skin and you’ll be able to go back to enjoying the beautiful National Parks of Colorado.

Rehydration packets

If you’re like me who gets nasty headaches when dehydrated, you might want to pack rehydration packets. With the scorching sun, uncoordinated meal times, Impromptu hikes, salty snacks, there is no way you can avoid dehydration except if you take these Rehydration packets. I’ve been packing them for years for every road trip and they’re now a big part of my road trip tradition.

Sunscreen

Some people think that just because they’ll spend a good amount of time in the car driving that they don’t need sunscreen but they’re wrong!

While windshields protect against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), most do not block UVA rays, which cause aging and skin cancer. So for that reason, you need to pack and wear sunscreen even when you’re driving. And not just when driving but even when you hit the trails or spend the day on a beach. I love this sunscreen as it prevents my face from breaking out –( my skin is sensitive to chemical sunscreens) but since it’s a bit pricey, I use a cheaper one for the rest of my body.

And remember that it doesn’t matter which skin color or race you are — white, pale like me, Black, Latina, or Asian, you need sunscreen! Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate based on skin color.

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

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.

Road Trip to Alaska: Top Sights Along the Alaska “Alcan” Highway

The Alaska Highway, or Alcan, is often listed as one of the ultimate North American road trip routes. We couldn’t agree more!

With winding mountain roads cutting through the remote reaches of British Columbia and Canada’s wild Yukon, this 1,390-mile scenic highway takes travelers all the way to beautiful Alaska. This road trip is unlike any other you’ve experienced before!

Quick Note: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the border between the U.S. and Canada is currently closed to non-essential travel. While some Americans are permitted to travel on the Alaska Highway, you must have a legal, valid reason to do so. You must also follow all the laws of Canada while you transit through the country. Tourism and sightseeing is not a valid reason for travel, and this post is strictly meant for post-pandemic travel plans.

Please read this helpful page from the Canadian government website if you are planning to travel between the continental U.S. and Alaska via Canada to ensure you follow all laws.

An American and a Canadian flag side by side next to barren fields and a deep blue lake while driving the Alcan Highway road trip to Alaska

Originally built during World War II to connect Alaska with the contiguous United States, the Alaska Highway has seen drastic improvements since it’s opening in the 1940s.

No longer a treacherous dirt road, it’s paved and ready for your modern-day road-tripping rig!

This scenic highway begins in the town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia. With a population of about 13,000 people, Dawson Creek will be one of the larger towns on your route.

Load up on groceries and fuel, check over your road trip packing list, because you’re in it for the long haul!

Road Trip to Alaska: Alcan Highway Itinerary

Stop One: Dawson Creek (Mile 0)

Sign with three flags reading "You are now entering the World Famous Alaska Highway Dawson Creek BC"

Welcome to Dawson Creek, where your adventure officially begins! Brush up on the famous route’s history at the Alaska Highway House Interpretive Center.

Here, you can watch an educational film about the highway’s construction and explore some of the equipment used in the rigorous building process. This was no small project!

If you’re planning to spend multiple days in Dawson Creek, you’ll have plenty of time to take a trip over to the Kiskatinaw Bridge. Check out this bridge’s quality craftsmanship.

Built during the construction of the Alaska Highway, the Kiskatinaw Bridge was the first curved wooden bridge in Canada and is one of few that remain intact today.

Ready to hit the road? Dawson Creek features a fun sign marking the start of the Alaska Highway. This marker makes a great photo opp to commemorate the beginning of your road trip.

Let the journey begin!

Stop Two: Charlie Lake (Mile 52)

Logs and trees on the shore of a lake, which is still and mirroring the clouds above it.

The first scenic stop along the Alaska Highway is Charlie Lake. This magnificent lake sits right next to the road and is a convenient pull off to enjoy the views.

Don’t be shy, go take a closer look! There are two wonderful parks along the lake’s shore, Charlie Lake Provincial Park and Beatton Provincial Park.

Charlie Lake Provincial Park, on the west shore of the lake, offers some short scenic hiking trails, a boat launch, and a campground with full hookups.

Stretch your legs, take some memorable photos, and relax by the water!

Stop Three: Muncho Lake (Mile 462)

Jade green waters surrounded by some leaves and greenery with mountains and clouds in the distance on a road trip to Alaska

This next lake is definitely a sight to see while you road trip to Alaska!

Similar to Charlie Lake, you can’t miss this one because the Alaska Highway runs right along its eastern shore! Muncho Lake is a jaw-dropping jade-color. No filter needed!

With a backdrop of towering mountains and pristine wilderness, you’ll want to stay here for days, which is actually possible if you snag a camp spot.

Strawberry Flats Campground in Muncho Lake Provincial Park is a great place to spend a night or two. Most of the campsites here even offer direct access to the lake for fishing and the ultimate sunset viewpoint. You can’t beat that!

While you’re here, take a hike on one of the area’s awesome trails. The 3-mile Stone’s Sheep Trail offers hikers an epic view of Muncho Lake and the surrounding landscape. Be on the lookout: there’s always a possibility to see stone sheep and caribou!

Stop Four: Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park (Mile 496)

Woman with short brown hair in a colorful bathing suit in turquoise water at a hot spring in Canada surrounded by green grass and trees.

Bathing suit? Check. Towel? Check.

You’re ready to soak and relax at Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park.

As the second largest natural hot springs in Canada, there’s no wonder why this remote paradise is on so many traveler’s bucket lists! It’s a wildly spacious pool for soaking, but it’s also right in the middle of an incredibly beautiful boreal forest.

Make your way from the parking area to the hot springs using the boardwalk trail. You’ll feel like you’ve entered into a fairytale!

The Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park has a campground for those wishing to spend the night. Keep in mind, the sites tend to fill up quickly, so plan to arrive in the morning!

Stop Five: The Sign Post Forest (Mile 635)

Sign which reads "Sign Post Forest" surrounded by lots of signs from all over the world along the AlCan Highway

Looking for a sign? Well… Here’s over 77,000 of them!

Make a stop to walk through Watson Lake’s most popular attraction: the Sign Post Forest.

It’s encouraged to bring a legally obtained sign representing the town you’re visiting from! Make your mark on the growing forest and add to one of the posts.

This interesting tradition was founded by a soldier who decided to mark the distance to his hometown while working on the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. It’s said that he was homesick for his small Illinois town.

Interested in learning more about the history of The Sign Post Forest? The Alaska Highway Interpretive Centre is only a 5-minute walk away!

Stop Six: Whitehorse, Yukon (Mile 872)

Welcome to Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon territory!

With a population of around 25,000 people, this is the largest town you’ve seen in a while. Whitehorse maintains a small-town vibe with friendly locals and rich history.

There’s a lot of fun activities to do in Whitehorse, and it’s often recommended that Alaska Highway travelers spend multiple days here.

Witness the Northern Lights

Green Northern lights above the lights of the town of Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada along the AlCan Highway

This spectacular light show is most commonly viewed in the wintertime, but it can make appearances during late summer and fall when the days begin to grow shorter. 

To see the Northern Lights, you’ll have to take a drive out of town to escape any bit of light pollution. The darker the better! Bring some hot chocolate and camp chairs to enjoy your evening under the stars.

Walk Under the Midnight Sun

For those visiting in midsummer, you may be able to experience the midnight sun.

Long summer days have a whole new meaning when you travel this far north!

Hike in Miles Canyon

Brilliant turquoise water on the Yukon River, surrounded by rocks and green trees

Explore along the Yukon River, and wander through the area’s most magnificent natural feature.

Here, you will see how the river’s powerful flows wore through the basaltic lava rock to form Miles Canyon.

Takhini Hot Pools

Another soak? Yes, please!

The beautiful outdoor pool at Takhini Hot Springs is the perfect place to relax for the day.

If you’re searching for a place to stay the night, there’s a nice campground with full hookups and a welcoming hostel right on location.

Explore the Local History

Become immersed in Yukon history at the MacBride Museum’s downtown location. Connect with the groundbreaking events that founded today’s modern Yukon and the people who originally inhabited the rugged landscape.

For some more on the mining history, the MacBride Copperbelt Mining Museum offers a fun and interactive interpretive experience. A great excursion for all ages!

There’s still more to discover! Visit the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, and check out the fully restored riverboat. Before modern roads, riverboats connected the area to the outside world.

Stop Seven: Kluane National Park and Reserve (Mile 1,016)

Ice fields in Canada surrounded by tall mountains covered in green and orange foliage and grass.

After an exciting stay in Whitehorse, it’s back on the road toward Haines Junction.

Calling all mountain lovers! From Haines Junction, outdoor enthusiasts are urged to stop by Kluane National Park and Reserve.

Home to the largest non-polar ice fields in the world as well as Canada’s tallest mountain, Mount Logan, this park is a dream for mountaineers and front country users alike. Just from the road, visitors can view wildlife and the towering peaks of the Icefield Range.

Looking for a short hike to get your steps in? Head out on an easy ½ mile hike along the Soldier’s Summit Trail to witness the site of the Alaska Highway’s official opening.

For those looking to spend the night, the campground at Kathleen Lake offers tremendous views, and it’s a great basecamp for area hiking. Many people choose to spend multiple nights here because of the vast outdoor recreation opportunities!

As you explore Kluane, keep on the lookout for grizzly bears, black bears, Dall sheep, wolves, and mountain goats!

