The Complete Arizona Road Trip Itinerary
The United States is one of the world's best places to take a road trip. Not only is it geographically huge, but it’s also chock-full of interesting sights and helpful infrastructure that makes road tripping an ideal way to see the country.
When it comes to road tripping in the USA, few states come up in conversation as often as Arizona.
While not quite as big of a road trip titan as California or Texas, Arizona does rank as the 8th most popular state in terms of yearly visits.
If you’re still not convinced, read on to see why Arizona should be your next great adventure. We’ve got everything you need to know about how to pull off the ultimate road trip experience in the Grand Canyon State.
Whether you’re an experienced traveler, a road trip first-timer, or anything in between, today’s Autio travel guide will inspire you to hit the road.
Is a Road Trip to Arizona Worth It?
When you think of Arizona, you might think of a dry desert landscape under a scorching sun. TV might depict Arizona as a tumbleweed-filled desert, but don’t let that fool you — Arizona is a tourism giant for a reason.
Plan a Multi-State Excursion
In many ways, Arizona is in the perfect location. Situated in the American Southwest between the first most visited state (California), the third most visited state (Nevada), and the fourth most visited state (Texas), it's no wonder that Arizona is so popular with road trippers from across the globe.
Take in the Natural Scenery
Beyond its convenient location, Arizona is also an ideal destination for getaways on its own. It hosts some of the nation’s most unique and compelling natural scenery — most notably the Grand Canyon, from which the Grand Canyon State gets its nickname.
The Grand Canyon is just one of three breathtaking national parks in Arizona. Plus, if you’re still in the market for a multi-state trek, Arizona is conveniently close to a combined total of 21 national parks across three states. Not only is it a crossroads for travel of all kinds, but it’s also especially perfect as a central hub for those on a national park seeing spree.
Hikers, bikers, and explorers of all kinds will be especially thrilled during an Arizona road trip, but this state really has something for everyone. From the spas and shops of Sedona to Instagram-worthy Antelope Canyon, Arizona is fun for the whole family.
Explore the Iconic Route 66
When you road trip across Arizona, you can take one of the most legendary routes in the world: Route 66.
Route 66 crossed numerous states during its heyday, inspiring songs, films, and the portrait of an American dream. Though now decommissioned by the American Highway Foundation, portions of historic Route 66 can still be followed throughout Arizona.
Any road trip through Arizona is likely to be touched by the special charm of Route 66. Those looking for a Route 66-themed trek can follow its path more closely for a truly unique and impactful experience seeing all of the glory and folklore Route 66 still has to offer.
Planning Your Road Trip Route Through Arizona
As with any road trip, at least some amount of planning is needed to ensure you get the best experience possible.
There’s a balance of course. Too much planning and you’re likely to miss the best, unexpected moments along the way. It’s the freedom to roam that makes road trips truly special. Too little planning, though, and you’re likely to end up a bit lost.
Let’s talk about some of the factors that should influence your personal itinerary before we talk about the must-see locations Arizona has to offer.
What’s the Ideal Length for an Arizona Road Trip?
One of the most difficult things about traveling in Arizona is deciding how long to spend there! You could spend weeks exploring the Grand Canyon State — so how do you decide how long to stay?
It’s helpful to remember that the main attractions in the state are generally concentrated to the North and tend to follow a rather convenient route.
The average road tripper can get a full Arizona experience spending anywhere between seven to 14 days in the state.
Of course, a longer trip has plenty of benefits. You’re going to get a deeper feel for Arizona if you can spend two or three weeks amongst its desert landscape, but that doesn’t mean a month-long trip is a necessity.
If you can afford two full weeks for your Arizona road trip, you’ll be able to enjoy a comfortable 10 day travel time with a few extra days to play with whenever you find somewhere you’d like to linger.
Where Should I Start and Finish My Trip?
As with trip length, your start- and end-points will vary on a case-by-case basis. Unless you live within driving distance of Arizona, you’re going to need to fly in — giving yourself a few great options for your Point A and Point B.
Phoenix, Arizona — the state’s capital — is the ideal place to fly in and begin the trip for many people. Tucson is another popular option, as both airports are international and include a variety of flights from all over the world.
One additional option to consider is flying through Las Vegas or LAX, either at the beginning or end of your trip. This will bring your road trip into one or two of Arizona’s beautiful surrounding states, which may be worth it if you’re coming from father afield.
There’s a lot to see between Arizona and either of those two airports, where some travelers will be able to find more convenient flights.
If you arrive and depart from the same airport, you can enjoy the convenience of renting a car without paying extra for a one-way rental. This is especially useful if you’ll be doing a loop from Phoenix or Tucson, as there are awesome attractions in both directions to keep the loop fresh from start to finish.
How Important Is Planning for an Arizona Road Trip?
