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For any nature lover, or anyone who can appreciate a sublime landscape really, the majestic beauty of the Southwest’s red rocks and deep canyons make for an essential American road trip. In just eight days, it is possible to explore five National Parks within driving distance of each other, with time left over to hike, bike or lounge along the way. Be sure to pack your camera—or charge up your smart phone—as numerous epic selfies are coming your way. Here’s an itinerary to make the most of your time on the road and off in the beautiful Southwest.

RELATED: 17 photos that will inspire your next Arizona road trip

Day 1: Grand Junction, Colorado

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Begin your journey in Grand Junction, Colorado. Pick up an airport rental car and drive the short 12 miles to the Wine Country Inn Palisade where you’ll be greeted with a complimentary evening wine reception and convenient access to local wineries before hitting the road the following morning. Promoted as Colorado’s first wine-themed hotel, the 80-room Victorian-inspired hotel is surrounded by a 21-acre vineyard. Visitors can take a seat on one of the porch’s many rocking chairs while indulging in a glass of vino and enjoying the view of a massive red rock wall, curl up next to the lobby fireplace or take a dip in the outdoor pool or Jacuzzi.

 

Day 2: Arches National Park

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Photo courtesy National Park Service

Fuel up in the morning with the hotel’s free breakfast buffet including fresh waffles, and then pack up the car and enjoy the scenic hour-and-a-half drive to Moab, Utah to enjoy a day of hiking at Arches National Park. At the park’s Visitor’s Center, be sure to pick up an annual National Park pass for only $80, which will give you access to all of the parks on your road trip. (Kids will also enjoy a Passport in which they can collect stamps from each park.) And don’t forget to also grab a map of the area, as well as bottled water and sunscreen for the hike. With more than 2,000 arches, balancing stones, and towering pinnacles, the park’s landscape inspires and impresses at every turn.

Popular kid-friendly hikes with spectacular views include the Delicate Arch hiking trail and Balanced Rock. Just off the road, the .3-mile loop to Balanced Rock is easy and worthwhile. The rocks seem to defy gravity and mystify visitors. The .5-mile hike to view Delicate Arch is picturesque, especially when the sunset gives the red rocks a golden hue and the archway itself offers memorable vistas. After a day of taking in the sights at Arches, retire for the night at nearby Under Canvas® Moab. The 40-acre property features luxury canvas tents with expansive desert views that sleep four. After the sun sets, relish in the delight of a sky filled with brightly lit stars.

  ALSO: Fuel up on big hotel discounts when you join Orbitz Rewards

Day 3: Canyonlands National Park

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Purchase a pre-made lunch from the resort and drive to nearby Canyonlands National Park. The desert environment is home to striking canyons and buttes. The most accessible part of the park is the Island in the Sky area with views from 1,000 feet above the canyon below. Swing by the Visitor’s Center for a map and a short orientation video of the area. The scenic paved route through the park offers several pullouts that are perfect for photo ops. Want to get out to stretch your legs while soaking up views? Try the 1.8-mile White Rim Outlook hike for views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and La Sal Mountains or the 2-mile Grand View Point hike with panoramic views. Watch for the cairns (small rock piles) trail markers. End the day with a filling cowboy dinner, and a sound-and-light show boat cruise on the Colorado River with Canyonlands by Night. You won’t be disappointed. Then, head back to Under Canvas® Moab for another night of desert glamping.

 

Day 4: Capitol Reed National Park

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Photo courtesy National Park Service

Pack your suitcase and make the 4 1/2-hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park with a midway stop at Capitol Reef National Park. The park features cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges, as well as 270 million-year-old rocks. The park’s most popular point of interest is the Waterpocket Fold—a “wrinkle” on the earth that consists of layered rocks spanning 100 miles. The geological formation is located in the park’s remote backcountry area. A convenient way to see the Fold is to drive along the Burr Trail. Pull off for lunch with a roadside view. If you’re up for a challenging hike that could include climbing boulders, wading through water or navigating narrow spaces, the slot canyons offer unique scenery. Burro Wash and Cottonwood Wash trails are both about three-and-a-half miles long. A topographical map is recommended, as many of the trails can be difficult to navigate.

After a few hours of exploring the park, continue on to Bryce Canyon Lodge in Bryce Canyon National Park. This cozy, historic Western log cabin features comfortable rustic amenities and gas-log fireplaces just steps away from the rim of Bryce Canyon. Enjoy an upscale dinner at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon Restaurant before turning in for the night.

 

Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park

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Photo courtesy National Park Service

Get up early, grab coffee at the on-property Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop and head to Bryce Point to catch sunrise. Afterwards, swing by the General Store to pick up items for a picnic lunch and check out of the Lodge. Bryce Canyon National Park can easily be seen in a few short hours. A good way to see it is via car on the 18-mile loop with numerous scenic overlooks. Stop at the Rim Trail for a short hike—the stone sculptures are breathtaking. Gazing down into the “amphitheater,” you’ll see the hoodoos (stone columns) covering acres of land.

