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.
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Distance to Hoover Dam from LV: 33.2 miles; 39 mins drive
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Page (Arizona) to Panguitch (Utah) to Las Vegas (Nevada)
Route: Page > US-89 > Bryce Canyon > I-15 S > Las Vegas
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!
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.
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.
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.
Tips to know before you go
- 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.
- Stuff your car with crates of water bottles especially if you are road tripping in Summer and Stock up from a supermarket.
- 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.
- Make sure to fill up the gas tank to avoid getting stuck at long secluded road stretches (you’ll get many.)
- 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…