Stop Eight: Destruction Bay (Mile 1,083)

Soft blue water against beige sand in a bay in Canada, with larger hills in the distance and lots of cloud.

Wondering how this sweet little community along the Alaska Highway earned such an ominous name?

After a severe storm destroyed materials and buildings during the route’s construction, the name Destruction Bay seemed appropriate!

At the northern tip of Kluane Lake, Destruction Bay makes for a great place to pull off the highway and take in the views.

For those who have been fishing along the drive, Kluane Lake is a great place to put that license to use! Cast a line into the icy cold waters for a chance to catch one of the legendary monster trout.

Stop Eight: Delta Junction (Mile 1,390)

A family of three moose -- a mother and two babies -- crossing the road of the AlCan Highway with some pink flowers on the side of the road.

It’s the end of the road but the beginning of your next adventure.

From the end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction, AK, you now have to decide whether you will head north towards Fairbanks to explore the wild landscape of Denali National Park or make your way towards the coast in Anchorage.

Wherever you end up next, we know that adventure waits for you there!

Pin This Guide to Road Tripping to Alaska Along the Alcan Highway!

The Perfect 10 Day Montana Road Trip Itinerary (+ Optional Wyoming Stops)

With a host of mountain trails, trout streams, and downtown art scenes, a Montana road trip should be next up on your USA bucket list.

The state is home to several national parks, including Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and Glacier National Park.

This road trip also offers drivable access to the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park in neighboring Wyoming should you want to extend your trip to be both a Montana and Wyoming road trip!

Are you ready for one of the best road trips in the USA? Let’s get going: here’s all you need to know to plan the best Montana road trip.

PLANNING FOR MONTANA AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: There is no doubt you can visit Montana any time of the year but if your road trip involves visiting Glacier National Park (which it should as it's one of the state's highlights), then the best time to visit is in summer. This is because most roads and lodges in Glacier National Park close in winter due to snow and it doesn't make sense to visit Montana and skip GNP.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Billings, Bozeman, Bigsky& Yellowstone, Missoula, and Whitefish & Glacier National Park.

For your first sleepover in Billings, I recommend staying at Northern Hotel, a charming historic hotel with a touch of luxury. And while in Bozeman, I recommend staying at Kimpton Armory Hotel, a chic boutique hotel.

Missoula might not be a popular overnight stay area but if it makes sense for your road trip, then you can spend the night at Blossom’s Bed & Breakfast.

And for your adventures in Whitefish & Glacier National Park, I recommend staying at The FarmHouse Inn, a quaint B&B or Firebrand Hotel if you want to stay in the middle of everything.

How to Get Around: You're definitely going to need a car while road tripping Montana otherwise you'll have to spend a lot of money on private tours. In that case, you can compare car rentals and prices from here if you don't know where to rent one from.  Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations. 

Best Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a Bighorn Canyon cruise, whitewater rafting experience, or river floating experience in Glacier National Park, or this 2-day Yellowstone guided tour if you choose to extend your Montana road trip to Wyoming. 

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!

How this Montana Road Trip Itinerary Works

An overcast day in Glacier National Park, turquoise water next to melting snow, surrounded by evergreen trees and mountains with little snow.

This Montana road trip is designed for people who don’t mind a few longer days of driving, but are truly all about the sights and hikes that this beautiful state has to offer!

Personally, I don’t like staying in a new place every single night, so I try to break the itinerary up a bit so that you have a few multi-night stays — typically 2 nights, occasionally 1 night or 3 nights in the case of Glacier National Park and Whitefish at the end.

Breaking up this Montana road trip with longer overnight stays in a place helps you get to really know each destination on this trip rather than just passing through in a car as fast as possible and ticking off the “main sights”, as many other road trips have you do!

I want this road trip through Montana (and Wyoming, if you wish!) to mix as much sightseeing as possible with a leisurely pace… so you don’t end up needing a vacation from your vacation!

There are a few places on this Montana road trip where you can “choose your own adventure” so to speak. When you stay in Big Sky, I give you the option to make a side trip to Yellowstone National Park. And of course, you could also visit Grand Teton National Park while you’re in Yellowstone, and extend the stay a little there, making this more of a 2 week Montana road trip than a 10 day one.

However, since you probably got here by searching for “Montana road trip”, this post is going to focus on the best places to stop on a road trip through Montana. However, I will note when a quick side trip or detour into another state would be a good idea, in case you are hoping to visit a bit of Wyoming as well on this road trip!

The Best Time of Year for a Montana Road Trip

Pink wildflowers blooming in an alpine meadow in a valley between peaks in Glacier National Park, a Montana road trip itinerary must-see!

Let me start off by saying that while the best time to visit Montana is really any time, the best time to road trip Montana is a little different: especially if you have Glacier National Park on your Montana itinerary!

While of course, you can visit Glacier National Park in the winter (and it’s beautiful and worthwhile!), many of the roads are closed which makes the whole ‘road tripping’ part a little more complicated.

Due to the high elevation of Glacier National Park (the highest part of the park, Logan Pass, is located at 6,646 feet above sea level!) and northern location near the border of Canada, heavy snow sets in rather early in Glacier National Park.

As a result, this road trip through Montana is at its best in the middle of the summer: think July or August.

This is when you’ll enjoy the best weather with a limited impact of snow (though a few trails in Glacier National Park may still have some patches of snow — it is Glacier National Park, after all!).

Early September is also a good time to visit Montana. There is no fixed date to when the roads and lodges close, but the later you get into September, the more you risk not being able to see as much of the park as you wish.

So, for that reason, I’d say late August is perhaps the best time to start this 10 day Montana road trip: that way, you end up in Glacier National Park right at the beginning of September, with little chance of closures interrupting your road trip plan.

Flying Into Montana

An airplane connected to a jet bridge with the mountains in the background as seen at a Montana airport

Flights are typically best through Billings or Bozeman. However, Missoula and Kalispell are worth looking into. 

Booking one-way flights from different cities versus a roundtrip might make sense if you need to save some time on the road. The state is large and there is a lot of ground to cover!

Year-round flights into Billings are offered from larger hubs including Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix.

Chances are you one layover away from the start of your trip. Seasonal direct flights are also available from Chicago and LAX.

We’ll assume you are flying into Billings for this Montana road trip itinerary as it is the most common arrival hub, but you may need to reorganize this itinerary if that is not the case.

Luckily, this Montana road trip goes in a circle once you leave Billings, so it’s pretty easy to adapt to your needs if your flight booking means you need to rejig the itinerary.

If you’re not flying into Billings, you may decide to skip it, as it’s a bit out of the way compared to the rest of the itinerary, and spend more time along the loop we detail in days 3-8 of these 10 days in Montana itinerary.

Renting a Car

A blurry red car driving past a landscape road tripping in Montana's Glacier National Park

If you’re flying into Montana for a road trip, you’re definitely going to need a car!

The best prices can be found by picking up and dropping off at the same pickup point, which will likely be Billings.

Keep in mind, though, that this means a 6-hour straight drive from the last point on this 10 day Montana road trip itinerary, Glacier National Park, back to Billings.

If that sounds tiring to you, you may want to look into one-way rentals between Billings and Kalispell, the nearest airport to Glacier National Park. It will almost certainly cost more, but it may be a whole lot more convenient.

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 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!

Montana Road Trip Map

Day 1-2 of Your Montana Road Trip: Billings

Welcome to Billings!

Since you’ll be driving a lot on this Montana road trip itinerary, we’ll get you out onto the hiking trails to stretch your legs as much as possible between each Montana road trip stop.

Take a Hike

View from rocks and trees above the city of Billings from a local hike around sunset

From Billings, several day hikes are within a quick drive from downtown. Moderate hikes include Phipps Park and Skyline Trails — pick one or the other to start your Montana itinerary.

The Skyline Trail

If you want to hit the trails pretty much as soon as you hit the road, about a 5-7 minute drive west from Billings Logan airport is the Skyline Trail. It is an easy 1.7-mile loop around the ridge of Zimmerman Park.

With sweeping views of the city below (and Bighorn, Pryor, and Beartooth Mountains in the distance) it’s a quick way to get your directional bearings before further exploring Billings. The trail is rated as easy, but take good hiking shoes and be prepared for a slight scramble.

City partnerships are currently in the fundraising process to build out a paved multi-use Skyline Trail extending for 7 miles between Zimmerman and Swords Parks.

Check in on the trail status before your trip, as you might be able to tack on a longer bike ride as trail sections are completed!

The Phipps Park Trail

Clocking in at a slightly longer 2.5-mile loop, Phipps Park Trail is located farther west from town and offers similar views of Billings. The trailhead parking is just past the Yellowstone Country Club off Rimrock Road and about 20 minutes or 10 miles from downtown.

Most of the trail’s 450 foot elevation gain is tackled in the first mile, and the shared trail is also good for running and mountain biking. If walking, plan for about 1.5 hours.

Bighorn Canyon

A Grand Canyon looking landscape with rocks with red, orange, and yellow tones creating a large canyon.

For longer, more difficult hikes head to Bighorn Canyon for the day. Located 1.5 hours from Billings, the national recreation area is a great spot for hiking around, or watersports on, Bighorn Lake.

The lake extends nearly 60 miles from Montana into Wyoming with the majority of the area in the Bighorn Canyon. The area is vast, over 70,000 acres, so checking in at the Fort Smith Visitor Center will give you the best information for the day.

