The Southwestern states of Arizona, Utah and Nevada contain some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, and the best way to see it is still by car. Indeed, a driving tour of the Southwest is perhaps the quintessential great American road trip. The itinerary below, which follows the route I took on my recent visit, stops at iconic national parks as well as at hidden gems. The trip included stays at new hideaway hotels as well as some old favorites.
This 10-day journey begins in Phoenix, heads north into southern Utah and ends in Las Vegas, with stops at the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. Along with natural landmarks, we explored the history of indigenous culture in the region, which stretches back more than 10,000 years. We traveled in early spring to avoid the intense heat of summer, crowds of road trippers and occasional heavy rains. Fall is also a pleasant and temperate time in which to travel, but winter can be cold, especially at higher elevations.
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Arrive in Phoenix and pick up a rental car. We rented a Jeep Wrangler because its higher clearance is useful for driving off-road. If you want a taste of local culture on arrival, Tacos Chiwas is a casual and authentic taqueria close to the airport. The Pueblo Grande Museum is also nearby.
On our recent trip, we stayed at The Hermosa Inn, a 43-room property in Scottsdale that stands in contrast to the larger luxury resorts we recommend in the area, such as The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician or Sanctuary On Camelback Mountain Resort. Its authentic sense of place and hideaway atmosphere made it a worthy addition to our collection of hotels. Read my full review of The Hermosa Inn.
This property is an alternative to the larger resorts in Scottsdale and a good base from which to explore the city.
Set on the tranquil northern slope of Camelback Mountain, this sophisticated boutique resort is five minutes from downtown Scottsdale.
The Salt River Valley of Phoenix is surrounded by jagged mountain ranges covered in tall saguaro cacti. Hidden among them is Castle Hot Springs, a nearly 150-year-old hot-spring hotel. It reopened in 2019 after being shuttered for almost 40 years.
The hot springs are an hour northwest of the Phoenix airport, with the last 6 miles of the drive down a bumpy unpaved country road. The resort is a true oasis in the desert, and a soak in the hot springs is irresistible.
Spend your afternoon relaxing at Castle Hot Springs, including a soak in the natural thermal pools followed by a delicious meal at Harvest. Many of the ingredients are supplied by the hotel garden, and the freshness is apparent. Read my full review of Castle Hot Springs.
It’s lovely to spend the rest of the day simply relaxing after soaking in the springs, but the small resort also offers a number of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, farm tours and lawn games.
If you are traveling during summer, when Castle Hot Springs closes for the season, continue driving north on I-17 toward the higher elevations around Sedona for relief from the heat.
Depart for Sedona and stop en route at Montezuma Castle National Monument, an Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling more than 600 years old.
Sedona sits at the crossroads of Oak Creek Canyon and Red Rock State Park and draws more than 3 million tourists per year. If you are staying in town, take some time to unwind at your hotel or explore the shops before dinner. The awe-inspiring scenery and Native American heritage make it one of the world’s leading New Age destinations. Should you feel inclined, you can shop for crystals and tour mystical vortexes in a pink Jeep 4x4. If you are staying at Enchantment Resort, I recommend spending the afternoon at the pool, spa or golf course. On this trip, I stayed at three well-regarded hotels, but I only liked two of them. Read my full review of Sedona luxury hotels.
I invariably stop at Elote Cafe for dinner, a casual but sophisticated Mexican restaurant run by chef Jeff Smedstad, who studied in Mexico for years before translating his travels into food that is uniquely Arizonan. It’s beloved by both locals and tourists, so expect to wait up to an hour to be seated. (Sip a margarita while you wait, or put your name on the list and go sightseeing for a while.)
The red buttes surrounding Sedona provide excellent hiking, and I would suggest an early start to beat the crowds. Avoid the most popular trails, like Devil’s Bridge, because lines of Instagram tourists can spoil your enjoyment of the landscape. We took the less crowded Fay Canyon Trail. It’s near the Enchantment Resort and is one of a series of short, scenic hikes in the area.
For breakfast or lunch, try Indian Gardens Cafe & Market, a hidden gem just north of town.
In the afternoon, I suggest staying at the resort to enjoy the facilities. Alternatively, the nearby Verde Valley is a center of Arizona wine production, and there are many tasting rooms.
It’s worth getting an early start on the drive today, because there is a lot of epic scenery to cover between Sedona and the next stop, in southern Utah. Drive north up Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon, the scenic route to Flagstaff, which is an ideal spot for a break. It’s a couple of hours farther to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Stop at Wupatki National Monument if you have time to explore more ruins. Otherwise, head directly to the east entrance of the canyon.
It’s possible to spend an entire week at the Grand Canyon. It is massive, but people still congregate at the relatively small number of overlooks. We spent a few hours around the historic Desert View Watchtower because of its panoramic views and easy access from the east entrance of the park. Learn more about our visit to the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders from our recent trip.
Try to leave the Grand Canyon in time to arrive in Page, Arizona, before sunset. The scenery of the surrounding Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is dramatic, and Amangiri, just across the state line in Utah, is equally scenic in the evening light.
A massage in the spa is the perfect way to unwind from a day of driving. Spend the rest of the evening enjoying views from the central dining area and stargazing in the clear desert skies.
Amangiri has been recommended by the Hideaway Report for 10 years, but we recently revisited to see if the experience still lives up to the reputation. Read my full review of Amangiri.
Amangiri occupies a 600-acre concession, amid a larger 11,000-acre property abutting federal land and the Grand Staircase. With several miles of trails, you can spend an entire day hiking the property.
I also recommend the off-property slot canyon tour. The geology of Antelope Canyon is impressive, but the area gets unnervingly busy in high season. Fortunately, Amangiri guides have access to the Owl and Rattlesnake slot canyons, which are just as scenic but less crowded.
Spend the latter part of your day lounging by the pool or enjoying a spa treatment.
Check out after lunch for a little extra leisure time at Amangiri. Our next stop, Zion National Park, in southwest Utah, is a two-hour drive west. If you have a few extra hours to spare, detour to the spectacular Bryce Canyon before heading to Zion. Arrive in Zion by sunset.
Where to stay in Zion is a conundrum. We haven’t found any hotels that measure up to the Hideaway Report standard. The historic Zion Lodge, run by the National Park Service, is the only hotel within the park’s border, which allows you to drive your car up the canyon and get an earlier start than anyone else. I stayed at Under Canvas Zion along the western border of the park to try some “glamping,” but the property did not meet my expectations. Read my full review of Under Canvas Zion.
Zion is the fourth-most-visited national park in the United States. Despite its popularity, it’s still possible to escape the crowds. We enjoyed a leisurely bike ride alone up the main canyon and spent the afternoon hiking in silence among the red rocks of Kolob Canyons. Read more about my peaceful day in Zion National Park.
If you can rent a car one way, Las Vegas is the nearest airport to Zion, and it makes a flashy end to a relaxing outdoors trip. If Vegas isn’t your idea of fun, hike at Snow Canyon or Valley of Fire and fly out of Las Vegas in the evening. Read the full list of my favorite natural wonders of the Southwest.
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