Southwest Road Trip of a Lifetime

Southwest Road Trip of a Lifetime

Our U.S. southwest journey was a road trip of a lifetime, to say the least! We spent ten days on the road (in utter awe the entire time) exploring mind-blowing beauty and experiencing unforgettable adventures. From climbing Angel’s Landing to horseback riding in Monument Valley, each day was riddled with excitement. It was such a special trip that I decided to dedicate an entire post to our southwest adventure in hopes that you can experience it just the same.

Stops along your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Zion National Park
  3. Horseshoe Bend
  4. Antelope Canyon
  5. Monument Valley
  6. Sedona
  7. Grand Canyon National Park
  8. Return to Las Vegas
Note: Though we did this trip in 10 days, it's entirely possible to do it in more or less time (depending how long you wish to spend in each destination).  Furthermore, if you have more time to spare, I'll include a few extra destinations to consider adding to your itinerary at the end of this post.  Enjoy!

<strong>Author:</strong> Mindy Michaels, <a rel=
Author: Mindy Michaels, mindyonthemove.com

Main Photographer: Doug Michaels

My name is Mindy Rose Michaels and I am an avid adventurer and traveler.  I “work to travel” (as I like to say) and thus, live a very unconventional life. My husband, Doug, and I are freelancers in the film industry and work on various reality/doc tv shows for a multitude of networks, such as: Travel Channel, Animal Planet, NBC, Discovery, A&E, Starz, HGTV etc.  Our work keeps us constantly moving and constantly on our toes AND, when we’re not working, you best believe we’re still on the move. Always. Because we love to travel as often and as far as possible.
Southwest road trip of a lifetime

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How to begin your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Best time to go:

October and April are the top months to take this road-trip because the crowds have yet to gather in masses and the weather is most tolerable. However, I must mention: Autumn is the greater of the two.

Flight

First, book your flight into Las Vegas using the best deal finder: Kiwi. Among many reasons why Kiwi is the optimal choice, it allows you to pick date ranges in which you wish to travel and shows you the cheapest options. Its flexibility combined with its quality and assurance make it my favorite flight booking site to-date.

Car Rental

Once you arrive in Las Vegas, you have a few options in regards to vehicle rentals. Do you wish to camp in your vehicle? If so, I highly recommend opting for a Jucy camper van (Vegas is one of the rare locations where it’s possible to rent one of these in the USA). They’re easier to drive and much more fuel efficient than an RV. Overall, lending its users a cheaper and less-stress road trip experience. If you still wish to go the RV route, we’ve had fantastic experiences in using Cruise America rentals.

Do you prefer to rent a car and camp out under the stars? Or, do you wish to stay in hotels along your southwest road trip? Either way, you can discover awesome car rental deals to pick up upon your arrival at McCarran International Airport with TripAdvisor.

Now, as far as the rest of the bookings are concerned (such as adventures and lodgings): we are fans of winging it! Primarily because we never know which destinations we’d like to stay at longer than others until we arrive and experience them firsthand. Plus, we never know what each day will bring in terms of mood and weather, etc. You can resort to my post below to further see why we prefer to wing some of these specific things. But, I’ll still give our recommendations in this post nonetheless.


Destination #1 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Las Vegas

  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • southwest road trip of a lifetime

Las Vegas holds a special place in my heart because it is where Doug and I got married with our closest friends and family in attendance. It’s such a fun and tremendous burst of energy that stands unrivaled. With that being said, I only recommend spending a couple nights there and to save most of your time for exploring the rest of the places further. Two nights in Vegas is ample time! We only stayed one night before departing onward to the main leg of our journey. Besides, you don’t want to be hungover and broke before the real adventure even begins, ha ha! (but, for real).

What to do:

Apart from gambling and drinking, Vegas offers its visitors SO many cool things to do:

  • Just walk around and through the many hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard – you’ll be in awe of their uniqueness and grandeur.
  • Ride the Big Apple Coaster at New York, New York hotel & casino.
  • See the city from high above on the Las Vegas Observation Wheel near The Linq (photo’d second in above photo slide).
  • Also near the Observation Wheel and The Linq, grab a cupcake from the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM.
  • Be a TV critic at CBS Television City Research Center inside MGM Grand.
  • Take a gondola ride through the canals of the Venetian.
  • See a world class show (or two or three!).
  • Be super daring and take the SkyJump plunge off of the Stratosphere!
  • Visit Fremont Street (Old Vegas) and zip-line above her via SlotZilla.

Where to stay:

Doug and I booked our Vegas accommodations last minute using Hotel Tonight. Hotel Tonight specializes in finding great last minute deals for nice hotels! We stayed in a suite at The Luxor for under $70 (taxes and fees not included). I adore this Egyptian themed hotel, shaped like a pyramid and adorned with sphinxes and hieroglyphics.


