One of our favorite road trip destinations in the world is the Southwestern United States. Out here you’ll find endless horizons and desert landscapes in a kaleidoscope of colors and unique rock formations.
Thrilling natural adventures abound including jeep rock crawling, hikes through narrow slot canyons, and ATV adventures over orange sand dunes. Desert landscapes and thrilling natural adventures will make this one of your favorite US road trip experiences.
Now we are creating a series of posts where we share easy to follow road trip itinerary ideas for the Southwest. In this post, we share a 3 week Southwest Road trip (2 week Southwest road trip here, and 4 week desert southwest road trip itinerary here).).
We include driving times, destination recommendations, and must not miss experiences as well as places to stay and interesting tours. We’ll also include links to the in-depth posts and videos we have on relevant destinations or experiences.
The more time you can dedicate to exploring the American desert region the better!
Do you need to rent a car?
You will need your own car to explore the Southwest region. If you need to rent a car, we have a partnership with Rentalcars.com which always returns us the best prices, and we have used them for over 10 years. See rental prices and availability from Las Vegas.
You can also check out RVShare for RV rentals.
What states are in Southwest USA?
For me the best way to think of what encompasses and defines the Southwest region would be those desert areas, which is why sometimes you may see those other areas added in.
You’re probably less concerned with the right answer, and more with your places of interest in this southwest region, how far you are willing to drive, and how much time you have.
Don’t want to take down notes? No worries, we’ve got you covered with our printable PDF itineraries. They are free to members of our free VIF email tribe. We regularly create useful guides for them. Join it here! (opens new window)
Things to note for the Southwestern US road trip itineraries
- Adapt the itinerary based upon your departure and arrival times.
- Instead of adding in times for each day, I’ve listed my recommendations so you can slot it into times that suit your schedule. Think about how to incorporate sunrise and sunsets.
- You can do these recommendations across a full-day or split into afternoon/next morning before departing for next destination.
- Plan for early days and late evenings. It will be tiring but so worth it to see as much as you can.
- Restaurants and cafes are not a big part of this American Southwest region experience. Grab something where you can, or pack your own picnics and snacks.
- A national park pass will save you money in the Southwest.
Short 3-Week Southwest Region Trip
This itinerary for 3 weeks through the Southwest region of the USA will take you through Utah and Arizona starting and ending in Las Vegas. Add time before our after the road trip to explore Las Vegas. You’ll find activities for Las Vegas area on the last day.
This itinerary includes all four Utah national parks. Moab is where you will find of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. You could take a day off any of the mentioned areas if you want to fit them, as you will drive through there. We’d suggest Arches over Canyonlands.
We believe in three weeks the following places in the Desert Southwest USA area would be the best options.
Day 1: Vegas -> Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
I can’t believe it took me years of traveling through the American Southwest before I heard of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. It is simply spectacular. The vistas like the photo above can be seen everywhere you turn and in multiple hues of red, orange, pink and yellow.
It’s very easy to explore in just a few hours, and even on a day trip from Las Vegas. You could stay here the night, or move onto Zion National Park in the afternoon.
Recommended things to do in Valley of Fire
- Mouse Tank Hike
- Rainbow Vista Trail
- Fire Wave Trail
- White Domes Trail
Days 2 & 3 : Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park will capture your heart and help you create an vast array of adventurous stories to share around the campfire for the rest of your life
From its brilliant blue sky to its immense red and white sandstone cliffs that reach out of the forested river bed, Zion NP in Utah is a Southwest USA wonder.
Zion’s towering sandstone monoliths, slot canyons, rock formations and hanging gardens attracts outdoor adventures and intrepid travelers from all over the globe.
Recommended Zion National Park attractions
- Angels Landing/ The Narrows (adventure+)
- Riverwalk – you can incorporate this into the Narrows adventure.
- Lower and Upper Emerald Pool
- Weeping Rock
- Springdale IPA from the Zion Lodge
- Zion Carmel Tunnel Drive to Canyon Overlook ((this could be a morning experience on the way to Bryce Canyon)
Day 4 – Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite USA national parks and high on our Utah Bucket List. Bryce Canyon invites you to get lost in its fairy tale kingdom of bright orange and pink pastel spires and towers, archways and paths leading into enchanted forests.
It can easily be explored in one day, although 2 days would be optimal especially so you can see both sunrise and sunset.
Recommended activities in Bryce Canyon
- Hike or horse ride the Fairyland Loop Trail
- Queens Garden & Navajo Loop Trail
- Sunset/ Sunrise
Day 5 & 6: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a world of 4×4 scenic drives, hidden waterfalls, undulating waves of colorful rocks, and adventurous hikes through narrow slot canyons, endless slick rock and rainbow colored valleys.
Slow down and appreciate the beauty of this gigantic hidden secret of Utah.
Click the links below for more in-depth information on those activities.
Recommended things to do in Escalante
- Lower Calf Creek Falls hike (you could do this early in the morning of your departure to Capitol Reef National Park)
- Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Canyon
- Burr Trail and Scenic Highway 12
- Pizza at Escalante Outfitters
Day 7 & 8: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
In native language, the area known as Capitol Reef means “the land of the sleeping rainbow.”
