Planning a Southwest road trip but only have a week? Fret not! Even though the Southwest is humongous and has a ton of incredible sights to see, one week is just about enough to get a pretty good introduction to some of the best it has to offer.
From the Mars-like landscapes of Arches and Canyonlands in Utah to the historical treasure that is Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, here’s the ultimate one-week Southwest itinerary that will get you pretty well acquainted with this alluring region of the USA! Whether you are planning to rent a car or an RV, this is the perfect road trip to add to your travel bucket list.
The Ultimate Southwest One-Week Itinerary
Days 1 and 2: Moab
Red rock formations that look straight out of Mars, sandstone spires piercing the skies, and mesmerizing canyons as far as the eye can see are just a few of the highlights this enthralling region of Utah has to offer. Even though you could technically devote an entire week just to visiting Moab, we’ll dedicate two days to seeing the highlights: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.
Start the road trip by checking out Delicate Arch, which just happens to be one of the most iconic landmarks in the state (it’s the arch depicted on their license plates!). Next up, get a pretty good taste of what hiking in the desert is like by following the Landscape Arch trail, which will lead you to the largest natural arch in the USA.
Give your legs a rest by hopping on your car and driving down the Arches Scenic Ride, which will have you ticking off some of the best viewpoints in the park in no time. Put your hiking shoes back on and gear up for an epic sunset by hiking the Double Arch trail and finishing at the Windows, where you can find yourself a cozy spot to watch the sun go down and reflect on the first day of your road trip!
Day 2 will be all about checking out the main highlights of Canyonland’s Island in the Sky District. Even though Canyonlands is absolutely humongous, one day is just enough to see some of the best it has to offer.
To start an epic day, set an early alarm and hike up to the iconic Mesa Arch for an epic sunrise. Afterward, choose a hiking trail or two to follow (don’t worry, Island in the Sky’s trails are pretty short and sweet). For an epic sunset with sweeping views of the canyons, head to Green River Viewpoint, where the sun shines over the walls of the canyons and makes the rocks pop with color.
Day 3: Mesa Verde National Park
Today, we’re driving to Colorado to check out one of the most complex areas of the Southwest! Nestled deep in the cliffs, ruins of complex structures and dwellings built way back by Ancestral Puebloans can now be explored by visitors. Nobody really knows why this ancestral society collapsed, but you may come up with a theory or two while walking through the site!
Days 4 and 5: Grand Canyon National Park
No Southwest itinerary would be complete without a visit to Grand Canyon National Park.
Day Four will be all about driving your way from Mesa Verde to Grand Canyon (5-6 hours), so we’ll take things slowly today. You should have enough time to drive a section of the viewpoints and might even get to fit in a short hike below the rim. A top pick here is the short trail out to Ooh Aah Point, which is only 1.8 miles round trip and provides sweeping vistas of the canyon.
On day 5, you’ll challenge your desert hiking skills by braving the Bright Angel Trail, a 9.5-mile trail that will have you hiking past some of the most alluring views in the Grand Canyon. Even though completing the hike out and back in a day is not recommended, there are plenty of points where you can turn around and get back to the trailhead, so depending on your pace and skill level, you can decide when it’s time to get back. As a tip, bring plenty of water (more than you think you’ll need).
Day 6: Zion National Park
Another day spent hiking in the desert? Yes, please!
Before hitting the trails, make sure you visit the Zion Human History Museum, where you’ll get to learn about the indigenous Pauite people who once inhabited the region. Once you’re acquainted with Zion’s past, tie your shoelaces and set off to conquer a few more desert trails. Most of the trails in Zion are short, relatively easy, and absolutely stunning, so you can tick several of them off in just a few hours.
Next up, drive to Kolob Canyon, which is the less-frequented part of Zion. Park your car and hike Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob View Point, where you’ll get 360-degree views of the landscape (on a clear day, you can even catch glimpses of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim!)
Day 7: Valley of Fire State Park
Finish an action-packed itinerary with a visit to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is a place that will transport you into a world of epic red Aztec sandstone outcrops, ancient petroglyphs, petrified trees, and landscapes colored in all shades of red, pink, and orange.
While here, gear up for yet another day spent hiking in search of otherworldly looking landscapes. Two of the must-do hikes are the Fire of Wave and Rainbow Vista trails, both of which are relatively easy to follow and provide some of the most incredible views in the park.
If you’d rather have a relaxing last day, though, you can opt to explore Valley of Fire from the comfort of your car by following Mouse’s Tank Road, which will have you moving past some of the most breath-taking viewpoints to quietly stare at while you bid goodbye to the desert!