How about an adventure in the wilderness and beauty that is the southwest. This type of road trip is on the bucket list of many people. If you like exploring nature and want to spend nights, under the stars, in some of the best settings in the United States, this itinerary will fulfill all your needs. After couple nights in Las Vegas, leave behind the lights and noise of the city, and hit the open road. Travel thru five states and many national parks such as Zion, Brice Canyon, Mesa Verde and Monument Valley ; where one incredible landscape after another will leave you in awe. For this trip, use Las Vegas as a starting and ending point for the RV rental. I recommend using Cruise America but you can find different rental companies online. I find Cruise America to be competitive and offer a reliable product. This trip will lighten your wallet by around 4200$ depending on the type of RV, the cost of gas and the services you add. At this price, you get a 6 people RV, some linens and cookware, the RV usage and gas costs for 2000 miles, the no deductible insurance and the cost of running the generator during the day or night if no outside power is available. While not necessarily cheap, it becomes really cost effective when traveling with four or more people. Make sure to stop by the grocery store before leaving town and you will be all set to go off the grid for a few days. For the actually driving part, I highly recommend using a GPS application that allows you to enter GPS coordinates to navigate throughout this trip. While the campgrounds have addresses, some of the sights are harder to find due to lack of signage. I will indicate the coordinates for everything I mention on this itinerary. For the Campgrounds, make sure to check online for the latest availability and fees.
Day One : Traveling to Las Vegas
Use this first day to make your way to Las Vegas. It is served by an international airport and as such offer direct flights to a lot of cities in the US and Canada. Some European airlines occasionally fly directly there such as British Airways, from London. Once in Las Vegas, use this opportunity to spend the night in one of the hotel, on the strip, as it is an experience worth doing once. Amidst the noise of the slot machines and the bright lights of the casinos, explore the decadence of a city that truly never seems to sleep. For dinner, indulge in one of the oversized buffet while playing keno. While the strip is the most famous part of Las Vegas, the downtown area known as Fremont Street is just as entertaining with its retro look thanks to some older but famous sights, such as the giant cowboy sign and the renowned Golden Nugget Casino. Another thing to do in Vegas, is catching one of the dozens of shows that play in the city. From Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère to David Copperfield’s magic show, Las Vegas has it all.
Day Two : RV Rental and Las Vegas RV campground
After a restful night and a fresh brunch to recharge the batteries, it is just about time to make your way to the rental office and pick up the RV. There, you will get a full explanation about all the amenities on board, the rules to follow and how to deal with the less pleasant side of traveling in a motor home. Yes, you’ve guest it, emptying the dirty water and sewage. Unfortunately, it is part of the experience, so pay attention as you will probably have to take care of it a couple times along the way. Thankfully, most campgrounds have facilities to help with the process. Once you have taken possession of the RV, make sure to stop at a grocery store and stock up on a few days of supplies. Try to make a list beforehand as to avoid missing crucial items such as toilet paper, garbage bags and smores. Finally, drive to the Las Vegas Campground. I recommend Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort ( 36°2'23.281"N 115°10'42.763"W ). It is a little pricey at 80$ a night for a premium spot, but it will be worth it for the first night in the RV. You will have access to the pool and WiFi And full electrical hookup. Use this first evening and night to get acquainted and comfortable with your new vehicle. Settle in for the night as you get some rest before heading out the next day for the open road.
Day Three : Death Valley ( 180 Miles )
This is the beginning of the road trip of a lifetime. Heading west to California, today will be spent driving along Death Valley. As one of the hottest and driest place on earth, Death Valley means business. With temperatures reaching consistently 120 degrees Fahrenheit, very little can survive in this arid landscape. The first photo opportunity will be the welcoming sign ( 35°58'51.317"N 116°20'17.301"W ) along road CA178. The sign should come with warnings or at least recommendations such as making sure vehicles have functioning air conditioning and plenty of gas. Also people should have water bottles. While it might seems overly cautious, one might be surprised at how many people come to this place ill prepared. As you enter the national park, you can’t really get lost. There’s only one road that runs along the valley. The next interesting spot is Ashford Mill ( 35°55'7.791"N 116°41'0.692"W ). The remnants of an old mining building that are seemingly out of place as it is the only structure around. It was used to process gold before it was shipped. Another 45 minutes north takes you to the main attraction of Death Valley. Badwater basin ( 36°13'48.931"N 116°46'2.832"W ) is, at 282ft below sea level, the lowest point in North America. It is a salt flat that rarely manages to retain enough water to form a small lake. The last time was around 2005. Another 15 minutes north of the basin is the Golden Canyon ( 36°25'18.479"N 116°50'43.040"W ). Its short but beautiful trail offers a colorful scenery thanks to tall red rock formations. Finally, just a few more miles north of here lies Furnace Creek Campground ( 36°27'48.227"N 116°52'11.422"W ) which is the stop for the night. Be advised that during the summer, it is first come first serve basis as they do not take reservation.
