Southwest USA road trip, discover California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah (incl. itinerary)

In 2013 I did a road trip through the Southwest of the USA and it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life! There’s nothing better than road tripping. It’s perfect to explore big parts of a country or places you can’t reach by public transport. The freedom of going where you want to go, when you want to go, is fantastic because:

You see a lot of different places.

You can stop anytime to take in the scenery.

You’re free to travel anywhere you want to go.

You don’t need to be on time to catch a train or a bus. You choose your own schedule.

I started in San Francisco and finished in Los Angeles. You may think that driving long distances could be boring, but it’s definitely not. On the road I saw the landscape changing constantly and it was so beautiful and interesting to see how diverse this part of the USA is. On the way you can sing with the radio and your travel companions. Now and then you can stop at a gas station to fill your tank and your belly or simply to enjoy the view at the side of the road.

Because I’m kind of a control freak I booked the car and all my hotels in advance. First I made an itinerary and then I planned where to stay with the travel agency. Next time I decide to do a road trip, I’m not sure if I would book all the hotels in advance. Just to have more freedom and to be sure that I can spend as much time as necessary in the parks and other places I’ll visit. I really feel sorry that I only spend one day at Yosemite, Zion NP and Bryce Canyon, because there are many beautiful hikes I would love to do! So that’s for next time! I visited 13 different places in 15 days. So it was pretty intensive. Next time I’ll probably take 3 weeks to explore by car. There are parks I want to redo and others to add.

The Southwest USA road trip itinerary

Here you’ll find my itinerary with some remarks in case you want to do a similar tour:

San Francisco Alamo Square

San Francisco

You’ll definitely need to spend at least 2 days here. This is a fantastic city with a small town vibe which I love! I stayed at Hotel Tomo, which is situated in Japan Town, near great sushi places. It was the perfect location to discover San Francisco by foot. Don’t underestimate the distances. San Francisco is built on different hills. This makes it hard to walk. My advice: train those calf muscles! Discover more about my stay here.

Time spend: 2 days, 3 nights
Time recommended: 2 days, 3 nights
Hotel distances + time of walking:
– Alamo Square (1,6 km, 20 min.)
– Grace Cathedral (1,9km, 27 min.)
– Coit Tower (3,9km, 53 min.)
– Union Square (2,1km, 26 min.)

Yosemite Glacier Point

Yosemite NP

I entered the park at the Arch Rock entrance and spend only an afternoon here. I saw the highlights, but it was at a fast pace. I truly regret not spending more time here to go hiking. In this blog post you can read what I did and see. I spend the night at the Tenaya Lodge. Find my review here.

Time spend: 1 day, 1 night
Time recommended: at least 2 full days, 3 nights
Hotel distance: The hotel is situated just outside the park.

Sequoia - General Grant Grove

Sequoia NP

This park is perfect to drive through and stop at the main sights such as General Grant Grove, Moro Rock, General Sherman Tree and Tunnel Log. Read about it here. My next stop was Death Valley so we stayed at Bakersfield in the Best Western Plus Hill House Hotel.

Time spend: 1 day
Time recommended: 1 day drive through
Hotel distance: it was situated on the road between Sequoia NP and Death Valley NP.

Death Valley Zabriskie Point

Death Valley NP

This park is probably one of the hottest places on earth. It’s called Death Valley for a reason. I just drove through the park and stopped at the highlights. I actually was looking for Darwin Falls but I never found them because I ended up in a ghost town. You can read all about it here. Next time I would like to see the sliding rocks at Racetrack Playa as well. I stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch which is situated in the park.

Time spend: 1 day, 1 night
Time recommended: 1 or 2 days
Hotel distance: it’s in the middle of the park

Las Vegas Strip


Las Vegas

On the way to Las Vegas I visited Hooverdam first, but I wasn’t really impressed, so you can easily skip it. Las Vegas is very hot in the summertime so the only thing you can do by day is shopping in one of the outlet shopping centers or swim. At night you can explore the many hotels, play in the casino and go out for drinks or party. It’s a very busy city and it can be overwhelming after exploring the silent nature the previous days. The hotels are amazing and I stayed at the Venetian, which is a fantastic hotel! Read about my Vegas adventure here.

Time spend: 2 days, 2 nights
Time recommended: 2-3 nights, depending on how long you want to rest or shop
Hotel distance: on the Strip

Zion National Park

Zion NP

This park stole my heart! Such wonderful rock formations and colors everywhere you look! I took the shuttle bus that takes you to all the main sights and I did some hiking here. Read about my day in Zion here. Again this is one of those places I regret not spending more time there. I found out there are some awesome hikes such as Angels Landing. I’m afraid of heights, so I don’t know if I would dare to finish it, but I will definitely try the next time I’ll get there! Breakfast at my hotel, the Zion Lodge, was delicious and accompanied by breathtaking views of the park.

Time spend: 1 day, 1 night
Time recommended: 2-3 nights so you’ll be able to do some serious hiking
Hotel distance: in the middle of the park!

Bryce Canyon USA

Bryce Canyon

The road from Zion to Bryce Canyon must be one of the prettiest in the world! The landscapes you drive through are dazzling! It only takes a 1,5 hour drive to get from Zion NP to Bryce Canyon. So you can take your time on the road and enjoy the view. Bryce Canyon is also a must when road tripping the Southwest. The hikes between the hoodoos are amazing and the views on top spectacular. Read about my afternoon in Bryce Canyon here. I stayed at the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn which is perfect because the shuttle for the park stops right in front of the hotel. Read about my hike at Bryce Canyon here. Next time I’ll probable drive through the park myself to be able to explore the park more. The shuttle’s furthest stop is Inspiration Point, but I want to go all the way until Rainbow Point.

