Arizona is widely known as the Grand Canyon state, but there’s so much more to be discovered. Here you’ll find ancient ruins to modern cities, slot canyons, deserts, and wildflowers. Along with varied landscapes of reds, oranges, pinks, and purples contrasting against a bright blue sky. With our new Phoenix campervan rental station, we’re giving you the rundown on three American Southwest road trips that you won’t want to miss. Choose from Phoenix to LA via Route 66, Denver to Phoenix, and Phoenix round trip via southern Utah.
While Arizona is great any time of year, it’s prime road trip territory in the winter, especially in a fully-loaded campervan. You can expect highs in the upper 60s around Phoenix come January, and that number rises as you head further south. Wherever you go, be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.
Buy an annual National Park Pass. You’ll pay it off in no time on any one of these routes!
Distance: 800+ miles (1200+ km)
Time: 15+ hours
On this route, you’ll get to see some of the best of Arizona along with a good chunk of the historic Route 66 highway. Take it all the way to our LA depot if you want to add Joshua Tree National Park and Disneyland to your itinerary, or cut up north to our Las Vegas depot for a shorter trip.
Phoenix is a sprawling metropolis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s the cultural center of the state, with scenic drives, hiking trails, and some of the most unique museums in the country. Make sure to stop by the Desert Botanical Garden, and be on the lookout for local mom ‘n’ pop Mexican restaurants. We’ll start at the Phoenix Escape Depot and head north.
On your way to Sedona:
About a two-hour drive north of Phoenix without stops, take exit 298 to AZ-179, the oldest scenic road into Sedona. Sedona offers more than just cooler temps, jeep tours, and hiking spots. It’s also a spiritual mecca, with thousands of people flocking to the area to feel the vortex energy. Once you’ve found your third eye, stop by these highlights:
Flagstaff is high in the mountains and is surrounded by beautiful trees and fresh mountain air. The hippie-boho culture of Flagstaff brings in wanderers and travelers from all corners of the country. From hiking the national forest to touring the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail in its quaint and lively city, there’s something for everyone and every interest here.
What would an Arizona road trip be without a stop at the Grand Canyon? One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the 277-mile-long canyon is a mile deep and 18 miles across at its widest point. If you’re just passing by, you can see the Grand Canyon in all of its glory from the road (time it so you can watch the sunset, if you can). If you have more time to spare, take a multi-day hike from rim-to-rim or to the bottom, or book a whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River.
Once you’ve completed a hike of a lifetime, head just outside of the park boundaries at the South Entrance to camp in the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest right off of Fire Road 688. Not only is it free, but you also won’t have to contend with the crowds found within the national park itself. And once you’re there, it’s actually a little hard to believe that you could have this place all to yourself when, just a short 20 minute drive away, the campsites of GCNP have been booked solid for weeks on end.
For another great option, look out for Desert View Campground – first-come-first-served 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village.
70 miles (110km) east of Kingman on I-40 is the throwback town of Seligman. If you want a feel of what Route 66 used to be back in the days of Kerouac, this is your place. Pull over, grab a chili dog and chocolate malt at the Snow Cap and wander around town.
Self-proclaimed as “Arizona’s Playground,” Lake Havasu City is known as a base for trails in the nearby desert and water sports on Lake Havasu State Park.
Less than 2 hours east of LA, this is a favorite stopover point for Escapees. Upon entering the 1250 sq mile park, your campervan will be dwarfed by the massive, oddly sculpted rocks that surround you. Whether it’s bouldering, grabbing a hike, watching the Milky Way spin above your head every night or just having a few cold ones in front of a roaring fire, nobody ever regrets their time in Joshua.
Disneyland, Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood… the sightseeing is endless! Make sure to have a look around before saying goodbye to your campervan at the Los Angeles Escape Depot.
Distance: 1000+ miles (1600+ km)
Time: 20+ hours
As opposed to the other two routes, this one will give you a healthy dose of winter mountains and summer deserts all in one trip. We’ll start at our Denver Escape Depot and head west.
