North America USA

The Ultimate Self-Drive Road Trip Itinerary For Southwest USA with Kids

By Anjali Chawla  

Across Southwest USA…

miles and miles…

into the wild…

kids’ faces beaming with joy and excitement…

witnessing some of the best natural wonders of the world…

a road trip that isn’t only good but the best in the world!

Driving Through Southwest USA is Simply Transcendental

The Southwest USA is one of the best destinations for road tripping. National Parks galore, Famed and Historic Route 66, deep-seated American history, rugged vistas, carved horizons; all along the roads that traverse the states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Southwest USA has some of the most amazing and beautiful canyons that are worth exploring. You’ll be amazed to see the sparkling show of colors put by the canyons. It’s an unforgettable and utterly different road trip. Empty roads and gorgeous views take your breath away! And you will be dazed as you discover the most unearthly places on the planet.

Southwest USA Utah

Scenic Byway 12, Utah. Utah’s All America Road is full of stunning sights like this!

This ultimate American cross-country road trip was part of our 2-week long US trip itinerary. It wasn’t possible for us to explore the entire southwest because of the time restrictions so we chose some of the world’s most beloved and most traveled destinations in Southwest USA. We traveled across Nevada, Arizona, and Utah; unveiled the secrets, the treasures, the experiences southwest USA hides.

Why Visit Southwest USA with Kids?

Because it’s learning with fun. Criss-crossing across the region with kids is challenging which ultimately make them learn to face the hurdles with a smile on their face. Rewards override the challenges of course. Hiking, biking, camping, wildlife, national parks, historical sites and museums – there’s learning at every curve.

The vast open spaces and ever-changing landscapes of American Southwest are super perfect for kids who love adventures and wilderness experiences. Hiking the colorful rocky terrains, lying under the sky full of stars, sleeping in the tents, shaking the dust off the clothes, joyfully putting bandaid on scraped up knees and collecting stories and lessons along the way – Southwest USA road trip promises a world of adventure for kids.

Step by Step Itinerary

I’ve mentioned here a route and step-by-step itinerary that we’ve driven. This is just one option to give a zest of what a self-drive itinerary in America’s Southwest looks like, and it can easily be redesigned. I’m sure it will surprise and delight those who’ve never been to these places before…or for that matter who have been many times.

We boarded the American Airways early morning flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. And so the story goes…

Southwest USA Road Trip

Moments like this make me love early morning flights…The magical sunrise at 30,000 ft…Isn’t it worth waking up early for?!

Day 1 and 2

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) to Las Vegas (Nevada)

Route: Philadelphia > Las Vegas (By air – 5 hours 40 mins); Sightseeing and 2 nights stay at LV

Las Vegas, Nevada

We chose Las Vegas as our starting point for various reasons; the first being that LV is known to be the gateway for exploring the wonders of Southwest America, the second being that renting a car here is easier and cheaper than in other states of Southwest America, and last but not the least being that exploring Vegas was on top in my USA itinerary. I would have done it anyway even if it wouldn’t have been the most desired base for traversing the Southwest region through road. Anyhow, I scratched it off my list.

Las Vegas is sort of like how God would do it if he had money. ~ Steve Wynn

Steve wasn’t really exaggerating when he said this, anyone who travels to Las Vegas will know.

Southwest USA Las Vegas

Venice in Vegas!!!

Las Vegas needs no introduction. The city is famous for its exuberance. The sin city itself is worth a few days stay, as the mega hotels and casinos alone are some of the most unusual in the world, plus it also offers outstanding acts and shows viz. Cirque du Soleil, Le Reve etc., museums and exhibits, Adventuredome ( America’s largest indoor theme park ) and much more. All of this makes it one hell of a fun place to visit even with kids. Yes!!! It’s called the entertainment capital of the world for a reason.

Southwest USA Las Vegas

We! Friends that travel together stay together.

The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) is Las Vegas’s John Hancock street! It truly feels like a Land of Nod loaded with lavish resort hotels, dazzling casinos, unmatched theatrical performances and zillion of activities. All the resort hotels offer numerous fun things to do with kids. Some of the kid-friendly activities include dancing fountains at Bellagio, Wildlife habitat at Flamingo, Waterfall atrium at Palazzo and fall of Atlantis at Caesars, and volcano erupt at Mirage.

