My very first time in Arizona was in 2018 during my first-ever road trip. I probably never would have gone on this trip if my best friend Emilie had not insisted on visiting the Grand Canyon. Little did I know this road trip would be the catalyst for my obsession with travel. It was also the beginning of many yearly, best-friend road trips throughout Europe and the United States. I caught the travel fever as we drove hundreds of miles through the dry, sandy deserts of Arizona and shrubby plains of New Mexico. Every year, I yearn to go back and explore more of the Southwest’s innumerable gems. This one-week itinerary combines all of the best sights and hikes in central Arizona.
- Day 1 – Phoenix, AZ
- Day 2 – Sedona, AZ
- Day 3 – Sedona, AZ
- Day 4 – Grand Canyon National Park
- Day 5 – Page, AZ
- Day 6 – Monument Valley
- Day 7 – Drive back to Phoenix, AZ
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Day 1 – Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is the perfect place to begin your Arizona road trip as it is home to Phoenix International Airport and features great proximity to major Arizona attractions. Depending on what time you land, you may have enough time to hang out in Phoenix and even do a short hike up Superstition Mountains. There you’ll find countless saguaro cacti and great views of the surrounding valley. If you lack the time to explore Phoenix, I recommend heading straight to Sedona, AZ. The drive from Phoenix to Sedona is about 2 hours.
If you have additional time to spend in Phoenix or would rather substitute a day in Sedona to spend more time in Phoenix, here are some of the best things to do in Arizona’s state capital.
- Roosevelt Row Art District
- Hot air balloon ride
- Desert Botanical Gardens
- Musical Instrument Museum
- Goldfield Ghost Town
- Stay in Scottsdale, AZ
If you arrive early and would rather check another national park off your bucket list, head to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, AZ. Saguaro is about 1h30 to 2h south of Phoenix. Click here for my Saguaro National Park guide.
Day 2 – Sedona, AZ
First on your Arizona itinerary is the beautiful town of Sedona, Arizona. For your first morning in Sedona, I suggest visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross and exploring the spiritual side of Sedona. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find lots of places to shop and eat. Enjoy walking around Sedona’s commercial district then head to lunch
If you’re looking for great food with even greater views, I recommend the northern section of AZ-89A. Canyon Breeze, 89 Agave Cantina, and Open Range are all solid options. These restaurants offer great views of the Sedona red rocks, especially late fall during peak foliage.
Sedona is also heaven for vegans and vegetarians with tons of meatless options. Sedona’s Pizza and Pasta Company, one of the most popular pizza restaurants in Sedona, is actually vegan and features the same amazing views as the non-vegetarian options mentioned above.
In the afternoon, I recommend heading to Mescal Trailhead and going on a hike. Late afternoon is the best time to hike Devil’s Bridge. You will get incredible views of the surrounding vista as well as much lower crowds than other times of day.
If you’re looking to splurge on accommodations, we recommend the Enchantment Resort located in the heart of Boynton Canyon. However, if you are passing through Sedona on a budget, we recommend staying at Harmony House, a rental similar to an Air BNB. We loved our stay there. The host was very friendly, and the room was comfortable, clean, and quiet. We had our own parking spot right outside our bedroom, and a small kitchen area with tea and coffee.
Related – 6 Best Hikes in Sedona
Day 3 – Sedona, AZ
For your second day in Sedona, I recommend heading on another hike or driving up AZ-89A to Slide Rock State Park. If you would rather get moving, consider hiking Subway Cave. It was our favorite hike we did in Sedona and is only 5.5 mi/ 8.8 km round trip. If you should to take a dip at Slide Rock instead, make sure to arrive early as it can get quite crowded in the summer when the cool oak creek attracts loads of locals and tourists alike.
Slide Rock State Park is a must on your Arizona itinerary as it is one of the state’s most popular swimming holes and perfect for families. This former apple farm is open 8am to 6pm from February 1st to November 30th and 9am to 5pm the rest of the year. The park is closed for holidays. The entrance fee is $10-$30 per vehicle depending on the time of year. National park passes are not accepted at this Arizona state park. Click here for hours of operation, fees, and information regarding swimming.
When you get ready to leave Slide Rock, head north on AZ-89A and make sure to stop at the top for breathtaking views of Sedona’s alpine hills. After snapping a few pictures, continue driving to Williams, AZ better known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Stop at Goldies Route 66 Diner for some delicious food and get a good night’s rest before visiting one of America’s most famous natural wonders.
Day 4 – Grand Canyon National Park
Today, your Arizona itinerary will take you to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, the 4th most visited national park in the United States with 4.5 million visitors in 2021.
US NATIONAL PARKS – Read all national park guides
With one day in GCNP
When we first visited the Grand Canyon, I thought it would take us several days to see it all, but the truth is it is absolutely possible to admire all the viewpoints along the South Rim in just one day. The National Park Service provides four free shuttle lines that stop several times per hour at nearly all the viewpoints along the South Rim with the exception of the easternmost points – Grand View, Lipan, Navajo, and Desert View Points.
- The purple line runs from early spring to fall and shuttles visitors from Tusayan into Grand Canyon Village. There are two lines on the purple shuttle: north bound and south bound.
- The blue line circulates year round within Grand Canyon Village. There are two blue lines: east bound and west bound.
- The orange line runs year round as well and will take you to Mather and Yavapai Points on its west-bound line and to the South Kaibab trail, Yaki Point, and Pipe Creek Vista on its east-bound line.