Some states are rather difficult to improvise in when it comes to road trips. You could easily add on hours and hours of driving with no interesting stops or attractions of note. In Arizona, that’s not something to worry about. You’ll find points of interest no matter where you roam.
Do your best to plan the trip out, but don’t be afraid to improvise. There are densely packed attractions in northern Arizona specifically, so it’s not too big of a deal to take detours.
Is There an Ideal Vehicle for an Arizona Road Trip?
Your choice of vehicle will depend on how you want to tackle your Arizona road trip.
In general, any vehicle that’s good for a standard road trip can thrive here. Perhaps more than some other states, you can benefit from off-road capabilities. This is especially true if you’re thinking of camping or tackling some adventurous remote locations.
However, there’s no need to worry about the road conditions. Arizona’s roads rank in the top half of the US when it comes to paving quality, although some of the larger roads (AKA the I-17) have other issues to be aware of, such as traffic and accident frequency.
A crossover with great fuel efficiency is always highly recommended, but sedans, SUVs, trucks, and vans all have their pros and cons. Basically, you can’t go wrong.
Can I Bring an Electric Vehicle on an Arizona Road Trip?
Traveling with an AFV (alternative fuel vehicle) such as an electric car is easier than ever in 2022 — and more rewarding, too.
Not only are you benefiting the environment, but you’re also helping your own budget when it comes to gas prices.
You can find hundreds of charging stations throughout the state, many (but not all) of which are public.
Arizona’s Office of Tourism includes resources for finding charging stations. Plus, state laws even make exemptions for certain AFV vehicles including the use of HOV lanes without meeting occupant requirements and parking in certain restricted areas.
How Far in Advance Should I Plan My Trip?
Some trips are easy to plan spontaneously, but an Arizona road trip? Not so much – at least if you hope to hit most of the major natural landmarks.
Reservations at national parks and similar sites like Monument Valley tend to fill up fast and far in advance, sometimes 6 months or even a year ahead.
If you’re hoping to secure a guided tour, start thinking about your trip at least 6 months ahead. If you’re planning to camp, think even further in advance. It’ll be well worth the effort.
Places To See on an Arizona Road Trip
So, you’ve figured out the essentials – now it’s time to start planning your actual route. This is the fun part, so get excited!
Arizona is full of stunning attractions, but almost all of the best are outside the major cities. Put on your trail boots, because getting immersed in nature is definitely the best way to experience what Arizona has to offer.
Let’s look at some of the must-see sights along a loop to and from Phoenix. Each of these stops is conveniently located 5 or fewer hours from the next, so you’re never going to have a leg of the trip that’s longer than the ideal four to six hours of driving per day.
You can always change around the order of stops if you find a fun detour, choose to start in Tucson, or come from an out-of-state airport.
Starting Point: Phoenix or Tucson
Phoenix’s landmarks may not compete with the fame and glory of Arizona’s national parks, but it’s certainly not a place to pass up on if you have the time to explore.
You can find a number of short, relaxing hiking trails at the city’s limits if you’re looking for a little taste of nature before you embark on the greater leg of your trip.
The Arizona Commemorative Airforce Museum is a great stop in east Phoenix (Mesa) for those who enjoy lifelong learning and want to see some incredible, historic aircraft in action.
There are also amusement parks, professional sporting venues, bars, Mexican restaurants, and much more to enjoy before you skip out on the city for some natural beauty.
Tucson is a bit smaller and less lively than the Arizona state capitol, but a day or two spent here can be enjoyed similarly. Bike tours, rock climbing, and local cuisine are popular highlights.
Next Up: Saguaro National Park
Saguaro is a natural first stop as it is the closest of the major landmarks to the most convenient starting points for an Arizona road trip.
Located in Tucson, Saguaro has two major areas: the Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District, located to the east and west of the city respectively.
Some prefer to take two days exploring the park on both sides, but you could reasonably see it in one day or opt to just see half if you’re short on time.
Wherever you go in Saguaro, you’re in for a cacti-filled experience as you peruse the Sonoran Desert landscape. The park is most well known for its prickly plant life — specifically, the Saguaro Cacti, which can grow over 40 feet tall.
Rich history accompanies archeological sites and cultural remnants, which you can learn about through park services while you’re there!
Be sure to check the National Park Service’s website for any potential closures and other information about events. This tip goes for all three national parks you’re going to be able to visit throughout this trip.
Camping at Saguaro is also a popular activity, although the park does not allow camping reservations. Are you ready to try your luck?
Continuing To Petrified Forest National Park
Less than five hours from Saguaro, the Petrified Forest National Park is your next best stop.
This leg of the drive is interesting yet barren, as you’ll be going through some true desert roads. Places to stay include the nearby town of Holbrook or campsites around the park.