Be aware that kids aren’t allowed in the gaming areas of casinos and avoid visiting Fremont Street with kids. Roam the Strip between 5 pm to 8 pm; that way, kids will get to see the neon lights in full glory, but the true party crowd (adult stuff) will not yet be out.

Sin City can get expensive, but there are a lot of free things to do too!  The city promises all the razzmatazz you expect.

Southwest USA Las Vegas

When kids find their happy place in Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian 🙂

Hotel Recommendation: The Mirage, Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas is perfect and certainly the most fun base for exploring Southwest USA. We rented a car from Las Vegas for our road trip across the southwest.

Day 3

Las Vegas (Nevada) to Flagstaff (Arizona)

Route: Las Vegas > I-515 S and US-93 S > Hoover Dam > US – 93 S and I-40 E > Flagstaff Hotel (Overnight stay)

It was time for us to leave the shimmering neon lights of Sin City and embrace the natural wonders of Southwest. We could see the joy and excitement on kids’ faces as we headed for the ultimate wilderness experience.

Hoover Dam, Nevada

Distance to Hoover Dam from LV: 33.2 miles; 39 mins drive

Southwest USA Hoover Dam

I, Neha and company 🙂

One of the most extraordinary achievements of modern engineering also transpires to be fairly beautiful to look. The Hoover Dam built in the 1930s now supplies wide Southwest region with hydroelectric energy. The dam also confines beautiful Lake Mead on the Colorado River.

Southwest USA Hoover Dam

The Blues of Lake Mead.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Distance to Flagstaff from Hoover Dam: 222 miles; 3 hours 30 mins drive

Hotel Recommendation: Super 8

We chose a hotel for a night stay at Flagstaff because it is only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and close to other seven national parks and monuments. It can be your home base to explore some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world.

Day 4

Flagstaff (Arizona) to Page (Arizona)

Route: Flagstaff > US-89 N > Sunset Crater Volcano > US-89 N and AZ-64 W > Grand Canyon > AZ-64 E/Desert View Dr and US-89 N > Antelope Canyon > AZ-98 W > Horse Shoe Bend > Page Hotel

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

Distance to Sunset Crater from Flagstaff  hotel: 19 miles; 29 mins drive

Recognized as a U.S. National Monument, Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the US. The volcano’s edge of red cinders and the lava flows near the cone seem to have cooled and hardened to a jagged surface. Everywhere we walked, we were surrounded by black lava. Two of the fascinating volcanic features that you’ll come across while exploring the park will be squeeze-ups and hornitos.

Southwest USA Sunset Crater

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Distance to Grand Canyon from Sunset Crater: 68 miles; 1 hour 5 mins drive

It is certainly one of the widely recognized natural wonders of the world. No trip to the Southwest is complete without it. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Southwest USA Grand Canyon

They love the smell of adventure.

You can explore the Grand Canyon from the North, South, East and West Rims, but on this route, you’re likely to visit the South Rim, the busiest but most accessible part of the canyon. The South Rim is the most spectacular part as you’ll be able to drive along Desert View Drive, a 25 mile stretch of road that runs along the canyon’s edge, with views over the Colorado River.

It’s heavenly to spend a few moments on the edge of this colossal abyss, looking out across a precipice so expansive and so deep that you can’t see the end or bottom which makes you feel minuscule in comparison. It’s an unassuming disparity to the fast-moving cities. Every glimpse of the canyon has its own peculiar glow, hue, and outlook on the canyon’s labyrinthine topography. Don’t Miss the canyon ablaze with shades at sunrise and sunset.

The South Rim is open year-round, though some trails can get icy in winter. North Rim lodging and camping are available from mid-May through mid-October. Access to the North Rim is closed in winter due to snow.

Trail of Time at Yavapai point and Junior Ranger Program are recommended activities for kids at Grand Canyon.

Southwest USA Grand Canyon

It is in the name!!! Yes! Grand Canyon it is!

The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain. ~ John Wesley Powell

If we had some more time, we’d probably got to see the stunning blue-green waters Havasu is famous for. Unfortunately, it was not in the stars. We were off.

Antelope Canyon, Navajo Land, Arizona

Distance to Antelope Canyon from Grand Canyon: 113 miles; 2 hours drive

Exquisite place you must see! Visiting antelope is so worth the time! As we got to see only Lower Antelope Canyon; I’m still curious about Upper Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon is one of the most stunning, natural things I’ve ever seen in my life!