Day Four : Mesquite dunes, Valley of Fire ( 240 Miles )
Today is somewhat of a busy day so I recommend starting Around 9am. Before leaving Death Valley, drive 25 minutes north to the Mesquite Dunes ( 36°39'35.209"N 117°6'46.870"W ). Sitting at the northern edge of the national park, It is well worth the detour before heading south east toward Utah. In this ever changing scenery, the morning or evening light can be magical. From there, the next sight to see is the ghost town of Rhyolite ( 36°54'3.228"N 116°49'45.604"W ). Just like many other mining cities of the 19th century, its importance faded into history when the entire population of more than 10000 moved to greener and more prosperous pastures. The next stop will be about three hours away or 170 miles. Unfortunately to get there, it also requires to drive by Las Vegas once again. The destination is the Valley of Fire State Park. You can skip the visitor center and head straight to the end of the road in the park ( 36°29'17.472"N 114°31'44.175"W ). There you can park, and enjoy the trails around the park which features incredible red sandstone formations that were created millions of years ago from shifting sand and erosion. Walking along the “fire wave trail” will take you to two of the most iconic rock formations of the park, “fire wave” and more importantly “pink canyon”. If there is some time left, a drive back toward the entrance of the park followed by a short hike, will lead you to “Mouse’s Tank” ( 36°26'27.841"N 114°30'58.533"W ), one of the most beautiful petroglyphs of the area. At the end of the day, find some rest at the “Atlatl Rock Campground” ( 36°25'2.920"N 114°33'6.370"W ). Be advised that this campground works on a first come first served basis, does not take reservation and is usually in high demand.
Day Five : Zion National Park ( 220 Miles )
Start this new day with a two and half hour scenic drive to one of Utah's most famous park, Zion. Once there, you can park at the Zion Lodge ( 37°15'1.448"N 112°57'26.550"W ). It is an ideal spot to have lunch before the long afternoon hike thru Zion. Once you are ready, hop on the shuttle. It is a 45 minute ride to the end of the paved road, with the last stop being the Temple of Sinawava. From there, you will be able to hike about a mile along the riverside walk before entering the tight canyon, called "the Narrows". The narrows are tall rock formations that nestle the Virgin River. Without a Permit you can hike all the way to Big Springs, but be advised that the further you go north, the further you will have to hike back south to get back to the shuttle. Most people hike about 2 to 3 miles from the stop. It is enough to walk the Narrows for about 2 miles, and get a great experience out of Zion National Park. The trek can be done by any novice hiker, as turning around and getting back to the shuttle can be done at anytime. It is worth mentioning that water shoes are highly recommended since one of the highlight of this trail is walking in the river. Depending on the time of the year, the level of the river can be three feet high. Because of the possibility of flash floods when heavy rains are forecasted, the narrows might not be open. You can instead do the short hike to the Middle Emerald Pools ( 37°15'25.858"N 112°57'46.776"W ). The trail is conveniently located right across the Zion Lodge. Along some impressive red rock formations, you will find many waterfalls and hanging gardens surrounding little pools. The hike is about two hours long. For the night, drive the 80 miles to the Bryce Canyon Pines RV Park ( 37°42'37.132"N 112°13'0.096"W ).
