The best way to see the American Southwest is from behind the wheel of your own car. This Arizona road trip itinerary provides a unique opportunity to explore this exotic region from the ground up.
Day 1: Scenic Drive to Cave Creek
70 Miles / 1.5 Hours
Arrive at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and head to a hotel in downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tempe. Introduce yourself to the desert by taking a scenic drive along Highway 51 about 35 miles or 45 minutes out to Cave Creek and Carefree. Have dinner at El Encanto in Cave Creek before heading back.
Day 2: Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Prescott
100 Miles / 2 Hours
Get an early start and spend the morning touring the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, or Taliesin West. Leave the city via I-17 to Prescott. Stop for a late lunch and a slice of pie midway at the Rock Springs Café, north of Phoenix along I-17. Spend the night at one of downtown Prescott’s historic hotels or bed-and-breakfasts. Have dinner at Park Plaza Liquor & Deli and hit up a few Whiskey Row watering holes.
Day 3: Prescott and Jerome
35 Miles / 1 Hour
Get up early and eat breakfast at the Dinner Bell Cafe. Walk around downtown Prescott and tour the museums, shops, and galleries. Be sure to visit the Sharlot Hall Museum. Head north on scenic Highway 89A to Jerome. Stay at the Jerome Grand Hotel and have dinner at The Asylum.
Day 4: Jerome and Sedona
28 Miles / 40 Minutes
Have breakfast at Mile High Grill & Spirits and take a walk around Jerome. Head down Highway 89A to Sedona. Check into your hotel, and then head out to explore the red rocks, galleries, and shops of Sedona. Eat dinner at Oaxaca Restaurant in Uptown.
Day 5: Sedona and the Verde Valley
52 Miles / 1.25 Hours
Spend the day shopping, hiking, sightseeing, and exploring Sedona and the Verde Valley. Check out Montezuma Castle National Monument, about 26 miles from town, or hike into red-rock country or take a Jeep tour through the red lands.
Day 6: Oak Creek Canyon and Flagstaff
30 Miles / 1 Hour
Eat breakfast at the Coffee Pot Restaurant in Sedona, then head north on Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. Stop for a hike or to splash around in the water at Slide Rock State Park. Continue north to Flagstaff, about an hour’s drive from Sedona. Check into one of the historic hotels downtown. Stroll and shop downtown, then have dinner and beers at Beaver Street Brewery.
Day 7: Flagstaff and the High Desert
130 Miles / 3 Hours
Wake up and head out to visit the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, about three miles north of downtown on Highway 180, then drive a circuit to take in Wupatki, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Walnut Canyon National Monuments via U.S. 89 and the Loop Road. From here drive east for about an hour on I-40 to Winslow. Check into La Posada. Have dinner in the Turquoise Room, and order a box lunch from the restaurant for the next day.
Day 8: The High Desert and Navajo Country
175 Miles / 3.5 Hours
Spend the morning touring the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, 52 miles or about an hour from Winslow on I-40. Then take I-40 to Highway 191 north to Chinle on the Navajo Reservation, a distance of 123 miles, about 2.5 hours. Stay at the Thunderbird Lodge near Canyon de Chelly or at one of the chains in Chinle.
Day 9: Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley
150-180 Miles / 3-4 Hours
Spend the morning hiking into Canyon de Chelly to the White House Ruin and driving the scenic rim roads, or hire a Navajo guide and go deeper into the canyon. After lunch head north on Highway 191, west on Highway 160, then north on Highway 163 to Kayenta, a distance of about 75 miles or about 1.5 hours. Get a hotel room in Kayenta, drive through Monument Valley late in the afternoon, and watch the sun set. Monument Valley is 50 miles from Kayenta, a drive that takes about an hour.
Day 10-11: The Grand Canyon
155 Miles / 3 Hours
Eat breakfast in Kayenta at the Blue Coffee Pot Restaurant and then head west on Highway 160 past Tuba City to U.S. 89 then south to Cameron, about 100 miles or 1.5 hours. Take Highway 64 west 30 miles to Grand Canyon National Park and make your way to the east entrance. Check out the Desert View sights, then drive on into Grand Canyon Village and have lunch at El Tovar. Spend the night at El Tovar or the Bright Angel Lodge.
Get up early and hike down one of the South Rim trails for as far as you feel like going. If you’re not a hiker, take a mule ride to the river and back. Spend the remainder of the day looking around the rim and staring into the canyon.
Day 12: Heading to Tucson
340 Miles / 5 Hours
This day will be spent mostly in the car driving from the high country down to Tucson and Southern Arizona. Leave the Grand Canyon early through the South Entrance and take I-40 East to I-17 South. In Phoenix, follow the signs to I-10 South to Tucson. You’ll probably arrive in the late afternoon. Check into the Hotel Congress, the Arizona Inn, or one of the area’s bed-and-breakfasts, and then head to Mi Nidito for a Mexican-food dinner.
Day 13: Tucson and the Border Region
135 Miles / 2 Hours
Get up early and spend the morning walking around Saguaro National Park West and visiting the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Have lunch at the museum’s café, or at the Coyote Pause Café about five miles south. Then continue south to see San Xavier del Bac.
After visiting the church, keep heading south to Tubac and Tumacacori. Stroll through the shops and galleries at Tubac or check out Mission San Jose de Tumacacori. Have dinner at Wisdom’s Café in Tumacacori or continue south on I-19 and walk across the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, about 25 miles south on I-19, and eat at one of the restaurants in the tourist district.
Drive back to your hotel in Tucson, about an hour’s drive depending on where you’re staying, and relax.
Day 14: Southeastern Arizona
50-150 Miles / 1-3 Hours
This day is a Southern Arizona grab bag. Drive through the San Pedro Valley or the Mountain Empire. Do some wine-tasting in Elgin, shop in Bisbee, or drive the dirt roads into the Huachuca Mountains and up to the Coronado National Memorial. Visit Chiricahua National Monument, Cochise Stronghold, Patagonia, Madera Canyon, Kartchner Caverns, or Tombstone.
A full, busy day will allow you to make three or four major stops, depending on your personal interests and the amount of time you spend at any one place. You’ll likely arrive back at your hotel in Tucson late.
Day 15: Tucson and Back to Phoenix
116-156 Miles / 2-3 Hours
Wake up early and take a stroll through one of Tucson’s downtown neighborhoods or 4th Avenue and the University District. On your way north on I-10 to the airport in Phoenix, a distance of 116 miles, stop off along the way at Picacho Peak State Park for a last hike.
With more time, you could take a short detour off of I-10 to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, about 20 miles off of I-10, a half-hour drive, for a last look at native Arizona.