Southwest USA Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon (The Lion) – Listen to the caves sing quietly.

Once inside the canyon, the spectacle is almost mind-boggling. It’s obvious to get mesmerized by the shapes and colors of the rocks inside the canyon! And it’s quite impossible to depict the canyon; you got to stand in its presence to appreciate it.

Southwest USA Antelope Canyon

Purples and Pinks of Antelope Canyon…

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Distance to Horseshoe Bend from Antelope Canyon: 10 miles; 16 mins drive

We ended our day at Horseshoe Bend. It was an enthralling experience to stand on the edge and witness the ever-changing hues in the bend. It’s just about half a mile walk from the car parking to the lookout point. There are no balustrade and entrance fees, just a divine chance to savor awe-inspiring sight!

Southwest USA Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend – Where colors warm your soul.

Page, Arizona

Distance from Horseshoe Bend to Page Hotel: 2.5 miles; 10 mins

Hotel Recommendation: Days Inn

We couldn’t visit Upper Antelope Canyon, Rainbow Bridge (world’s largest natural bridge) and Glen Canyon but if you’ve time, you can stay at Page for another day or so and explore northern Arizona or can take a boat trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument at Lake Powell near Page in Arizona.

Day 5

Page (Arizona) to Panguitch (Utah) to Las Vegas (Nevada)

Route: Page > US-89 > Bryce Canyon > I-15 S > Las Vegas

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Distance to Bryce Canyon National Park from Page: 151 miles; 3 hours drive

It is one of the most remote national parks, and as a result, is significantly less crowded than a lot of the other parks in the southwest USA. As far as the eye can see, you’ll witness hundreds of strange red geological structures, known as hoodoos. The sunlight filters through the breaches in the rocks at sunrise and sunset, changing their shades from yellow to red, then purple. Bryce’s signature hoodoo formations shimmer in shades which is literally fantastic!

Southwest USA Bryce Canyon

Truly a place where one’s imagination can easily run wild.

There are many viewing points including Rainbow, Sunrise and Sunset Points each with a slightly different perspective on the canyon. Bryce Point is quieter and serene.

The best way to do the drive is to proceed directly south, witness Rainbow and Yovimpa points from the highest part of the park, and then stop at the other viewpoints as you return north.

Southwest USA Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

Hoodoos – Closer look

The best times to visit are from mid-April through mid-June and from early September through early November. Both seasons bring a flare of hues. Plan well in advance because accommodations book up months ahead of time.

The night sky at Bryce is one of the darkest in the country, making for amazing star exhibits. It is one of the best places in the country to go stargazing. Virtually no light pollution, and there isn’t much that can block your view.

Southwest USA Bryce Canyon

I already like you if you get enthralled over the night sky full of stars.

Another important point to know is about time-zones. Utah switches between mountain standard time and mountain daylight time. Arizona, however, remains on mountain standard time throughout the year. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation operates on mountain standard time but observes daylight savings.

Drive back to Las Vegas

Off to LV to catch a flight to Orlando (Yes, now it was time for us to explore Orlando!)

Distance to Las Vegas from Bryce Canyon: 261 miles; 4 hours drive

This is the complete itinerary of my road trip! By far the best road trip I’ve ever done in my life. I really can’t wait to return to this part of the world. It’s a journey packed with untouched natural beauty, strange and wild roadside attractions and vast open roads.

There are a lot of places to see out here and believe me, you won’t be able to do it all in one go. Planning is essential to make the most of your Southwest USA travels.

Southwest USA Road Trip

The road to your dreams is a sunset away…

Tips to know before you go

  1. Southwest road trip itinerary includes some of America’s best national parks, it’s wise to get a National Parks Pass that gives entry to all the national parks to save money and hassle.
  2. Stuff your car with crates of water bottles especially if you are road tripping in Summer and Stock up from a supermarket.
  3. Many parts of the region are inaccessible unless you have your own car. Preferably, rent a car from car rental companies in Vegas. Don’t forget to compare rates before you book.
  4. Make sure to fill up the gas tank to avoid getting stuck at long secluded road stretches (you’ll get many.)
  5. Book well in advance because the region can get pretty busy because of its popularity especially on weekends and during a season.

What did we miss? Oh boy! There are umpteen of breathtaking and beautiful places that we missed out on and I would love to witness all of them when I revisit.