One of the best ways to explore Bighorn Canyon without the hike is by taking a two-hour scenic boat tour of the canyon, learning about America’s third-largest canyon and its importance to the Native American people who have lived in this area for centuries, narrated by an expert guide.

Book your Bighorn Canyon cruise here!

You can also try your hand at fly fishing below the Yellowtail Dam or hit trail sections like Sullivan’s Knob Trail (easy at 0.8 miles), Upper Layout Creek (moderate at 1.8 mile), or Medicine Creek and South Pasture Loop (hard at 11.6 miles).

Check Into Your Hotel

The landscape of downtown Billings, Montana: buildings against greenery and plateaus

Since this Montana road trip itinerary places you in Billings overnight, we recommend you check into the Northern Hotel.

Dubbed as “unpretentious historic luxury”, the Northern’s renovated guest rooms feature warm, contemporary interiors, and a central location to the best drink and fare downtown.

Though the hotel’s restaurants serve up good food, plan to branch out and explore for dinner instead — the dining scene in Billings is too good to miss!

>>> Book a room at the Northern <<<

Enjoy the Brews

A benefit of staying downtown is walking from your hotel straight onto the Billings Brew Trail, Montana’s only walkable brewery trail.

The 1.5-mile self-guided tour covers the heart of historic downtown while mixing your choice of six breweries, two distilleries, and one cider house.

Favorites include Uberbrew and Montana Brewing Company, the state’s first brew pub.

Day 3-4 of your Montana Road Trip: Bozeman

Bozeman in the early fall, orange-pink college buildings surrounded by green and orange trees.

Bozeman will be your next stop from Billings.

At 2 hours due west on I-90, Bozeman has a college town vibe with growing art, music, and food scenes. It also serves as a launching point to the Gallatin River and Big Sky.

Whether passing through or staying the night, the best restaurants are centrally located downtown near the Montana State University campus.

I also have a full guide to visiting Bozeman in case you need more inspiration!

Check Into Your Digs

Architecture in downtown Bozeman, a hotel made of brick with a fire escape and distinctive arched windows

There are several chain hotel options to choose from, but your best lodging choice is the Kimpton Armory.

The Kimpton Armory Hotel has been renovated from its National Guard roots to restore its Art Deco design and new, comfy communal spaces set it apart from bland chain hotels in Bozeman.

It’s a lovely chic and central place to stay the night in Bozeman!

>> Book a room at the Kimpton Armory on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com <<

If you’re on a budget, Airbnb is your best bet.

Look for a location a few blocks north or south of W. Main Street. The neighborhoods here have a quaint, just-off-campus feel, with a short walk to the center of all Bozeman action.

Stroll the Downtown

A bunch of landscaped flowers in front of a large house in downtown Bozeman.

In fact, just strolling through the downtown and near campus neighborhoods is well worth it, especially with a cup of coffee.

Go-to coffee shops are Wild Joe’s Coffee or Treeline Roasting Room. Lean towards Wild Joe’s if you need some food alongside your latte.

Hit the Trails with a Picnic Lunch

A grassy creek or river landscape with mountains in the distance.

There are several hiking options near town, primarily to the north in the foothills of the Gallatin National Forest or south towards Big Sky.

Whichever direction you head, grab a lunch to go from the Bozeman Co-op. The local co-op grocer is near the above coffee stops on W. Main.

The Storm Castle Peak Trail

Storm Castle Peak Trail is located 25 miles south of Bozeman, with access from the Gallatin Road. This is the road that eventually leads into Big Sky so the peak hike is an easy stop on the way out of town.

Storm Castle is 4.6-mile out-and-back trail that rewards hikers with worthy views. Be prepared for an elevation gain of just under 2,000 feet, but with several accommodating and manageable switchbacks.

Bozeman Creek Trail

Also due south of Bozeman (but not on the way to Big Sky) is Bozeman Creek Trail. The 16-mile out-and-back trail is moderately rated with a turnaround point at Mystic Lake in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Elevation gain totals nearly 1,800 feet, and it is a popular dog-friendly trail. Despite the noted elevation gain, most visitors report the hike feels a bit steeper. Time your trip during wildflower season for the best experience!

Drinking Horse Mountain Trail & M Trail

Shadowy hills and mountains with lots of evergreen trees and yellow grass in the summer on a sunny day

If wide open mountain meadow trails are more your cup of tea, plan to hike north of town off Highway 86.

There are two trailheads on U.S. Forest Service land near Drinking Horse Mountain. The first, Drinking Horse Mountain Trail, is a short, but steep, 2.1-mile loop best tackled from May through September. Most hikers suggest going counterclockwise.

The second trailhead, located just across Highway 86, is for M Trail, a slightly shorter moderate climb with less elevation gain and views of the valley, city, and mountains to the south.

Enjoy the Culture

Circle back to Bozeman post-hike for music, arts, and dinner. Once again, downtown on W. Main Street is where you should start and stick around.

Several galleries are located on W. Main or one block off, between S. Rouse and N. 3rd Avenue including Visions West Contemporary, Altitude Gallery, and Thomas Nygard Gallery.

Keep an eye out for dinner spots while you gallery hop. South 9th Bistro and Dave’s Sushi are two of the author’s favorites.

Listen to Live Music

The view of the Bozeman skyline at night, with a purplish pink sky just after sunset, with all the buildings lit up for nighttime.

There will likely be a live-music option following dinner if you continue your exploration of W. Main Street. Try Haufbrau House, Rialto, and Live from the Divide (Northeast of Main on Peach Street) for current shows.

One great benefit of a college town is there is likely a good music option regardless of the night of the week!

Day 4-6 of Your Montana Road Trip: Big Sky & Yellowstone

Your next Montana road trip stop, Big Sky, is an hour south of Bozeman along the stunning Gallatin River.

The wide-open views surrounding Bozeman quickly narrow to continuous steep-sided gorge which winds for about 30 miles along Gallatin Road.

There are several U.S. Forest Service designated camping sites, as well as turnoffs for perfect fly fishing spots, if you wish to extend your trip up Gallatin Road awhile longer.

Get Oriented

A rolling highway road leading towards Big Sky Montana mountain resort, grassy fields leading to mountains in the distance.

Big Sky, MT comprises of a base village called Town Center and an upper mountain village connected by a steep 8 mile stretch of road.

In-town transportation is easy as the community boasts a reliable public bus route, complete with bike racks. Be sure to check the current schedule as route times change between seasons.

Relying on bus transportation makes it easy to get into town or up to the resort village and puts less pressure on deciding beforehand which part of town to stay.

The majority of restaurants and shops, including flyfishing and mountain biking outfitters, are located in Town Center. Particularly during summer months, not much will be open at the upper mountain village.

Go for a Mountain Bike Ride

A small river or creek surrounded by grass and a hill covered in pine trees.

Big Sky is the best spot on this Montana road trip for mountain biking at any experience level!

For beginners to intermediate bikers, check out the Mountain to Meadows Trail. The entrance begins at the resort base (upper mountain) near the Ramcharger Chairlift.

A short 10-minute uphill climb is rewarded with a downhill trail for the remainder of the 5-mile ride.  The trail averages 7% grade with a max 35% grade.

The trail ends right behind Gallatin Alpine Sports in Town Center which happens to offer very reasonable daily and weekly bike rentals!

Soothe Your Muscles

New mountain bikers will soon realize a host of ignored muscle groups are used during a ride.

If a yoga session or massage is in order stop, by Santosha Wellness Center in Town Center.

The studio offers a host of vinyasa and ashtanga classes as well as massage methods ranging from Swedish to Cranio-Sacral to Reflexology.

Grab a Bite to Eat

By now you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite — luckily, several delicious eateries can also be found in Town Center.

Favorites include Lotus Pad (Thai), Pinky G’s (Pizzeria), Hungry Moose (Market and Deli), and Blue Moon Bakery.

Hit the Hiking Trails

Lots of rocks in a shallow water pool surrounded by rocky mountains and green grass on an overcast day hiking

Apart from a range of mountain biking trails, Big Sky is also host to several fabulous hiking trails. Two popular outings are Beehive Basin and Cinnamon Mountain.

Beehive Basin

Beehive Basin clocks in at 7.1 miles out-and-back and has great views of Lone Mountain (which towers over Big Sky resort).

It includes stops at alpine lakes before the return trek to a convenient parking lot.

Cinnamon Mountain

Cinnamon Mountain is a moderate 8-mile out-and-back trail through a denser pine forest.

Both trails can be muddy after heavy rains and also hold snow in shadier spots, so plan around the weather.

Both hikes entail a consistent, steady climb and easy descent, so they’re great for less experienced hikers.

Take a Day Trip to Yellowstone

The orange and brown striations of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in yellowstone national park with a steaming center that is bright turquoise blue.

If time for a detour is allotted, a good Montana road trip addition is a drive to Yellowstone National Park.

It’s a one-hour drive from Big Sky to West Yellowstone, which you can use as a jumping-off point for all Yellowstone adventures.

Important Note: If you are visiting Yellowstone in winter, road access is seriously restricted, so you will have to plan for snowcoach transport. Learn more on my guide to visiting Yellowstone in winter.

