American Southwest or Southwestern United States is one of the most stunning road trips that I have done in my life. Geographically, it comprises with 6 states: Arizona, New Mexico, with parts of California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The American southwest captures the highlights of canyons, exceptional mix of red rock views, Monument valleys, rivers, great food, and cultures rich in Mexican and native American history.
Deciding on where to go for my husband’s birthday bash, we thought about road tripping with the entire family on a 2 weeklong drive. We came to the conclusion of venturing out of the usual California. The Hendy’s are going to drive over 2500 miles from California to Colorado and back.
Budgeting, vehicle, what to bring and what to pack are just a few things to consider when planning this trip. When you bring the entire family along, we definitely need a game plan to make this trip manageable and enjoyable.
So, we bought a Motorhome to save money on food, accommodation, flexibility, and mobility for the kids – 3 years old and 3 months old.
It was in fall season when we went for this trip. While every place we went through have different weather, tracking the daily weather condition helped a lot. We wanted to avoid the cold areas as much as possible.
Here is our Itinerary on our Two-week American Southwest Road trip with kids!
- Day 1 Needles CA
- Day 2- 4 Grand Canyon
- Day 5 Gouldings, Utah
- Day 6 Durango CO
- Day 7-8 Santa Fe NM
- Day 9-11 Denver CO
- Day 12-14 Glenwood CO
- Day 15 Moab Utah
Day One: Needles, California
Needles, California is located along the western bank of the Colorado River which basically serves as the border between California and Arizona. Needless to say, we stayed at the only resort on the 66 and the Colorado river. While the town is one of the dying cities passing along the route 66, it has an interesting history. If you have watched the Cars movie, this is the kind of place where they featured the forgotten town.
Following the US route 40, it took us 4.5 hours on the road from our home base in Bakersfield to Needles California.
Place to Stay: Fender’s River Road Resort & Motel
Where to eat: Wagon Wheel Restaurant (Old West-style eatery & gift shop serving breakfast, American comfort food, beer & wine.)
What to do: Take a photo at Route 66 and Visit the Grand Canyon Caverns in peach springs Arizona
Day two – Four Explore the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Drive 3.5 hours from Needles California to Grand Canyon Arizona
One of the 7 natural wonders of the world and one that is must-see. A landscape colored beautifully. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is massive and incredible.
Our visit to the Grand Canyon is one of the most anticipated visits on this travel. So, we reserved a full day just to see the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, the morning hardly turned out good because it was windy and chilly. While we checked the weather 2 days before the visit, we did not check how the wind situation will be. Temperature in the desert change rapidly. Instead, we went home earlier than expected. On the brighter side, we did get to see the Canyon even for a brief moment and my son mostly enjoyed the free bus rides. At the end of the day, the weather was calmer, and we had dinner over-looking the Grand Canyon.
The following day, which is our last day in Arizona, we drove the Bluff Scenic Byway. Around 45 mile-drive that runs through the vast Navajo Indian Reservation. You’ll see beautiful and diverse rock formations that are unforgettable. Just the drive itself is already incredible. If you’re a photo geek, better prepare your camera.
Place to Stay: Grand Canyon Trailer Village
Where to Eat: Arizona Steakhouse
What to do: Visit the Grand Canyon Visit Center and Grand Canyon Observation deck, Take a drive at the bluff scenic byway: Bears Ears, Valley of the Gods, The four Corners, Goosenecks State Park, Forest Gump Point, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley
Day Five – Goulding, Utah
Drive 2.5 hours from Grand Canyon, Arizona to Goulding, Oljato-Monument Valley, UT
Located in the southeastern part of Utah and on the Navajo Indian reservation, the monument Valley is one that is must-see. It’s an iconic landmark of the American west and where many classic western movies were filmed.
Truth to be told, winter is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most especially for a tropical gal like me. Our trip has finally come to the point where it is about 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, the family is geared for winter clothes. We also bought two portable fan heaters for extra heat in our motor home.
As I have mentioned, temperature in the US is totally different in every area. Always bring a warm garment when in road tripping. Even on a hot summer day, it can still be cold in the mountains.
Checking on the weather before going to the next area is always helpful.
Place to Stay: Goulding’s Monument Valley RV Campgrounds
Where to Eat: Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room
What to do: One of the most popular things to do in Goulding, UT is hiking or even just visiting the adoring beauty of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. If you are interested in stories of the west, there is so much to learn and so much to embrace of what the Navajo can offer.
Situated next to Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room is a cute museum of some of the West movies that were filmed in this area.
Goulding also have gift shops. One we visited has the most collection of woven rugs – beautifully handmade.
Day 6 – Durango, Co
Drive 3 hours from Goulding, Oljato-Monument Valley, UT to Durango, Co
Supposedly, our next journey from Goulding was Santa Fe. We could drive 6 hours to reach the destination. However, we found out that the temperature in Santa Fe dropped to 13°C. Before we decided this 2-week trip, we’ve already anticipated the possible temperature changes specially during fall-winter season. And as much as possible, since our priority is our kids, we’ll stay on the most southern trip to avoid the cold areas. So, we decided to drive to Durango and stayed for a night in Alpen Rose RV Park.
Durango is surely charming. Its Fall season was stunning. Our drive was smooth, and the sceneries were picturesque. Surely, Durango gave us a reason to come back again.