I hope I’ve inspired you enough that you would definitely think of hanging out in the Southwest. Oh, so you’ve already made up your mind to take this road trip! Great! Let me help you plan your itinerary then. Shoot me a mail.

Was it helpful? Did I miss anything? I would love to hear about your ultimate road trip experience across southwest region of America or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

Are you a road-trip junkie? Yes! Read on then…

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Richa
    February 2, 2018 at 8:38 am

    The pictures of Utah’s All America Road are stunning. I like the way you have covered the wilderness of Southwest America!! Looks like something my 9 & 11-year-old adventurers would love to do 🤗

  • Reply
    Yogesh Mankani
    February 2, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Wow, such a detailed post Anjali. I’m sure it will help many of those who are planning to visit the States. And beautiful photographs along with the write-up making the post visually appealing. Awesome 🙂

  • Reply
    Debjani
    February 2, 2018 at 8:41 am

    What a wonderful description ..and the canyon is actually grand ..always wanted to do such road trip.. on my wish list now

  • Reply
    Mohit
    February 2, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    I have an eye for long on this side of US but only until it falls under my budget one day…The itinerary looks to be perfect for the time in hand and is described with all details necessary..

  • Reply
    Stuti
    February 2, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    I was enthralled by the opening lines and pictures. Nevada, Arizona, and Utah are among some of the places I wanna do in the USA and yeah road trip too is on my wishlist, specially after watching the movie Anjaana Anjaani. Very nicely written. 😊

  • Reply
    Swati Chatterjee
    February 2, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Hey Anjali..loved the write up, so detailed and yet so entertaining. Oh and the pictures are absolutely fantastic, my favourites – the lower antelope canyon and the horseshoe bend, absolutely stunning! This seems like the kind of road trips I seek out for all the time. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this circuit soon. Amen! May you have many more such travels to share with us. All the best!

  • Reply
    Shalini khanna
    February 2, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Read your blog first time it’s amazing.how beautifully you hv described everything .the feeling was soo rooted that I felt I am there experiencing everything on my own .congratulations you are truly a star.do share all your blogs will love to experience them.

  • Reply
    Suman
    February 2, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    It’s so lovely to see families Travelling with kids…way to go girl…your kids are lucky…

  • Reply
    Nidhi Gupta
    February 2, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Anjali… loved the article and pictures. Couldnt stop reading and now craving for more. The article got over too soon and suddenly I was brought back to reality from the lovely road trip.

  • Reply
    Amrita Sen
    February 3, 2018 at 11:40 am

    I absolutely loved the pictures. Your post is so detailed with itineraries and tips. I guess wandering down this beautiful road trip will also make me a kid!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    February 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I’m always inspired when I read about families who travel with their children – I can’t wait to have children and travel with them as well! 🙂 Your kids are blessed and lucky!
    The itinerary is awesome. I lived in the US for 8 years and have seen quite a few of these places – definitely can vote for Bryce and the Horseshoe bend 🙂 !

  • Reply
    Harmony, Momma To Go
    February 3, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    your pictures are incredible! First of all, I love vegas, although my kids havent been! The SW is so beautiful I really need to get my family out that way to explore. We have a big SE US road trip coming up!

  • Reply
    Pamela
    February 3, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    That’s called a detailed itinerary. Beautiful write up with amazing pics Anjali. I will surely read again this for my South West USA trip 😊

  • Reply
    cassie
    February 3, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    my kids just came in as I was reading this and now they’ve run to tell their dad they want to do this trip they loved your pictures so much! It’s fine as we just moved to Mexico and are planning a USA trip next year.

  • Reply
    Sarah Shumate
    February 3, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    Despite having lived in the US for over 25 years of my life, I haven’t really explored much of the western side of the country. We will be moving back this summer for a few years, though, so a road trip through the southwest sounds like a great way to get reacquainted with my home country! 🙂 You picked a great route for a family road trip – although our daughter is now grown (16 in a couple months!), she still thankfully enjoys traveling with us so we’ll go this a go!

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 4, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    Wow! What an awesome trip. Id love to do this someday! Lots of highlights and the beautiful scenery is absolutely the most inspiring part. Thanks!

  • Reply
    lavit gupta
    February 7, 2018 at 8:30 am

    stunning your all pictures and article too really nice thanks for sharing n keep it up thanks a lot…!

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