Day 7 of Your Montana Road Trip: Missoula

The architecture of downtown Missoula, what appears to be a college building

From Big Sky, continue your road trip in Montana towards Missoula.

On this particular Montana road trip itinerary, the city is the ideal afternoon stopping point before heading north to Whitefish and Glacier National Park.

You can stop just for lunch if you’re short on time, but we recommend staying the night.

Missoula is home to the University of Montana and, because of the connection, has a vibrant near-campus Main Street similar to that in Bozeman.

Grab a Lunch or a Hike

A hiking path above Missoula with wild yellow flowers next to the path, the city below, on a partly cloudy day.

Take in a long lunch downtown or pack a to-go snack for a quick hike before continuing on to Whitefish.

If you choose the quick hike option, check out Hellgate Ridgeline on Mount Sentinel. The brief 3-mile out-and-back trail features views of the city, valley, and river.

With a trailhead conveniently located near the campus and downtown, the hike can be easily paired with a quick lunch.

The hike is steep and strenuous but not long. Make it up to the “M”, a student-built Missoula landmark since 1908, or continue on for even better views.

Enjoy the Downtown

A building tower with an American flag on it raised above the tops of green trees on a blue sky cloudless day.

Missoula’s downtown district follows the Clark Fork River and is teaming with unique restaurant options.

Many include outdoor seating with views of the riverfront. Hob Nob, Bernice’s Bakery, Tamarack Brewing, Scotty’s Table, Catalyst Café, and Biga Pizza should spark your interest. 

While downtown, stretch your legs at Caras Park before getting back on I-90.

The park overlooks Brenan’s Wave, Missoula’s manmade wave installation in the Clark Fork River. It is an entertaining spot to watch surfers and kayakers take on a brief rapid.

Consider an Overnight Stay

If staying the night in Missoula makes sense on your personal itinerary, grab a room at the Blossom’s Bed & Breakfast.

Blossom’s B&B is in the Lower Rattlesnake Historic District near downtown. The comfortable rooms give you the sense you are staying at a friend’s or family member’s home.

“Wine down” on the porch with views of Mt. Jumbo. Amenities also include backyard games and guest bikes.

>>> Check out other Missoula hotels here <<<

Day 8-10 of Your Montana Road Trip: Whitefish & Glacier National Park

From Missoula, Whitefish and Glacier National Park are next up on this Montana itinerary, located within a 2.5-3 hour drive through the Flathead National Forest. Much of the drive is uneventful until reaching the shores of Flathead Lake.

The lake spans 27 miles and Highway 35, which follows the lake’s eastern shore, passes several privately-owned cherry orchards.

Many of the orchards operate roadside cherry stands during high season which lasts from June through August.

Check Into Your Whitefish Digs

The shores of Lake Whitefish near Glacier National Park, a popular place to stay for easy park access. The lake is clear with some ripples and a slight reflection of the mountains.

Whitefish is just 30 minutes north of Flathead Lake and your home base for all activities in and around Glacier National Park.

Whitefish is similar to Big Sky in that, while it may be more widely known for its ski resort and winter activities, the area doesn’t lack for summer fun. The town itself is about a 15-minute drive from the resort by way of Whitefish Lake.

The best places to stay in downtown Whitefish include The Firebrand Hotel and The FarmHouse Inn and Kitchen.  

On Lupfer Avenue, The FarmHouse Inn is a quaint B&B comprised of two guest rooms. One sleeps four and the other sleeps two.

It is centrally located and the onsite bakery and café churn out local farm to table meals and Czech pastries. This is your spot for gluten-free options and fresh-pressed juices. Hotel guests can also enjoy the backyard fire pit on cooler evenings.

>>> Book your stay at the FarmHouse Inn here <<<

The Firebrand Hotel sits right in the mix of downtown nightlife on the corner of E. Second Street and Spokane Avenue. The hotel’s vibe mixes urban sophistication with a node to Montana’s rugged Northwest.

Amenities include a rooftop patio and spa along with bicycle rentals in the summer months. The hotel also includes shuttle transportation to Amtrak and their sister property, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

>>> Book your stay at the Fireband Hotel here <<<

You may opt for the Lodge at Whitefish Lake if you prefer a quieter setting closer to the water.

The Lodge amenities include a lakeside pool, onsite yoga classes, and quick access to watersports and boat rentals from a private beach.

>>> Book your stay at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake here <<<

Grab a Bite

An aerial view of Whitefish Montana in the autumn with some yellowing trees.

There are several great breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in Whitefish.

Local favorites include Wasabi Sushi Bar, Jersey Boys Pizzeria, Tupelo Grille, and Amazing Crepes.

Head to Glacier National Park

An early morning light on a lake in the middle of mountains in Glacier National Park with a small island with a few trees on it in the middle of the alpine lake.

Whether staying lakeside or in town, access to Glacier National Park is an easy 35 minute drive to the Apgar Visitor Center.

Visitors are encouraged to avoid traffic and minimize impact to our collective natural resources by utilizing the park’s free shuttle service.

Shuttles leave every 15 to 30 minutes from the Apgar Visitor Center and take visitors to all of the best park sites.

Shuttle stops from the Apgar side include Apgar Village, Center, and Campground, Sprague Creek Campground, Lake McDonald Lodge, Avalanche Creek, The Loop, and Logan Pass which serves as the transfer to the east side of the park.

Want more information on Glacier National Park? Read my two-day Glacier National Park itinerary which will lay out exactly how to have the perfect time there.

Go for an Adventurous – or Leisurely! – Rafting Trip

Two rafts ahead on the Flathead River, which is calm, turquoise and surrounded by trees and hills on a sunny day in Glacier National park

One of the most popular things to do in Glacier National Park in summer is to take a rafting trip on the scenic Middle Fork Flathead, which has fun whitewater rafting that’s perfect for rafters looking for an easy to moderate level (class II and III) experience.

Book your whitewater rafting experience!

Of course, whitewater rafting isn’t for everyone, and if you’re in the mood for more sightseeing and relaxing rather than adrenaline-pumping, a lovely float trip on a calmer stretch of the Flathead River is a perfect option for you!

This is better suited for families of all ages, as whitewater rafting can be a little scary for younger kids.

Book your river floating experience here

Hit the Hiking Trails

Glacier National Park has 734 miles of hiking trails and something for all hiking levels, including day and overnight hikes.

Note that overnight hikes require reservations and park permits. Popular day hikes include the Highline Trail (11.4 miles), Avalanche Lake (4.6 miles) and Pitamakan Pass (15.4 miles).

The Highline Trail

View from the Highline Trail over Glacier National Park's glacial mountains and valleys, covered in trees in the middle of summer with very little snow.

The Highline Trail features views of Logan Pass and includes some technical areas of hiking, some which come with the safety of a cable railing.

Highline is one of the best hikes for catching a variety of scenery as you will see alpine meadows, creeks, avalanche ridges, and portions of the Livingston Range. The hike can be made shorter by stopping at Haystack Butte.

However, hikers should press on for views of the Grinnell Glacier. The overlook area for the glacier sits on the Continental Divide. If you chose to bypass the park shuttle, you can still access the trailhead from the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot.

The Avalanche Lake Trail

A deep teal and turquoise glacial lake, surrounded by pine trees and steep mountains with some waterfalls coming down the sides from snow melt.

Avalanche Lake Trail is a shorter hike with equally breathtaking views. The trail follows Avalanche Creek until meeting with the alpine lake.

Views of waterfalls at the lake’s far end can be seen from the trail. The total elevation gain is an easy 600 feet.

The Pitamaken Pass Trail

If you want to take on a longer hike, shoot for Pitamaken Pass Trail. The hike swaps between forested and meadow trails while passing by Oldman Lake, Sky Lake Waterfall, and finally Cut Bank Basin’s alpine lakes.

You might even come upon bighorn sheep at higher elevations, especially nearing Bighorn Basin. The total elevation gain is a stout 3,300ft.

Trailhead access begins at the campground at Two Medicine by Pray Lake and is preferred as a counterclockwise route.

Grab A Set of Wheels

Sign which reads "West Glacier, MT" against a backdrop of a partly cloudy sky and green trees.

Another popular way to explore Glacier National Park is by bicycle.

Parking is available at Glacier Guides in West Glacier, MT where bike rentals are available.

From there, a 1.5 mile downhill trail takes you to the Apagar Visitor Center where trails continue within the park’s boundary. Access to the park via bicycle is also half the cost of standard admission, so it’s good for cost-conscious travelers!

Feeling a little intimidated to try biking in Glacier National Park all by yourself? This 6-hour guided cycling tour is a great way to see the park by bike without the stress of self-guiding.

Book your cycling tour of Glacier National Park here!

Optional: Tackle Other Hiking Trails

View of the lake of Whitefish with yellow and green pine trees in early autumn.

There are several hiking options outside the park boundary and closer to Whitefish.

Many of the best can be accessed in Whitefish Lake State Park near the Whitefish Mountain Resort base.

If you visit during the summer season, you might be able to jump on the gondola for a one-way trip.

From the resort base, try Journey Mountain (2.8 miles), Big Mountain via Summit Trail (16.1 miles), Danny on National Recreation Trail (7.2 miles), or Gray Wolf Ski Trail (17.9 miles).

Ending Your Montana Road Trip Itinerary: Kalispell or Back to Billings

View of rivers winding amidst yellow and green trees in early autumn in Kalispell, MT, a popular place to end a Montana road trip itinerary.