Helpful Tip: Pack a moisturizer, an Aquaphor or Moisturizing Lotion. Rapid fluctuations in weather can take its toll on our skin as it adjusts to the new environment. Cold temperatures can dry out skin.
Day 7-8 Santa Fe
Drive 4 hours from Durango, Co to Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is one the oldest cities in the US and known for its art scene and pueblo-style architecture. This special town is rich with Mexican and Native American Culture.
While the drive from Durango to Santa Fe took half of our day, we spent our afternoon, settling in the new campground and had dinner at Luminaria Restaurant & Patio.
We spent the following day exploring the downtown. Their tiny streets are packed with shops that you can spend hours wandering and looking for that perfect gifts. The downtown Santa Fe has a lot of history as well. I recommend you stopping by the basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the miraculous staircase of Loretto chapel.
Santa Fe is home to delicious traditional New Mexican cuisine. They are famous on their chili. Green is usually spicier than red but if you are not sure which would you prefer, try, and ask for “Christmas” and you will try both.
Place to Stay: Los Sueños de Santa Fe RV Parks & Campground
Where to eat: La Plazuela At La Fonda, Luminaria Restaurant & Patio.
What to do: Santa Fe Plaza, Basilica, Loretto Chapel
Day 9-12 Denver, Colorado
Drive 6 hours from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado
Denver is one of the best places to travel in the United States. Whether you want to visit the best mountain range in the US – the Rockies or just visiting the mile high city, Denver is a dream getaway.
Our visit to Denver, Colorado was pretty much a break from a week of activities and mostly driving. At this point, we’ve driven more than 1500 miles and we are already missing our home.
This stop we had here was mostly a family visit. We stayed at my husband’s cousin and have gratefully enjoyed the warmth of a home. We also visited a couple interesting places and have seen the iconic Rockies.
About have an hour away from Denver, you will find Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. It is a 40-mile hiking trail and the base of Flatiron foothills.
It snowed when we went to Colorado. The following day, Chautauqua Park was covered in ice and the hike that we did in this park was breathtaking.
On our way out from Denver, we also visited the Denver Zoo which was lucky day when we were there. It was a free-pass Day! It is one the biggest zoo we have visited in over 80-acres of well-maintained site.
If you have some more time to extend this leg of a trip, consider adding on taking an Amtrak train from Denver to Glenwood Springs where you can see and enjoy the immense beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Day 12-14 : Glenwood, CO
Our trip from Denver to Glenwood Springs was under three hours. The drive is just as incredible as the destination. This is one of my favorites on this American Southwest Road Trip. We arrived in Glenwood Canyon Resort in the afternoon and stayed for a night. The People were nice, and the Park was beautiful. My favorite part at the resort is the fall colors with a little bit snow on the side of the mighty Colorado river. They also have cottages facing the Glenwood Canyon. Check out their website to see more info.
The following day, we moved and stayed overnight at Hotel Glenwood Springs. We wanted to be closer to the Hot Spring Pool and enjoy it as much as we can.
Grateful for the geothermal activity in the area, Colorado is a hot spot for hot springs. Home to the best destination for Colorado Hot Springs, Glenwood Hot Spring Pool is the largest mineral hot mineral pool in the world. It is kept at constant and beautiful 90-93 degrees. There is also a separate hotter pool at the far end which is kept at 104 degrees.
We opted not to booked at the Resort because we have a motorhome. And the Hotel Glenwood Springs has the parking lot for that. You can always visit the pool area even if you are not booked in their hotel.
Got a second wind? Before leaving Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Canyon Brewpub is an essential stop. It is one of the local favorites that were recommended by beer fans in the know.
Day 15 – Moab Utah
A total Mars experience on Earth. Approximately 3 hours of drive from Glenwood, Colorado, you will find the sprawling red rock landscape of Moab, Utah. This town is as gorgeous as the drive we had at the Bluff Scenic Byway.
Moab, Utah is an ideal place for people who has a dire love for outdoor adventure- hiking, biking, rafting, off-roading or climbing. However, if you and your family is up to visiting a museum, check out Moab Giants. It is an ultimate Dinosaur adventure for all ages.
Located at the corner of Highway 191 and SR 313 heading to Canyonlands and Dead Horse State Park, you will find Moab Giants. With over 100 state-of-the-art exhibits of life-sized dinosaurs, this museum is exceptional. We had an amazing experience visiting Moab Giants. My son enjoyed digging fossils. We went for a walk and loved every trail we took while getting up close to a bunch of dinosaurs. The 3D Aquarium was amazing, and our guide was awesome. Our visit at Moab Giants was breathtaking. Exploring while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding is a great way to end the trip.
READ MORE : Things to do in Las Vegas with a Toddler
Day 16 Las Vegas, Nevada
Heading to our home in Bakersfield, California, we opted not to explore Las Vegas. We are certainly missing the warmth of our home. So, we parked outside to one of the hotels in Las Vegas and spend a night at the parking lot. This is the nice thing of having a motor home. If you can’t find an RV park to stay, there is always a parking lot either from Pilot Truck Stop or Hotels like in Las Vegas.
Don’t be scared of the season. It might be the best the best adventure of your life.
Have you been to the Southwest US or are you planning a trip soon? I’d love to hear about which places you’d include on a road trip around the American Southwest in the comments below!