A popular launching point for folks from near and far, the dynamic, sunny, mile-high city is a natural gateway to countless national parks, wilderness areas, and national forests, ready to be explored. This nearly year-round destination offers adventures for every season – from the Colorado River to the peaks of the San Juans, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the Mesa Verde ruins. The shoulder seasons of fall and spring might just be the best-kept secret of this place – so plan accordingly!
This gives you access to just about every ski resort in Colorado you could think of, including Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vail, and Beaver Creek. If snow sports aren’t your thing, it’s still a beautiful, scenic drive, and it’s fun to explore the many different mountain towns along the way–just be sure to check the traffic report before you leave Denver.
Depending on your route and how much time you have for this portion of your trip, we’ve got some great stops for food, drink, and scenic activities along the way.
This scenic stretch of road to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is full of beautiful hikes, great campgrounds, towering peaks, and lots of hot springs.
A deep, steep-walled gorge carved through Precambrian rock (think two-million-year-old rocks) by the Gunnison River. Roads and trails along the north and south rims have views of the Black Canyon’s dramatic drops and the striated Painted Wall cliff. The winding East Portal Road descends to the river, exposing you to some of the steepest cliffs and craggiest spires in North America.
Covering 1.8 million acres in the southwestern corner of Colorado, beautiful scenery and outdoor adventure abound on this drive down to Durango.
One of the nation’s richest archeological zones, Mesa Verde is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings–notably the huge Cliff Palace.
Stand in four states–Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico–all at once at Four Corners on your way to Monument Valley.
You may not be in the middle of nowhere while visiting this place, but you can definitely see it from there. Located on Highway 163 between the towns of Kayenta and Mexican Hat (make sure you stop over and get a Navajo Taco), this is the land that time forgot. For a $5 fee—paid to the Navajo Nation —you can drive the 17-mile loop taking you on a meandering path around the Monuments.
Under normal conditions, this 2-hour drive is possible in an Escape Campervan. That said, the route is on an unimproved dirt road and you are NOT covered with Escape Roadside Assistance if you get stuck out there, especially during the rainy season. CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE UNDERTAKING THE LOOP. Alternatively, a private Navajo-guided backcountry tour for a half day is a great way to experience the valley. You can book one upon arrival.
It’s about 10 miles from the 160 turnoff to a little Navajo community called Tuba City. Halfway between the turnoff and the town, you’ll see a small sign on the side of the road stating, DINOSAUR TRACKS. Make sure you pull off here, pay a Navajo Guide $5, or so, and wander out on the plain behind the kiosks selling Navajo jewelry and blankets. The area is literally covered with ancient tracks left over from before the last ice age. If this wasn’t on Navajo Nation land, it’d be a national park for sure.
Located minutes from Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is easily the most photographed slot canyon in the world. The site actually comprises of two canyons: Upper Antelope, also known as The Crack, and Lower Antelope Canyon, known locally as The Corkscrew. Upper Antelope is by far more popular than Lower due to its accessibility but Lower Antelope is awe-inspiring in its own right. You’ll need a guide for this trip so try to sign up in advance. Contact: 1-866-645-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Directions: All trips to Antelope Canyon are via guided tours. Park in Page, load up with water and snacks, make sure you’ve got charged batteries in your camera, and hop on the bus.
This is one of the most iconic roadside stops in all of Arizona—a “must-see-to-believe” sort of geologic formation at Lake Powell. There are plenty of excellent places to camp, including Kaibab Lake Campground where you can picnic, swim, or simply catch some Z’s surrounded by the forest’s glory.
See above descriptions.
Distance: 1600+ miles (2500+ km)
Time: 28+ hours
There’s so much to see in Phoenix alone–but you’re so close to 5 of Utah’s best National Parks in Arizona, that we couldn’t help but add them, too.
The giant saguaro is the symbol of the American Southwest and the state flower–and you’ll find plenty of them here. Stop at the visitor center for facts about saguaro (like how they can grow to be 60 feet tall!), then drive the Cactus Desert Scenic Loop Drive. Hike some of the trails along the drive and stop to check out the views.