The park itself includes a designated camping area, but only for backpackers. If you’re pulling an RV trailer or hoping to camp near your car, look for sites not far from this national park instead.
While at the park, there’s plenty to do and see! Hiking is the most popular way to immerse yourself in the desert, but there are also learning activities and guided tours for those who want a more informed experience.
You can also bike down the park’s road, go stargazing, look at petroglyphs, or even go horseback riding through the park!
The archeological artifacts in the south of the park are one of its most interesting aspects. See petrified wood from over 200 million years ago, and explore the cultures of the people who once lived here as well.
In the north, you can explore the Painted Desert, known for banded hills that sport vibrant colors due to a diverse geological make-up.
The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a further five-hour drive from the Petrified Forest National Park, but it’s a noteworthy sight on the way to the big one: The Grand Canyon.
Here you can gaze at even more spectacles of nature like massive sandstone mesas and buttes throughout a vast expanse of desert.
If you’re looking for places to stay, there are hotels, cabins, and campgrounds in and around the park. You may even be able to secure accommodations with a view of one of the majestic buttes! The View Hotel is one of the most popular places to stay for road trippers and casual visitors alike.
We recommend spending two days at Monument Valley, as the park is massive and ready for extended exploration.
Another natural area owned and operated by the Navajo, Antelope Canyon lies just a quick two-hour drive from Monument Valley.
Some travelers opt to stay near Antelope Canyon because it lies along the path to the Grand Canyon, but you could also make it a day trip during an extended stay at Monument Valley.
The main attraction here is the various slot canyons around Antelope Canyon that give the park its name. These narrow channels are almost otherworldly in their beauty as you walk through them, sandstone walls reaching 100 or more feet above you and rays of sunlight dancing throughout.
It’s a sight to behold, without a doubt. However, be aware of some important logistical concerns before you can truly enjoy this spot. You’re going to need a guided tour if you want to explore the canyon, and these tours fill up early and quickly.
Schedule ahead as much as possible, and be prepared for a crowded tour. Have no doubt, though – this stop is definitely worth it.
Nearby, Horseshoe Bend offers another wonderful but popular site for sightseeing.
The Main Attraction: Grand Canyon National Park
A short two and half hour drive from Antelope Canyon, you’re finally ready for the main attraction. We can’t imagine an Arizona itinerary that doesn’t include the Grand Canyon.
Considered one of the most impressive natural sights on Earth, the Grand Canyon draws huge numbers of people to Arizona and is the biggest contributor to its high spot on the US tourism top states list. It’s on many people’s bucket lists, and it should definitely be on yours if it’s your first time in Arizona.
From Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon’s east entrance is most convenient. Desert View Drive is the main driving route for seeing the canyon. The route runs for 23 miles connecting the east entrance to Grand Canyon Village and the visitor center.
There are six developed viewpoints along the route, as well as picnic areas and pull-offs. You can find dozens more undeveloped viewpoints and short hikes all around the south rim of the Grand Canyon as well.
You can find plenty of opportunities to hike, bike, and even swim on this south rim trail. There’s also a geological museum nearby to delve even deeper into this area’s rich history.
Mule trips are a unique way to traverse the epic terrain of the park, and rafting the Colorado River is another entertaining way to explore — but you’ll need to reserve these activities well in advance. This is another time that planning ahead is well worth the prep.
Staying at the Grand Canyon for at least two nights and two days is recommended. You won’t want to rush this portion of your journey.
You can stay at one of the five hotels inside the park, choosing from the Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Maswick Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, or El Tover. You could also stay in the nearby small town of Tusayan to avoid the crowds.
Last Stop Before Home: Sedona
A short drive from the Grand Canyon brings us through Flagstaff to the city of Sedona.
Despite being one of Arizona’s larger cities, it’s the nearby natural wonders that make Sedona truly special. Gorgeous red rock formations and evergreen vegetation along mountains, hills, and buttes define the landscape, where most enjoy some more hiking and potentially camping.
Be sure to see Cathedral Rock, the Oak Creek Canyon scenic drive, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Uptown Sedona is also a beautiful area full of artsy boutiques and shops, plus lots of interesting restaurants.
To the south, the Montezuma Castle National Monument is an exceptionally interesting cliff dwelling ruin worth seeing. To the north, those who want to get more hands-on can swim and slide in Slide Rock State Park.
A hotel or Airbnb is most likely your best option for staying in Sedona for one or two nights to wind down from your Arizona outdoor adventures.
From Sedona, you can return to your starting point, or head elsewhere to continue your journey!
There’s so much more to see in America’s southwest, including tons of national parks and thriving cities. While this route didn’t hit Lake Powell, Tombstone, or Canyon De Chelly, there’s no reason for you to not take a little extra time to see all of the southwest’s best.
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