Day Six : Bryce Canyon National Park ( 200 Miles )
Following the somewhat long hike the previous day, a slower morning might be in order. No need today to start early as only Bryce Canyon and a three hour drive to the next campground are on the agenda. Drive the 10 miles to the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park ( 37°37'31.972"N 112°10'7.954"W ), From where all the different trails of the canyon can easily be accessed. Depending on your motivation, you can hike the short 1.5 mile Navajo Loop Trail, the more adventurous 5.5 mile Rim Trail from lookout to lookout, or any other trails in between. Anyone of them will showcase the incredible work of mother nature that is Bryce Amphitheatre. The Queens Garden Trail is ideal for an up close and personal experience among the thousands of pink granite cliffs and stand alone pinnacles. Afterward, spend the afternoon driving north along the edge of Zion and Capitol Reef National Park. Feel free to make a 10 Miles detour and stop at Cassidy Arch ( 38°15'40.065N 111°13'33.736W ). Named after Butch, the short hike will take you to the main landmark of the park, a rock arch that allows for a canyon crossing with a stunning view. From here, the evening campground is about 75 miles away. Half way there, you might be able to see some intriguing metal art pieces as you drive thru the city of Hanksville. It has become a popular photo spot. I recommend Goblin Valley Campground ( 38°34'21.257"N 110°42'48.668"W ) if you are looking for a one of a kind camping experience. With full camping facility available including a dump station, picnic tables and fire pits, it is sure to fulfill all campers needs. It is a good idea to use this stop to service your water and sewage systems.
Day Seven : Arch National Park ( 190 Miles )
Start your day with a two and a half hour drive to Moab, the gateway city to the Arch National Park. From here, you have two options. You can drive to the park yourself and just walk around trying to locate the most known arches that the park has to offer, or you can book an off road adventure with a guide. Hiking on your own is made easy thanks to online guides available here. You will find a list of possible trails to follow in order to capture the most beautiful sights in an organized fashion. Make sure to stop by the visitor center ( 38°36'59.546"N 109°37'11.472"W ) first to grab a map of all the trails. For tours, I recommend booking with Adrift. While a more costly option, it does afford the ability to give your legs a break while partaking in a once in a lifetime adventure. Thanks to the guidance of a knowledgeable guide, you will learn about the history of the park while gazing at the sweeping dunes and famous arches such as Tower Arch and Eye of the Whale. The tour starts at 12:30 and lasts around four hours. Afterward, drive 75 miles south to the next campground, Westerner Trailer Park, in Monticello ( 37°51'47.295"N 109°20'32.501"W ).
Day Eight : Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners, Monument Valley ( 240 Miles )
Start the day by driving two hours to the Mesa Verde National Park. Located in Montezuma, Colorado, the park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the biggest archaeological site in the world. Ancestral Puebloans, an ancient Native American culture, settled in the region around 3000 years ago but it is believed that some settlements were already present as early as 7500 BC. Mesa Verde showcases incredible dwellings carved from rocks, some of them directly inside cliffs. The most famous ruins to visit are Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House and Balcony House, but there are hundreds of smaller sites to see and they are all fairly easily accessible thanks to short trails. Cliff Palace ( 37°10'2.196"N 108°28'21.518"W ) and Balcony House ( 37°9'41.570"N 108°27'51.237"W ) both require tour tickets so be sure to make a reservation here and pick up the tickets 2 hours before the tour, when you first drive by the visitor center ( 37°15'27.499"N 108°29'52.375"W ). Start with the self tour of Spruce Tree House and perhaps also have lunch while waiting for the tours. Once you are ready to leave Mesa Verde, start the three hour drive to the evening campground. This incredible drive will take you across the Navajo Nation Territory, where you will spend the next two days. This mid afternoon and evening drive will feature one of the highlights of this territory, Monument Valley. With the evening light, you will be in awe driving thru the valley as tall sandstone buttes rise from the floor to surprising heights. Featured many times in movies, why not spend the night surrounded by such beautiful scenery. Gouldings Campgrounds offers such a possibility so Don’t forget to make a reservation.