Time spend: 1 day, 1 night Time recommended: 2 days, 2 nights so you’ll be able to do more hiking Hotel distance: at the first stop of the shuttle service

Monument Valley road trip USA

Monument Valley

Driving from Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley takes 4,5 hours, which is a long drive. You’ll pass Page, known for Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, but I decided to visit these places on my way from Monument Valley to the Grand Canyon. Because this trip would take less time. Monument Valley is bigger than you imagine. It’s a bumpy but fun ride. My hotel room at the Kayenta Monument Valley Inn had no air-conditioning, so I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Read about my stay at Monument Valley here.

Time spend: 1 day, 1 night
Time recommended: 1 day
Hotel distance: just a short drive from the park

Antelope Canyon USA road trip

Antelope Canyon USA road trip

Page (Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend)

I visited Upper Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend on my way to the Grand Canyon. Exquisite places you must see! Visiting them only takes a half day and is so worth the time! I only visited Upper Antelope Canyon, so I’m curious about Lower Antelope Canyon. Lake Powell seems nice too. You can find my story, video and pictures here!

Time spend: 0,5 day
Time recommended: 1 day

Grand Canyon USA road trip

Grand Canyon

After visiting so many wonderful places I wasn’t impressed anymore by the Grand Canyon. I should’ve done it at the beginning of the trip. Of course it’s a beautiful place and it’s enormous, but I fell in love with Zion and Bryce Canyon so this wasn’t good enough anymore. Maybe it’s because I only saw it from the top at the South Rim. I didn’t have the time to go hiking and helicopter flights were so expensive! My hotel, the Maswik Lodge, wasn’t the best either; no air-conditioning and I really needed a pool because of the heat, which wasn’t there. More about my day at the Grand Canyon here. Next time I’ll spend time at the Havasu Falls and I’ll try to hike or save money for a helicopter flight!

Time spend: 2 days, 2 nights
Time recommended: 2 days, 2 nights if you want to go hiking
Hotel distance: at the Grand Canyon village, right next to the rim

Hollywood Los Angeles

Los Angeles

I can’t be excited about LA. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I really disliked Los Angeles. I fled to the Santa Monica coast and went shopping, because really, that’s all that seemed interesting there. It’s not glamorous at all. I felt sorry for all the homeless people and was shocked by the public drug abuse. The hotel wasn’t super either. My friend called it “Smellrose Place”. Read my honest thoughts about LA here. Maybe there are nice places and I completely missed the fun parts of LA. If so, please put them in the comments down below!

Time spend: 2 days, 2 nights
Time recommended: if you really want to go; 1 day

 

Voila; that’s the complete itinerary of my road trip. There are a lot of things I would love to see in this area when I revisit. So in a couple of years you’ll probably find a new itinerary with more places to discover!

Here’s a map of my adventure!

Road Trip USA map

 

In September I’ll be island hopping at the Azores, also called the “Hawaii of Europe” (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?). I’ll be visiting 3 islands by plane and at each island I’ll have a car to drive around. Even though the islands aren’t big, I preferred to rent a car because I don’t want to miss out on anything and public transport is rare over there. Especially on the smaller island Flores. You can expect some very impressive pictures and videos of this destination in September!

Which places would you recommend to do a road trip?

 

If you like my pictures I suggest to follow my Instagram account where you can find a lot more!

 

6 thoughts on “Southwest USA road trip, discover California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah (incl. itinerary)

  • September 28, 2015 at 11:44 PM
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    Wow! This looks like our road trip from last year (without Sequoia Park, but with Angels Landing). And surprisingly (of not), we had exactly the same thoughts than yours about almost all places. We’re going to the beautiful Azores this year: By reading your reviews, I realize we made an excellent choice.
    Cheers from Portugal!

    Reply
  • April 23, 2016 at 10:09 AM
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    Excellent blog, we plan to do something similar over December/January.

    Your photos are amazing and commentary very helpful.

    Reply
  • October 30, 2016 at 9:52 PM
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    Hi,

    What sort of budget would you recommend for this trip? Me and my husbands are planning a very similar trip next year.

    Reply
    • October 31, 2016 at 8:03 AM
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      Hi!
      Thanks for your question!
      I think this depends where you’re traveling from and with how many people you’re sharing rooms and a rental car. I’m from Belgium and we were 3 persons. I payed around 2300€ in 2013 for the flights from Brussels to San Francisco, Los Angeles to New York & New York to Brussels, the rental car and the hotels, 5 nights in New York included.

      Hope you have a nice trip!

      Cheers!

      Reply
  • November 3, 2016 at 11:52 AM
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    Hi,

    It’s precise with all the relevant information. I liked the adventure map; very insightful.

    Well, I would like to recommend two road trip, which I am planning to take in coming summer; both in Indian Subcontinent:

    1) Manali – Leh via Keylong (total of 500 kms (310 miles))
    Through the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas. (World’s highest Motarable Road: Khardung La pass (5,359 meters above sea level)
    Time recommended: 4-5 full days.
    Location: Northern India.

    2) Assam – Twang Valley ( located on the Tibet [china] border)
    Through the Kangchenjunga Range
    Location: remote north eastern part of India. (surrounded by Bhutan and China)
    Culture: Buddhist Monasteries.

    Reply

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