Destination #2 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Zion National Park

  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • Southwest Road Trip of a Lifetime

Head east on your road trip to your second destination: Zion National Park. Be absolutely sure to spend some quality time here – she deserves at least two nights!  This place completely captured my heart and soul because of her unbelievably magical hikes and the magnetic pull she possessed over my entire being.   I felt a remarkable connection to this park, especially while journeying up to Angel’s Landing and wandering through The Narrows (both among my favorite hikes of all time).  There’s just something sensational about these steep, red canyon walls encompassing the abundant river valley.

What to do:

Angel’s Landing

  • Hike Angel’s Landing:

The hike begins at Grotto Trailhead (37.259392, -112.950038) and is rated a Class 3 difficulty with ~1,500 elevation gain.  Angel’s Landing is a rather short, half-day hike (a little over 5 miles roundtrip).  However, don’t let the length fool you – the trail is full of seemingly endless switchbacks (Walter’s Wiggles) and steep inclines.  

The dramatic, awe-inducing views that you see while hanging onto a chain bolted into the cliffs are worth every ounce of energy expended.  The adrenaline you gain from walking on a two-foot wide path with literally thousand foot, sheer vertical drops on both sides is utterly thrilling.  Thus, if you’re a risk-taking thrill seeker such as myself, this hike is SO FOR YOU.  Even if you’re not, this hike is still a MUST do – just hold on to the chain, be mindful of your steps and keep in mind the “3 points of contact” rule.  If you do this, you’ll be fine and dandy.  This trek is none other than heavenward and worth facing your fears, shall you have any.

Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, you’ll see the most beautiful, panoramic views of steep, red, rocky cliffs dating back to the triassic era and the Virgin River and valley far below (cars look like tiny black ants, thats how high you are).   The landing upon which you sit (once at the top) is like an island in the sky, floating in the middle of Zion Canyon.  Up there, you feel like an angel floating on heaven’s cloud.  Everything is right in the world and ultimate beauty encompasses you.  

Frederick Fisher once said, “Only an angel could land on it”, because from below – that is exactly how it appears.

The Narrows

  • Hike The Narrows:

Once you’ve journeyed heavenward, it’s time to journey inward to the heart of Zion.  It’s time to wade through the belly of this beastly beauty via The Narrows.  The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon (hence its namesake).  Rather than being on top of thousand foot cliffs, you’ll be in between narrow, thousand foot cliffs – deep down in the narrow gorge where you’ll walk and wade in the Virgin River (literally, the trail IS the river – no escaping getting wet).  

To day hike from the bottom and back (which doesn’t require a permit) is approximately 6 miles, round-trip, in distance and takes an estimated 4.5 hours to complete. To get to the trailhead, take the shuttle to the Temple of Sinewava, follow the paved path for one mile to its end, then begin hiking up river. This trail is rated strenuous due to hiking in the unpredictable river. The river is often murky and the bottom of the river is covered in decent-sized rocks.  Proper shoe attire is a must.   Also, once past Orderville Canyon and the Wall Street section, the water gets considerably deeper. Thus, knowing how to swim is also a must as you may be required to do so in parts.

The contrast of The Narrows and Angel’s Landing is partially what makes Zion National Park so dang fascinating to me.  If you’re a hiking buff, as well, you will also fall madly in love with her.

List of other adventures:

  • Hike to Observation Point
  • Go canyoneering with Zion Adventures
  • Tube down the Virgin River
  • See the emerald pools on the Emerald Pools Trail
  • Explore the sights along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
  • Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
  • Visit the Human History Museum
  • Explore the town of Springdale:
    • I fell in love with the many mystic shops full of raw crystals, jewelry and more!
    • Absolutely loved grabbing coffee and breakfast from Cafe Soleil (you can sit outside on their upper balcony) and Deep Creek Coffee Co.

Where to stay:

  • Watchman Campground (tent camping and RV)
    • Reservations are required for this one (preferably 6 months in advance)
    • Cost: $20 – 130 (depending on the type of site you want/need).
  • Lava Point Campground (primitive tent camping)
    • Open May – September only.
    • First come, first serve (meaning NO reservations, so get there early)
    • Cost: $20 per night
  • Zion River Resort (RV & camper cabins)
    • RV site cost: $39 – 67 per night (depending on size of RV and the season you’re traveling).
    • camper cabin (small) cost: $72 – 118 per night
    • camper cabin (large) cost: $81 – 131 per night
  • Zion Red Rock Oasis (villa/chalet/inn)
    • Recipient of TripAdvisor’s certificate of excellence award, 2019.
    • The Cottages cost: $105 – 309 per night
    • The Zion Red Rock Chalet cost (minimum 4 nights): upwards of $2,000+ for 4 nights

Check out my post below, The 22 Most Surreal Destinations in the US West, to see how Zion National Park ranks (and which site):


Destination #3 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Horseshoe Bend

southwest road trip of a lifetime

Does this place need an explanation?  Probably not.  However, I will try my best to put to words the total surrealism of Horseshoe Bend . . .  

