The southwest of the United States has long occupied a special place in the cultural imagination of the country’s inhabitants. In the American vernacular, the act of “heading out west” is associated with freedom and a chance to start afresh, and this may be the reason why so many US citizens, as well as foreign tourists, gravitate towards the region every year to spend their holidays.
With its long open roads that take you past some of the most jaw-dropping scenery that you will find anywhere on the planet, the Southwestern States area truly is the land of the free. And what better way to explore and take in the majestic surroundings than from behind the wheel? It probably will not come as a surprise to you that the epic road trip routes here make the area one of the most popular places in North America to hit the open road with nothing to weigh you down but gas in the tank.
And, if you’re a digital nomad, all these locations are simply perfect for internet connectivity but of course, do plan your trip carefully because some of these routes will not have coverage at all. So if you have to work Monday – Friday, make sure you take these road trips during the weekends or during a long holiday weekend.
In this article, we take you through a selection of the best road trips that you can do on your next visit to the southwest. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride!
Phoenix to Las Vegas
Once you have touched down in Phoenix, AZ, and passed through immigration if you are a foreign visitor, pick up a rental car at the airport (make sure to sort out an ESTA visa before you travel to gain entry on arrival – check out this fantastic ESTA guide to see what you need to do to apply). If you are arriving after a long flight and need to catch up on rest, the best place to stay is in one of the great hotel resorts in Scottsdale or Carefree.
Hit the road the next due north toward Grand Canyon National Park. Having passed by the trendy town of Flagstaff and the gorgeous spa town of Sedona on the way, you will be awestruck when you arrive at your destination. The Grand Canyon is a 277-mile long cut into the earth that is 18 miles wide in some places.
On day three, you can make your way across the Utah-Arizona border to Monument Valley. The scene of countless Western movies, the park’s incredible rock formations glow red and orange as the sun goes down. Stop off in Navajo country to spend the night.
On day four, head west to Bryce Canyon. Here, you will see the “hoodoos” – strange-looking spires and fins that reach skyward from the ground. You can stay the night in Page, where you get an amazing view of the most famous slot canyon in the region.
On the way to your final destination of Vegas, where you can gamble and drink to your heart’s content, make sure to visit the Zion National Park. The landscape here resembles heaven on earth with its lush forests, emerald pools and its imposing red canyon walls.
San Francisco to Las Vegas
Set off from San Francisco across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge inland toward Napa Valley. The region is the most famous wine-producing areas in the United States, and it provides ample opportunity to pick up a tasting tour or two. If you are feeling adventurous, sign up for a balloon ride to get a bird’s eye view of the bucolic surroundings.
The next day, carry on east to Yosemite National Park. With over 1,000 square kilometres of pristine nature and landscape to be explored, the park is home to some of the most staggering sights. If you have enough time, take a trip up to Glacier Point for some of the best views of the park. It is worth spending more than a single day here – if you like camping, there are some excellent options.
On day four/five, drive south along Highway 365 over Toga Pass bound for Death Valley. Due to the extremely low altitude here (85m below sea level), temperatures can soar on the salt flats. However, the views of across the desert of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada make braving the high temperatures well worth it. When you have had enough, make the trip to Las Vegas for some debauched fun and games.
The southwestern region of the United States is best explored on four wheels. If you are heading out on a road trip anytime soon, the two routes described above have a bit of everything. Just make sure your vehicle is up to the task!