While some of the more frequent and better-priced flights are found out of Billings and Bozeman, it’s worth checking options in and out of Kalispell.

The city and airport are just 22 minutes south of Whitefish, and you can often find cheap connections to Salt Lake City.

Do a bit of research on one-way rental prices, consider the time (it’s a 6-hour drive back to Billings!), and check the best ways to get to and from Montana.

While we have covered some of the best places the state has to offer, Montana offers still offers so much to explore!

How to Extend This Montana Road Trip

Mountain peaks of the Teton Range reflecting perfectly in still lake water on a sunny day in Grand Teton National park
Continue this Montana road trip to Wyoming to add two more National Parks to your list!

Of course, there are several ways to extend this Montana road trip in order to see even more of this gorgeous part of the United States!

The most natural addition to this Montana road trip is spending a few days exploring Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

From Big Sky, you can easily head down south to Yellowstone and spend some time in the park. I have a two day Yellowstone itinerary which you can simply insert into this Montana road trip itinerary between days 6 & 7!

If you want to extend your Wyoming explorations even further, overnight (or stay a couple days) in the Jackson Hole area, which is one of the prettiest parts of Wyoming and a perfect midway point between Yellowstone and your next stop, Grand Teton National Park.

I also have a two day Grand Teton National Park itinerary, which you can add after Yellowstone, before heading back up to Missoula. Just note that you may want to stop in Big Sky again on the way up, or you’ll be in for a long driving day (6 hours point-to-point without stopping, traveling via Idaho).

10 Day Montana Road Trip Itinerary at a Glance

An adult white mountain goat and its baby walking in the landscape of Glacier National Park with an alpine lake below and a mountain half-covered in snow, the rest clear of snow.
  • Day 1: Fly into Billings
  • Day 2: Billings
  • Day 3: Bozeman
  • Day 4: Bozeman
  • Day 5: Big Sky
  • Day 6: Big Sky (optional Yellowstone Day trip)
  • Day 7: Missoula
  • Day 8: Whitefish & Glacier NP
  • Day 9: Glacier NP
  • Day 10: Fly out of Kalispell or drive back to Billings

2 Week Montana and Wyoming Road Trip at a Glance

The sunset at Old Faithful, a geyser spouting into the air with the setting sun showing up in a sunburst behind the geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Add a few days to add both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to your itinerary! I recommend staying in Jackson, WY if you do.
  • Day 1: Fly into Billings
  • Day 2: Billings
  • Day 3: Bozeman
  • Day 4: Bozeman
  • Day 5: Big Sky
  • Day 6: Yellowstone NP
  • Day 7: Yellowstone NP
  • Day 8: Grand Teton NP
  • Day 9: Grand Teton NP
  • Day 10: Missoula
  • Day 11: Whitefish & Glacier NP
  • Day 12: Glacier NP
  • Day 13: Glacier NP
  • Day 14: Fly from Kalispell or return your car in Billings

What to Pack for a Montana Road Trip

A road near Glacier National Park with greenery and some mountains with a bit of snow nearby

I have a full road trip packing list here, but here at the top things you shouldn’t forget!

Road Trip Essentials

Roadside emergency kit

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

But if you are renting a car and aren’t sure it’ll have the full emergency kit, now is a good time to invest in a roadside emergency kit that also includes a first aid kit.

Car charger & hands-free phone holder

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

I like this dual purpose phone mount and charger!

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

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

External batteries

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

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

Face mask, alcohol wipes & sanitizing gel

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

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

You should also bring alcohol wipes or sanitizing gel in case you aren’t close to a place where you can wash your hands.

Rehydration packets

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

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

Camera & extra batteries

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

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

Clothing & Hiking Essentials

A woman in the Montana wilderness wearing shorts, hiking boots, and a day pack with her hair in a ponytail on a summery day.

Comfortable clothing

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

For women, I suggest the following at a minimum for car/outdoor comfort:

  • yoga pants or leggings
  • jeans
  • hiking shorts
  • T-shirts
  • sports bras
  • hiking boots
  • sneakers
  • flipflops
  • warm sweaters

You’ll also want to bring layers like a jacket for any needed warmth, depending on the temperatures you expect on your Montana road trip.

Rain jacket

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

I love the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I used mine for years biking in all sorts of rainy NYC weather and it always kept me dry without making me too hot and uncomfortable like some other rain jackets can, due to the zippered armpits which provide ventilation. This is key if you plan to do anything active on your Montana itinerary like hiking while it’s raining.

Proper Hiking Boots & Trekking Poles

This Montana road trip includes a ton of hiking opportunities, and you’ll definitely be happy with yourself for bringing along a pair of hiking boots!

I recommend these Ahnu boots for women and these Keen boots for men. Both are waterproof, comfortable, and provide lots of ankle support for harder hikes.

If you’re doing some harder hikes, you may also want to bring a pair of collapsible trekking poles with you!

Water Bottle with Filter

You always end up needing lots of water when you hike!

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: I love mine and highly recommend it!

Day pack

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

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

Pin This Montana Road Trip Guide!

Your Perfect 10 Day Idaho Road Trip Itinerary

We’ve covered a few special spots around Idaho before, like the best Idaho hikes and hot springs.

This time, we’ve pulled them all together in a collective Idaho itinerary which helps to highlight the unique characteristics of each place as well as the shared natural beauty consistent throughout the Gem State.

Starting from Boise and working your way counterclockwise around the state to some of the best outdoor spots makes for one memorable Idaho road trip.

Follow along for an epic Idaho road trip through Ketchum, Stanley, Salmon, Missoula (a little side trip to Montana), Coeur d’Alene, and McCall.

The full road trip route can be covered in just over a week in Idaho, but you’re better off with 10 days in Idaho to maximize your trip time and spend more time enjoying and less time driving.

There are also options to pare down for a two to three-day excursions from Boise. Check out the previous post on Idaho hikes and incorporate some of those along the way.

Alternately, you can plan your itinerary around hitting up some of the best, most unique Airbnbs in Idaho — I’ll also include suggestions throughout this post for accommodations, both traditional and unique.

PLANNING FOR IDAHO AT A GLANCE:  

When to Go: Idaho is beautiful all year round but since this itinerary involves a lot of hiking and other outdoor activities, the best months to go are between June and late September since some roads and trails are inaccessible during the winter months. 

However, if you want to go hiking in the best conditions, then July and August are the best months for your Idaho road trip but if your road trip involves seeing the stunning Idaho fall foliage, then I recommending going in late September.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Boise, Ketchum/ Sun Valley, Stanley, Salmon, Coeur d’Alene, and McCall.

For your first sleepover in Boise, I recommend staying at The Modern Hotel & Bar, a stylish boutique hotel, Inn America if you're on a budget, or this loft if you want a homey feel. 

And while in Ketchum, I recommend staying at Hotel Ketchum, a contemporary boutique hotel, Wood River Inn & Suite for budget travelers, or this Barnhouse if you want something less traditional.

For Stanley, I recommend staying at this tiny house if you ever dreamt of staying in one or this Redfish Riverside Inn (Lodge). 

Salmon has several accommodation types but I suggest staying at this tiny converted wagon trailer if you want something unique or at this log cabin for a homey and cozy feel.

Since you'll have a number of nights in Coeur d’Alene, I recommend choosing a comfortable place to stay and in that case, I suggest Greenbriar Inn a cozy Inn, this houseboat if you want to be right on the lake, or this cowboy cabin for a western-themed stay.

And for your last overnight stay in McCall, I recommend staying at this McCall cabin if you're traveling as a group/family, or Scandia Hotel for a Nordic Inspired comfort.

How to Get Around: You're definitely going to need a car while road tripping Idaho. 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.

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!

How This Idaho Road Trip Itinerary Works

An open road with yellow grass on the sides of it, a barn on one side of the road, and mountains with some snow lit up orange by the sun.

This Idaho road trip itinerary takes all the stress out of planning a road trip — simply follow our route or modify it slightly if you are starting or ending the trip in a different place.

This Idaho road trip departs and leaves from Boise, Idaho, which has the main airport with service from several major cities in states all over the country, as I figured this would be the most useful departure point for most travelers.

This Idaho road trip follows a loop, starting and ending in Boise, which means that you can also start at any other point along the loop and follow it from there, just reorganizing the stops on this itinerary to make the road trip work for you personally.

However, if you are traveling from a neighboring state, you may want to treat this road trip itinerary a little differently.

For example, if you are based in Tacoma, Washington, you’d most likely want to start this Idaho road trip in Couer d’Alene and make a loop from there, as it would require the least backtracking.

This Idaho road trip is also focused on covering all the best natural beauty there is in the state as opposed to covering city and town travel.

You’ll find plenty of beautiful hikes and outdoor activities to indulge in, but we won’t be stopping at too many larger cities and towns, although there is an exception for Boise and a quick side trip to Missoula, Montana, which is an easy addition to an Idaho road trip.

This Idaho road trip is structured to cover 10 days at a leisurely pace without too many long driving days without interesting stops in between.

However, you could easily parse it down to 7 days by cutting out a few destinations or spending less time in each destination. If you have to cut anything, I’d suggest cutting Missoula from your plan, as hey — it’s not even part of Idaho anyway!

