The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

October 20, 2021

I decided to take an impromptu road trip through the Southwest USA this past month to visit some National Parks I’ve never seen! I hit the road with a general route mapped out but ultimately decided to “wing it” this trip. And it ended up being the best road trip I have ever gone on!

I’m sharing my complete 10-day Southwest USA National Parks road trip itinerary below. Keep reading to learn more about the stops I made, which parks I skipped and which parks are worth it, and what I would do differently if I had actually planned ahead.

If you plan on visiting multiple southwest national parks on your road trip, I recommend getting the annual pass:

You can view all national park pass options here

(Keep in mind: This itinerary is relatively fast-paced. I was on a mission this trip to see as much as I possibly could with the time I had off work, so I didn’t stay in any one place for more than 2 nights. If you opt to travel at a slower pace, give yourself an extra day at any of the locations below to give yourself plenty of time at each stop.)

————— More on the Blog —————

Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: All the Essentials You’ll Need (+ Free Checklist!)

10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US

How to Travel More with a Full Time Job

Travel Essentials for Women: Must-Haves for Any Packing List

Best Camera Gear For a Travel Blogger: All My Photography Essentials

Free Road Trip Checklist

Get your road trip checklist PDF freebie here!

Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: All the Essentials You'll Need (+ Free Checklist!)

Here is the best 10-day National Parks road trip itinerary through the Southwest USA:

Hi there! Please note: This post contains affiliate links which may provide this blog with a small commission when purchases are made through these links, at no extra cost to you. These commissions go towards helping to keep this site up and running and allows me to continue bringing free and valuable content your way. All product suggestions, reviews and opinions shared are my own.

southwest national parks - Death Valley National Park | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Devil's Cornfield - Death Valley National Park

Day 1: Death Valley National Park

I started my Southwest national parks road trip from Orange County, California - so for me Death Valley National Park was a great starting point. I got up early on Day 1 to get a head start on the road and I'm glad I made this an early day. The heat was already in triple digits by 10am - the valley clearly lives up to its name! I definitely recommend doing any of the hikes here first thing in the morning.

If you're driving from Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is another good starting point!

--------------- Read More ---------------

A Complete Travel Guide for Visiting Joshua Tree, California

Day 2: Las Vegas, Nevada

I was in Las Vegas, Nevada for 2 nights while I mapped out the rest of my week and mostly laid low at my hostel to escape the heat.

Looking back, I would have skipped over Vegas to give myself more time to explore of the Southwest national parks. But I think that this would also be a good starting point for the road trip - especially if you're flying in from other parts of the country.

Day 3: Valley of Fire State Park

I woke up early to catch the sunrise in the Valley of Fire before heading onward into Utah. And although it's not a national park, it is definitely worth adding into your southwest road trip.

Valley of Fire State Park has some absolutely stunning views and is a scenic drive all on its own. The early morning hours is the best time to see the glowing "fiery" colors of the red rocks. I got to see a family of bighorn sheep this morning while they were strolling for breakfast!

southwest national parks - Zion National Park | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive - Zion National Park

Day 4: Zion National Park

Zion National Park is one of the best national parks and is an absolute a must-see for any road trip through the Southwest USA. It definitely lives up to the hype!

I was here on a holiday weekend and knew it was going to be crowded, so I opted for a sunrise hike to get an early start on the day. This ended up being the only hike I could do before the crowds entered the park - by 10am there was no parking anywhere. But the hike up to Canyon Overlook sunrise point was well worth waking up early for.

If I had more time, I would have loved to explore more of the hiking trails in Zion. And would have also included Bryce Canyon National Park into this Southwest road trip itinerary. Bryce Canyon is only about an hour drive from Zion and is well worth the visit!

--------------- Read More ---------------

20 Photos to Inspire You to Visit Zion National Park in Utah

A Guide for Hiking Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park

Day 5: Glamping & Hot Springs

Wildland Gardens - Joseph, Utah

I decided to detour a bit from visiting parks to spend a much-needed day off from hiking. I found the cutest AirBnB in Joseph, Utah where you can go glamping under the stars!

This AirBnb is located on a farm called Wildland Gardens and the hosts were incredible. They even stopped by to gift me a freshly picked watermelon from their garden.

AirBnB: Glamping at Wildland Gardens in Joseph, Utah

Mystic Hot Springs - Monroe, Utah

Nearby are the Mystic Hot Springs located in Monroe - Such a hidden gem in Utah and I couldn't recommend this place more. I stopped here for a morning soak before heading back out on the road again.

Mystic Hot Springs is a natural hot spring, accommodation, and event venue! You can learn more about what they offer and purchase soaking passes on their website.

--------------- Read More ---------------

Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe: Southern Utah's Bathtub Hot Springs

southwest national parks - Capitol Reef National Park | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Johnson Orchard - Capitol Reef National Park

Day 6: Capitol Reef National Park

In my opinion, Capitol Reef National Park is one of the more underrated national parks in the Southwest USA. I actually ended up choosing to visit here instead of Bryce Canyon because I received more recommendations for Capitol Reef!

I stayed 1 night in Teasdale and the next day got up to explore the park before continuing my drive to Moab.

This motel I found on AirBnb was incredible! Cactus Hill Motel is located on a family-owned, 100-acre ranch in Teasdale and is only a 15 minute drive away from Capitol Reef. Linda and her family are the sweetest hosts and I couldn't have found a cozier accommodation.