Located near the town of Page, AZ and nearby Antelope Canyon (see below), this horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River runs at the base of towering cliffs.  I felt more in awe of Horseshoe Bend than of the Grand Canyon (insanity, I know)!  Yes, the arrant mass of the Grand Canyon is more staggering, but the surreal and perfect horseshoe that the river cuts through the canyon here creates a more simplistically stunning site.  And, sometimes, simplicity is clutch.  

Though the Grand Canyon forces one to realize their scale upon this earth, Horseshoe Bend enables you to appreciate and marvel at her simple creativity – you’re able to appreciate one work of art at a time.  Where the Grand Canyon is concerned, I have difficulty focusing on just one river bend or just one crevice because she’s SO VAST. However, here, I can take her ALL in from great heights.  OR, I can opt to explore her depths via boating, kayaking, paddling etc among the Colorado River below with the immense cliffs hugging me from all sides.  

Horseshoe Bend is a true treasure and is considered by many the “intimate grand canyon experience“.

What to do:

Where to stay:

*See below (under Antelope Canyon) for places to stay. Both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are located near the town of Page, AZ.


Destination #4 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Antelope Canyon

  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • southwest road trip of a lifetime

Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon set on Navajo land east of Page, Arizona, is a captivating attraction that draws many people every year.  Gaining in popularity due to her alluring wonder and ever-changing colors, photographers flock in hordes to this gem.  It’s no wonder the most expensive photograph ever sold was snapped here, taken by Peter Lik and titled “Phantom” – Phantom photograph by Peter Lik.  

The light dancing throughout the canyon’s openings delivers an enchanting (and surreal) experience for each go-er.  The light never graces the walls the same way twice.  Every walk through the canyon varies and every photograph taken is original and inspiring.  Each person’s experience unique to their own journey.  It’s mind-boggling that nature can create so many shapes and colors all within the boundaries of a single slot canyon.  The smoothness of the walls are a delight to feel, as well.  Everything about this place is magic!

What to do:

Where to stay in Page, AZ:

  • Hyatt Place (hotel)
    • Cost: approx. $199 per night
  • Red Rock Motel (motel)
    • Cost: approx. $99 per night
  • Page Lake Powell Campground (tent/RV/glamping)
    • Glamping in their Covered Wagon cost: $125 per night
    • Tent site cost: $34.25 per night
    • RV site with hookup cost: $51.37 per night
  • AirBnB Cozy Retreat (home)
    • Cost: varies depending on season, starting at $89 per night and up

Destination #5 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Monument Valley

  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • southwest road trip of a lifetime

Driving further along your route, on the Utah/Arizona border lies Monument Valley.  The Navajo Tribal Park is known for its immense, iconic sandstone buttes frequently used for filming locations in western movies.

What to do:

Once here, Doug and I realized, without doubt, that the ultimate way to explore this land was by, none other than: horseback.   How can you truly be in the wild west otherwise?  We opted for the 4-hour (half day) tour with Sacred Monument Tours and had the coolest guide ever!  

Our guide was a Navajo man, born and raised in this land, and brought up in the traditional Navajo culture.  Teaching us so much along our tour, he showed us many herbs and even picked some for us to test (such as sage) and explained their healing properties.   He even found some peyote growing in the wild and pointed it out to us, explaining how their tribe uses it and telling us stories of his friends’ experiences with it.   He brought along his pup who would run ahead of us in search of snakes – the pup was excellent at his job, no snakes frightened the horses along our ride!  Our guide also talked about his love and passion for horses and his training process for wild mustangs (he was riding a newly trained, wild mustang bareback along our tour – so badass!).

We trotted and galloped all around and in between the towering red buttes as the sun slowly set in the distance.  This whole experience is one of my fondest memories – a day I’ll long cherish.  I’ll forever be grateful for my horse, Blue, as she had given me the greatest of evenings one could ever dream of (along with our fantastic guide, of course!). I literally could not recommend this adventure or company more!

Where to stay:

Think Monument Valley can’t get any radder?  Think again!  Stay in a premium cabin at Monument Valley View and your mind will be blown.   Each cabin features a private porch that overlooks the valley in, what was our opinion, one of the BEST views of the land!  We sat on our porch at night and watched an intense lightening storm blast across the sky, illuminating the iconic buttes.  Simply incredible.

