Road Tripping through the American Southwest

Exploring the Beauty of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona

by and - last updated on 5/6/2024

Travel Tile This Southwest Road Trip was planned by us such that we could visit the Utah "Big Five" National Parks and everything else we could visit as we drove. We wound up also being able to visit various Colorado Ski Areas that we had never been to.

Even though our main goal was Utah's "Mighty Five" National Parks (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park), our itinerary research showed us that we would be able to visit a wide range of additional locations, including; Little Wild Horse Canyon Park, various Indian Reservations, the Four Corners area, the largest man-made Lake in the Southwest (Lake Powell), the largest collection of cliff dwelling sites (Mesa Verde, CO) in the United States and a huge swathe of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado that we had never previously visited.

We embarked on a journey through three of the most visually stunning states in the American Southwest. This road trip took us from the majestic peaks of Colorado to the red rock canyons of Utah and Arizona, promising breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences at every turn. To say we were excited by this trip would be a gigantic understatement!

Youtube Video LinkOur Colorado Utah Arizona road trip itinerary video takes you through three of the most visually stunning states in the American Southwest. Visit 6 national parks and 2 national monuments with 13 major stops on this 16-day loop tour through Colorado, Utah, and the northeastern part of Arizona. Our main goal on this road trip was to visit Utah’s "Mighty Five" National Parks (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park) and explore/visit a wide range of additional locations, including; Little Wild Horse Canyon Park, the Four Corners area, the largest man-made Lake in the Southwest (Lake Powell), the largest collection of cliff dwelling sites (Mesa Verde, CO) in the United States and a huge swathe of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado that we had never previously visited such as Durango, Telluride and Royal Gorge. Plus, take a peek at Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs.
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In the sections below, we've detailed our itinerary along with specific information about each location we visited. You'll find a map and links to our individual subpages for further reading.

Colorado, Utah, Northern Arizona Loop Trip Route Map/Itinerary 

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As you can see by the this map, our trip covered 3 different states, approximately 1,600 road miles and allowed us to see some spectacular geography. You might think that a trip of this distance would be something that would result in a "tired of driving" mood - but our stops were so diverse with such incredible geography and fun things to do, that we found that we looked forward to each morning to where we could continue our adventures!

 8 - Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

 9 - Zion National Park, UT

 10 - Lake Powell, AZ

 11 - Mesa Verde National Park, CO

 12 - Telluride, CO

 13 - Royal Gorge, CO

 14 - back to Denver International Airport to fly home.

Southwest Road Trip Planning 

Click image to view REI Page
On our road trips out west we fly and rent a car rather than driving from the east coast. During this trip we traveled over 1,600 miles and we determined in the first few stops that we needed a cooler to store drinks and food that we could eat on the road. We purchased a cooler at a local store knowing that we would forfeit it in the end but it was worth its weight in gold during this trip.

The advantages of having a packed cooler in the car:

  1. Protected our well being by allowing us to stay hydrated in the hot dry climate.
  2. Stored ice allowed us to cool down our bodies if we got overheated.
  3. Saved money by being able to store food and limit eating out.
  4. Allowed us to not stress about finding places to eat along the way. Especially when there were long stretches with nowhere to stop.
  5. Allowed us to eat healthier. We could eat “real” food and have fruits and vegetables available especially when food on the road can be so unhealthy.

We have since found a cooler at REI that can be packed in our luggage so that we can easily bring it with us and reuse it. Check it out! It is the perfect travel companion for exploring the vast and remote landscapes of the American West. It is designed to fit seamlessly in luggage and with ice packs will keep things cool throughout the day. I don’t expect it to keep things as cool as a hard sided cooler but it gets good reviews and is a reasonably priced and a convenient pack for bringing with you on road. Click on the product image above to check it out or explore other options at REI.


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Glenwood Springs, CO

Day 1 - 2: Arrived at Denver International Airport, picked up our rental vehicle and drove to the Modern Market Eatery on Colfax to have some lunch at one of our favorite Denver eateries. After lunch, jumped back onto I-70 and drove west to Glenwood Springs, CO. On the way we drove through Glenwood Canyon; it is a rugged scenic 12.5 mile long canyon and it's walls climb as high as 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. It is the largest such canyon on the Upper Colorado and it made for a beautiful drive.


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Colorado National Monument

Day 3: Got up early to start the drive west from Glenwood Springs, decided that we needed to visit the Colorado National Monument on the way to Moab, UT. We calculated that a drive through the monument would allow us to have lunch in Grand Junction prior to continuing our drive to Moab, UT.


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Arches National Park

Day 3 through 5: Arrived in Moab in the afternoon, checked into our motel and did a bit of research on where to eat dinner that night. Our 4WD adventure starts early on day 4 - and we are looking forward to it!


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Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

Day 4 & 5: Picked up our Jeep 4WD this morning and our off-road adventure will span two days. This off-roading adventure is a one-day loop tour. Starting with Gemini Bridges, then catch a glimpse of Canyonlands' Island in the Sky district before descending the legendary Shafer Trail and return via Potash Road. Don't forget to explore Dead Horse State Park to see these amazing views of the Colorado River. An amazing day in Moab.


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Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT

Day 6 AM: We depart Moab this morning headed for Capitol Reef National Park. We decide to stop at Little Wild Horse, which is a classic slot canyon located near Goblin Valley. It is a popular hiking spot for families and youth groups. The main attraction is a the hike through a long stretch of "narrows," where the canyon walls are so close you have to turn sideways to get through.


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Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Day 6 PM: Arrived in Torrey, UT early afternoon and checked into our motel. Capitol Reef National Park is located in Utah's south-central desert near Torrey. It surrounds a long wrinkle in the earth known as the "Waterpocket Fold", with layers of golden sandstone, canyons and striking rock formations.


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Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Day 7 - 8: Departed Torrey, UT and headed to Tropic, UT (near Bryce Canyon) where our motel awaits. A typical high desert drive, but we are excited about our visit to Bryce Canyon National Park; a beautiful area, forests, unusual rock formations and challenging hikes. The above image is the Queens Garden trail where it merges into the Navajo Loop trail.


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Zion National Park, UT

Day 9 - 10: Drove south to get to our next pit stop in Springdale, UT. Different geography than we saw in Bryce Canyon, but beautiful in different ways. Tropic, UT to Springdale, UT is only 90 miles, but we drove west into Zion for the final 20 miles and it was spectacular.


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Lake Powell, Page, AZ

Day 11: Lake Powell is a massive lake; 162,595 acres, 1,960 miles of shore line and contains water at 7.198 cubic miles in volumn - it is truly a boater's paradise in a desert setting. However, this lake is rapidly getting lower & smaller due to the southwest USA drought.


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Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Day 12 - 13: Mesa Verde is an amazing Indian cliff-dwelling site, and we visited there as a day-trip from Durango, CO. It has over 4,700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings and the mesa top sites of pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures.


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Telluride, CO

Day 14 - 15: The drive north from Durango to Telluride was exciting as it passes through some amazing mountains & passes - the route we used (route 550) is 120 miles in length and included the Million Dollar Highway.


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Royal Gorge, CO

Day 16: While driving east on route 50 to Colorado Springs, we saw a billboard sign describing Royal Gorge and decided that it looked like something we ought to visit. Since we did not have to be in Colorado Springs until early afternoon, we decided to go exploring.

 

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