The Best Time of Year for an Idaho Road Trip

Autumn is the best time for an Idaho road trip: yellow trees, green evergreens, and orange mountain tops on a partly cloudy day.

This Idaho road trip itinerary, including suggested roads and activities, is best taken between June and late September, as some road and trail conditions are inaccessible during winter months. 

For the best hiking conditions, July and August are the banner months, as the snowmelt on the highest altitudes we’ll cover here should definitely be gone by then.

However, if you want a chance at some beautiful Idaho fall foliage, I’d suggest timing your Idaho road trip to begin in late September.

While foliage does reach its peak around mid-October, you’ll also have to potentially contend with early snowfalls and inclement weather, so late September is a safer bet in terms of not having to reroute or skip parts of this Idaho itinerary.

Meanwhile, starting this Idaho road trip in May or June means you’ll have the peak wildflower season on your mountain hikes, as the wildflowers are at their best shortly after the snow melts, so truly any season is a great one for this road trip!

We don’t recommend this exact Idaho itinerary for the winter time because many of the hikes are not possible and some roads may not be passable, leading to time-consuming re-routes.

However, there are definitely some great things you can do in Idaho in the winter, such as creating a skiing and hot spring-themed road trip — check out these Idaho hot springs for inspiration around planning a winter road trip!

Renting a Car in Idaho

Sepia-toned photo which shows the back of a car approaching a sign which says "welcome to Idaho" on an Idaho road trip with a field in the background.

If you’re planning on driving into Idaho from a neighboring state like Washington or Montana, feel free to disregard this section!

But if you’re flying in and planning to rent a car in Idaho, I suggest picking up at the Boise Airport.

It’s the easiest airport to get to in Idaho, and for that reason, it’s both the starting and ending point of this itinerary. It’s also where you’ll find the cheapest car rental prices in Idaho — smaller airports tend to have pricier rentals.

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 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!

When renting a car in Idaho, be sure to purchase the proper car insurance coverage unless your credit card covers those for you.

You don’t want to be on the hook for damage to your car, especially as this Idaho road trip is rather adventurous and involves some gravel roads and other conditions that may give your car a bit of wear and tear if you’re not careful (gravel + windshields do not mix — I learned this lesson well in Iceland!).

Your Perfect Idaho Road Trip Itinerary

Boise (Day 1)

View of downtown Boise with lots of buildings and a busy road in the autumn as the colors change on the fall trees,

Distance: Minimal — from the airport to downtown & any hikes you want
Driving Time: 15-30 minutes

Boise is an easy and logical place to begin and end your Idaho road trip. Boise International Airport offers multiple flight options to connecting cities, is centrally located to all things downtown, and is near some of the best local trailheads for a quick hike upon your first day’s arrival. 

Boise is also a pretty feasible day drive if you are based in the Pacific Northwest and are not planning to fly to Idaho. It’s just about 6.5 hours from Portland, 7.5 hours from Seattle, 5 hours from Salt Lake City, and 10 hours from the Bay Area.

Similar to other cities in the Northwest, Boise’s backyard is full of hiking, skiing, and mountain biking trials with the accompanying park infrastructure to make it both accessible and enjoyable.

The city and its suburbs have seen huge population growth in the last few years. The downside of this is you may experience higher traffic on some of the shorter trails closest to town, especially during weekend days. The upside of the growth is the increased number of new boutique hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops at manageable prices.

Upon arrival, check in to The Modern Hotel & Bar on West Grove Street, four miles from the airport. Vogue magazine describes this hotel as “a seedy motel-turned-stylish boutique hotel, [with] one of the buzziest bar scenes in town.”

The mid-century modern renovations and minimalist interiors are a nice change-up from your run of the mill hotel and you get a distinct Austin, Texas vibe (though not overkill) as you drive in.

The Modern Hotel is a great option if you roll into town on the later side as Txikiteo, the on-site restaurant (pronounced “chee-kee-tay-o”), serves up pasta, tapas, gourmet sandwiches, and cheese boards. Enjoy a drink by the outdoor fire pit before turning in for the evening.

The Modern Hotel is conveniently located near Hulls Gulch Reserve, the nearest of Boise’s main hiking trailheads. Access to Hulls Gulch Trail, the most popular in the reserve, is two miles from the Modern Hotel off North 8th Street and behind Camel’s Back Hill.

View of a hiking trail near Boise with lots of yellow grass and trees, in the distance you can see the buildings of the Boise skyline at sunset

This is a well-traveled, moderate hike with views of the city which ends at a scenic waterfall. Out and back is 6.3 miles with a total of 1,131 feet in elevation gain. Hulls Gulch Reserve has suitable terrain for trail running, but the trail gets direct sun and summer months can be hot. Plan for about 2.5 hours. 

Also near the Modern Hotel is road access to Bogus Basin, another popular hiking and activity destination in Boise sure to make your Idaho road trip itinerary.

This ski area doubles as lift-accessible hiking terrain during spring and summer. Located about 40 minutes from Boise, Bogus Basin has several trail options, including a 7-mile loop around the winter skiable acreage. Check out Bogus’ summer schedule for free activities like Yoga on the Mountain. 

Regardless of your plans in and around Boise, Neckar Coffee should be your first stop of the morning. Conveniently located near the Modern Hotel, and on the way to the above recreation areas, Neckar has quality lattes, pour overs, and pastries. A crowd favorite is the pain au chocolat.

Where to Stay

View of a spacious modern Airbnb loft with kitchen equipment, table for two with blue chairs, and a couch seating area with white walls and modern design.
Image provided by Airbnb

LOFT | If you prefer the cozy touches of an Airbnb, this chic loft in the lovely Hyde Park neighborhood of Boise is affordable, cozy, and well-styled. It’s affordable but has all the creature comforts you’d want from a home away from home| Book on Airbnb

UNIQUE | How much more Idaho does it get than sleeping in an actual potato? Yes, really: a 6 ton potato you can stay in, right on a farm outside of Boise! Believe it or not, the interior is ultra-chic (think mid-century modern meets Scandinavian minimalism) and cozy, and best of all, there’s a friendly pet cow on the farm!| Book on Airbnb

BOUTIQUE | We suggest the Modern Hotel, which is a great choice for travelers on a mid-range budget who want a cool, personality-packed hotel in the hip Linen District which is great walking distance to all attractions. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If money is a concern, Inn America is a well-reviewed option at a fair price that won’t break the bank, though it’s not quite as cool or, well, modern as the Modern! | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Ketchum / Sun Valley (Day 2-3)

Grass with purple flowers sprouting up like wildflowers in it on a sunny day.

Distance: 153 miles
Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Next up on your Idaho itinerary is the Wood River Valley, 2.5 hours due east of Boise. 

The Wood River Valley is home to the Sun Valley and Ketchum area, widely known for its winter sports infrastructure and ski resort.  It’s an easy drive along I-84 then US-20 through the Camas Prairie.

If you plan the timing of your trip just right, you may be able to catch the Camas lilies blooming between late May and mid-June. Many of the lilies are in fields outside Fairfield. It is a spectacular sight to witness and a common stop for many painters and photographers looking to capture the mature blooms.

Fairfield’s Wrangler Drive-In, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, is a good lunch stop for burgers, patty melts, and ice cream. If you have time for a hiking detour here, head towards Soldier Mountain Ski Area. The family-oriented ski hill is 11 miles north of Fairfield and has a few short but steep hiking trails and a new mountain bike trail system for summer months.

The Ketchum / Sun Valley area is another 40 minutes past Fairfield. The resort town is full of top-notch restaurants, an intricate and well-maintained trail system, and fishing access. Your best and priciest hotel options of your Idaho road trip will be in Ketchum, but with amenities (think spa services) to match.

Ketchum has become something of a campervan pit stop because it is an ideal place to grab supplies before setting out toward the Salmon-Challis National or Sawtooth National Forests.

A building which reads "the higher you get the higher you get" on the roof top, a popular site near Ketchum in the Sun Valley, with mountains and trees in the distance.

Apart from notable summer hikes like Warm Springs and Pioneer Cabin, attractions to explore include the Roundhouse Express Gondola on Bald Mountain, golf at one of the local courses, or camping just outside town near Trail Creek or Cathedral Pines.

There are several alpine lake hikes do-able in under 3 hours’ time and any activity near Ketchum gives you the best of two worlds, easily accessible nature and fine dining in town!

If you need a day off from longer trail hikes you will be quite content walking or biking along the Wood River Trail, a 20-plus-mile paved, multi-use path which spans between the communities of Bellevue and Sun Valley.

Yellow trees in autumn surrounding a blue river, with a person standing in the middle of the river fly fishing.

Much of the trail follows abandoned Union Pacific rail lines which were originally used to help settle and grow the valley.

No matter where you stay in the Wood River Valley you will be near an entrance to the trail, locally known simply as ‘the bike path’. It is a friendly trial and always filled with other people making it a nice choice for those who may be traveling alone.

Look into Hotel Ketchum, Limelight, or the Sun Valley Lodge for accommodations and Pioneer Saloon (steak), Rickshaw (Southeast Asian), or Cookbook (Italian) for fare.

Hank and Sylvie’s makes the best coffee and pastries to get you started for the day. There is more than enough to do in Ketchum to warrant extending your stay one or two days if you’re looking for a more leisurely pace to your Idaho road trip.

