The American Southwest landscape is one of the most unique in all of the USA with stunning red rocks, canyons, mountains, and deserts. It’s no wonder visitors flock to experience an Arizona road trip.
Arizona perfectly represents the Southwest plus, it’s actually a beautiful melting pot of Native American, Mexican, and American cultures. While admiring the scenery, you’re guaranteed to learn a thing or two about history, music, food, and art.
I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona for three years and am excited to share my insider tips in this Arizona road trip itinerary. The route does span the whole state from Page to Tucson, and while it’s written in that order (north-to-south), you can also start in Tucson and travel south-to-north instead.
Day 1: Page, AZ and Page to Flagstaff
Page is the perfect place to start your Arizona road trip itinerary at the north-most point of Arizona along Route 89. Continuing north along this route is Zion National Park, a good gateway to Utah’s national parks. Therefore, this Arizona itinerary could be easily added to the end of a Utah road trip.
The best things to do in Page are Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. First, Antelope Canyon is a picturesque slot canyon with gorgeous sweeping red rocks. Because it is located on the Navajo Reservation, tour reservations are required as you need to be driven to the entrance. These tours cost approximately $70 per person, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s absolutely worth it!
For the best views, reserve a time in the middle of the day, when the sun is at the center of the sky and therefore, directly over the top of the canyon. The lighting will create the most dramatic photography shots! Note that tripods are not allowed in the canyon unless a separate photography tour is booked.
Horseshoe Bend, while not officially part of Grand Canyon National Park, is an extension of the Grand Canyon. This free site has a stunning view of the Colorado River wrapping around a plateau in a horseshoe shape.
You’ll find the parking lot off the side of the highway with clear signs and from there, you’ll hike ¾ miles to the viewpoint. It can get extremely hot in the summer (upwards of 120°F), so I recommend appropriate clothes, hiking gear, and lots of water. There is no visitor’s center so come prepared.
While Page is a very small town, there are still a number of restaurants in town. I recommend Steer 89 where you can get authentic Navajo food like Navajo tacos, which are served on fry bread, a delicious staple in Navajo culture.
Head south to Flagstaff, where you’ll be staying for two nights. The drive from Page to Flagstaff is just over 2 hours, with nothing noteworthy in between.
This evening, visit downtown Flagstaff for good restaurants and bars. Try the Lumberyard for their signature brews and classic food (and the best cheese fries), Diablo Burger where they use local ingredients, Karma Sushi serving Flagstaff’s best sushi, or Red Curry Vegan Kitchen with delicious vegan options!
Day 2: Grand Canyon and Flagstaff
To start your day, grab some coffee and breakfast at one of Flagstaff’s many coffee shops like Macy’s Coffeehouse & Bakery or Kickstand Kafe, or for a sit-down breakfast, The Place and Northern Pines are two of the best options. Don’t miss the cinnamon roll French toast at Northern Pines!
Once you’re fueled up and ready to go, make the hour and a half drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor Center. Because this is a National Park, there is a $30 entrance fee.
However, later in this itinerary, you’ll be visiting another national park and a national monument so, an America the Beautiful Pass is more cost effective. This annual pass is only $80 and covers entrance fees to all national parks, historic sites, and monuments.
The South Rim area has three main visitor hubs: the Visitor Center with park busses, bike rentals and café; Market Plaza with a bank, post office, market, health services, and Yavapai Lodge; and the Village with Verkamp’s Visitor Center, numerous hotels, and an information center. Each of these areas has facilities and options for lunch, whether they have restaurants or grocery stores.
At the South Rim, starting at the Visitor’s Center, travel along the Rim Trail (0.7 miles), which follows the Grand Canyon, to the Yavapai Museum of Geology to learn about the incredible way the Grand Canyon was formed. Continuing along the Rim Trail 1.4 miles to Verkamp’s Visitor’s Center will take you on The Trail of Time, which is a 1.2 mile portion (of the 1.4 miles) that contains geology exhibits.
There are numerous trails within Grand Canyon National Park as well as biking trails, amazing photography viewpoints with unique wildlife to capture, scenic drives like Desert View Drive, and even mule trips through the canyon (not for the faint of heart). You can even book helicopter rides over the Canyon or river rafting trips along the Colorado River within the Canyon.
At any point, stop for lunch and/or dinner if you’d like.
Make your way back to Flagstaff, for another night’s rest before heading to Sedona tomorrow. If you still have the energy, there are fun things to do in Flagstaff like visiting Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered, stargaze in Buffalo Park since Flagstaff was the first “dark sky” city, or in autumn, discover the beautiful fall foliage in Flagstaff!
Day 3: Flagstaff to Sedona and Sedona highlights
Grab some breakfast and drive 30-50 minutes to Sedona, going south down Route 89A. The drive is very scenic with lots of pull-offs to explore.