See the beauty that Monument Valley beholds through our eyes via our short video below:


Destination #6 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Sedona

  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • southwest road trip of a lifetime
  • southwest road trip of a lifetime

Sedona is a mystical and eye-catching site to behold with her fiery red rock mountains landscaped with green forests and a plethora of flora. Legend has it that she beholds an energy vortex that reinvigorates and rejuvenates any one who openly seeks her blessings. I don’t doubt it for a second! I’ve felt such magic in places such as Yosemite National Park and I can full-heartedly believe why others would feel such sensations amid this beautiful land, as well.

What to do:

  • Hike to Devil’s Bridge (photo’d second above):
    • This was such an unearthly hike at sunset (but we recommend attempting it at sunrise, first) with all the red rocks illuminated by the golden glow. You can hear the coyotes yelping across the canyon and the birds preparing for sundown. The entire place is straight out of a storybook. The bonus to hiking at sunset: the crowds disperse and you’re actually able to have this place to yourself (which is rare). Plus, the desert at night is just as magical and a tad haunting as any other time. If you’re going to attempt to hike back down in the dark, as we did, I suggest bringing along a handy head-light for much need visibility aid. The hike is relatively easy and flat, except for the ending scramble up the cliffside. To get to the trailhead, drive down Vultee Arch Road for a very short distance, park in the paved parking lot for the Dry Creek Vista Trail and walk along the dirt road until you get to the Devils Bridge trailhead. The total distance of the hike is approximately 4.6 miles round-trip.
    • Shop our Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp at backcountry.com

Where to stay:

  • Rancho Sedona RV Park (RV sites)
    • RV site cost: varying depending on type of site and size of vehicle, ranging from $42 – 84 per night.
  • Manzanita Campground (tent)
    • Semi-primitive sites with vault toilets (no showers).
    • Call toll free 1-877-444-6777 to reserve site
    • Cost: $22 per night
  • Airbnb – newly built tiny home with awesome views!
    • Cost: starting at $50 per night for two people (varies depending on season).
  • Alma de Sedona Inn Bed & Breakfast
    • Nightly cost: approximately $269

Destination #7 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is renowned all over the world for her majestic grandeur and rightfully so. She is an American west staple and undoubtedly deserves a visit, or MANY (I’ve seen her 3 times and it’s still not even close to being enough).  People always describe feeling small when standing beside the ocean, but I’ve never felt more small than when standing on the edge of this immense beast.   Even more than sheer size, her copious colors are glorious and brilliant.   Upon staring into the her depths, a strong visceral urge to let the canyon devour you will overwhelm your spirit – calling you forth to explore her deepest and darkest corners.   I still want more.  

What to do:

(This is dependent on how long you stay but, regardless, the list below are options of varying duration).

Where to stay:

As listed above, you can backcountry camp in Bright Angel Campground at the end of your hike and the Grand Canyon Railway offers lodging, as well (click on the above links to find more information).

Other places include:

  • KOA Campground (tent/RV/cabins)
    • Tent site cost: $47 per night
    • RV site cost: around $85 per night
    • Cabin cost: around $75 per night (no bathrooms, must use campground bathrooms)
  • Airbnb Nomad’s Pad (glamping tent)
    • Cost per night: about $115 (seasonal)
  • Airbnb Grand Canyon Bungalow (cabin)
    • Nightly cost: about $100 (varies seasonally)
  • Yavapai Lodge (hotel)
    • Room cost per night: starting at $186 +up

Watch our Grand Canyon Thanksgiving episode of one of our southwest road trips with friends below:

And peep some behind the scenes storytelling of our night camping in the Grand Canyon at Thanksgiving:


Destination #8 on your southwest road trip of a lifetime:

Back in Vegas!

Congrats! There you have it: your short yet spectacular southwest road trip of a lifetime has come full circle.

Have you done this trip before? If so, let me know below in the comments – I’d love to hear some of your most memorable highlights! If you haven’t, which part are you most excited to explore the most?


More Destinations to add, time permitting:

Of course, there are a ton more places to see in these states (I wrote 2 blogs on road-tripping Utah alone!). However, this is for time restricted people who wish to see as much as they can without being overwhelmed or stressed during their 7-14 day southwest adventure!

For my free cheatbook (e-book) on exploring the entire state of Utah, subscribe to my e-mail list below.

As always…

Thank you for reading my post and happy travels!

-Mindy

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One thought on “Southwest Road Trip of a Lifetime

  1. I’ve done Vegas tons of times, but I STILL haven’t made it around all the sites of Arizona (aside from Havasupai). I was planning on doing a New Mexico roadtrip in October (we’ll see), so maybe I can tack on a few of these places! I’m really tempted to try out those campervans too!

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