Finally, if you’re down for a little extra driving, you can head to Shoshone Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Idaho, which is an hour and 40 minutes south of Ketchum.

Where to Stay

View of a red barn available for rent as an Airbnb.
Image provided via Airbnb

BARN | Yes, you can stay in a beautifully renovated barnhouse property while you’re visiting Ketchum, rented out via Airbnb! This stunning property gives off all the cozy vibes you can imagine, and the price is more than fair, great for budget travelers who want to stay in something a little less traditional. | Book on Airbnb

BOUTIQUE | For a contemporary, chic place to stay in Ketchum with great amenities like a fitness center, hot tub, and large spacious rooms, Hotel Ketchum is a fantastic choice. It’s a little pricier than other options in Ketchum, but it’s definitely the coziest. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

BUDGET | Accommodations in Ketchum generally run on the expensive side, being a ski resort town, so if budget is a concern, I suggest moving 15 miles outside to Hailey, ID, which has a better range of accommodation options such as the well-reviewed Wood River Inn & Suite. Enjoy a hot tub, heated indoor pool, fitness center, and complimentary breakfast. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Stanley (Day 4)

A yellow field next to some evergreen trees with several mountain peaks in the background on a clear day.

Distance: 62 miles
Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

You really start to see the changes in scenery about 40 minutes due north of Ketchum as you’re en route to Stanley, as softer rolling hills quickly transition to the more rugged side of Sawtooth Mountains.

The drive is beautiful, and you will want to appreciate it during the day. Don’t let Stanley’s year-round population of 69 people fool you. During summer, the surrounding campgrounds, rivers, and lakes swell with visitors, but you are always able to find a (somewhat) secluded spot even in the height of tourist season, as long as you steer clear of the Redfish Lodge.

Stanley is the best town on your Idaho itinerary to try your hand at fly fishing. There are several access points along the Salmon River for trout fishing but if you are new to the area or fly fishing in general, price out one of the guide services to help you maximize your experience. Sawtooth Adventure Company can place you with an experienced guide who knows the waters.

View of a river with mountains surrounding it on a clear sunny day.

If you are unfamiliar with a guided fly-fishing day by raft, or a “float”, they come highly recommended. The guide ratio is typically one for every two guests and half day floats start in early morning or early afternoon. All needed equipment is provided, like nets, rods, reel, and flies.

Guides also come in handy for learning a bit of casting technique or for telling you where the best fishing spots are along the river. More times than not, the local guides are pretty fun and make for a better outing than hitting it solo or with your own group.

There are only a handful of accommodations in Stanley and they are typically booked well in advance during summer months. However, the camping is so good in this area it would be a shame to stay inside anyway.

Alturas, Lake Stanley, Salmon River, and Casino Creek Campgrounds take reservations but at a minimal cost. They each are primitive campgrounds and have bathhouses onsite. Look to the National Forest Service website for campground locations and pertinent information.

A lake with a perfect reflection on the evergreen trees and mountains in the still water, some yellow and orange fall foliage in the left corner.

Of course there is good hiking near any of the campsites you select, particularly around Lake Stanley.

Restaurants to pay attention to in town are Stanley Baking Company, Luce’s, Peaks and Perks, and Scoops for an ice cream dessert. 

Stanley Baking Company will likely have a decent wait time for breakfast but it is well worth it if you can hang around. Popular plates include a pancake plater and a classic egg breakfast or hearty sandwiches for lunch. The restaurant also has coffee and homemade pastries to go if you don’t feel like waiting for a table or prefer to take you treats on a hike. Peaks and Perks is a walk-up window for to-go coffee and it’s your best option if in a hurry to get on the road.

If you have 30 minutes to spare before leaving town lookout for Boat Box Hot Spring on your right as you drive from Stanley to Salmon. A small turnout from the Highway 75 along the Salmon River is 4 miles north of town and a path leads to a small tub with hot water piped in.

If you chose not to fly fish this go around, you can relax in the tub and watch boats quietly float by. The hot spring is best in the early morning hours around sunrise.

Where to Stay

A tiny house with a small kitchen, small coach, and large windows overlooking a nature landscape.
Image provided by Airbnb

TINY HOUSE | Have you ever wanted to stay in a tiny house? In Stanley, you can see what it’s like by renting one easily via Airbnb! There are 4 similar tiny house properties to choose from, but this one is my personal favorite for its great full-windowed views and spacious layout that belies its small size. | Book on Airbnb

LODGE | For a lovely but no-frills typical lodge in Stanley, check out the Redfish Riverside Inn. This place has all the amenities you’d need at a fair price, perfect for if you’re not quite into the camping scene and prefer a bit more luxury where you lay your head down each night. | Reserve on Booking.com

Stanley to Salmon (Day 5)

A woman in a blue bathing suit with white stars sitting in a hot spring with a mountain valley landscape behind her.

Distance: 116 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

This section of your Idaho road trip is the time to explore natural hot springs like Goldbug Springs near Salmon in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

A gravel road at mile marker 282 off Highway 93 (the road between Stanley and Missoula) will mark your turn off. From there, both trailhead and trail are well marked. The springs are accessed by a steep 2-mile trail climb.

Goldbug is a perfect choice if you want to pair your hot springs outing with a bit of physical exertion. After hiking up to the springs and soaking for a while, leave enough time to exit back via the hiking path before following Highway 93 along the Salmon River to the town of Salmon where you will find a quaint, main street feel.

Try the Junkyard Bistro (tapas, sandwiches, salads, and wraps) or Last Chance Pizza for dinner before turning in for the night at the Stagecoach Inn or Syringa Lodge.

Where to Stay

A green wagon-style tiny house converted into an Airbnb in a forest with trees and plants.
Image provided by Airbnb

RIVERSIDE WAGON | For a unique place to stay, this tiny home slash converted wagon trailer is a great place with epic views of the Salmon River. It’s so cozy inside and the views of the river are absolutely unbeatable. What other chance like this do you get? | Book on Airbnb

CABIN | For a more spacious stay, this cozy log cabin gives off all the old school vibes, and the interior is lovely and warm with all you need to host up to 3 guests| Book on Airbnb

Coeur d’Alene via Missoula, MT (Day 6)

A sunny view of the sun setting below Missoula mountain ranges with some buildings on one side, the river in the middle, a bridge crossing the river, and trees on the other side of the river.

Distance: 305 miles
Driving Time: 5.5 hours

Driving from Salmon to Coeur d’Alene via Missoula, MT makes for a long day on the road (5.5 hours) but ensures you experience the northern parts of the state.

From Salmon you navigate through the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness (National Forest lands) towards Missoula.

With plenty of eatery options near the University of Montana campus, Missoula should be your planned stop for lunch. The campus is easily accessible as you enter downtown and sits along the Clark Fork river.

Scotty’s Table, Catalyst Café, and Hob Nob are three restaurants near the riverfront that continuously have good reviews.

Their locations on the river are also in close proximity to Brenan’s Wave, Missoula’s manmade wave installation in the Clark Fork River. It is an entertaining spot to watch surfers and kayakers take on a brief rapid.

From your pit stop in Missoula, take I-90 towards Coeur d’Alene for your next road trip stay. You’ll be staying here for several nights, so pick where you want to stay carefully.

Where to Stay

Image provided by Airbnb

COWBOY CABIN | The well-named ‘cowboy cabin‘ offered on Airbnb is a great place to stay for couples looking for a cozy, Western-themed stay. The cabin has all you need for several nights of a cozy stay, including a full kitchen, and the surrounding Ponderosa pines and the location walking distance to town and a short drive from the lake make this a fantastic and budget-friendly choice. | Book on Airbnb

HOUSEBOAT | If you want to be right on the lake… literally… then it doesn’t get better than this Coeur d’Alene houseboat which sleeps six right on the lake. With several comfortable beds, a full kitchen and bathroom on board the boat, and an epic patio area to enjoy lake sunsets, it doesn’t get better than this. | Book on Airbnb

OLD FASHIONED INN | For a lovely, cozy inn with traditional B&B vibes, head to Greenbriar Inn for a vintage yet budget-friendly stay. The inn dates back to 1908 and rooms have all sorts of lovely touches like clawfoot tubs and four-poster beds. An outdoor gazebo is the perfect place to relax and take in the views of the inn in all its glory. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

BUDGET CHAIN | There are a number of budget-friendly chain hotel offerings in Couer d’Alene which offer plenty of standardized comfort but not necessarily unique charm or offerings. The best reviewed is the Quality Inn & Suites, which is loved for its tasty included breakfast, hot tub, kids play area, and location just 3 miles from the lake. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Coeur d’Alene (Day 7-8)

View of the boat houses on the lake at Couer D'alene: two rows of teal-roofed boat houses on a still lake with a dock.

Coeur d’Alene (CDA) is located in the northwest corner of the state and just 30 miles from neighboring Spokane, Washington.

It is known as a hub of watersports and lake view scenic hiking as the city rests on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

It is also a spot of a popular Ironman event so you can imagine there are ample running, swimming, and cycle opportunities around the area. The town has a deep history as a fort settlement and has hosted large Fourth of July festivities on the holiday for many years.

If your travels have you in Idaho during early July, you should schedule around CDA for the 4th. The holiday events include ample street vendors and massive amounts of fireworks, depending on national forest fire conditions of course.

