This classic American road trip offers iconic locations and beautiful nature. We decided to go on the trip in the end of November, just before Thanksgiving. The weather was great and overall it was much less-crowded time of the year to visit. The only downside to visiting the American Southwest in the winter season is that the days are short. In December, it gets dark between 4:30 and 5:30 PM each evening, meaning you have less time to admire all the beautiful nature. We traveled through Southern California, Southern Nevada, Utah and Arizona. So if you want to hit the road, here is our perfect itinerary for a two-week road trip.
DAY 1: ARRIVING TO LAS VEGAS
From New York we took a morning flight to Las Vegas where we rented a car and drove to the Zion National Park in Utah. The drive from Vegas to Zion National Park takes just about 2.5 hours. We stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites at Springdale. The hotel had fantastic mountain views and was just minutes away from a shuttle stop that will take you into Zion for free – which is great during busy times.
On our first day we chose to do a little hike on easy trail that affords great views of the Virgin River. This is short, but scenic hike.
DAY 2: ZION NATIONAL PARK
The most popular hike in Zion National Park is to Angels Landing. I would say it is quite intense hike that should only be attempted if the weather conditions are good. If you want to get to the peak, be ready to use anchored chains along the way. I would recommend to get up early in the morning, because the trail may be crowded later in the day.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
From Zion National Park we drove to Bryce Canyon National Park. We were surprised by the snow. Bryce Canyon has also some nice hiking trails, however it’s better known for it’s 18-mile-long scenic drive and lookout points: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point, to name a few most interesting.
DAY 3: ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
The most iconic hike at the Arches National Park is the hike to Delicate Arch, the symbol of the state of Utah.
After the hike we drove through the park, stopping off at some of the viewpoints and did shorter walks out to the arches.
If you are a fan of TV Series Westworld, I recommend a 30 minutes drive to Canyonlands.
DAY 4: MONUMENT VALLEY and ANTELOPE CANYON
In Monument Valley, huge rocks emerged out of kilometers of empty desert. Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park. Navajo Nation is one of the largest American Indian tribes. The park was frequently used as a filming location for Western movies.
We stayed at Premium Cabins overlooking Monument Valley. We woke up early to watch the sunrise.
We drove through the valley in our own car. It snowed during the night, so the views were spectacular.
From the Monument Valley we drove to Page, Arizona. Just beware if you want to visit the Antelope Canyon you have to book a tour in advance. The canyon is famous for its curving red rock walls with the beams of light filtering through the cracks.
We ended the day watching beautiful sunset at Horseshoe Bend – a geologic masterpiece sculpted by the Colorado River.
DAY 5: GRAND CANYON SOUTH RIM
We drove out to the Desert View for the first breathtaking look down into the canyon. Then we made our way along the Route 64, stopping at all the viewpoints.
On our way back to Las Vegas we stopped at Hoover Dam, which was built on Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 to provide water and hydroelectric power for the Southwest.
DAY 6: LAS VEGAS
There are many inexpensive hotel options in Vegas, and we decided to stay at one of the most famous ones – Bellagio Resort and Casino. We spent the evening exploring the city, or I would rather say “it’s crazy hotels” – you can watch gondoliers at the Venetian, head to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York, or see the pyramids at the Luxor… we finished the evening with a nice dinner.
DAY 7: DEATH VALLEY
Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the US, but on the first day we experienced a snow storm. The valley itself has some really interesting sights and view points, including the lowest point in the United States as well as in the western hemisphere.
Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 85.5 meters below the sea level. As soon as you walk out from the parking lot, you are immediately greeted with a huge lake of what looks like snow. Since it is the desert, it is not snow but is the leftover salt from the evaporated water.
DRIVE TO LAKE ISABELLA
In the evening we drove to Lake Isabella in California.
DAY 8: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
Due to a snow storm we weren’t able to reach the Giant Sequoia Forest, so we hiked the Marble Falls trail instead. The weather was fine, but it took several days before they cleared all the roads.
DAY 9, 10, 11: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
My favorite national park was definitely Yosemite. First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but you can find here deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias and beautiful nature…
DAY 12: SAN FRANCISCO
Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay. The island became a prison in August 1934, because it was believed that it was escape-proof. The prison was closed in 1963, after 29 years of operation.
There is much to love about San Francisco: from diverse cultures and interesting history to good food and excellent wine. We visited most of the main landmarks in one day.
Since Martin is a pizza lover, we had to stop at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, restaurant that belongs to the 13-time World Pizza Champion – Tony Gemignani.
DAY 13: FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO LOS ANGELES
From San Francisco we drove to Los Angeles alongside the California coast. It is a beautiful scenic drive. On the way we had several stops: Bixby Creek Bridge, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon and Solvang – Danish city in Santa Barbara County.
DAY 14: LOS ANGELES and SAN DIEGO
We both visited Los Angeles before, so one day in this city was enough. We rather enjoyed spending our time on Venice Beach.
You can easily drive from Los Angeles to San Diego in two to three hours. It is a pity that in December the sunset is so early, but even at night, San Diego had an amazing charm. I loved the atmosphere and great food. We stayed in the “Old Town” where we discovered excellent Mexican restaurants, shops and galleries. We will be definitely coming back!
DAY 15: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado River, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. The national park is named after the Joshua Trees, but my favorite was the Cholla Cactus garden.
I hope you get some inspiration from this photo-blog itinerary! Travelling around Southwest is the most iconic American road trip. We had a big emphasis on hiking… but it is entirely up to you, how would you like to plan your trip!