Road trips were a big part of my summers growing up and they are some great memories that I still cherish. Road trips are a great chance to see the beautiful United States of America that we live in! Really. We have such a variety of astounding landscapes and seeing them as a family provides family bonding time while inspiring a love of learning, an interest in history, a knowledge of geography, and an avid curiosity about cultures and the world we live in. That is why my husband and I took our children on a road trip this summer to explore America’s southwest. Here I will share our family Southwest road trip itinerary with you and I hope it inspires you to visit some of the Southwest destinations and explore more!
Three Week Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
First, I should disclose that our Southwest road trip itinerary was rather lengthy. We have the luxury to be able to take long summer trips because my husband is a teacher and I can work from my laptop anywhere that I can get WiFi. I don’t think you will want to recreate our full scenic road trip but you can gather information and Southwest USA road trip ideas to suit your time constraints and interests.
Our southwest road trip itinerary covers a span of 3 weeks and centers primarily around New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. We chose these states to focus on because of their natural beauty, national parks, and state parks. Although, we were already familiar with the red rock formations of New Mexico and Arizona and wanted to share our love of these states with our kids. We were not as familiar with Utah and Colorado and we wanted to explore some new things together.
A word about our listed food stops
I only share the names of places we ate if I loved the food and would recommend you stop there. If I don’t share the name of the place we ate, it because I didn’t like it all that much and my grandmother always told me that if I I didn’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all! For me trying new foods is one of the great things about traveling- getting to peek into what others are eating and how they prepare their food is really fun and delicious, when it goes well! We usually select a place by looking for restaurants on google maps and then choosing one with high ratings.
A word about the hotels
I selected the hotels for overnight stays primarily based around three things. The best places with a pool for our kids, pet-friendly (for our German shepherd), and of course, a convenient location.
Our Southwest Road Trip Itinerary includes some camping and some hotel stays. I love to go camping but I also love a good warm shower and a soft bed so it is good to mix it up!
Nashville, TN to Amarillo, TX via Interstate 40
We left in the wee hours of the morning because my husband has always liked to get some driving hours in while the kids could finish catching some sleep. That makes the driving time seem a lot less for them. On big driving days like this one, we get them a Red Box movie to reward them about 3/4 of the way through. It was a long day of pretty scenery from a foggy morning, to the pyramid in Memphis, the windmills and the wide open ranch country.
First stop- Breakfast at Community Bakery in Little Rock, Arkansas
Second stop- Lunch at Big Truck Tacos, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Third stop- Dinner at HoffBrau Steaks, Amarillo, Texas
Hotel- Drury Hotel, Amarillo, Texas (indoor heated pool)
Amarillo, TX to Albuquerque, NM via Interstate 40
Breakfast at the hotel. Then what felt like a short drive to Albuquerque after the long driving day we did on day 1. We were visiting with my husband’s old high school friends and touring his stopping grounds while in Albuquerque so we didn’t do too many tourist attractions while we were there.
First stop- Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo (I had read about this place in a fiction book, Backseat Saints, and didn’t even realize it was real and in the town we were stopping until I saw it in a photo at our hotel!)
Second stop- Lunch at Perea’s New Mexico Restaurant, Albuquerque, New Mexico (stuffed New Mexico style sopapillas)
Hotel- Home2Suites Downtown Albuquerque. I chose this hotel because it was in a good location, pet-friendly, and kid friendly. It was so nice. Huge spacious rooms with a nice big kitchenette and living room. Also a good value. They agree to provide me with a stay in exchange for a review so that will be coming to the blog soon. They also had an indoor heated pool that was actually quite warm so we had some fun pool time there.
Dinner- Irrational Pies Food Truck which was next to Marble Brewery (one of the best craft breweries in New Mexico.)
Breakfast at The Range Cafe (green chile pastrami hash, huevos rancheros, range toast, oh my gosh good)
Sandia Peak Tram and hike to Sandia Crest
Boxing Bear Brewery (cool place to hang out, kids area with Jenga and Foosball)
Dinner- Flying Star Cafe
Corrales exploration (since my husband lived there in high school)
Hotel- Home2 Suites By Hilton
Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM via long scenic route through Valles Caldera National Preserve
Breakfast at the Frontier Cafe, Albuquerque (sweet rolls, breakfast burritos green chile)
Scenic Drive to Santa Fe via Jemez Valley, Puebo Springs, Soda Dam, Fenton Lake, Los Alamos
Lunch at Blake’s Lotta Burger, Santa Fe (green chile cheese burgers #1 USA Today)
Drury Plaza Hotel In Santa Fe– I picked this hotel for its amazing location in old Santa Fe making everything there within walking distance. It was also pet-friendly, had a luxurious feel, and featured an amazing rooftop pool and hot tub with a view.
Walk around old Santa Fe, free concert in Santa Fe Plaza, window shopping
Dinner at Draft Station overlooking the plaza and with a game room with air hockey and foosball (green chile roasted pinon blue corn crust pizza)
Santa Fe, NM
Breakfast at Le Creperie near plaza (pastries)
Walking exploration of Old Town Santa Fe
Frenchy’s Park – lots of wild prairie dogs, lizards, & a playground
Meow Wolf- Fantastical world that several people recommended. It was very interesting. Kind of like stepping into someone else’s imagination with secret doors.
