Our Southwest Trip Itinerary: Circle the Grand Canyon, National Parks & So Cali Ultimate Adventure

Updated: Jun 10

The beautiful colors of the South West are permanently engrained in my memory. I planned this trip for close to two years obsessively. And I'm glad I did. It was worth all of the reading and researching. Sandstone buttes, the Colorado River, red rock canyons with wind erosion sweeping through leaving designs that are as unique as snowflakes on the land - this is my favorite part of it all. I knew the Grand Canyon would be grand! I knew we'd be impressed by the massiveness but I had no idea how deeply leveled and intricately placed it all fits together. This was not just a family vacation. We felt like we visited another planet! And since we've been home each of my children have many times referenced how amazing the entire experience was. I started planning this trip with the thought that I could not afford to do it right - and boy did I prove my doubts wrong. I want to help you feel the same way, that anything is possible and the world is a beautiful place for you to explore with your loved ones!

Please feel free to download this itinerary I created to share with friends and family:

The Great South West Itinerary 2018
Download PDF • 147KB

As I share this trip schedule, I want to emphasize that this was created for a family who enjoys high paced adventure mode. My kids are older (14 - 24 at the time of travel), we squeeze a lot in, to get the most experiences in the least amount of time. I could have easily spent three days at each stop. (If my budget would have permitted). Every place was full of options and I did as much research as I could to ensure ALL of the main things we wanted to accomplish would be possible. I had to weigh the budget I was working with, and the places I most wanted to experience.

My main objectives were:

*See both the North and South rim of the Grand Canyon

*Explore cultural Native American lands

*Gain appreciation of the history and land of the Arizona/ Utah area

*See both Bryce and Zion National Parks

*Drive to California and spend a week with our cousins in Hemet

*Drive up through So Cal to Santa Maria and spend time with our Granny D.

Originally we were staying at an Air B&B with another family. We mapped out a daily itinerary and realized a few cons in our plan: TOO much drive time in between. So we began modifying to stay in more specific locations to cut down on drive time - and everything we read warned against driving after dark unless you know the area.

Once I knew we were going to circle the Grand Canyon, and sleep in a different location every night I looked at pit stops. Since it is so spread out, I wanted to enjoy driving process. The hardest part is finding good lodging on the South Rim so I started with that, and worked the trip around those accommodations. I heard from so many people not to go out there without seeing both Bryce and Zion. I took those recommendations to heart and I am SO GLAD we did. We only flew into Vegas because it was the cheapest air fare and car deal, but now that I've been there I have to say - I’d have spent another night there if my time (and budget) wasn’t already full. If possible, I'd have flown in early enough to enjoy some of the area, and have a Vegas night.

After a night in the Luxor, we drove from Vegas to Bryce (just over 4 hours), which seems like a really long ride when there was much in between -but really I wanted the flow from Bryce to the other destinations to flow smoothly. So it was smart; Long drive, but great plan. The drive was scenic and exciting - everything was new! We passed through St. George and got gas and tacos. We stopped to see this awesome winding brook we were following, and then stopped again for a random snowball fight on the side of a mountain in 65 degree weather! Fun drive to Bryce!! Our log cabin in Bryce really set the tone of our trip. All of the kids were 100% sold on enjoying this excursion. Bryce was breathtaking. Literally. It's a steep hike! We did several hikes which will be posted in detail below. I had no idea a place like this existed on earth ♥ The ride from Bryce to Zion takes you through the Mt. Carmel Junction, which is scenic driving. There are buffalo and wild horses along the road. Driving through the tunnel was a trip highlight. The extreme views out the look out windows make for a dramatic ride and appreciation of the beautiful world!

Zion! We didn't want to leave Zion. When we finally managed to tear ourselves away we were driving down into the North Rim, and literally watched as the terrain changed and the world became a different place. From there we drove to Page, and had the most amazing Slot Canyon tour. Page is a pit stop that offers so much to do. Next day we went through the Navajo National Monument and had a tour through Monument Valley. Talk about a day of cultural appreciation! This was another huge impression. Again, we did not want to leave. By this point we were sure we needed to pack our bag and stay forever in this new land we just discovered. But the final stop of this first part of our journey was the Grand Canyon, and the South Rim was waiting. That was the only way we were able to leave - headed off to another monumental stop ahead.

Driving from the Grand Canyon to Hemet in one day was long, so I planned the pit stop at the Joshua Tree National Park as a good get out of the car stretch break. The ride was scenic and we greatly enjoyed it. "This Land is Your Land" has a reference to a "ribbon of highway" and wow, there was a perfect example of just that. What a beautiful road. Long trains spanning miles rode across the land and we laughed about the songs on the radio. One theme of this trip was "Life is a Highway" and a very scenic drive at that. (Yes we sing in the car!)

We have visited Cali before, so the places I chose for this trip were considering we’ve seen the Hollywood Stars, San Diego Zoo, Griffin Observatory, and some of those touristy things. Even though we’d been at La Jolla before I could not miss that. It's free to see the seals on the shore playing in the waves and I'd do that every day if I lived close enough. I will share our previous trip itinerary and pros and cons in another blog post.

Below is the breakdown of what our days looked like. I will dive into each day individually to give more specifics on costs, eating and lodging , and share any other info that may be helpful for planning families. I will say, my kids are older and very active. This is a fast paced itinerary and was perfect for us. I will give my pros and cons and honest reviews of each activity, but I do absolutely think this schedule works, and gives a great quality appreciation of the area and God's work in that part of the Country.

You will also see in the itinerary planned “down days”. This is the real schedule we followed, but feel free to remove or add down days as your family desires. In these areas, there are many things in the vicinity to do if you want to get out and explore! Or if you need to add down days,feel free! These are merely what worked for us. Our down days were intentional so that we could just enjoy the family we were visiting.

Some things to purchase in advance:

America the Beautiful Parks Pass – Cost $80.00

Pays for itself twice on this trip! Many parks have a $30.00 or $35.00 car fee, this pass allows unlimited access for the year to all National Parks.