With such beautiful lake scenery, it would be a shame to hike without making the lake views a central theme. Popular hikes include Mineral Ridge Trail and Tubbs Hill Park.

Mineral Ridge is 11 miles east of CDA proper and has well-labeled parking with restroom access and picnic amenities. Estimate about 1 hour for the 3.3-mile loop.  If you feel like taking a break halfway, there are plenty of benches and rest areas to fit your needs.

Calm, blue water surrounded by a road on one side and mountains covered in trees on the other on a sunny day in Couer d'Alene, a muston any Idaho road trip.

Tubbs Hill is a 120-acre park which borders the city and is closer to downtown attractions. The park features a moderately rugged 2.5 miles of trails with views of the lake and city.

Apart from Ketchum’s Wood River Trail, the Centennial Trail outside of CDA is one of the best places to cycle on this Idaho road trip.

The Centennial Trail in CDA runs 23 miles from the Idaho / Washington border to Higgins Point on Lake Coeur d’Alene. A longer 72-mile paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes creates a longer route for more seasoned cyclists.

If you do not have a bike with you there are several places to rent a bike in town, like Coeur d’Alene Bike Company, as the activity and trial are quite popular with tourists.

Near the midway point of the Centennial Trail is Coeur d’Alene Resort, a good location to grab a meal or happy hour libation post-ride. The Coeur d’Alene Resort offers wonderful lakeside accommodations but there are several alternate options, including campsites outside of town, if you are not looking to splurge.

There are also miles of world-class mountain biking trails at Silver Mountain Resort and on the Canfield Mountain Trail systems if you’d prefer a little more intensive bike action.

McCall (Day 9-10)

A view of the small marshy lakes and larger lake in the background in McCall Idaho on a cloudy, overcast day.

From Coeur d’Alene, head south for 5 hours along US-95 to the city of McCall. McCall sits on the edge of Payette Lake and the Payette National Forest.

Similar to Coeur d’Alene, the area is perfect to explore the water (lake and river activities) as well as head out hiking for a day.

Save McCall for whitewater rafting on this Idaho road trip. Several outfitters in town provide multi-day, full or half-day adventures. Multi-day outings are fully catered experiences.

Whether you hit Hells Canyon or other areas of the Snake or Salmon Rivers, you are in for a blast. Check out Salmon Raft or Canyons River Company to show you the way.

There are several lodging options lakeside, such as Shore Lodge, which offers amenities like lakeside pool areas and boat rentals.

A small lake at the base of a rocky mountain covered in pine trees.

Two of the best hikes from the McCall area are Bears Basin and Louis Lake Trails. Louie Lake Trail is 2.6-mile moderately rated trail that rewards hikers with an alpine lake and dramatic views at the hikes mid-point.

You can also opt for a 7-mile loop to nearby Boulder Lake if you feel like a longer trip. The total time for the main trail is about 1 hour but plan for 4.5 to 5 hours if you try the Boulder Loop.

Bear Basin Trail system is easily accessible by hiking or by bike from downtown McCall along the Bear Basin Connector Trail. The trail system allows for multiple variations and most follow through a mixture of wooded areas and meadows with excellent views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

The upside of the trail system is you can mix and match trails for the exact distance you feel that particular day. The downside is you need to watch out for mountain bikers!

Where to Stay

A well-lit small cabin with an armchair, kitchen with island and stools, and wood details and white walls.

MODERN CABIN | For a cabin that’s distinctly modern and good for groups (it can hold 4 guests in two bedrooms), this McCall cabin is a great choice. The design is modern and spacious yet comfortable, and the location is hard to beat. The kitchen is a dream to cook in, which is great for people trying to save on food costs while road tripping!| Book on Airbnb

NORDIC INSPIRED COMFORT | For the ultimate in Scandinavian design and comfort, check into the boutique Scandia Hotel, which draws its inspiration from Swedish and Finnish design elements. Think white walls with textured wood elements and lots of plant life and detail to bring in greenery and life to the rooms. It’s an incredibly comfortable and stylish place to stay in a small town, so book ahead if you want to splurge on an extra comfortable stay for the final night of your Idaho road trip | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Back to Boise (Day 10)

Yellow trees with a few red trees showing fall foliage, in front of the downtown Boise skyline with buildings rising above the tree tops on a sunny fall day.

Wrapping up your Idaho trip, returning to Boise is just over 2 hours due south on ID-55.

While the trip was outlined counterclockwise, it works just as well in the opposite direction.

Eight to ten days in Idaho can be a lot to spare, so if you don’t find yourself with that much time away from your home base, try pairing down this itinerary down to either the Boise-Stanley or Boise-Coeur d’Alene routes.

How to Extend This Idaho Road Trip

The waterfalls of Shoshone Falls cascading in a horseshoe shape over a large cliff edge, tumbling into a pale green pool of water below, surrounded by a rocky landscape.

This Idaho road trip does make a few notable omissions in order to create a road trip that makes sense and doesn’t backtrack too much. The most obvious omission is Shoshone Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Idaho.

If you want to add that to your itinerary, add it after your trip to Ketchum and Sun Valley, but be prepared to spend more time getting back to your next stop, Stanley, if you do so.

If you have more like two weeks in Idaho for a road trip, you can add on Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (a stunning lunar-like landscape) on your way back from Shoshone Falls, or you could also head to Idaho Falls, a fun and funky city located along the Snake River. From Idaho Falls to Stanley, it’s 3.5 hours, where you can continue this itinerary.

What to Pack for an Idaho Road Trip

Interracial couple (white woman and Black man) sharing a thermos of coffee while pulled over on the road while wearing cold-weather clothing, sitting in the back of their car.

I’ve created a full packing list for a USA road trip here, which you may want to peruse before heading out on your trip!

Travel guides

I’ve packed this Idaho road trip itinerary with so much practical information but sometimes travel guides provide deeper insights than I put in one article since they dedicate more time and resources to research. That being the case, I recommend combining my first-hand experience and the information in this Moon Idaho guidebook and I guarantee you’ll have an amazing time road tripping this beautiful state.

Phone Mount & Car Charger

You will use up your phone battery fast while road tripping in Idaho, or anywhere, so it’s essential to have a car charger. And for navigating, a phone mount is clutch and takes the pressure off of your front-seat passenger. Personally, I can’t imagine road tripping anywhere without this dual purpose phone mount and charger!

Snacks

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

I’m not sure who originally said it, but it’s true. Nothing ruins a road trip faster like hanger… so be sure to avoid it! Have a good mix of snacks — and not just sweet ones. Too many sweets on an empty stomach = major headaches. Likewise, too many salty snacks and not enough water will also do you in!

Rehydration packets

Impromptu hikes, the lack of a predictable schedule, random meal times, overly salty snacks, days exploring out in the hot sun, hangovers from celebrating after your driving duty is done: there are many reasons why it’s so easy to get dehydrated while road tripping.

I always pack some rehydration packets with me on my road trip travels as I’m prone to getting dehydrated, and when I’m dehydrated I get nasty headaches. Rehydration packets are a lifesaver: I recommend these ones.

Bug spray and after-bite care.

Nothing ruins a scenic sunset hike or lakeside lay-out worse than being besieged by bug bites! For a natural DEET-free solution, try this lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent. It works surprisingly well on even the most persistent mosquitos!

Unfortunately, some bites are inevitable no matter how diligent you are with bug spray and reapplying it periodically, especially if you have sweet blood that attracts mosquitos like crazy like I do! Keep itchiness at bay with an After Bite itch eraser, which instantly soothes any bug bites. It’s a must-have for any summer road trip.

Sunscreen

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

Plus, you’ll want it for hikes, days out in the sun, beach days, and that sort of thing. This is the sunscreen I use on my face daily (to prevent breakouts — my skin is very sensitive to chemical sunscreens, so I need something gentle). Meanwhile, I use a cheaper basic sunscreen for my skin.

No matter what your skin tone or race, you need to wear sunscreen daily, whether you’re white and pale AF like me, or whether you’re Black, Latinx, or Asian — sun cancer doesn’t discriminate based on skin tone, so always lotion up!

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

Rain jacket

Even the best-laid plans can be felled by rain! While Idaho isn’t extremely rainy, it’s definitely a possibility during your trip, and you’ll want to be prepared.

I love the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I used mine for years doing all sorts of activities, from biking to hiking and traveling.

It always keeps me dry without making me too hot and uncomfortable like some other rain jackets can, due to the zippered arm-pits which provide ventilation. This is key if you plan to do anything active like hiking while it’s raining!

External batteries

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

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

Travel Insurance

Let’s be real: US health insurance sucks, and it can get complicated when you cross state lines to try to find in-network care in case of an emergency.

As long as you’re traveling more than 100 miles away from your home destination, World Nomads will step in where your insurance falters, and they make it super simple to purchase a policy for only as long as you’re traveling and not a bit more. Their policies are inexpensive and cover basically everything from theft to accidents to delayed baggage to trip cancellation and more.

I’ve been a happy paying customer of World Nomads since 2016 and have zero complaints about their service, interface, or claims process, and I’m happy to recommend them to any traveler I meet.

Get your free quote on World Nomads here

Idaho Road Trip Map

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Pin This Idaho Road Trip Itinerary!

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 Discover Cars 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.

With all sorts of museums and parks to visit, there’s also lots to do in Phoenix with teens and kids.

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.

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