The Southwest USA road trip is easily and decisively one of the best road trips in the world. Our step by step American Southwest road trip itinerary with kids takes you through some of the most amazing and exquisite sites to be explored with kids.
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
Southwest America 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 road trip takes you through 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 USA 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 Take Southwest USA Road Trip 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 – American Southwest road trip promises a world of adventure for kids.
Step by Step Itinerary for Southwest USA Road Trip
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 Southwest America 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: American Southwest Road Trip
Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) to Las Vegas (Nevada)
Route: Philadelphia > Las Vegas (By air – 5 hours 40 mins); Sightseeing and night stay at Las Vegas (LV)
Las Vegas, Nevada – The Starting Point for Our American Southwest Adventure
Las Vegas needs no introduction. The city is famous for its exuberance.
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 USA, 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 USA region through road. Anyhow, I scratched it off my list.
Apart from being a perfect and the most fun base for American Southwest exploration, 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.
Yes!!! It’s called the entertainment capital of the world for a reason.
Is it for real? – you are sure to ask yourself once you step on the streets of LV.
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 with Kids
We reached LV at around 8 am local time and headed straight to our hotel to freshen up.
After stuffing our faces with all-we-could-eat delightful breakfast dishes, we were off to explore LV with kids, the otherwise no go city for kids.
We were ready to bust the myth!
LV may not be the obvious choice for a family vacation but there are numerous kid-friendly things to do in Las Vegas. It’s not exactly what it’s thought of!
We strolled The Strip and the various kid-friendly exhibits, shows, and activities inside the resorts and mega-hotels that line the Las Vegas Strip.
What did we explore on the Las Vegas Strip?
- Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
- Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay
- High Roller Observation Wheel
- Gondola Ride at The Venetian
- The Eiffel Tower outside the Paris Las Vegas Hotel
- The Big Apple Coaster and Arcade outside the New York New York Hotel
- The Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo Hotel
- Waterfall Atrium at Palazzo
- Bellagio Dancing Fountains
- Fall of Atlantis and Aquarium at Caesars Palace
- Mirage Hotel Volcano Erupt, Aquarium, and Rainforest Atrium
All of this makes it one hell of a fun place to visit even with kids. Our kids were exhausted but not ready to go back to the hotel room.
Sin City can get expensive, so try to choose some of the many free things to do in Las Vegas!
Tips for Visiting Las Vegas with Kids Be aware that kids aren't allowed in the gaming areas of casinos. Avoid visiting Fremont Street with kids. Roam the Las Vegas 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.
We rented a car from Las Vegas for our road trip across the southwest.
Day 2: American Southwest Road Trip
Las Vegas (Nevada) to Seven Magic Mountains (Nevada)
Route: Las Vegas > I-15 S and Las Vegas Blvd S > Seven Magic Mountains < Las Vegas; Night stay at Las Vegas (LV)
Las Vegas Sightseeing Off the Strip – Seven Magic Mountains
A quick 3O minutes drive south of Las Vegas took us to a quirky art installation by a Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains.
In the middle of the Mojave Desert, the sight of the 7 pillars created by rainbow-colored boulder totems looks magical.
Please note that there’s no way to reach Seven Magic Mountains but a drive. There’s no admission fee. It’s FREE and open to the public.
Las Vegas Hotel Recommendation: The Mirage, Las Vegas Strip
We stayed at The Mirage and loved everything about it. Las Vegas has a mind-boggling variety of resorts and hotels to choose from. Click here to find the best deals on hotels in Las Vegas.
If you don’t want to rent a car or drive on your own, you still can explore the American Southwest wonders by joining one or two of many wonderful guided tours available from Las Vegas.
Day 3: American Southwest Road Trip
Las Vegas (Nevada) to Flagstaff (Arizona)
Route: Las Vegas > I-515 S and I-11 S > Hoover Dam > US–93 S and I-40 E > Historic Route 66 > 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: 37.8 miles; 44 mins drive
One of the most extraordinary achievements of modern engineering also transpires to be fairly beautiful to look at.
The Hoover Dam built in the 1930s now supplies a wide Southwest USA 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
We chose a hotel for a night stay at Flagstaff because it is only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and close to the other seven USA national parks and monuments.
Flagstaff can be your perfect home base to explore some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world.
Hotel Recommendation: Super 8 by Wyndham
Day 4: American Southwest Road Trip
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: 20.2 miles; 28 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.
Entrance Fee: $25 per car or $20 per bike or $15 per bicycle valid for 7 days. It allows entry to both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Distance to Grand Canyon from Sunset Crater: 94.3 miles; 1 hour 46 mins drive
Grand Canyon 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.
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
Try to witness the canyon ablaze with shades at sunrise or sunset or both.
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.
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.
Hiking the Havasu Falls tops my list of things to do in the American Southwest next time around. After all, there’s always a next time!
Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle or $30 per motorcycle valid for seven days.
Antelope Canyon, Navajo Land, Arizona
Distance to Antelope Canyon from Grand Canyon South Rim: 123 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.
Be aware that you can’t enter Antelope Canyon without a native Navajo guide.
Navajo Park Permit of $8 for 8 years and up is paid in addition to the tour fee.
Entrance Fee for Lower Antelope Canyon: $40 + $8 per adult, $20 per child (aged 8 to 12), and child aged 0 to 7 get free entry.
Entrance Fee for Upper Antelope Canyon: $52 + $8 per adult, $42 + $8 per child (aged 8 to 12), and $42 per child (aged 0 to 7)
11:30 am tours to Upper Antelope Canyon are a bit costly.
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!
Distance from Horseshoe Bend to Page Hotel: 2.5 miles; 10 mins
Hotel Recommendation: Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Page Lake Powell
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 4: American Southwest Road Trip
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!
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.
Entrance Fee: $35 per car, $20 per bicycle or per person; and $30 per bike valid for seven days.
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
We spent a relaxed evening in Las Vegas as we had a flight to Orlando the next morning. Our hotel, Palazzo was everything we could ask for after a tiring American Southwest road trip.
Hotel Recommendation: The Palazzo at The Venetian
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.
The Best Time to Take the Iconic Southwest USA Road Trip
The ideal seasons to set out on the Southwest USA road trip are – Spring (mid-April through May) and Autumn (early September through mid-November).
Tips to Know Before You Plan an American Southwest Adventure
- Southwest USA road trip itinerary includes some of the best US 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.
What else can you add to your American Southwest itinerary with more days on hands?
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
- Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Coyote Buttes, Utah
- Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
- Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, Utah
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
- Red Rock State Park, Arizona
- Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona
- Monument Valley, Arizona
I hope I’ve inspired you enough that you would definitely think of hanging out in the Southwest USA.
Oh, so you’ve already made up your mind to take Southwest USA road trip! Great!
Let me help you plan your itinerary then. Shoot me the mail.
Was it helpful? Did I miss anything? I would love to hear about your ultimate road trip experience across the southwest USA or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
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Pin this itinerary to plan later 🙂
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