Day Nine : Monument Valley, Page, Lake Powell ( 150 Miles )
After spending the night surrounded by an enchanting scenery, it is time to continue the road trip thru the Navajo Territory, in Northeast Arizona. It is only an hour drive to the first stop, Tonalea ( 36°40'41.806"N 110°32'27.719"W ). It is a national monument comprised of three cliffs dwellings, Keet Seel, Inscription house and Betatakin. In a free self guided tour of about two hours, walk the trails for great views of the ruins and surrounding canyons. Afterward, drive another 45 minutes to the Sitting Lizard Arch ( 36°38'N 111°10'48"W ). An opportunity for a great photo of the stand alone rock arch, with an overview of the vast Navajo land. It is also a great place to stop to set up a picnic for lunch. It is only another 30 minute drive to the next excursion, at Antelope Canyon ( 36°53'50.246"N 111°24'29.930"W ). To be able to access the canyon, you will have to book an hour tour here. The Navajo guide will provide thorough explanations about the canyon but can also help you with camera settings to take great photos since this place is known to have amazing visual effects with the sun light on the narrow canyon openings and rock formations. To continue your afternoon, time permitting, stop at the Navajo Village Heritage Center, in Page ( 36°53'45.946"N 111°26'40.344"W ). They are opened until 4pm during the summer but sometime also do a tour at 5pm. Make sure to check the website here. For the evening, stay at Page Lake Powell Campground ( 36°54''5.892"N 111°27'8.712"W ). you can spend the evening walking around the town and along the shore of the lake. If you want to add an extra day to the itinerary, spending it with a rented boat on the lake is not a bad idea as the views are stunning.
Day Ten : Horseshoe bend, Grand Canyon Southeast Rim ( 200 Miles )
During the next two days, you will essentially drive along the Grand Canyon, from East to West. The first stop should be the world famous Horseshoe Bend ( 36°52'34.521"N 111°30'8.068"W ). It is a spectacular place to visit as the Colorado river flows gently toward the deep valley of the Grand Canyon. From this vantage point, which is a short walk from the parking, you will be able to enjoy the immensity of the plateau. Next, continue driving toward the magnificient Grand Canyon. With a few viewpoint available on this side of the canyon, I have selected two of the most popular and interesting ones. After about three hours, you will have reached the first one, Mohave Point ( 36°4'20.528"N 112°9'57.698"W ). Easily accessible thanks to a nearby parking, you will be able to gaze over the canyon with often unobstructed visibility for dozens of miles. You can further your excursion by walking ten minutes along the trail to the next view point, Powell Point, where equally wonderful views await. For the evening, drive another 65 miles to Canyon Gateway RV Park ( 35°15'49.673"N 112°11'31.321"W ).
Day Eleven : Grand Canyon Southwest Rim, Hoover dam ( 310 Miles )
Today will be the final day of the road trip with the end destination being Las Vegas. It is somewhat of a long drive for the day, since it will take about six hours, to make it there. The first half of the day will be spent driving about three and a half hour to the Southwest rim of the Grand Canyon ( 36°0'43.270"N 113°48'39.836"W ). There, you will have an amazing view of some of the deepest parts of the canyon. It also offers the possibility to walk over the edge thanks to a transparent Skywalk towering more than 4000ft above the valley floor. While it is quite the experience, sadly it is also an expensive one with prices starting around 30$. The next stop will bring you just 30 miles short of Las Vegas. After another 100 miles, you will arrive at the world famous Hoover dam ( 36°0'55.177"N 114°44'1.597"W ). Stretching between Nevada and Arizona, this concrete giant, built in 5 years in the middle of the 1930's, retains man made Lake Mead on the eastern side, while letting a small but continuous stream of the Colorado River flow on the western side. Lake Mead and Hoover Dam provide water as a source of irrigation and electrical power to millions of people. Later in the afternoon, make your way back to where the road trip started, The Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, just 30 minutes away. It is a great opportunity to be set up in the morning for a service of the water and sewage systems before returning the RV.
Day twelve : Return of the RV and departure
Once again, it is time for the vacation to end. Hopefully it will have been a memorable one touring the vast expanse of the west and all it has to offer. Plan on returning the RV in the morning to avoid being charged late fees. Afterward, head to the airport to catch your flight home or to Las Vegas if you want to spend some extra time in the city.
Expert tourist, I love visiting new places, discovering new cultures and meeting new people. With this blog, and my business "Itinerary of a passport", I want to share my passion, ideas and experience.