Lunch Food Trucks (Carne al Pastor Green Chile Cheese Fries & Donner Kababs)
Kakawa Chocolate House– We spent way too much money there but it was soooo good. Drinking chocolates, truffels, top hat chocolates, and homemade ice cream.
Drury rooftop pool time
Drury Happy Hour
Dinner at Coyote Cafe (filet mignon, cowboy cut)
Santa Fe, NM to Elephant Butte, NM via Interstate 25
Breakfast at Palacio Cafe, Santa Fe
Drury rooftop pool time
Lunch at Mary and Tito’s at our Albuquerque pit stop (really good red chile)
Elephant Butte State Park Camping
Swim at the lake beach
Dinner (campfire green chile cheeseburgers)
Campfire stories and smores
Elephant Butte, NM
Elephant Butte, NM to Tucson, AZ via Interstate 10
Breakfast- campfire pancakes
Drove through Gila National Forest
Passed the Chino (or Santa Rita) Copper Mine
Lunch at Don Jaun Mexican Food Drive Through, Silver City, NM (chile relleno burritos)
Hotel at Red Lion Inn Tucson, Arizona
Dinner at El Charro Cafe in Tucson (Carne Seca)
Tucson, AZ to Sedona, AZ
Airport Mesa hiking trail by Sky View Lodge (short, very rewarding hike)
Breakfast at Oak Creek Espresso (pastries)
Bell Rock Hike (longer hike, gorgeous)
Swimming at Slide Rock State Park (get there by 9:30 or 10 to make sure you can get parking)
Tortas de Fuego (tortas, quesadillas)
Pool and spa time at Sedona Sky View Lodge
Downtown Window Shopping
Dinner at Whole Foods
Sedona, AZ to Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, AZ
Breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant (101 Omelettes)
Set up camp at the Grand Canyon Mather Campground (Just FYI, they have a big general store there and a restaurant in the Village Market area.)
Lunch at campsite
South Rim Trail starting at the Yuvapai Geology Museum
Dinner at Campground
Grand Canyon, AZ
Grand Canyon Visitor Center Museum
South Rim Trail long walk
Spotted several elk over by the dog kennel area
Critter Talk With A Ranger
Grand Canyon, AZ
Ooo Ahh Trail into the Grand Canyon (easy level hiking trail)
The ranger talks and walks were great and worth catching!
Grand Canyon, AZ to Monument Valley, Utah
grand sweeping views as you drive up
Goulding’s Campground (I saw two stray dogs I wanted to rescue so be prepared. Tiny camping sites but amazing views and trails.)
arch hike from the campground
Monument Valley, Utah
Wildcat Trail Hike
Monument Valley Tour in our truck (which I recommend because the roads are in very rough shape)
Goulding’s Campground Pool
Dinner at campsite
Arch Hike from the campground again because we loved it so much the first time:)
Monument Valley, Utah to Cortez, CO
Drive through Mexican Hat and Valley of the Gods
Four Corners Monument (Be in four states at once- Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona)
Lunch at Burger Boy in Cortez, CO (green chile burgers and potato bits- yum)
Cortez KOA (cabin camping, huge dog park right there)
Mesa Verde that morning and bought tickets for that afternoon (ahead of time online would be better)
Mesa Verde Drive and tours: Balcony House (most difficult trail) and Cliff Palace cliff dwellings
both rangers were fantastic and informative- wear good shoes for climbing ladders
Dinner -Gustavo’s Mexican Restaurant and Bar (authentic Mexican with great mole´)
Cortez, CO to Carbondale, CO via CO 135 N to 133 N
Glenwood Springs Day Trip
Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool (largest hot springs pool– two large pools and 2 large water slides)
Lunch at Slope & Hatch (great tacos and dogs)
Creamery & Cafe (homemade gelato and sorbetto)
Carbondale, CO to Great Sand Dunes, CO
Drive through the mountains, Aspen, and Independence Pass
Great Sand Dunes Pinon Flats Campground
Hike into the Great Sand Dunes National Park It is hard to capture just how vast they are. HUGE. It is hard to even feel it until you hike up into them and you are surrounded by mountains of sand.
Great Sand Dunes, CO to Cedar Bluff, KS
Cedar Bluff State Park Campground (great campground with sites around a community quad with a playground in the middle. Very family friendly:) Also lots of fishing going on there.
Cedar Bluff, KS to Kansas City, MO
Kansas City, MO to Nashville, TN
We had the best southwest road trip ever and made plenty of family memories! The American Southwest is truly amazing and I hope this Southwest itinerary helps inspire you southwest road trip ideas. This was certainly among the most scenic road trips you could take in the USA. It was a beautiful national parks road trip and a memorable family vacation. Are you planning a southwest road trip route? Which stops from our Southwest road trip itinerary will you include?