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Southwest Road Trip Itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
December 7, 2017
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Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe

Experience the best of the wild, wild American Southwest on a road trip that will take you from the neon lights of Las Vegas to the adobe streets of Santa Fe. This detailed itinerary includes bucket list-worthy icons and landscapes of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. Highlights include:

  • Las Vegas Strip
  • Grand Canyon
  • Antelope Canyons (Upper and Lower)
  • Monument Valley
  • Mesa Verde
  • Santa Fe

Itinerary notes

  • This Southwest road trip itinerary is best for spring through autumn travellers, as it does not account for snow and ice conditions or National Park closures/restrictions over colder periods.
  • The Las Vegas portion of the itinerary is ideal for people who want to experience Sin City as a historic and cultural icon, rather than gambling and partying.
  • JP and I road tested the itinerary ourselves, and I have made adjustments in areas where we felt too rushed. I have removed any activities/stops we didn’t feel were worthy to allow extra time for those that deserved more attention.

Disclosure: I may earn compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products/services that I use and love, therefore feel comfortable recommending.

Day 1

Arrive in Las Vegas, and check in to your accommodation. Explore The Strip and wonder at the variety of casinos, each with their own distinct personalities. During the evening catch Bellagio’s fountains and the Fremont St lighting show.

TIP: Check Travelzoo.com and Go Las Vegas Card for savings on attractions. We got a discounted meal at one of Vegas’ best restaurants and discounted tickets for the High Roller Observation Wheel.

Driving distance: Local driving distance depends on accommodation location and chosen activities.

Stay: The Strip has a plethora of accommodation options. Ensure you look for special offers and promotion codes online before booking as there are excellent savings available. If you are booking some time out from your travel dates, take note of your hotel’s cancellation policy and continue to look for deals. It may be worthcancelling and rebooking if something better comes up.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
The Strip, Las Vegas
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Fremont Street has the world's largest LED screen

Day 2

Take a guided tour of The Neon Museum, where you discover a range of retired neon signs from Las Vegas establishments in the context of the local history. Museum admission is by tour only and you will need to pre-book your tickets to avoid missing out. There are also night tours for those who want to see that neon glow!!

If you’re keen to work off that buffet breakfast, this is a good time for a long walk (as long as you have plenty of water). The Neon Museum provides maps of restored neon signs that have been placed back out into public spaces, mostly situated along the strip. Take a free map and walk southward 2.4km (1.5mi), directly past six of the refurbished signs, a sampling of Vegas’ “little white wedding chapels,” and Fremont Street where you can replenish with food and drink. You might choose to end your saunter at Rick Harrison’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, setting of hit reality tv series Pawn Stars, or you might continue another 2km (1.2mi) to the Stratosphere for panoramic views and thrill rides.

Alternatively, grab an Uber and head down to the High Roller Observation Wheel. The High Roller Observation Wheel is currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel at 168m (550ft) and provides 360-degree views of Las Vegas Valley and The Strip. One revolution of the wheel takes 30mins, so allow enough time. The High Roller is situated on Linq Promenade where you have another chance to eat, drink and shop. In the evening, see a Las Vegas show. If you haven’t booked ahead, try one of the Tix4Tonight booths along The Strip for last minute deals.

Driving distance: Local driving distance depends on accommodation location and chosen activities.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
The Paul Revere Williams designed La Concha Motel lobby, now the Neon Museum foyer
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
The Neon Museum, aka Neon Boneyard
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Hacienda Horse & Rider sign, the first of the Las Vegas Signs Project to be refurbished and installed
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Rick Harrison's Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
One of Vegas' many wedding chapels

Day 3

Rise early and pick up your rental car as this is the biggest driving day of the trip. As you drive south out of town, make a photo stop at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Advice from a local photographer is to go between 7-8am, before the tourist buses arrive and while the light is not so harsh.

Continue driving to Hoover Dam, if you have an iPhone, you might like to download the Las Vegas to Hoover Dam GyPSy – GPS Tour Guide for interesting commentary along the way. At Hoover Dam you can stretch your legs with a walk across the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, and then continue down to the dam wall for further discovery.

TIP: There are several parking options at the Dam, most of which charge a fee. Continue to the far side of the dam wall, a small way up the canyon and there is a free parking lot on the right-hand side.

As you drive from Hoover Dam through to Grand Canyon Village, I recommend a lunch stop in Seligman. The small town is on a section of Historic Route 66 that runs closest to the I-40E, and won’t take you too far out of your way to experience a short ride on the famous highway.

TIP: Depending on the time of year, you are likely to arrive at the Grand Canyon in time for sunset. Don’t leave as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, the best colours appear at dusk.