- Finally, the red line runs from March 1st to November 30th and will take you all the way to Hermit’s Point, the westernmost viewpoint on the south rim of GCNP. It is important to note that all of the red-line viewpoints located west of Grand Canyon Village are accessible by shuttle only.
WINTER NATIONAL PARKS – 15 Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
What we did
We parked our car at the Yavapai Geology Museum and walked from Yavapai to Mather Point and back. You could also visit the points using the orange line. Then we stopped for lunch in Grand Canyon Village and then used the red line to explore the viewpoints from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Point. As the evening approached, we got back in the car and headed to Desert View to watch the sunset. We stopped at Grand View, Lipan and Navajo Points on the way.
With two or more days in GCNP
If you are lucky enough to have more time on your Arizona itinerary to spend in Grand Canyon National Park, I recommend spending some time canoeing/ rafting down the Colorado River or hiking one of the trails down into the canyon. The Bright Angel Trail is a popular option. It is a strenuous hike with multiple stopping points from 4.6 mi/ 7.4 km to 9.3 mi/ 15 km one way. A majority of those who hike all the way down do so on a multi-day hike and either camp down at Bright Angel Campground or stay at Phantom Ranch Lodge, both of which require permits.
Another popular option is to hike Rim-to-Rim starting from the North Rim. Unless you are an extremely fit, marathon-running hiker, you will need to hike Rim to Rim on a multi-day hike as well. The hike from the north to the south rim of the Grand Canyon is approximately 24 miles/ 38.6 km and one of the most strenuous hikes in the world. No permits are required for parties of 11 or less. However, always check with the National Park Service prior to your visit as hiking conditions and permit requirements may change. It is highly recommended to begin your rim-to-rim hike at the North Kaibab trailhead and make your way to Phantom Ranch where the trail turns into Bright Angel Trail right before crossing the Colorado River. This is because the elevation gain is nearly 1,400 ft higher when hiking from the south to the north rim.
ATTENTION!The activities mentioned above are suitable for more adventurous travelers and experienced hikers only. Please always check weather conditions before going out on a hike in Grand Canyon National Park. During the winter time, temperatures can drop quickly while summertime can be unforgiving to those who set off on a hike unprepared.
Day 5 – Page, AZ
Next on the itinerary is Page, Arizona, home to a multitude of geological gems including Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell. Horseshoe Bend is located within the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. Though there is no entrance fee, the city of Page charges $5 per motorcycle and $10 per vehicle. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. I recommend visiting during sunrise and sunset for lower crowds, but around noon to photograph the bend in full sunlight. The hike to the viewpoint is about 1.5 mi/ 2.4 km and requires close-toed shoes. I walked to the viewpoint in my sandals, and they broke. 0/10 would not recommend. Please be mindful of your surroundings and windy conditions as you approach the edge for a photo op. A visitor had died just a few days prior to our visit after falling from the cliff edge.
Antelope Canyon was Garrett’s favorite part of the trip. There are two ways to visit Arizona’s most famous slot canyon: the Lower and Upper route. Upper Antelope Canyon features the unique light beams you see in many photographs while Lower Antelope Canyon is brighter. However, travelers on a budget might prefer Lower Antelope Canyon as it offers cheaper tours. Antelope Canyon is located on Najavo land, and only a few companies are authorized to provide guided tours for visitors. Dixie Ellis and Ken’s are the only two companies that tour Lower Antelope Canyon. Their prices are identical, and they share the same parking lot. Tours depart every 30 minutes and last around 1 hour.
We visited Lower Antelope Canyon with Dixie Ellis and thoroughly enjoyed our time. I was nowhere near as experienced in trip planning back in 2018 and had not made reservations ahead of our visit at Antelope Canyon. To this day, I do not know how we managed to score three permits during peak daytime on a holiday weekend, but somehow we did. I highly recommend making reservations ahead of time and visiting during a weekday in low season to avoid the crowds. When we visited, there were hundreds of people in the canyon at once, which slightly tarnished our experience.
After spending your day exploring the rock formations of Page, AZ, head to Lake Powell to lay on the beach and relax. Like Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell is located within the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. There is a $30 entrance fee per vehicle, but you get in free with your national park pass. I highly recommend purchasing a national park pass if you plan on visiting 3 or more national park sites within the next 12 months.
There are several beaches along the shore of Lake Powell though no lifeguard is on duty. Lake Powell is also a water sports enthusiast’s paradise. During our visit, we saw people paddling, kayaking, swimming, boating, fishing, etc… The heartbreaking truth about Lake Powell is that it is in danger of disappearing due to increasingly dry climate in the area. In 2021, Lake Powell hit its lowest water level, and experts have warned that the lake may disappear in the next decade.
Day 6 – Monument Valley
No Arizona road trip itinerary would be complete without a visit to one of the most iconic views of the Southwest. It’s so iconic it even has its own emoji. Monument Valley, like many other tourist attractions in the area, is located within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation and has a fee of $8 per person. Make sure to put the correct address in Google Maps to avoid getting lost. The exact coordinates for Monument Valley are N 37.00414 W 110.09889. The 17-mile loop through Monument Valley is open 8am to 4pm during winter time, 8am to 5pm during summer time and closed on holidays.
After exiting Monument Valley, make your way back to Phoenix, AZ.
Day 7 – Drive/ Fly home
This concludes our one-week itinerary through central Arizona. If you have a few hours to spend in Phoenix before catching your flight home, consider doing a few of the best things to do in Phoenix mentioned on Day 1 of your Arizona itinerary.
On the other hand, if you are headed on home or to your next destination, I have linked some more road trip stop suggestions below.