You can hit the top destinations of the American Southwest in two weeks by driving in a loop of roughly 2,000 miles. The day-by-day route below begins in Las Vegas, but you can just as easily start in Albuquerque or Flagstaff if that works better for you. All mileage and driving times are approximate.
It’s easy to fill a day with fun in Las Vegas. Walk the Strip and get acclimated to this adult fantasy world, sip drinks by the pool at Harrah’s, or splurge on a room at the Bellagio. Catch a showing of Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed LOVE in the evening and grab a late-night meal at Rose. Rabbit. Lie.
Zion and Bryce (165 miles, 3 hours)
Grab a coffee from The Egg & I to wake up for the drive to Zion National Park. Leave Las Vegas at 8am to reach Zion by 11am. The 165-mile drive to the Springdale entrance takes about three hours; however, traffic, especially in summer and on weekends, can make it much longer.
Explore Zion National Park to see iconic attractions like Court of the Patriarchs and the Emerald Pools. Make reservations ahead of time to spend the night in the comfort of the Zion Lodge or at the park’s South Campground or Watchman Campground.
Make the 70-mile, 1.5-hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. Hike the Navajo Loop Trail or head to Fairyland Canyon, where worthwhile hikes include the Fairyland Loop Trail. Stay the night at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon (make reservations in advance) or camp at North Campground or Sunset Campground.
Capitol Reef National Park (120 miles, 2.5 hours)
Continue your Southwest road trip by waking up for the drive to Capitol Reef National Park, a scenic 120-mile, 2.5-hour drive from Bryce Canyon. Leave by 7:30am and arrive by 10am, and check in at the Capitol Reef Inn and Café in Torrey or the park’s Fruita Campground.
Take the park’s 21-mile round-trip scenic drive (1.5 hours) to Capitol Gorge. Leave your car in the parking area and take the two-mile round-trip hike into Capitol Gorge to see the petroglyphs, pioneer registry, and natural water tanks.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks (145 miles, 2.5 hours)
Get an early start for the 145-mile, 2.5-hour drive to Moab, the gateway city to Arches and Canyonlands. Once you drop your bags off and get a bite to eat in town, head to Arches National Park, which is five miles (a 10-minute drive) away. Drive to The Windows trailhead and stroll around the easy paths leading to four arches.
It’s a 25-mile, 40-minute drive to Canyonlands National Park from Arches. Stop at Green River Overlook and the Grand View Point, and hike the short, easy Grand View Trail.
It’s a 30-mile, 45-minute drive back to Moab from Canyonlands. Stay at the Best Western Canyonlands Inn or the Gonzo Inn, and have dinner at the Desert Bistro.
Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde (150 miles, 3 hours)
It’s an almost three-hour drive of 150 miles from Moab to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Spend an hour or so driving the dirt road through the valley, stopping at the various pull-offs and viewpoints. Get a closer look at these huge natural sculptures along the short Wildcat Trail. Stay the night in Kayenta or Mexican Hat.
It’s 110 miles (two hours) to Four Corners Monument from Monument Valley. Stop for the requisite photo of yourself in four states at once, and peruse the creations of the Navajo vendors and artists.
From Four Corners, it’s 70 miles (nearly two hours) to the central part of Mesa Verde National Park (one hour to the entrance and about 40 minutes up the mesa). Head to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, tour Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House, and hike Petroglyph Point Trail. Stay the night at the park’s Far View Lodge, or at one of the hotels in nearby Cortez or Mancos.
Mesa Verde to Santa Fe (270 miles, 5.5 hours)
After a good night’s sleep, head out for Santa Fe. Including the road down the mesa, the 270-mile drive takes about 5.5 hours. Take US 160 to Pagosa Springs, where you can soak for a while in one of the 18 pools at The Springs Resort. From Pagosa Springs take US 84 to get to downtown Santa Fe.
Santa Fe and Taos
Walk around the central Santa Fe Plaza, shopping and chatting with the artists selling wares on the sidewalks. Tour the New Mexico Museum of Art and check out the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Have lunch at Tia Sophia’s, then head over to the Canyon Road art galleries. Have dinner at Café Pasqual’s and stay the night at La Fonda.
Grab a coffee from The French Pastry Shop to wake up for the drive along the High Road to Taos. Leave Santa Fe by 8am to reach Taos by 10:30am, but allow more time to visit the villages along the scenic route. The 80-mile drive to Taos takes at least 2.5 hours.
Tour Taos Pueblo, then make your way to the center of town and walk around Taos Plaza. Check out the Taos Art Museum and the Kit Carson Home and Museum. Eat at Abe’s Cantina y Cocina and return to Santa Fe on the Low Road to Taos (70 miles, 1.5 hours).
Route 66 to Williams (370 miles, hours)
It’s an hour’s drive (65 miles) on I-25 South to get to Albuquerque from Santa Fe. Once you get to town, check out Petroglyph National Monument and ride the Sandia Peak Tramway. Head out of town in the afternoon and drive Historic Route 66 for 140 miles (two hours) to Gallup, staying the night at the equally historic El Rancho Hotel.
The next morning, drive Historic Route 66/I-40 for 70 miles to Petrified Forest National Park. Leave Gallup by 8am to reach the park by 9am and spend a few hours driving south along the park road.
From the park road’s southern terminus, drive 50 miles (about one hour) west to Winslow and have lunch at La Posada’s Turquoise Room. Drive 60 miles (one hour) on I-40 to Flagstaff and wander around its historic downtown.
Continue 35 miles (just over 30 minutes) on I-40 to Williams. Check in to the Lodge on Route 66, walk the town’s Route 66-centric main strip, and have dinner at Pancho McGillicuddy’s.
Enjoy a break from your car by taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to Grand Canyon National Park. Take in the views from the Rim Trail or descend into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Get an appetizer or a drink at the historic El Tovar Hotel before taking the train back to Williams. For dinner, indulge in a prime cut of meat from Rod’s Steak House.
Route 66 to Kingman; Return to Las Vegas (240 miles, 4 hours)
Have a big breakfast at the Pine Country Restaurant in Williams. Head west on I-40 for the 20-mile, 20-minute sprint to Ash Fork, the starting point for a 50-mile (one hour) section along Historic Route 66. Stop and tour Grand Canyon Caverns, peruse the gift shops in Seligman, and grab snacks at the Hackberry General Store, another 50 miles (one hour) west. Next, continue another 30 miles (45 minutes) along lonely Route 66 to Kingman.
In Kingman, tour the Historic Route 66 Museum. If you don’t want to end your trip just yet, stop along the 110-mile, two-hour drive between Kingman and Las Vegas for a tour of Hoover Dam.
Back in Las Vegas, check in to the Cosmopolitan or the Wynn and take a well-deserved rest from the road and relax by the pool before your flight home the next day.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Southwest Road Trip.