Driving distance: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Village via Hoover Dam and Seligman is 455km (282mi), roughly 5hrs of driving not including stops.

Stay: There are a variety of good lodges in Grand Canyon Village to choose from, but get in early particularly if you want a room with a Canyon view.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead as viewed from the O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
The art deco architecture of Hoover Dam
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Scenes from Seligman on Historic Route 66
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Grand Canyon at sunset

Day 4

Hike a section of the South Rim trail for amazing views of the Canyon. By staying on the 21km (13mi) Rim trail, you will not have to make the steep hike back out of the Canyon and a parallel shuttle bus service gives you the flexibility to start/stop at intervals along the trail that interest you. Not to mention the spectacular views en route! See the South Rim Shuttle Bus Routes for times, points of interest and suggested itineraries. There are no fares for using the shuttle bus service, it is included in your National Park entry fee.

Driving distance:  Local driving distance depends on accommodation location and chosen activities.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Views along the South Rim Trail
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
View of the Grand Canyon from Desert View Tower
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Reunite with the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend

Day 5

There are many things to do in the Page area and you won’t fit them all into one day. Here are some suggestions: If you are planning months in advance, you may have the opportunity to hike to The Wave. Only 20 people are allowed to visit the location each day and passes are decided by two lotteries: ten permits are allocated through an online lottery four months before the date, and a further ten permits are allocated in-person the morning of the day prior to your visit at the Visitors Center. See more information here. For this itinerary, you will need to have obtained an online permit. For those of you, like us, who missed out on a permit, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon’s are the next most beautiful rock formations in the area. Entrance to these two slot canyons is by tour only. Various local companies offer sightseeing and photography tours of Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope Canyons separately. That is, no tour offers both Canyons on one trip. Read more about these beautiful natural works of art and a comprehensive guide to planning your experience in Visiting Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

TIP: Some recommend turning up on the day and taking the next tour available. This can be risky during holidays and peak tourist seasons as tours are often booked out. If you’re on a tight schedule or absolutely do not want to miss these rock formations, then it is wise to book ahead.

If you are really not feeling the tourist crowds at Antelope Canyons and you are able bodied, you may like to tackle some backcountry hiking to these less visited slot canyons:

  • Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch Trail 5.5km (approx. 3.4mi) round trip
  • Waterhole Canyon, entering just below US-89 and hiking eastward. The trail is on Navajo Land, therefore you are required to have a permit which can be purchased the day of your hike at Horseshoe Bend Tours in Page.

As you continue your drive toward Monument Valley, there is the opportunity to take a short detour to the Navajo National Monument. There are three short self-guided trails (1.6km/1mi and under) here, where you can stretch your legs and learn about the Navajo people and their ancestors. Continue to Monument Valley and enjoy sunset over Monument Valley.

Driving distance: Local driving distance depends on accommodation location and chosen activities. Page to Monument Valley, roughly 202km (approx. 125mi) 2hrs 10mins without stops. Add another 32km (20mi) if you plan to stop by the Navajo National Monument.

Stay: TheView Hotel or in warmer months a Native American Hogan (note staying in a Hogan can be akin to camping depending on how it is set up. Read reviews thoroughly before booking).

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Upper Antelope Canyon
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Lower Antelope Canyon

Day 6

Drive the self-guided 27km (17mi) loop road around Monument Valley, stopping to take plenty of photographs (allow 2-3hrs). There is only one option for self-guided hiking in Monument Valley, all other hiking experiences require a Navajo guide. The Wildcat Trail is a 6.5km (4.0mi) loop around the base of West Mitten Butte beginning and ending close to TheView Hotel. The trail involves climbing a slope on soft sand, that can be quite strenuous depending on your fitness level. As you leave Monument Valley, pause at Forrest Gump Point and Mexican Hat for final photographs. Continue driving through to Cortez where you will stay for the night, with a stop at the Four Corners Monument along the way. The Monument is the place where the New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona borders intersect. It is located on Navajo Land and has an entry fee of $5 per person.