If you’ve been loving the red rocks of Page and the Grand Canyon, those have nothing on Sedona, the red rock champion. In this desert town, you’ll find a vibrant arts community with amazing galleries, exhibits, and shops. Plus, Sedona has some of the best desert spas around, so after a day of hiking, you can relax with a massage or Jacuzzi soak.
For a rewarding view of the canyons without a hike, visit Chapel of the Holy Cross, a religious site embedded into the red rock. Even if you aren’t religious, you can explore the chapel inside and out to admire every angle of Sedona’s incredible landscape.
One of the most popular hikes is Cathedral Rock Trail, a 1.2 mile out and back trail with a river and picturesque views of the rocks. For a more challenging (and arguably more rewarding) hike, try Devil’s Bridge Trail, a 4.2 mile out and back trail that features an incredible rock bridge that you’ve probably seen on Instagram.
On hotter days, visit Slide Rock State Park where a river flows over the rocks making them very slippery. Bring your bathing suit and you can slide down the rocks. It’s a great hidden gem, frequented by locals in the summer. Entry to the park costs $20-30 per vehicle depending on the season.
Despite being one of Arizona’s smaller cities, Sedona has some great food. For lunch and/or dinner try Hideaway House, Italian food with delicious homemade pizza, Momo’s Kitchen with Korean food, and Tamaliza, an affordable and delicious Mexican eatery. You really can’t go wrong with the restaurants on the main road (on route 89A), so browse some shops and art galleries and grab a bite to eat.
I lived in Arizona when I was in college so my travel budget limited me, but if you can stay in a spa resort in Sedona for the night, I highly recommend it. They all have stellar reviews with beautiful views, especially Mii amo and Enchantment Resort.
Day 4: Sedona to Phoenix with Montezuma Castle
Today you’ll be road-tripping to Phoenix, the state capital with lots to do! On the way from Sedona to Phoenix, there is one stop of interest that shouldn’t be missed. Montezuma Castle and Well is actually a national monument split between two sites; the Castle and the Well. They are driving distance away, so first up is Montezuma Well, since you’ll hit it first traveling south from Sedona.
At Montezuma Well, you’ll find a limestone sinkhole, a natural wonder that contains 1.5 million gallons of water that emerge every day through the underground spring. Many groups have inhabited the area around the Well and today, you can see cliff dwellings along the rim.
Behind the Well is an old irrigation system that has been used by local farmers for centuries. This shaded area is so peaceful it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a hot desert near a highly populated city.
Montezuma Castle is a special cliff dwelling located at a separate site 11 miles away. It was erected as the third ever National Monument in 1906! There is one main circular path that travels from the Visitor Center around the site.
Montezuma Castle is a testament to the Sinagua people, who built and lived in the structure over 900 years ago. It could hold multiple families and is similar to modern apartment buildings with many rooms.
After taking in Montezuma Castle National Monument (and Well), make the final trek to Phoenix. The rest of this day and the next day are dedicated to exploring Phoenix, whether you need some city life, more nature, or adventurous activities.
Check out my recommended activities for tomorrow and choose one for the rest of your day.
You can also explore one of the many outlets. Last Chance is my favorite with heavily discounted items from Nordstrom Rack (think $3 for a tank top). When I lived in the area, I got most of my wardrobe from Last Chance, and many of the items I still use today because they are high quality brands like Steve Madden, TopShop, and TOMS.
Another fun activity is Sea Life Centre, which you can visit while you shop at the Arizona Mills Mall. This aquarium houses sea turtles, sharks, and lots of fish!
There are plenty of great places to stay in Phoenix, but a couple of recommendations are Drury Inn & Suites at Happy Valley on the northern side of Phoenix that costs $130 a night or one of the many Phoenix vacation rentals. Phoenix has many popular surrounding cities like Glendale, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Mesa, so expand your search there as well.
Day 5: Spend a Day in Phoenix
For breakfast, try a yummy Mexican breakfast burrito or egg combo at Carolina’s Mexican Food.
There are plenty of things to do in Phoenix but for one day in the city read on.
If it’s hot out (which is the majority of the time), float down Salt River in an innertube. Salt River Tubing will provide you with the tubes and a ride to a starting location.
For the most part the ride is calm, but occasionally you may hit faster, bumpier parts and may even drift toward the edge of the river where there are trees and brush. You absolutely need water shoes. Bring plenty of sunscreen and water. You can enjoy a drink (no glass containers) and dip in and out of the water at your leisure in the blistering summer heat.
The views are magnificent of the surrounding canyon rock and it’s a great activity for families, friends, and couples. A fun tip is to bring a bag of large marshmallows because groups will throw them across the river at each other.
Another highlight of Phoenix is the Desert Botanical Garden. Truly one of the most stunning botanical gardens in the country, here you’ll see massive cacti, unique Sonoran Desert plants, wildflowers, and even butterflies! There are fun events like cocktails in the garden and live music performances.