This cave system features 2.4 miles of passages, including:
Schedule a tour here: https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/cave-tours/cave-information
The best location in the US to see petrified wood is found here in a particularly beautiful range of bright colors. A scenic drive runs through the park, passing a section of the Painted Desert, several trailheads, and many overlooks along the way. You can see plenty just from your car, but the best way to experience the park is to hike some of the trails.There are fossils, badlands, buttes and mesas, ancient petroglyphs, wildlife and wildflowers, and vast vistas for more than a hundred miles.
Canyon de Chelly lies near the town of Chinle, and has been inhabited continuously for about 5,000 years. Ruins of the ancient Puebloan civilizations are visible on the canyon walls, with the hogans of today’s Navajos on the bottom. Stop by the Visitor Center, hike down to White House Ruins, and stop at the overlooks on the South and North Rim Drive. You can also take a ranger-led hike or a Navajo guided tour into the canyon.
Note: Navajos still live inside the canyon, so be considerate when meeting locals.
See above description.
The San Juan River begins in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. At Goosenecks State Park in Utah, you’ll see it and twist and turn through what’s called a “meander” 1,000 feet below, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing one and half miles (as the crow flies) west on its way to Lake Powell. Geologists say this erosion has uncovered a rock record exposing some 300 million years of time.
Goosenecks State Park offers picnic areas, primitive camping, vault toilets, and an observation shelter. The views are outstanding and the night sky is expansive–great for photographers and stargazers! Note: No drinking water is available. There are no maintained trails. The park does not offer access to the river.
Moab is the Mecca for all things mountain biking. With some of the best trails in the world (plus skydiving, hiking, canyoneering, rafting, and more), park it for a day or two and dive, literally, into the scene.
In Utah’s south-central desert in the heart of red rock country, you’ll find a long “wrinkle” in the earth known as the “Waterpocket Fold”–a geologic monocline extending almost 100 miles. Capitol Reef may be one of the lesser-known National Parks in Utah, but it’s a hidden gem filled with colorful cliffs, deep canyons, massive domes, and towering arches, just waiting for you to discover it. With far fewer crowds, you’ll truly get a feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared when nothing existed but earth and sky.
Each year, over 1.5 million people visit Bryce Canyon, where wind, water, and time have eroded the National Park’s sandstone cliffs into spectacular geological formations and beautiful colors. Described correctly as a “Forest Of Stone,” this otherworldly landscape never fails to impress (even after what you’ve seen over the past few days of your trip!).
The park’s main road leads past the Bryce Amphitheater, a hoodoo-filled depression lying below the Rim Trail hiking path. It has overlooks at Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point, for viewing the many towering hoodoos, narrow fins, and natural bridges. Prime viewing times are around sunup and sundown. And, if you don’t want to park, hop on the shuttle and people-watch between viewpoints.
Be aware that Bryce is typically 18˚F cooler than Zion, so pack accordingly. That said, it’s a year-round national park: at an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, there are opportunities for hiking and biking as well as winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Whether your idea of hiking is walking along a sidewalk-grade path, squeezing through a slot canyon, or clinging onto a chain on a ledge hundreds of feet above the valley floor, there’s something for everyone at Zion. Do the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, check out the waterfalls and hanging garden at Emerald Pools, maneuver up to Angel’s Landing, and explore the Narrows and the Subway.
Zion is both the oldest and the most visited national park in Utah. It was the state’s first federally designated park in 1919, and it shows off the oldest geologic layers that side of the Grand Canyon (around 150 million years old). November to April is the best time to dodge the heat and the crowds.
This remote and unspoiled 294,000-acre monument is a geologic treasure, containing Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon.
There are two developed campgrounds just outside the Monument: Stateline and White House. Dispersed camping is allowed outside the wilderness area in previously disturbed areas. There are no visitor centers on the Monument, so plan ahead and be aware of potential hazards such as rugged and unmarked roads, venomous reptiles and invertebrates, extreme heat, deep sand, and flash floods. Keep in mind that the most popular areas, like Coyote Butte, require hiking permits no matter what time of year you visit.
See above descriptions.