There is probably no more accurate poetic reference than this colorful playground of massive domes, towering cliffs, twisting canyons, arches and bridges change with the light, moving from deep reds to pastel pinks, sunburnt orange, soft yellows and whites.
It’s probably a USA national park you’ve never heard of, but will be glad you visited!
Favorite things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
- Cassidy Arch Hike
- Hickman Bridge Trail
- Capitol Gorge
- Sunset Point Trail
- HWY 24 scenic drive
- Raspberry white chocolate cookie from the Fruita District
Days 9 – 13: Moab (includes Arches & Canyonlands NP)
Moab is the adventure capital of the Southwest. It’s a small Utah town surrounded by Red Rock Country and an abundance of outdoor adventure.
It’s close proximity to location to two of Utah’s national parks, plus state parks and scenic regions makes it the perfect base for a few days (or longer) to explore this region. You’ll appreciate the access to a few more amenities as well like restaurants, shopping and café. We found a delicious Thai restaurant here and enjoyed an evening of bluegrass in a small outdoor theater.
Things to do in Moab
- Bike Ride Colorado River
- Scenic Drive UT – 128
- Castle Creek Winery
- Jeep Rock crawling
- Fisher Towers Hike
Things to do in Arches National Park
There are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches in the Arches National Park that frame the beauty of this park. It has the highest density of natural arches in the world that have been created over 100 million years of erosion.
An 18-mile paved loop road will share with you a vibrant and colorful landscape filled with fins and pinnacles and hiking trails that wind under arches and windows.
Prepare to be amazed.
Don’t miss the following:
- Delicate Arch hike
- Landscape Arch hike
- North and South Window
Things to do in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is a rugged, untamed land with mostly unpaved roads and primitive trails. If you seek adventure, you can find it in abundance here.
Canyonlands National Park is unique in that it is separated into three districts stretching across 527 square miles. These three districts are created by the Colorado and Green Rivers carving their way through the canyon.
Each section is far apart, so will require careful planning. Here’s what we recommend.
- Shaffer Trail (4WD)
- Scenic Drive: Buck Canyon & Green River Overlook
- Grand View Point Overlook Trail
- Mesa Arch Trail
- Sunset at Dead Horse State Park
Day 14 & 15: Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park reaches right into your soul and lifts you into the present moment and plops you right into wonder and awe.
You can’t help but stop, stare and contemplate a greatness that exists way beyond your small self.
It’s so much more than just a bunch of imposing buttes and mesas rising up out of the desert floor forming shapes such as mittens, camels, sisters, suns eyes, and wind’s ear.
Do not miss the Navajo Guided Tour
Day 16: Antelope Canyon/ Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are iconic things to do in Arizona. They are easy to visit on the way from Monument Valley to Grand Canyon and you could do both in half a day. You could just keep driving to Sedona or stay at nearby Lake Powell.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Antelope Canyon tour, the colored rock formations under the earth are incredible and the vista from Horseshoe Bend over the Colorado River is quite WOW!
Be sure to book Antelope Canyon ahead of time as it is very popular and tours are limited. See our in-depth posts below for more details.
Day 17 & 18: Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is one of my favorite destinations in the USA. Everywhere you turn is a captivating view.
There is also a wonderful energy and spirit in this iconic place in the Southwest thanks to the many vortexes in the area. It’s well known around the world for it’s spiritual healing energy.
There is so much to do here from beautiful hikes, epic train journeys, adventurous 4X4 tours over the red rock country, and just chilling with the views and the vortexes. Our posts below will give you all the information you need.
Recommended things to do in Sedona
- The Broken Arrow Pink Jeep Tour
- The Verde Canyon Railroad
- Cathedral and Bell Rock Hike
- Bonyton Vortex (and hike)
- Airport Mesa (hike and sunset)
Day 19 & 20: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park is on everyone’s Southwest USA bucket list. It is everything and more.
We have visited the Grand Canyon three times, (Craig five) and have loved every visit.
We have visited in the Grand Canyon in the winter, in the summer with the girls, Craig and I have hiked down to Plateau Point, and we both enjoyed a few nights at the North Rim, also hiking down in the canyon.
Recommended things to do in the Grand Canyon
- Hike the Bright Angel Trail
- South Rim Trail
- Visitor Center movie and Junior Ranger Program
- Hopi Point Sunset
- Desert View Watchtower (my favorite views)
Day 21: Las Vegas, Nevada
Let’s finish this incredible American Southwest 3-week road trip in Sin City! Of course, you can take your kids to Las Vegas. Our girls have been four times and love it! All those flashing neon lights, evening shows, all you can eat buffets, gigantic wheels, and fancy casinos.
You decide how long you want to visit. 4 Days is MORE than enough for me.
Recommended things to do in Las Vegas
- Hoover Dam (on the way through from Grand Canyon)
- Railroad Trail at Lake Mead
- Red Rock Canyon (horse riding, Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery Trail)
- Casino hop the Strip and gaze in wonder
- See a show
- Visit Downtown Las Vegas (before 5pm if with kids) and Downton East.
Leave a comment: What’s your best tip or must not miss destination in the Southwest USA. Tell us when you are planning to visit and fee free to ask any questions!