Driving distance: 261km (162mi), roughly 2hr 30min not including stops

Stay: During warmer times of the year, you have the option of lodging within Mesa Verde National Park instead of Cortez.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Forrest Gump Point
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Four Corners Monument

Day 7

Explore Mesa Verde National Park where ancient cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Pueblo (prehistoric Native Americans) still stand. Start your discovery at the Visitor and Research Center at the park entrance. Once you have your maps and information it will be a further 33km (20mi) drive up the Mesa before you reach the core of the Park including the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.  There are two loop roads to follow, with multiple stopping points along each for viewing the archaeological sites. There are also a few short walking trails. During the warmer months, guided tours of the cliff dwellings are available. Continue driving to Durango, Colorado where you will spend the night. Durango has a charming historic district that has been the setting for scenes in movies such as City Slickers and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Driving distance: Depending on how you approach exploring the National Park, driving this day will cover approximately 161km (100mi) – roughly 2hr 40min not including stops.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Ancient rock dwellings at Mesa Verde
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Durango Historic District

Day 8

Drive from Durango to Santa Fe with an optional stop along the way at the small township of Abiquiu, where you can visit the Home and Studio of artist Georgia O’Keeffe which is now a museum. Once you arrive in Santa Fe, find parking near Santa Fe Plaza and you will be able to walk almost anywhere you want to go. Explore the historic city center with its Pueblo architecture and streets filled with galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. My top recommendations for museums and galleries are the New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. If you haven’t had your fill of art, swing by Canyon Road for more galleries, dining and shopping opportunities.

TIP: Beware the streets of Santa Fe’s historic city center are narrow. Metered street parking is available.  Look for the green light flashing on parking meters to indicate there is still time left on them. Meters take coins or card.

Driving distance: 342km (212mi), roughly 4hr without stopping

Stay: Find yourself a local Adobe-style abode on Airbnb.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Georgia O'Keeffe Home & Studio at Abiquiu

Day 9

As you leave the Grand Canyon, 41km (approx. 25mi or 40mins) drive east of the Village, you will pass Desert View Point. This is the perfect place to stop and take in a final view of the Canyon. There, you can climb the historic Watchtower designed by Mary Colter and visit the Tusayan Museum. Continue driving towards Page, Arizona. On your approach to town make a stop at Horseshoe Bend for one of the most Instagramable views of the Colorado River. From the parking lot it is a 2km (1.2mi) return hike to the rim of the Glen Canyon. Take plenty of water, especially in warmer months. Eat lunch in Page and check into your accommodation in Page for the night. Also, make any last minute bookings for touring Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.

Driving distance: 216km (134mi), roughly 2hr 23min drive without stops.

Stay: Best Western Plus at Lake Powell

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Inside the courtyard of the New Mexico Museum of Art
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Santa Fe's historic architecture

Day 10

Depart from Santa Fe.

TIP: Check flight availability and price from both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In our case, it was much cheaper to drive on to Albuquerque airport for our flight home.

Driving distance: Santa Fe to Albuquerque International Sunport in 107km (66.5mi), roughly 1hr 5min.

Soulful souvenir shopping

The best place to shop for soulful souvenirs, particularly Native American jewellery, is at Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe Plaza. We compared handicrafts available in roadside stalls along the road trip, with those at the Palace and not only was the quality and variety much better in Santa Fe but the prices were very competitive. Here you don’t have to worry about authenticity as the Vendor Program that has been running here over sixty years ensures sellers are Native Americans selling authentic crafts made by themselves or within their community. Read more about the Native American Vendor Program through this link. If you plan to buy turquoise, I highly recommend a crash course in determining quality and price using this buyers guide by the International Gem Society.

Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe
Palace of the Governors
Watch My Dust Road Trip T-Shirt

Southwest Road Trip Soundtrack

To the right, you’ll find a playlist of music inspired by the locations and landscapes covered on this Southwest road trip and featuring artists who call Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico home. The music covers a range of genres and era’s – from Phoenix, Arizona born Stevie Nicks to Las Vegas’ The Killers.

Planning resources

Find flights to Las Vegas with Skyscanner.

Search for accommodation using Tripadvisor.

Rent a car for your Southwest road trip with National Car Rental.

Don’t forget travel insurance, I recommend Seven Corners or World Nomads.

You can’t go far in this part of America without stumbling upon awe-inspiring canyons, spectacular desert landscapes, and unique urban centers. Enjoy following in the footsteps of ancient tribes, pioneers, cowboys, mobsters, and celebrities from Las Vegas to Santa Fe with this Southwest road trip itinerary.

Peace, love and inspiring travels,

Madam ZoZo

Southwest Road Trip Itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe | Duende by Madam ZoZo
Southwest road trip itinerary: 10-days Vegas to Santa Fe

About author

Madam ZoZo

Hi! I'm Madam ZoZo, aka Zoë, an Australian designer, creative consultant, blogger and digital nomad. I'm passionate about travel, design, dance and new experiences that fuel my creativity. I strive to travel in a style that is gentle on the earth and that contributes to the communities I visits, even if it is merely to take away a greater understanding of a different culture. Duende by Madam ZoZo, is where I share the stories of my travels and the duende (soul/inspiration) I find along the way.

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