Where to Stay: Cactus Hill Motel in Teasdale, Utah

southwest national parks - Arches National Park | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Skyline Arch - Arches National Park

Day 7: Arches National Park

Moab, Utah might have been my favorite part of this Southwest national parks road trip. I stayed in Moab for 2 nights to give myself a full day to explore both Arches and Canyonlands. Arches National Park is the closest to Moab of the two and was only a 10 minute drive from my hotel in the downtown area.

Moab felt like my return back into civilization on this road trip - There's so many restaurants and shops downtown and I would have loved to stay here longer.

Where to Stay: Moab Valley Inn

--------------- Read More ---------------

Best Hikes in Arches National Park - 5 Easy Trails You Can't Miss

Caught the sunrise at Canyonlands - one of the best Southwest national parks on this USA road trip. | southwest national parks | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Shafer Trail Viewpoint - Canyonlands National Park

Day 8: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park ended up being one of my favorite stops on this entire road trip. I think it's one of the best Southwest national parks and I highly recommend going early for the sunrise! I think I definitely saved the best for last when it comes to sunrises this trip, which is saying a lot because they were all stunning.

The drive into Canyonlands looks like a painting - it's so majestic in the early hours of the morning. I almost wasn't sure if I was actually awake or still back in my hotel bed just dreaming about it.

I spent the morning in the Island in the Sky district, which is the easiest to navigate by car. Catch the sunrise at Shafer Trail Viewpoint, or head out for a short hike to catch it at Mesa Arch - just know this viewpoint will be crowded as it's super popular.

--------------- Read More ---------------

One Day in Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky District

Ending the best Southwest national parks road trip through Sedona, Arizona. | southwest national parks | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Sedona, Arizona

Days 9-10: Return Home Loop through Arizona - Flagstaff, Sedona, & Scottsdale

To return back home to Southern California from Utah I decided to drive through Arizona for the last weekend of my trip. I stayed 1 night in Flagstaff and spent the next day driving through Sedona. From there I drove into Scottsdale and stayed there 1 night before making my way back home.

My last day was spent mostly on the road and covered the longest leg of the trip - the return home from Scottsdale to OC. But for these days of the trip you could even include Grand Canyon National Park and Saguaro National Park on your Southwest national parks itinerary.

Additional Southwest National Parks:

Although I wasn't able to explore all the National Parks in the Southwest, here are more options that are worth mentioning for your itinerary:


  • Saguaro National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Oljato - Monument Valley
  • Lake Powell
  • Cathedral Rock


  • Channel Islands National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Pinnacles National Park
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Yosemite National Park


  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park


  • Great Basin National Park
  • Hoover Dam

New Mexico: 

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • White Sands National Park
  • Bandelier National Monument


  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  • Big Bend National Park


  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Zebra Slot Canyon
  • Buckskin Gulch
  • Coyote Gulch
  • Goosenecks State Park
  • Hovenweep National Monument


  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park

Have you done a road trip through the Southwest USA National Parks? Share your favorite routes and national parks with me in the comments below!

--------------- More USA Road Trips ---------------

Big Sur Road Trip: The Best Stops for Your Drive Along CA Highway 1

Hot Springs in Pagosa Springs, Colorado: A Complete Guide

Desert Oasis, Found: The Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs, California


Pin this for later -

southwest national parks | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
southwest national parks | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
southwest national parks | The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

The Gal Behind the Blog

Hi I'm Rylie - Welcome to my corner of the internet!

I'm a solo traveler & photographer turned full-time corporate travel agent - born and raised in Southern California but now based in Colorado.


[…] freeing as hitting the open road! I started doing a lot more road trips myself last year after my solo trip through the Southwest, and since then it has definitely become one of my favorite ways to travel. Over the past few trips […]

[…] quickly became one of my all-time favorite national parks during my road trip through the Southwest USA last year. I during my road trip I spent 2 days in Moab (giving myself one day for Arches National […]

[…] is truly a unique outdoor bathtub soaking experience in southern Utah. I stopped here during my solo road trip through the Southwest last year in between hopping through different national parks, and I couldn’t be happier […]

[…] The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary […]

[…] more of the beauty of California and have been on a road trip kick since last year’s solo journey through the Southwest to visit more national parks. Being out in nature has always been my favorite way to recharge and play with my camera, and this […]

[…] access my camera while wearing it and stays comfortable on my back. I took this bag with me on my solo road trip through the Southwestern USA and have explored 6 National Parks with it already, and have zero […]

[…] this one easy to carry around with me on my adventures. This is the tripod I used throughout my solo road trip through the Southwest and have hiked through 6 different national parks with it so far – and have no […]

[…] currently it’s easy to feel stuck. Which is why last year I decided to go on a spontaneous solo road trip through the Southwest to scratch the travel […]

[…] Arches National Park is home to some of the best hiking and sunrise spots in Moab, Utah. So much so that Arches ended up being one of my favorite parks on my roadtrip through the Southwest. […]

[…] Read more: The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary […]

[…] was just one stop during my 10-day solo road trip through the Southwest USA and I am so glad I didn’t skip […]

These phOtos are GORGEOUS!

Thank you so much, Gabriella! 🙂