If it’s just too hot to stand, the Musical Instrument Museum is one of the most popular indoor things to do in Phoenix. While there are displays with lots of interactive features that kids are sure to love, adults will really appreciate the uniqueness and specially curated exhibits at this museum. Learn about how music and science are connected and how music impacts cultures around the world. Plus admire instruments from the greats including Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carlos Santana.
Learn about Native American art at the Heard Museum where there are beautiful exhibits on Navajo Weaving, American Indian Boarding School Stories, Native People in the Southwest, and more.
Sports fans can catch the Cactus League spring training for the MLB (Major League Baseball) where major league teams from all over the west compete before the official season begins. Catch your favorite team, whether they’re the Dodgers, Royals, Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers and so on, for a fraction of the price ($15-25 per person).
Choose any combination of the above to fill your day in Phoenix.
For lunch and dinner in Phoenix, here are some of my top choices. Flower Child has very healthy choices that are crazy delicious and they have the absolute best lemonade! Try Eegee’s, an Arizona favorite, a sandwich shop with non-alcoholic fruity frozen drinks and a rotating flavor of the month. Grab tacos from one of the many popular taco trucks like Taqueria La Hacienda, Authenicos Mesquite Grill, or El Taco Santo Ahwatukee. You really can’t go wrong.
Day 6: Phoenix to Tucson and Saguaro National Park
Make the hour and 30 minute drive to Tucson where you’ll be visiting National Park/Monument number three! Saguaro National Park has the nation’s oldest and largest cacti. Saguaro cacti live for up to 250 years and grow to 40 feet on average (although the largest was 78 feet!).
Take a scenic drive around the park. Ajo Mountain Drive, a 21 mile long one-way loop, is the most popular. There are numerous hiking trails along the road and Arch Canyon is the most picturesque with double arches formed in the rhyolite rock.
Visit Signal Hill Petroglyph Site to see over 200 prehistoric Native American petroglyphs! It’s only a 0.1 mile walk from Signal Hill picnic area.
Don’t miss the wildflowers in spring and saguaro cacti flowers in April through June.
You can spend all day at Saguaro National Park but if you’re looking for more desert wildlife another gorgeous garden is the Tucson Botanical Gardens with a special pollinator garden, with bees, butterflies, and birds, a backyard bird garden where you can frequently see quail, a butterfly greenhouse, and of course an incredible cactus and succulent garden.
Alternatively, visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum that in addition to desert gardens, also has an aquarium with fresh and salt water species plus stingrays, an earth sciences center, aviary, and desert habitats with mountain lions, wolves, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, and more!
As with Phoenix, there are a number of great restaurants to sample in Tucson including Renee’s Organic Oven, an Italian restaurant with vegan options, Seis Kitchen with an outdoor patio and serving Mexican cuisine on handmade tortillas, or Monkey Burger with signature beef burgers and delicious milkshakes!
There are plenty of hotels in Tucson averaging $150 a night. For a more unique stay in the Southwest consider staying at Tanque Verde Ranch.
Day 7: Kartchner Caverns State Park and Tombstone
You’ve made it to day 7, your final day on your Arizon road trip! Just because it’s last, doesn’t mean it won’t be unforgettable. In fact, these might be two of my most favorite Arizona experiences from my time traveling around the state for years.
First up is Kartchner Caverns State Park. This was the first cave I ever visited as a kid and despite traveling to caves all over the world, it’s still one of my favorites and the most stunning! The cave system was first discovered in 1974 and finally opened to the public nearly 25 years later, after installing many precautions and preservation measures to ensure the cave stays in the most pristine condition.
Tours are required and are led by a guide who takes you through the cave sharing details of its history and pointing out the many geologic formations. The most noteworthy part of the tour is visiting the Rotunda, a large room with massive rock formations including Kubla Khan, the largest column formation in Arizona.
The final Arizona activity is visiting Tombstone, the town “too tough to die.” While it is a popular tourist destination, it still makes for a fun stop to get a glimpse of the old West. Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector who struck silver. Soon a town sprung up and now, 1400 residents still live in Tombstone where some original structures still stand.
Take a historical tour around Old Tombstone by stagecoach or wagon or tour the original mines from 1877! Visit the Gunfighter Hall of Fame, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, or even the Tombstone Epitaph Museum to learn about Tombstone’s history. Lastly, don’t miss Boothill Graveyard, where cowboys, miners, and gamblers are buried and surprisingly with a large Jewish memorial section.
For lunch or dinner step inside Big Nose Kate’s Saloon or Crystal Palace Saloon, both with American fare and fun Western themed decorations! Try craft beer at Tombstone Brewing Company or grab an ice cream treat U Scream 4 Ice Cream.
Arizona road trip itinerary map
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About the Author
Alanna is a chemistry grad student and travel blogger based in Georgia, although she’s lived in Boston, Arizona, and Los Angeles, too. She considers herself a hyper-planner and loves sharing detailed posts to make travel planning more accessible to those that don’t have the time or are new to traveling. Find her on Periodic Adventures and Follow her on Instagram!