After sightseeing at Bryce, make the hour-and-a-half drive to Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort where you have a choice of accommodations ranging from a cabin suite, a cowboy cabin, a covered wagon, canvas cabin or tent camping. Partake in one of many on-property activities, such as an indoor/outdoor climbing wall, foosball, billiards, ping-pong, zip line, or a bungee trampoline at the Recreation Barn (activities must be scheduled in advance). There is also basketball, tennis, sand volleyball, paintball, a mini ATV track, yoga, a shotgun range, miniature golf, spa treatments, horseback riding and a pool. For dinner, enjoy a covered wagon ride through the scenic landscape on the way to a Dutch oven campfire meal reminiscent of authentic cowboy dining. Unwind with a dip in the hot tub before climbing into bed.

 

Day Six: Zion National Park

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Photo courtesy National Park Service

Zion National Park is a nice change of scenery. The main park is accessible by shuttle bus only, which is actually very convenient. The bus stops at all the main overlooks and trailheads and arrives every six minutes. The main road leads from the plateaus down to the canyon floor. A short, easy and picturesque hike to try is the Weeping Rock Trail, an uphill half-mile loop that ends at a beautiful alcove with a waterfall, an emerald pool and a foliage-covered rock wall that continuously “weeps” with water. The Visitor’s Center and the Museum of Human History are worth stopping to check out.

Pack your bags and make the 4 1/2-hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park. Upon arrival, check in to the historic 78-room El Tovar Hotel, located inside the park, on the Canyon rim. After getting settled, dress your best for fine dining with rustic charm at the El Tovar Dining Room, known for its prime rib. On the way back to your room, be sure to take in the spectacular night sky.

RELATED: Quiz: How well do you know your National Parks?

Day 7: Grand Canyon National Park; Sedona and Scottsdale, Arizona

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Upon checkout, start the morning with breakfast at the Canyon Coffee House. Next, stroll the scenic Rim Trail with stops for history and souvenirs at the Kolb Studio & Park Store, Lookout Studio, the Hopi House and the Verkamp’s Visitors Center. Take the 75-minute shuttle bus ride to Hermit’s Rest and Snack Bar with nine canyon overlooks along the way. Hermit’s Rest is a historic structure built in 1914 from native rock and stone where hikers and day-trippers can stop for snacks.

Say goodbye to the Grand Canyon and hit the road for a 4 1/2-hour drive to Scottsdale, Arizona with a stop for lunch in the quaint town of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is known for its “new age” shops (think crystals and gemstones), art galleries and spas, and is surrounded by beautiful red rock formations. Arizona State Route 89A goes through the heart of town. Here, you’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from.

Upon arriving in Scottsdale, check in to the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Scottsdale Resort & Spa. The luxurious resort will be a welcome retreat after long days on the road. Book a treatment at the full-service spa, enjoy a dip in the heated pool, book tee time at the 36-hole golf course, or just relax in a casita or suite with high-end amenities. Enjoy dinner overlooking Camelback Mountain at onsite Rita’s Kitchen, which serves authentic Southwestern fare such as tacos, enchiladas, guacamole and margaritas.

Day Eight: Home

Make the twenty-minute drive to the Phoenix airport, return the rental car and fly back home with fond memories, postcard-worthy pictures, and traditional souvenirs of the Southwest.

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Tagged: Arizona, Southwest

19 thoughts on “The ultimate Southwest National Parks road trip”

  1. You won’t be flying home from Scottsdale airport as the article states. Scottsdale airport is private planes only, so unless you keep your Gulfstream in the hanger there, you will have to go to Phoenix (sky harbor) airport.

  2. We have already completed our visits to these national parks. Headed to Washington and Oregon in early October and would like some information like this for this area. We will be there for 14 days.

    1. Make sure you stop and see Multnomah just outside of Portland. The falls are beautiful. If you’re driving keep an eye out for the one of the largest windmill farms in the country. Avoid down town Portland, traffic makes mid town NYC look good. My husband and I were just there in June. We loved every minute.

  3. Wow, at least have them drive thru the Colorado National Monument just outside Grand Junction and on the way to Arches! I know it isn’t a national park, but well worth the short drive!

  4. You’ll most likely pay a hefty price for that rental car if you don’t take it back to where you picked it up.

  5. Is this booked as one vacation package or does each venue have to be booked separately? Estimated cost per person?

    1. Hi Melissa, you can actually book the flight, hotels and rental car via Orbitz.com. It’s more of a self-guided tour. Sorry for the confusion.

  6. Should also stop on the way to Canyonlands to take in the view at Dead Horse Point State Park. Great view and interesting story behind the name..

  7. If you wanted to do this. How much would it cost per person and is that some thing that is booked completely through orbits?

  8. Turn it into a 2 week trip and have time to really see more of the park instead of just driving through

    You could do the north rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim and fly out of Las Vegas

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